HC Deb 25 February 1886 vol 302 cc1304-41

Sir, in this House, which, so far as I can judge from the experience of last Wednesday, likes short speeches, I shall introduce this great subject as briefly as I can, consistently with my desire to give the House a very clear view of the intentions of Her Majesty's Government, in order that hon. Gentlemen who follow me may utilize the evening for their criticisms. This is a subject which is very familiar to the House. It is familiar to Members of the last Parliament, not so much for the great number of debates which took place with regard to it, but on account of the great interest which those debates excited. The unanimity of the interest which was felt in the crofters was very striking. In no case has any Resolution, the most favour able to the crofters, been rejected. In no case has it even been seriously opposed. Everybody has spoken kindly of them, and has united in calling for very strong and decided legislation with regard to them. The latest of all these calls for legislation is, I venture to think, the strongest and the most remarkable that ever was made by a unanimous House of Commons. On the 14th of November, 1884, it was 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 on 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, Sir, is the Resolution of the House of Commons; and it is a very serious thing to think that that Resolution was passed 18 months ago, and has not been carried into effect yet the population referred to in the Resolution—a population which, the House will remember, all the while we have been engaged on other subjects of great interest, have all that time been thinking of nothing else except this question. This population would naturally say, as month after month passed away, that Parliament had forgotten the first and remedial part of the Resolution, and had fallen back upon that mere assertion of the majesty of the law which is openly and statedly repudiated by Parliament as being insufficient in itself to meet the wants of the occasion; and they would consider, as I am sorry to say many of them are considering, that their civil obligations are weakened. I do not wish to paint in too dark colours the social condition of some portions of the Western Highlands; but I do say this—that both as regards the payment of rent and the payment of poor rates and education rates, that condition is such that the present Government would not be justified, and the late Government would not have been justified, in leaving it without the most serious attention, if it had not been for the Resolution of November, 1884, and the state of the conscience of the country and the Parliament which that Resolution implies. But it is high time that this state of things should stop. It is high time that Parliament, having expressed so strong an opinion, should carry that opinion into action. The words of Parliament should always be made good, and if I were a private Scotch Member I should feel a responsibility in this matter; but as Secretary for Scotland I cannot consent to delay any longer—I cannot be a party, I should say, to delay any longer dealing with a matter which we are bound to deal with now, not only for the sake of the crofters, but for the sake of the landlords, and for the sake of the local administration of this country. I hope hon. Members will realize to themselves that we have come to a very serious stage of the question. Up to this time Parliament has been expressing sympathy with the crofters in such a manner that the crofters, on their part, have been led to the belief that something very real is going to be done for them. The time has now come to carry that sympathy into action, and hon. Members must make up their minds that there is no use in the Government making any proposals which will not effectually deal with the question. lean imagine Parliament saying to the crofters—" We are very sorry for you; we consider you a very interesting population; we thought you had been ill-used; we promised to do a great deal for you; but when we came to look at the question practically we saw it was so thorny and difficult that we did not venture to attack it seriously, and we gave it up as a bad job." That would be one way of getting out of our engagements, and I do not think it would be a good way; but there is still a worse way—that is, for us to propose to Parliament to pass a Bill which professes to do a great deal for the crofters, but which the Government who brought it in and the Parliament who passed it knew quite well did not deal with the point of the situation. What is the point of the situation? What is the reason that Parliament is interested in this population? It is partly from respect for their character; it is partly from the interest which everyone who travels and reads takes in them and the country in which they live; but it is, above all, that as a population they suffer from a very great grievance, which I hope is not irremediable. That grievance is that, taking the population of the Highlands as a whole, they were originally a population under circumstances entirely different from those which now exist, and that those circumstances were altered by no fault of theirs for the benefit of others, and that, owing to that alteration of circumstances, they are now in a very depressed and, what is more serious, in a very hopeless state. If we take the Highlands as they were when this population was collected—and I am not going into any questions of facts—I am not going into any questions of a semi-literary character which are so much debated— but I state what nobody has ever denied, that the mountains, whenever there was pasture, were grazed by sheep, and especially by the black cattle that formed the wealth and sustenance of the people. Those cattle are now elsewhere—on the Northumberland moors, which are not a whit more fitted for grazing cattle than many of the Scottish hills, where they are in great numbers. They thrive well, and Northumbrians thrive very well by their means. But in the Highlands there are 2,000,000 of acres over which, as pasture, cattle used to graze, but which now are devoted entirely to the artificial maintenance of deer in a wild condition. Now, that is one cause, and the other cause is the consolidation into large sheep farms of the superior class of pastures which used to be grazed over by mixed sheep and cattle of the smaller owners. These small owners have been crushed into a corner, and are now in a very helpless condition, owing to the new uses to which the grazing ground of the Highlands have been put. This is an operation which has put a great, and, in some cases, an enormous increase of income into the pockets of the proprietors, and, of course, of the mass of the population, whom I am sure no people feel more deeply for and sympathize more with than the descendants of some of those very proprietors who in their day so greatly benefited by the change. The period during which the great uprooting of the crofters took place, and especially the time when they were deprived of their pastures wholesale, was between 1780 and 1820. That change was made for the sake of sheep walks. The devoting of the country to deer forests came later. It came at a time when tenants could be found to pay for turning into desert those tracts of the country, on account of the growth of the enormous wealth of the United Kingdom and of the United States of America. But of late years the sheep farms are not so profitable, and, indeed, in many cases are said to be of no profit at all, partly from the fall in the price of sheep and of wool, which may be called a fall of 30 and 40 per cent respectively, partly from the extremely complicated system of the valuation of flocks, which renders every successive large tenant less and less able to take over the flocks of his predecessor, and partly, it is stated— and this is an important fact—from the belief in the deterioration of ground on which sheep unmixed with cattle have grazed, and especially with sheep that cannot be wintered on these low grounds, which the crofters, to a very large extent, still occupy; and now the deer forests are spreading fast at the expense of the sheepwalks, and also, unfortunately, at the expense of the poor remains of the crofters' holdings. In old days the Highlands were very much, in a humble way, like what Switzerland and the Tyrol are now. People used to go up in summer to the higher lands—the younger members of the family, at all events—and there live a life of a very healthy kind both for mind and body, and this kind of life is admirably described in a pamphlet entitled The Crofter in History, published lately by one who is notoriously as little likely to be prejudiced against the present state of things in the Highlands as any man who lives. I speak of Lord Colin Campbell. The utter extinction of this life is the real grievance of the Highlands, and side by side with this grievance the crofters are conscious of this fact—that the land which they still hold is held under con- ditions resembling, not those of the rest of the Island, but resembling very closely those which obtained special legislation in Ireland. Their little holdings are not like the rest of the holdings in England and Scotland; they are not equipped by the landlord with all that makes them fit for habitation and for cultivation. The improvements in their holdings and in their houses are made by the crofters themselves; and there is nothing but a sense of duty and honour, which is very widely prevalent there—as among landlords, I believe, in all parts of this Island—there is nothing except the sense of duty or honour which can prevent a landlord from getting rid of a crofter by raising his rent to an impossible sum, or simply by evicting him, and so depriving him of all the money and all the labour he has put into the land. But though the great majority of landlords have behaved admirably of late years, there are very serious cases of landlords who have raised their rents to an enormous extent—in one case, it is believed, for the purpose of selling the estate for a higher purchase value— and there are other cases in which crofters have been turned out neck and crop in considerable numbers to please certain tenants of the deer forests—not purchasers of deer forests, but tenants who could not be satisfied without infinitely more land than any man can reasonably want for use. Therefore it was that the present Lord Advocate introduced, last year, a Bill, and admirably and fully explained it, which proposed to give the crofters fixity of tenure and the means of obtaining a fair rent. I shall not attempt to repeat—if I tried it I should only spoil it—the Lord Advocate's argument. It appeared to meet the approbation of the House. No one Member of the House, as I read Hansard, complained of the provisions of his Bill, except that there was a certain amount of complaint of their deficiencies. We now propose to renew those provisions, and to renew the proposal of giving the crofter compensation for permanent improvements, such as dwelling-houses, farm-offices, subsoil and drains, walls and fences, deep trenching, and clearing the ground in case of removal. We have fenced this by stating that these improvements must be suitable to the holding; but likewise the danger to the landlord is fenced round by the nature of the case, because there is no chance of the crofter making those sort of buildings that are extremely expensive, either for the purpose of amenity or speculation, which the landlords are naturally very much alarmed lest an enterprizing tenant should make and throw on their hands. These provisions we once more recommend to the House, and we propose they should be applied to the same area and the same population as we proposed before. We do not purpose to give, any more than last year, the right of free sale, and for this reason—that, as far as this Bill is concerned, from the first line to the last, we do not wish to give the crofter anything which he and his ancestors had not, and undoubtedly had not, in old days. The crofter, unlike the Irish tenant, never had by law or custom this power of selling his croft; and we regard it not for the present, still less for the future, advantage either of him or the district in which he lives that he should have it now. But fair rents and fixity of tenure by themselves will go a very long way towards meeting the claim of the crofters as recognized by Parliament. When Parliament passed a Resolution in favour of remedial measures, the Resolution, as far as I read it to the House, specially and pointedly referred to the Report of the Royal Commission, and the whole gist of the Report of the Royal Commission lies in the recommendation that the crofter shall have an extension of land. We sent out, at great expense to the country and at great inconvenience and sacrifice to themselves, a Commission of experienced and responsible gentlemen most representative of all interests—we sent them to the Highlands, and, of course, we may treat their Report as waste paper; but if we do not treat it thus we must find out some means to carry into practice its most vital recommendations. These recommendations are, first, that the holding of the crofter should in no case further be arbitrarily diminished; and, in the next place, that, under certain conditions, the holding should be considerably and compulsorily increased, and the method of that increase is very carefully and minutely pointed out. I will trouble the House to listen to a few passages from the Report of the Commission, which I shall condense as far as possible. These are the important recommendations— The