§ MR. ANDERSON (Elgin and Nairn)
said, he begged to move as an Amendment, at the end of the Address, to insert the following words:—Humbly to represent to Her Majesty that owing to the great fall in the value of agricultural produce, the payment of rents in Scotland fixed before such fall has in many cases become impossible, and that, by reason of many landlords not having made any reduction of rents or having made reductions wholly inadequate, great loss, in some cases amounting to ruin, is being incurred by occupiers of land, and to pray that, by the creation of some 1135 competent tribunal or otherwise, steps may be taken to relieve the occupiers of agricultural land from the serious consequences above mentioned.He had risen for the purpose of bringing to the notice of the House a question connected with the condition of agriculture in Scotland which he conceived to be of very great importance. He did so with great humility, but with less reluctance, owing to a paragraph which appeared, in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech, and which he thought was intended by Her Majesty's Government to invite on the part of Members of that House any suggestions they might think desirable, with the view of bringing before the Government and the House remedial measures for the prevailing distress in agricultural industry. He thought he should be able shortly to satisfy Her Majesty's Government and the House that the matters which were embraced in the Amendment he had placed upon the Paper would effect that object. The rise of rent in this country during the past century had been enormous, and he believed it would be interesting if he were to inform the House at the outset what the rise in agricultural rent had been in the three countries—England, Scotland, and Ireland. They had heard a good deal of the increase of rent in Ireland, and it was well known that rents there had been enormously reduced; but he thought the House would be astonished to find that in the past century the proportion of increase in the rent of Scotland had been much greater than in England or Ireland. It appeared from Mulhall's Book of Statistics that the agricultural rent of Ireland in 1780 was £5,300,000; in 1884 it had risen to £9,982,000, an increase of not quite 100 per cent. The agricultural rent of England in 1780 was £ 16,900,000; in 1884 it had risen to £47,955,000, or an increase of somewhere about 275 per cent. But when he came to Scotland he found in 1780 the agricultural rental was £1,200,000; whereas, in 1880, it had risen to £7,705,000, showing an increase of over 600 per cent. The House must be startled by this comparison of the increase in rental in England and Scotland; but certain figures were startling. He could not help thinking that this increase was due mainly to two causes. In the first instance, he attributed it, to a great extent, to the existence of 1136 leases in Scotland. It had been the practice and the habit during the past century to give leases in Scotland, and the tenant farmers had displayed much zeal and skill in the cultivation of the soil. Therefore, as their leases came to an end it was found that the ground under cultivation had been rendered more valuable, and the landlord put up the leases in many cases to the highest bidder, the effect of which had been to enhance the value of land acquired during the last century. The result had been an enormously increased rental by what he ventured to think were unfair means, because this state of affairs had mainly been brought about by the tenants' own improvements, although, no doubt, the landlords of Scotland had contributed considerably to the increased value of agricultural land. According to the Duke of Argyll, they were the chief contributors to that increased value, because, in a work upon Scotland past and present, the noble Duke asserted that mind, represented by the landlords, had much more to do with the matter than muscle, represented by the tenant farmers and labourers. He (Mr. Anderson), on the other hand, ventured to think that the increase in the value of these farms had been brought about by the skill and capital of the tenants, and the result had been that as each lease came to an end an additional rent was charged. When that fact was borne in mind, he thought the House would have less reluctance in dealing with his Amendment. He wished now to refer to what had happened during the last few years affecting rents which had been so abnormally increased. Unhappily, it was not necessary for him to go into statistics for the purpose of showing the great decrease which had taken place in the price of agricultural produce, because that was admitted on all hands. It was acknowledged to have been excessive. He would, however, for a moment call attention to a valuable document prepared by the Moray shire Farmers' Club—one of the counties which he had the honour to represent. In October last, so severe had become the pressure on agriculture that the Farmers' Club met to consider the extent to which there had been a fall in the price of agricultural produce of all kinds, and also the important question to which his Amend- 1137 ment was directed—namely, what reduction of rents it was necessary to make in regard to leases fixed some years ago. That Report dealt largely with figures and facts for a period of years up to 1886. He would take, first of all, the 15 years up to 1881, and deal with the average prices during that period; and, in the next place, he would show what had been the fall in the price of agricultural produce between 1881 and 1886, as compared with the average of prices during the 15 years to 1881. Taking first of all the case of wheat, in those five years there had been a depreciation of 30 per cent; in the price of barley, 25 percent; of oats, 17 per cent; and beet, 14 per cent. That was the first table. He would now take 20 years up to and including 1886, for the purpose of comparing the average prices of agricultural produce during those 20 years with the prices which existed in 1887. The result in that case was that the average prices in the 20 years up to 1886, compared with the prices in 1887, showed a depreciation in cereals of 30 percent; in beef, 14 per cent; in second beef, 22 per cent; in mutton, 20 per cent; in second mutton, 22 per cent; in pork, 25 per cent; in milk, 30 per cent; in butter, 33 percent; in hay, 17 per cent; in potatoes, 50 per cent; in wool, 33 per cent; and 40 per cent in horses; showing a great reduction throughout the whole range of agricultural produce. It necessarily followed from that, as the Report of the Morayshire Farmers' Club went on to say, that a large reduction of rent must take place. The Report pointed out—That the Committee, after considering the whole circumstances, are of opinion that to establish the same relative position that existed between the owner and cultivators during the period under review a reduction of more than 50 per cent would require to be made; and, to make farms workable without serious loss, a reduction of at least 33 per cent on the average would require to be made on all such rents.He might inform the House that that Report had been considered by 33 agricultural associations in Scotland up to the beginning of the present year, and every one of them, with one exception, which was of a rather singular nature, because it recommended Protection—with that one exception, all agreed with the conclusion at which the Farmers' Club had arrived. There existed, therefore, a large body of evidence from the 1138 Farmers' Clubs of Scotland to show that they were unanimously of opinion that a reduction of this kind was necessary. He did not think, however, that that was all the evidence before the House, because many hon. Members who owned land in England were quite aware that a reduction of rent even higher than 50 per cent had in many cases been made. He believed that the reduction of agricultural rents in England would be found to be very much larger—at any rate, quite as large—all round as the 50 and 33 per cent suggested in the Report. It was conclusively proved that in order to put the farmer in a fair position, so that he might make a profit out of his farm, the rents must come down to this extent. He now came to the point to which his Amendment was chiefly directed. He had heard it stated yesterday by the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate (Mr. J. H. A. Macdonald), and also by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour), that in Scotland and England the landlords had fairly met their tenants, and that the necessary reduction of rent had been made. He had heard a similar statement made before in that House. He regretted to say that it was not a correct statement of affairs. It was unquestionable—as he should satisfy the House by figures very shortly—that in Scotland such was not the case. He quite admitted that in England it had been done to some extent, and it had been done for this reason—that the landlords had no other alternative. In England the farms were held chiefly under yearly tenancy, and a tenant was at liberty to give up his farm without much trouble. In Scotland, owing to the system of leases, the landlord had the farmer fast by the bond he had signed for so many years. Unfortunately, he had taken advantage of this bond to refuse, in many cases, to make the reductions which in England the landlords had been compelled to make, because they felt that if they did not make them their land would be left unoccupied. In Scotland the existence of leases had been used as a weapon for increasing the value of agricultural land abnormally, and extorting from the tenant a rent which the land could not and ought not to bear. The effect of that system had been most serious. 1139 He would give some examples to illustrate what he meant. It was not necessary for him to give them from different parts of Scotland; he would, therefore, confine the illustrations to the two counties he represented. The Report of the Morayshire Farmers' Club was published and circulated to the proprietors last October, and it might have been thought that, after seeing it, they would have made liberal reductions in the direction to which it pointed. Now, what had been the reductions? First of all, he would say that of the leases now in existence many of them had been made before 1880—before there was any idea of the great depreciation in prices which would take place. On three estates—those of the Duke of Richmond, Lord Cawdor, and Sir George Grant—reductions had been made ranging from 20 to 30 per cent. Next came another range of reductions from 10 to 15 per cent, including the estates of Lord Moray, Lady Seafield, Lord Fife, Mr. Brodie of Brodie, and Major Rose. He believed that on some of these estates, notably those of Lord Fife and the Earl of Seafield, larger reductions had been made in individual cases; but 10 to 15 per cent was the general reduction. He now came to another class, which was a very extraordinary one, though he regretted to say it was a very numerous one in Scotland, in which reductions had been made of 5 to 7 per cent, but coupled with this extraordinary condition, to which he invited the attention of the House—that the tenant, in order to get the reduction, must give up his rights under the Agricultural Holdings Act. Bearing in mind that these rights were of great value, it was undoubtedly a strange position for a landlord to take up, that when he found his tenants in great distress, and in great difficulty in scraping up the rent, he should say, in order to make a miserable reduction of a per cent—"You must give up your rights under the Agricultural Holdings