§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Secretary for Scotland.)
§ MR. RAMSAY (, &c.) Falkirk
, in rising to move, as an Amendment—That it is requisite that any measure intended for the improvement of the condition of the population of the Islands on the West Coast of Scotland should make provision for assisting the voluntary emigration of families from congested districts,said, he wished to call attention to some of the facts regarding the condition of the country which had led to the proposal now before the House. The defects of the Bill were really so great that, even if it were rejected, he would see very little cause for regret. The measure was one which applied to a certain limited area in Scotland. A very limited proportion of the population of the Highlands would be affected by its provisions. The distress which was justly complained of in the Highlands might be very well described in terms corresponding to those in which Irish distress had been spoken of by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. John Morley) — namely, as of gradual growth, and the intense suffering of many of the people in the West of Scotland was matter of grave concern to those who took an interest in the welfare of that population. When the Bill was introduced he pointed out that it contained grave defects, for which he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland (Mr. Trevelyan) might be able to provide some remedy. The limited area to which the Bill applied he did not think was warranted by the circumstances of the case. The right hon. Gentleman had shrunk from introducing a measure of this nature applicable to the whole of Scotland. It had been said by some—but he did not concur in the opinion—that the object of the right hon. Gentleman and the Cabinet was so to depreciate the value of landed estates within 126 a limited area that it should be an easy matter hereafter to carry out the ideas of those who wished to get rid of ownership in land altogether, and distribute it equally among the people. Some periods in history had been referred to when the people had rights which they had not recently enjoyed—when land was held by the occupiers on a different tenure. He had looked into that question as narrowly as he could with all the resources at his command; but he had failed to discover any period in history when the lands in those parts of Scotland which were included in this Bill was held under a tenure different from that under which it was held in other parts of the country. It had been said there were tribal rights under the clan system which were now ignored. He was aware of a period when the land and the people were a subject of sale, and the land passed from hand to hand with the whole population upon it. There was very little regard to the rights of the people at that period. They were serfs on the soil, and nothing else. But he could not conceive that the right hon. Gentleman or the Cabinet could have in view the bringing about of a more rapid depreciation in the value of land than was now going on; but they certainly gave great ground for that opinion by the course which they had adopted. Twenty years ago land was saleable at a very high price; at the present time it was totally unsaleable. He was very much surprised that many of those hon. Gentlemen who advocated the claims of the crofters had never bought any land—many of them being wealthy men—in order to set an example to proprietors as to how people could be made happy on the small crofts which it was proposed by this Bill they should now have the right to obtain. The idea of appointing a Land Court to estimate the value of the land assumed that the occupiers of the soil in Scotland, so far as that area was concerned, were persons who were totally incapable of managing their own affairs. He had had a considerable knowledge of the people himself, and had always found them inoffensive and law-observing, and certainly had never discovered among them a want of capacity to manage their own affairs. The existing distress had been confined chiefly to the population within the Western Islands. 127 Some spoke of that distress as a new thing; but, so far from that being the case, it had been of periodical recurrence. He was old enough to remember when, in 1836–7, and again in 1846–7, the total failure of the potato crop caused much distress among these populations, and reduced them to a state which he hoped might never recur. In the year 1850 half of the population of Skye and the Long Island were dependent upon charity for their support. There was, no doubt, at the present time much distress; but it had been aggravated by the fact that the minds of the people had been unsettled by the emissaries of certain organizations which had been established apparently with no other end in view than to promote discontent with the landlords and disaffection towards the State. The people has been misled by the promises that were held out to them. His political tenets might not be so advanced as those of some of his hon. Friends around him; but he felt that no good could be done to any man or set of men unless they were prepared to exert themselves for the purpose of securing that good. He believed this agitation had been the means of producing great demoralization among these people, and their self-reliance had been destroyed. On that ground he felt that any interference from without would be worse than useless unless it was in the direction of procuring benefit to those who might still remain. He had no wish to countenance the removal of the people by enforced emigration; but he believed one great barrier to the progress of the population and the development of the resources of these Islands was due, not to anything done by the owners of the soil, but to the fact that the people were ignorant of the English language, and were placed by their insular position in circumstances of great difficulty in migrating from their own homes for the purpose of seeking employment elsewhere. The depopulation of the Highlands and Islands was spoken of when the question of the crofters was before the House as the grand reason why a Commission should be appointed to investigate the causes of the prevailing distress; but he had been unable to obtain anything like satisfaction on that point from a perusal of the Report of the Commission. Much of the evidence that came before the Commission 128 was not the recital of facts, but a statement of hearsay opinions as to sufferings that were endured at some remote period. All that hearsay evidence had been taken up and adopted by the Commissioners as if the statements had had reference to the state of the present population. The fact was that the distress chiefly prevailed in the Islands. The group of Islands known as the Long Island had been, and were now, the subject of consideration. He saw only last week in some of the London papers the notice of a Memorial that had been addressed to the Lord Mayor of London complaining that the inhabitants were now in destitution, and that they had no seed corn—the same cry which had come from Ireland, and which should be responded to if possible. The owners of the soil were not responsible; the fault of which they had been guilty was failing to prevent people doing that which was detrimental to their own interests — namely, sub-dividing their small holdings. On the estate of Lewis there were 2,800 families with crofts of each less than £4 of annual value. It was said that these rents were far too high, and it was proposed to appoint a Land Court to determine the rent that should be paid. In short, if this Bill were justified, it would be equally justifiable to take the land from the owners and give them no consideration, but to allow them to hold any croft which they might themselves occupy at the present time. He had, for his own part, to say sincerely that, rather than have his lands taken away from him step by step, year by year, under various measures, which precluded the possibility of his making an agreement which was binding on the occupiers of the soil—rather than see land held on those terms, he should be prepared to relinquish it altogether, and accept simply such compensation as would enable him to earn his bread, and not throw him and those similarly situated into the workhouse for relief. The Bill provided that the occupier, after obtaining from the Court a lease for 15 years, had the right within any one year to renounce possession, and to compel the owner to pay him for any buildings and improvements made on the soil, although he might have made these improvements and erected those buildings on the understanding that he had no claim to compensation 129 for anything of the kind. A large section of the population consisted, not of occupiers who paid rent to the landlord, but of squatters or cottars, settled around the dwelling of the occupier, and who were really there without any recognition or knowledge of their existence on the part of the landlord, and who paid no rent to him. If a person under the law of Scotland erected a house in any part of the country, without the knowledge of the owner of the soil, unless he could show some title, he had no right to compensation for that house. The miserable hovels that the squatters erected were of no possible value to the proprietor; but such was the wisdom of Her Majesty's Ministers, that they changed the law in this respect without any reference to the will of the owner, and gave compensation for the miserable hut of the squatter if he was removed by the owner of the soil. Nothing more contrary to justice or common sense could possibly be imagined. He should be prepared to show that no such provisions would benefit either the occupier or any other person; but it would be injurious to their interests, because it impaired the interest that the owner had in the land, and would cause him to cease from making many of those improvements which had been carried out at great cost without any adequate return. It might shortly be the lot of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Trevelyan) to introduce a Land Purchase Bill for Scotland. He had already shown that if insular proprietors had been guilty of any fault, it was simply the fault of allowing the people to subdivide their holdings to an extent that was injurious to the people themselves. It was sometimes said that the people were indolent; but people who were suffering and in want could not be expected to be very industrious or active, especially when there was no employment within their reach by which they could earn their bread. He believed that no such Bill as this could ever have been framed by men who were in any way acquainted with the condition of the Highlands. It might suit many who desired the downfall of the owners of land; but he asked if it was well to have the downfall of the owners brought about when they found that so many good works had been executed by men who had no other inducements to execute these works but that 130 of promoting the welfare of the population. No such Bill as this would have been thought of if the Government had known the real state of the case. If there was any good reason why the Bill was applicable to the counties named in the Bill, there were the same, and even stronger, reasons for applying it to the whole of Scotland. He could not see on what ground this could be refused. There was not a county in Scotland in which during the last 80 years the small occupiers held grazing land in common. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Trevelyan), in introducing the Bill, said that the people depended, not on the land only, but also largely on the fisheries. That was, to some extent, true; but he (Mr. Ramsay) did not know of a single instance in which the fisheries had created an independent population, except in Argyllshire. When the Crofters Commission met at Tarbert, they were told by the men that they wanted no land—that the prosecution of the fishing and the cultivation of land were not compatible with the interests of the fishermen. In the time of Cromwell that illustrious statesman did what he could to improve the position of the fishermen; and in 1706 an Act was passed to encourage the fishings, and along the West Coast stations were established, where it was expected the people would take to fishing as a calling; but, unfortunately, they were also given small crofts of land—he thought about three acres, but he did not know about the cow. Now, there was a passage in a Report issued during the last century which said—No two occupations could be more incompatible than farming and fishing, as the seasons which require undivided exertion in fishing are precisely those in which the greatest attention should be devoted to agriculture. Grazing, which is less incompatible with fishing than agriculture, is even found to distract attention and prevent success in either occupation. This is demonstrated by the very different success of those who unite both occupations, from those who devote themselves exclusively to fishing.He wished the right hon. Gentleman would give due consideration to that opinion, confirmed, as it had been, by the express refusal of the Tarbert men to have more land; and yet the whole county of Argyll was included in the Bill. In the Western Islands there were probably 60,000 souls dependent for subsistence upon the cultivation of the soil; and what opportunity 131 was there for that in congested districts? That those districts were in that position might be illustrated by the case of Lewis. Lewis contained about 400,000 acres, and he believed in that district 30 acres would not graze one snipe. There was no vegetation on the surface, and there was nothing from which a snipe could get grazing. [Laughter.] His right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate (Mr. J. B. Balfour) was amused at that idea; but if there was no vegetation on the surface—and there was none—how could a snipe get grazing? It was not the acreage which was the real test of congestion. The annual agricultural value of the estate was only equal to about 6d. per acre, an 30 or 60 or 80 acres would be insufficient for the subsistence of a family if they restricted them to that area. If the whole area of Lewis were divided equally among the population, it would give each man about 80 acres, or £2 annual value. In 10 years, he believed, matters would be worse than they were now, if they were even to eject the proprietrix, and tell her that she had no right to the land, and say the people had a tribal right to the land—and Parliament could say that; although why not also divide capital as well as land, and give the people an equal share of the National Debt? The poor of London were worthy of consideration as well as the poor of the Highlands, although he was really speaking in the interest of the people in the Highlands. If a few benevolent gentlemen, who imagined they knew something of the relations of owner and occupier, would visit the districts dealt with by this Bill, they would change their opinions, and would feel the justice of the proposals he had made. The depopulation of the Highlands was one of the reasons urged for the appointment of the Royal Commission, and the Commissioners required that there should be means provided for the voluntary emigration of families from these congested districts; but there was no mention of this in the Bill. He should like to know why emigration was excluded from this Bill? It might be alleged that it was right for benevolent persons to provide funds for this purpose. Well, he agreed with that, and much had been done, and much might be done, in that direction. He had long taken an interest in the cause of education in these districts. Some might imagine 132 that his aid in that respect should have induced those so crowded to remove. Well, he believed that the exclusive knowledge of Gaelic on the part of the people was really one of the greatest barriers to their removal to other districts. There was no doubt about that, and no man who knew the feelings of the Gaelic people would say otherwise. He did not know what their Representatives who might follow him would say on that point. He had been a member of of the Gaelic School Society for upwards of 40 years, and had never heard of one of the Gentlemen who were now pleading the cause of the crofters in the House of Commons spending a sixpence of his own money to do anything for the amelioration of the people. He had heard, however, of large subscriptions being raised and spent to promote agitation in these districts, and to create discontent. He had heard of a gentleman who had been sent down for a fortnight, during the last General Election, to discover some case of hardship, of which he himself had been guilty to one of his occupiers. Well, he failed. There were few gentlemen who had been in business or connected with the land for 30 years and upwards, as he had been an owner of land, could say with him that they had never had a tenant in Court or a legal process raised against one of their occupiers. Many of these tenants were poor people, and the small occupiers were as well satisfied with their condition as the occupants of farms. In Lewis the only proper harbour was Stornoway, where there was a trading community, who provided the people with all the necessaries of life. The proprietrix of Lewis had land worth £10,000 a-year, and had expended large sums of money in making roads and other improvements there. But he was sorry to say that she made nothing out of the land; therefore, as an investment, it had been a most unfortunate one for the owner, as most proprietors had found, where the purchases had been made within the last 30 years. There were in Lewis 2,800 families, or some 14,000 persons, dependent upon patches of land of less than £4 annual value, and his right hon. Friend would require; he considered, to do something for the migration—which he would prefer—or the voluntary emigration of families 133 from that area, where they were condemned to ever-impending destitution. He might also refer to Skye. Who that had been there would say that an equal division of the land among its population would do? He wondered what the man would do who was placed on the top of the Cuchullin Hills there? With regard to the population of Harris, North Uist, South Uist, and Barra, some of them were better off than the people of Lewis, because the land was of more value, the rental being equal to about £1 per head of the population. But such being the general state of matters, he could not understand how any Bill to alleviate the dissatisfaction of these people could be introduced without containing some provision of funds, come from where they might, which should have been ascertained before a responsible Government introduced a measure which would tend to deceive the people, and create an illusion in their minds that Parliament was providing for them, when, in reality, they gained nothing at all. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Amendment.
§ SIR HERBERT MAXWELL (Wigton)
, in rising to second the Amendment, said, that the reason which induced him to take that course was principally the fear that by the omission from this Bill of more than one of the subjects recommended by the Royal Commission its benefits would be lost to the population in whose interests it had been framed. He was not, at the same time, prepared to go quite so far as the Mover had done in his speech, because, in proposing the Amendment, he had entered upon grounds and dealt with matters in such a way that if they were to be convinced by all he had said they would be obliged to reject the Bill in its entirety. He was very far from advocating that course, for he believed that the Bill, so far as it went—it did not go very far—might be capable of being amended in Committee so as to be of advantage to the people of the Highlands and Islands. If it, however, passed in its present stage, and contained no more than it had within its four corners at the present time, the benefits which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland (Mr. Trevelyan) spoke of as about to result from it, would prove to be absolutely and 134 completely illusory. It was very strange that when a Bill was based avowedly upon the recommendations of a Royal Commission, after an inquiry than which none was ever more conscientious or arduous, the proposals in the measure should only touch upon one or two of the points recommended by the Commission, and leave the others altogether sub silentio. The Report of the Royal Commission dealt with no fewer than six subjects, containing recommendations as to each—namely, upon the land, upon the fisheries and communications, upon education, upon justice, upon the deer forests, and upon emigration as affecting the population of the Highlands and Islands. Was it not hard to believe that, of all these six subjects, only one was dealt with by the Bill of the Government — namely, the land? They had the opinion of the Royal Commissioners that the land was of less importance to the people of the Highlands and Islands than was the sea, for the very obvious reason that the land in these regions was unfertile, and the sea was fertile. The Government had left out altogether the important and pressing recommendations of the Royal Commission in regard to all the points, with the exception of land. On the question of emigration he asked the House, before consenting to the second reading of the Bill, to at all events endeavour to elicit from the Secretary for Scotland some assurance that the recommendations of the Commissioners would be taken into consideration in Committee. They were so pressing, so urgent, and so clear. They were based upon the redundancy of the population. As his hon. Friend (Mr. Ramsay) remarked, the original cry for the inquiry which came from the Highlands and Islands was based upon the alleged depopulation of certain districts to create deer forests; and he knew that it was the general idea entertained by a large section of the public that the Highlands and Islands of Scotland were lying waste now, and much less populous than they were at any former period. If hon. Gentlemen who held that opinion turned to the Report of the Royal Commissioners, they would find that whereas the total population in the year 1791 of Skye, Lewis, Harris, the Western Mainlands of Ross and Sutherlandshire—forming the greater part of the area dealt with 135 by the Bill—was only 50,000, the Census of 1881 showed that it was no less than 81,000. In 1831 it was 79,000–2,000 less than at present. It never at any time was greater than 83,000, which was the population in 1841; and to speak of the Highlands and Islands as having been depopulated by the action of the landlords was utterly to mislead the House and the country. [Mr. MACFARLANE dissented.] The hon. Member shook his head, and he would, no doubt, have an opportunity later on of proving to the House how—the population of the Highlands and Islands being never much greater than it was now—the country could be said to have been depopulated. The redundancy of the population undoubtedly existed. The population was altogether beyond what there were adequate means to support. They might get along in very good seasons; but when bad times came, such as they had passed through lately, and when economic conditions were altered by the action of Tree Trade and free imports, then came the pinch, and then the people found that they had to come to Parliament for assistance. What he would impress on the House was that, admitting that this assistance must be given, let it be given in the best and most promising manner. The Royal Commission were not content with a general recommendation in favour of emigration. On page 106 of their Report they gave details; and he was surprised that, with this most elaborate and conscientious Report before them for two years, the right hon. Gentleman in introducing the measure should have dismissed this part of the Report without any comment. That was a very poor compliment to the abilities of the Commissioners, that no reason should be given for setting their recommendations aside. The Commissioners showed that they thought this was an indispensable part of the remedy to be applied. They said—Believing as we do that emigration, properly conducted, is an indispensable remedy for the condition of some parts of the Highlands and Islands, we strongly recommend that in connection with any measures which may be framed for dealing with the condition of the crofters and cottars, such provisions should be made as we have indicated for assisting emigrants, both by State advances and State direction.How could the right hon. Gentleman get out of that? It had been said that 136 it was very hard to compel these people to leave their homes. There was no compulsion beyond the res augusta to which all must yield. From the earliest times it had been necessary for portions of the population to leave overcrowded districts and seek their living in other parts of the earth where there was room and occupation and the means of subsistence for them. As showing that the people who did emigrate did not regret it, he would refer hon. Gentlemen to an article published in The Celtic Magazine, in which the writer said he had taken considerable pains to find out the feeling in Canada among those who had migrated thither; and he could not find a single instance in which any of them who had settled down there on their own land would wish to go back to live in the Highlands. They had an hon. Gentleman sitting below the Gangway, on the night of the introduction of the measure, stating his own case as an instance of the hardships which pressed on the crofter population. The hon. Member for Aston Manor (Mr. Reid) had told them that he was descended from a crofter family; and he seemed to think it very hard that he should not now be in possession of one of those holdings in the Highlands and Islands. Well, he would offer the hon. Gentleman, if he would permit him, all the sympathy in his power; and he was not disposed to question him when he alleged that he had made a very great descent in order to occupy the seat below the Gangway behind a Liberal Government. It was a moral descent, he agreed; but he would put it to the House whether it had not been to the hon. Gentleman's advantage to quit his original holding; and he would ask him whether he quitted it under compulsion, or in obedience to the dictates of his common sense? He believed, if he had described correctly the hon. Gentleman's case, it was the case of many thousands of Highlanders. They quitted their homes, and looked back to them with fondness and longing; but they quitted them to their own advantage, and to the advantage of the place to which they went, and to the people among whom they now lived. There was one more point on which this Bill was silent, and that was as to the aid which the Commissioners recommended should be given to the fishing industry. The Commissioners expressed 137 the opinion that by far the greater number of crofters and cottars in the Highlands and Islands were wholly or largely dependent for their subsistence on their earnings as fishermen, and that, taken as a whole, they derived a larger income from the sea than from the land. Not only had that been the case in the past, but the nature of the two occupations caused them to believe that any aid the Government was prepared to give might be given by them with greater profit to the fishing industry than to the agricultural industry. The experiment had been already tried, and although it was, perhaps, invidious to mention individual cases, yet as the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland did mention individual instances in introducing the measure in which wealthy persons had departed from the obligations incumbent upon them, perhaps he might be allowed to adduce another individual instance in which a large landed proprietor had certainly not been insensible to the duties incumbent upon her as an owner of the soil. He alluded to the well-known efforts made by Lady Gordon Cathcart for the improvement of the population of the island. Lady Gordon Cathcart had tried the extension of the holdings, and the result, he regretted to say, had been unsatisfactory. Large farms had been broken up into small holdings of from £12 to £14 rent, and the result had been that after the crofters had held these holdings for two, three, and four years, there was an almost absolute cessation of the payment of the moderate rents fixed. But how very different had been the result of that lady's efforts in the direction of improving the fishing accommodation and the fishing gear of that population. The Paper he held in his hand gave the results of four cases in which money was advanced to fishermen to provide larger craft and gear, and in all these the money was earned and repaid in a short time—in one instance within little more than six weeks. The results were striking. The boat Grace cost £130, gear £150, and in six weeks six men earned with it £170. The Agnes Brown, valued (with gear) at £430, with six men and a boy, earned £391 in the same period. The Sea King cost £250, gear £180, earned £268. He thought no single Member of the House would be disposed to contradict the conclusion to which one 138 was forced by a consideration of such facts—namely, that money might be advanced with an almost absolute certainty of return in aid of the fishing industry. This was a matter which, no doubt, was somewhat foreign to the Amendment which had been introduced; but he could not help turning aside for a moment to express his regret and surprise that in this respect also the Report of the Commissioners had been completely ignored. He was afraid his right hon. Friend (Mr. Trevelyan), in framing this Bill, had been actuated by the fear of approaching the Treasury. They all knew how difficult it was to obtain anything like an advance of public funds from the Treasury; but this advance, he felt sure, might be made with perfect safety. It had been done by private individuals already, and in asking the Government to do it now they were only asking the Government to follow an example which had been set by many landlords in the North of Scotland. He supported the Amendment of his hon. Friend (Mr. Ramsay) in the confidence of the firm belief that in a well-regulated scheme of State-directed and State-aided emigration might be found one of the best means of assisting the population. They could not extend to the Highlands and Islands that illusory state which in the minds of many people they occupied at a former period. People who thought that in these terrible winters agricultural life could be conducted on anything approaching the conditions of agriculture in the South were greatly mistaken. Agriculture there never could be anything more than a hand-to-mouth industry at the best. Therefore, let them do all they could to ameliorate the condition of these people; but do not let them throw any obstacle in the way, by holding out illusory promises, of their trying their fortunes in more favourable climates and more fertile fields, and let them remember the conclusion upon the subject to which the Royal Commissioners were driven at the end of their long inquiry.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is requisite that any measure intended for the improvement of the condition of the population of the Islands on the West Coast of Scotland should make provision for assisting
