HC Deb 22 November 1888 vol 330 cc1932-42
THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)

asked leave to move the Motion for the appointment of a Committee which stood in his name. He was aware it was said that his Motion could not be assented to without discussion; but he wished to intimate to hon. Gentlemen who took an interest in this question that it was exceedingly desirable that the Committee should get to work, in order to ascertain the facts relating to crofter emigration. The Government were anxious that the House should be put in possession of all information with regard to what had been done; and it appeared to them that the best method of furnishing that information would be by means of a Committee, which would represent all views on this important question. He hoped, therefore, the House would allow this Committee to be nominated.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the various schemes which have been proposed to facilitate Emigration from the Crofter districts of Scotland to the British Colonies; to examine the results of any such scheme which has received practical trial in recent years; and to Report generally upon the means by, and the conditions under, which such Emigration can best be carried out, and the quarters to which it can most advantageously be directed."—(Mr. W. H. Smith.)

DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)

said, he did not rise to oppose the Motion, because he was quite aware of the truth of what the right hon. Gentleman said as to the importance of at once appointing the Committee if it was to do anything this Session. What he was anxious to do was to criticize the Remit or Reference. In his opinion, the Reference to the Committee was open to some very serious objections. The first portion of the Reference was that the Committee should Inquire into the various schemes which have been proposed to facilitate Emigration from the Crofter districts of Scotland to the British Colonies. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman proposed to remit to the Committee the question of the policy of crofter emigration. The Government had adopted that policy on their own responsibility; and, perhaps, it was as well they should continue to carry it out on their own responsibility. He thought that if the Committee were to inquire into the general question, it would certainly come to the conclusion that any scheme that was to be carried out by the Government must be carried out by Government money alone, and that it would never do to trust to private subscriptions—to make grants of public money dependent upon the money subscribed by the Government. The right hon. Gentleman must have seen that the operation of the Government scheme had been very seriously curtailed indeed, owing to the failure of the public to subscribe the £2,000 expected; as a matter of fact, he believed the public subscribed only £720. He objected to the following part of the Reference:— To examine the results of any such scheme which has received practical trial in recent years, for the simple reason that it was utterly impossible that the Committee could get information from Canada, in the period during which its Sittings could extend, which would enable them to form an opinion as to the results of recent schemes which would be of the slightest value to the House. There were certain facts in dispute with regard to the Government scheme; it was alleged, for instance, on the one hand, that the crofters were dissatisfied, and, on the other hand, that they were satisfied. That was a disputed fact. Could the Committee settle it without evidence? And the Committee could not get the evidence in the time allowed them. The same remark applied to all the previous schemes. Then there were facts that were admitted. He held that there was not the slightest necessity for a Committee to be appointed to bring out those facts. It was known that the present scheme was not carried out at the expense contemplated by the Government. It was shown by the Lord Advocate, when replying to a Question put to him that afternoon, that the £120 per family had not sufficed for the expenses of the scheme; that the Government had been obliged to supplement the allowance by an extra £700. It was known, too, that the crofters were not located on Government land, but were placed by mistake on the land of the Canada North-West Company, which was selling at some $6 or $8 an acre. That fact could be got out by the production of the correspondence, and without any Committee at all. What he contended was that the Committee, upon these disputed facts, could get no evidence which would entitle its recommendations to the smallest weight. It would get official evidence put before it, and that was all the evidence it could get. If it reported on that official evidence, it would report in an official sense; and if the Government wished to be guided simply by official evidence, there was no necessity for a Committee; the Government should take the official evidence, and act on its own responsi- bility. He objected to the Government shifting its responsibility for the emigration scheme to the shoulders of a Committee which could not get information which would entitle it to bear the responsibility of any recommendation. He would, therefore, suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should curtail the Reference to the Committee; that the Committee should be appointed to consider and report upon the various schemes that had been proposed to facilitate emigration. It was perfectly impossible that the Committee could examine into the results of the Government scheme, for example. They did not yet know the results of the Government scheme, and they would not know them until after the winter had been passed by the crofters who had been sent out. If the right hon. Gentleman would curtail the Reference as he had suggested, he thought he and his hon. Friends could consent to the appointment of the Committee.

MR. MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)

said, he hoped that the Government would adhere to the terms of their Motion, as he thought nothing would be more useful than the inquiry proposed, so far as the congested districts in many parts of Scotland were concerned. The proposal was not to appoint a Committee to inquire generally into the question of emigration, which would be far too wide a subject to deal with; but it was to consider what scheme of emigration had already been proposed, and to examine the results of schemes which had received practical trial. The public generally had no facilities for finding out what was the real state of matters abroad; and, therefore, if the Committee were appointed, he believed it would give the greatest possible satisfaction, not only to Scotland, but also to many parts of the United Kingdom.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

said, that the Government, instead of limiting, should extend the scope of the proposed inquiry, which, no doubt, would enable the Committee to perform very useful work. If the First Lord of the Treasury would agree to insert after the word "facilitate," in the second line of his Motion, the words "migration, or," and then go on to say, after the words "British Colonies," "and to report generally how such migration and emigration may best be carried out," very good and useful work might be done by the inquiry on the lines of the Royal Commission. With the limited Reference in the Motion, as it at present stood, however, the Government would not be able to get at the facts of the case; and the result might be that false views of this question would be increased on the part of the public.