Act." He was told that that had taken place on two estates, one in Morayshire and one in Nairnshire, and he had been informed by Members of that House and persons from other parts of Scotland that it was a common condition made by the landlords in giving reductions of rent. All he could say 1140 was that he did not think that words could be found strong enough to condemn the conduct of landlords who insisted on a condition of that kind, and he believed that it was altogether illegal. The object of the Legislature in passing the Agricultural Holdings Act was to give the tenants the benefit of that Act, and the 36th clause prohibited any contract the effect of which would be to deprive the tenant of the advantages he obtained under that Act. He was therefore glad to think that these conditions would not hold water in a Court of Law. He now came to another class which was lower than this—namely, the landlords who had made no reduction at all. He thought the figures he had already given would astonish English owners; but he might tell the House that on a large estate in Morayshire, of more than 40,000 acres, not one shilling reduction of rent had been made after the publication of this Report. He believed that had occurred on the estates of Sir William Gordon Cumming and Mr. Frazer Tytler, and other holdings. On all the estates where only small reductions had been made, and where none had been made at all, he knew, from personal communication with some tenants, that they had been brought to the very brink of ruin. That must inevitably be so. It was the condition of affairs even where reductions of 10 to 15 per cent had been made. Every hon. Member acquainted with the cultivation, of the land in these times of agricultural depression must know that it was perfectly idle to give a reduction of 10 and 15 per cent. Therefore, a very large class of tenants must be suffering enormously, especially those to whom no concessions had been made by the landlords. If he succeeded in establishing these facts, surely the House would have before them a problem which well deserved their attention, because if agricultural depression continued, and no relief was given, the farmers must inevitably be driven into bankruptcy. Hon. Members had discussed the question whether this was a temporary matter. Unfortunately, agricultural depression had now been going on for a long series of years, and there were causes at work which seemed to baffle altogether the ingenuity of the Government to ascertain—causes which still kept the agricultural industry in its present state, and prices, instead of show- 1141 ing any prospect of increase, he was sorry to say, had a tendency in a downward direction. This state of things had now been going on for a great number of years, and was likely to continue. Then, what was to be the condition of the tenants? Were they to be left to the tender mercy of the landlords, many of whom were exacting from them, under the terms of their leases, a rent which never ought to be paid? That was the question to which he invited the attention of the House of Commons. It was a question of great importance, because it involved the existence of men who were deserving of every consideration. He thought the House would have no difficulty in forming an opinion that some relief should be given to them. No doubt he would be asked—"What do you propose to do?" That was a question he was bound to answer, and it would be seen that, in the Amendment, he referred to the creation of a tribunal for the purpose of fixing the rent in case of a dispute between a landlord and tenant. The Report to which he had referred dealt with the question of what was to be done, and it referred to the breaking of leases. The breaking of leases had been considered by many of the agricultural associations, and had met with considerable favour; but he could not help feeling that it was a difficult question to deal with. It might be a solution, but yet it seemed to him to be a rather strong and sharp measure, and if he could see his way to give some relief to the tenant without going to that extent he would prefer to do so. Another suggestion was that there should be a sliding scale of rents. There was a great deal to be said for that, because it had the advantage that in good times the rent would be raised in favour of the landlords; whereas, in bad times, it would be reduced according to the decreased price of produce. The practice of fixing rents by a sliding scale had certainly this advantage, and it had been adopted in some parts of Scotland. Still, it was a question of great difficulty, and would have to be carefully examined before it was adopted. Another course, which was the one he suggested in his Amendment, was that some tribunal should be created, on the lines of the Crofters' Commission. They had in Scotland already a tribunal which had done admirable work. Her Majesty's Govern- 1142 ment admitted that the Crofters' Commission had done good service to the small tenants of Scotland; and, if so, why should not the principle of the Crofters' Act be extended first of all to small tenants? At present the Crofters' Act dealt only with small tenants up to £30 a-year. He wanted to know why the principle of that Act should not be extended to all the small tenants of Scotland? Why should it be limited to the small tenants in the crofter counties? It was difficult to see why it should not be extended to tenants who paid a higher rent. In Scotland there were 55,000 tenants who held under 50 acres. Now, he could not conceive that there should be any difficulty in extending the principle of the Crofters' Act to all these small holdings. The holdings between 50 and 100 acres amounted to 10,000, and there were 15,000 tenants who held over 100 acres. In the counties where the Crofters' Act had been applied it had had a most beneficial effect, and the extension of the Act would have a similar beneficial effect. He would give to the House an example of its operation. The House would probably be aware that the Crofters' Act applied to Inverness, but did not extend to Morayshire. It so happened that the Countess of Seafield had large estates both in Morayshire and Inverness. She had made in Morayshire a reduction of 10 to 15 per cent. But the other day it was made known that the Crofters' Commission were about to visit Inverness, and a number of the tenants gave notice to Lady Seafield that they intended to apply to have their rents fixed. The factor of Lady Seafield went to them and said—"I will give you a reduction of 15 per cent;" but they replied—"No; they were looking for a reduction of 30 per cent." After a little bargaining, rather than go before the Crofters' Commission, the factor agreed to give every tenant a reduction of 30 per cent. That illustrated the admirable effect of legislation of that kind. But it also illustrated the great hardship inflicted upon Lady Seafield'a tenants in other parts of the country who did not possess the means of bringing down the unfair rents they were now paying to a proper level. He therefore maintained that what he suggested in regard to the extension of the application of that Act was only fair and rea- 1143 sonable. The Act itself had worked well already, and would, if adopted, prevent great abuses in the country. So far as the large tenants were concerned, he did not imagine that there would be any great difficulty. He had referred to the various suggestions which had been made for dealing with the question—namely, the breaking of the leases, as some of the agricultural associations suggested, creating a tribunal to fix fair rents, and having a sliding scale of rent. He wished to point out that after voting for his Amendment the House would not be pledged to any particular form of relief. All the Amendment declared was that the circumstances were such that in the present condition of affairs some attempt ought to be made, either by creating a Board of Valuers or otherwise, for the purpose of giving relief to the tenants. He could not help saying that, unless something of that kind were done, he foresaw a terrible time in the future for the tenants who had nothing before them but absolute and total ruin. He did not wish to use hard words with regard to the landlords. There were a great many good landlords; but there were, unfortunately, some landlords who would get the uttermost they could out of their tenants. For them he had no sympathy whatever, and he was sure that no hon. Member in that House would sympathize with them. They ought to be dealt with for the purpose of doing justice to the tenants. There was another class—and he was afraid it was a large class—who said that they could not make reductions from very peculiar circumstances. When good, times existed, they expected those good times to go on; and, thinking that the existing rents would always be paid, enormous charges had been put upon their estates in making provisions for younger children and jointures for widows. In the case of an estate in Morayshire, he was told that the estate was so encumbered by the various charges which had been placed upon it, that very little was left for the landlord to live upon. Of course that state of things was very serious, and he could not help thinking that it was a matter which ought to engage the attention of Her Majesty's Government. No doubt it was a difficult problem to deal with. He fully admitted that it was a matter 1144 of great difficulty; but he had always understood that statesmen were brought into the world for the purpose of dealing with these questions of difficulty. It was not necessary to discuss the question of the reduction of the interest on mortgages, seeing that it was discussed last year in the debate on the Irish Land Bill. There was much to be said in favour of reducing the interest on mortgages and of reducing the interest on the permanent charges on land. His proposition, however, did not involve that difficult problem. His case was that the House ought not to allow a largo class of tenants to be ruined, simply because interest had to be paid on certain encumbrances. It was much more important to prevent the tenants from being ruined, and the whole of their capital being taken away without being guided by the interests of other persons in reference to mortgages. He trusted that Her Majesty's Government would look upon the question fairly, and regard it as one of great importance to Scotland. He did not bring it before the House in any Party spirit. He brought it before the House for the purpose, if possible, of benefiting and averting from ruin a large class of deserving persons who were entitled to the interference of the House of Commons in their behalf. He, therefore, hoped to hear from Her Majesty's Government that they were prepared to accept his proposal. It was not in its nature a revolutionary proposal. It simply suggested that in these depressed times, when the landlords, either from necessity or other causes, did not fairly meet the pressing claims of the agriculturists, the State should interfere. If ever there was a case for the interference of the Government, or for some attempt to deal with the question deserving the consideration of every statesman and politician, this was the question. The House would probably be surprised that Her Majesty's Government had not thought it right to suggest some remedy for the dreadful depression that existed in agriculture. At any rate, he hoped that he had not presumed too much upon the province of a private Member in bringing the attention of the House to this very important matter, and in conclusion he begged to move the Amendment which stood on the Paper in his name.
DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeen, W.)
seconded the Amendment. He said that the Government had deliberately shirked the agricultural question in Her Majesty's most gracious Speech from the Throne, and as they were contemplating no action with regard to that industry, he thought it was the duty of the House of Commons to take advantage of every opportunity to press on the Government and the House the interests of that great portion of the community which was now suffering from so much depression. If any justification was wanted for the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Anderson) it was to be found in the vague promises of the Government. It was absolutely necessary that some means should be discovered to enable the tenants more effectually to meet the difficulties under which they laboured. His hon. and learned Friend had not come before the House with a vague and indefinite statement, but he had brought forward a plan by which some, at all events, of the existing evils might be remedied. There could be no doubt that the present state of agriculture was very grave and serious, even more so in Scotland than in England. In England the agriculturists were able to relieve themselves of their difficulties by leaving their farms; but the Scotch farmer was in the position of being tied up for 14 or 15 years, and compelled to pay rents which the present prices and condition of agriculture would soon render it absolutely impossible to pay. The farmers in the North were quiet men and did not ventilate their grievances very loudly. The question did not reach that acute stage which it was necessary for most questions to reach before legislation could be hoped for. But the tenant farmers were getting worn out with their trials and privations. They were still, however, looking to the Government; they had not yet given up their faith in Governments, and they were in hopes that some pressure would be brought to bear on the Government to do something for them. In all parts of Scotland this question had been discussed. The Scotch people took great interest in the Irish Question, but they naturally took more interest in their own affairs. Wherever he went he found that the one question which came to the front was the condition of agriculture 1146 and the best means of improving it. Since the report of the Morayshire Farmers' Club was put forward, all those discussions had been brought to a focus, and the recommendations of that club had been widely adopted. A mistaken notion had got about that the Morayshire Club had recommended a hard and fast reduction of rent. That was not so. They all knew very well that the farmers could not continue to pay their present rents, and, unfortunately, many of the landlords were in such a position that they could not give them the reduction they required. He was himself a landlord, and he thought that landlords, as a rule, admitted their obligations to their tenants somewhat more liberally than his hon. and learned Friend had admitted, but in many cases they had not been able to do as much as they would like. In the first place, they did not wish to lose their tenants, and in the second, they knew perfectly well that if the tenant could not afford to till the soil properly the land must go out of cultivation. What was to be done under such circumstances? Were they to keep the unfortunate tenants under contracts which they could not pay, or squeeze them entirely out of existence? What was required was some speedy and immediate relief. His hon. and learned Friend suggested and the Morayshire Farmers' Club had recommended a plan which he had always been in favour of—namely, that some tribunal should be established in the form of a Land Court which would supersede that haphazard kind of valuation which had rarely given satisfaction and had led to endless disputes. Under such a Court the tenants would have the advantage of careful valuation and proper consideration, and he knew that in the constituency he represented many of his constituents were looking forward to the adoption of this plan with hope in the future. No doubt there were many arguments that might be urged against the adoption of a plan of this kind, such as the rate of interest the landlords had to pay on their in cumbrances, interference with contracts, and the responsibilities which would be involved in a new valuation. But this was a period of great emergency. They saw an important national industry being crushed and ruined, and they could afford to throw over all 1147 questions of political economy in order that they might come more directly to the root of the evil. They did not, in Scotland, as in England, see the land going out of cultivation day by day, because the dogged perseverance and. industry of the farmers would make them carry on their business to the very last. They did not want to be beaten by adversity if they could help it, and they meant loyally to meet their obligations if they could. But the present state of things could not go on for ever, and must ruin them at last, if something could not be done. He had therefore great pleasure in seconding the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend, and in urging upon the Government to consider carefully and patiently the proposals which were submitted to them. He had only one word to say in conclusion. His hon. and learned Friend had brought in, perhaps not quite regularly, the question of the Crofters' Act. In his own part of the country, upon his own property, he had a large number of tenants living under the same conditions as the crofters. He thought that they had a full right to equal protection, and therefore he should not cease to urge upon the House the desirability of extending the benefits of the Crofters' Act to all the tenants in Scotland.