the voluntary emigration of families from congested districts,"—(Mr. Ramsay,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. J. H. A. MACDONALD (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)
said, he thought hon. Members would agree with him that at an early stage in this debate it would be desirable that those who had the responsibility of considering this matter when in Office, but who were now out of Office, should endeavour to give their best aid to the House in the discussion. He hoped hon. Members would forgive him if they found what he had to say, and the mode in which he said it, rather dry and rather unlike what he hoped his usual style of addressing them was; but he sincerely trusted that he should take such care in expressing what he had to say that nothing should be misunderstood by any hon. Member of the House, and still more by his fellow-countrymen in the Highlands and Islands of the West of Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland (Mr. Trevelyan), in moving the first reading of this Bill, used at the opening of his speech very distinct and remarkable words. He said—Hon. Members must make up their minds that there is no use making any proposals which will not effectually deal with the question.What did the right hon. Gentleman mean when he said "which will not effectually deal with the question?" Was he referring to dealing with alleged grievances in regard to land only, or was he speaking of the larger and more important question of the necessities of the whole case—necessities not merely as regards the present moment or the next half-dozen or 10 years, but as regards the future? The right hon. Gentleman said there were two ways in which the question might be dealt with. One of these was that the Government and the House might make up their minds that it was too difficult to deal with, and not deal with it at all; and the other was to endeavour to deal with it. As regards the first, he said, that was one way of dealing with the matter—that it was too difficult—but that there would be a still worse way if Parliament were to 140 pass a Bill which would profess to do a great deal for the crofters, which Parliament itself knew well when the Bill was brought in would not deal effectually with the case. He joined issue at once with the right hon. Gentleman there. He applied these words, and said that this Bill would not effectually deal with the case. It was a Bill that could have no other result than to produce—if it did produce, which he greatly doubted—a temporary alleviation of the difficulties of the present situation, but which would not in the near future bring about any results which should meet those difficulties. Why would it not do so? He said because it ignored altogether the Report of the Royal Commission upon which it professed to be based—and it also ignored the distinct and clear facts which had been ascertained since that Royal Commission sat. It ignored what had been recommended; it recommended what had already been proved to have failed to effect the ends desired; and it refused to recommend what had already succeeded. His hon. Friend the Member for Wigtonshire (Sir Herbert Maxwell) spoke about the Treasury. He could hardly help thinking that allusion was a just one, only he was not quite sure whether the Secretary for Scotland had failed in courage to go to the Treasury. His experience led him to think that the right hon. Gentleman had courageously gone to the Treasury, but had been sent away without any good result. It seemed as if in Council the points had been picked out of the recommendations of the Royal Commission which would bring any draft on the public funds, or create any difficulty with regard to the Budget, and that these had been one by one cast aside; and this for the reason that, at the end of last Session, the enormous accumulation of debt against the country could not be met by taxation, and the National Debt, instead of being reduced, as it ought to have been, had been considerably increased. Now, the difficulty, therefore, was plainly a difficulty of money. Last year the then Home Secretary (Sir William Harcourt) spoke, with tears almost in his eyes, of the crofter population of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland as a charming and gentle population; and he attributed the charm and gentleness of their character to the softness and geniality of the climate in 141 which they lived. From what he read of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, and the poetry with which he accompanied it, he came to the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman's visits to the Highlands and Islands had been made at times of the year when there were some hopes of experiencing that delightful climate of which he spoke; but one might be quite sure that in dealing with this question to-night they would find a quotation apt from a favourite performance now going in London, that "a candidate was a very different thing from a Chancellor of the Exchequer." The result of it all was that this Bill was limited to four things, none of which would bring any burden upon Her Majesty's Exchequer. These four things were fixity of tenure, fair rents, compensation for improvements, and the granting of additional grazing lands. Now, he said at once, so far as he was aware, that as regarded fixity of tenure, fair rents, and compensation for reasonable improvements, he did not fancy there was any sort of feeling on the part of the main body of the proprietors against either fixity of tenure, fair rents, or reasonable improvements. Why should they have any objection to these things? The Crofters' Commission spoke distinctly of the evictions in the Highlands and Islands as being things of the past—of course, not speaking of all evictions, because they knew perfectly well that for the good of the people themselves—[Laughter]—the power of eviction was absolutely necessary for the good of the community in occasional cases of bad character and discreditable conduct. Hon. Members who laughed just now were quite mistaken in supposing he was alluding to deportation of the people. It was quite clear to reasonable minds that where people were living in small townships it would be a positive calamity if a person who was a nuisance to his neighbours and a disgrace to the place could not be evicted. The Crofters' Commission Report said—We have not found during the course of our inquiry one clearly established case of the removal of crofters.That disposed of any difficulty about the question of fixity of tenure. Then, as regarded fair rents, the Commission reported that they had not found in the conduct of proprietors grounds for proposing a general revision of rents by judicial 142 authority. Therefore, he said the proprietors had no interest whatever in objecting to an examination and fixing of rents, although here, again, those who had framed the Bill had put in a thing not recommended, and which had been declared to be unnecessary. The judicial fixing of rents could have only one of two results—either the rents which were at present fixed by agreement would be found to be reasonable rents, or too high. If it was the former, there could be comparatively little need for legislation on the subject. If, on the contrary, it turned out to be true that the rents were too high, then the result was contrary to the Commissioners' Report; but if that were the result there was an economic corollary that followed from it, and that was that it was fatal to the idea of this Bill being a real settlement of the question; because if it proved that the rents, even as at present—on which all the calculations hitherto had been made as to the capabilities of the land for supporting the population—were too high, that would bring about this result—that it would become more certain than ever that the population could not be supported from the profits of the produce of the soil alone. This had been very clearly demonstrated by figures. Taking the actual rents as fixed, and taking three times as much as representing the actual producing powers of the soil in value, the total productive power of the soil for each person in the Highlands and Islands amounted to not more than £3 12s. or £3 15s. a-year. Taking into consideration that the entire sum could not be spread equally over all, but some were sure to have a little more and some a little less, they had this result—that the actual productive value was not sufficient to produce so much for each individual as the amount which was paid for the support of paupers in that country. The tendency of sub-division necessarily aggravated every evil in these places. If they sub-divided down to the size of the small croft, it was impossible for the family to obtain subsistence. That did not increase the evil by double merely, but by fourfold. That state of things had gone on for many years, and had been going on to the great misfortune and loss of the people, in spite of all efforts of the proprietors, and in many cases solely from the proprietors' good nature. What 143 was the result? The result was, according to the Report of the Commission, that the actual value of the vast majority of the holdings now existing was a value below £6. These facts spoke for themselves. They made it perfectly conclusive that no giving of more land could possibly reduce this economic difficulty and bring the people of these Islands to a state of prosperity. It might please them and tickle their fancy with the idea of giving them more land; but was it not obvious that, with an increasing population, and nothing being done to encourage the removal of the population to other places, nothing but desolation and ruin could follow the scheme now before the House. As to the mode in which it was proposed to give increased land, the proposal was not to give land which each should hold and cultivate. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Trevelyan) must know that it was hopeless to propose anything of that kind. The proposal was to take certain hill land suitable for pasture, and to give it to each township or group of crofters to hold in common. That, to a certain extent, must be a bold experiment, and one would fain hope that it might be successful; but he doubted very much whether in the present condition of the crofters it would be found to work. Whether it would or not, here, again, the owners of the land would not object, provided the thing was done, not by handing over a quantity of land and saying, "There it is, and the rent for it is so much, fixed by a Judicial Court," but by placing the people in such a position that if they took the land they could have some reasonable hope of making something out of it themselves, by being able to stock it; and then the person to whom it belonged would not be subjected to loss. The owners knew perfectly well that the rent could never come to them, because the people had no capital to stock the ground. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Trevelyan) had referred, the other night, to the case of the Swiss peasantry as an illustration of what was hoped for from his Bill by giving this new pasture to the Highland crofters. He took the liberty of saying that he thought his right hon. Friend had taken rather a tourist's view and a rather rosy view of the condition of the Swiss peasants. As regarded the Swiss peasantry, he (Mr. Macdonald) could 144 only state what happened to himself on one occasion. After climbing up a steep hill for some hours he came to a very charming chalet, and if he had walked on probably he should have been under the same impression as his right hon. Friend with regard to this matter; but, unfortunately, he stopped and spoke to one of the men, and expressed to him the feeling of how pleasant it must be to have so charming a place. The man shook his head, and said—"No, Sir; if you had to go down that hill you have just come up every morning, with a load of milk on your back, and trudge back again, and that on every day of the week, Sunday included, you would not see many of the charms of the place." That illustration showed him how difficult it was to judge of anything without really knowing all the circumstances. Anyone going to Switzerland in the holidays, and judging it then, would imagine it was a paradise. From what he had seen of the Swiss peasantry, he had no doubt there were many of them who would be very glad to change places with many of the Highland crofters, although they were proprietors of the land on which they lived. This Bill suggested nothing whatever to make it sure that when they had given this additional pasture land those who took it would be able to make a beneficial use of it, and give a reasonable return to the person to whom it belonged. In short, it made landlords take land from tenants with capital to give it to tenants who had no capital—land which was absolutely worthless to any man who did not possess capital. That was to say, it was proposed by an Act of the Legislature to force upon the landlords of the Highlands an experiment which, unless capital were forthcoming for the working of it, must be an absolute failure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was unable to give his right hon. Friend (Mr. Trevelyan) any help whatever towards carrying out the objects of the Bill. The landlords had been willing to try the thing that was now proposed on the consideration that the land should be stocked, or that there should be the means of stocking it. This was the difficulty which had led to failure wherever the experiment had been tried. The Commissioners' Report in regard to Lady Gordon Cathcart's property brought out the fact that large farms, consisting 145 of thousands of acres of land, in the best parts of the Highlands and Islands had been given over to crofters—in some cases to agricultural crofters, and in others to fishing crofters—and the result, from beginning to end, had been a total and absolute failure. There had been inadequate stocking, the arrears of rent were very great—in some cases no rent had been paid at all; and, in spite of all stipulations, the old system of destructive sub-division had gone on. One of the Members of the Royal Commission had stated very distinctly these two things—first, that these common grazings formed the real obstacle to improvement; and, second, that capital was indispensable in pastoral farming, if a profit was to be made out of it at all. Although everything had been done that this Bill contemplated, the result was that arrears, which in 1883 amounted to £1,000, in 1884 were £2,000, and in 1885 had increased to £2,800; and during that period Lady Gordon Cathcart had given £1,128 for seed, of which not one-half had been repaid. This was a distinct and clear question which must be dealt with if they would come to a rational conclusion upon it. Either these people were withholding rents which they were able to pay, or, if they were not doing so, this Bill could do no possible good. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Trevelyan) was on the horns of that dilemma. Take another instance in the Island of Skye. Two or three years ago, a hill grazing, which was let for £125 to a tenant, was handed over to a group of crofters at £75. Since that time the crofters themselves had not paid a single penny of rent for it. A benevolent gentleman paid the first year's rent; but since then not one farthing had been paid for the grazing. They had paid no rates or taxes, nor had they paid the rents of any of the crofts which they held. Either these people were withholding rents which they were able to pay, and therefore were a demoralized people, or else their position was such that this Bill could not by any possibility do them the slightest good. The experiment proposed by the Bill had here been fairly made and given a fair trial, and it had been an absolute and complete failure. He would give them another instance. A large tract of country belonging to MacLeod of MacLeod was advertised to 146 be let; but the people, having sense and having had more careful instruction in their interests and duties than in many other parts, saw the folly of attempting to take it, because they had no capital to provide stock; and the land remained unstocked and unused. Let them look into the real difficulties of the case. He took these real difficulties to be—first, the population and its natural increase; second, the deficiency of outflow for energy towards acquirement of means otherwise than by agriculture; third, the defective nature of communications; and, fourth, the difficulty of education. Let them take the population first. There had been a large increase of population in the Islands in the last century, and the result of that was that the acreage per head was only 19 acres; whereas everyone who understood the country and knew the value of land declared distinctly that no less than 57 acres was sufficient for the support of an individual. For the information of English Members, he might say that as regarded the grazing land of the Highlands it took over three of these acres to feed one sheep, and he believed the fair average would be something over four acres. Now, that showed the over-growth of the population, and the necessity for other industry than agriculture. The question was not one merely of land and of rent, and if it was so considered by Parliament a great mistake would be made, and the people would be placed in a worse position than they were now. The true character of the crofter, to begin with, would be destroyed by taking the view that he was one who made his living out of the land alone. Sir John MacNeil, in the year 1844, made this declaration in regard to the matter—the crofters were labourers, living chiefly by their labour, holding crofts for which they were able to pay rent, not from the produce of their land, but from their labour. The tendency of this Bill was entirely to reverse that. From beginning to end the Bill had not a single syllable in it about industry. Its whole scope and intention was to fix the people down as agriculturists, and to endeavour to give them some land to cultivate. Another complaint he had to make against the Bill was that it dealt in no way with one point which was laid down by the Commissioners very distinctly—namely, 147 that the measures which were proposed for the purpose of increasing the holding of land should not apply to those who at present held very small plots of land. The Commissioners, as a body, fixed the rental at £6 per annum; but the hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. Fraser-Mackintosh), in his separate Report, put it down at £4. Why? Because it was very clearly brought out in the Report that to do otherwise would be fatal to the hope of introducing a prosperous population. No notice, however, was taken of that in the Bill of the Government; nor was any notice taken of the cottar question, which was a cognate question. The Commissioners unanimously reported that people in that position ought to be "firmly though gently withdrawn" from the places which they now occupied, and they contemplated nothing but the most evil and ruinous results from any legislation which would fail to take that step. Why had the suggestion of the Commissioners been ignored? Here, again, came in the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The position of his right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland and of the Chancellor of the Exchequer reminded him of the case of a gallant officer, now dead, who was known to be rather a Tartar, and who was taken prisoner in an expedition to China. The news came home that he was chained to another man, and that they were being marched up the country. When his mother heard what had happened, the only thing she said was—"Lord help the man who is chained to our Davie." All these Gentlemen on the Treasury Benches were chained to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was essential that these unfortunate people should be withdrawn from the position in which they now were. The land had been sub-divided, so that it was impossible in many cases for the holdings to be enlarged. How were the people to be withdrawn? There were only two ways of doing it. One was that industry should be developed upon the spot. The other was that industry should be found for them elsewhere, to which they could be removed. The object of the Commissioners was to induce the people to shake off the torpor which possessed them; and the right hon. Gentleman proposed to do that by giving people who held crofts of £4, £5, and £6 rental fixity of tenure 148 under circumstances in which it was impossible that any energy could be developed. In this Bill every recommendation that the Commission had made had been more or less set aside. There was no industry in the Highlands, except to a very small extent, unless it were the industry of fishing; but in regard to this industry—which was capable of vast extension for the benefit of the population of the Western Highlands—it was absolutely taken no notice of in the Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer again came in to prevent its development on the lines recommended by the Commissioners. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Trevelyan) did not absolutely put this matter aside. What he said was that the Government would be very glad to see their way to put some money into the hands of the Fishery Board for the improvement of the fishings in the Highlands. For the purpose of pressing on the House the importance of proceeding with this Bill, the right hon. Gentleman quoted a Resolution of the House passed 15 months ago; but, as regarded the fishing industry in the Highlands, the right hon. Gentleman would require some additional facts to enable him to leap over this mountain of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The development of the fishing would not be enough. The Commissioners declared—and here came a point which to many was most unpalatable — the Commissioners declared that emigration was unavoidable, and they strongly recommended that it might be taken up in connection with any measure for improving the condition of the crofters. Why had that recommendation not been given effect to? Emigration was unavoidable in the case of many others than the crofters. It was impossible to find employment for everyone in this country, and many of our sons had to go to all parts of the world in search of situations. The feeling against emigration was really a sentimental one, and would be removed if those people only knew the altered conditions now as compared with what existed 30 or 40 years ago. The means of communication were much easier, and education enabled relatives at a distance to be in constant communication, so that the abhorrence to separation need not be what it was in former times. The Commissioners 149 said emigration, properly conducted, was an indispensable remedy, and Unavoidable. If indispensable, their immediate consideration of it was an absolute duty, and those who dealt with this question without considering it committed a breach of duty. Any scheme which hid from the people the necessity of relieving the present congestion in several parts of the Highlands was really an ignorant and an ill-judged scheme; still more, if it hid from them that a further increase of the population on the land in the Highlands meant ruin to them. He was glad the other evening to hear the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella) impress upon the people the advantages to be gained by emigration, and encouraging them to seek their fortunes elsewhere. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman's words would reach the inhabitants of the Highlands, and would convince them that, in spite of their love of country, they must meet necessities as they arose, and accept them as the dispensation of Providence which could not be fought against. It was perfectly certain that by merely giving additional land, without making provision for the prospective increase of the population, would be absolute ruin. They had proof that the experiment had been tried, producing a satisfactory result to those who had gone out, and that the news sent home had led others to emigrate. Lady Gordon Cathcart only succeeded in getting 10 families to emigrate in 1883, but 43 families emigrated in the following year, and yet the Lord Advocate said there were no materials for dealing with the question of emigration. Why not? Why had the Government not seen its necessity? The right hon. Gentleman said it was a separate question. He (Mr. Macdonald) said it was not a separate question. It was a question of the purse and nothing else. There were two kinds of emigration—first, of the whole family; and then of individual members of families. The Commissioners said it was only by the removal of entire families that any appreciable benefit would be derived. That led him to say a word on the question of education. He sincerely trusted that in any measure for the purpose of promoting education it would never be the aim to try to stamp out the Gaelic language. It would, he thought, 150 be a monstrous cruelty, particularly as the use of Gaelic was the only way by which religious intercourse could be kept up between the older and the younger members of a family, that they should both be able to use the same Bible. While saying that, he equally held that any Government or any hon. Member who went upon the footing that English was not to be taught would make a grievous and cruel mistake. The great difficulty of those Highland people in going out into the world to make a living for themselves was their inability to cope with those familiar with the English language. Every possible effort should be made to promote the reasonable teaching of English, which would enable the people to converse and to carry on their work in other places. Popular education, the Commissioners said, when better appreciated, would lay open the whole world, with all its resources, to the most secluded inhabitants of the glens. Finally, he said, shutting their eyes to the difficulties of this problem was of no use. That was what Her Majesty's Government had done for reasons solely connected with the question of money. Nor were Utopian schemes of any use. The poor they would always have. Neither would anything which only encouraged mere sentiment do the slightest good. The best spirit in which they could proceed was to help the poor in a double way, by giving them every assistance which would not destroy their industry and self-reliance, and by devoting attention to every means of improving the lot of those who might remain in the Highlands and Islands. The poor themselves, he hoped, would be led by those who went amongst them not to go in for things which could never be realized, but to cultivate a spirit of manly pluck and energy like other people. If successful in their struggle to rise above their position, like other people they would have the satisfaction of having worked out their own improvement; and if not successful they would have the satisfaction of a good conscience in having done their duty.