occupiers in an existing township should have the right to claim from the proprietor an enlargement of the existing townships in regard to arable land and common pasture in virtue of a resolution adopted by not less than two-thirds of the occupiers, and to record their claim with the Sheriff Clerk of the county in which the township is situated. In case the proprietor should not, within the period of one year from the presentation of the claim, come to a voluntary settlement with the occupiers claiming enlargement, the Sheriff Substitute should investigate the grounds of the claim; and if he finds it to be well founded, he shall record the township as an over-crowded township, and the claim as a reasonable claim. In this case the proprietor should be held liable to grant to the existing township an increase of arable ground, or hill pasture, or both, subject to the following conditions: — The enlargement should only be claimed from lands contiguous to the existing townships, or contiguous to another township, or other townships contiguous to the first, which shall combine to make the claim for the benefit of all. The land claimed shall be in the occupancy either of the proprietor or his tenant. No holding should be subject to diminution for enlargement of a township unless it exceeds a certain stipulated amount in annual agricultural value—say £100—without the voluntary assent of the proprietor. The aggregate value of the land assigned for the enlargement of a township or townships should not amount to more than one-third of the annual agricultural value of the holding from which it is taken when the annual value of the diminished holding is below £130; to more than one-half when the annual value is above £150, and below £300; and to more than two-thirds when the annual value of' the holding is above £300, without the voluntary assent of the proprietor. Then this is most important— The enlargement awarded to an existing township shall not be used for the creation of a greater number of holdings than existed in the township previously, but only for the development, inprovement, and transfer of existing holdings. Then they go on to say— In no case should the claim of the existing townships to enlargement extend to the acquisition of more land than would be sufficient to raise the average annual value of holdings in the townships to a specified sum—say £15— without the voluntary assent of the proprietor. The claims of an existing township to an enlargement of area should not be allowed unless satisfactory proof be adduced before the Sheriff that the occupiers of the townships concerned are able to use the additional area of arable ground profitably, and can stock the additional area of hill pasture. The rent of arable ground, and of common pasture assigned to an existing township by way of enlargement, should be paid by valuation, one valuer being nominated by the proprietor, and the other by the township, reserving to the Sheriff the power to nominate an oversman when the valuers fail to agree. The last essential recommendation is that in assigning land for the enlargement of an existing township there should be no infraction of an existing contract or lease without the free assent of the parties concerned; but in future such contracts or leases should be framed subject to the statutory claims of townships. The Commission then goes on to argue that, economically as well as socially, this would be to the advantage— very slightly indeed in any case to the pecuniary disadvantage—of the landlords, and ends by saying that in most cases— Our proposal, translated into practice, would simply mean a moderate restoration of the hill pasture which the grandfathers of the existing hamlet enjoyed 60 years ago. Now, this is the idea of the Royal Commission, and the manner in which the practical recognition should be made of the right which the crofters once enjoyed. If the Commission had prepared such a measure as this with regard to extensive common grazing grounds for the Lothians, or for the Eastern Counties of England, it would have been a restitution in no sense, as they call it; it would have been an expropriation, pure and simple, in the case of these common grazing grounds; but, as applied to the parishes of the Highlands of Scotland, these parishes were, to use the words of this Bill— There are at the commencement of this Act, or have been within 80 years prior thereto, holdings consisting of arable land, held with the right of pasturage in common with others. The proposal of the Commissioners is, if ever there was one, based on, and limited to, the special and local circumstances of the districts to which this Bill is intended to apply. Well, Sir, this proposal has been before the world for two years, and there is no sign of any great body of public opinion against it. Everybody— almost everybody—seems to agree that the crofters should have more land; but how is it to be carried out? The best mode of all would be by agreement between the landlord and the tenant, and that has been pointed to by the meeting of landlords, to which such frequent reference has been made; but, in order to bring this about in the case of all landlords, good and bad, there must be in the background some compulsion on the part of the State, and the real test of the virtue of a compulsory Bill is the extent to which it encourages and leads to voluntary agreements. Now, as regards such compulsion, the first method that occurs to people who have touched this question is that of compulsory sale to the State, which they shall proceed to let to the crofter; and the next is compulsory sale to the crofter, who should borrow money from the State, which ho is to repay by instalments. But I am bound to say that I, for one, do not feel justified in calling upon the general taxpayer to pay money or to risk his credit for the sake of a Highland population any more than for any other section of the population of any part of the United Kingdom. The proceedings which have placed the Highland crofter in his present position are not the work of the State. ["Hear, hear!" and "Oh!"] I do not agree with hon. Members who cry out. They were not done for the benefit of the State. The State may or may not have done wrong in permitting them, but they were individual acts done for individual profit. It would be just as hard to tax the labourer of Warwickshire in order to give common grazings to the crofter of Inverness-shire, as it would be to tax the crofter of Inverness-shire to establish compulsory allotments for the labourer of Warwickshire. Then we come to another matter which has been brought into a feasible and intelligible shape by the labours of the noble Marquess the Member for Sutherlandshire (the Marquess of Stafford) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire (Dr. Farquharson). The noble Lord proposes to give to the Local Authority the power of expropriating pieces of land which, in their judgment, it maybe of advantage to add to the holdings of the crofters, and to make advances to the crofters for the purpose of buying out the landlord or compelling him to sell from moneys raised on the security of the rates. That is a very inadequate description of the Bill of the noble Marquess, which is as carefully and ably elaborated as it is inspired by a great, humane, and broad spirit. It is very unfair to criticize the measure which the noble Marquess has not the opportunity of explaining and defending, so I will say nothing whatever about that Bill except in its praise, and I will state to the House, as a general argument, why we do not propose to call on the Local Authority, at any rate, at pre- sent. The existing Local Authorities in the North of Scotland seem to us entirely unsuited for the purpose, and the Local Authority of the future is still in the future, while the needs and the claims of the crofters are in the present, and the Resolution of Parliament by which we are bound is already 18 months old, The existing Local Authorities are the Commissioners of Supply, the Parochial Boards, and the School Boards. They are all Bodies constituted for special purposes, with funds appropriated to special purposes, and thoroughly unfitted for the duties which important and entensive land operations entail. The Commissioners of Supply, who are the nearest approach to a Local Authority for general purposes, are in the Highlands, roughly speaking, all landlords, and they deal with the assessment which is raised from landlords alone; and to ask them to pay for the carrying out of these operations, and to superintend the carrying out of these operations, would be a proposal the refutation of which does not require serious argument. The nature of the Body that will replace the Commissioners of Supply is still, as I say, hidden in the future; every hon. Member of the House knows quite as much as I do as to what it will ultimately be. In order to deal with this question we cannot wait for the reform of Local Government, and we are not prepared to rely on the existing Local Authorities, nor are we prepared to burden the rates, or the credit of the rates, with the financial operations of a system of compulsory purchase. Whatever may be done in other districts, we cannot take that course here. These Highland parishes have in many cases a very low valuation per head indeed. The rates are paid with extreme difficulty, with a difficulty which excites grave anxiety in the Board of Supervision and in the Education Department at Dover House. Now, there are Highland parishes in which the valuation per head is 16s. 4d., 14s. 2d., 19s. 4d., £1 9s., and £1 10s. In Skye the average valuation is, I suppose, about 50.s., and meanwhile the rates in two parishes in these parts amount, in one case, to 6s. 7d. in the pound, and in the other to 9s. 4d. in the pound. Well, in four Lowland rural parishes which I take at mere hazard, I find the valuation per head is respectively £11, £9, £14 and £10, and, obviously, an operation which can be discussed with regard to such rich parishes as these is beyond all discussion when we come to the poor parishes in the Highlands. There is no middle class, there is no general public there. The rates fall, either upon the landlord who is to be bought out, or upon the crofter for whose benefit the landlord is to be bought out, or upon other crofters who are more lucky than their follows. We cannot ask Parliament to still further burden these overburdened and not very highly-organized districts with a financial operation which it is quite beyond their power to deal with. Now, one course, and one only, remains, and that is to carry out the recommendations of the Commission in the manner in which, after reading and re-reading the Report with all the attention I can give, I am satisfied that the writer of those paragraphs must have had in mind. Those paragraphs point to compulsion, and they point to leasing; and, after thinking the matter over and over again, we have come to the conclusion that under strict conditions, and within strict limitations, compulsory leasing will alone meet the case of the crofters and settle the question in a manner that can be called a settlement. This is a Bill, as I said, founded strictly on the historical and local circumstances of a very peculiar district. We do not want to make the crofter a possessor or landed proprietor. He and his ancestors never have been landed proprietors or possessors; but they claim the right of grazing a certain number of sheep and cattle on the higher pastures on payment of a certain rent. Without that right neither he nor they could live, and we propose to put the genuine crofter, with a genuine holding, in possession of that right. The operation of the Bill is strictly confined to those parishes where that right existed within the lifetime of persons many of whom are still alive. In those parishes it shall be competent for an authority which I shall describe, to accept the application of a certain number of crofters who cannot obtain the right of grazing by agreement with their landlord, and arrange with them a right of common grazing on the payment of an adequate rent. We surround this operation with all the safeguards proposed by the Com- mission, by which the interests of the landlord and others are guarded, and the benefit of the crofter is strictly limited. I do not propose to repeat those safeguards to a House which has listened to me with such kind attention. I will simply ask the House to call them back by an effort of memory; but they are all inserted in the Bill. We propose, however, to apply one very important safeguard and limitation besides those applied by the Commissioners. The Commissioners proposed to apply compulsory powers to arable land; but we stop before that point. We propose to leave the crofter's potatoes, barley, and oats just where they are now, unless the landlord voluntarily enlarges his arable holding. Diminutions of separate crofts have undoubtedly occurred in too many instances; but the system has not been general and what I may call wholesale, like the deprivation of the grazing rights. Those grazing rights we feel bound to do our best to re-establish, and that is as far as we feel justified in going. Well, Sir, what are the authorities to whom these complicated and extremely onerous arrangements will be committed? In their Bill of last year, the Government placed the fixing of rent and the ascertaining of tenure in the hands of valuers. The noble Marquess the Member for Sutherlandshire (the Marquess of Stafford) proposes a Land Court which, roughly speaking, is, he will allow me to say, nothing more or less than the Sheriff. The Government is of opinion that