§ (1.) £43,465, to complete the sum for Courts of Law and Justice, Scotland.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
I wish to put a question to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate (Mr. J. H. A. Macdonald) in reference to the item of £800 included in this Vote for the Auditor of the Court of Session. I understand that the gentleman who holds that office receives fees for doing work which he is not compelled to do, and I want to know how much he receives in the shape of salary for work he is compelled to do under Act of Parliament, and how much in the shape of fees for other work? One of the duties imposed upon the Auditor of the Court of Session is to determine the Election Law of Scotland so far as expenses are concerned. I may remind the Committee that in Scotland we have no Schedule such as exists in regard to England and Ireland, and we have been put not only to inconvenience but expense in consequence. Last year I myself was compelled to bring before the Auditor a scale of charges in my own case which, was entirely contrary to the Schedule, and the bill was reduced in consequence from about £240 to£150. Nevertheless, I was required to pay the costs; but, of course, as I got nearly £100 off the bill, I was able to do so. I am strongly of opinion that these charges should be more definitely determined, and the Auditor ought to be properly paid for the work of that kind which he performs. Under the circumstances of the case, I wish to know how much of this Vote is 1687 for work done in that way? The only information I have been able to get in reference to the Vote is that the Auditor last year, according to the Appropriation Account, received in addition to his salary of £800 a sum of £150 11s. 6d, in the shape of fees. I think it would be better to give him a salary of £1,000 or any definite sum, so that the whole of this sort of work should be done gratuitously. By far the best way would be to provide a Schedule of Charges for Scotland similar to those which exist in regard to England and Ireland.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. H. A. MACDONALD) (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)
The Auditor of the Court of Session receives a salary as Auditor; but he is not bound to take up any new duties put upon him by Statute outside the Court of Session without receiving remuneration.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, & c.)
I have been anxious to move the reduction of the Vote in order to raise a very important question; but on consideration I think I had better not do so. I wish to say, however, that Scotch Members are subject to a species of coercion and compulsion. Practically, they are told that they must first pass these Votes in Supply, or else they will not have any other Scottish Business taken. It reminds me of the story of the schoolmaster who was in the habit of providing his boys with a plentiful serving of pudding in order that they might not eat much beef. The Government are coercing the Scotch Members, who are very quiet and good, not to say sheeplike, and they submit to it. I should like to have moved the reduction of the Vote in order to bring about what is necessary to the taxpayers of Scotland—namely, a reduction in the number of Judges of the Court of Session. The Criminal Procedure (Scotland)Bill, among other things, contains a provision for increasing the salaries of the Judges of the Court of Session. I quite approve of that; but I think the number of Judges should have been at the same time reduced. I feel bound to complain of the way in which Scotch Business is conducted in this House. Scotch Bills are put down night after night, and there is always a chance of their being taken at 2, 3, or 4 o'clock in the morning. That is the 1688 way in which the Criminal Procedure Bill has been treated. There has been some discussion upon that outside the walls of this House; but we have not had a proper opportunity of discussing it, because it was run through at an unearthly hour in the morning. That is the way in which Scottish Business is always treated.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
I was only anxious to show that we have had no opportunito of ascertaining what has been done in regard to the salaries of the Judges of the Court of Session.
The hon. Member would be quite in Order in criticizing the Establishment; but he cannot criticize the salaries of the Judges, nor this particular Bill.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
I only wish to say, if I have the opportunity, that while I approve of an increase of the salaries of the Judges of the Court of Session, I think there should, at the same time, be a reduction in the number of the Judges. When taken at an early hour in the morning there is no account, either in the newspapers or in the records of the House, of the proceedings; and I hope that you, Sir, may be able to suggest some method to meet this objection. I have long been of opinion that the number of Judges in scotland is more than is required; and although, in comparison with the English and Irish Judges, it is right that their salaries should be raised, I think it is altogether an unjustifiable job that the payment should have been raised without the question of their number being considered, because the question of their number is the necessary complement of the plan for raising their pay. The English and the Scotch. Judges have never been on the same footing. I may remind the Committee that the Scotch system is something like the French system, where there are a multiplicity of Judges with a smaller amount of pay.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
I beg pardon; I was only leading to the point that the number of Judges ought to have been reduced, because hitherto they have been more in the position of the French than the English and Irish Judges. It seems to me that in reality Scotch lawyers have a great deal too many loaves and fishes. One-half of the members of the Scotch Bar get lucrative appointments. I make these observations with the view of showing that while I feel myself coerced into letting these Votes pass, at the same time I do not acquiesce in what has been done.
§ GENERAL SIR GEORGE BALFOUR (Kincardine)
I think I should best consult the interests of Scotland at this time by not saying anything about the matter; but I will take an opportunity on some subsequent occasion of calling attention to this system of retaining upon the Vote charges which do not properly belong to it.
§ Vote agreed to.
§ (2.) £23,269, to complete the sum for the Register House Department, Edinburgh.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, & c)
I should like to ask the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate (Mr. J. H. A. Macdonald)—or, perhaps, the question had better be addressed to the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Jackson)—how it is that the Sasine Office, which some years ago produced a surplus, now produces a deficit? There is a large reduction in the amount of fees received, and I want to know whether that is owing to a reduction in the scale of fees? Is that the reason why the fees themselves show this amount of reduction?
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. JACKSON) (Leeds, N.)
There has been a reduction in the scale of fees. It took effect in October, 1885, when the amended table of fees was sanctioned. It was estimated that it would involve a reduction in the receipts of about £1,700 a-year, and I think the hon. Member will see that that has been realized.
§ MR. JACKSON
The fees drawn in 1883–4 were £30,706; in 1884–5 they were £29,414; and in 1885–6 they were £28,081. Therefore, there was a reduction between 1884–5 and 1885–6 of about £1,400. In 1886–7 the receipts were £27,100, and the expenditure £34,570. There was formerly a surplus, but that was so long ago as 1877–8, when the fees drawn were £39,996, and the total payments were £36,895. In that year there was a surplus of about £3,000; but it has been a greatly diminishing surplus since.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
The hon. Gentleman has accounted for a reduction of £1,700 which is due to the reduction of fees; but the figures for the last 10 years show that there has been a reduction of upwards of £10,000 in the receipts of fees. I want to know whether that is a bonâ fide reduction in, the charges made in the Sasine Office in Edinburgh, or whether the Scotch people have become so much less litigious, and have had less occasion to refer to the documents in the Sasine Office?
§ MR. M'EWAN (Edinburgh, Central)
I rise for the purpose of drawing attention to the pay of clerks in the Sasine Office. Prior to 1881, it was entirely a patronage office, and the clerks were not under the Civil Service regulations. They were in the direct employment of the keeper of the office; but in 1881 the office was reconstituted under a Treasury Minute of the 27th of March. According to that Minute, the clerks were divided into three classes—the first receiving £250, rising by £15 a-year to £350; the second receiving £170, rising by £10 a-year to £240; and the third-class receiving £90, rising by £5 a-year to £160. The third-class memorialized the Treasury immediately after the passing of the Minute, and demanded an open, inquiry on the subject. They said the Minute was based on a misunderstanding or misrepresentation. The Treasury says—The members of the second-class will be subject to revision hereafter, when experience shall have shown to what proportion of the stuff it may be necessary to entrust work which, while subordinate to that performed by the assistant keepers and first-class clerks, is of a more responsible and difficult character than can be required from the junior class of the Department.Now, Sir, there is no subordinate rank.
