HC Deb 11 June 1886 vol 306 cc1499-506
DR. RODERICK MACDONALD (Ross and Cromarty)

rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely, the appointment of Commissioners under the Crofters (Scotland) Act of this Session.

But, the pleasure of the House not having been signified,


called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places:—

And, not less than 40 Members having accordingly risen in their places:—


said, he was sorry to say that this was the only means left to him, as a Crofter Representative, to bring this matter before the House and the country. It was well known to the House that they had had some trouble on this subject some time back. They had heard that certain Commissioners had been appointed, and they made all the fight they could to prevent their appointment. A great delay took place, and in the meantime the votes of the Crofter Representatives were given for a certain Bill in that House; but the Government had adhered to their former tactics in this matter. He had often said to the House before that that the Act itself was bad enough; but it was now going to be made ten times worse by the appointment of Commissioners who had not got in any way the confidence of the crofters. He was afraid the Act would become a dead letter entirely. To his mind it was very doubtful whether, in a great many instances, the people would take any notice of the Commission at all, because they did not think it would do justice to them. They had heard a great deal in that House lately of the wishes of the people being expressed through their Representatives. He thought, if that was true of any part of this country, it was true of the Highlands of Scotland. But when they came to set this Act agoing they found that their wishes were ignored, and that they were not allowed to have any say whatever in the matter, although they were entirely at one in regard to it with one exception—that of the noble Marquess the Member for Sutherland (the Marquess of Stafford). The Prime Minister, speaking on the Irish Question the other evening, said he had no right to assume that the Parnellite Members did not speak the mind of the decided majority of the Irish people. But, although the Crofter Members spoke the mind of the majority of the people in the Highlands, their wishes were entirely ignored and scouted by the Government. They found that the Commissioners who were appointed to carry out this Act were the nominees of landlords in the Highlands, and not only so, but, as the people believed, the nominees of landlords who were unsuccessful at the recent elections in the Highland counties. If landlords, because they were landlords, were to wield the influence of the Government in this way, they might as well disfranchise the Highlands altogether, and the time of the House had been entirely thrown away in regard to this matter. Let them look at the difference between the Crofter Representatives and the Irish Representatives. The former were weak, and it was supposed that they could be trampled on by the Government as they liked. There was a day when Ireland was weak and was trampled upon, and this was the best means the Government could use to increase the number of Crofter Representatives from the Highlands, and from other parts of the country in which the crofters had not yet risen against the landlords' tyranny. The proposed message of peace to the Highlands had been cut and carved in every way during its progress through that House, and now it was to be worked in an impossible way. The Lord Advocate for Scotland had done more to alienate the people of the Highlands from Radicalism, and from the present Government, than anything else that had been done in that House, because everything had been done against the wishes of the Crofter Representatives. He dared say Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House would not be sorry to hear that opinion in the Highlands was going over to their side. The belief was that they had got the Bill, bad as it was, from the Liberals, and when the Tories came in they would get the money, and it would be all right. That was the feeling in the Highlands now. The people of Scotland, and Highlanders in particular, were simply in the position of the Irish. They had a Dublin Castle in Scotland, too, in the form of an Edinburgh Parliament House, who did as they liked. It was an Augean stable which Scottish Home Rule would very soon clear out, because they held that these Gentlemen were not in accord with the people in any way whatever. They had asked the Government—and they thought it a very reasonable proposal—that they should at least have some representation on this Commission in whom the people would have confidence. They had tried all they could to get two Representatives on the Commission, for they knew that the Gentlemen at the head of the Commission would be in favour of the landlords. They had not succeeded in that, and the matter had gone so far that he himself, no later than Saturday last, had asked the Secretary for Scotland to give them one Representative on the Commission, and they would be satisfied. But they had not got even one man, and those who had been appointed were the friends and protégés of the landlords. He hoped the House would show its sense of the disgraceful manner in which they had been treated by the Government in giving them this one-sided Commission, that would only cause irritation, instead of doing any good. He moved the adjournment of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Dr. Roderick Macdonald.)