At the end of the Question, to add the words,—"Humbly to represent to Her Majesty that, owing to the great fall in the value of agricultural produce, the payment of rents in Scotland fixed before such fall has in many cases become impossible, and that, by reason of many landlords not having made any reduction of rents or having made reductions wholly inadequate, great loss, in some cases amounting to ruin, is being incurred by occupiers of land, and to pray that, by the creation of some competent tribunal or otherwise, stops may be taken to relieve the occupiers of agricultural land from the serious consequences above mentioned."—(Mr. Anderson),
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
said, he was not sorry that this question had been brought forward, as it enabled the House to see both sides of the question. He regretted, as much as anyone, the unfortunate position of many of the tenants of Scotland, who were bound by a hard-and-fast line by leases entered into 10 or 12 years ago, when times were prosperous, and who now, when times of adversity had 1148 arrived, had found themselves unable to meet their obligations. Prices had fallen in some cases from 20 to as much as 50 per cent since the leases had been entered into. But he was bound to give all praise to the tenants of Scotland as a whole that, notwithstanding the difficulties of the situation, they had made it a point of honour to meet their obligations as far as they possibly could. They must not forget, however, that the long leases were entered into it mainly with the view of benefiting the tenant farmer, because, while the 19 years' leases were binding on the landlords, they were not so binding on the tenants, landlords frequently relieving tenants of their leases at their request, and re-letting the farms at lower rentals. The statistics which had been presented to the House were open to criticism as coming wholly from the side of the tenants. He felt bound to dissent from the statement of the hon. Member that landlords had not as a rule given any considerable reductions of rent. Very considerable reductions had been made, and it was not fair to say that the landlords of Scotland had dealt in an unfair and tyrannical manner with their tenants. On the contrary, he believed, where landlords were in a position to make reductions, they had, as a rule, generally done so, but in some of the cruel and hard cases reductions had not been made through the absolute inability of the lordlord to do so. That was why reductions had not been universal. He questioned if the great majority of tenant farmers in Scotland would like their leases entirely swept away; as with improving trade there was still hope that better times were in store for the agricultural industry. He did not believe that the leaseholders desired a tribunal to settle rents, as it would interfere with the independence which they so much prized, and although he had talked to many Scottish farmers on this subject, he had found few who would like to do away with their leases altogether. Long leases had many advantages, although in some cases undoubtedly they had done harm, such as where the landlord had been so foolish as to pin down his tenant to the strict letter of his contract. That policy might be successful for a time, but in the end it was bound to result in disaster; and he thought few attempted to pursue it. No doubt, if the bad landlords refused 1149 to listen to reason, such a debate as that now in progress would show the landlords of that stamp that unless they adopted a more humane treatment of their tenants the Legislature would be compelled to step in and use stringent means. But, on the other hand, to act upon the recommendations of the Morayshire Farmers' Club by adopting the Amendment would be doing a vast amount of harm to the majority of the tenants for the sake of the benefit of a few. Where the landlord lived upon his property, the tenants would come to him and state their difficulties; and if he were a man of honourable feelings, he would meet their difficulties to the best of his power. The hon. Member the Mover of the Amendment did not say one word as to the amount which had been remitted by landlords in the shape of arrears of rent during the last few years. It was impossible to get any tabulated statement; but he could say from personal knowledge that thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of pounds of arrears had been remitted within the last few years. The hon. Gentleman said the Government had done nothing to recognize the difficulty of the agricultural tenants; but surely he could not have heard the speech of the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord John Manners) when he made that statement. There was the Railway Rates Bill, which was to be introduced in an amended form from the Bill of last year. Then, again, the noble Lord spoke of local taxation being removed from the shoulders of those who bore it so heavily—namely, the agricultural tenants, and put it upon others to bear a share. It could not, therefore be said that the Government had turned a deaf ear to the many entreaties addressed to them. This was not a Party question. They were all anxious to do what they could for the tenantry and landlords of England and Scotland; but while sympathizing most deeply with the tenants of Scotland in their present distress, he would tell the House that in many cases the landlords themselves were in equal difficulties, and did not know how to make ends meet.
§ MR. WALLACE (Edinburgh, E.)
said, he did not think it incumbent upon him to take any pains in answering the propositions which had been advanced by 1150 the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Mark Stewart), because it seemed to him that the strain of the hon. Member's remarks was rather in favour of the Amendment. He (Mr. Wallace), however, was afraid that the hon. Member's vote would be cast on the other side; and though he admired the impartiality which gave arguments to one side and votes to the other, that was not a division of benefits which was likely to be useful to the Opposition in the present instance. He thought his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Anderson) was justified in every way in bringing forward this Amendment. It seemed to him that the way in which the Government and the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate, as representing here the Secretary for Scotland, were treating the Scotch Business, was extremely disappointing, and would prove, he was afraid, very irritating to Scotland. The right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to think that the Scotch people were thinking about nothing else than University reform, Borough Police laws, and Private Bills. Now he ventured to say that nine out of ten of the population of Scotland were not thinking of these matters at all. There was no grumbling about Universities in Scotland on the part of the people. He did not know what some people who had academic interests might be desiring, but he was aware that the people of Scotland were not considering that one of their grievances, and he was not aware that in Scotland the people were complaining so much of the police as they did in some parts of England; and with respect to Private Bills, no doubt there was some reason in that matter in one way, but he thought it was chiefly in the Parliament House in Edinburgh that interest was taken in the improvement of legislation as to Private Bills. He did not want to make objection to that. There was a proverb which held that the entrails of the local fish should be given, to the local seamew, and that was a proverb which he thought should apply to the Parliament House at Edinburgh as well as to other local institutions. He had no doubt that in the matter under discussion the Lord Advocate would be as successful in voting down Scotch Members as he was last night, when he brought in the usual smoking-room brigade to vote down 1151 Scotch public opinion. They (the Opposition) had 34 Scotch votes to eight last night, and he dared say that to-day the Division would be even more overwhelming against the Scotch Members than yesterday; but he ventured to think that that vote would be taken note of by the people of Scotland, and that the Lord Advocate would be questioned in regard to it when opportunity was given for interrogation. They had heard in these debates recently, attempts made by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to draw from the case of Scotland illustrations and arguments with respect to the Irish difficulty. It was said that Scotland was contented with the Union, because Scotch opinion was always deferred to on Scotch matters. But that was not the case; the fact was precisely the opposite. Scotch opinion in any matter which was peculiarly Scotch was voted down in this House by overwhelming numbers of English Tories. These remarks were of a general and discursive character, and yet they would not, he thought, be without their practical effect in Scotland with respect to the particular question before the House. From all the information which had come to him, he believed that his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Anderson) was perfectly well-founded in the complaint that he had made and in the picture that he had drawn of the sad state of the agricultural tenants in Scotland. He (Mr. Wallace) did not represent an agricultural constituency; but he had had brought very closely home to his attention, by deputations from agricultural constituencies, the state of things in different parts of the country, and his conviction was that the sufferings of the Scotch tenantry were not less in proportion than the sufferings of the agricultural tenants in Ireland. There might not be the same case of absolute cruelty, though he believed there wore cases to be found in Scotland which would parallel any case of cruelty in Ireland if they were equally advertised. But the condition of things—the grievous and serious condition of things—was such that, in his opinion, it ought to have been mentioned in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. At all events, if there was to be a selection made of the Scotch topics that were to be mentioned in the Speech, not those that were mentioned would have been selected, but such a one as 1152 formed the subject of the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend. He would take one instance of the manner in which Scotch tenants were treated. He believed that the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Mark Stewart) did not take greater courage than to say that there were many landlords who dealt liberally with their tenants under the present circumstances.
§ MR. MARK STEWART
I said the generality of landlords.