1691 I wish to point out that the first, second, and third-class clerks are all engaged on the same class of work— they differ only in salary. The inquiry upon which this Treasury Minute is based was performed in a most perfunctory way. Only two or three second-class clerks were examined. I repeat, the third-class clerks are engaged in the same work as the first-class clerks. In one district a third-class clerk is second in command, although there are three second-class clerks in it. In 1881 there were considerable arrears not in the current work, but in making the abridgments which had been begun prior to 1830, 13 temporary clerks being employed to overtake the arrears. By the Treasury Minute they were incorporated into the staff of the third-class clerks, it being distinctly provided, however, that when the arrears were brought up to data no vacancies which might occur should be filled up. Now, the Sasine Office, which is intended to be self-supporting, as it ought to be, is used by a limited class only—namely, the owners of heritable property. Demands have frequently been made for a reduction of the fees of registration and of searches, and the Treasury Minute says—In view of these considerations, and of the further circumstance that under the scheme of re-organization of the several branches of the Register House, sanctioned by this Minute, there will, for the future, be a material increase in the total cost of the salaries of the staff, while one entirely new item, that of pensions, estimated at one-fifth of the amount of the permanent salaries, will be created, My Lords are of opinion that for the next few years there will be a very narrow margin between the receipts for fees and the expenses which they are intended to cover. They feel, therefore, that it is impossible for the present to assent to any reductions in the existing scale of fees. But while expressing this conviction, my Lords desire that it may not be lost sight of that the establishment is now sanctioned or framed on a scale of numbers which will enable it rapidly to overtake the arrears now outstanding in the abridgments and indices. As soon as this work is concluded, it will be possible to effect a considerable reduction in the cost of the salaries by leaving unfilled such vacancies as may occur, since a smaller staff will be able to deal with the current work of the Register House.It then goes on to say—My Lords rely on the active co-operation of the heads of the Office in effecting all reductions possible in this direction at the earliest moment practicable; and they will on their part be ready to consider to what extent the 1692 present scale of fees may be reduced as soon as the receipts shall show any substantial and continued margin of surplus over the total inclusive cost of maintaining the Register House Departments in a satisfactory and efficient condition.Now, these arrears were concluded at the beginning of 1883, yet there have been a dozen vacancies filled up since, in defiance of the Treasury Minute. It might be imagined that the increasing work of the Office must have entailed the necessity of filling up the vacancies; but what do we find from the Parliamentary Return, No. 225, presented only this year? The receipts, which represent the work done, have fallen from £31,190 in 1881–2—the date when the new scheme came into operation—to £27,104 in 1886–7, while is 1877–8 they were £39,998, when a much smaller staff sufficed for the work of the Office The fees of registration have not been reduced since 1873; but the fees for searches were reduced in October, 1885, notwithstanding gradual and extensive decline in receipts; and the result is that for the 10 years ending 1837 the deficiency in the Office was £43,511, while for the 10 years ending in 1877 there was a surplus of £40,579, so that the difference between the two decades was something over £80,000. This defiance of the Treasury Minute has thus been prejudicial to owners of property, because the increased expenditure of the Office has prevented the registration fees from being reduced. On the other hand, the owners have got a reduction, of the fees for searches to which they were not entitled, and which appears to have been in defiance of the Minute. The Treasury Minute says—My Lords rely on the active co-operation of the heads of the Office in effecting all reductions possible in this direction at the earliest moment practicable; and they will, on their part, be ready to consider to what extent the present scale of fees may be reduced as soon as the receipts shall show any substantial and continued margin of surplus over the total inclusive cost of maintaining the Register House Departments in a satisfactory and efficient condition.It is manifest that the fees have fallen off, while the expenditure has not diminished. The position now is that a public Office is maintained only in the interests of a very small class of persons who are the owners of heritable property instead of being supported by that class, has, during the past 10 years, been 1693 a burden on the public to the extent of £13,511.
§ MR. M'EWAN
Yes; I have been reading from the Treasury Minute, which, I think, shows that instead of there being a profit there has been a loss to the public of something like £43,000 a-year; and, in my opinion, that is a scandalous waste of the public money. But there is another violation of the Treasury Minute which is still in active operation. The Minute of the 27th March, 1886, says—My Lords are of opinion that for the next few years there will be a very narrow margin between the receipts for fees and the expenses which they are intended to cover. They feel, therefore, that it is impossible for the present to assent to any reduction in the existing scale of fees. But while expressing this conviction they desire that it may not be forgotten that the establishment now sanctioned is framed on a scale of numbers which will enable it rapidly to overtake the arrears now outstanding in the abridgments and indices. As soon as this work is concluded it will be possible to effect a considerable reduction in the cost of the salaries by leaving unfilled such vacancies as may occur, since a smaller staff will be able to deal with the current work of the Register House.And they go on to say—That they will consider to what extent the present scale of fees may be reduced as soon as the fees shall show any substantial and continued margin of surplus over the total exclusive cost of maintaining the Register House Departments in a satisfactory manner. There were 13 temporary clerks employed to bring up arrears who in 1881 were incorporated into the regular staff of third-class clerks. The arrears were overtaken in 1883, and since then 12 vacancies have occurred, all of which have been filled up. The receipts (which represent the work done) have fallen from £31,190 in 1881–2 (the date when the new scheme came into operation) to £27,104 in 1886–7; while in 1877–8 the receipts were £39,996, when a much smaller staff sufficed for the work of the Office than is now employed when receipts have fallen to £27,104.'Instead of discontinuing the printed abridgments where the search sheets began they are being continued, so that the records are being duplicated, of course adding greatly to the labour of the Office. It looks as if the Head or Heads of the Department were attempting to make work of a useless kind in a vain effort to find employment for superfluous men. Whatever the object may be, the present management is entailing on the owners of property, as well as 1694 the public, a burden which, under a better system, could be entirely removed. I have hitherto only alluded to the evils inflicted upon the owners of heritable property and the public by the injudicious and wasteful management of this Office; but the third-class clerks have suffered more than anyone. The Treasury Minute states that the third-class clerks were offered a prospect, when they competed for the position, of being promoted to the status of first-class clerks with the maximum salary of £350 a-year; but in consequence of the crowding in of supernumeraries and violating the Minute by filling up vacancies since 1883 the promotion has been entirely stopped; and judging from the rate of progress which has been made during the last six years, and taking that as the basis of calculation, it would take a third-class clerk 48 years to attain the maximum salary which he would be entitled to upon promotion, and seeing that he may be retired at the age of 60 it is almost a matter of impossibility that he can ever get the maximum salary which was held out as an inducement to him when he joined the Service. The third-class clerks demand a public inquiry, and I trust that the hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Jackson) will induce the Royal Commission upon the Civil Establishments of the country to visit Edinburgh and conduct the inquiry on the spot. Let it be borne in mind that this is not the only Office to which the same state of things applies. Officers in the position of second and third-class clerks suffered in a similar way in Dublin; but their position was redressed in consequence of an inquiry which took place in 1883. It was found that there was no difference whatever in the work performed by the second-class clerks and that performed by the first and third; the only difference was in the pay they received. The same state of things applies in Edinburgh to this day; but the result of the inquiry in Ireland was that the Treasury Minute was issued by which the distinction between the second and the third-class clerks in Dublin was abolished, and the position of the third-class clerks was materially improved. I think the same ought to be pursued in regard to the second and third-class clerks in Edinburgh, and I think there are many Members of this House who will 1695 agree with, me that there are other Offices in Edinburgh which require to be looked into. Also it is a matter of general knowledge that there are Public Offices in Edinburgh to which large salaries are attached which are altogether sinecures, and in regard to which scarcely any work is done; if any work whatever is done it is performed by a poorly paid clerk who never reaches the position which he ought to occupy in consideration of the character of the work which he does. I do not propose to move the reduction of the Vote; but I have called the attention of the Committee to what I consider to be a reasonable request on the part of the clerks, and I shall be guided by the reply of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury as to the course I may feel disposed to take.
§ MR. JACKSON
I have listened with very great attention to what the hon. Gentleman has brought forward, and I have looked through the Treasury Minute which deals with the question. The main point, as far as I can gather, of the grievance which the third-class clerks think they labour under appears, from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Edinburgh's statement, to be that when the staff was re-organized the vacancies in the first-class rank were not to be filled by second-class clerks, but by promotion of third-class clerks. There, I think, the hon. Gentleman is in error. I understand that it has not been found possible, hitherto, to reduce the number of second-class clerks.
