HC Deb 07 August 1890 vol 348 cc131-52

3. £87,423, to complete the sum for Law Charges and Courts of Law, Scotland.

(5.46.) MR. PHILIPPS (Lanark, Mid)

I desire to call the attention of the Committee to a circumstance in connection with the prohibition of a public meeting which was to have taken place at Wishaw Cross on the 2nd of June last. It was called by the Wishaw United Temperance Council to consider the licensing clauses of the Local Taxation Bill, and at 25 minutes past 2 on that day the following notice was served on the organizer of the meeting;—

"Chief Constable's Office,

Lanark, 2nd June, 1890,

2.25 p.m.


"It is my duty to inform you that the Constabulary have received instructions from the Magistrates of the Burgh of Wishaw that the open-air meeting advertised by placard to be held at the Cross, Wishaw, on this day, Monday, 2nd June, 1890, at or about 8 p.m., is prohibited, and must not be held either at the Cross or on or adjacent to the public streets or the burgh. Under the circumstances I shall be glad to receive your assurance that this order of the Magistrates will be strictly complied with, and I have desired the Constabulary Officer who will attend with this letter to ascertain if he can assist you or in any way facilitate whatever arrangements may be necessary to guard against public inconvenience.

"Believe me, Sir, your obedient servant,


"Com. R.N. and Chief Constable

"To the Rev. G. Whittet,

Belhaven Terrace,


In consequence of this notice the meeting was not held at the Cross, but was held in another place, a hall or schoolroom. Now, Sir, Wishaw Cross is not a large place, but meetings are regularly held there every week nearly or quite the whole year round. The Cross is formed by the intersection of two roads. A very small portion of the space has been shut off for building purposes, but even allowing for this, the space left is large enough for any public meeting likely to be held in Wishaw. The roads measure 54½ft., 35ft., 50ft., and 59ft. respectively at the Cross. This is not a very large area, but in a small town like Wishaw, where there is not a great deal of wheeled traffic, there is ample room for a meeting, especially when called for 8 o'clock in. the evening, at which time the business traffic is practically over for the day. I should state that this is the first public meeting which has ever been stopped in the Town of Wishaw. I may add that I put a question to the Lord Advocate on this subject some time ago, and, in reply, the Lord Advocate stated that— The Magistrates, who are the elected police Magistrates of the burgh, had no apprehension of disturbance, and that their interference was in no way actuated by the nature or objects of the meeting or the conflicting opinions of any section of the community. They acted solely because the place proposed was a part of the streets where, in their judgment, a large public meeting could not be held without the ordinary traffic of the streets being interfered with, and danger of accident arising. Well, in answer to this, I have to say that meetings have always been held at Wishaw Cross, without let or hindrance, and that no disturbance or obstruction has ever taken place, the only ground for magisterial interference being where the Magistrates might apprehend or anticipate disturbance or obstruction. Well, Sir, the Lord Advocate went on to say— The primary object of the intimation was to prevent a meeting being held at this particular place. The Magistrates considered that that was entirely within their discretion. It will be seen that the Lord Advocate takes very good care not to make this statement his own. He goes on to say— The place was so narrow that a public meeting held there would obstruct traffic and endanger the lieges. They seemed to have extended the notice to the whole of the streets of Wishaw.


Order, order! I do not see how this can be connected with the Vote before the Committee. Perhaps the hon. Member may be able to explain how he can connect it with the question under discussion?


My contention is this, that the action of the Magistrates was illegal, and that the Lord Advocate has practically justified that illegal action on the part of the Magistrates.


I think that this is quite irregular. The Lord Advocate simply intimated the opinion of the Magistrates. If the action of the Magistrates was illegal, there is a way to test that illegality. The Lord Advocate is not responsible for what they did, and cannot be questioned in this matter.


I suppose I should not be in order in pressing the Lord Advocate to give a distinct answer as to what power the Magistrates possessed, and whence they derive that power. But surely I am in order on a question involving the Lord Advocate's salary in discussing the action of the Magistrates with regard to a particular matter which is justified by the Lord Advocate?


You may examine the propriety or impropriety of the action of the Lord Advocate, and if you desire to get from the Lord Advocate an expression of his opinion, I think you may do so.


I desire to ask under what Statute the Magistrates of a police burgh have power to prevent a public meeting being held? As I understand it, the powers of the Magistrates are derived from the Police (Scotland) Act, 1862.