§ MR. WALLACE
said, he failed to hear the words "generality of landlords," but of course he accepted the account the hon. Gentleman now gave. He was, however, afraid from what he had heard that it was only a minority of landlords who dealt in this way with their tenants. From the county of East Lothian, which was peculiarly an agricultural district, he would give an instance—the case of an important farm at Cairndinnis, of which he thought the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) knew something. Well, on that farm—and it was simply a specimen and instance of a number of cases which had been brought to his attention, and which he believed had been correctly described to him—the circumstances were these. He believed the farm was now in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman himself. The tenant, having passed through many bad seasons, and having sacrificed a large amount of capital on improvements, and paying too high a rent, owing to the operation of the Law of Hypothec, which, though abolished some years ago, was still living in its disastrous and fatal effects on rents which had been artificially raised above what any rent ought to be, asked his landlord, the right hon. Gentleman, for a revaluation; but that revaluation was refused under circumstances which, in his (Mr. Wallace's) opinion, did not entitle the right hon. Gentleman to be classed as one of the landlords who were dealing in a liberal or even a just spirit with their tenantry. Well, notwithstanding the difficulties which were imposed upon this tenant, he persevered. He kept up the condition of his farm at a sacrifice of his own capital; but in the end he failed altogether to do so, and two years ago he threw up the farm after having held it for 14 years. He left it in a state of the highest cultivation, but compensation was not given to him for what he had 1153 done on the farm, and he was now in the position of a ruined man. The improvements he had made were valued by a person of experience in business of that kind, and it was understood that the farmer had improved the right hon. Gentleman's farm to the extent of £3,000 or £4,000. The right hon. Gentleman had now in his pocket that amount of this poor man's capital, and on the strength of that he came here and was able to fight the battles of Lord Clanricarde. Now, he (Mr. Wallace) put it to the House that that was a real and typical instance of what was going on in Scotland at the present moment. It was simply a balance of evidence, and his (Mr. Wallace's) testimony, so far as he had been able to gather information about the matter, was that the Scotch landlords generally did not treat their tenants generously, and did not even treat them justly. He could not believe that that fact was unknown to the Lord Advocate, and it seemed to him an extraordinary thing that, with a knowledge of the state of matters in Scotland as it actually was, he should not, if he had been going to call attention to Scotch Business at all, have given attention to state of Scotch agriculture and the treatment of Scotch tenants by Scotch landlords. It was hard to say why he had not given these subjects a prominent place in the Speech from the Throne. He (Mr. Wallace) did not think it necessary for him to do more than bear his testimony to what he believed to be the real state of matters in Scotland at the present time, and to add his voice against he would not say the scandalous neglect—though if that were a Parliamentary word he would use it—but against the neglect of the true and burning questions in Scotland at the present time on the part of Her Majesty's Government. Their promise of University reform, and to deal with the borough police and Private Bills, were simply three red herrings which were drawn across the path to give an appearance of paying attention to Scotch matters, and to enable them to give the real questions which were interesting to the people of Scotland the go-by, and to do nothing that was worthy of being done. He would assure the Government that they were the most active apostles of Home Rule in Scotland that he knew of. He 1154 (Mr. Wallace) was not a red-hot advocate of Scotch Home Rule in the meantime; but he could assure the Government that there were no people doing more to create a determination on the part of Scotland to have something in the nature of an independent local legislature and local government than Her Majesty's Government by the way they were treating, or rather maltreating, Scotch Business.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. H. A. MACDONALD) (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)
I think, after the speech we have just listened to from the hon. Member for the East Division of Edinburgh (Mr. Wallace), the County Members for Scotland have reason to congratulate themselves that the hon. Gentleman does not represent an agricultural constituency. When he mentioned that a very large number of Scottish Members last night appeared to take a particular view upon a question before the House, as compared with Scottish Members who took a different view, he very clearly pointed out by that reference how different the state of things is to-day. Because I could not help observing when he made that remark, and told us how many Scottish Members had voted against the Government last night—I could not help observing how extremely few Scottish Members on the opposite side of the House, who represent agricultural constituencies, have thought it worth their while to come here to-day and hear this most interesting and proper debate. It is a lamentable thing that the Government should be charged with a grievous breach of duty in not mentioning this matter in the Speech from the Throne, when this matter, having been before Scottish Members for at least 10 days, we have not had during this debate more than seven or Right hon. Members representing Scottish agricultural constituencies present to listen to the interesting and instructive speech of my hon. Friend, indicating, in point of fact, that they do not take any practical interest in this question at all. I pass from those matters with an expression of regret that when a matter of this kind is brought forward on any occasion whatever, it should appear that, while we had upwards of 40 Scottish Members voting on the question last night, we have not had in the 1155 course of this debate any expression of interest by the presence of Scottish Members on the Benches opposite.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)
here made an observation which was inaudible in the gallery.
§ MR. J. H. A. MACDONALD
I do not know why it is that hon. Members should so often interrupt me inarticulately when I begin to speak. But if anybody has anything to say I will sit down. I do not think it is fair treatment to give to the announcement in the Queen's Speech to say that no notice is taken of this matter. It is surely an important announcement in the Speech from the Throne, followed up as it is by the statement made by the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord John Manners), that the matter of agriculture is to be taken up by the establishment really of a Department for its administration. I think that is a broad and comprehensive statement. All subjects of immediate and local interest cannot be inserted in Her Majesty's Speech, and clearly nothing can be inserted on which definite action cannot immediately be taken. I venture to say, from what we have heard to-day, it is quite clear there is no evidence in this case for definite action, because many of the suggestions made have been alternative, and many of them doubtful. I want to know why it should be thought that Scotland should in this matter specially be referred to in the Queen's Speech more than England? Is not the state of things in England as deplorable, if not more deplorable, than in Scotland? It is a very remarkable fact, indeed, that notwithstanding all the difficulties which had existed, and still exist, there is scarcely such a thing as an empty farm in Scotland. In some cases, no doubt, the landlords have to take over their own farms, and are cultivating them themselves; but that will not place them, if the views of hon. Members are correct, in a much better position to help their remaining tenants, because their assertion is that they will have to carry on that work at a loss. But, in point of fact, throughout the length and breadth of Scotland, as a whole, the tenants who have been in possession of the farms hitherto are in possession of them still; and the tendency has not been, where leases have fallen in, to decline to take leases in 1156 future. The objection by the hon. Member who moved the Amendment is to the leases. Every Member of the House who is a Scotchman, and has lived long enough to know the history of that matter, knows that the establishment of the system of long leases was made in the interest of the tenant, at the desire of the tenant, and for the benefit of the tenant. But will any agricultural constituency Member get up and deny that the long-lease system was looked upon as being of great value to the tenant—as giving him the opportunity of making his own improvements, and reaping the fruits of them before the expiry of the lease? Another thing occurred in the interest of the tenant at that time, though now, unfortunately, it turns out to be the opposite. Within living memory—and a much shorter time than that—most leases were partly on a money rent and partly on a grain rent; and that was put an end to solely in the interest of the tenant. Because the grain rent, which rose and fell with the price of grain, necessarily had this result—that if the grain became dear at any time the landlord reaped the benefit; and accordingly, at the time of the Crimean War, and when many tenants had entered on 19 years' leases at very low rents, in consequence, on the depression following the repeal of the Corn Laws, these grain rents were abandoned, money rents were substituted, and enormous fortunes wore made at that time by farmers, in consequence of their having 19 years' leases and receiving enormous prices for their crops. Many of the men who at that time made very large fortunes—indeed, are still, or their sons are—sitting in the farms they sat in then. Does anyone who knows the state of Scotland not know that a great expenditure had been made by the landlords in improving the social condition of the farmers—by improving their dwellings and other buildings? And will anyone deny that the scale on which the farmer lives now in Scotland is vastly better than it was 20 or 30 years ago? When the pinch comes we must all suffer. Landlords must in many cases reduce their establishments, let their houses, and farmers must suffer also—they cannot live on the scale on which they have been living in the past 40 or 50 years. And in many cases it goes further—it amounts practi- 1157 cally to ruin both to the landlord and the tenant. But is that a reason for going in at once for breaking up contracts between people in that position? Is that a reason for treating them as you treat people who cannot protect themselves? It would be a most disastrous thing for the tenants, on the assumption that we are ever to have good times again, to place them in the position which hon. Members contemplated during the last few weeks or months. We have had some evidences and some hopes of improved trade throughout the country. That improved trade will at once affect agriculture in various ways, but most distinctly in one way. One of the most crushing influences on the agricultural industry during the last few years has been that in consequence of the decrease of trade, and the vast amount of unemployed shipping, grain and flour have been brought to this country in vast quantities, practically without paying any freight at all, and, therefore, brought into the market at prices perfectly inconsistent with the ordinary rates which obtain when good trade prevails. The moment trade revives and shipping once more becomes an industry in which remunerative freights can be obtained, the bringing home of grain practically without freight at all will cease, and agriculture will be affected all round by the price of grain being raised. And the result, we all hope, will be that a very great increase and improvement will take place in the return which is to be made from the occupation of land. My hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire (Dr. Farquharson) boldly stated that in this matter, as in others, you should throw over political economy. I do not suppose he suggests that political economy is to be thrown over in the same way as you throw over a tree by cutting it down at the roots. I accept his statement as meaning that, in this present emergency, you must take some special steps for the purpose of dealing with the special distress. Very good. I ask, why is it to fall solely on the landlords? If it is a special distress, it ought to be met by national intervention, and not by coming down on a particular class. Why is political economy to be thrown down as against the landlords, and not anybody else? If you are to go on the rule 1158 that, whenever any difficulty occurs to a particular class, the rest of the community are to throw over political economy as regards the class, while maintaining it as regards themselves, you are entering on a system of downright injustice, which will result in no good to the community. You cannot throw over political economy without doing two things—without making difficulties in the future, and without, to a certain extent, doing practical injustice. These laws are too strong, and they will come back on you. The tenants of Scotland are people who, in ordinary circumstances, are perfectly capable of making their own bargains, and fighting their own battles; and I do not believe the majority of the farmers of Scotland would be content to be treated as children who cannot manage their own affairs, or would consent to the degradation of not fulfilling their bargains, so far as they can, and endeavouring to make the best arrangement they can with others, in whom, as a class, I venture to say they have perfect confidence. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken thinks proper to bring up, as an instance of the kind of case which he alleges to be occurring very frequently, a case in which he makes a distinct charge of the most disgraceful character against my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour). I do think—and I appeal to the House whether I am not right in thinking—that if a personal attack based upon particular facts is to be made against the character of a Member of this House, and a Member of the Government, it ought not to be made without notice given to that right hon. Gentleman, that he might be in his place to meet it. But I venture to say that if the hon. Member states that as being a case in the least resembling any common case in Scotland—assuming his facts to be true—he makes a statement in which he will not get the farmers of our country to support him. And I say again the County Members have reason to congratulate themselves that the hon. Member is not the Representative of a county constituency when he comes forward and makes that statement against the landlords of Scotland. This debate it was expected would be conducted within reasonable limits, and I trust it has been so. I sincerely hope that some means will be 1159 found by the establishment of this new Department to assist and to aid the agriculturists both in England and in Scotland. But I ask the House to reject this Amendment, which proposes to upset a relation between landlords and tenants in Scotland, or landlords having large properties, and the tenants having large farms, without any previous inquiry—without any previous action on the part of Parliament or any Government which has held Office. It is an Amendment which has been sprung upon us as an entirely new thing; and I ask the House to reject it as not being a suitable Amendment to be added to the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne.
§ MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
said, he regretted that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate was not in his place, because he (Mr. Esslemont) intended at the outset to show that the encouragement that he gave to the agriculturists both in England and Scotland in regard to the revival of the shipping trade was entirely misplaced and misleading. He (Mr. Esslemont) had, since the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke, during Mr. Speaker's short absence from the Chair, looked up the statistics with regard to the importations of corn to this country during the past few years, and it would be found that they had been gradually decreasing in the years 1882–3–4–5–6 and 7, so that the question of importing larger quantities of wheat at low prices in no way affected the question under discussion. But he would point out, further, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was entirely mistaken in thinking that the cost of importation had been very largely affected in the manner in which he described. The great advance which had been made in the building of steamers and the conservation of fuel by improved triple condensing steam boilers and engines had brought the transit of foreign exports to a minimum which he hoped and believed would not greatly exceed the present cost. Therefore they had the fact before them that the whole produce of the world was brought to this country, and they could not look for a revival in the prices of agriculture. They never could be appreciably affected by the cost of the transit of foreign produce. This 1160 was an important fact and factor in the discussion of this subject, and it was because these important facts and factors were brought to bear upon the agriculture of the country that the special interposition of Parliament was required to relieve the agriculturists in Scotland from the bondage under which they were held under 19year leases. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate, or some other speaker on the opposite side of the House, had stated that enormous reductions had been made in rents—that enormous amounts of arrears of rent had been allowed to tenants and written off their present contracts. Well, speaking for the North of Scotland, this was not the fact. In the Northern Counties a concession of arrears was most exceptional, and he was not aware of any estate, except where bankruptcy bad come to the tenant, where any considerable sum had been given off in this respect. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that there should be no interference with economic law, and he criticized the statement of the hon. Member for West Aberdeen-shire (Dr. Farquharson) by ridiculing the idea that they could in any way uproot that law, and by saying that if they attempted to do so or to interfere with it, it would re-act on themselves, and give them the punishment they deserved for such interference. But let him (Mr. Esslemont) call the attention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to the fact that the Legislature had already interfered with economic law. Our Poor Law was a direct interference with economic law. Our Bankruptcy Courts were also an interference with economic law. The establishment of a tribunal of the description implied in the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Elgin and Nairn (Mr. Anderson) would only entail the suspension of our economic laws as they had been suspended on behalf of the starving poor throughout the country, and as they had been interfered with in order that justice might be done to the creditors of an insolvent. The case of the Scotch tenant was this—and nothing could be more on all-fours with it than the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Aberdeenshire—that he was bound under a lease granted prior to 1881, where the landlord had, excep- 1161 tionally, the now illegal power of following the produce of the land, though it might have been sold, to the extent of two years' rent, and recovering that rent to the disadvantage of all other creditors of the farmer. The question before the House, then, was, was it right that the landlord should receive to the extent of two years' rent in preference, and share with the other creditors in the insolvent's estate for the whole of his claim for a rent which was not in the land, and could not be taken out of it by any application either of capital, industry, or perseverance, which the tenant could bring to bear on his farm? He (Mr. Esslemont) thought, therefore, he had shown that the suggestion of his hon. Friend was a fair suggestion, and he should be glad to hear whether or not there was any answer to the statement he had made? But the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcudbright (Mr. Mark Stewart) said the tenants of Scotland did not wish, and deprecated, the intervention of an independent Court to settle matters of rents between them and their landlords. He asked the hon. Member, or anyone who might answer for the Government, where was the evidence that the Scotch agriculturist so deprecated a Court of the kind suggested in the Amendment? For himself, he had the most direct evidence, both for tenants and for landlords, that cases of arbitration by the tenant appointing one agent and the landlord another were unsatisfactory. The fact was that they acted as special pleaders, the one for the landlord and the other for the tenant; and what was asked for on behalf of the agriculturists in Scotland was not what the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate assumed it to be, a tribunal entirely on the side of the tenant and to the disparagement of the landlord. What they asked was simply this—and he asked the attention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate to the proposition—they said a state of things had overtaken them in the North of Scotland which could never have been foreseen nor anticipated by either landlord or tenant. He had already shown that there were certain factors at work by which it had now become hopeless that prices would rise to any appreciable extent; that there was no one now who had studied the question who would say 1162 that there could be any expectation of such a rise of prices as would, meet the emergency within such a time as would prevent great ruin to a large number of agricultural tenants in Scotland. They asked now for an independent tribunal to come in, not to put an end to leases necessarily, but to say under the existing state of things what it was possible for the tenant to pay taking everything into consideration, and admitting, what the right hon. and learned Gentleman very fairly stated, that the tenant must share as far as he possibly could in the losses which were brought upon them by circumstances over which neither landlord or tenant had control. He should like to know what objection there could be to this proposal? They were told that the landlords had met the emergency in a generous way, and that they had given to the tenants what was right and equitable under the circumstances. Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman look at the figures for the county which he (Mr. Esslemont) represented? He would there find that the rent roll of Aberdeenshire stood higher than ever it did before. Where was the evidence, then, that this generous reduction had been made? Last year he applied to the Scotch Office and ventured to suggest that there should be an inquiry made into the subject. He took upon himself to say at that time—and he thought the arguments that were adduced by his hon. Friends in his support showed—that there was a case for inquiry. He was told, however, that there was no case for inquiry, and that the Government knew all about the matter. He moved in the House that a Return should be given as to the extent of the reductions that had been made and the concessions of rents throughout the counties in Scotland. The Government opposed that Return. They would not give any facilities for obtaining it. His opinion was that that Return was opposed very much in the interests of those who had said that these concessions had been made, because he had it on incontrovertible evidence that on many estates in the North of Scotland there had been no remission of rents whatever, and the rents were being paid out of the capital of the tenants. The tenants were under circumstances in which there was no outlet for them but the Bankruptcy Court, and leaving their 1163 improvements in the hands of the landlords, or paying out of capital. He thought he ought to make his acknowledgments to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith) for at least this concession—that this subject was one of great interest and importance; and he ought to acknowledge also the services of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Scotland for giving a relief to trustees, who formerly had no power to reduce rents, and making it legal for trustees to give concessions where they thought concessions were needed without personal responsibility. But he appealed to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate to take into consideration the two classes of landlords who had done nothing whatever, and who either would or could do nothing to meet the present emergency. These were the sordid and selfish class, who extorted from their tenants their pound of flesh, and stood by that economic law that suited them better than any other law at the present time, as it gave them their