§ MR. M'EWAN
The portion of the Treasury Minute on which the hon. Gentleman relies is based on a misapprehension.
§ MR. JACKSON
I am afraid that I cannot accept the view of the hon. Gentleman that this is based on a misapprehension. I have carefully gone through this question with one of the gentlemen who had to deal with the matter when the re-organization took place. I am not prepared to say—I should be very sorry to say—that no improvement could be made. The hon. Member asks that a public inquiry should be held on the spot. Well, Sir, we have a Royal Commission at present inquiring into such questions, and I should have thought the proper course would be for these clerks, if they have grievances, to 1696 bring them before the Chairman of the Commission; and I am sure if that wore done the Chairman would afford every opportunity for their being heard. I think the hon. Member will agree that, when an important Commission like that is sitting, it would be quite unnecessary to appoint another to inquire into a subject coming within the reference to the other. However, I will look into the matter carefully in conjunction with the hon. Member, and will endeavour, if possible, to make such inquiry as will place the matter on a satisfactory footing.
§ MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)
I think the promise of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury is quite satisfactory. This has been a subject of controversy for some time past, and if it is now understood that these Gentlemen will have the advantage of their case being fully heard before the Civil Service Commission I think their object will be gained. Ever since I have been in Parliament, certainly for some 15 or 16 years, the question of the establishment of the Sasine Office has been brought forward, but always from another point of view. It has been urged, in view of the fact that the receipts of the Sasine Office were very much in excess of the expenditure, that the fees should be reduced, and this was done. But all this is now altered, and for the worse. The present charge of the Sasine Office is about £44,000—namely, salaries, £37,000; non-effective charges, £4,000; and stationery £3,000; and the fees received amount to about £35,000; so that this Office, which ought not to cost the public a farthing, costs the country between £9,000 and £10,000 a-year. I do not say that the salaries ought to be reduced, and I do not think that the effect of an inquiry would be in that direction; but undoubtedly the fees have been too much reduced. I do not think it at all a satisfactory position that the Sasines Office should involve a charge on the public of about £10,000.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
I have no doubt that the Sasine Office and the other offices in Scotland do a great deal of valuable work, and that the money expended in connection with the service rendered for them ought not to be grudged; but I confess that I am unable to say whether this is not altogether an 1697 unnecessary office, and that the expenditure upon it ought not to be continued. I do not propose to enter into that question. No doubt, the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury knows a great many things, but he cannot be expected to know everything. I see the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate (Mr. J. H. A. Macdonald) and the Scotch Lord of the Treasury (Sir Herbert Maxwell) present; and I should like to ask either of them whether the reduction of fees which has occurred in this Office during the last nine years, and which amounts to about £13,000, is really a bonâ fide reduction in the fees, or whether it is duo to some change in the manner of keeping the accounts, or to any other cause?
§ MR. WALLACE (Edinburgh, E.)
I think the promise of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury is of a satisfactory character. It does not follow that the desire expressed by hon. Members for inquiry involves a desire for the raising of salaries. My own prejudices have always been against the raising of salaries. Having gone very carefully into the matter, if, seems to me that the clerks are entitled to have this inquiry; and I am not without expectation that the result may be in the direction of an adjustment of salaries where it is found that some persons are overpaid and others underpaid. I think it would be well if the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate would give the Committee some explanation of the circumstances under which the reduction in the fees from which the income of the Sasine Office is derived is made. I think teere is some dissatisfaction with respect to the nature of the reduction, and particularly, I believe, as to the haste with which it is made. There are two classes of fees, one of which is kept at its original figure, while the other has been inexplicably reduced. I think it would do a great deal of good if the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate would clear up the reason why the reduction was made. It is not understood that this reduction has been a boon to the general public, but simply an advantage to the owners of heritable property. Many hon. Members think that the owners of landed property have sufficient advantages given to them by law already, and that it is a very great hard- 1698 ship that several thousands of pounds should have to be paid out of the general taxation of the country in order to ease the pockets of these people. For these reasons, I think some reason ought to be given to explain why the fees have been reduced, and why the reduction was made at the time it was made.
§ MR. JACKSON
I am afraid I cannot give hon. Members the details they ask for as to the reduction of particular items of fees. They were reduced, apparently, partly in consequence of a Memorial received from the Society of Writers in Scotland, and the tables were accordingly prepared in an altered form, and it was then determined that the fees ought to be reduced to a point which would cover simply the cost of transacting the business, but not to be held to cover the non-effective charges or compensations. The present deficiency exceeds £4,000. The fees were £27,897, and the approximate charges came to £28,568, showing a deficiency, exclusive of non-effective charges, of £671. The non-effective charges, including Superannuation Allowances and Compensations, came to £4,083, leaving an actual deficiency of £4,754. It must be borne in mind with reference to the searches, that there has been a great improvement in consequence of the greater efficiency of the staff, and the greater attention paid to the business. I fear that with reference to the official and non-official searches, the position has been practically reversed. In 1878, there were 1,419 non-official searches and 2,863 official searches. That went on a certain period, and the fees were reduced, as has been stated; because in 1883, the official searches had fallen to 1,485. whilst the non-official searches had risen to 2,465. But in 1886, the official searches had risen to 1,775, and the non-official searches had fallen to 1,634. I believe it was held that these fees ought to be reduced to the lowest amount which for that portion of the work could be considered really chargeable—which could be considered really chargeable for that particular work. I understand that the fees now, as far as searches are concerned, are in a much more efficient condition. It is true that searches are still done by another Department; but that I understand will be 1699 altered as quickly as possible, and it is hoped that in a short time the abridgments will be complete.
§ MR. CHILDERS
The hon. Member has not answered my question. The total charge for salaries, not including the non-effective charge for pensions— that is to say, the charge for salaries and stationery—is still £0,000 more than the fees. If you include the non-effective charge, the difference is still greater.
§ MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
The answer of the hon. Gentleman is satisfactory, so far as the private grievances are concerned; but I would ask the hon. Member if he would direct the attention of the Royal Commission to a public grievance, which is that this Office is overmanned and under worked? I wish, before sitting down, to give a hint to the Secretary to the Treasury with regard to all these Offices in Edinburgh. If you will apply the pruning-knife to all the Public Offices in an unsparing manner, and go in for rigid economy, you may be sure of being supported by all the hon. Members who represent Scotland, with the exception, perhaps, of the four Members for Edinburgh, for whom I cannot speak. You may be sure that the expenditure in these Offices is not viewed with satisfaction in Scotland generally.
§ MR. JACKSON
The hon. Member speaks of a certain period. I have shown that the decrease has been a continuous one. I am afraid I cannot say precisely to what the decrease is due; but I suppose it proceeds from two causes—one, the reduction of the fees; and the other, a less amount of business being transacted in the Office than formerly. But having had my attention called to this matter, I will promise hon. Members that I will make inquiry, and do what I can to improve the existing state of things.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
It seems to me that the answer of the Secretary to the Treasury shows the extreme inconvenience of not having the Secretary for Scotland in the House of Commons.