Order, order! The hon. Member cannot argue that question.


But surely I may ask whether there is anything in Section 248 of that Act, giving the Magistrates such a power, and, if so, what it is?


I stated that I understood the Magistrates to proceed on this ground, that they apprehended that a meeting on a subject of this kind was likely to draw a large crowd, and that such a meeting held in a narrow street would cause inconvenience and obstruction. I am not responsible for what the Magistrates have done. They are properly elected persons, and bear the responsibility for their own acts. But my view of the law is this: If the Magistrates had chosen to have waited until the event occurred, and a great crowd had collected, by which the ordinary traffic was stopped, it would have been their duty to remove the people. What the Magistrates did by their proclamation was to let the people know that if the meeting was persisted in they would put a stop to it, inasmuch as it was their duty to keep the streets open. Accordingly they simply gave an intimation through the chief of their police that if the people wished to hold a peaceful meeting it would be better to hold it elsewhere than at the Cross. With regard to the power of the Magistrates to proclaim the meeting I entirely agree with what was said by the Home Secretary on that subject.


I contend that in acting as they did the Magistrates exceeded their powers. They might have warned the organisers of the meeting that they could not occupy the whole of the space at the cross roads, and I want to get from the Lord Advocate some information on the question whether in Scotland meetings may or may not be held in the public streets? It seems to me a serious matter to say to those who want to hold meetings in the open air that they shall not be able to do so, and I trust the Lord Advocate will now lay down what he regards as the law on this subject.


I stated frankly, but not in lecturing tones, that I considered the terms of the Proclamation were too wide, and when I stated that I assumed it would be understood that the Magistrates might take the hint from a Minister who was speaking with a certain amount of moderation.

(5.59.) DR. CLARK

I think we may be content with the answer which has just been given by the Lord Advocate, who has told us he thoroughly agrees with the Home Secretary. The Lord Advocate has practically adopted the view that there is a right of public meeting, and that the Magistrates cannot put a stop to public meetings in this fashion, although it would appear that the law is somewhat differently administered in Scotland to what is the case in England. In Scotland no redress can be obtained in such a case as this without the legal assent of the Lord Advocate, while in England no such assent is necessary. I wish to remind the Lord Advocate of an assurance he gave us some little time ago, with regard to the legal rights of those who desire to prevent the polution of Loch Long. It was then understood that proceedings would be taken against those who polluted the water. I hope he will now give the Committee some assurance that the nuisance complained of shall be put a stop to. This matter is of importance to Scotland, because there are many outdoor meetings held in that country in connection with mission, temperance, and political work.

(6.1.) MR. W. A. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)

I have to apologise to the Lord Advocate for bringing forward without notice the matter on which I am about to speak, but my main object is to explain the facts, in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will on Monday be able to give some explanation in regard to them. On the 19th of July a strike of cabmen occurred in Aberdeen. On the following Monday the Magistrates held a meeting and resolved not to issue new licences for any additional cabmen for 24 hours, in the hope that before that period expired the cab proprietors would come to terms with the cabmen. It appears that terms were not come to within that period, and the Magistrates thereupon decided that they would not issue any licences for a week. The consequence of that necessarily was that, the great majority of cabmen having withdrawn from employment, the only cabs that could be driven in the streets were those driven by unlicensed cabmen. It is obvious that the police must have known that these unlicensed men were employed during that seven days, and although the attention of the procurator fiscal was distinctly called to the subject—and it ought to have been under his cognisance without any special call—no attempt was made to prosecute any of these unlicensed drivers. This is a very delicate and very serious matter affecting the administration of justice in Scotland, because in Scotland, unlike England, there are no private prosecutors. The entire power of instituting a prosecution lies with the publicly appointed officer, and it is of the highest importance that he should be above suspicion, and that it should not be possible to say that he has abstained from putting the law into force against these unlicensed drivers with the view of assisting one of two parties to a trade disturbance. These facts have only been brought to my notice by the last post, and I state them with all reserve. I hope the Lord Advocate will, between now and Monday, make inquiries, and that if he finds any neglect on the part of the police to institute these prosecutions he will take some steps to secure that in future the balance of the police will be held evenly.