the important administrative and executive powers which are created by this Bill could not be intrusted to a judicial officer appointed for general judicial purposes; and, indeed, highly as I rate the public spirit and industry of the Scottish Sheriffs, some of whom I am proud to know intimately, I doubt if they would or could be expected to undertake the duties imposed by the Bill in addition to their present duties. The mere number of the cases relating to tenure and rent would be great. In Ireland there are 500,000 tenants, and 125,000 fair rents have already been fixed, and there have been 85,000 agreements out of Court. In the Highland district to which this Bill refers there are about 40,000 holdings, and I should think that of these about 25,000 are held by crofters who would come under this Bill. On the Irish analogy it is probable that 6,000 fairs rents would have to be fixed, and that would be far too large to lay upon the Sheriffs. Now, we propose to institute a Commission of three members who may sit separately, thereby avoiding the greatest practical inconvenience of the Irish Courts. The Commissioners would call in valuers as assessors, in order to give them the advantage of local knowledge; but these valuers would not have a voice in the decisions. We have an earnest hope that, with so fair a tribunal in prospect, the landlords and tenants may in a great number of instances come to an agreement which will be satisfactory to both parties without going before the Commission, and the 5th clause of our Bill will give every facility for this spontaneous operation. We propose to appoint this authority for a limited time; and when the Local Authority is set up it will be well to consider whether the administrative duties should be transferred to it; but it is quite obvious that the fixing of rents cannot possibly be intrusted to an elective body, however constituted. I have carefully studied the speeches which were made in the last Parliament by the lion. Member for the College Division of Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) and the other Members who took exception to what they thought the defects of the Bill of last year. There was complaint that no means had been taken to put a stop to the arbitrary extension of deer forests at the expense of what remains of the crofters' grazing grounds. Now, the best guarantee against that in most cases is the kindly and generous character of many—certainly of all those owners or occupiers of deer forests with whom I have the honour to be acquainted, who have spent enormous sums of money for the benefit of the population by whom they are surrounded. But all the tenants and owners of forests are not of the same character; and in some cases, undoubtedly, there have been very grave and cruel encroachments. But anyone who has followed my explanation will allow that in this Bill no such provision is necessary. When an effective tribunal exists which is to give compensation for rights taken away in old days, I think we shall have heard the last of those "pet lamb" cases which have been the scandal of the Highlands of late years. But, undoubt- edly, the present condition of these forests, which are in some cases the greatest abuse that ever was perpetrated under the name of authority or law, has largely necessitated the legislation which we now have before us. I speak as a sportsman—not a very skilful one, perhaps, but certainly as keen a one as any man in the House of my years—and I am bound to say that the selfish absorption by one man of all the pleasure, all the happiness, all the advantage which is to be got out of seven deer forests, covering a space of at least 135,000 acres—and I think I have understated the fact—with all the degradation and humiliation of his small neighbours, and the humiliation of the servants whom he omploys—and I am speaking of a particular man — excites in me feelings which I certainly very much prefer not to express in words, but to embody in the proposals of legislation which I now lay before the House. It is not as if I was asking the House to set up an ideal state of society. Those who have seen the village of Garth, in Glen Lyon, which is the property of an hon. Member of this House, and which is the old Highland state of society, with the hillside above, the valley of green land below, with not a stone loose upon it, and the cattle and sheep grazing up to the sky-line as far as they can be seen from the holdings, and above those holdings a ground where you can shoot 20 brace of grouse a-day as a minimum, following them with dogs —those who have seen this may justly compare it with the most beautiful objects that one sees in the valleys of the Oberland in Switzerland. And if they compared this scene with those vast tracts in Inverness-shire and Boss-shire, with its population of hired gillies, on which no tourist, no shepherd, no Revenue officer, can set foot, they might well ask whether legislation comes one hour too soon to save the most beautiful part of our Highlands from desolation and demoralization. With regard to the interest of the landlord I wish to say one word. One great cause of the failure of the sheep walks is that it is almost impossible satisfactorily to graze the land in summer unless you have the wintering below. Well, that wintering below belongs to a very great extent to the crofters already, and evidently cannot now be taken from them, and land- lords are beginning to see that it is for their interest that the same people who have the wintering below should have the summer pastures above. The noble Marquess the Member for Sutherlandshire (the Marquess of Stafford) mentions the rating of deer forests and grouse grounds in the hands of owners, and he likewise proposes to make deer ground game, so that the crofter may shoot them when he finds them on his arable land. I do not want to argue those questions now. We have not introduced them into our Bill, because we wish to make our Bill strictly applicable only to the crofter parishes, and not to introduce into it any measure of general application. And now I should like to say one word as to the other recommendations of the Commissioners, and as to the way in which they have been met both by the late Government and by the present Government. In those districts to which the population, from no fault of theirs, have been pushed, it is by fishing, and by fishing alone, that the best friends of the Highlander know that he can be made a man of, and to make fishing profitable an improvement of communication, postal and telegraphic, is quite essential. The Commissioners say— The defects of the mail service are most apparent in North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, and Barra. In order to remedy some of these defects, the following arrangements have been sanctioned by the Postmaster General as from the 1st of March:—A mail packet service will be established from Oban to Coll, Tiree, Lochboisdale, and Castlebay; the packet will make three trips a-week, and will leave Oban at 1.15 p.m. (after the arrival of the London night mail), from May 15th to August 31st, and at 7.30 a.m. during the remainder of the year. Should the Company for trading purposes hereafter extend the voyages of the packet to Lochmaddy, the Department will have the right of forwarding mails to and from that port. In regard to telegraphic extension, the Commissioners recommended that a wire should be carried at once to Castlebay, Sutherland, Lewis, Shetland, and South Ronaldshay, in Orkney. Since this recommendation telegraphic communication has been extended to Castlebay, Barra; St. Mary's, Barra; St. Margaret's Hope, Orkney; Reaywick and Vaila Sound, Shetland. As it is impos- sible to obtain the ordinary guarantees from these poor localities, the Treasury give a special grant in aid of £500 for a period of two or three years, in order to enable the Post Office to complete this important and necessary work, in addition to the annual sum of £1,000 provided in the Fishery Board Estimates out of the surplus herring brand fees. In illustration of the usefulness of this telegraphic communication, the Fishery Board mentioned in their last Report that the fishermen of the South Isles, where no fishing was going on, got information by telegram that herrings had appeared in the North Isles, and, proceeding there, landed in one week £1,800 worth of fish. Without the telegraph this fish would not have been got. Likewise, for the purposes of scientific investigation by the Fishery Board, the Treasury have given during the last two years the sum of £1,500; and this year they have given £2,000, to include experiments as to beam trawling for the benefit of the fishermen. Now, there is one form of assistance to a fisherman which is preferable to any other, and when we are in Committee we shall be ready to consider it carefully. Everyone who has been connected with Scotland, knows that there are many ways in which public money may be given and lent, which brings no benefit either to him who gives or to him who receives. I learned very much in Ireland; and the pleasantest lesson which I learned was that the small loans to the honest and experienced fishermen are better paid than any other of any sort or kind, and do more good to those to whom they are lent. While I was there I was able, with the assistance of the Irish Members, and especially of one hon. Member whom I am glad to see back in the last day or two—the hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlow (Mr. Blake)—to put these funds in a more accessible shape. The Irish Reproductive Loan Fund and the Sea Fisheries Fund served between them all the maritime counties of Ireland, with a capital of not more than £70,000 or £80,000. The money is lent on short terms for the purchase of good boats and the equipment of nets. The amount of good done is enormous, and the arrears outstanding are quite insignificant. If the fishermen of the Western Isles and Coast had access to such a fund, they would not see the fish taken before their very eyes by people from a distance. I should have liked to have supported my observations with a statement of what has been done by the attentive and judicious benevolence of Sir Reginald and Lady Cathcart in the Highlands, in which they own property, which is a most remarkable proof of the enormous benefit which judiciously disposed loans will do to bold, enter-prizing and industrious fishermen. Well, when we get into Committee, the Government would like to discuss and would be glad to see their way to placing, under the charge of the Fishery Board, under certain conditions, a fund, it may be small, resembling closely those funds which have succeeded so well in Ireland, and which will enable the fishermen of the West to utilize the best source of wealth which their region offers. And now, Sir, the House is in possession of the proposals of the Government as far as I am competent to explain them, and I am only doubtful in what direction I should appeal in order to recommend them to hon. Members. If I apologize for them as too sweeping, I know there are many Members who will say they do not go far enough, and if I claim that they are the very utmost we can be expected to give, I shall be told by others they go a great deal too far. I do not apologize for them. They are not intended to be a political compromise. They are presented to the House as proposals which, according to our earnest and humble conviction, are right in themselves, and which, if accepted all round in the spirit in which they are offered, will settle, and ought to settle, a burning question. I think that the more hon. Members examine all the alternative proposals the more they will admit that none of the alternatives are really worth adopting. There are other schemes which look better on paper and sound better in speech; but I believe this, and this alone, will work, unless Parliament is prepared— which I hope it is not—to buy up this district of the Highlands out of the taxes, and divide it amongst the masses of the Western Highlands. We have adopted the spirit, and almost the letter, of the plans and recommendations of the Royal Commission, a Commission which was appointed at the instance of Parliament; and we have put those plans into a shape in which alone, as we maintain, they can by any possibility be brought into practical operation. The Commissioners say— The land agitation of the Highlands is not likely to pass away without some adjustment of the claims of occupiers acceptable to the greater number who are not yet possessed with extravagant expectations. And their opinion is amply confirmed by the police and the official Reports, which it is frequently my duty very carefully to read. Such an adjustment, in our opinion, we offer to the House; and as a Minister who, by dear-bought experience, knows the nature and the symptoms and the conditions and the consequences of agrarian agitation, and who has now command of exceptional sources of information about the social condition, present and prospective, of the Western Highlands, I solemnly warn and intreat hon. Members not to reject our Bill without very careful consideration. On my responsibility as Minister for Scotland, a very different responsibility from what I was aware of when I took that post—though that only makes the post more acceptable in my eyes—I ask the House to approach this measure in the belief that when they have given it a calm and thorough consideration they will discover it to be a just measure, a practical measure, and, what is almost as important, a measure not ore whit stronger than is necessary to effect the objects which we have all so long had in common.