§ MR. MACFARLANE (Argyllshire)
said, that if suffering in this world would bring any reward in the next, the lot of the crofter population would be ultimately happier than that of any other 151 class. He had not brought the Commissioners' Report, and he had not come with those statistics of the Highlands; because he thought the question had been proved absolutely to demonstrate that a large depopulation had taken place in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. He would only quote one instance from memory—that of Argyllshire (the county he represented). In 1831 the population was over 100,000; in 1881 it was only 76,000; showing a diminution of nearly one-fourth; but that did not in the least fairly represent the diminished population in the rural parts of the country, because of that 76,000 which remained a large part were in towns which did not exist 50 years ago. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the late Lord Advocate mentioned a few cases in which the population had increased. He mentioned the Island of Skye, the Island of Lewis, and some others; but he did not mention one single place where the population had decreased—as, for instance, Mull, where the population had decreased from 10,000 to 6,000, or various other Islands. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment (Mr. Ramsay), when he made his tour that evening in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, wandered all round the Islands, but did not refer to the fertile Island of Islay. Why was that? There was no island with which the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs was so thoroughly familiar as Islay. The hon. Member dwelt, as he always did, on the congested population in the Island of Lewis; but he never said a word about the places where the people disappeared. It was always the Island of Lewis that was thrust down the throat of that House. The figures as to the population of Islay were in 1831 eight short of 15,000 persons; in 1871, 8,144; in 1881, 7,559—a decrease in the last 10 years of 584, and in the last 50 years of 7,433 persons. It would be more candid, and show a fairer spirit, if, in dealing with the statistics, the hon. Member gave both sides of the question. Where were those people who still remained in the Island of Islay? They were not upon the land. He had seen the land. It was a fertile and a splendid land. Where were the people? They were almost entirely in four towns. The land itself was desolate, so far as the people were concerned. Why were these 152 things not referred to? It was a one-sided case presented to the House. He had shown that Argyll had lost a quarter of its population; while the rest of the country was doubling its population, so that the loss was infinitely greater than appeared. By the natural increase of the population it would have been 150,000.
§ MR. RAMSAY
said, he wished to explain that he did not refer to the decrease in the population of Islay, because it had reference to matters affecting himself, and which he had to some extent effected, having property there—effected, whether the hon. Gentleman knew it or not, almost entirely by the education of the people, which alone induced them to go away, and get work elsewhere. If the people in the other parts of the Highlands were in the same way taught the use of the English language the result would be the same.
§ MR. MACFARLANE
said, that while willing and glad to receive any explanation he objected to the interjection of another speech by the hon. Member. The reason for his silence as to Islay was very natural. He knew the hon. Member had property there, and he (Mr. Macfarlane) had visited the island and the hon. Member's property, and he was sorry to say had seen the desolate homes that were standing upon it—places where there were roofless houses, where people were once wont to be happy. The hon. Member said that the people were educated out of them. They were no better educated there than were the people in other parts of the Highlands. [Mr. RAMSAY: They were.] He held they were not; but they were driven out. He hoped on the next occasion when the hon. Member quoted Scotch statistics, and did not refer to the Island of Islay, he would not say a single word about the Island of Lewis. The hon. Member had referred to the congested populations. There was congestion where there were no people on the land, for they were huddled into corners. It was as if all the people in a large house were huddled into the garrets. The people were in the garrets, and the deer were on the first and the sheep were on the second floors. The remedy for that congestion was to replace the people on this land; to re-people the whole house, to re-people properties like that of the hon. Member for 153 the Falkirk Burghs. If the hon. Member would strike out the letter "e" in the word emigration in his Amendment, and make it migration, he would vote for it. He should be glad to see the redundant population of the Island of Lewis transferred to the Island of Islay. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the late Lord Advocate was very severe upon the Bill, and in many places justly so. He (Mr. Macfarlane) was disappointed with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland in moving the first reading of the Bill, considering his remarks very thin for the object they had in view; but the Bill was worse than the speech. In his opinion, there was little value in it; but he would not challenge the second reading, because he hoped they might improve the measure in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland referred, in a very pointed manner, to the Resolution which he (Mr. Macfarlane) had the honour to move upon the 14th of November, 1884, and which was accepted by a unanimous House. The right hon. Gentleman had said of it that the Resolution was one of the strongest and most remarkable ever passed in the House of Commons; but while he accepted it as a mandate to deal effectually with the question, he had apparently forgotten one-half of the mandate, for it referred to the recommendations of the Royal Commission upon the condition of the "Crofters and Cottars." But the right hon. Gentleman had almost left the cottars out in the Bill; and the benefits, if benefits, which he did propose to confer upon them, were not such as he (Mr. Macfarlane) had in his mind when he proposed his Resolution. The fact was that the cottars were to be removed from their holdings, and the arrangement in Clause 9 was that when they were so removed the landlord was to pay their funeral expenses. There was no question of giving this people any land to enable them to live; but they were to get compensation for their improvements upon the terms that they were suitable to the subjects, were executed or paid for by the cottar or his predecessor in the same family within 30 years, and that the improvements had not been executed in virtue of the specifications of the lease, or in virtue of any agreement or of estate regulations. He would be very much surprised if any 154 cottar received any compensation on those terms. Who were these cottars? They were not people who emigrated from other parts of the country to the Highlands of Scotland; but either they, or their predecessors, had been evicted to make way for the sheep, the forerunners of the deer. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland quoted a statement from the Report of the Royal Commissioners, that "no single instance had been brought of eviction of a crofter;" but he should have added these words, "for the purpose of making a deer forest." That might be true, because there was no necessity of evicting the crofters to make deer forests. They were evicted to make way for the sheep walks, which were turned into deer forests. He (Mr. Macfarlane) claimed for the crofters that they had absolutely as good hereditary rights to the land as the people who were now in possession of it. In some cases they had been evicted without much consultation with the landlord; but in some instances he was willing to credit the landlord with the humanity of allowing them to build a house on the sea shore, rather than turn them away altogether. When hon. Gentlemen talked of there not being land enough for the people, they spoke as if the people of the Highlands were in possession of all the land in the Highlands, and that it was not enough for them. When they had possession of it all, and it was proved insufficient for them, then he would vote for such an Amendment as that before the House; but not till then. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate made a calculation of the value of the land; but the right hon. and learned Gentleman knew that all the good land was in the possession of the big farmers, and all the land not worth anything was in the possession of the crofters. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had also calculated that the Bill would only affect 25,000 people. But the population of the counties to patches of which the Bill referred amounted to 369,000; so that the Bill referred to only one in 15,000.
§ MR. MACFARLANE
said, that perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman estimated the heads of families. 155 The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland made a stipulation which barred all good effect arising out of the Bill, and that was that it should only confer upon certain patches of certain counties all over the country, apparently on the example of the county of Cromarty, a Land Act, giving certain rights and titles which were denied to the other parts. He saw no reason for that absurd proposition. He also objected to the provision that no arable land was to be granted to the tenants in addition to what they now possessed. The right hon. Gentleman would agree that that was an illogical position to take up. If they were entitled to a restoration of hill pasture, why not to a restoration of arable land, assuming that they had been deprived of it? Assuming they had not, he would say they were entitled to as much land in their own native country as would enable them to live. If the land was available, and they were willing to pay a fair and judicial rent for it, they were entitled to have as much land as would enable them to live, without reference to whether they had had it before or not. He did not suppose the hill pasture which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to restore would be given back to those from whom it was taken. It was being given back as a concession to the Highland people, and why should not a portion of the arable land be given in the same way? The Royal Commission had told them that the principal matter of dissatisfaction in connection with the occupancy of land was restriction of the area of holdings, not of pasturage only, but of agricultural land as well. If he (Mr. Macfarlane) believed the Bill would pass through Committee and through that House precisely as it now stood, he would be much disposed to challenge the House to a division on the second reading against the Bill; but he had strong hopes that by to-night's speeches and the strong feeling of the House it would be improved. He felt that the Government lagged far behind the feeling of the House on this question. The right hon. Gentleman, when he introduced the Bill, said he relied upon voluntary effort when there was compulsion behind it. He (Mr. Macfarlane) relied to some extent on the voluntary effort of the Government, when the Government knew that in Committee 156 there would be compulsion behind them, for he would take the opinion of the House on every one of those points; and he believed that on many of them Her Majesty's Government would be found in a minority. The next restriction he would refer to was a most objectionable one, having the effect of exonerating from all punishment the man who had effected the total extermination of the people. He referred to the clause which said that the crofters should have the land restored to them if any of them were left; but if the laird had been so cruel as not to have left one, then there should be no restoration, and no interference with him. It was only when a landlord had been humane enough to leave some dregs of the population behind that the lash of the Bill was to be applied to him. He (Mr. Macfarlane) held that the land should be given to these people, no matter whether they were on the spot or not; let them be taken thither. An hon. Member had referred to men who had left the country and succeeded. What would be thought of the father who boasted that the son whom he had kicked out-of-doors had gone abroad and made a fortune? That was the sort of thing that had been done in the Highlands; but it was not a thing for the persons who drove these people away to boast of. The right hon. Gentleman had said he would not give land, except where there was a remnant of the people left. Here was a statement by the Free Church minister at Raasay, as to recent clearances—I am told that, from the year 1854, 12 townships were completely desolated. The number of families removed from these townships was stated to have been about 97. By far the greater number were sent away against their will, while a few left of their own accord. A few families—about nine or ten of that number—were allowed to remain on the estate, and were settled among the other townships, whose land was not thought sufficiently good to be added to the big farm.He would also ask hon. Members to look at the case of Hugh M'Intosh, from Sutherlandshire, as set forth in the evidence before the Royal Commission, in whose township, where in 1826 there were four tenants, the lots were divided into seven. Now, they heard a great deal about the iniquity of poor people who, under strong temptation, divided their lots among members of their own families; but they heard nothing of 157 those landlords who went on dividing and sub-dividing to suit their own purposes. The right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Macdonald) justly referred to the question of improving the fishing in the Western Highlands and all round the Coasts of Scotland. He (Mr. Macfarlane) agreed with him, and would be glad to see a large sum expended in endeavouring to secure what would be an immense boon not only to the Highland people themselves, but to the whole nation, in an increased supply of fish; but there were some aspects of the fishing question not quite so pleasant. Here were extracts from evidence given by a man in Sutherland-shire upon the question of bait—They could not buy cockle bait. It was too dear—2s. 6d. a basket. The Duke of Sutherland had men to gather the bait and sell it to the fishermen. The Duke pays a man so much a-year to gather the mussels and sell them to us. The price goes to the Duke.That was the way the fishing was promoted in some parts of the Scottish Coasts at the present time, and even improvements on the crofts were promoted in the same fashion. With reference to the seaweed, which was not touched in the Bill, who had given the landlords on the Coasts of Scotland the right to seaweed which God Almighty had thrown up for use in the improvement of the soil, and the right to sell it to the poor people, and, in some instances, to refuse to sell it? Yet the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of the laws of nature. Why, an Italian might preach to Englishmen about the contemptible climate they had in comparison with his own; but would the Englishman abandon his own country on such an argument? Yet that was the argument the right hon. Gentleman applied to the Highland people; and his suggestion was that the people were too sensible to stay in their own country. But he was told that the climate of Manitoba, to which they were advised to go, was not a better climate than their own, for they enjoyed a winter of eight months. He objected to the restrictions in, and also to the omissions from, the Bill. He would remind the House, moreover, that the crofters were not the only people who were in want of hill pasture. He had had experience of the towns during an election tour round the coast, and he found the towns—small towns—were as eager in 158 their demand for a little hill pasture at the back of the villages as the crofters were—such towns as Ardrishaig, Lochgilphead, and Tarbert. In these and similar places on the coasts the fishermen were certainly allowed to dry their nets; but they had not as much green grass as would make a croquet-ground or lawn-tennis court, and yet they were perfectly willing to pay for the hills, but could not get them. He remembered an incident at an open-air meeting he held at East Loch, Tarbert. A large number of boys had got round the carriage, and he would not forget the cheer they raised, when he suggested the possibility of their getting milk for their porridge in the mornings. The poor little things! Such a thing was altogether beyond their reach, and for no reason whatever. There was no argument that could be brought in favour of the present system, for the people were as willing to pay for such pasture as the farmer for his farm. When the Bill got into Committee he would do his best to clothe the miserable skeleton with flesh and blood. It seemed to be a sort of framework stuck up in that House for hon. Members to hang Amendments upon. Some things in it would be of some use, therefore he would not vote against the second reading if there was a division; but he did not believe, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had said, that if it passed in its integrity it would be practically an advantage, or benefit, or good. Instead of that, he believed that if it were passed in its present shape it would practically be of no advantage to the Highland people; while as to being a settlement of the question, it was such a settlement as the old woman met with when she tried to sweep back the sea with a broom. The wave of agitation was advancing, and would advance in spite of it. Therefore, let Her Majesty's Government take warning in time. He knew it was the custom to say that the pilot who called out there were rocks ahead had made the rocks, and that whoever said there was danger ahead had made the danger; but he assured the House that there was a real danger in the Highlands. They were people who were slow to wrath; but they were hot and strong upon this question, and they were roused—the hon. Member for Falkirk charitably suggested for no other purpose than to make him uncomfortable— 159 but, whatever the motive the hon. Member attributed to him and others, the fact was that the people were roused. Let the Government recognize that fact, and legislate in a thorough manner. He would rather see a good Bill lost than a bad Bill passed; because the time would come, and very shortly, when the question must be dealt with thoroughly. He could not offer a more remarkable example of the public opinion of the Highlands of Scotland upon this subject than he could in himself, in the position he now occupied; because he fought the great county of Argyllshire, handicapped down to the ground in every possible way, with the power of heaven and earth against him. The landlords were the earth, and the ministers were the heavens. But taking all things together, although he was denounced by everybody, from the highest laird down to the smallest laird, by nearly all the ministers in every pulpit every day they were in it, the people showed their determination, and their public spirit, and their absence of bigotry, by returning him to Parliament to plead their cause, and he would plead their cause as long as the House would listen. He wished they had an abler advocate; but they could have no one who more earnestly desired the welfare of the Highland people.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR) (, &c.) Clackmannan
It is probably right that I should now, on the part of the Government, offer some reply to the criticisms and observations which have been passed upon this Bill. I shall do so at no great length, because my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland, in introducing the Bill, expounded so fully and so clearly its object and main provisions that to go over these again would be to repeat the details he then gave. But there have been certain criticisms made upon the measure, and it is right that we should say what occurs to us upon these. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Universities of Edinburgh and St. Andrews (Mr. J. H. A. Macdonald) began his speech by saying that, upon the introduction of the Bill, my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland had said it was not right to make proposals which would not effectually deal with the question, and then he proceeded to remark that the Bill did not 160 come up to that standard or satisfy that criterion; but, on the contrary, in his judgment, fell very far short of it. Of course, my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland, in using that language, necessarily had in view such methods as would be consistent with the recognized principles of legislation, and which would not only have regard to the benefit of the localities which it is our desire to aid, but also to the just interests of the people of the rest of these Islands. It seemed to me that, when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Universities came to criticize the Bill, what he had to say against it almost entirely resolved itself into this—that it did not provide any means for spending the money of the British taxpayer in a variety—I should say a multitude—of ways upon that particular part of the country to which the Bill relates. Now, I am quite sure that if it were the case, as some people seem to believe, that there was an unlimited fund which could be drawn upon for every philanthropic object, we should be exceedingly glad to have recourse to that fund for the benefit of the crofters of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. But as that does not happen to be the case—as the only fund which can be drawn upon is really a contribution from the taxpayers of this country, and in many cases a contribution from persons who, as regards worldly circumstances, are very little, if at all, better off than the crofters themselves, the Government has necessarily endeavoured, in the measure which it has submitted to the judgment of the House, to keep in view that it is only by dealing justly with the rest of the community — while endeavouring to place upon a right basis the relation of the landlords and the crofters—that they can by legislation accomplish or approach the accomplishment of the object which we all have in view. That seemed to me to be the general scope of my right hon. and learned Friend's criticisms. He said, in one passage of his speech, that the Bill consisted of points picked out of the Report of the Royal Commission, which could bring no charge on the Public Exchequer. Well, I could hardly imagine greater words of praise of any measure than those of my right hon. 161 and learned Friend. I think it is the highest praise you could give to a Government that the remedial proposals they make do not involve any charge on the Public Exchequer. It was certainly very satisfactory, when my right hon. and learned Friend came to deal with the four particular proposals that we are making, that he did not seem to object seriously to any of them. The first three he accepted, and I am very glad of it; for that involves the admission of principles as applied to that part of the country of very great importance—of an importance to which I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not do full justice. He referred to the provisions for fixity of tenure, for fair rents, and for compensation for improvements as being, if not laudable, at least innocuous. But I rather understood that his want of objection to them was not due so much to his approving of them, as because he thought they were unnecessary. He said fixity of tenure is not needed, because there are no evictions now. I believe it is the case that there are very few evictions now; but there have been times when there have been a great many evictions; and if the conscience of the country has been stirred to take care that these evictions cannot, in the old manner, be repeated, it is surely better to provide, subject to safeguards against which no one has had anything to say, that security of possession should be given to persons with the historical status of the crofters as a right, rather than that it should be left to stand merely on the goodwill and pleasure of individuals. If those who know the feelings of the crofters best are to be relied upon, they tell us that a sense of insecurity has a very bad effect on them. Liability to be evicted, even although it might not become a reality, operates to prevent the crofter from exercising his energy, and putting forth his full powers in the cultivation of his holding. It is, therefore, important that there should be given to this class of persons, a feeling of security which has so great a tendency to stimulate exertion, with results which, I should hope, would be of the greatest advantage. Another remark I should like to make is this—that