MR. ANDERSON (Elgin and Nairn)

said, he also would call attention to the terms of the Reference as being far too limited, seeing that they included the words "from the crofter districts of Scotland to the British Colonies." The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury must know very well that what were technically understood as the crofters' districts of Scotland were those districts included in the Crofters' Act. He (Mr. Anderson) should oppose any Motion for a Committee which was confined to the crofter districts within that Act; because it was felt to be a great grievance that Aberdeenshire and Banffshire, and the counties he represented, which contained a large number of crofters situated exactly in similar circumstances to the crofters dealt with under the Act, were excluded from the benefits of that Act. The right hon. Gentleman would see why he (Mr. Anderson) objected to the appointment of a Committee whose inquiries were to be confined to the counties within the Crofters' Act. He had been endeavouring to get that Act extended to other counties which, though not technically called in the language of Parliament, "crofter counties," were counties containing many hundreds and thousands of crofters. He was sure the right hon. Gentleman would agree with him that it was only fair that the scope of the operations of the proposed Committee should be extended. He (Mr. Anderson) was in favour of an inquiry, but one which would range over all the crofters in Scotland. There were several hundreds, he believed thousands, of people in Aberdeenshire, Banffshire, Morayshire, and Nairnshire, all of whom were crofters; but, because they were not in the counties named in the Act, the Government got the idea that there were no crofters in those counties. The late Lord Advocate (Mr. Macdonald) was of that opinion; but he hoped the present Lord Advocate did not share that view.


said, he thought he could satisfy the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken with regard to the point he had raised. The proposal of the Government was not to appoint a Committee to inquire into the condition of the crofter districts of Scotland mentioned in the Crofters' Act, but to inquire into the various schemes which had been proposed to facilitate emigration from these districts. Although those schemes might be applicable to certain districts in Scotland mentioned in the Crofters' Act, they might also be applicable to other districts. What the Government had been anxious to submit to the House was that schemes should be referred to the Committee which had already been proposed, or received practical trial; and they were anxious that the Committee should consider the general principle upon which proposals proceeding from the Colonies should be accepted. This question of emigration was a very serious one, and they were constructing a Reference to the Committee in such a form as to lead them to hope that they would be able, as a result of the inquiry, to obtain some reliable opinion as to the various schemes of emigration which, from time to time, had been proposed by the various Colonies, and by Gentlemen in that House interested in emigration; and they had thought that it would be of interest to hon. Gentlemen from Scotland, and of advantage to the Government, if they could get the various points in connection with these schemes threshed out. They attached value to the words that the Committee should Report generally upon the means by and the conditions under which such Emigration can best be carried out; and the quarters to which it can most advantageously be directed. They could not agree to strike out that part of the Reference, because that was precisely the point upon which they would most desire to have the inquiry. If the hon. Gentleman opposite (Dr. Cameron) objected to making a special examination into the success of the Crofters' Act, which was upon its trial, that would be a matter for consideration and determination by the Committee. But the Government were bonâ fide in their desire to receive some guidance from the Report of the Select Committee as to the places in which they could most satisfactorily send emigrants, the conditions under which they should go, and the kind of arrangements which should be made for forwarding them. The Committee would also enlighten them as to whether or not Land Companies should be formed; as to what arrangements should be made with the Colonial Governments; and as to the broad principles of the arrangements which should be carried out. He hoped that after this explanation hon. Gentlemen opposite would agree to this general Reference, which had been drawn up in order to give the Committee the opportunity to examine, as well as time would allow, the various schemes for emigration which, from time to time, had been brought forward.

MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)

said, it would not be in the recollection of the present Lord Advocate, but no doubt inquiries at the Scotch Office would enable him to discover that in regard to the previous scheme of emigration, a very numerously signed Petition was sent from Fraserburgh, in Aberdeenshire, requesting that the inhabitants of that county might be made participators in any scheme of emigration which was adopted. He understood that the present scheme was not directed chiefly to crofters per se, but more to fishermen who were connected with the crofters' districts. If this Motion were passed in the words in which it had been framed by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, it would, undoubtedly, preclude the consideration of the claims of the fishermen of Fraserburgh, who had already received a communication from the Government saying that in any scheme of emigration which was brought forward their case should be considered. He would suggest that the House should allow the Motion to pass if the First Lord of the Treasury would strike out four words of it in line three, "the crofters' districts of." The Motion would then read, Committee to inquire into the various schemes which have been proposed to facilitate emigration from Scotland to the British Colonies, and so on. If those words were struck out he, for one, should be glad to allow the Motion to pass; and the inquiry would then take a scope which it was desirable it should take, and which the large district he represented was in favour of.