Motion made, and Question proposed, 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."—(Mr. Trevelyan.)


Mr. Speaker, I have, in common with all other Members of the House, listened with the greatest interest to the able and lucid speech just made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland (Mr. Trevelyan). In the concluding words of his speech he begged hon. Members who are interested in this question not to reject the Bill without serious consideration. I can assure him that I, for one, will not reject any Bill, however, small, without very serious consideration. It is neither usual, nor is it desirable, that on the stage of the introduction of a Bill there should be any- thing like minute criticism of its provisions. I rise only for the purpose of saying that while I am able to express some satisfaction, I am sorry I am also obliged to express extreme disappointment at the measure proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman has tried to draw a distinction between the position of these poor tenants in Scotland and the poor tenants in Ireland. Now, I am not able to recognize any distinction except in favour of the case of the Scottish tenants. If there is a difference it is a difference in favour of the rights of the tenants of Scotland. I am sorry to see the right hon. Gentleman proposes to adopt the proposal of last year to confine the operation of the Bill to what he is pleased to call certain crofting parishes in the Highlands of Scotland. This is, to me, patchwork legislation. First of all, certain parishes are to be selected, and the Land Act is to apply to them and to no other parishes. It is not my duty to speak on behalf of the Lowland districts of Scotland—they have Representatives of their own; but I can see no reason in the world why an Act which is to apply to Argyllshire, Inverness-shire, and Ross-shire should not be equally applicable to Aberdeenshire, Ayrshire, and Perthshire; indeed, to the whole of Scotland. But it is for the hon. Gentlemen who represent these constituencies to press their claims to be included in the Act. I understand there are more of the class of population commonly called crofters in Aberdeenshire than even in Inverness-shire; but, as the right hon. Gentleman has stated, he proposes to limit the operation of the Bill to the counties enumerated in the Schedule of the Bill of last year. In that Bill Aberdeenshire, Ayrshire, and Perthshire were omitted. Let hon. Members who represent those constituencies bring their case forward when the Bill gets into Committee. Special reference has been made to deer forests, and the right hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to show that it was by the operation of natural laws, over which human beings have no control, that the Highlands had been brought into the condition in which they are now. I deny that proposition, and maintain that it is by the action of wicked human laws that the Highlands of Scotland have been brought to that condition. The right hon. Gentleman says that the general taxpayer is not responsible; but I say that the taxpayer is a continuing quantity, and that he is responsible; so that if the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to put his hand in his pocket I shall support him. I am glad to hear that he is so careful of the fishing population of the Highlands. Why is he not so for those who work on the land? Assistance is as essential for them as it is for the poor tenants of Ireland; and, although there are points of difference, I deny that there is any just distinction to be made between the claims of the two. I am glad, however, that something is being proposed; but I wish it was a more thorough and complete measure, for I assure the right hon. Gentleman, with the deepest regret, that I am perfectly certain that the measure he has proposed, passed even in its integrity through this House and "another place," will not satisfy the Scottish people nor settle this question.