if the fixity of tenure is given, which is not objected to by my right hon. and learned Friend, it will make it impossible in the future ever to use 162 eviction notices merely as an instrument of estate administration. That has sometimes been done, with results that are most unfortunate. But I need say no more on this point, because my right hon. and learned Friend said it was unnecessary, and therefore harmless. If there are no evictions, there can be no objection to our proposal to give security of tenure. To fair rents my right hon. and learned Friend did not object either; but there, again, that was not quite for the same reason for which I should have preferred to advocate the proposal. He says he does not object to fair rents, because the rents are fair already. I believe they are generally fair already; but if or in so far as they are not fair, then they will be made fair. There are, however, cases — I hope not many—where, if a great deal of testimony is to be believed, the rents are excessive; and if they are excessive, then they will be put upon a proper basis. At all events, there will be this—which is a most important consideration in bringing peace to this part of the country—there will be the feeling that the rents, if they turn out to be fair, by having been ascertained to be so by a neutral and independent body charged to examine into the matter, any feeling to the contrary would naturally disappear. If the rent is really excessive It will be reduced, and the crofter, with security of tenure—indeed, practical permanency of tenure provided he fulfils certain obligations—will be placed in a position in which no other tenant cultivator in this country at present stands. As regards compensation for improvements, nothing has been said against it by my right hon. and learned Friend; and, consequently, I need not say much in support of it. I think, however, the importance of the provisions which we propose upon the matter have been somewhat undervalued. We do propose to give a very liberal scale of compensation—that is to say, we propose to allow compensation for buildings and other works, which, if suitable to the holding, may be erected without antecedent notice, such as is required by the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1883. The right hon. and learned Gentleman then proceeded to deal with matters of omission in the Bill, and, as I understood, he indicated an opinion that not upon 163 one, but upon many matters, the public money should be expended. Of course, it was all very right and all very well for a Commission, inquiring and reporting, to indicate for the judgment of a responsible Government, and then for the judgment of Parliament, the various means by which they thought that an amelioration in the condition of the crofter could be brought about; and it was probably quite right, also, to indicate that expenditure upon harbours, upon fisheries, and, it might also be, upon emigration, were matters deserving of consideration. But the position of a responsible Government is very different in that respect; because a responsible Government is the trustee for the entire nation. It holds the money of the nation in trust; and it would not be warranted upon mere considerations of an eleemosynary character in making proposals for the benefit of one class of the community which would involve an indefinite drain upon the pockets of the rest of the community, without showing that there was, at all events, some unanswerable and essential reason for it. Let the House see what we propose, and what we do not propose, in the matter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland, in introducing the Bill, intimated that we did propose to introduce a clause providing for advances for boats and fishing-gear, very much after the character of the Irish Reproductive Loan Act. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: Why is it not printed in the Bill?] The reason that the clause is not printed is that it is not always possible, at a moment's notice, to settle a matter with the Treasury; and we could not put financial proposals into a Bill without, in the first instance, dealing with the Treasury. Therefore, if what has been said by my right hon. and learned Friend will strengthen our hands in the matter, we will not object. The Bill was introduced very early in the Session, and that matter has not been dealt with in the Bill as printed; but I can assure him it will be dealt with. The success of Lady Gordon Cathcart's efforts in that direction has been referred to as an illustration of how much probably may be done, and done with security to the taxpayer; but I desire the House to note that we should not propose to give grants that would not be recovered, but to give advances which 164 we believe would be recovered. We are, therefore, at one on that head. We desire to aid the fishing industry as far as we can, and we entirely concur in the view that one of the most important elements in the regeneration of the people in that part of the country is to be found in the diligent and successful prosecution of that industry. I would only remind such hon. Members as are not aware of it that when the Ministry of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian was last in Office, a very great deal was done in that direction by opening up telegraphic communication with the Orkney and Shetland Islands, and with Barra and other places, thus giving facilities for the prosecution of the fishing industry, which have been productive of results that are simply marvellous. By that means the fishing industry in Shetland has been developed very largely, by making it possible to communicate with steamers and curers, and so to get up barrels, salt, and other needful appliances, when herrings appear off the Coast. There is another matter dealt with, and that is the means of communication. One of the great difficulties experienced has been to get the fish caught in these localities to market, and a good deal was done with a view to remedy this last summer. Amongst the topics bearing upon this point which are now engaging the anxious attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland, that of providing additional facilities by means of postal and steamboat communication is being fully kept in view. I do not think, therefore, it will be said, in the face of these statements, that we have overlooked those elements of amelioration which are to be derived from the energetic prosecution of the fishing industry. We should have been very glad if, consistently with the principles generally recognized, and with the Reports that have been made by Committees of this House, it could have been possible for us to suggest something more in the way of providing harbours for those Islands. But the effect of the recent Reports of the Committees that have sat on this matter is this—that the national money should not, unless in very exceptional circumstances, be expended upon harbours which are merely and purely for local advantage. It must be harbours 165 of large size for general concernment, affecting the carrying and shipping trade of the nation generally, which will alone warrant the spending of public money. At the same time, the matter of these local harbours was not overlooked by the Government when in Office last; because the surplus of the "brand" fees was appropriated for harbour works, and the first fruits of that has been the making of Ness Harbour in the Island of Lewis, which is expected to be of very great advantage. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, I hope it will. Here was an available fund, not extracted from the pockets of the British taxpayer, but the profit upon one item of the fishing industry, taken and applied to promote that industry in another direction. I do not know that I need follow what has been said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Edinburgh University in regard to the comparison of the Highlands and Switzerland, because I think he rather dealt with that as running into the domain of sentiment. My right hon. and learned Friend knows the Highlands and Islands well enough to be aware that the very thing of which he spoke somewhat lightly was practised and familiar in the Highlands down to the memory of persons still living. At all events, I have been told by aged persons now living, or but recently dead, that within their recollection it was the custom for some of the women and girls of the townships to go up to shielings in the higher grazing lands in the summer, and there tend their cattle in a manner which seemed to bring them health and reasonable comfort at the time, though whether the grazings allocated under the present Bill will be so extensive as to admit of that I cannot tell. I dare say, perhaps, the practice referred to might be more appropriate to simpler habits than now exist; but, at all events, proper grazings are provided for in the Bill, and it will be open to the crofters to use them in the way that seems most compatible with their position and advantage at the present time. Something has been said by various hon. Members, in regard to what they view as a defect in the Bill—namely, that it makes provision for the enlargement of existing holdings only, by providing additional pasture, instead of also providing additional arable land. I need not say that the point has been very carefully and very fully considered 166 by the Government; and it was only after such consideration that the proposals contained in the Bill were made. I may indicate very shortly why the proposal was limited as it is in the Bill. The leading complaint on the part of the crofters is that they have been, in many cases, deprived of pastures which they formerly enjoyed, and which were taken from them for the purpose, first, of being thrown into sheep grazings, and which are now thrown, in many cases, into deer forests, and that, consequently, being left with only arable land, without grazing, or without adequate grazing, they have not the means of carrying on the kind of pastoral life which is more profitable under the climatic conditions which exist in the Highlands and Islands than the cultivation of cereal crops. I believe that it is historically true that there a great deal of pasture was taken away, and probably also that many crofters were removed from places more inland to places near the sea, where, being provided only with small crofts, they did not get grazing land. If that be so, in proposing to give back such grazing land, we propose what is practically a restoration to the condition, as nearly as possible, in which they were before the things of which they complain were done. I may add that I have heard of cases of very great hardship where, in distant parts of the country, the crofters had not the means of grazing animals with which to provide the necessary milk supply for their families. If cases of the kind are familiar, we hope the moderate proposals made by the Bill, subject to safeguards, against the propriety of which nothing has yet been said, will effect a restoration of what contributed very largely to the comfort and prosperity of the crofters formerly, and which there is no reason to suppose will not contribute very largely to their comfort and prosperity again. Something has been said in regard to the small size of the areas of arable land held in crofts. I am afraid that has been largely due to sub division, and partly, also, to men being placed where they had not been before—on too small holdings. But it is common ground that sub-division has been the great fault. It is a mistake to say that we take no security against that. We take most effective security 167 against it; because we provide in the 1st clause of the Bill that one of the statutory conditions on which a holding is to be practically permanent as regards tenure is that there shall not be sub-division except with the consent of the landlord. The result is that sub-division will not go on further; and I dare say, as crofts fall in, there may be enlargements of the remaining crofts by the addition of those which have so fallen in, and that other enlargements will be given where there is available land; because I have no doubt, having regard to what passed at the Inverness meeting, that there is an honest and sincere desire on the part of the great majority of Highland proprietors to meet the reasonable demands of the crofters with respect to the enlargement of their holdings. It is quite plain, also, that there would be a very different class of questions brought in if you proposed to take arable land. Whence is it to be taken? Is it to be taken from farms already existing under the plough? Well, there are not many such in the Highlands, where there are chiefly grazing farms. Does it mean land that is already cultivated, or that is to be reclaimed? Well, that can be done under an improving lease. I really do not see that it is a sufficient objection to the Bill that it does not provide for additions of arable land, the making of which would give rise to much greater difficulty than taking grazing or pasture from sheep runs and deer forests. But the matter will be further considered, and we shall be glad to learn the sentiments of the Scottish Members in regard to it. Another point made was this—one hon. Member said that in many cases the crofters would not be able to stock additional land. I am afraid, if that is so, like other people in the like unfortunate position, they will have to do without it, unless again Parliament is prepared to dip into the pockets of the ratepayers; because I do not know how money is to be provided for stocking land unless in that way. No one has advocated in this debate loans upon the stock; and if this were advocated, I should be ready to show insuperable objections, both practical and on principle, to the proposal. But I hope that with permanency or fixity of tenure, and with fair rent, side by side with a successfully prosecuted fishing industry, it would be by no means hopeless 168 to expect that there might be considerable ability on the part of many crofters to take advantage of this enlargement of the holding; and, on the other hand, many persons desirous to aid the crofters might be willing to advance them money, and to run some risk. I believe many people might do that; but it does not appear to us a thing that we could reasonably ask that provision should be made for by State aid. My right hon. and learned Friend referred to emigration. I say that, too, resolves itself into a question of the public money. In so far as emigration is to depend on voluntary effort, it is left untouched by the Bill. It is perfectly open to those who want to go and can go, or can get help to go, to do so. Something was said about rooting the people to the soil. We do not propose to root anybody compulsorily to the soil. We make provision by which it will be impossible to turn them off the soil, and I suppose that will be entirely consonant with their wishes. If it is proved that the smaller holdings can be cultivated with comfort along with the fishing industry—because it is an entire mistake to suppose that we think these smaller holdings can alone support a family—they will be a home to which the fishermen can resort, where he can have a few acres for growing potatoes and an outrun for his cattle, and such comforts may make even a small holding of great advantage to the man. It is right that I should point out that, although we very fully considered last year, and again this year, the recommendations of the Commission that there should not be advantage of that kind given to those below a rent of £6, such a proposal would meet only a very infinitesimal number of the cases requiring to be dealt with, and you would do nothing whatever for the large majority. I will give an instance from the Commissioners' Report with reference to the Island of Lewis. In the case of Uig there are very few large tenants, but there are 420 crofters and cottars. Of these 420, only five pay over £10 and under £30; 22 pay between £6 and £10, and 393 under £6; so that if we did not propose to give the benefit of the conditions which are embodied in this Bill—permanency of tenure, fair rent, and compensation for improvements—to anybody who did not pay over £6, we should allow 393 out of the 520 crofters in that one parish to go 169 without any benefit or remedy at all. Therefore, I say that is not a valid criticism, to say that the Bill will have the effect of rooting the people upon the soil. When they come to think they can better their position elsewhere they will go as freely as now. I hope I have shown, as regards the chief points raised by my right hon. and learned Friend, that his complaint simply resolves itself into this—that the Government are not prepared to spend more money. I should have been very glad if he had—speaking as one, as he says, who had considered this matter in Office—been prepared to give us any further suggestions than that of spending money; and if he will still do so we shall be very happy to consider them. If he thinks we should have gone further in any particular direction, we shall only be too glad to have his suggestions. [Mr. J. H. A. MACDONALD: Not without money.] Not without money. As I said, my right hon. and learned Friend's complaint is that we are not spending the money of the British taxpayer freely enough; but he has nothing to say against the provisions of the Bill so far as they refer to the relations between landlord and tenant. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also referred to the increase of population, the means of developing further energy, the question of communication and education. I suppose that increase of population is a problem to be dealt with elsewhere, as well as in the Highlands and Islands. It is not peculiar to that part of the country, although I believe it goes on rapidly there; and does my right hon. and learned Friend mean that you are to meet and provide for the removal of all growing and surplus population out of the taxpayers' money? That, I not only admit, but assert, is the question; and I say you cannot take up this question of State-aided emigration as applicable to the Highlands and Islands unless you are prepared also to take it up and deal with it in every other part of the country. I suppose that if that principle were to be applied generally there would be 500,000 people to be emigrated out of London—perhaps more—and so on in every great town where the congestion is greater and the poverty is greater, where all those conditions that make removal to anew sphere and scene very desirable 170 are greater than in the Highlands and Islands. Then the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of difficulties of communication; but I have already shown that we have been doing our very best to remove these difficulties, and are now prosecuting further efforts in that direction. As to education, I understood that the main point my right hon. and learned Friend impressed upon us was that we had better not do away with the Gaelic teaching; but I do not go into that. I agree, however, with my right hon. and learned Friend that there is a great deal to be looked for from education; and I believe that the effect of education, combined with improved facilities of communication, will be to lead to a very large voluntary migration to places where there is more call for energy and effort. That has been the case in the parts of Scotland that are more happily circumstanced; because the thing that does spread Scotsmen all over the globe—sometimes, I am afraid, not to the entire approbation of those with whom they compete—is their readiness to go and push their fortunes in every avenue and market open to them. Therefore, I have no doubt that when these measures, which are now in course of being carried out, receive a further development, the same thing will take place in the Highlands and Islands, to the advantage of those who go and of those who stay, as has taken place in the rest of Scotland. But it was not by spending public money in emigration that other Scotsmen scattered themselves over the world. It was by going out into the world like men, when they had the intelligence and the opportunities; and there is no reason to doubt that the same power, when it comes within the compass of those of whom we are now speaking, will be put in force by them. With the good feeling of the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman I entirely agree — nothing could exceed that. What we have done is to endeavour to make practical legislative proposals; and I did not hear that we suggested too much, or had gone too far in what we proposed, or that there was anything in which we should go no further by way of settling the relations of landlords and tenants, or, indeed, in anything except the spending of public money. I do not propose to go through 171 the various other matters that were observed by hon. Members, for I feel that I should be hardly justified in detaining the House in dealing with them. The Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay) referred to emigration; and, of course, what I have said on that subject I need not repeat. I may just say that, while we are very desirous to encourage the fishing industry, it is not certain that that industry will always prove as lucrative in every place as it has at Tarbert, on Loch Fyne. That is a most happily situated place where they catch, magnificent herrings, which are lifted by steamers and taken to Glasgow in two or three hours; and it is a fact that the fishermen there are prosecuting their industry with, extraordinary success and extraordinary gain. But it may be that though they are so successful, that it is of no importance for them to have any land for their potatoes and run for their cattle, to have such conveniences will be of importance to those who are not so happily placed as to market and communication. It may be very advantageous for the men on the West Mainland or on the Islands to have this humble accommodation which we propose, and it is better to leave them to themselves, and not to say that they must immediately make a final and ultimate election either to be farmers or fishermen. There are many races who succeed in prosecuting both, and I should think that when they come to make their ultimate election at the right time they will make their election as the Tarbert fishermen have done. The history of the British Fisheries Association, referred to by my hon. Friend, was very interesting. It was not by any means successful; but the conditions of market are very different in 1886 from what they were in 1786, which was the year alluded to. The hon. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macfarlane) seems to think there is very little value in the Bill. Of course, if he can show, as he promises to do in Committee, that there are practical Amendments for which he can get the approval of the House, it will be open to him to do so; but I hardly think he advances the matter very much by some of the prepositions which he puts forward. He complained, for instance, that the Bill did not provide anything for the cottars—did not 172 provide land for those who had no land. There is no doubt it would be a very large proposal, either in this or any other measure, to provide land for the landless. It is a very different thing where there are communities established and in possession of their ancestral holdings to give them facilities for enlarging them, and to say that every person who has no land and wants it should be provided with it. That would be a doctrine which would apply in many other parts of the country besides the Highlands. I daresay all of us would like a bit of land, if we could get it. But it introduces a much larger principle than this Bill contemplates. The hon. Member puts a question, why the number five, or why any particular number, should be taken as defining the qualification to apply for enlargement of holdings, and not one only? Anyone who has perused the Report of the Commission can answer that question for himself. The basis of the Bill is to accept the old conditions, and to endeavour to revive or perpetuate them as far as practicable. The condition of the pasture land appurtenant to the croft was that it was held in common. The township was a little group of houses, with plots of arable land, and a common pasturage adjoining. It was not the case of an individual having a large, separate, and inclosed space. That would be bringing into existence a state of matters which did not exist before, and which I do not say should or could be maintained. It would result in there being a small croft with the crofter's three or four beasts and 20 or 30 sheep, and he would have the piece of ground in severalty, and would require to fence it round, or herd his animals alone. The condition had always been that there had been possession by a township in common; and in proposing the number five, we accepted, the principle which, in a modified degree, forms the basis of the Report of the Commission. The township is the hinge upon which it works, and we make it as small a unit as would be likely to work advantageously. The Bill of the noble Marquess the Member for Sutherlandshire has also that idea. The hon. Member for Argyllshire spoke of the landlord who had removed everybody escaping without punishment, whereas the man who had kept some 173 of his people would be liable to have a demand made upon him to surrender land for the enlargement of their holdings. It is not a question of punishment. If he did that which was wrong, he, probably, has been punished somewhere for it; for the things happened long ago, and are now beyond our ken. At all events, he is now removed far enough from all earthly punishment; and the question before us is—what is the right and reasonable mode for adjusting the relations of existing landlords and crofters? The proposal to emigrate, as the hon. Member suggests, though I am far from saying that it is unworthy of consideration, is far beyond the scope of the Bill, beyond the scope of the Report of the Commission, and far beyond any funds that we have at our command, or are ever likely to get the command. Surely half-a-loaf is better than no bread. Surely it is better to provide a reasonable security of tenure at a fair rent, compensation for improvements, and enlargement of grazing land for existing townships and existing crofters—if we can do that—than to allow this Bill to be delayed until much larger schemes, which would want resources and raise principles which are not wanted or raised by this Bill, are to be matured and considered in the public mind. In conclusion, I would only say that we shall be glad to receive from every quarter of the House any suggestions towards producing as good a measure as any hon. Member can desire.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR (Leeds, Central)