MR. J. W. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)

said, he wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, if he would extend the scope of the inquiry, so as to enable the Committee to report on the policy of emigration, and to state their view as to whether emigration could be expected to remove the evils that the crofters in the Western Islands complained of? This seemed to him to be a question of great importance for the House to determine; because if on further consideration and inquiry, it did not appear that emigration could possibly remedy the evils under which the crofter districts and the Western Islands of Scotland generally were labouring, it would be simply a loss of time on the part of the Committee to inquire as to what schemes of emigration should be adopted. He thought it worthy of the serious consideration of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether or not State emigration was a policy which that House ought seriously to adopt. Emigration might be a very desirable remedy if brought about by voluntary and individual effort; but he was afraid that further inquiry into this subject by persons practically acquainted with the situation in the West Highlands would show that emigration could not be expected to perceptibly reduce the existing evils; and that, therefore, any scheme of State emigration would only be putting off the day when Parliament must deal seriously and effectually with a state of matters which caused so much suffering and trouble. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would be good enough to say whether he was prepared to empower the Committee to report as to the policy of State emigration?


said, he should be glad to meet the views of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeenshire (Mr. Esslemont) by inserting after the word "crofter," in line three, the words "and other," which would make the proposal read— To inquire into the various schemes which have been proposed to facilitate Emigration from the Crofter and other districts of Scotland to the British Colonies. Those words would embrace any scheme which had been proposed for emigration from any district of Scotland which had been really seriously under consideration. He trusted the House would allow the Committee to be appointed. [Dr. CLARK: How about "migration?"] The Committee could not go into that subject, as it would be opening up a question which was a very large one, and there would be very little hope, indeed, of the Committee making any Report at all this Session. Surely the hon. Member would not desire to render the whole of the inquiry useless. The Reference would be quite wide enough with the addition of the words he now proposed to insert.

MR. RANKIN (Herefordshire, Leominster)

wished to appeal to the First Lord of the Treasury not to limit this inquiry to Scotland alone. There was great distress existing in many parts of England, and such an inquiry as that proposed would be very useful in pointing out methods of alleviating that distress.


said, the words proposed by the right hon. Gentleman would not be quite sufficient, because he proposed that the inquiry should extend to the schemes for emigration proposed in the crofter and other districts of Scotland, and, as a matter of fact, there had only been schemes in one or two counties. He (Mr. Anderson) desired to have a general inquiry as to the desirability of emigration for the whole crofter districts; and he desired to see a Report as to the means by, and the conditions under, which emigration could best be carried out, and the quarters to which it could be most advantageously directed.


said, the Government desired to meet the wishes of hon. Gentlemen opposite as much as they could. Their great aim was to obtain for the House some evidence in the course of the present Session, if possible, and certainly in the early part of next Session, with regard to the particular question now before the House; and if they were to widen the scheme so as to include emigration generally, and take in the question of migration, they would fail to get the evidence as soon as they earnestly desired to have it. He would ask hon. Members to recollect that it would be quite open, at some future time, for the House to appoint another Committee to deal with the wider questions that had been raised. He trusted the House would accept the Motion. The matter was of such importance that it was desirable the Committee should finish its labours during the Autumn Session.


contended that the Committee, under the proposed Reference, would only get misleading evidence.


said, the Committee would not accept misleading evidence, but would get the best evidence it could, and make the best Report possible.


I shall have to object to the Motion.

MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)

asked, whether the right hon. Gentleman would extend the inquiry, so as to include the question whether emigration itself was a desirable thing or not? As the language of the Reference stood, it would confine the Committee simply to the mode in which emigration was to be carried out; and, of course, there was a preliminary question as to whether or not emigration by the State as a policy should be adopted. The other part of the Motion was extremely wide, as it said that the various schemes that had been proposed to facilitate emigration from Scotland should be inquired into. One of these was the scheme of Mrs. Gordon Baillie; and he was afraid the Government would find great difficulty in tracking the details of that scheme. If the recommendation of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Esslemont) were adopted, it would be necessary to leave out the word "such," in line 4. He (Mr. Hunter) had another objection to the Motion, which was that the names of the Committee had not been mentioned.


said, it was not the rule to give the names of the Members of a Committee before a decision had been taken as to whether that Committee should be appointed.


Then, as I have no hope of seeing a satisfactory Committee appointed, I shall object to the discussion being continued and the Motion being adopted.


Does the hon. Member object to the Motion being agreed to?



Further Proceeding stood adjourned till To-morrow.

House adjourned at five minutes after One o'clock.