I am sorry that the first duty of the Secretary for Scotland has been to introduce a Bill which, so far as the distressed districts of Scotland are concerned, must prove illusive. It contains no provision fitted to alleviate the distress of the population in those districts, and that they are deeply distressed no one knows better than I do. That the right hon. Gentleman should have made no provision for removing part of the people from the congested districts, nor any suggestion as to how their distress can be alleviated, constitutes, in my opinion, a very grave defect in the proposal now made to the House. The right hon. Gentleman cannot be expected to be intimately acquainted with these districts. But I have been long acquainted with them; I am an owner of land within the area affected by this measure. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the fact that grazing lands were held in common in the Highlands. But I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, that if he has leisure to investigate that question farther, he will find that there was not a county of Scotland in which, at the beginning of the present century, grazing lands were not held in common by several tenants as they are now in the Highlands. I think provision should be made in the Bill for the alleviation of distress in places where the population has largely increased beyond the means of subsistence, and where no new industry has been introduced. It is in those districts where the distress prevails. The population of Lows is 25,500 at the present time, and the whole net agricultural rental does not amount to more than £10,000, or about £2 per family, amongst about 5,000 families. If I am correct in this—and I challenge any man who knows the district to say I am not—I say it is impossible that there can be anything like comfort for the population on that area. I do not wish to take up the time of the House now. We shall have an opportunity of discussing the Bill in detail when we get it into Committee, and I shall then bring under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman suggestions, which I shall make as Amendments, for the relief of the distress which prevails among the people of Long Island and Skye. The condition of the people there is deserving of earnest consideration, because they lie under peculiar difficulties produced by their exclusive knowledge of the Gaelic language—difficulties of a kind which no man who has not been among them can form any accurate opinion. I have great respect for the Gentlemen who now constitute Her Majesty's Ministry; but I know not one among them who has any knowledge of these districts, or any knowledge of the condition of agriculture there, or who has over been practically acquainted with them. I think, therefore, my right hon. Friend the Secretary for (Scotland is under a great disadvantage in having to deal with this question; and if my right hon. Friend has been guided by information in this matter, I feel that he has obtained it from tainted sources, and legislation upon that foundation cannot be of service.


Sir, I have listened with great attention to the speech in which my right hon. Friend introduced this measure—a measure which, so far as concerns the people of Scotland and the Members of this House who have undertaken to represent them, is second in importance to no measure which it is probable will occupy the consideration of the present Parliament. Sir, I do not wish to enter into any criticism of the Bill, which I have not yet had an opportunity of examining. I have said that I listened with great interest to the speech of my right hon. Friend, with a great deal of which, especially the closing part of it, I most heartily concur. I most heartily concur with my right hon. Friend in the opinion which he indicated rather than expressed, that the rights of property were more in danger from those who abused than from those who attacked them. I have regretted as much as anyone can possibly regret the course which has been pursued by some so-called sportsmen in my native land. They have assumed to themselves the title of sportsmen; but I think the more appropriate description of them would be that of game dealers. They descend even a little lower in the social scale than that, because, if all the tales are true of the dark deeds perpetrated in some of the Islands, they have descended to the level of butchers. As I said, I intend no criticism of this measure to-night; but as my right hon. Friend has founded his arguments in support of the Bill almost exclusively upon the recommendations of the Royal Commission—and I agree with him that it would be most unfortunate if those recommendations were not followed speedily by legislation—I should like to ask him why he omitted from his speech all reference to one of the recommendations upon which the Commissioners laid especial stress— I mean to that remedial proposal which is contained in their Report for dealing with those districts where the population has for some time past exceeded the means of support? In the matter of emigration the Commissioners speak in no dubious terms; they refer, of course, to the unwillingness of the crofter to emigrate—and, Sir, attachment to one's home and native land is always creditable to the people of a country—but from the time when our common father, Adam, left the Garden of Eden, in obedience to behests which had to be obeyed, emigration has been the lot of man. The Commissioners say that however much they may deplore the necessity which compels from time to time portions of the population of a country to leave that country, still they recognize that it is inevitable, and a law which must be obeyed. At the same time, the Commissioners said that they recognized that emigration was a hardship, and that it is not resorted to without compulsion. But we must also take this into account. They say that they are— Inclined to think that the prevailing land agitation has not been without considerable influence in prompting the expressed dislike to emigration, and they hope that when overpopulation is clearly shown under any distribution of land that can take place, and when they are satisfied that those who remain at home will he cared for, the aversion to emigration will disappear. The Commissioners dwell upon this question at considerable length, and they conclude their recommendation as to emigration by saying that they believe that emigration, properly conducted, is an indispensable remedy for the condition of some parts of the Highlands and Islands; and they strongly recommend that, in connection with any measures which may be framed for improving the condition of the crofters and cottars, such provision should be made as they have indicated for assisting emigration, both by State advances and by State direction. Well, Sir, when we have a recommendation couched in such very strong and clear terms, it is somewhat puzzling to know why no reference to this portion of the Report is made in the speech of my right hon. Friend. When we consider that there are large portions of our Colonies which are crying out for population—Colonies whose Governments are willing to give every facility, pecuniary and otherwise, to Colonists, why is it that we insist on the remaining at home, to their own detriment, of the surplus population? We have by our adoption of an unrestricted system of Free Trade—and that is a question upon which I am very far from wishing to enter at present—brought to bear upon the population of this country, who depend upon agriculture, conditions which are very different indeed from those in which agriculture was first adopted in these regions; and when the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland avows that his case is based, first upon the Report of the Royal Commission, and next upon the history, nay, almost upon the archaeology, of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, I want to know why it is that these conditions are left entirely out of sight—the new conditions and the keen competition to which agriculture is exposed, and the recommendations which are contained with reference to emigration in the Report of the Royal Com- mission? I will not ask the House to listen to any further remarks of mine upon this subject to-night; but I trust that it will not be lost sight of, in the consideration of this question, that emigration, not necessarily State-aided, but State-directed emigration, has presented itself to those who performed the duty of examining this great and pressing question, as one of the most ready, one of the most beneficial, and one of the most accessible means of relief to a population distressed by no fault of their own.