, said, he had listened with pleasure to the speech of his right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland (Mr. Trevelyan) in introducing that measure, and also to most of the speeches during the debate of that evening; but what had struck him most throughout was the singular absence of any direct argument in favour of the Bill. The speech of the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate was principally devoted, not to showing that the Bill was a good one, but to apologizing for its omissions. The Secretary for Scotland appeared to rely almost exclusively on two arguments that were not direct, but indirect. His first object was to give effect to certain recommendations of the Royal Commission—those, namely, which referred to the land; and the second was to base 174 his Bill on what he called strictly historical and local considerations. Now, he (Mr. Gerald Balfour) admitted that it was very important that such a Bill as that should be based on local and historical considerations; but bethought they ought to have something more direct than that—namely, some real reason for the particular provisions contained in the measure. The two arguments on which his right hon. Friend relied were sometimes incongruous with each other. Let him take, for example, the question of pasture and arable land. The Commissioners recommended not merely that the crofter should be able to extend his occupation of pasture land, but of arable land also. His right hon. Friend, however, had not included that in his Bill, and his principal reason for this was, as he had told them, that the crofters in past times had had no such right at all. That was an instance in which the proposals of the Bill did not go so far as the recommendations of the Commissioners. He would take an opposite example — namely, fixity and fair rent. In that case his right hon. Friend had gone much beyond the recommendations of the Commissioners. In doing so, he appeared to think he was strictly adhering to such historical and traditional privileges as the crofters had enjoyed in past times; and he seemed to consider that if he could show that, in past times, the crofters were in possession of certain privileges, that was a sufficient reason for extending to them such privileges now. The Secretary for Scotland appeared to share the view which some entertained—that there was a kind of golden age in the Highlands in past times; but, for his own part, having himself carefully studied the Report of the Royal Commission, and also the past history of the Highlands, and having likewise a considerable acquaintance with their present state, he did not believe in that golden age, and bethought—he was only repeating the conclusion of the Commissioners in saying it—that on the whole the condition of the Highlands at the present time could not be said to be worse than their condition at any previous period. But it was not the historical question to which he most wished to call attention; it was the nature of the right hon. Gentleman's arguments. Surely the right hon. Gentleman 175 in advising the House to accept the proposals of the Bill—proposals which would revolutionize the system of land tenure in one part of the Island—might have gone into more detail to prove that the effect of the Bill would be good. The Commission had discussed the question of fixity of tenure, and in recommending it the right hon. Gentleman had been principally influenced by the idea that the crofters had a traditional right to such fixity; but whether or not they had was a matter of comparatively small moment. The real question was—would such fixity of tenure be for the advantage of the crofters or not? He confessed that all he had heard led him to think the Commission came to a perfectly correct conclusion in dealing to recommend anything like fixity of tenure. They had made a proposal for guaranteeing a certain amount of security of tenure, by suggesting that all crofters who paid more than £6 rent should be entitled, on application to the Sheriff, to receive improving leases; but to go below that limit they distinctly considered would be detrimental to the crofters themselves. The right hon. and learned Lord Advocate defended the action of the Government on this point, on the ground that, if the privilege which the Commissioners proposed to confer on tenants with a rental of more than £6 a-year was confined to that class, then the benefits conferred on the crofters, as a whole, would be almost infinitesimal. But in making their recommendation applicable to crofters over £6, the Commissioners were aware that they were excluding from the benefits of this provision the majority of the crofters; but they held—and he held with them—that, notwithstanding this, the evil of fixing in their holdings crofters whose means of livelihood were so small would clearly outweigh any benefits they might receive from fixity of tenure. What benefit would any crofter obtain by getting fixity of tenure for a croft under £6 a-year? Even the hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. Fraser-Mackintosh), who was not likely to take a view very favourable to the landlords, and who thought £6 was too high, did not consider that the Commission would have been justified in going below £4; but the Government had deliberately set aside the recommendation of the Commissioners 176 in that respect. But he would pass from that to the question of the enlargement of holdings, as to which the Secretary for Scotland had told them that it was the most vital I point, the very backbone of the recommendation of the Commissioners; but he had not told them that two out of the six Commissioners had dissented from the recommendations of the Report on the subject. Why was it that the Government took no account of the arguments put forward by those two Members of the Commission, and why had they now changed the opinion they apparently held last year? Surely the general object of any such Bill should be to reduce the poverty and indigence of the Highlands; but he did not hesitate to say that the particular proposal described by his right hon. Friend as the vital proposal of the Commissioners would not have that effect in any appreciable degree. In the first place, no crofter, or association of crofters, would be entitled to the benefit of that provision, unless they were able not only to pay rent for, but also to stock, their additional land. But if the crofters were to be called on to stock the land added to their crofts, and on that condition only were to have the benefit of the clause, in that case would it be the poorer class, and those for whom such a Bill was needed, that would be benefited? Was it not rather clear that only those who were already tolerably well off would be able to enjoy the advantage of that provision? Again, the Bill provided that if the land to be added to a township formed part of any farm, whether subject to any lease or not, unless the Land Commission were satisfied that the part proposed to be assigned for the enlargement of the crofters' holdings could be so assigned without material damage to the letting value of the remainder, it should not be competent for the Land Commission to assign land for such enlargement. Now he said, without hesitation, that it seemed to him to be impossible, or, at all events, possible only in a very few instances, to take away land from a farm in the manner proposed without reducing the letting value of the farm; and, if so, under no circumstances, or but very rarely, could land be taken from existing farms to be added to the crofters' holdings. 177 Therefore, he took it, the only land practically available for the purpose in question was that at present included in deer forests. The Secretary for Scotland, in introducing the Bill, made one or two remarks which he could not help thinking were mere ad captandum arguments, and were simply designed to evoke cheers from below the Gangway. Two Commissions, one of which was the Crofter Commission, had examined carefully into the question of deer forests; and though, in both cases, they had been appointed with a hope that they would curse the deer forests, they had been obliged to bless them altogether. These Commissions had laid down that, in comparison with a sheep farm, a deer forest employed more labour, and would probably have the effect of reducing the rates to a greater extent, owing to the attraction afforded to wealthy people who would spend large sums of money in the glens where they enjoyed sport. It appeared to him, therefore, that, so far from it being desirable to discourage deer forests as against sheep farms, they should be encouraged. ["No, no!"] At any rate, he did not think that a clause should be put into the Bill which would make it impossible to take land from large sheep farms; and, at the same time, no difficulty should be put in the way of it being taken from deer forests. He said nothing in regard to compensation for improvements. So far as he could make out, the proposal was a just one; but the main principles of the Bill were, first, the fixity of tenure and fair rent, and, second, the enlargement of holdings. With regard to the first, it seemed to him to be clear from the Report of the Royal Commission that this proposal was a dangerous one, and that it would really tend to fix in their holdings crofters who had much better become labourers or fishermen, or who should migrate or emigrate. The second proposal in favour of the enlargement of holdings was useless for the purpose of the Bill. Coming to the measures recommended by the Royal Commission, but which had been omitted from the Bill, first of all was the question of emigration. The right hon. and learned Lord Advocate had defended the Government from the charge of omitting the question, by saying that emigration, if it was to be dealt with at all, must 178 be dealt with as a large question, affecting not merely one particular part of the country, but all parts, and perhaps the Metropolis more than any other part. No one disputed that the question of emigration was of enormous importance not only to the Highlands, but to the whole country; and though it was not dealt with in the Bill, he considered the Secretary for Scotland might have said something about it in his speech in moving the first reading; but he was absolutely silent on the subject. In the Report of the Commission there was not one single point which was made out more clearly and absolutely than the necessity of emigration. The Commissioners had shown conclusively that in many districts, if the land was taken away from the present proprietor and divided among the crofters without any rents being charged, the crofters would not have sufficient subsistance from such lands to enable them to live in anything like comfort. In these circumstances, he was surprised that the Secretary for Scotland should not even have mentioned the question in his speech. He was also rather astonished to hear that his right hon. Friend seemed to think—and, in fact, laid down the principle—that under no circumstances ought the public money to be spent or advanced on behalf of any special section of the community. He believed, however, his right hon. Friend, when he was Chief Secretary for Ireland, brought forward the Purchase of Land Bill, the purpose of which was to advance public money in that way. It seemed to him that the doctrine of the right hon. Gentleman was an extraordinary one, and, if it were to be carried out with strictness, would stand in the way of some measures designed by the Government, and in the way of many right hon. Gentlemen who now sat on the Treasury Bench. He did not believe that this question could be properly dealt with unless the Government were prepared — he would not say to spend—but, at all events, to advance money. After the criticisms he had passed on the Bill, the logical course for him to take might be to oppose the second reading; but though he thought such a course would not be unreasonable, he hoped that the Bill might be amended in such a way as to prove a really valuable one. In order to be a 179 valuable measure it must be not only largely amended, but also largely added to. He quite agreed that, at the present time, considering the state of feeling in the Highlands in regard to this question, it would not be wise, when they could possibly amend the Bill so as to make it satisfactory, to reject it altogether. They had reached a state of things in the Highlands when, perhaps, the ordinary and legitimate remedies would not be altogether adequate, and when it might be necessary to provide remedies which, even if in themselves not calculated to meet the needs of the people, would at least satisfy their imagination. He regretted that it should be necessary to deal with this question in this way; but who was to blame for that? Perhaps, to some extent, a certain number of the landlords, because in every class they would find black sheep; but the Report of the Commission bore him out in saying that the landlords of the Highlands, on the whole, had done their duty in this matter. ["No, no!"] He attributed the principal blame for their having to resort to exceptional legislation, which everybody must consider in itself unsatisfactory, to the agitators who had embittered the relations between the landlord and tenant. It was the agitators who had added fuel to the fire by their reckless statements and their unscrupulous promises. It was the agitators who had rubbed poison into a natural wound until it had become a festering sore. The agitators had reduced the Highlands to such a condition that the ordinary remedies were not altogether available; and, therefore, he hoped that the Bill would be so amended and added to that if it did not do some good, it would, at all events, do no positive harm. He sincerely trusted, when they came to discuss the Bill in Committee, that the Secretary for Scotland would not introduce any such provisions as were likely to have the effect of discouraging the landlords in their efforts for the improvement of the people. Though the landlords had been treated with scant generosity in the Bill, he hoped they would not, on that account, be deterred from devoting, as he believed they had, on the whole, hitherto consistently devoted their best energies to promote the prosperity, the welfare, and the contentment of the people.
§ MR. FRASER-MACKINTOSH (Inverness-shire)
said, there was one disfigurement in the able speech of the hon. Member for Central Leeds which he was sure the hon. Gentleman would regret—that was, his observations about agitators. That charge was sufficiently answered by the fact that in the whole of the Highland counties, from Caithness down to Argyll, at the recent General Election, when the crofters had for the first time the benefit of the franchise, four of the Crofter candidates were returned, in spite of all the opposition that could possibly be raised against them. In the county of Sutherland the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Stafford) retained his seat only because he made promises of a very advanced character; and he thought the noble Marquess himself would not object to be termed one of the Crofter Representatives, while the hon. Member for the Wick Burghs (Mr. Macdonald Cameron), if not one of them, was at heart with them, and so also was the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Lyell). Although they were a small body compared with hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway on the Opposition side, when they heard that a great deal was to be obtained by unity, they were determined not to be left out in the cold. He had no desire to say anything to hamper the Government. He was quite aware that there were difficulties now around and dangers before them; and he hoped that what he had said would be accepted as his honest and conscientious opinion. With regard to the Bill before the House, the first great matter was giving fixity of tenure. He should have much preferred that the fixity of tenure had been given without the numerous restrictions that were inserted in the Bill. The debate had not been at all satisfactory, so far as the Government were concerned; but he was aware of the difficulties which they had to encounter, and had no wish to hamper them unnecessarily. It was to be borne in mind, however, that the people with whom they had to deal were not very well educated, and that many of them did not know English. The Bill, instead of being one that they could easily understand, was essentially a lawyer's Bill. At first it seemed to promise a great deal; but when they read on they found that it 181 was full of pitfalls, and was certain to give rise to a great deal of litigation. Then, again, there were no lawyers in many of the localities, while the people were quite unable to pay the expense of bringing lawyers from a distance to plead before the Land Commissioners. If ever there was a case in which a Bill ought to be clear, concise, and brief, it was one in which the poor people of the Highlands were concerned; but he was led to the conclusion that, although the framer of the Bill might be very clever, he was not one who really had the interests of the Highland people at heart when he put in so many restrictions. With regard to fair rent, that was a matter with which he was satisfied; but as to compensation for improvements, there was a most unjust clause as to no compensation being given for improvements executed under agreement or understanding; for many stipulations in leases were confiscating. The most important improvement of the Bill upon that of last year was the enlargement of the holdings. That was the main good in the Bill. But he could not for a moment agree that the extension should be limited to grazing lands. The Bill would not restore crofters to the position they occupied 80 years ago, as the Secretary for Scotland had said it was intended to do, unless they gave them arable land as well. In some of the smaller islands the people were on the verge of starvation from congestion of holdings, and they must be migrated. He would instance a case in which the people of a small island in the Hebrides caught a few lobsters in a week, and the soil was so bad that if two or three bushels of corn were sown only one bushel would be reaped. The island was once uninhabited; it was no place for human beings to live in; and the people must be removed to some place where they could have arable land as well as pasture. This question must be left open if deer forests were not dealt with; and the people would not cease agitating until they obtained their just rights. In a word, the Bill would not be complete without some provision for the case of the cottars, and in regard to deer forests. He hoped the Secretary for Scotland would take these matters into consideration.
§ MR. BAIRD (Lanark, N.W.)
said, he lived the greater part of each year in the very centre of the district affected by the Bill. Although he did not agree with all the details of the measure, he thought they had all been strongly impressed by the feeling which had prompted the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland in introducing it, and that they recognized the right hon. Gentleman's object to be to benefit the crofter. He agreed with the object of the Bill, and was thoroughly in accord with the spirit in which it had been introduced; and, as a Conservative landlord, he said that the members of his class would yield to no section of the House in their earnestness in that desire. It was surely difficult to conceive that this desire should not be shared by those who depended upon the crofters for at all events a part of their income, even if landlords were not to be credited with the ordinary feelings of humanity. Landlords were friends of the crofters. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen seemed to doubt that; but he was happy to say that, as a Conservative landlord, he had received most gratifying proof of the fact in the way in which he had been met after the election by his crofters. He had obtained an enthusiastic reception, which he should never forget. He had listened with great interest, and some annoyance, to the speeches which had been delivered on that side of the House during this debate, his annoyance arising from the fact that he got up under the disadvantage of being compelled to repeat what had already been said, or to sit down again without making observations which he had upon his notes. The right hon. Gentleman, speaking of sheep farms, said there seemed to be difficulties arising partly from the complication in the valuation of flocks, which rendered every successive tenant less and less able to take over the stock of his predecessor. That that was true in the sense that valuers did favour the outgoing tenant, those who had had the misfortune of being obliged to take over sheep farms during the last 10 years knew better than anybody else. It was gratifying to find from the terms in which the Bill had been introduced that the Government did not share the opinions of, at all events, some Members who sat upon the other side of the House, one of whom 183 had openly stated at the Portree Conference in September last that the interests of crofters and landlords were flatly antagonistic, and that war had been declared between those classes. Were they to understand that the Government had introduced this Bill, and were anxious to pass it, in consequence of the fact that a war against landlords had been declared? Taking the Irish analogy, there would be under the Bill some 6,000 fair rents fixed by the aid of valuers called in by the Commissioners. If they extended the crofters' holdings on the only class of land which could be of use to them they would reduce a large part of the uplands lying at a distance from the crofters' homesteads to a condition of absolute desert; because it was a fact that a crofter would not find it within his power to make use of those distant pastures in the same way as a man who occupied a large enough piece of land to justify him in adopting that system of farming which had proved to be most economical. He urged the Government to do everything in their power to develop the fisheries of the Highlands, for the best friends of the Highlander knew that that was a matter of the utmost importance. He was sorry to see that the question of harbours had not been dealt with. There were many lochs on the West Coast which afforded good lying for fishing vessels; but there were rocks on the way to them, and boats had to run the gauntlet before they were safe. The Government might very well give some assistance to make those lochs accessible, by providing beacons, buoys, or lights where necessary. He strongly impressed upon the Government also the necessity of giving every encouragement to emigration, and he did not see why the suggestions of the Canadian Government with reference to a scheme of Irish emigration should not apply to the case of the Highlands of Scotland. They ought to go before the emigrant and enable him to make a profitable use in a new country of the industry, ingenuity, and powers which were undoubtedly inherent in the Western Highlanders. He would also impress upon them that the question of telegraphs and postal communication was a most important one as affecting fishing stations, and he hoped that the Bill would give greater facilities than 184 now existed to the people who were engaged at such stations.