§ Vote agreed to.1700
§ (3.) £4,000, to complete the sum for the Crofters Commission.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
I feel in rather a peculiar position with regard to this Vote. I should have liked to move a reduction of it; but if I did I should place myself in a false position. The point I wish to raise here to-day is with regard to the position of the Commission at the present moment, and the method in which Section 17 of the Crofters Act has been carried out. If I had been able to raise this point on the Secretary for Scotland's salary, I certainly should have moved a reduction, because the 4th sub-section of the 17th section states that it shall be the duty of the Crofters Commission to hold sittings in places to which the Act applies in such order as the Secretary for Scotland may prescribe. Now, I cannot very well reduce the Vote, because the Commissioners must act wherever the Secretary for Scotland sends them, and all I have now got to point out is that the Secretary for Scotland has not acted very wisely lately in his method of sending down the Commission. At the present time, the Commission is in the island of Uist. The Commissioners have gone there not at the request of the crofters, but at the request of the landowner, who is a lady, and the cases are heard after this landowner has only given 24 hours' notice. The landlord only gives 24 hours' notice and the Commissioners are hearing the cases. But what has happened in my county? Why there have been several hundreds of applications pending for the last 14 months, and these in reference to estates where the Royal Commission on the Highlands and Islands reported rack-renting to exist. There are hundreds of applications from the crofters to be heard, and they are not being heard. A month before the Commission went to Uist my hon. Friend the Member for Invernessshire (Mr. Fraser-Mackintosh) pointed out to Lord Lothian that this was an inappropriate place to send the Commission to. The crofters, through this Gentleman, their Representative in Parliament, and through their legal advisers, pointed out that this was a time at which the great bulk of their body would be away; and so they would have been, as the Commission would have found, if these people had been able to find their usual employment 1701 at the East Coast fishing; but, unfortunately, they were not able to find it, and they returned to the Western Highlands. For Lord Lothian to send the Commission there at this time—when it might have been expected that the great bulk of the crofters would be away—a large number of them to Caithness-shire—was a great absurdity. His Lordship was therefore asked to send the Commission there at this time, and the Commission has gone there. I have heard that out of some 70 or 90 cases taken before the Court, only 12 appeared. I can easily understand that. Only 24 hours' notice is officially given before the cases are heard, and the solicitor who attends to the interests of the crofters has had to protest against that short notice. He declares that in consequence of only having 24 hours notice, knowing nothing about the cases, he is unable to learn anything about them, and is unable to attend to them as diligently as he ought to. He has demanded that at least 48 hours' notice should be given to him in order to enable him properly to defend the cases of his clients. I wish to enter a protest against the Crofters Commission going anywhere at the request of the landlords who are in a position to appoint ordinary valuers to revalue the land, whose decisions can be revised by the Commissioners, if the crofters are dissatisfied with the re-valuation. But seeing that the Commissioners have power to fix the rent, and to modify the rent, it is absurd to send the Commissioners to places like this where they are not wanted—instead of to estates like some of those in Caithness, and to estates like that of General Burrows in the Orkneys and elsewhere, where rack-renting exists, and from which places there have been applications for 14 months to have the Commission sent down. I hope the Lord Advocate will give us some good reason why the Commissioners are now going out to the Hebrides at the request of the landlords, notwithstanding the protest of the crofters, through their agent representing them, and through the Member for Inverness-shire, several weeks before the Commissioners went. I should like now to point out how very unfortunate it is to have the Commissioners sent there at this season of the year. Of course, it is very nice for the Commissioners to go to the island of 1702 Uist in the summer time, during the warm weather. It is very much more pleasant for them to be there in the summer than in the winter; but it would be much more convenient for the crofters to have the Commissioners there in the winter time when they themselves are at home. I can, of course, appreciate the fact that during the wild stormy weather of winter it will not be very pleasant for the Commissioners to be in this district. As I have said, the Commissioners going now to Uist will find the fishermen away at the smaller islands and elsewhere, fishing. Well, the Crofters Act, passed this year, was passed for the purpose of stopping the sale of crofters' stock and effects for arrears of rent; but the Commission might just as well have been in the South of France as in Uist. They might just as well have been 1,000 or 1,500 miles from Scotland as in Uist, because of the wretched postal system we have in the Western Highlands. It will take at least four days for any communication from my county to get to Uist, and it will require at least another four days to receive a reply. It would probably take at least nine days for an answer to be received from the Commissioners in reply to a letter sent from the county that I ropresent—to have letters from those at South Uist and back again—nine days going a distance of a couple of hundred miles, simply because the Postmaster General allows a mail train to remain 24 hours at one station, for the reason that the mails come in ten minutes or a quarter of an hour late for the train which precedes. If we were in the wilds of Africa, or in the backwoods of Canada, the postal arrangements would be much better than they are in this district to which I refer. That, however, is the existing state of things. We wired down to the different solicitors who have charge of the cases in my county. There were about 20 cases not long ago where goods were poinded, and it was a neck-and-neck race to get the necessary orders from the Commissioners to save the stock and goods, owing to the out-of-the-way place to which the Commission had been sent. Now, I have got to complain of one or two other little matters. We really cannot discuss this Vote as we ought to be able to discuss it; but I would call the attention of the Lord 1703 Advocate to the next section—the 18th section of the Act. The 18th section determines that the Crofters Commission shall, once in every year after the year 1886, make a Report to the Secretary for Scotland as to the proceedings under the Act, and that every such Report shall he presented to Parliament. Now, we have not got the Report for this year, and could not get the Report for last year; and the Act provides that the Report should be sent for last year. If we had had a Report of any kind, we should have been able to consider this question, and to fairly discuss it; but in the absence of all information as to the action of the Commissioners—in the absence of all record as to what they have done—it would be rather absurd for us to discuss the matter. So far as the Irish Land Commissioners are concerned, we have quarterly Reports from them; but the Crofter Commissioners have now been for twelve months at their work, and we do not know yet what they have done. Parliament has a right to know, under this Act, the number of actions which have been brought. It has a right to revise the question of crofting parishes. The Act will only apply to certain parishes and counties. We do not know yet—though we may know in reply to a Question which I have given Notice of, and which is to be put to-morrow—how many crofting parishes have been determined since January or February. We do not know how many applications have been made, or the number of parishes which are not made crofting parishes. Then, again, a number of decisions have been given of very great importance, and we do not know anything about them—we have no official knowledge of them; and when we put Questions with regard to the matter in this House, the replies we receive are at variance with the facts of the case, and so different from all the reports that appear in all the newspapers that we are practically unable to know what has been done, and to discuss it. Hence the desirability of giving us some information. We do not know yet officially whether there has been a reduction of rent and a reduction of arrears. I asked a Question of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury in regard to one month— the month of May. I put the Question very carefully, from information with 1704 I regard to the action of the Commissioners. I suppose that all that is done by the Commissioners hangs outside the Sheriff's Court, and that the newspapers take a copy of it. Well, the reply given to me showed a difference of £3,000 or £1,000 between the old rents and the new ones. I tried to get a reason for that; but the right hon. Gentleman, instead of giving me the figures for one month, gave me the figures for one month and part of another. We, therefore, have not yet got the information which is necessary to enable us properly to consider this Vote. We are going to pass this Vote, and do nothing at all under the powers given us by this Act, because we cannot act for want of information. I will say nothing at all as to the basis upon which the Commissioners have acted. From the information we have got already, it is plain that there has been a great reduction in rent, and, in some cases, of arrears; but we ought to have some information to let us know upon what principle the rents have been reduced. We ought to know on what principle they have acted in reducing rent in one case by 50 per cent and wiping out the arrears, and in another case reducing rent 25 per cent and wiping off the arrears; while, in others, the rent has been reduced 50 or 60 per cent, but the tenant has been compelled to pay half the arrears. We cannot discuss this matter if we have not got the necessary information before us. Then, as to the working of the Commission, our great objection has been that it will take five or six years to get through all the cases if the old system of working is carried out. But I am glad to see that last week there was a change made, and that the Commissioners are beginning now to do double work—that two of them are meeting to hear the cases, and one of them alone is going over the crofts with the valuer for the purpose of examining the land. Until now these three Gentlemen have been hearing cases together, and the whole three of them have been going over the crofts, and the expense has been very great; indeed, in some cases more than the value of the fee-simple of the crofts under consideration. The only way in which the work can be done efficiently under the Act is to have a couple of Commissioners sitting to hear the cases, andathirdCommissioner—say, 1705 the junior Commissioner—alone valuing the crofts. I see there is an indication that the Commissioners are adopting this plan. By this means—by getting valuers and assessors who are acquainted with the localities to go round with one of the Commissioners—the word sub-Commissioner is used, but I do not think it is in the Act—satisfactory progress no doubt may be made. And you will save a considerable amount of money. At present you pay £4,200 a-year for salaries. I do not think that that amount is too large at all. Then you pay £1,500 a-year for the expenses of the Commissioners. If you had these local valuers, you would save a great deal of this money, and get rid of the work in a very few years—in three years instead of six or seven. By the plan I reccommend you would not only be able to save money; but you would enable the Commissioners to get over the work in much, less time, and give the crofters much greater confidence in the decisions of the Court. It would be a much more efficacious way of doing the work to send these local valuers round, instead of having the same set of Commissioners to go all over the different portions of the Highlands from the Mull of Galloway to the Shetland Islands. In various parts of such a wide district there must be great difference of value; and there would not be the same dissatisfaction with the decisions of the Commissioners if local valuers were associated with them in this work. I do not wish to pursue this subject any further; but if you wish the matter to be fairly carried out, you will require to change the procedure very considerably. Instead of getting over 1,000 cases a-year, you will require to get over 3,000 cases a-year. Now, I hope to hear some reply from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate to this criticism I have been compelled to make, and I hope to hear, especially why we have no information given as to the principles which have guided the Commissioners, because upon that point we have a great deal to say; and until we have an idea of the principles upon which these Gentlemen act we may be criticizing unfairly. We do not know whether we are getting the value for the money we pay. If we are left without information we may form an opinion opposed to that which, if the circumstances were different, we should form.