Sir, I shall not occupy the attention of the House for more than a few minutes with the few observations I have to make. I must say, after listening to the speech of the Secretary for Scotland, that if my right hon. Friend is under the impression that the measure he proposes will be a settlement of this question for all eternity, or even for a few years, I think he is much mistaken. I think we who are interested in seeing justice done in this matter should take all we can get; but as to regarding the Bill as a settlement, that, I think, is altogether illusory. In the first place, I should like to know whether my right hon. Friend does not intend to do something to prevent the further appropriation of commons in Shetland? There is no reference in the Bill to that subject, although it is dealt with in the Report of the Commissioners. Then with regard to deer forests. I listened with great pleasure to the remarks of my right hon. Friend; but it appears to me both disappointing and illogical that both my right hon. Friend and the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir William Harcourt) should last year have denounced the evil, and now take no steps to remedy it. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the conduct of certain proprietors with regard to deer forests. I do not know whether it was owing to a slip, but I hope so, that he omitted to tell the House what legislative measures are to be taken to deal with that subject; but I trust that he intends to take some steps, and not merely to allow his indignation to evaporate in empty words. Is it proposed that nothing shall be done for the crofters so far as arable land is concerned? If you leave them in their present condition, they are liable to evictions, and in that case they have no means of keep- ing themselves. I should like to have some information on that point, as also upon others of great importance. I ask my right hon. Friend what is intended to he done about the right to notice, and in the matter of arrears? And I point out that the whole of the subjects have been fully touched upon in the Report of the Royal Commissioners. Then, again, there is the case of the cottars. The Report contains a number of suggestions for the benefit of the cottars, and I have not heard throughout the whole of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that one suggestion for their benefit has been adopted. Sir, I imagine that the discontent in the Highlands can never be removed until the case of the cottars is, to some extent, grappled with in the same way as that of the crofters. Then there is another matter quite within the scope of the Bill, and which seems to have received no attention—that is the improvement of communications. The Report of the Commission contained numerous references to instances in which crofters are compelled to pay high rates for the maintenance of roads, when they live, perhaps, 20 miles from the roads. This, I say, is a point which, in any Bill entitled to be regarded as an efficient measure, must be dealt with. Then I must remind the House that the right hon. Gentleman has told us nothing about the right to heather, sea-ware, and things of that sort, which are required by the people of these districts. I should be very glad also if the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate (Mr. J. B. Balfour) will give us some information as to when it is proposed to go on with the second reading of the Bill. Of course, we shall have Notice of that; but, at the same time, I would say that our experience is not favourable to the postponement of the second reading stage of such Bills; and, therefore, I trust that the period of delay which will elapse before the second reading is taken will not be so long as to jeopardize the tardy instalment of relief which the Bill offers, and which, in a very much improved and extended form, we hope soon to see on the Statute Book.


Sir, I am sure that all hon. Members have listened with great interest to the sympathetic terms in which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland described the great evil with which he proposed to cope in the measure now before the House. I also acknowledge the great difficulties which surround this question, and the very great difficulty of dealing with it. At the same time, I am compelled to express my opinion, in common with other hon. Members who have spoken on the question, that the remedies suggested in the Bill are hedged around with so many limitations that I fear that it will have comparatively little effect. But, Sir, I will not go into details at the present moment. There is only one question to which I will refer. I gather from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that it is not proposed that any public money should be given in order to remedy the great evils which he has depicted. The right hon. Gentleman says there is no more reason why public money should be given to the Highlands of Scotland than to any other parts of the United Kingdom. I am under the impression, however, that large sums of money have been given in aid of various parts of the country; and it seems to me that schemes are in the air in connection with which, so it is said, large sums of money are to be asked for for the purpose of getting over difficulties in Ireland. I am not one of those who have tried to press upon Her Majesty's Government that they should make new demands upon the taxpayers of the country; and I will only say now that if we are to be called upon to assist the tenants in Ireland out of the public funds, it should be borne in mind that the people in the Highlands of Scotland are in no less need of assistance, and that I hope their claim in this respect will have the attention of Her Majesty's Government.


Sir, I desire to express my thanks for the tone of sympathy in which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland has spoken with regard to the crofter population. I think that the principles which underlie the Bill will solve the land questions, if they are carried out as they ought to be. The Bill contains all the principles which those who agree with me desire to see carried out. If we get a fair rent fixed by a competent tribunal, we shall be satisfied so far as that question is concerned. If we can secure a durable tenure, compensation to tenants for improvements, and more land for the people —if all these principles are fairly carried out, then I say that this measure will go a long way to solve the Highland difficulty. But I do not think that the Bill goes far enough in its provisions to carry out these principles. The restrictions it places on the action of the crofter are very unwise; they will even prevent him improving his dwelling-house. What the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland (Mr. Trevelyan) ought to do is to stimulate the crofters to improve their homes by erecting new dwellings, and induce them to give up their old black houses in favour of more modern white ones. Every inducement ought to be given the crofters to improve their dwellings. This is a very important question; and although I do not intend to take up the time of the House tonight, I desire to give an idea of the way in which the present system works. I was in the Island of Arran four years ago, and I lived with a crofter who had torn down his black house and erected a comfortable white building with windows in it. He had a lease from the landlord, who was a certain noble Duke, and while I was there his lease expired and his rent was raised from £18 to £80 a-year, which was the result of his having improved his house. Fortunately, however, the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) has a paper which is very largely circulated in the district I refer to, and its influence prevented the full raising of the rent from being carried into effect. I am sure, however, that the poor man would not have been able to get £18 out of his croft that year, for the deer of the noble Duke, his landlord, had come down and eaten nearly all his crops. I have said that there are four principles in this Bill which will go far to solve this question; but we expected the provisions of the Bill to have gone much further than we have had explained tonight. The Lord Advocate (Mr. J. B. Balfour) told his constituents during the Election that the next Crofters' Bill would be a much more Radical measure than that introduced last year; but it is simply the old Bill over again, plus the compulsory leasing of pasture land. The right hon. Gentleman—one of the Members from Birmingham—(Mr. J. Chamberlain) also told us that this Bill would be much more drastic than the old one; but I do not see that it is more drastic. The other measure was drastic enough if it had been carried through logically; and the Scotch crofters will not be satisfied with less than has been given to the Irish cottiers. If the Government is not prepared to give an increase of arable land as well as pasture land, there is no use in dealing with the question at all. The "three F.'s" will not settle it; even to give the crofters their present holdings free from both rents and taxes— even then they will not solve this Highland question. The crofters have not forgotten their rights, as the farmers of England and of the Lothians have done; but they believe that they have been defrauded of their rights, and they will not be satisfied until they have regained them. I must say that I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the sympathy which he has expressed towards these poor crofters; but I am bound to say, also, that what he has given with one hand he has taken away with the other, and that is a proceeding which the hard-headed crofter will be well able to see through, and will refuse to accept as a settlement.


