HC Deb 10 May 1886 vol 305 cc678-83

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(The Lord Advocate, Mr. J. B. Balfour.)


Sir, I wish to say a few words upon this question. On the introduction of the Bill by the right hon. Gentleman the then Secretary for Scotland (Mr. Trevelyan) I expressed my disappointment with its provisions; but I went on hoping against hope that when we reached the Committee stage some improvement might be made in the Bill, so that it might become a practical measure of some value to those people for whose benefit it was supposed to be introduced. However, as the proceedings in Committee went on, I found that every Amendment in any way tending to extend the scope of the Bill, and especially those Amendments moved or supported by Members who represented the interests of the people concerned, were invariably rejected. I found also that lines of action had been arranged between the two Front Benches for the purpose of carrying the Bill in its original integrity, and I perceived that no Amendment would be accepted by the Government from any quarter, especially from the Representatives of those whom it was intended to benefit. I object to this Bill on several grounds. In the present and in the past, in spite of all the wrong that has been done, there has always existed a remnant of good feeling between the Highland people and their landlords. That remnant of good feeling will be removed by the Bill; and the result will be that although a few people—a small percentage—may derive some benefit from the Act, the mass of the population will become, unfortunately, worse off than they were before. I say that every Amendment which has been moved, especially those put forward by the Representatives of the Highland people, has been treated with contempt on the Treasury Bench. Let the Prime Minister, when he considers this matter, look at the Division Lists on the Crofters Bill, and he will see that the majority of Scottish Members voted for all the Amendments moved by us, and that we were beaten only by the Tory Members and English sporting Members. That has been uniformly the case. Sir, I have no hesitation in saying that one or two more Bills conducted in the same way as this has been will raise a cry in Scotland for Home Rule which will be irresistible. The Bill was introduced in an insufficient form, carried by a league between the two Front Benches, and made worse than useless. I myself have moved Amendments until I was weary of doing so; but not one comma, full stop, or semicolon of them was accepted by the Lord Advocate. Those Amendments were not of an unreasonable character, for in most of the divisions which took place upon them I was supported by 100 Members. This Bill was introduced ostensibly for the purpose of promoting the extension of the population in these districts. But I say that will not be the result. With all its restrictions, in the absence of the good feeling which has existed and in face of the statutory regulations which exist, I say that the result will be that in a short time the Highland people will be exterminated. The present Government is behind the House of Commons and the country in this matter, and they are behind the views of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill. If the Bill could be thrown out by my vote I would reject it without the slightest hesitation, and trust, if you like, to agitation to produce a better measure. But I tell those interested in sporting, for whose interest the Bill was mainly introduced, that sport, especially deer-stalking, can exist only by the toleration of the people, whose interests must be considered, because if they are not deer forests will vanish from Scotland. Sir, I feel so strongly on this question that I consider it my duty to divide the House against the Motion for the third reading of the Bill.

MR. FRASER-MACKINTOSH (Inverness-shire)

Sir, I rise to support the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll. I myself am aware of the inflexible rule laid down not to accept any substantial Amendment to the Bill. This measure has been considered by the Highland people and by various Associations in the Highlands, and in no case have the resolutions passed upon it been otherwise than condemnatory. I have received communications from those sources asking us in the most peremptory manner to divide the House against the Bill. May I ask the attention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate to this one fact? We, on these Benches, asked the right hon. and learned Gentleman to allow crofters holding under leases to be admitted to the benefits of the Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman refused to do so, and what is the result? The result is that many landlords are now insisting on their tenants taking leases in order that they may place themselves beyond the provisions of the Bill. Although those crofters had no leases they have been compelled to sign leases, and this occurred as late as Saturday last in the case of the largest landholder in the county of Inverness. I draw the attention of the Lord Advocate to that fact, in the hope that if it is not too late a provision may be introduced in the House of Lords to the effect that leases entered into within six months of the passing of this Bill shall not exclude tenants from the benefits of the Bill.

MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)

Sir, both the hon. Members who have spoken to this Motion have reiterated the allegation made in Committee that there existed an agreement between the two Front Benches with reference to this Bill. It is true that the Government rejected many Amendments made by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway; but, on the other hand, I must point out that they resisted all the Amendments made on this side of the House, some of which I regard as of great, if not vital, importance. I will just refer to one other matter touched upon in the speech of the hon. Member for Argyll. The hon. Member said that the result of the Bill would be that the condition of the mass of the population in the Highlands would be worse than it was before. And why? Because the kindly feeling which has existed between the landlords and the tenants would be destroyed, and the distress of the tenants thereby greatly aggravated. When the hon. Gentleman says that the condition of the population in the Highlands will not be improved by this Bill I largely agree with him; because I have always asserted that it is not by any mere manipulation of the Land Laws that this result is to be attained. But when the hon. Member says that this Bill will injure the tenants by destroying the kindly feeling which at present exists between them and their landlords, can there be a severer condemnation of all the main provisions of the measure? Is not the whole Bill founded on the theory that the tenants must be protected from the tyranny of the landowners? I hope little from this Bill as regards the material prosperity of the crofters. In itself it is, for the most part, useless, or worse than useless. But if it be the prelude to action on the part of the Executive, which shall put an end to that melancholy state of social disorder in the Highlands which, so long as it lasts, is a bar to any improvement in the condition of the people, it will not have been passed in vain.

MR. J. W. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)

Sir, I rise to support the protests of the hon. Members for Argyll and Inverness against the Bill, which, I am convinced, will prove to be no settlement whatever of this question of the Highlands, and will do little or nothing to improve the social condition of the people in the Western Highlands, which has been so great a cause of anxiety to Her Majesty's Government. When the Bill was introduced by the then Secretary for Scotland (Mr. Trevelyan), the right hon. Gentleman enunciated principles of great value, and which, had they been applied, would have tended greatly to improve the condition of the people. But as the discussion in Committee proceeded it was manifest that the scope of the Bill was too narrow to allow those who were most in need of assistance to be benefited by it. The Bill is limited in its provisions to so small a number of people that I say it is unworthy of the time which the House of Commons has bestowed upon it. It will not in any sense, in my opinion, effect an improvement in the condition of the people of the Highlands; and I think that hon. Members who more particularly represent the districts concerned will be perfectly justified in taking a division on the Motion for the third reading, in order to show that they do not accept the Bill as a settlement of the question, and that they consider the Government to have failed to satisfy the just expectation raised at the commencement of this legislation.

MR. MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)

I made my protest when this Bill was first introduced in the House, and at various times during the debate. My suggestions were not accepted by Her Majesty's Government. Had they been, I think the Bill would have been very much improved, and it would have given far greater satisfaction to some of those Gentlemen who sit below the Gangway than it does at present. But I cannot refrain from saying that Her Majesty's Government—and, if I may particularize, especially the Lord Advocate (Mr. J. B. Balfour)—gave great attention to the Bill, and took great pains with it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman exhibited the very greatest patience, and endeavoured to meet hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway in a very fair and conscientious spirit. There is one point I wish to impress upon the Government, and that is that in the event of this Bill becoming law—and I have no doubt that practically it will in a few moments—I hope they will see it is properly carried out. It is one thing to pass a Bill in the House of Commons, and another thing to see that it is carried out. When we consider the condition of many parts of the Western Highlands, and the great difficulty experienced there in getting rents and in satisfying the people, we must feel that when this House has spent many days and weeks in maturing a measure, it is important that that measure should be justly and properly administered.

THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR)&c.) (Clackmannan,

I do not intend to resume the debate upon this Bill, which has already been very prolonged; but there are one or two points in regard to which I should like to say a word. In the first place, it has been made to appear that in some way or sense this Bill has been narrowed, or made less extensive than when presented to Parliament. The fact is quite the other way. Although the Bill passed the second reading without a division, so anxious were the Government to gather the opinion, not only of the House generally, but especially of the Scottish Members upon it, that my right hon. Friend the late Secretary for Scotland (Mr. Trevelyan) and I availed ourselves of the advantage of a meeting with the Members from Scotland at which the whole of the Bill was discussed; and every Amendment which was put forward or suggested at that meeting, and which seemed to have the prevalent assent of the Scottish Members, was put upon the Paper by the Government and had been carried. I need not enumerate the Amendments that have been adopted, but only say that all of them have been in the direction of widening the scope of the Bill; some of them did so in a very important manner. It is quite a mistake to suppose there has been anything done to narrow the Bill. The Bill was introduced with a particular territorial scope. Its objects have not been limited, but its benefits have been widened by a number of very important Amendments which were agreed to as the Bill passed through Committee. I can only assure the House that there has been every intention and desire on the part of the Government to give the fullest consideration to any Amendment that came from any quarter of the House, because their single endeavour has been to make the Bill as efficient as possible.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 219; Noes 52: Majority 167.—(Div. List, No. 90.)

Bill read the third time, and passed.