§ MR. A. SUTHERLAND (Sutherland)
I think it is rather unusual, so far as I know, that Estimates relating to any Commission or any public body, should be placed before Parliament without a Report of that body being submitted, especially when they are under compulsion by the Statute to issue a Report. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Dr. Clark) has read the clause which necessitates the preparation of a Report after the year 1886 by the Crofter Commissioners. Seeing the nature of the business the Commission have to carry out, and that their action for some time past must, of necessity have been of a tentative character, it might be said that the Gentlemen who filled the post of Commissioners have not had much time at their disposal, and had found it impossible to draw up a Report; but seeing that many complaints have been made of the paucity of work that there is for the Secretary for Scotland, I think that some of the clerks in his office who, presumably, are not overburdened with duties—["No, no ! "]— Well, in my opinion, some of the money which has been expended by the country on the Office of the Scottish Secretary might be very profitably employed in relieving the Crofters Commission. I do not lay very great stress on the absence of a Report; but still as it is required by Statute, I think we should have had it —and it would have been convenient for us to have had it—by this time. The hon. Member for Caithness has gone into some criticism on various points arising on this Vote; but I do not intend to occupy the time of the Committee in that way. I should like, however, to call attention to some of the decisions which have been given by the Commissioners, although I have no intention of impugning their conduct generally, as far as the reductions which they have granted are concerned. For the Gentleman who presides over the Commission I have the greatest possible respect. I think he is eminently qualified to discharge the duties he has to discharge; but for the lay Commissioners I must say I do not entertain the same respect. It will be in the recollection of the Committee that at the time of their appointment protests were made—it will be remembered that these appointments were made against the recommendations of many who understood the matter in a special way. I would just bring be- 1707 fore the notice of the Committee one typical case of the decisions which have been given. The facts are these—I could give the name of the croft to which it refers, and the name of the crofter to whom it refers if necessary. Here is a case in which the forefathers of the crofter had been in possession of the croft for 100 years up to the time when he acquired it. It had been in his family for many generations. It was stated in open Court as follows:—That in the year 1832 his father paid £8 10s. to an outgoing tenant, whose holding was added to his father's holding. In 1834 his father built the present dwelling place upon it at his own expense, all except a slight assistance which was given by the landlord. All the outhouses were built by the tenant at his own expense. The land was cleared, trenched, and works of the value of £500 were carried out, as I say, at his own expense. In 1878 the father of the present tenant died, the present tenant succeeded, and the rent was raised from £6 5s. to £11 5s., an increase of almost 100 per cent on the tenant's own improvements. Then the Commission came, and the tenant applied to them, complaining that he was over-rented, and asking to have a fair rent fixed. The decision of the Commissioners was that his rent should be increased to £14. So that since 1878, or during the lapse of nine years, the tenant's rent was increased 124 per cent altogether on his own improvements. Now, under a sub-section of Section 6 the landlord or the crofter may apply for the fixing of a fair rent, and obtain a visit from the Crofter Commission, and the Crofter Commission, after considering all the circumstances of the ease, and particularly after taking into consideration any permanent improvements on the holding which may have been constructed or paid for by the crofter or his predecessors in the same family, may determine such fair rent, and fix the rent accordingly. "What I say is, that this section of the Act has not been given effect to in the case I mention, because this man who has made these improvements would, if he had been fairly treated, have had his rent reduced. I am speaking from personal knowledge on this point when I say that effect was not given to the Act in fixing the rent. I think that, in a case of that kind, 1708 there should be some way of appealing against the judgment of the Commissioners. The holding, so far as I know, was visited only by the lay Commissioners. The Chairman of the Commission, who, I suppose, is a legal Gentleman, does not presume to have any knowledge of the value of land. I think that in a case of this kind—this is only a typical case of a number decided at the same time—an appeal should be given, as the Commissioners have not carried out the intention of the Act.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. H. A. MACDONALD) (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)
I think that no one can complain of the manner in which hon. Members who have addressed the Committee have spoken on this subject. I think that must arise, to a great extent, from this—that in their inward consciousness hon. Members feel that, although there are some things of which they have a right to complain, the Commission, on the whole, has been doing extremely satisfactory work, and extremely hard work. Hon. Members complain that the Commissioners have not reported yet. Well, if the Commissioners had spent two or three weeks of their time in drawing up an elaborate report, the first people to complain would have been the crofters themselves—the crofters would have complained that the Commissioners were spending their time in writing to inform the Government what they were doing, instead of getting on with that class of case which the hon. Member for Caithness has said will take five or six years to complete. In the first place, the hon. Gentleman opposite, points out that the Commissioners are at present in the island of Uist. I can only say, as regards their being there, that they are there in this state of things—namely, that Lord Lothian, the Secretary for Scotland, in determining where they should hear cases, gave distinct instructions to them to inform him, whether they were satisfied that in all cases the crofters at any particular place could attend if the Commissioners went there, and he was assured that if they went to the island of Uist just now they would be able to get the crofters to attend before the Court. And events have subsequently shown that those who so assured him were perfectly right that if 1709 the Commissioners went to the island of Uist just now they would be able to get the crofters to attend in all cases. I find, in a statement which appears in the newspapers this morning, that the Commissioners, having gone to Uist, the Chairman of the Commissioners has stated that, out of 70 cases which had been settled, in only 12 had the crofters failed to appear. He stated that there had been only 12 absentees out of 114 cases, and that of these 12 cases only six of the men were away fishing, three were unwell, two were absent without any reason being assigned, and one happened to be away. Therefore, I think that no reasonable complaint can be made against the Commission being there at the present time.
§ MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman mean that in every case, except these 12, the crofters were present, or that they were represented by their families?