THE MARQUESS OF STAFFORD (Sutherland)
This Bill has been subjected to a considerable amount of criticism with regard to its details; but, upon the whole, it seems to me to be a very fair Bill. At the same time, I should like to see it made a still better Bill when we get into Committee, because it is certainly capable of much improvement. The Government have admitted that the case of the crofters is an exceptional one; and I should like to call the attention of the Government to the grievances under which they suffer. Only a year ago a large sum of money was voted by Parliament for the good of the Irish people—as much as £5,000,000, I believe; and I do not think that Her Majesty's Government should expect Members who represent the Highlands of Scotlands to come here and say nothing about the distress of their constituents. As the House has stepped in to the help of the Irish people, I think it is only reasonable that similar help should be extended to the Highlands of Scotland. I do not propose to enter into the details of the Bill, except to notice one point which has not been referred to, and that is the necessity of protecting the crofters from game. Then, again, there is the case of the small leaseholders. There are many small leaseholders whose rent does not exceed £20, and I think that the Bill ought not to be confined to crofters proper, but might fairly be extended to this class. I trust that something will be done by the Government to enable these people to live in a really comfortable manner; and it is highly important also that the development of the fisheries on the Coast should be assisted, especially on the North-West Coast. I know that in Sutherlandshire, the county which I have the honour to represent, there is an immense supply of fish on the North-West Coast. I do not see that anything is done by this Bill to remove any of the obstructions to the navigation, or to erect piers, or to provide any other accommodation for fishermen. I think something ought to be done to give the advantages which will be derived from the construction of fishing stations, and I am sure that the proprietors will be willing to submit to taxation if the help of the Government could be afforded to 185 this desirable object. In the case of any works that could be shown to be of value to the estates of the proprietors, the land of the proprietors could be charged proportionately with the expenses. It seems to me that that would be a very fair system to go upon; and I am sure the proprietors would be glad to pay a fair share of the taxation if they could be assured that the fisheries would be properly developed under the regular supervision of the Government. Then, again, in Sutherlandshire, and other parts of the Coast, there are hundreds of fishermen unable to pursue their calling from the want of harbours on the North Coast, and they are further cut off from all access to good markets; if they catch the fish they have no means of sending them to market. If steps were taken properly to provide fishing stations on the North and North-West Coast, and on the Islands around, instead of the few harbours which now exist, and which are most inconveniently crowded, the fishermen would not only be fully employed, but much good would be done to the families of these industrious men, and to the large centres of population, to whom a supply of wholesome and cheap food will be most welcome. I therefore think that some assistance from the Government would be of great advantage to the fishermen. The Government have done much for the good of these people in the way of education, and I would put it to the Government whether assistance in the particular direction which I have indicated would not be of similar benefit? I sincerely hope that it will be forthcoming.
§ MR. J. M. CAMERON (, &c.) Wick
I rise with great diffidence as a new Member to ask for the indulgence of the House while I address it for the first time; but, as I know that indulgence has been extended to other hon. Members, I trust I may venture to hope that it will be extended to me. The hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. Fraser-Mackintosh) referred to me as not being a Crofter's Representative; but although I am not a Crofter's Representative I am a Highlander, and any assistance I can give to the crofters in furthering the objects which are sought to be obtained by this Bill, either in the House or outside of it, I shall be willing and ready to give. I look upon the Bill as being one of an ameliorative character, 186 although it does not go nearly so far as I would wish. In the 29th clause of the Bill there is a definition of the term "crofter." It is to mean a tenant of a holding from year to year who habitually resides on his holding, the annual rent of which does not exceed £30 in money, and which is situated in a crofting parish. Now, if that is to be the definition of "crofter" the operation of the Bill will be of a very restricted character, because I know that there are hundreds of families in Eastern Ross who will not come under its provisions, because they do not reside upon their allotments. Many of them live in the towns of Dingwall, Tain, Dornoch, Wick, Kirk-wall, and others in towns and villages by the seashore in that neighbourhood. I think it would be well if the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland would take this fact into consideration when the Bill gets into Committee. I think it is also fair that the House should know what is the opinion entertained with regard to this Bill outside the House. I have received letters from several of my own constituents, as well as from other constituencies, in which the writers express much dissatisfaction with the measure. One letter which I received this morning states that no Bill will be at all acceptable to the population of the Highlands which does not provide more arable land, and make some provision for settling the children of crofters on new holdings. Only this evening I have received a communication of a similar nature, in which the writer complains of the refusal of the Government to accept the recommendation of the Royal Commission to give more arable land. I must say it appears to me that this Bill is more of a landlord's Bill than it is a crofter's Bill. Moreover, the Bill will do positive injustice, because in the case of the numerous classes of holdings untouched by it, it will tend to establish the title of the landlords to land originally seized by violence. I have been much amused this evening in listening to the expression of opinion by hon. Gentlemen opposite and the suggestions they have made in regard to Highland land grievances. Hon. Members seem to desire that the Bill should do nothing more than put the crofters in the position they were in as regards the land, say, 80 years ago. They ask the Government to encourage 187 fisheries, to put up telegraph lines, to establish steamers on the West Coast of Scotland, to assist emigration, and to do everything except what is wanted by the people themselves? Although the population of the Highlands to-day is much larger than it was 30 years ago, it must be remembered that the increased population is in the large towns and villages, where it has increased by natural causes; but in the country districts the population is much less than it was 30 years ago; and in but sadly too many places there is no population whatsoever. I do not think that any scheme of emigration will afford a remedy. I would ask how it is that Her Majesty's Government do not grant to the Highlands of Scotland an equal measure of justice to that which they have given to the tenants of Ireland? I have no doubt that if we had a band of 85 loyal and patriotic Gentlemen on this side of the House, equally determined to those who now sit below the Gangway opposite, we should get an equal measure of justice. I myself think that this Bill ought not to pass, and I have not the slightest doubt that it will not meet the requirements of the people of the Highlands, who have been taught to expect, and rightly expect, that a greater measure of justice would be dealt out to them. If that measure of justice is not dealt out to them there will doubtless be a much more extensive agrarian agitation than there has ever been yet, and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer may have a second opportunity of assisting his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to send another military expedition to Skye. Much more must be done than is likely to be done by this Bill. I was much struck by the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland in introducing the Bill last week, and especially with the sympathy he expressed for these poor people. That portion of his speech in which he dealt with deer forests was particularly noticeable; but there is not one word in the Bill of our intention to confine them to their present area, or to prevent them from being increased in the future. This is a very serious matter indeed, and one which ought to be pressed upon the Government when the Bill is in Committee. In conclusion, I should like to ask, who are these people the House is endeavouring to legislate 188 for? The House seems to forget that they are the descendants of the men who helped this country to attain the proud position she now occupies—men who fought at Fontenoy; who followed the Duke of Wellington in all his campaigns; who helped Wolfe to win the heights of Abraham; and, in later times, formed that "thin red line" that won the battle of the Alma. If it were properly understood how much these men have done for this country I think that the Government would not hesitate to deal out to them a far greater measure of justice than is contained in this Bill. I will not detain the House any longer. I thank the House for having extended its kind indulgence to me, and I hope that when the Bill gets into Committee Her Majesty's Government will be prepared to accept a great number of Amendments which will make the measure more nearly meet the circumstances of the case.
§ MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON (Bute)
I have carefully examined this Bill with every desire to find in it a satisfactory settlement of this question. When the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland spoke of the evils which now stand in the way of the proper administration of the law in Scotland, he alluded to them, and to the responsibility of the Government to provide a remedy, in terms which, I believe, very deeply impressed the House. The expectation which his speech gave rise to was that the Bill would be such a measure as would enable him to deal with important matters which he is unable to touch in the present state of the law; and it was naturally to be expected that he contemplated a measure which would restore the social organization of the disturbed districts in Scotland, and so amend the material condition of the people as to enable their grievances to disappear. Now, a careful consideration of the Bill does not satisfy me that that expectation was well-founded; and I am sorry to add that I greatly fear the Bill is likely to produce in the minds of those who are mainly affected by it a considerable misconception as to their own duties. The evils described by the Crofters' Commission were of a peculiar and grave kind. In one word, they were due to poverty caused by want of occupation. That is the evil, and it is because it is peculiar 189 and local in its character that I imagine that the Legislature will be inclined to apply an exceptional remedy that might not be entirely justifiable on strictly doctrinaire principles. Yet I find that while the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the learned Lord Advocate have clutched at various recommendations of the Crofters' Commission in one direction, yet they have taken and are taking a very much more limited view of the situation than the Commissioners in other respects. The Commissioners represented the population of these districts as being dependent upon two industries—the cultivation of the soil and fishing—and there was one very significant statement of the Commissioners, which has been commented upon by my right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. J. H. A. Macdonald), and that is that the fishing is followed with more productive results than the cultivation of the soil. Now, I find that the Bill proposed by Her Majesty's Government bears the title of a Crofters' Bill, and yet it is described within as being a Bill relating solely to land. We are now told by the Lord Advocate that, although the Bill is described as a Bill relating to land, provisions are to be inserted in it relating to the fisheries, and that the provisions in regard to the fisheries will involve pecuniary loans out of public moneys, the security for which was not disclosed in the statement made by my right hon. and learned Friend. Indeed, the statement of the Lord Advocate does not altogether fit in with the history of the country during the last 18 months with regard to this very matter. When the Lord Advocate attempts to justify the policy of the Government in abstaining from aiding tenants in stocking their farms, he justifies it purely on the principle of not making advances from the public purse. Now, the suggestions which the Commissioners put forward were for the improvement of the fisheries, the promotion of emigration, and they also had reference to the stocking of farms. I find, on looking back to the Bill proposed by the Lord Advocate last year, that, in Section 14, the right hon. and learned Gentleman actually inserted a provision for the advance of money for the stocking of land.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR) (, &c.) Clackmannan
These 190 loans were to be advanced to the landlord on the security of the land.
§ MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON (Bute)
No one ever suggested that any other security should be required. The statement now made is not that money should be advanced only on good security, but that no loans can be sanctioned by Her Majesty's Government involving the security of the State for purposes purely class and local. I cannot but think that the reason why this proposal has not found its way into the present Bill is that the Secretary for Scotland has not yet been able to settle his differences with the Treasury; and I am bound to say that the inadequacy of the view presented by the Government with regard to the matter is not satisfactorily excused by the explanations given. The assumption upon which the Bill proceeds is this—that these people are at present, or that they ought in future, to be made entirely cultivators of the land as farmers. That is far from being the fact at present; the fact is, they are not in the main, as far as their sources of living are concerned, farmers, but are really in the main, as far as the sources of living are concerned, engaged in another industry. I will go further. Take the main proposals contained in the Bill, and I maintain that it can be demonstrated that they do not tend in the direction of the removal of the principal evils described by the Commissioners. Take the case of the small crofters. Three things are to be done for them. In the first place, they are to have fixity of tenure and fair rent; in the second, compensation for improvements; and, in the third place, they have machinery provided for obtaining the enlargement of their crofts. They have legal machinery provided for this last object, but they have not practical opportunity. The reason why I say they have not opportunity is that they must already have a holding under £15 a-year rent before they can have the option of taking a larger piece of ground, and the condition is a mere illusion, because they have no money to provide the stock. As it is only right that a high authority should be given for such a statement, I will cite the authority of the hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. Fraser-Mackintosh), who addressed the House a short time ago, and who represents the crofting interest, as it is called, because 191 I find, in the Report of the Commission signed by the hon. Member, this statement—It is recognized on all hands that the resources of the people are incommensurate in all conditions for stocking their crofts.The result, therefore, if that be so, and if, by the want of money, they are precluded from taking advantage of the clauses for the extension of crofts, the benefits conferred by the Bill are only two—namely, fixity of tenure with fair rent and compensation. I do not entertain any strong objection, as a practical matter, to any of these provisions applied to the districts specified; but, at the same time, I should like to say that the conferring upon the crofters of fixity of tenure and fair rent is more of an empty compliment than anything else. It is giving them in theory what is actually enjoyed by the crofters at present. The Lord Advocate has admitted that they have fixity of tenure by custom if not by law, and that their rents at present are fair. He has told us that the Government are proceeding to establish this elaborate machinery of a Land Commission—to do what? To give the people the satisfaction of knowing, not merely that their rents are fair, but are deemed to be so by some impartial tribunal. That seems to me to be a novel and costly proceeding, and I think we should shrink from raising up this tribunal where it is unnecessary. But I go further. It is all very well to speak of fixity of tenure and fair rent; and I grant that if you have a community subject to frequent evictions, and a rack-rented community, they may receive benefit from the provisions of the Bill. But will any hon. Member, who reads the clause which describes fixity of tenure and compensation, say that they are applicable to the condition of the men who are living under the mild rule of most landlords in the Highlands? I think he will find that instead of the condition of the tenant being improved it will be made worse; and I will tell the House why. One of the statutory conditions you make under the Bill is that if a man is one term in arrear of rent he is subject to lose his holding. Can it be said, even on the other side of the House, that at present in Scotland the landlords turn out their tenants for missing one term's rent? Most certainly not. My objection to 192 this clause being introduced into the Bill is that, in face of a system which, unexpressed in words, works very well in practice, it would be a mistake to introduce statutory regulations as to evictions, giving the landlords a broad hint that they ought to turn out their tenants who are even a term behind in their rents. I am bound to say that I think that this is not a substantial benefit conferred upon the crofters, and yet it is one of the two benefits conferred by the Bill, the other being the right to compensation for improvements. Even in regard to that, an hon. Member who is a supporter of Her Majesty's Government, speaking from below the Gangway, said that in the case of the crofters the compensation would vary so much that in some instances it might amount to sufficient to enable a dead tenant to be buried. It cannot be said that that is a very substantial addition to the advantages to be enjoyed by the tenants. At the same time, I have no jealousy of the principle of the Compensation Clauses, and I am glad that men who have expended money upon their holdings should be able to take it away with them when they leave. I think the Government will find it necessary to consider carefully the provisions which are made as to compensation, with reference particularly to the inquiry whether a low rent has not been paid in respect of the holding for which the claim for compensation is made. I come now to the benefits proposed to be conferred upon the smaller class of crofters—the cottars. As regards the cottars, I find they get nothing except the clause about improvements. The Commission, I think, on this point went further than the Government, because they are clear and emphatic in saying that one of the objects to be aimed at by the Legislature, and by the people themselves, was to do away with small holdings, because the life of a small holder was intolerable. Their recommendation was that holdings below £4 or £6 should be consolidated, in order that the cottar should not be exposed to the hard life which attends the possession of these very small patches of ground. The Commissioners say they look to fishing and emigration as affording the solution of the evils under which these people suffer; but the right hon. Gentleman, 193 in this Bill, does not lift a finger in this direction. The Bill does worse. It gives fixity of tenure, and attempts to settle the people there on those inadequate holdings. That is directly in the teeth of the recommendations of the Commissioners, both in the spirit and in the letter. I cannot help thinking that what the Government propose is to defeat the object of the Commission, and stereotype and perpetuate one of the worst features of the evils of which we complain. I should like now to say a word in regard to the question of emigration. A Scotch county Member may be pardoned for saying, in order to prevent misunderstanding here and misrepresentation elsewhere, that he is not in favour of any compulsory scheme of emigration. The country would be all the better if as many of these Highlanders as possible stayed at home. They are a race of men imbued with principles that place them among the most valuable elements of the commonwealth; but I hope it will never go forth that a remedy like emigration is to be regarded with suspicion and hostility, and is only suggested with a view of inducing these people to leave the Highlands. The hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay) has in his Resolution carefully expressed that it is voluntary emigration he proposes. More than that, the hon. Member in his speech, as well as other hon. Members who followed, carefully pointed out that the facilities for emigration should be afforded, if such a scheme were instituted, quite as much for the purpose of pointing the way to the people as for actively promoting it. It is a great mistake to imagine that the Commissioners have proposed the advancing of public money upon insecure, or upon any, security for the purposes of emigration. What they did propose was that there should be a Government agency established to put the crofters in communication with those people in Canada or the States who are ready to receive them; but there were no proposals for public loans. I most thoroughly sympathize with what has been said as to the duty of the Government and the Legislature in speaking through an Act of Parliament, by way of direction as well as by way of compulsion, to the people of this country; and I do not envy the position of those who, dealing with a grave, social 194 problem like this, either by their silence on the subject or by their language, attempt to discourage these people from availing themselves of one of the outlets for enterprize open to all British subjects. The right hon. Gentleman said that emigration was not an appointed curse for the poor. On the contrary, it should be regarded as a birthright of all classes of Her Majesty's subjects. We ought to endeavour to get rid of the idea, especially in those remote parts of the country, that when a man goes to the Colonies he expatriates himself and is dead to his country. The Commissioners have given one piece of information of which I will remind the House. They say, and I wish to call the attention of hon Gentleman below the Gangway to the passage, for it is significant—The repugnance to emigration expressed by Highlanders is due chiefly to a fluctuation of opinion, and is not to be ascribed to any radical sentiment among the people. We are inclined to think that the land agitation which has prevailed has not been without influence in promoting this dislike to emigration.There is an objection in some quarters to the removal from these poverty-stricken districts of persons who are at present on the electoral roll, and something may be due to that; but I am satisfied that if emigration did take place to any extent from the Highlands to the Colonies and the United States, the emigrants would take out with them a steady, settled feeling of loyalty to the established institutions of this country. I unfeignedly regret that this measure should be so defective, and I would have welcomed anything tending towards the removal of what is at present a grave, social danger to well-ordered society, and a scandal to the Legislature of this country. I must say that I think also that it would have been appropriate for a Government, containing the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and the present Lord Advocate, to help to do away with that state of administrative disorganization and social anarchy into which the country drifted during their last tenure of Office. I hope we may take the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland at his word that, in passing this Bill, he is prepared to relieve that state of society which is at present a reproach to the Scotch Law and the Government. I sincerely hope that such Amendments or extensions may 195 be proposed as have been adumbrated in the speech of the Lord Advocate, and will give to the measure a completeness which it does not now possess. I hope that the law will be placed in such a position as to enable the right hon. and learned Gentleman to assume the responsibility of government in the West of Scotland, and to restore that spirit of loyal obedience to the law which is now in abeyance. It is not a characteristic of the Highland people to be lawless and disloyal. It is right that every effort should be made to remove the grievances which have led to the present state of matters; and my objections to the Bill are that I fear its provisions are less adequate than they might be to lead that noble people back to the fulfilment of their duty to their Queen and country.