said, that when the Question was put he rose for the purpose of giving his hon. Friend the opportunity he desired to call attention to the subject; but he must express his disappointment that the hon. Member was one of only two Crofter Representatives who took sufficient interest in the question to be present on the occasion. [Dr. MACDONALD: There is another.] He would go with his hon. Friend so far as to say that he thought the Government, both in the conduct of the Bill through the House and in the appointment of the Commissioners, would have acted wisely if they had given a little more consideration to the Crofter Members, and, he would say, to the Radical Party. He observed that the Legal Commissioner was to have a salary of £1,200 a-year, and that the gentleman nominated for the appointment was Mr. Brand, who was described as Sheriff of Ayrshire. He did not mean to say that Mr. Brand was an inmate of the Augean stable to which his hon. Friend had referred; but he wished to know whether the Government had made any special arrangement with the learned gentleman? He understood that Edinburgh was more fortunate than they were in this part of the world, inasmuch as there was an office for every three members of the Profession. Apparently, from the pluralism that was exhibited on this occasion, there were more offices than candidates. What he wanted to know was whether they were going to give Mr. Brand the total aggregate salary of the two offices for duties which, put together, were not likely to be excessive?


said, he regretted the Lord Advocate was unavoidably absent to-night, because, from the close attention he had given to matters connected with the Crofters Bill, he would have been more competent to reply to the observations that had just been made. But he was glad to think that those observations were not of such a serious character as to impose any great difficulty upon the Representative of the Government who required to reply to them. He also regretted that the hon. Member for Ross-shire (Dr. Macdonald) had thought it necessary to bring this matter forward, because he quite agreed with him that it was extremely desirable that this Commission and the Crofters Bill should be started under circumstances calculated to inspire confidence throughout the whole of the crofter community; and he hoped, in spite of what was taking place now, that the Commission, when it did enter upon its duties, would possess and receive that confidence. He was not quite sure, from his hon. Friend's remarks, whether he took exception to the Commission as a whole or only to one or more Members of it. With regard to the appointment of Mr. Brand, anyone who had to do with legal matters in Scotland would not hesitate at once to acknowledge that the Government and the crofters were extremely fortunate in having been able to secure the services, as Legal Commissioner, of Mr. Brand. He had been a member of the Scottish Bar for upwards of 20 years, and had filled the office of Advocate Depute for a considerable number of years, during which he (Mr. Asher) had had numerous opportunities of appreciating his high, legal qualifications. Mr. Brand had also filled the office of Principal Sheriff of Ayrshire, and he had only heard one account of the admirable manner in which he had discharged the duties of that office. In regard to Mr. Hossack, he had been very much surprised to hear the hon. Member declare that the gentlemen who had been chosen were the nominees of landlords, and defeated landlords. Amongst other recommendations which were put before the Government in support of Mr. Hossack's appointment were one by the hon. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macfarlane), and another by the hon. Member for the Wick Burghs (Mr. Macdonald Cameron), who was sitting at that moment beside the hon. Member for Ross-shire. Besides these recommendations, there was a body of testimony absolutely irresistible in support of the ability and capacity of Mr. Hossack to discharge the duties of a Commissioner under the Bill. With regard to the appointment of Mr. M'Intyre, farmer, of Findon, in Ross-shire, there had also been a very large body of testimony in his favour, and that of an extremely varied character. His hon. Friend was quite aware that a very short time ago opposition was offered on behalf of certain representatives of the crofters to Mr. M'Intyre's appointment, and it had also got abroad that certain other gentlemen were specially favoured by certain representatives of the crofters. It was, of course, the duty of the Secretary for Scotland to take into consideration all the material brought under his notice affecting the eligibility of the different gentlemen who were suggested; and he thought it right to say that his noble Friend (the Earl of Dalhousie) had for a considerable time past devoted great attention to this matter, with, he was certain, the single and sole desire to secure the services of the very best men. But what he wanted to point out was this—that when it got abroad that opposition was being offered to the appointment of Mr. M'Intyre, of Findon, a very curious circumstance took place. A small number of communications were received, chiefly by telegram, at the Scottish Office objecting to the appointment, and it was observed that these came chiefly from the neighbourhood of the other two gentlemen whose names had been suggested. On the other hand, there came an overwhelmingly larger number of telegrams from a great variety of places in Ross-shire, Sutherlandshire, Skye, and other parts of Inverness-shire, from single crofters, and from several crofters telegraphing together, stating that they had unbounded confidence in Mr. M'Intyre, and that the Government could not by any possibility get a man who would be be more acceptable to the crofter community. He did not for a moment suggest that Mr. M'Intyre's appointment was founded upon these telegrams; there was much more reliable material than that available to the Secretary for Scotland to enable him to make up his mind in this important matter; but it certainly was satisfactory that there was this perfectly voluntary and independent testimony from such a large number of quarters in support of the view which the Secretary for Scotland had made up his mind to adopt. He had stated all that he had to say in support of what the Government had done. He repeated that the matter had received the most careful and anxious consideration with the view of securing the very best men possible; and he had the greatest hope that it would be found that those who had boon selected were perfectly qualified for the office, and that they would by their action immediately secure the confidence of the whole community interested in the effective administration of the Act.