§ MR. J. H. A. MACDONALD
They were either present themselves, or represented. The hon. Member says that the Secretary for Scotland, in making a general arrangement as regards the places the Commissioners are to go to from time to time, ought to pay no regard whatever to the landlords. Well, I do not quite agree with him in that. I think that the landlords and tenants should both be considered in this matter; and when we find that the landlady of this estate referred to has, through pure good-nature, allowed her arrears to run up to a tremendous amount—extending, in some cases, I believe, to 12 years—I think that she surely has reasonable ground for asking that the Commission which has been established should say what rent she is to get. She will certainly get no rent until this question is decided; she will certainly get none of them until the Commissioners have given a decision. I think, in her case, it is most reason able that she should apply for the Commission to visit her estate, and that the Commission should comply with as little delay as possible. And I would point out, further, what my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark) so candidly admitted, that it would be very uncomfortable indeed for the Crofter Commission to go to the island of Uist in midwinter. They would be infinitely more 1710 shut out from communication than they are now, because if they went to the island of Uist in winter they might be compelled to remain there for a month or six weeks at a time, the island during that period being frequently totally inaccessible. The Commissioners would, under the circumstances, be out of the reach of the other crofters in the other islands and on the mainland. I would point out further that very often, as regards visiting these islands, it is not only a question of comfort, but of possibility. Supposing the Commissioners determined to go to Uist on the 1st December, and made their arrangements accordingly, they might find it impossible to carry out their intention, and. at the time the crofters wished them to be there, and expected them, they might be unable to attend. Is it suggested that in the very depth of midwinter the crofters themselves would be willing to go long distances over the hills to the places where the Courts were to be held—to places in, which there might be no accommodation for them, and where they would not be able to get any comfort at such a period of the year? I think that undoubtedly good cause has been shown for the visit to Uist being taken at a time of the year when the conditions are favourable for all parties. I perfectly understand that the crofters may grumble about it. They have a right to grumble; but I hope hon. Members will agree with me that while people have their right to grumble, it is impossible to make these arrangements without making some cause for grumbling, reasonable or unreasonable. With regard to the smaller matters to which the hon. Member has referred, he has said that the answers he has received in this House on more than one occasion have been, to some extent, at variance with the published reports in the newspapers. No doubt, there was a difference of that kind on one or two occasions. It has been owing partly probably to inadvertence; but I can assure the hon. Member when he tells us of what has been done by the Commission—when he tells us of the enormous reductions, and that the principles upon which these reductions have been made are not known—when he tells us this, and complains that no official Report has been presented—he is hardly fair to the Commissioners, 1711 because I would point out this, as I; said before, that the Commissioners would have been going outside the lines of what was advisable or right if they had spent their time in drawing up a Report, not for a whole year, but for part of a year, before their first year's work was completed. Their duty was to give themselves a general knowledge of the work with which they were intrusted by going to different places throughout the country. It was necessary for them, to obtain a general knowledge of the state of the country and of the state of agriculture; and I say further, I do not think they could have done what the hon. Member quite properly suggests—namely, in the early days of their labours—have split up their work, and have sent one of their number to examine some district and take evidence. I think it was the bounden duty of the members of the Commission to work together. It was necessary for them to confer together, and to get a general idea of how their work could be best conducted, and what was the best mode of forming opinions. Having done that—having come to a general understanding and agreement as to the nature of their work—they could then send one of their number away, knowing that he was carrying out not only his own views, but those of his colleagues, and that he was acting not only upon his own experience, but upon the experience of the whole body of Commissioners. Under these circumstances, a Commissioner thus sent away would give a decision in which all the Commissioners could agree. I submit that it would have been a most unwise thing for them to have sent away one of their number of whose capacity for work and whose mode of operations they had no experience, or the soundness of whose views generally they knew nothing of, and then to have endeavoured themselves to form a judgment with regard to any report he made. Now, when the Commissioners, have been together for some time, and understand each other's way of working and of considering matters, they can with confidence allow one of their number to go and make valuations. I certainly think that the Commissioners have taken the proper course up to this time. They are, I believe, now endeavouring to get through their work quickly, and I believe the decisions they 1712 are now giving will be satisfactory both to crofters and landlords. There is only one other matter which I will refer to. The hon. Member for Sutherland (Mr. A. Sutherland) has spoken of a certain case. "Well, Sir, I think we must all of us be aware of this fact—that when appeals are made in these cases, there is an able lawyer sitting on the Commission. The hon. Member stated his belief in the fairness of the Commission. I have had occasion to know that gentleman for a good many years, and I must say I never knew a man who had a more earnest desire to act fairly and conscientiously, and to do his duty with care; and I am sure from all I have heard and know in my communications with Mr. Brand—and I have seen him on several occasions since he took the Chairmanship of this Commission—that he carries out my estimate of him. I am sure we could not have had a better man, a more earnest and energetic man, than Mr. Brand. As to the other Commissioners, I am not personally acquainted with them; but I cannot help thinking that, on the whole, their work has given considerable satisfaction. I do not know what further reduction of rent hon. Gentlemen opposite would have got from other persons; but I hold that there is nothing before the Committee or the public to indicate that these Commissioners have not acted to the best of their lights, or that they are not men of skill, and eminently suited for the position they hold. The hon. Member complains that there is no appeal; but I can hardly concur with him in that. An appeal means more expense. An appeal means loss of time—
§ MR. A. SUTHERLAND
As I understand it there is an appeal provided for in the Act from the Sub-Commissioner to the Commissioners, or from one Commissioner to two Commissioners; but what I complain of is that that arrangement has not been carried out, and that in cases decided by a Sub-Commissioner in Sutherlandshire, there have been no appeals allowed.
§ MR. J. H. A. MACDONALD
The hon. Member is mistaken in this matter, for there has been no Sub-Commission sent out. There is no Sub-Commission now. As I understand it every decision given up to the present time is a decision of the Commissioners as a body, 1713 and I do not know of any appeal of the I kind referred to by the hon. Member. I understood the hon. Member to complain that there was no appeal given from the decision of the Crofter Commission to another Court. He used the word "appeal," and seemingly used it in a different sense to what is ordinarily implied; but now I understand what he meant. There cannot be any ground for the complaint he made; because I understand that every decision given has been given by the whole body of the Commissioners. If there has been any action on the part of an individual Commissioner previous to the decision being given, the discussion and consideration given by the Commissioners themselves to what the individual Commissioner might have reported is something in the nature of an appeal. I do not know of any other appeal except one of that nature. I think I have answered, or, at any rate, have attempted to answer, all the points raised. All I can say further is this. The noble Marquess the Secretary for Scotland (the Marquess of Lothian) is most anxious that the work of the Commissioners should be pushed on, and I can assure hon. Members that the suggestions they have made will receive full consideration, and will be carried out if possible.
§ DR. R. MACDONALD (ROSS and Cromarty)
I may say at the outset that the work of this Commission will have to be done all over again. It is the Irish Land Question all round again, and I can easily explain it to the House. These crofters, or their ancestors before them, were put down on the hillsides to do the best they could with the land. They lived upon it and improved it, and now the Act tells them that the Commissioners are to take into account all the improvements which have been made. I say that with 20,000 acres of land lying waste within 50 miles of this House for which, you cannot get a tenant at a penny an acre, it is ridiculous to think of charging men in the Highlands 5s. an acre for their crofts. I have looked over the decisions of the Commissioners, and have made calculations, and I find that the average rent that they have fixed is 10s. an acre for every inch of it. I ask, is that right, or just, or fair? I declare, under the circumstances, that this Crofter Question will be just as much a thorn in the side of this Go- 1714 vernment, and of every other Government, until justice is done by the Commissioners, taking into account the improvements which have been made on the land by the crofters. the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate speaks of the internal consciousness of hon. Members on this side, but his assumption in that matter I deny entirely; and there is one other remark which the right hon. and learned Gentleman said about the attendance of crofters personally at the Commissioners Court in Uist, about which I wish to say a word. I would tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if he looks at the newspaper to-day he will find that scores of people appeared before the Commissioners by deputy, either in the person of their wives, their nephews, their sons, and so on. And if he has received information to the effect that the crofters appeared themselves in the large number of cases in which he says that an appearance was put in, he has evidently been misinformed. I shall take care myself to get the exact number of the personal appearances that have been made, from the gentleman who is at present acting in the crofters' interests.
§ DR. R. MACDONALD
My hon. Friend asked the question—the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter) asked if the right hon. and learned Gentleman meant to say that in every case except 12 the crofters were present or that they were represented by their families, and I understood the right hon. and learned Gentleman to say that they were represented.
§ MR. J. H. A. MACDONALD
I must have misunderstood the hon. Member. What I thought he meant was, did the crofters appear by agent or council. I did not mean to say that the individual crofters themselves appeared, but that they did appear by members of their families or by agent.
§ DR. R. MACDONALD
They could not appear themselves because most of them were away from home, and consequently were not in a position to attend or give evidence. The hon. Member for Sutherland (Mr. A. Sutherland) has made allusion to one case where he thought the decision was unjust.