§ DR. R. MCDONALD (Ross and Cromarty)
At this late hour of the evening I will try to make my remarks as short as possible. In the first place, I am pleased to see that the Bill has been attacked on both sides of the House. Why is that? The reason is, that certain principles have been adopted, but those principles have not been carried out to their conclusion. I maintain that the Bill, unless it is greatly improved in Committee, is simply tinkering with the question; but I have no doubt, after what has taken place, that the Bill will be improved. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House have expressed much sorrow for the crofters and sympathy for them, and I hope that their sympathy will take a practical form when we come to debate the provisions of the Bill in Committee. It is unfortunate, however, in this case as in many others, that hon. Gentlemen think they know what is good for the crofters better than the crofters themselves. The first point—in fact, it is the kernel of the matter—on which I wish to offer any criticism is the arable land question. Without dealing with the question of arable land, the Bill is practically useless and futile, and I would do my best to throw it out to-morrow. I believe, however, we may be certain that in Committee this matter will be introduced into the Bill. If it is not, we shall have this subject coming up over and over again. As the hon. Member for Wick (Mr. J. M. Cameron) said, why should Scotland be treated in this manner? Why is it that we do not get 196 better laws? It is because we are not banded together like the Irish Members. If we were, we should have the assistance, not only of hon. Members below the Gangway on the opposite side of the House, but of many hon. Members on this side, and we should then be able to put our case properly before the country. If, under such circumstances, we did not get what we want and what we expect, it would be our own fault. A second point which has not been attended to in the Bill is that of the increase of the crofters' lands. It is provided that when, for instance, you come to the boundary of Mr. Winan's forest, you are not to cross it. The crofters may be cleared away by wholesale off his land, but the evictor must not be touched, Suppose you have upon hill ground a large number of people. Why should not the whole of that hill ground be made available? If we can call upon one proprietor to give these people land at a reasonable rent, we have a perfect right to call upon another to do so. What is just to the one is also just to the other; and to say that when we are at the boundary of a certain property for the purpose of acting justly we are not to go beyond it, would never do at all. In many cases this would mean that while the land of the man who had crofters on his land would be available, the evictor would be left as he was before. Such a provision, I maintain, would make the Bill perfectly useless. The Bill proposes that large farms should be broken up for distribution to the crofters. But we are told that not only must the tenant give his consent, but the landlord also. I entirely demur to any stipulation of that kind. I say there is no reason why we should wait for the landlord's consent. If the tenant is willing to break up his farm, we should not ask for the landlord's consent, but should give the land to the people who require it on the same terms as neighbouring farms. I would not ask for the consent of the landlord in any case. I therefore hope that the Bill will be amended in this respect. Then there is another point. The late Lord Advocate appeared to argue that before land is given to a crofter, he should be called upon to show that he has sufficient capital to stock it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman would get very few Highlanders to agree with him on that 197 point; and if it were to be accepted by the Government they might as well drop the Bill. They would get very few Highlanders, except landlords and their friends, to agree with them. Then as to the giving of assistance to the crofters in the way of procuring stock, as a matter of fact that was absolutely necessary. What would be the use of telling these people—"Here is a large piece of arable or pasture land for you, but we cannot give you anything to stock it with?" Why, should we not rather follow the precedent already set in the case of Ireland? Last year we allowed a sum of £5,000,000 to be borrowed in Ireland for the purpose of stocking and improving the farms of the tenants. This year the Government refuse to concede a similar boon to Scotland. They have offered Ireland £20,000,000 of money, and they have already given £5,000,000; and yet they refuse to give £500,000 to the crofters down in the North of Scotland. In the next place, the provision in the Bill in regard to the principle of valuation for improvements is altogether ridiculous. And now I come to one of the most important parts of the Bill, although hon. Members who do not know the Highlands as I do may probably not see the force of the objections I am about to raise. Clause 29 of the Bill, on page 10, gives the definitions, and this is the definition of a crofting parish—Crofting parish means a parish in which there are at the commencement of this Act, or have been within 80 years prior thereto, holdings consisting of arable land, held with a right of pasturage in common with others, and in which there still are tenants of holdings from year to year, who habitually reside on their holdings, the annual rent of which respectively does not exceed thirty pounds in money, at the commencement of this Act.Now, I say that a provision of this nature is entirely unnecessary, and in my constituency it will take from 1,000 to 2,000 crofters out of the category altogether. The Bill says—In which there are at the commencement of this Act, or have been within 80 years prior thereto, holdings consisting of arable land, held with a right of pasturage in common with others, and in which there still are tenants of holdings from year to year.Why, I would ask, is there to be a limit of 80 years in the one case and not in the other? Before I bring my remarks to a close, there are one or two observations 198 which I would like to make upon the speeches of hon. Members who have preceded me. I am glad to see the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay) in his place. The hon. Member made a very remarkable speech upon the Bill; but his experience is no doubt unique. The hon. Member laid great stress on emigration, and the hon. Member has also taken great interest in the education of the Scotch people. The hon. Member appeared to be somewhat angry for being interrupted when stating that his tenants left because they were better educated than others, and he told the House that his tenants were so well educated that they left in a very few years. Now, it would be very difficult to find from 400 to 500 people so highly educated that they would be ready to emigrate in 10 days. Yet in this case they were put on steamers one week after the other from the hon. Member's estate.
§ DR. R. MCDONALD
Will the hon. Member say that 400 people did not leave his estate within a fortnight?
§ DR. R. MCDONALD
Well, I am wrong, and I have been misinformed. Does the hon. Member deny that when these people were educated for eviction, and when some of his people were clearing the houses fire was set to one, and an old woman who inhabited it was pulled out through the roof?
§ DR. R. MCDONALD
I will give the name, The old woman was the mother of Nial a Bhuachaile Mhor. There is another point which has been made a great deal of on the other side of the House, and by some hon. Gentlemen here, and that is the increase in the population of the Highlands and Islands. But we say that if the population of the Highlands and Islands has increased, and if with a smaller population 30 or 50 years ago they had all the land for their own use, what is to become of them now, when a great portion of their holdings has been taken away from them for sheep walks, deer forests, and so on? Therefore, that argument goes for nothing at all. I do not know that there are any other points involved in the Bill which it is necessary that I should allude to. There are a great many which deserve 199 notice, but as the hour is late, I will say no more. The Lord Advocate said that this is not a Bill for the punishment of the landlords. That is no doubt the case, and certainly that is not the intention of the Bill; but, on the other hand, we know that it does punish the landlords, and I hope that before it goes through the Committee it will punish them yet more. Still, that is no reason why we should not do justice, and consider the Bill with perfect fairness.
§ MR. MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
I will not detain the House for more than a few minutes. The question has already been discussed at such great length that all its bearings are, I think, fairly before the House. But we cannot disguise from ourselves that we are entering on a new legislative career in Scotland. We have never yet had fixity of tenure, nor fair rent, nor compensation, in the way in which they are proposed to be given by this Bill; and although, like my right hon. and learned Friend below me the late Lord Advocate, I am willing to make this an exceptional case, still I think we ought not, nor can we, conceal from ourselves the fact that no movement of late years has gone forward with greater rapidity than Home Rule in Scotland, which, as regards the question of land, so closely resembles the same movement in Ireland It has made more progress in two years than the Irish Question has made in the present century; and it has made that progress in a great measure from a feeling that the agitation has been on behalf of people struggling, amid great privations, to earn an honest livelihood. I am sure that all Scotchmen heartily reciprocate the wish expressed by the Government to assist the crofters in their privations; and I had hoped that the Government would have been able to have proceeded more than they have done on the lines of the Report of the Royal Commission, and to have conceded more of the recommendations contained in that Report. We know that the Royal Commission entered upon its inquiry with a disposition on the part of every Member of it to make a full and careful investigation into the facts of the case, and that they have presented a lengthy Report which has been prepared with great care. The recommendations of the Commissioners are all in one direction, and yet the Government have devoted 200 their attention to one point only out of the six dealt with by the Commission, and that the land. I trust that the Bill will be amended in Committee, and amended in the right direction, by giving increased facilities in the matter of fisheries and telegraphic and postal communications. These, we know, are matters of great importance to the people living almost on the outside of Scotland. There are other matters to which I should like to draw the attention of the Government. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate has stated tonight that there is no intention on the part of the Government to encourage subdivision. Now, I should like to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman, with regard to the security of tenure section in reference to the sub-division of holdings, whether the land is to be considered as the personal property of the crofter, or as the fee simple? And to whom does the holding go on the death of the crofter? I am afraid that the clause, as it is now drawn, will involve a considerable amount of difficulty, which is not likely to be settled by the measure itself. I would further ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman why he has fixed the limit of the crofter holding at £30? I should have thought that £15 would have been quite ample. I hold a letter in my hand from a friend in the Highlands, who informs me that he has 359 crofters on his estate, none of whom has a holding of more than £10 value, and that out of them 132 cottars have paid their rent direct to him as landlord. Now, by the Bill, the very fact that they pay rent to the landlord would make them crofters; and if they are crofters for the purposes of this Act, they will be entitled to fixity of tenure, fair rent, and to compensation. How is this question to be considered and dealt with? If a crofter has 30 acres, it would be impossible for him to cultivate them without sub-dividing, unless he called in his friends to help him, or received assistance in some other way. No one man can cultivate that amount of land in a way that would enable him to pay wages; and if the crofter has not money enough to pay wages for cultivation, the chances are that such holdings as 30 acres would be sub-divided. Therefore, I say that £30 is too high for a holding, and the limit, in my opinion, should be £15, I would also alter 201 the definition of the word "cottar" as contained in the Bill, so as to make it more simple and more easily understood. We cannot forget how the Highlanders Lave distinguished themselves in every part of the world; and those who have emigrated have always set a good example, which their countrymen at home ought to follow. As long ago as 1733 some of them established themselves in Georgia, and at a very early period a large body of Highlanders settled in Virginia. Anyone who has travelled in America will remember the Scotch Colonists in North Carolina, and also in Canada. At this late hour of the evening I will not trouble the House at greater length. I will only express a hope that, although the Bill is of an exceptional character, it will receive a fair trial.
THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (Mr. TREVELYAN) (, &c.) Hawick
I earnestly hope that the House will now proceed to give the Bill a second reading. I have listened, of course, with great attention and interest to the speeches which have been made in the course of the debate, and I think that I had begun to observe a slight tendency towards repetition of argument. The Bill has been attacked from various quarters, and with that class of charges and criticisms which generally give the advocates and promoters of a Bill considerable hopes of its becoming law on account of the firm belief they have in the doctrine of resulting causes. The Bill, in the course of the discussion, has been knocked down first on one side and then knocked up again on another; and while, perhaps, it has had no thorough or hearty friend, with the exception of my right hon. and learnd Friend who sits by my side, I will venture to say that it has hardly had two consistent enemies. Upon the whole, the speech which interested me most was that of my hon. Friend the Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay), who began the debate, because my hon. Friend wont at the Bill tooth and nail, and I thoroughly understood what he meant. My hon. Friend said that he wants to destroy the landlords and divide their property; but I may say that I have the strongest personal reasons for not taking that course, and I do not think that it is any way a fair description of the Bill. Then my hon. Friend 202 referred to the alleged difference of tenure in historical days in the Highlands. I may say that I did not open the Bill on that; but what I referred to was the changed circumstances of the Highlands, as to which there is no dispute whatever. I began by referring to the fact that there are 2,000,000 acres of land not grazed on now, because they have been converted into deer forests, and, in addition, enormous tracts of country have been given up to shootings which were formerly used as grazing grounds. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for the Falkirk Burghs is not aware of the enormous rental of these shootings and deer forests. It is only 16 years ago that the rental of the shooting of Scotland was said to amount to £73,000 a-year. My impression is that there is some mistake in that calculation, and I would rather take a later date. In the year 1877 the rental of the shootings and deer forests in Scotland was £233,000. Within the last eight years that has increased steadily and rapidly to £363,000 a-year. That £363,000 a-year is an addition to the rent in the pockets of the landlords since the days when the population of the Highlands was enumerated in those localities, and all that rent represents, to a great extent, a dead loss to the population. It was that fact to which I referred, and not to any question of difference of tenure, when I alluded to that portion of the Highlands with which the Bill deals as exceptional.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
Does the right hon. Gentleman's calculation include the proportion of the shootings held by the proprietors?
§ MR. TREVELYAN
It does not; but, according to the best information I have been able to obtain, the value of the shootings in the hands of proprietors is about one-fifth of what has been let. That is what has been given to me by the Board of Supervision. Well, my hon. Friend the Member for the Falkirk Burghs talks about the extreme injustice to the landlords of our clause with regard to compensation for improvements. He says—"Can anything be more contrary to justice and common sense than giving a man compensation for a house which he has built, and which, perhaps, the owner would not care to have?" I say, what could be more contrary to justice and common sense than pulling down 203 a house which a man has built at his own expense, and with his own labour, without his landlord having forbidden him to do so, and without giving him 1d. of compensation? It has been frequently the case in making clearances for deer forests, and still more frequently in making clearances for sheep walks, that a man who has built a house and cultivated the ground round him, has had to see that ground laid waste and his house pulled down without 1d. of compensation for his expenditure or labour. The hon. Member for Wigtonshire (Sir Herbert Maxwell) followed with a speech in which he set on foot a class of criticism that has been mainly followed from the opposite Benches. The hon. Member said the Commissioners had made five or six different recommendations with regard to the measures that ought to be taken in dealing with the crofter districts, and that of these we had taken only one—the recommendation which referred to the land. Now, Sir, in the first place, I maintain that that was the recommendation of recommendations. It was—and I fancy that the hon. Member for Wigtonshire will not deny it—in reference to the land that the agitation begun, which caused the Commission to be sent to the Highlands. What are the words of the Commissioners? They say—The principal matter of dissatisfaction in connection with the occupancy of land urged on our notice in almost every district with the utmost vehemence and with the greatest consensus of authority, is the restriction in the area of holdings.That is the main question. That is the question that the crofters have in mind. There their discontent began, and until that grievance is remedied their discontent will not cease. The hon. Member went on to read out certain other recommendations, and said that besides the land there was all that related to fisheries and communications. Well, Sir, it is very hard that after making a speech of considerable length in the House of Commons, one should then have that speech treated by an hon. Member as if one had never spoken a single syllable of it. I described to the House on the first reading of the Bill, at considerable length, what had been done by the two late Governments with regard to carrying out the recommendations of the Commission 204 with reference to the steam communications with the Highlands; and, much as I showed had been done, I am glad to say that, ever since that speech, I hope that a still greater advance has been made, and that the steamers which the Post Office had promised to run from Oban will now go on to the important fishing port of Loch Maddy. I described also what class of assistance should be given to fisheries, winch I should be glad to hear discussed in this House. The Government would be inclined to lend towards it a favourable ear. It was discussed by the hon. Member for Wigtonshire, and he asked why I had been silent on this question. The fact is, that the question is one upon which I had spoken for 10 minutes, and upon which I had quoted the very great success which had attended this class of assistance in the two great funds connected with Ireland. But I must remind the hon. Member and other hon. Gentlemen opposite—who are for ever calling for large sums from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and who are always speaking of him in terms which would make one imagine that he was a miser keeping his own money instead of a faithful guardian of the taxes paid by the hard working, hard-living people of this country—I must remind these hon. Members that in Ireland these fisheries are assisted, not from the general taxes, but from two special funds which were raised by the friends of Ireland, both Irishmen and others, in previous periods of scarcity, and which now are used for assisting Irish fishermen. The hon. Member says that another recommendation of the Commissioners was education, and that we have done nothing for it. It is really very unfortunate that hon. Members should make speeches in this House without making the most elementary or superficial inquiry as to the facts which have been laid before the House. I do not say that what this Government have done, or, still more, what the late Government have done, meets everything that the Highlands could demand; but I say that it very fairly meets the demands of the Commissioners. Three very considerable advantages have been given to the school boards and schools of the Highlands and Western Islands since the Report of the Commission, the details of which I have already stated twice to the 205 House, and I will not go over them again; but I will say that one has been taken advantage of by the schools in these very districts to the extent of a good many hundreds a-year. Then the hon. Member says that we have done nothing for justice. Well, Sir, what is this recommendation about justice when you come really to read the Report? This recommendation consists of two parts. In the first place, the Commissioners recommend that Procurators Fiscal and Sheriff Clerks should not be allowed to hold agencies or clerkships in banks. I am not going to argue against that recommendation. It is not a matter with which we would be inclined to deal by legislation, because we might bring about very great inconvenience in certain districts. But my right hon. and learned Friend (the Lord Advocate) is carefully attending to it in administration, so that when a post falls vacant he tries to exact an undertaking from the new legal officer that he will not engage in any business outside his own profession. The other recommendation with regard to justice is a sort of hint that we are of opinion that there might possibly be in some cases an unconscious admission of external influence on the part of the Sheriff, and in other cases the existence of such influence might be suspected where the Sheriff has to get a house from the landlord. Therefore, the Commissioners urged that in some cases the Sheriff should have an official residence. These are the recommendations of the Commissioners with regard to justice. Can anyone pretend to say that they can be named on the same day as the recommendations of the Commission with regard to the land? As to emigration, I will make some remarks upon it further on. But what I do say is, that with regard to all the other recommendations of the Commissioners, which are small ones, we have dealt adequately with them in proportion to their size, and we have determined not to touch the question of the land unless we could deal quite adequately with that likewise. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the late Lord Advocate and the hon. and learned Gentleman the late Solicitor General have criticized our Bill in a manner which, on the whole, has, I confess, a little disappointed me. I expected to get a good bit of enlightenment from these two Gentlemen. They 206 have had the administration and legislation of Scotland in their hands for a period, at any rate, of seven or eight months, and during that time they must have had their attention drawn to this crofter question. But I defy anyone who heard the speeches of these two Gentlemen to say what their own views are with regard to this question. They talked of the inadequacy of the Bill; but they did not give a single end of a clue as to what the provisions should be which they thought would remove the evil defects of which they complained, and fill up the vacuum in the Bill. The late Lord Advocate said the Government ignored the Report of the Royal Commission with respect to the land. There I must say I take issue most directly with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The Government took the cardinal recommendation of the Commission. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says we hung up all the recommendations which would involve the expenditure of public money; that we rejected those, and only took the others which would cost nothing. Now, the cardinal recommendation of the Commission was the giving of grazing land to the crofter. ["No, no!" and cries of "Arable land!"] Well, grazing or arable land. The Government accepted that recommendation, as far as grazing land is concerned; and in Committee, if an Amendment is moved, we shall be prepared to argue the question as to arable land. Then, I would ask, is it wise, after I had carefully explained the provisions for guarding the interests both of the crofters and landlords, for the two Law Officers of the late Government—a Conservative Government—to come down to this House and speak of our Bill as totally inadequate, and ask what we have done for the cottar, and what for the small farmer? What would they have done? Would they have given him a farm? [Mr. J. H. A. MACDONALD dissented.] I took down the words of the right hon. and learned Gentlemen, and he said—" What does this Bill consist of? It does nothing for the cottar." I say everything that is possible is done for the cottar that can be done, and Clause 9 gives him compensation for improvements.