legal rights. But he asked for consideration for another class of landlords, and that was the class whose estates had been so diminished in value, and who had been so overtaken by circumstances of agricultural depression, that they could not raise the same amount of money on the credit of their estates that they were wont to do in better times. These landlords, many of them, told them frankly that they would not make any concessions, because they had nothing whatever to give. It was in such cases that an independent Court would be able to settle for the parties—who could not settle it for themselves—what was due in the shape of rent, and under what circumstances the present holders of leases were to be enabled to complete their engagements. He (Mr. Esslemont) should recognize the understanding which was come to in the House last night, that the debate should not be continued to undue length; but the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate, in discussing another Scotch question last night, had said it was desirable that the Scotch Members should use their influence with the people to prevent lawlessness, and to enforce the principles of law and order; and it had been repeatedly said in the House that en- 1164 couragement ought not to be given to people who took the law in their own hands. They had, in the North-East of Scotland, been overtaken by circumstances of very great gravity and anxiety. They had been law-abiding. They had made no raids; they had required no gun-boats; they had not blackened their faces; they had not done any of those things which were deprecated by the right hon. and learned Gentleman; but they came here in a Constitutional way to lay their complaints before the House, and he asked what encouragement they had got? They could not get a Commission of Inquiry; they could not get the concession of an independent Court to look into their circumstances. What had the Government to fear in the appointment of a Court? If the tenants had received concessions, and were under such circumstances that they required no abatement or intervention of Parliament, that independent Court would say so; but if it were, as he declared it was, that independent Court would say that this industrious and well-conducted and law-abiding people required the intervention of the House on their behalf. In the one case the Court would do no harm, and in the other it would do much good. He trusted his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Anderson), notwithstanding the criticism that there had been, a poor representation of the counties of Scotland, would bring this matter to a Division, so that the constituencies in Scotland would see what was the opinion of their Representatives in their present difficulty, and make them answer for their representation in the House. He thanked the House for the courtesy with which it had listened to him, and apologized for having interposed at such length.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)
said that, although experience had taught him to expect little at the hands of the Government on such questions, the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate's speech was even more disappointing than he anticipated, because the right hon. and learned Gentleman was evidently not the least aware of the gravity of the situation of agriculture in Scotland. It was very lamentable to think that the fair and moderate demands of the tenants would receive no consideration on the ground of expediency, right, 1165 and justice. He should have thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have learned by this time not to delay such questions until it was necessary for the people to resort to unlawful means to direct attention to their grievances. The former law-abiding character of the people was the best proof that they had been forced to resort to desperate means to call attention to their grievances. While he admitted it was the duty of every hon. Member to exhort the people to observe the law, at the same time it was the duty of the Government to hold out some hope that the grievances complained of would be attended to. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had not given the farmers the slightest hope that their grievances would be attended to, and did not admit that the crofters had grievances. What apparently would satisfy the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be that the crofters in the West Highlands should die in their huts quietly from starvation—for that was the logic of his position. He (Mr. Barclay) did not believe in that theory. Would the Crofters' Act ever have been passed but for the disturbances in Skye and other places? What he deplored was that Parliament would not redress grievances until some extreme measure was taken by the people. The Scotch Members could not too often bring before the notice of the Government the danger which menaced the public peace, and which also seriously threatened the agriculture of Scotland, unless something were promptly done to avert it. They were referred to the laws of political economy. He respected the laws of political economy as much as anyone did; but the question was, what were those laws, and how were they to be applied? He always distrusted such an application of those laws as would condemn honest, industrious men, who were working, to starvation. Mr. John Stuart Mill held that contracts for the hiring of land were not subject to the laws of political economy, and that land being a monopoly, should be dealt with by special laws. The House in its legislation for Ireland had recognized that principle. The Scotch tenant farmers, he believed, were not anxious to have their leases broken; but that there should be a reduction of rent corresponding to the decrease in prices; 1166 and he was willing to make this offer on behalf of the tenant farmers, that there should be a revision of rents upon a corresponding basis every three or four years, so that the landlords might reap the benefit of any advance in prices. Unless some such relief were given, it would be impossible for many of the farmers to carry on operations much longer. Already much damage had been done to the land by the lack of manure, through the inability of the tenants to provide it; and if this process of deterioration continued, it would cause enormous loss. The great fall in prices which had taken place in recent years made it altogether impossible for the tenants to pay the rents based on the high prices current some years ago. It would be equally advantageous to landlords and tenants if the rents were made to fluctuate to a certain extent every three or four years according to the average price of produce during, say, the previous three years. That would not be a very revolutionary proposal, and it would be a wise measure for the landlords to adopt in their own behalf. He did not ask for a re-valuation of the land. That would be a matter of great difficulty indeed; but he advocated a proportional reduction in the valuation generally corresponding to the reduction in the value of produce which had taken place since the contract was made. The right hon. and learned Lord Advocate was in error in saying that the agriculturists of England wore in the same position as those of Scotland.
§ MR. J. H. A. MACDONALD
What I said was, that in Scotland the tenants themselves wished to have those 19 years' leases, which now did not suit them.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
said, that in England the tenants were only tied for a few years, while in Scotland the tenants were tied for 19 years. But when that arrangement was made it seemed to him that both the landlords and the tenants wanted the 19 years. The conditions were such that it was impossible to carry on much of the farming in Scotland unless the tenant had been secured by a 19 years' lease. That was one main reason why the House should now deal with the question of l9 years' leases in Scotland, without necessarily taking up the case of England at all. He thought Parliament 1167 could not too soon come forward and give the Scottish farmers some encouragement and hope that—through energy and perseverance—they might be able to meet the competition from abroad they now had to encounter.
§ SIR ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL Renfrew, W.)
said, he would remind the House that the reason the tenants in Scotland entered into and desired those long leases for 19 years was because prices at the moment were rising. The consequence was that the lease for such a period protected the farmer against any change which might be introduced or extortion which might be made. But now the case was different, and hence this demand for an alteration. He thought it might be possible to have some Court which might fix the rents, taking the prices current 15 years ago and the prices now current, and thus securing a sliding scale. No one wished the Scottish tenants to be under any disadvantage, and the landlords wished it least of all; because the more difficult it was for a tenant to work his land, the more surely would that land be depreciated. He could not—he was sorry to say—support the Amendment. Yet, at the same time, he would be glad to hear the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate say that, if there was a Department of Agriculture, with a Minister over it, they would be able to do something to help the tenants, for some change was needed which would relieve them without breaking the leases.