reminded the Solicitor General for Scotland that he had not answered his question with regard to the financial arrangement.


said, that the financial arrangements were not absolutely completed at that moment. The terms of the remuneration, he understood, had not yet been adjusted with the Commissioners; but he might say that it was in the contemplation of the Government that the salary of the Legal Commissioner should be £1,200 a-year, which would secure that the services of Sheriff Brand would be given to the utmost extent necessary for the discharge of his duties under the Act.


said, his question was whether Sheriff Brand was to receive the aggregate salary of the two offices.


said, that was so; and he might add that the Government contemplated fixing the salary of £800 a-year to each of the Lay Commissioners.

DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)

wished to call attention to the unbusiness-like manner in which this arrangement had been made. They had got Commissioners appointed, and a formal announcement was made on the subject; but no financial arrangement had been made with regard to their salaries. It turned out that it was intended to pay a double salary to the Legal Commissioner.


said, it was certainly not contemplated that Sheriff Brand should resign his office as Sheriff of Ayrshire. Hon. Members from Scotland must be aware that the office of Principal Sheriff was held by a practising member of the Bar, and his exclusive services could not be obtained for £700 a-year. Sheriff Brand would retain his appointment as Sheriff, while at the same time performing his duties as Legal Commissioner; but, of course, the other duties which he had performed along with those of the Sheriffship would now have to give way.


asked whether it was proposed to give the Legal Commissioner, as reported among the Scottish Members, not £1,900 a year, which was the aggregate of the two salaries, but some smaller amount?


said, he did not object to the appointment of Sheriff Brand, who was an excellent and capable man; but he thought it would have been most desirable, when they were entering into an engagement of this exceptional character, if the Representatives of the Scottish Office had been able to assure the House that the arrangement had been gone about in a business-like fashion.


said, that the Treasury were responsible for the financial arrangement, and not the Scottish Office. The Treasury had not had a conflict with the Scottish Office on the subject. They had dealt with them as they dealt with other Departments, and they had endeavoured to apportion what they considered proper salaries for the work to be done. The Irish Land Commissioners had £3,000 a-year; but the Treasury in this case considered that they would not be justified in allowing a maximum salary of more than £2,000 a-year to the Chief Commissioner. They required the Chief Commissioner to abstain from all private practice; they did not interfere with his Sheriffship. His salary as Sheriff would be taken into consideration, and in no case would he be allowed to receive more than £2,000 a-year. He believed the present emolument of Mr. Brand as Sheriff was £700; and the Treasury considered that they had made a business-like and economical bargain.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.