§ MR. J. H. A. MACDONALD (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)
I think the right hon Gentleman 207 misunderstood what I said. I said that the provisions of the Bill would not enable the cottar and small crofter to attain any better position in life than he occupies at present. I say so still.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
That is exactly what I said. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that the provisions of the Bill do nothing for the cottar. I should like to know what the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have done for the cottar? There is only one thing you could do for the cottar on the lines of this Bill, and that is to migrate him and give him a farm on somebody else's land, where he has not a farm at present. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman means that, I have no doubt he will find some hon. Members in this House who will support him. What else he means I have not the slightest idea. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says there is nothing in the Bill about emigration. That I entirely allow. After very careful consideration, we have determined not to make any proposals about emigration, and there is one very strong reason for this. The Bill is a very special Bill, referring to a very special population, living in a very special district, under very special circumstances. But congestion and want of work are not special evils confined to a special population. They pervade in a greater or less degree almost the whole of the country, taking England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, and we are certainly unwilling to adopt for this small part of the community, a remedy which, if adopted for one part, may be claimed to be spread over the whole. This is a Crofters' Bill, and it applies crofter remedies to crofter evils. Emigration is not specially a crofter remedy. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said he was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella), speaking so eloquently of the advantages of emigration, and that he hoped his words would reach the Western Highlands. I hope they will reach the Western Highlands. Wise and eloquent words they were. No one has ever spoken in any Legislative Assembly as frequently in favour of emigration as I have been unfortunate enough to do in this House; but I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that my experience of coupling Emigration Clauses with a 208 Land Bill is a very unhappy experience indeed. If we are to set up a public system of emigration—I am not at this moment talking of emigrating the people at the public expense—if we are to set up a public machinery of emigration, I think it is unwise to do it at a time when there is something very like an agrarian agitation going on in the districts to which you would apply this machinery. So far from my right hon. Friend and myself commending emigration under these circumstances to the Highland population, I think, from experience, that there is nothing which would tend so much to make emigration unpopular. That, at least, is my experience in dealing with circumstances which strongly resemble those of the Western Highlands. Hon. Gentlemen who have asked for public money to carry on emigration must remember that when they quote Irish precedent, they are quoting what is no precedent at all. Whence did the Irish emigration money come. It came out of a special Irish fund if ever there was one—the Irish Church Surplus, or what was called, at any rate, the Irish Church Surplus. We have no Scottish Church Surplus. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is willing to draw upon the unexhausted teinds, well and good. I think that might be done by a Gentleman who had the interests of the Church at heart. To ask us to begin the very serious step of applying the public money for the purpose of emigration in the Highlands, is to ask us something, in the present state of the public finances, which cannot possibly be conceded. The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke very seriously of the fact of the rents not being paid in Skye and the neighbouring Islands. I do not know whether he proposed that a remedy should be applied before we proceeded with this Bill.
§ MR. J. H. A. MACDONALD
The right hon. Gentleman has quite misunderstood me. What I said was that in several cases where landlords had given extensions of grazing land and crofts to their tenants rents had not been paid.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
I understood my right hon. and learned Friend in that part of his speech to have given a more general application. However, I am willing to meet him there. Unfortunately, this state of things in some districts, under the general law, or want 209 of law which exists, has not improved during the three or four weeks we have been in Office; and this Bill is to enable the Government, on the one hand, to approach this question of non-payment of rents in the Highlands with a clear conscience and with a feeling that it has Parliament behind it, and that it has done everything possible in its power to remedy the legitimate grievances of the Highlanders; and, on the other hand, to make all honest men among the crofters feel that they will be ungrateful towards the country in resisting the payment of their civil obligations. That is one of the main reasons why we wish to pass this Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, in a very eloquent peroration, said he trusted the people of the Highlands would cultivate a spirit of manly pluck and energy, and face the world like other people. Now, I venture to say that the worst way of cultivating a spirit of pluck and energy is to call for public money on every occasion. We want the Highland crofters to face the world like other people; but how is it that other people in the country face the world? It is by working with their own capital and with their own right arms, and by not in any way depending on public money, except that which they and their neighbours paid out of the rates, and that is the principle which Her Majesty's Government wish to hold to under this Bill as applied to the Highlands of Scotland. The hon. Member for Bute (Mr. J. Robertson) says, that I desire to remove all the grievances of the Highlands. I do not propose any such thing. I propose to remedy those grievances which are removable by legislation. Those grievances are, before anything, want of fixity of tenure of land; and, next, the uncertainty of the rent of farms—and the hon. Gentleman must remember that the farms we are dealing with are exactly of the same character as the Irish farms about which we have already legislated—farms where the landlord does nothing, and the tenant does everything. The third grievance is that the tenant, upon leaving his holding, is not able to get compensation for his improvements; and the fourth, the want of more land. Well, Sir, on one point this debate, which has been in some respects of great length, has thrown a great deal of light. It has shown 210 clearly to me that no one suggests anything that resembles the proposal to give more land to the crofter. There is no one who will propose to do so by means of the rates; I think the argument used about the poverty of these overburdened districts has really convinced hon. Members that this is impossible. But something has been said about lending money to the crofters out of the Exchequer. Now, Sir, a population exactly resembling that of the crofters had exactly the same offers put before it, and those offers were three or four times increased; and what was the result? It would appear a handsome proposal—that they should pay an annuity of £5 per annum for every £100 advanced for a period of 35 years for two-thirds the price of their holdings. That was offered to the tenants of Ireland, a class of men resembling the crofters in every respect; yet during the last 16 years only 870 tenants out of 500,000 accepted those terms. Then higher terms were offered—namely, three-fourths of the price, and some 430 more tenants accepted that offer; that is to say, that out of 500,000 something like 1,000 tenants have accepted these large offers in the course of 15 years. Since then I have brought in a Bill proposing to lend the whole purchase-money, which would be repayable in the comparatively short time of 35 years, and that Bill was considered so utterly inadequate to meet the wants of the small farmers that it was actually scouted from all sides, both by landlords and tenants, and although favourably received it never got beyond the second reading. Finally, last year, the late Government brought in a Bill in which was a provision that the whole of the purchase-money, on certain conditions, might be advanced at 3¼ per cent interest, the annuity extending to 45 years; and although I have not figures showing the result of the Act, I believe that very little has been taken up under it. The deduction I make from this is that these small tenants do not want to borrow money in order to buy their holdings—that it is an operation too large for them; and I can conceive that in many cases the operation is one which would be too hazardous for the State. I may describe two of the most flourishing cases in the Highlands—one crofter, with a rent of £18, manages to keep six cows and their calves, and to grow potatoes 211 and oats; and another, with a rent of £12 7s. 2d., thrives, and is very happy and successful, with four cows, and a horse and sheep besides. These are exactly the sort of crofts which the Highlanders had in the old days; they are the sort of crofts we wish them to have, by the only means by which it is possible to give them. We think in this respect our proposal is in harmony with the very key note of the recommendations of the Commissioners; and while admitting that there may be defects in the Bill, and that there are many hon. Gentlemen who will be able to help us in removing those defects in Committee, we sincerely commend it not only to the favour, but to the speedy sanction, of the House.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
Sir, the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has criticized the conduct of my two right hon. and learned Friends (Mr. J. H. A. Macdonald and Mr. Robertson) for not having, in the course of their able speeches, given him any assistance—any constructive assistance—in dealing with this very difficult matter. But I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is not our business at this time, on the second reading of his Bill, to frame constructive proposals. Had we remained in Office, no doubt my right hon. and learned Friend the late Lord Advocate would have laid before the House our method of dealing with this very difficult question; and when we get into Committee, I have no doubt that he will give his best assistance to convert this strange measure into a practical and useful Bill. Sir, it appears to me that every Liberal Ministry is signalized by some new and extraordinary experiment in land legislation. I do not know that the experiments that have before been made by Liberal Governments have met with such a measure of success as to induce the Liberal Party to try their hand at it again; but, undaunted by the total failure of the Land Act of 1870, by the almost total failure of the Land Act of 1881, Her Majesty's Advisers have laid upon the Table of the House a Bill which, as a legislative experiment, exceeds even its two predecessors in the novelty and eccentricity of its proposals. Now, Sir, I observe that the right hon. Gentleman has studied the history of this question since he last addressed the House upon the subject; for when 212 he introduced this measure to the House, he held the erroneous and utterly unfounded theory that the crofter in the Highlands had some kind of prescriptive and hereditary right to fixity of tenure. I understand him to have abandoned that theory. The right hon. Gentleman—whose best work has been historical work—has doubtless given his mind to this subject, and has come to the same conclusion that every impartial investigator of the subject must come to—the conclusion of the Highland Commission, the conclusion arrived at by every man who has studied this question, without having made up his mind beforehand—that the condition of the crofter in the Highlands before the beginning of this century was one not only of greater misery but also of greater dependence than it has ever been since. That is the conclusion I have come to, and I understand that I am now supported in it by the right hon. Gentleman himself. I am aware that it is a most fashionable doctrine to support in this House—to say that the Highlands of Scotland have not benefited by the clearances that were the consequence of the introduction of sheep farming in those districts. I am far from denying that in some cases those clearances were conducted rashly and harshly. I am far from denying that in certain cases—perhaps many cases—they have not fulfilled all the expectations of those by whom they were conducted. But I assert that the landlords who carried out those clearances were influenced as much or more by the desire to benefit their tenants as by the desire of personal gain. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentleman smile at that; but let me inform them, and let them take the information to heart, that in the greatest clearances—the Duke of Sutherland's clearances—which have probably produced more comment than any others, the owner of the land was obliged to support his tenantry year after year by the importation of meal—that the tenantry had to be protected from chronic want and intermittent starvation, and that after the clearances were made on that estate, for upwards of 20 years more than the whole of the rents were expended upon improvements undertaken for the benefit of the people concerned. ["No, no!"] That is so; and I go further, and I say that if, in all cases, these clearances have not met with the success anticipated, that is not the fault 213 of those who carried them out. Let it be remembered that these people were living in the middle of Sutherland shire, in a condition in which under no circumstances could they become prosperous, or in which they could ever rise above that melancholy condition which I have described as one of want varied by starvation. They were removed to the coast, where it was expected they would engage in fishing, and where there was at that time the great kelp industry, which, while it lasted, afforded them an ample livelihood. I do not say this in order to revive old controversies; but let it be remembered for the sake of those who, for the benefit of the Highlands, carried out these clearances, and who are now the objects of bitter and severe criticism. They acted according to the best lights of their time; they acted in obedience to all the best political theories of their generation; and we, who are certainly not acting according to the best of our lights, can we be sure that when the next age looks back on our handiwork—upon the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman opposite—they may not pass an equally severe and much more justifiable criticism upon the new system of land tenure introduced by Liberal Governments during the last quarter of the 19th century into the Highlands of Scotland? The right hon. Gentleman, who I understand has abandoned his historical argument, now bases his legislation upon the sporting argument. He says, as I understand his speech—and he can correct me if I am wrong—that the sporting rents have increased so extravagantly in the last 30 years, and that a country so much given up to sport is so exceptionally situated, that it is not unfair to introduce into that country exceptional legislation.
§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (Mr. TREVELYAN) (, &c.) Hawick
That is not exactly what I said. I am bound to say that the story is rather a long one. In that part of my speech which related to deer forests, I stated to the House, at length, that where sheep farms formerly existed deer forests were now to be found. I quite allow that the right hon. Gentleman is correct as far as he goes.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman admits that the clearances were first made not in the interest of sporting, but in the interest of sheep farming; but he appears to me to think that great damage was done to the 214 Highlands by the introduction of deer. He says that the rents have greatly increased during the last 30 years. I am not prepared to deny it; but has the right hon. Gentleman the slightest idea of the expenditure made in the Highlands on account of deer forests during the last 30 years? I believe that the House will be as startled as I was myself when I realized the extraordinary sum to which that expenditure amounts. I have not been able to get a Return as yet for the whole of the forests of Scotland, but I have for a part of them; and I believe the House will be astonished to hear that the expenditure during the last 30 years on account of 47 deer forests has amounted to very nearly £2,000,000.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT)
Do you mean the purchase?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Not for purchase, but expenditure on roads, houses, &c.; and the whole of that money has gone, directly or indirectly, to the benefit of the Highland population. Not only do doer forests employ a larger number of persons than sheep farms—["No, no!"] Hon. Gentlemen say "No!" I do not wish to detain the House at great length at this hour; but as my statement is contradicted, I must remind the right hon. Gentleman of the conclusion come to by a Committee and by a Commission of this House.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)
It was a Committee of owners and landlords of deer forests. I gave evidence on the subject of deer forests before the Committee.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
There is no ground for believing that the Committee was in any way a partial one. They reported that the evidence submitted to them did not bear out the allegation that deer forests tended to the depopulation of the country; and the Crofter Commissioners, as I may remind the right hon. Gentleman, and as he is perfectly aware, reported that in the course of their investigations they had come across but one case of eviction for the purpose of making a deer forest. Well, Sir, I revert to the argument interrupted by the hon. Gentleman 215 opposite. I say, not only is it true that deer forests employ a larger number of persons, better housed and better fed, than sheep farms do, but that they bring to the country a sum of money the magnitude of which can be conjectured from the figures which I have had the honour to lay before the House. Now, the two proposals which Her Majesty's Government have in view are—in the first place, fixity of tenure; and, in the second place, expansion of holdings. It may be asked, what is to be gained by granting fixity of tenure? In regard to a country rack-rented and where evictions were common, I could understand the Government coming forward and saying, for the purpose of remedying this—"Let us bring in a Bill, and if it does interfere with the rights of property, it is rendered necessary by the abuse of those rights by the proprietors." "But, Sir, no such allegation has been made with reference to the Highlands of Scotland. The Commission distinctly reported that rents were not too high, that arbitrary evictions were not common, and that the relations which obtained between the landlords and tenants were not regulated merely by justice, but also by generosity. If that is so—and it is the verdict of the Commission—what benefit will you confer on these people by giving fixity of tenure and fair rents? But what will you give them by the second extraordinary proposal, according to which not only is the State to fix the rent for the landlords, but also to decide what land they shall allow to particular tenants, and on what terms? A more extraordinary proposal has never been made to this House with regard to land. In the first place, when I consider what benefits are to be given to the tenants, I am met with this—that pasture is to be given as common pasture. I believe that the system of common pasture is not only antiquated, belonging to a bygone scheme of agriculture, but that it is one which, under no circumstances, can tend to the development of the comfort of the people. Let anyone look at the note to the Report of the Commission made by Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, once a Member of this House, a good landlord, and a good Liberal. If they do so, they will see that Sir Kenneth Mackenzie points out that wherever the faults of the Highland system are found at their worst, there you will find the system of common cultivation 216 —an antiquated system, and one which has been abandoned in every European country except Russia. This system you want to re-introduce into the Highlands of Scotland, and to stereotype for all time. Now, Sir, the real question is not as to how the crofter is to be protected from eviction, from which he does not suffer, nor is it as to how his rent, which up to the present time has been moderate, is to be regulated. What we have to try to find out is, how the material well-being of the poorer crofter can be increased. It cannot by any possibility be increased by the abstract manipulation of the Land Laws so much in favour with hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. It will be admitted that by spade cultivation no crofter in the Western Highlands can live. They have to contend with an inclement sky and a thankless soil, and no arrangement of rent or tenure will make it profitable for a man to live there in comfort, perhaps not to live at all, on the produce of spade labour. The only form of cultivation which can by any possibility succeed there is the pastoral, and you cannot succeed in that without capital. Is it pretended that the poor crofter, a description of whose miseries has so moved us to-night, can supply the capital? Why, Sir, they have not capital for their present holdings, how much less for those it is proposed to confer on them. If, then, spade labour is rendered impossible by the climate in these districts, pastoral cultivation is rendered impossible by the absence of capital. Well, Sir, the only other industries in the Highlands are fishing and day labour. On the subject of fishing I say nothing, because Her Majesty's Government have just startled us by the announcement that they mean to introduce into this Bill a clause which we have not yet seen, and one which, I understand, provides the power of borrowing public money for fishing purposes. I leave that question alone; but how about wages, which are the last remaining resource of the people? Why, Sir, the whole tenour of your legislation, the end for which all your proceedings are contrived, is to drive out from the Highlands the class who spend most in wages. I have told you what the owners of deer forests have spent on them. Deer forests represent only a small part of that vast sum of money which is brought into 217 the Highlands by men who have drawn their wealth—not from the oppressed crofters, but from Southern sources—a small part of that wealth which has for the last 20 years poured into the Highlands. It is not one or two landlords, it is many landlords in the Highlands who, year after year, have spent on the improvement of their Highland property more than the whole of the gross rental of their property. There have been such fools in the past; but do you think that when you have passed legislation of this kind, or even after you have threatened legislation of the kind, you will find many such fools in future? I tell Her Majesty's Government, and I tell the House, that the legislation which they have initiated and which may pass into law this Session, will, whatever else it may do, undoubtedly dry up every source of prosperity derived from the security of capital. From this time forward money which has been poured out like water on these barren wastes, will be poured out no more, and the very spring from which it came will be dried up. I hope the House will excuse me for going on a few moments longer; but I feel that there is one question which maybe asked, and which on the face of it is so plausible that it demands an answer. If the principles contained in this Bill are so dangerous, if the Bill itself is not founded on any accurate knowledge of the previous history of the Highlands, if it is still less founded on any accurate information as to the present necessities of the Highlands, if it does so much that ought not to be done, and leaves undone so much that it ought to do, it may be asked how it is that I or some of my hon. Friends have not felt it to be our duty to put down Amendments to the Motion for the second reading? Sir, I feel that question is so natural that it demands an answer. My answer is this. During the last five years—because, before the year 1880, nothing was known of this agitation—Highland society has been dissolving itself into its constituent elements. Five years ago, it would have been true to say that there did not exist within the British Isles a more loyal or a more law-abiding population than that of Scotland. I doubt whether in any part of Ireland at this moment you will meet with more lawlessness, although you may meet with more violence, than that 218 which now prevails on some parts of the Western Coast of Scotland. Society, as I said, is crumbling away. Under the reign of the right hon. Gentleman, formerly Home Secretary, who now so carefully watches over the purse-strings of the country, and is so anxious that not a single 6d. shall go to benefit the population to which he has been the means of doing the most injury—under his reign things have come to such a pass that nothing but the most courageous exercise of the Executive forces of the country can possibly restore even the elements of social order without which permanent prosperity cannot be reintroduced into these districts. I recognize with very little satisfaction, but I do recognize, that after the Resolution passed by this House, and after the pledges given, not by one Government alone, but by successive Governments, some legislation is imperatively required before this or any other Administration will feel that they have behind them that moral force without which it is difficult for those who control the Executive power of the country to use it with full effect, and therefore, Sir, I cannot take upon myself the heavy responsibility of saying that there should be no legislation on this subject. In refraining from moving an Amendment to the Motion for the second reading of the Bill, I desire it to be understood that I only intend to give my assent to the proposition that some Bill dealing with the subject is necessary in view of the present condition of the people in the Highlands. I give that assent with grave misgivings, and I shall do my best in Committee to remove from the Bill as much as may be of that evil which I see in it, but which I fear to be ingrained in the very fabric and substance of the measure which the right hon. Gentleman has this evening introduced to the notice of the House.
§ MR. RAMSAY (, &c.) Falkirk
Sir, I rise for the purpose of asking the leave of the House to withdraw the Amendment which stands in my name, and, at the same time, to thank the House for the patience with which they have listened to the discusion upon it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.