I should not have ventured at this late hour to detain the House if it had not been for the challenge thrown out by an hon. Member, who said that no one personally acquainted with the facts could accept the statements of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Trevelyan), and insinuated that his statements were based on information received from tainted sources, and on superficial observation. Allow me, as representing a great industrial constituency in the Midlands, and as one who has risen from the ranks of the Scottish crofters, to repudiate these insinuations. From early and bitter experience I can testify to the deplorable condition of the crofters, and the imperative need that exists for finding a speedy remedy. The speech to which we have listened in support of the proposed Bill will send a thrill of joy through the hearts of thousands in Scotland—more, perhaps, from the spirit it evinces and the hopes it inspires than from the specific remedies suggested. I do not undervalue these remedies. They go very far in the right direction, and it may be possible to give them at a future stage a wider scope. The Royal Commission, to which reference has been made, admitted that in the North of Scotland an "economic crisis" has been reached. The time has come when the grievances must be dealt with in a thorough and practical form. They are the up growth of generations of misgovernment and oppression. I shall not go so far back as an hon. Gentleman opposite, and begin with our venerable ancestor, Adam; but, were this the time or occasion, I could tell how my ancestors, like thousands more, were within the past generation driven from their homes; how, when returning from church or from market, they found their dwellings unroofed and their bedding in flames; how they were driven out to people and make prosperous Upper Canada and other distant domains. Someone whispers that their leaving was for their own good. ["Hear, hear!"] I readily admit that the change was for their own good, and for the good of their adopted country; but that is certainly no excuse for the system under which they were expatriated, to the serious detriment of their native land. And as to the complaint uttered by an hon. Member opposite, that the crofters are reluctant to emigrate, lot me just ash—Who peopled Upper Canada? I regret that the Government Bill is not more comprehensible in its scope, and that the discussion seems to imply that the only people who are suffering in Scotland are the Highland crofters. I am intimately acquainted with the Lowlands, and, if time permitted, I could show that the suffering there is equally severe, and in some respects more harassing and hopeless than in the Highlands. The small holders in the Lowlands are, for the most part, under 19 years' leases. During past years rents have been increased, and to-day there are multitudes being subjected to a process of eviction as cruel and exacting as that which exists in the Highlands. Behind with the rents, which they are unable to pay, their stock and furniture are being sold off, and they themselves reduced to the point of starvation, whilst remorselessly bound by the terms of their leases. Something, I trust, will yet be done for them—something to rescue an industrious and honest and long-suffering race from the worst form of extermination. Let us, then, accept the proposals of the Government in the generous spirit in which they are made. They assert and embody the fundamental principle that justice must be done to this class—that fixity of tenure, fairly-adjusted rents, compensation for improvements, and extended holdings, shall be conceded; and when the Bill comes before us, let us wisely and firmly try to amend and extend it, so as to render it as largely beneficial as possible.


Like the rest of my hon. Friends, I am very pleased that the Bill goes so far—that is, if the principles it contains are carried out to their logical conclusion, which is not the case at present. In my opinion, half-a-loaf is better than no bread; and, therefore, I am prepared to accept the measure which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced; but I hope it will be extended to some extent in Committee. We have been asked why was emigration not going on? Well, we know that it has been the policy of the landlords for some time past to emigrate the people away from the Highlands. We know that the landlords feel that the only way to make the Highlands pay is by turning them into deer forests and clearing the crofters away altogether; but I hope that we shall hear nothing-more of that now. As a matter of fact, the Highlands are very thinly populated at present, and it will be time to talk about emigration when we have properly populated them. There is one point in the Bill which I am pleased to see, and that is that we are not going to have the land bought up from the landlords; and I hope that we shall never see anything more of that sort, and that the same principle will be applied to the Sister Isle. We have a right to make them let the land at a reasonable rent; but we have no right to make them sell out, and purchase their property out of the rates of our country. There is one other matter to which I should like to call attention, and which I consider to be one of the great blots on the Bill, and that is the question of arable land. The right hon. Gentleman said that it is not necessary to put a provision in the Bill to extend the arable land which the crofters had, because they had it all already; but I beg to challenge that statement, because it is well known that the arable land is mostly in the hands of the large farmers. What is the good, therefore, of giving the crofters a bare hill side? Unless we give the crofters the power of enlarging their one or two acres of arable land, no good whatever will be done. That, in my mind, is the greatest point in connection with the Bill. And why should we not extend the power of acquiring arable land? Why carry out a principle in regard to one sort of land and not another? I hope that this matter will be reconsidered; and I hope that no one knowing the Highlands will say again that the crofters already hold the greater portion of the arable land. Whenever we see good arable land in the Highlands we find that it is mostly in the possession of the large farmers; and unless means are taken to increase that in the possession of the small crofters, the Bill will not go as far as it should do. We have been told, also, that gentlemen having deer forests spend a large amount of money among the people. Well, tliat is all very well; but we who know the Highland mountains know that that is not so. When they do spend money they spend it for their own purposes, and amongst their own people, who are amongst the most demoralized portion of the whole of our Highland population. I am very pleased also that there are no proposals in the Bill in regard to game, because I think that every man ought to have the right to shoot what game he can. I am glad, moreover, to see the provisions as to fishing; but there is another point in connection with fishing which the Government must consider, and that is with reference to the construction of suitable harbours. The crofters must have more piers and harbours, or they cannot carry on the fishing industry satisfactorily. At present they cannot use large boats, because they cannot get them up out of the sea; and in bad weather they can do nothing with the small boats at their disposal, because there is every chance of their getting drowned. Another point is this—that the Government should make some provision for giving these people money to enable them to stock their farms, for what is the good of giving them land if they have no stock to put on it? The Government lend money to promote the fisheries industry, but they do not do so to promote the better cultivation of the land; and I think this is a point which might well be considered at some future period.


I think that the scope of the Bill might very well be extended to other parts of Scotland, and I hope, at least, that the right hon. Gentleman will consent to make its provisions embrace Perthshire.


There is only one point which I should like to call attention to; but I cannot help expressing my pleasure at hearing the words of sympathy which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Trevelyan) spoke in regard to the crofters. I could not help wishing, when I heard him express his indignation in regard to deer forests, that the provisions of the Bill came up to the right hon. Gentleman's indignation. The point to which I desire to call attention, however, is the possibility, or more than possibility, of extensive evictions. Nothing has been said as to the intention of the Government in regard to the grievance which may arise on this score. Possibly the matter does not properly arise on this Bill, yet it may be that this Bill will do incalculable mischief. It must certainly tend to increase the evictions, because, in view of its passing, the landlords may endeavour to get rid of what they will call a troublesome class as soon as possible.


I wish to extend the right hand of fellowship to the very excellent measure which has just been brought in, which I think carries out many of the best principles of agricultural legislation. I think, however, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland (Mr. Trevelyan) should give a favourable ear to the Bill which some of my hon. Friends are going to bring in, which meets a great many of those points which have been mentioned by hon. Members in this discussion. In regard to what has fallen from my hon. Friend, who pointed out that the Bill might be made to apply very much more widely than it did, I wish to point out that in Aberdeenshire, which I represent, there are a great many small holdings, and I hope that the provisions of the Bill will be extended to that county.