§ DR. R. MACDONALD
Yes; my hon. Friend mentioned it as a typical case, but I have here a list of cases. I will not trouble the Committee with all of them, but I will give a few to show the way in which the Crofter3 Commission is doing its work. Hero is the case of a man whose old rent was £11. His fair rent was fixed at £6 3s. His arrears were £35, and of those arrears he has been ordered to pay £28. This man's rent has been reduced to nearly a-half, and yet he is ordered to pay four-fifths of his arrears. Is there any justice in that amount? He ought to obtain a much larger reduction than that. Then in another case the old rent was £11, and the new rent was fixed at £6 3s. The arrears were £34 4s., and the man was ordered to pay only £8 of them. In another case the old rent was £11 15s. The new rent was fixed at £4 13s., almost a third. The arrears were £35 5s., and of that the tenant was ordered to pay £5. His rent is reduced a-third of what it had been before, and he has only to pay a small portion of his arrears. In another case, however, where the old rent was £7 5s., and the now rent £2 4s., the arrears were £5 and the tenant was ordered to pay every penny of them. Here is another case that the right hon. and learned Gentleman may be anxious to hear—the case of William McKenzie, of Mickdale—I give the right hon. and learned Gentleman the name so that he may verify it himself. It is taken from a newspaper report of the return as signed by the Commission. The old rent was £3 10s., and it was reduced to £1 10s. The arrears were £2 10s., and the man has been ordered to pay every half-penny of them. Can any Member of this House say that that is just? I have here innumerable cases of this kind, Here is another case—old rent £13 10s., new rent £6 10s.; arrears£8 6s., and the tenant ordered to pay £4 of them. It is not enough that the landlords have been taking double the rent from these poor people which they ought to have received for all these years, but they are to be allowed to collect their arrears. The Commissioners ordered for the most part the old rent should be paid by these people again. Surely, it must be obvious to everyone that people 1716 who cannot pay even their present rents will never be able to pay their old back rack-rents for which they are in arrears. As I have already told the Committee, Parliament will have the same trouble to deal with which it has had to face in the case of Ireland. It is impossible for people to pay their rents, and if a decision is given, I do not care by what Commission, I put it to any hon. Member of this House to say if a man has taken up land which is worth at the most Is. an acre, that all the rent he ought to be called upon to pay should be 1s. I find that the reduction of rent all round, taking it on the average, is about 33 per per cent—that is to say, looking at all the decisions which have already been given. It may be said that that is a very great deal, and that the crofters ought to be thankful; but I have some cases here of reduction of rent on the large farms into which all the good lands are thrown. I have taken some of these cases from the papers, and they refer to large farms in the Highlands—the crofters we know only get the scraps which are left on the hillside, or by the sea-shore, which they have to do with as best they can. I find here that on the large farm of Westerdale in Caithness, the rent was reduced 50 per cent, although there have been no improvements effected by the tenant. On two large farms on the Kilmuir Estate reductions of 33.3 per cent and 27.5 per cent have been made. On the Rosehaugh Estate of the National Provident Institution, when they found that the Commissioners were reducing the rents of the crofters on their property from 40 to 50 per cent, they sent down a valuer to value their farms. They found that the rents on those farms were considerably higher than they should be, and the valuer sent in an average on that estate, excluding leaseholders and taking improvements into account, in consequence of which the rents were reduced from 50 to 70 per cent. Take a case which occurred the other day and which is mentioned in The Invergordon Times of last week. It is a farm at Huntingtower, two miles west of Perth, it was let originally at a rental of £639, but it has now just been let for £350, and no improvements are to be considered there, although the previous tenant did spent £1,000 upon them. Then there is the case of a farm—the Montagu farm—which was 1717 formerly let at £500, but has just now been let at £300. I ask how can the crofters be grateful to the Commission for doing less than the landlords all round are doing on the large farms? How can anyone assert that justice is being done to the crofters? The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks us what percentage we want in the reduction of rents. Well, I have indicated that already. If a rent is now 10s. or £1 an acre, it should be reduced to 1s. an acre; and then we shall be satisfied and not till then. The right hon. and learned Lord Advocate may shake his head and say that that is impossible, but we find a good many things which have been declared to be impossible come to be possible in the long run. Now, I want to point out to the Committee what has been done in connection with the Crofter Commission. This Commission has reduced rents £2,114 and abated arrears £6,000— that is to say, that it has dealt with £8,000. We find the expenses of the Crofter Commission is £6,000 this year, and £3,930 last year—that is to say, that they have already cost the country a great deal more than the total amount of reductions they have effected. Would it not be better," then for the House to make a gift to these crofters or to the landlords? Would it not be cheaper for Parliament to say to the landlords— "There are your rents" and be done with it? In the calculation which has been made of the cost of the Commission, no account has been taken of the loss of one of Her Majesty's ships, which would probably amount to about £14,000. It would have been three times better for this House to have paid the reductions which have been effected in the rents of the crofters than to have gone to all this trouble and expense. When we find that such decisions as I have referred to are given, how can we expect these crofters to be satisfied? What good is it for a man to have a rent of £4 reduced to £3, when he is unable to pay half that amount? It does him no good at all, and I therefore say, give him justice—give us the benefit of the Act passed by this House. We say, take account of the improvements which have been effected by the crofters, even if it is 1,000 years back. The Act says that, after all the improvements made by these people and their forbears, the landlord is to get 1718 value for the land as it was originally. Then we shall be satisfied; but there is no other possible way of satisfying us. We shall continue to suffer injustice if we do not get this. We are agitating in the Highlands and islands, and we shall continue to agitate within the law. We are asking this House and the country to put into proper operation the Act which has been passed by this House. I do not know that I have anything further to say—["Hear, hear!"]—and I do not think it would be proper for me to say anything more, because there is a great deal of Scotch work before the House to-day, and I do not desire to lose a moment of time. I must appeal to my hon. Friend who says "Hear, hear!" when I say I am going to sit down, to consider this subject carefully, and to say whether, after all, the case we have made out is not one worth the House listening to. I do not make statements without figures. I can prove every figure which I have used, and I appeal to this House whether justice, or anything like justice, is to be given to the crofters.
§ MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)
There is one question I would like to ask the Lord Advocate, and that is with reference to the first Report of the Crofter Commission. It is true that under the Act it is provided that the Commission "shall, once every year after 1886, make a Report to the Secretary for Scotland." Now, I cannot but think, or help thinking, that the intention was, considering that the Crofter Commission was appointed in the middle of 1886, that after their operations during 1886, they should by the middle of 1887 make a Report. But we have now got through nearly two-thirds of 1887, and no Report has appeared. But, apparently, the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate appears to think that there has been no delay. He gives as a reason for no Report having appeared, that in the early part of the year the Commission was too busy to draw up a Report. If the interpretation I have given is the true interpretation to be put upon the clause, in respect of what year will the first Report be made? Will it be in respect of the year 1886, or in respect of the year 1887, or in respect of some imaginary financial year taking in part of 1886 and part of 1887? There is nothing of that kind in the 1719 Statute, and I must say that it should rest on the right hon. and learned Gentleman to look to the Crofter Commission to make a Report at once with regard to 1886. All these rules were laid down in 1886, and surely we should have received some statement from the Commissioners bearing upon their work for that year. I do not think we should be obliged to wait until the end of the present year before the Crofter Commission make a Report. The words are "that they shall once in every year." Therefore it would be in this year, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will observe, that the Report should be made. It is not "for" every year, but "in" every year. Would it not be well that they should at once make a Report for the six months in 1886, and then, early on next year, make a Report for the whole of 1887?
§ MR. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars, & c.)