§ MR. ASHER (Elgin, &c.)
said, the Report of the Morayshire Farmers' Club had elicited from nearly all the agricultural bodies in Scotland the views they entertained with regard to the proposals embodied in that report. The result of that discussion demonstrated that the report expressed the agricultural opinion of Scotland in stating that the present rate of rent throughout the country could not possibly be maintained. He thought there was also a unanimity of opinion that in the case of those leaseholders who entered into their contracts some years ago, it was quite impossible that they could continue to fulfil their contracts to their natural termination unless large abatements of rent were made to them. But then the question arose, in what form was the concession to be obtained? That matter received the very careful consideration 1168 of the agricultural associations in Scotland, and it seemed to him necessary to take that opinion into view in considering this Amendment. The practical part of that Amendment was in the concluding words, where his hon. and learned Friend suggested that by the—Creation of some competent tribunal, or otherwise, steps might be taken to relieve the occupiers of land from the serious consequences above mentioned.Those words were applicable to present leaseholders; and he was bound to admit that it would be very difficult to put any interpretation upon these words which would be consistent with non-interference with existing leases by legislation. He apprehended, therefore, that the question raised was whether this House was prepared at the present stage, and by the adoption of those general words, to affirm the principle of interference by legislation with existing leases. There were several reasons which appeared to him to point against the House coming to a final determination upon that matter at present. And the first was the state of agricultural opinion in Scotland upon the point. He must say he thought the agriculturists of Scotland had shown very great moderation indeed in dealing with this question. They were admittedly suffering severely from a long period of agricultural depression, and in many cases were so situated that they could not possibly remain in possession of their farms at their present rents without abatement. It appeared to him to be authoritatively established that the agricultural opinion of Scotland was against the determination of leases at present existing by legislative interference. He proposed to establish that by reading a few words from the Morayshire Farmers' Club's Report. That body, who initiated this discussion, distinctly stated in their report that—In reference to the suggested termination of existing leases, your committee do not contemplate any legislative interference;and that proposal of the committee received the unanimous approval of the Club. Then, dealing with the reports they had received from other agricultural associations throughout Scotland, the Club thus classified the state of agricultural opinion. Nine associations objected to the determination of leases by Parliamentary interference; 1169 three approved of such Parliamentary action, and advocated the passing of a Land Purchase Act, and the establishment of Land Courts for regultaing rents; five proposed re-valuation by amicable arrangement; two proposed re-valuation by Sheriffs under Parliamentary authority; and one advocated Protection pure and simple. It appeared to him that the only conclusion one could draw from that was, that the prevailing feeling in Scotland on the part of farmers was that they did not desire that their leases should be broken by legislative interference. It would be an unusual step on the part of the House to affirm such a principle as that, in advance of the opinion of those who were expressly interested. Reference had been made to the Crofters' Act, as to some extent foreshadowing or applying this principle. It was quite true the Crofters' Act did apply certain principles which were new in the relation between landlord and tenant; but he apprehended there was this vital distinction between the class of cases to which it applied and the leases of Scotland generally, that in the case of the crofter there was undoubtedly that dual ownership which was recognized by the law in Ireland. There was the creation by the crofter of the greater part of the value of his croft by his own labour, which in equity at least made him joint owner with the landlord. To apply that principle to the leases of Scotland generally would undoubtedly be an extension of it; and the question at present was the propriety of applying that principle generally upon an Amendment expressed in such general terms, and not to any extent defining or showing the conditions under which it ought to be applied. He should not be disposed to commit himself to the view that under no circumstances would he be in favour of legislative interference with existing leases; but he certainly was in favour of allowing the agriculturists in Scotland to try and adjust their differences, as they seemed at present to wish, by means loss forcible than legislative interference. In coming to this conclusion, he supposed they must have anticipated that success would attend their efforts; and it appeared to him to be expedient that they should have at least the opportunity of trying the methods they themselves preferred. Something had been said as to leases having 1170 been established in Scotland largely at the request of the farmers. To a certain extent that was true; but the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate forgot the conditions under which agriculture then was, which obliged the farmer to have recourse to the method of 19 years' leases. At the time when these leases became common, the farmer in Scotland had no security whatever for the recovery of any improvements executed by him on his farm. He generally got his farm in a very low condition. He had to spend a great deal of money in bringing it into good condition, and if he had not a fixed tenure for a considerable number of years he would not have an opportunity of recovering that expenditure. The result was that 19 years' leases were adopted by farmers largely as a means of giving them a tenure of such duration as would enable them to recover the expenditure they had incurred in bringing their farms into proper condition. But now that the Compensation for Improvements' Act had been passed, and the principle had been recognized of the farmers being entitled to be compensated for money expended on their farms in so far as it increased the letting value, that, undoubtedly, was a very important—a very fortunate alteration—of the state of matters which induced the contracting of the 19 years' leases. He must say, if the farmers of Scotland failed to get by private arrangement those adjustments from their landlords which would enable them to carry out their leases, he thought they would have a great deal to say in support of the view that the alteration of the law with reference to compensation for improvements entitled them now to ask the Legislature to consider whether they might not be relieved of contracts which had been entered into in a state of the law which this House subsequently condemned. At present it appeared to him that the prevailing opinion in Scotland was in favour of the opportunity at least being given for allowing this matter to be adjusted by private arrangement; and under the circumstances, he should ask his hon. and learned Friend to consider whether he would not have fully discharged his duty to the important constituency he represented, and to the agriculture of Scotland generally, if he were to be satisfied with the discussion 1171 to which his Amendment had given rise, without pressing it to a division. [Mr. ANDERSON: No.] He (Mr. Asher) would be most unwilling to do anything which indicated any want of recognition on his part of the very serious state of matters connected with agriculture in Scotland. He should be sorry not to recognize the demand which he thought there was for a large and substantial reduction of the existing rents. But on the other hand, he felt that, in supporting the Amendment, he would be supporting the application of a principle for the relief of the tenants of Scotland which, so far as he could see, the tenants of Scotland had up to the present time said they would prefer not to be applied to their case. Under these circumstances, he would be glad if his hon. and learned Friend would not press his Amendment to a Division. But, if that were done, he should conceive it his duty not to take part in the Division.
§ GENERAL SIR GEORGE BALFOUR (Kincardine)
I invite the attention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate (Mr. J. H. A. Macdonald) to the opinion which he expressed about the long leases having been made for the special benefit of the Scotch farmers. Now, I am certain that the Lord Advocate must have overlooked the fact that his distinguished Predecessor, Lord Advocate Montgomery, passed the Act in 1780, which allowed holders of entailed estates to grant leases of 19 and 31 years, solely for the benefit of the estates. No doubt, these leases enabled the farmers who occupied the lands to make those agricultural improvements which the impoverished owners of entailed estates could not carry out. It has, therefore, been recognized that the Montgomery Act did more for the agriculture of Scotland than any other measure, and mainly for the benefit of the estates. The measure of the improvement may best be judged of by the enormous extent to which rents have risen in Scotland since the Montgomery Act was passed. These vast increases may be estimated by comparing the rents of agricultural land in Scotland immediately before the Crimean War with the rents as they stood in 1882. The difference is no less than £2,500,000—a rate of increase far exceeding the ratio of increase of the lands of England. This 1172 vast increase in Scotch lands may, however, be attributed, in part, to the action of the Law of Hypothec, which brought into competition, by the occupation of lands, a number of men as farmers who where not provided with the money means sufficient in extent to cultivate the farms with success. They, however, had sufficient influence to borrow money, or to get into debt; so that the landlords found on the farms sufficient means to pay the rent, which, under the Law of Hypothec, gave them priority of claim over all other claimants. I submit these facts to the Lord Advocate's attention, in the hope that relief will be given to the farmers who hold leases entered into before hypothec was abolished, and that measures will be adopted to fix the rents of the lands of Scotland so that the farmers may be able to earn a livelihood suitable for their position.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 77; Noes 190: Majority 113.—(Div. List, No. 8.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Ordered, That a Committee be appointed to draw up the Address to be presented to Her Majesty upon the said Resolution:—And a Committee was appointed of,—Mr. Wharton, Colonel Duncan, Mr. William Henry Smith, Mr. Secretary Matthews, Secretary Sir Henry Holland, Mr. Secretary Stanhope, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord John Manners, Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, Mr. Arthur Balfour, Mr. Jackson, and Mr. Akers-Douglas; That Three be the quorum:—To withdraw immediately.
§ Ordered, That Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech to both Houses of Parliament be referred to the Committee.