In reply to the question which has been put to me by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) as to whether the Bill will apply to Shetland or not, I have to say that that will depend upon whether the crofters' rights of grazing there will be covered by the Bill. I do not know the particulars of that case; but my hon. Friend can draw his own conclusion from what I have said. In regard to arable land, it appears to us that there would be great difficulty in allowing extensions of arable land in one part of the country and not in others. The reason of our dealing with pasture land is that the deprivation of pasture has been a serious inconvenience to the crofters, because they have not been able to keep cattle or sheep; but now they will be in a position to do so. But that matter has been fully explained by my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland (Mr. Trevelyan). With regard to the question of notice, that matter has not escaped the attention of the Government, and we have, in Clause 3 of the Bill, given a greater length of time during which the arrears are not to constitute a ground of removal from the farm. The provisions as to security of tenure will apply to tenants of arable land as well as to tenants of other kinds of land. The question of arrears, of course, raises an enormous question, and I do not think the Crofters' Commission have suggested any legislation on that point. With regard to the cottar, we propose to deal with him very much in the same way as in the Bill of last year. I have had very many cases of hardship brought under my notice in some of the Highlands, of the people being obliged to pay a road rate, when in some cases there is nothing in the nature of a road within three miles of their holdings; but I am afraid that that question does not come within the scope of this Bill. It is an incidental question which really falls under the heading of road administration. There are no advantages derived by any resident from a main road such as there are from such roads as a rate will enable to be made. Still, a person who is made to pay without any advantage from the rate will feel the hardship. With regard to sea-ware, no doubt there are some provisions or recommendations it is difficult to work out by legislation; but I should hope, as time passes, that there will be fair tolerance on the part of proprietors to allow sea-ware to be used. Another point was referred to by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell), who said there was no provision for fisheries. There is pro- vision for certain money being devoted to fisheries, and all who have studied this question look to that as one of the greatest sources of amelioration for the crofter population. Then the hon. Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark) rather lamented that there was no adequate inducement to the crofter to give up his bad house and build a better. Well, we think we have given a very material inducement on that question, because we have provided, in a scheme much more liberal than the Agricultural Holdings Act, that a crofter, when he removes, shall be entitled to fair compensation for what he has built on his holding, always subject to the reasonable provision that it shall be suitable to the holding. I do not think he is likely to be too extravagant in this matter. When we propose to provide here that without any antecedent notice to the landlord, or subsequent consent, there shall be fair compensation given, that does seem the most practical inducement that you can give to any man to build the best kind of house that his money will enable him to build. I have no doubt that that will prove a great amelioration of the character of the dwellings inhabited by this class of the population. Something was said about comparison with the Irish Land Act; but I would point out that there are some things which will be given by this Bill which have never been given in Ireland. The tenure will be a more enduring one, and the provision for enlargement of pasture is more extensive than anything which has ever been suggested for Ireland. Something was said about allotments, by way of reference to the cottage provisions of the recent Irish legislation; but it must be borne in mind that these were only provisions to give half-acres as adjoining a house. There was no provision for making farms for anyone; therefore, it will be found, on reflection, that there has been no want of regard to small interests in Scotland as compared with Ireland. One remark was made in regard to harbours. I am quite sure that all who know the Islands will be desirous of seeing better harbours made in numerous places, because it is generally known that one of the great difficulties of prosecuting fishing successfully is that the existing harbours cannot be used by the boats on account of insufficient depth of water. The boats have to be drawn up on the beach, and, of course, a boat that can be used in that way is not one that can withstand rough weather and proceed with safety to the more distant fishing grounds. The Piers and Harbours Committee, on the testimony they received, thought that money should not be spent by way of advance for harbours that are of mere local importance—that unless they are of national importance advances should not be made. No doubt, however, there are provisions by which it is possible to obtain loans for these local harbours; but then, of course, the main difficulty in many of the Islands and Highlands would be to find persons to take on themselves the liability for the expenditure. That matter, however, has not been overlooked, because within the last few years we have made some provision under which one harbour at least has been made, the surplus of the herring fishing brand fees having been taken in towards the expense. I should rejoice if any other funds were put at the disposal of those concerned in this matter in Scotland. I do not think at present it is possible to do any more than take these herring brand fees; there has not appeared any disposition that any more should be done. I do not think any other points were referred to by way of question. I am not going into the details of the Bill, which, when it is before hon. Members, they will have an opportunity of studying for themselves. Something has been said as to when it will be possible to take the second reading. It will be a day or two before it will be in the hands of Members; therefore, probably it will be to the convenience of the House that it should be read a second time about 10 days hence.


Will it be put down as the first Order of the Day?


I shall only be too glad to get as good a place as possible for the second reading among the Orders.


I desire to explain that the Local Authority referred to in the Bill I have introduced is meant to be the Local Authority to be appointed under the Local Government scheme, and not the Commissioners of Supply. "With reference to the question of keeping deer, my intention is that everyone who has a deer forest should fence it properly so as to prevent the deer trespassing. I am glad the Government are going to help these people in regard to fishing, as I am sure assistance granted in that direction will be one of the most important ameliorations possible.


I am very glad to be able to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland on the spirit which has pervaded the introduction of this measure. But the Bill is by no means clear of defects. I think there is a want of scope in locality, and in some other of the provisions the right hon. Gentleman indicated— for instance, in the distinction drawn between arable and pasture land; but I will say that he laid down a principle which this House cannot too widely endorse—namely, that it is impolitic to take public money for the purpose of buying land for any section of the community. That is, I think, to more advanced Liberals the most valuable of principles that have been held by this House. There was one proposition, however, which the right hon. Gentleman asked the House to affirm, to which, on my part, I can give no assent—that the landlords in Scotland have in all cases been considerate and wise. I maintain that the rents have been screwed up by legal machinery, and that they have had, by the very nature of the land itself, a monopoly. The thin end of the wedge is now put in, and I think some of the principles of tenant right will have to be extended to every section of tenants in Scotland. Why? Because the rents now are such that the tenants cannot pay them out of the surplus after the charges of production have been met. A remission of rents is, consequently, as necessary to large tenants as to the crofters; and at the proper time I shall move an Amendment to the effect that the same principle which is applicable to the crofters should be extended to those who have, in consequence of laws unjust and impolitic, been forced into paying more than the natural rent of the land, and into positions which are just as full of vicissitudes as that of the crofters. When this measure is again brought up, I think we should go further and do something for those who have entered into long leases under circumstances that do not at this moment continue. I say, again, that the landlords of Scotland have not, in their relations to the larger tenants, as well as to the smaller, been wise and considerate.


Before you put the Question from the Chair, Mr. Speaker, I should like to say one word. I should have liked, had it been possible, to have expressed my opinion on the Bill like other hon. Members opposite; but as it is not desirable to protract the debate further, it will be well that what remains to be said should be said on the second reading. I think we have to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland for a most lucid and clear statement; but the very lucidity and clearness of his statement have brought out most forcibly that when we come to read the measure which has been prepared by himself and the Lord Advocate, it will be found to be different to a very great extent from the one that was before the House in the early part of this year. Therefore, it will be desirable to have it discussed on the second reading, when the whole terms of it will be before the House. I must say that, from the debate which I have listened to with great interest and attention to-night, I think it desirable, as the Lord Advocate has suggested, that one should have some time for preparing for the debate on the second reading. I myself have taken a great interest in this question, because, having held the Office that the right hon. Gentleman now holds for some time, I was busy in preparing to meet the crofter difficulty to the best of my power. But I have also an interest in it as being my self a Highlander and the son of a Highlander. I do trust, if it is possible, by any means, that we shall be able to bring to an end this difficult and distressing subject, which at present is disturbing so many minds. But, as I said, I do not think it desirable to protract this debate any longer in a rather thin House. The subject will have to be taken up pretty fully on the second reading, and I should like to reserve what I have to say to that occasion.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought it by Mr. TREYELYAN, The LORD ADVOCATE, and Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL for SCOTLAND.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 118.]