I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) that these Reports should be furnished without delay. There is a great difficulty in obtaining any information with regard to the work done by the Commission. The only information we do get is that contained in newspaper paragraphs, and to ask a question in this House upon the information contained in those paragraphs would be to lay ourselves open to correction, because they are not official and many of them no doubt contain misstatements. As a matter of fact, we have no official information at all except that we have spent £10,000 upon the Commission. Now, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate (Mr. J. H. A. Macdonald) stated that the Commissioners would be blamed by the crofters themselves if they had spent six months in preparing an elaborate Report; but I point out that an elaborate Report is not what we want. We will take such a Report as the duties of the Commissioners give them time to prepare. Now, there have been several months during the present year in which the Commissioners have not been sitting, and that interval might have been used for the preparation of the Report that we want. The Report of the proceedings of the Irish Land Court is not an elaborate document; and I am sure that the particulars which are in the possession of the Crofter Commission could have been 1720 copied out and presented by this time, and such as they are they would be valuable. But, as I have said, we have no official information whatever, except that we have spent £ 10,000 upon the Commission; and I therefore hope that we shall be supplied with whatever Report can be got, and that soon, say, within two or three weeks.
§ MR. J. H. A. MACDONALD
I should read the section of the Statute, as meaning that if the Crofters Commission at any time in 1887 make a report of their proceedings, that would satisfy its requirements. As far as I can understand hon. Gentlemen opposite, it is that they are anxious to have a Report as early as possible. I think the most sensible view is that the Crofters Commission should issue their Report as they finish each year's work. If hon. Members will communicate with me on this matter, I should be glad to lay the representation before the noble Marquess the Secretary for Scotland (the Marquess of Lothian), who, as well as the Commissioners themselves, will, I have no doubt, be happy to give effect to it.
§ DR. CLARK
I am not altogether satisfied with the statement of the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate; because I may say that the information we asked for is posted outside the door of every Sheriff's Court House; and if the reports which are so placed were laid upon the Table of this House, nearly all the information which we require would be found in them. There is one very important point on which we require some information. Time after time, during the discussion of the Bill, we pointed out that the clauses in reference to the increasing of holdings were practically useless, and therefore it is that the information we require is not only as to the reduction of rents, but also with regard to the increase of holdings. Of what use is it to the crofter that his rent is, perhaps, reduced from £3 10s. to £1 12s., or from £1 10s. to 5s.? The only thing that will be of any value to him is the increase of his holding, and I doubt whether, out of 1,000 cases that have been dealt with, there is 1 per cent in which an addition has been made to the holding. I may say, after the efforts I have made to get at the facts, that there has not been an increase of 1 per cent. The only way of solving the diffi- 1721 culty is by giving an increase of land; and the facts being as I have stated, the clauses of the Act introduced for the purpose of increasing holdings have become a dead letter. I admit that the landlord ought to be considered; but I hold that they should be considered only after the crofter. At Uist the solicitor for the landlord only served the applications on those crofters whom it would best serve the landlord's purpose to have before the Commission, and the solicitors for the crofters only got the notices on the day on which the cases were to be heard. I say that the Commissioners should go first to those places where the Royal Commission has reported that rack-renting exists; and that when the claims of the crofters in those places have been done justice to, the landlords should be considered. What the Commissioners should do is to reduce the rents on those farms en which the farmers can live—farms of £15 or £20 valuation; farms of the middle size— but they have not attended to that class, they have only dealt with the large holdings and the very small ones. I know the case which the hon. Member for Sutherland (Mr. A. Sutherland) has referred to—where the tenant's rent has been raised on his own improvements— and I have information that the Duke of Sutherland himself was about to reduce the rent. If the Crofter Commission had not gone down to the district, it is probable that the rent would have been reduced; hut the result of their going there was that it was increased; and there are one or two other cases in which hundreds of pounds have been spent by the tenants whose rents have been increased. All I ask for is information, not for the purpose of going into the cases now—because they will be dealt with by us when the proper time comes—but in order that we may see the work actually being done by the Commission; and unless we get that information, I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that next Session will show a very different state of things from the present.
§ Vote agreed, to.
§ (4.) £146,537, to complete the sum for Police—Counties and Burghs, Scotland.
§ MR. MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
This Vote raises a question of 1722 great importance, which concerns every county and every burgh in Scotland. I observe that there has been an annual increase of this Vote, and considering that crime is not on the increase, and that, generally speaking, there has been a large diminution of crime throughout the country, it is difficult to see how this large annual increase arises. It may strike some hon. Members that £1,500 a-year is not a very large increase; but when we consider that there are only 56 men added to the Force—35 in counties, and 21 in burghs—whose wages are at the rate of about 18s. a-week, which will amount to the sum of £50 8s., it is difficult to know how the remainder of the £1,500 is expended. What I find fault with is this—that although it may be said that as half the grant is paid by the counties and burghs, and half by the Government, the former are as much to blame as the Government, and we have continually put upon us extra expense, which we have to discharge. We have the expense of clothing, boots, great coats, and other matters. It may be further urged that these expenses are practically compulsory, and that the Commissioners of Supply have no other course open to thorn than to comply with the regulations of the Home Office. I hope, however, that the authorities at Dover House will exercise their control in order that we may not have a continuance of these increased charges and expenses thrust upon us, because when we consider that the local rates are annually increasing, and that the means of meeting them are largely diminishing, it does not behave us to increase unnecessarily, as it seems to us, the expenditure in connection with the Police Force. We think we are paying quite sufficient, and we believe we have ample security afforded by the law for the protection of our property; but we do object to the Government, or any authority, thrusting upon us expenses which we think unnecessary, and therefore ought not to be borne.
§ MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
I hope we shall have some information, from, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate (Mr. J. H. A. Macdonald) with regard to the dispute about the number of police in the County of Inverness. It will be in the recollection of the House that attention, was called to a scandalous waste of 1723 public money in sending police and soldiers to Skye in order to collect rents which nobody had refused to pay. Since then the Commissioners of Supply for the County of Inverness, who are landowners, and represent the landowners exclusively, have come to the conclusion that the Force in Skye should be largely reduced; and that is a subject on which the Commissioners are to be considered the best authority. It appears, however, that a very wild and irresponsible gentleman—Sheriff Ivory—has interposed his veto, and the question is now under consideration by the Secretary for Scotland, and I wish to know what is being done in the matter?
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J.H.A. MACDONALD) (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)
I understand that the Police Force in Skye will soon be reduced.
§ Vote agreed, to.
§ (5.) £63,494, to complete the sum for Prisons, Scotland.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
When the Vote for English Prisons was before the Committee a few nights ago, I had occasion to call the attention of hon. Members to the great disparity of pay as between the surgeons in English and Scotch prisons. I pointed out that whereas the former received salaries between £400 and £600, the surgeons in the Scottish prisons only received salaries of £200, rising to a maximum of £300. I was about to refer to the case of a surgeon in the Glasgow prison; but as the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Lord Advocate gives me to understand that it has been settled, I need not go into it, and will simply add as one reason for removing the disparity which exists, that while the surgeons in prisons in Scotland get only half the pay of the English prison surgeons, they have to do more work.
§ MR. MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
I would point out that there has been considerable expenditure that might have been prevented under the new system of prison building in Scotland as compared with the old system. It appears that in building the new prisons the architects and others were at fault, and that a much greater expenditure than was expected has been incurred in connection with them in order to put them in an efficient state. Perhaps the 1724 right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate can give us some information on the subject.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. H. A. MACDONALD) (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)
I must admit that in years past there was something not quite satisfactory with regard to the plans for sanitary work, and so on; but the matter has been occupying attention.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, & c.)
I am confirmed by this in the opinion I have always held—namely, that the system of centralization with regard to prisons would not lead to economy.
§ Vote agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Mason.)
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. JACKSON) (Leeds, N.)
Of course, the Government will be very glad if these Votes are finished, but I can assure the Committee that it is only with the desire to meet the wishes of Scotch Members as far as possible that the present arrangement has been made.
§ MR. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars, &c)
My reason for wishing to go on with the Bills on the Paper rather than the Estimates is that the majority of Scottish Members are in favour of that course.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolutions to be reported To-morrow..
§ Committee to sit again upon Friday.