(6.6.) MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON

As the hon. Gentleman conjectures, I have no knowledge on the subject, but I will make inquiry, and have no doubt I shall be able to give an answer on Monday. I may tell the House, however, that the matter is rather one for the Burgh Authorities.

(6.7.) MR. WALLACE (Edinburgh, E.)

There are one or two points on which I should like to say a few words. There are certain increases on various items which, I think, require explanation. Take, for example, the case of the expenses of the clerk to the Lord Advocate. For years they did not exceed £180, and now they have gone up to £200. Then there is the Vote of expenses for the legal secretary to the Lord Advocate in London. That, too, has gone up in amount, and I should like to know why. I do not grudge any necessary expenditure, but I do think we should know why there is an increase of £50 in this one item. Again, the Vote for writing has gone up from £50 to £80, yet we have no explanation of it. Next there has been for several years an annual charge of £700, which has been paid to the legal secretary for drawing Bills for Scotland. If we get £700 worth of Bills drawn a year, we certainly do not get £700 worth of Acts passed. What is the use of having these Bills drawn if the Acts are not allowed to pass? I should think the average annual value of the legislation we get from Scotland is about 2s. 6d. Last year certainly we came off a little better, but only after a frightful besieging of the First Lord of the Treasury could we extort a promise from him that we should have what was, to a certain extent, a Scotch Session. In that Session we certainly got about half the value of the money we spent for drawing Bills. The next item to which I desire to call attention is that providing for the payments of £80 a year each to four trumpeters. Fancy a charge of £320 for four trumpeters! This is the year 1890, remember that. There ought to be a certain chronological congruity between facts and dates. If the payment had been for bagpipes, I think, considering the national character of the music, my opposition would have been disarmed, and, at all events, it would have been left to an English Member, like the senior Member for Northampton, to challenge a Vote of this nature. The trumpeters not only get £80 a year each for the blasts they occasion, but they get more, because there is an item of £16 16s. 4d. for each of them under the head of salaries and allowances from the Consolidated Fund. I think, considering the inflictions which are imposed upon the community by these men, it would have been far more reasonable if their salaries had been reduced by the £16 odd instead of being augmented. Then they receive a uniform once every five years. I do think that that is too bad. I have had experience of these trumpeters, and I know what they can do. I have an early recollection of an event in my youth—a period which I need not connect with any historical or well-known date. At that time I repaired to the nearest Assize town, out of curiosity, to see how justice was administered in the country in which I hoped, in the future, to be able to play a part, public or private. The procession from the place where the Judges stayed to that in which they performed their functions, was a terrible show, to my youthful imagination, and even in my later recollection it was a remarkable scene. The performance of these trumpeters was a frightful performance, if I may be permitted to say so. It was simply appalling, and the only consolation is that it afforded certain relief in some rationalistic doubts which I had entertained about the falling down of the walls of Jericho. One of these trumpeters who gets £80 a year, is also in receipt of a pension of 2s. 6½d. a day, and I say that this is really a misspending of public money in a way for which it is impossible to find an excuse. The money might be much better spent. I do not see what good is done by making these frightful noises in the Assize towns, when the Scotch Judges go there to dispense justice. It is never done in Edinburgh. The Lord Advocate never has a trumpet, unless he blows it himself. There are no trumpeters appointed to the Judges in Edinburgh. I have seen those eminent legal gentlemen walking up the Mound in Edinburgh with no person in front proclaming through any sort of instrument that anyone particular was ascending the declivity. I am glad to see that the First Lord of the Treasury has entered the House, because I want him to know that £400 is spent every year in producing useless blasts—blasts which are not only useless but disagreeable and frightful as well. This money had better by far be devoted to endowing a historiographer or an archæologist in Scotland. That would be a useful application of the money. It would be an encouragement to an excellent occupation, but to spend the cash in sending ridiculous individuals to make noises before the Judges when they are not wanted, ought to be condemned. The Judges administer justice in Edinburgh without any trumpeting, and I do not see why they want the trumpeters in Jedburgh, which was always famous for its justice. The people of Jedburgh do not require trumpeters; they only require the hangman. They first hang their criminals, and then they set to and try the case, and administer justice. These are the customs of our native country, and they are well known to the Lord Advocate. I think, if the Judges were asked, most of them would prefer to do away with these trumpeters. I know a great many of the Judges, both present and prospective. Many of them are men of strong and solid common sense. They are sure to be respected, even without trumpeters, and if any one of them still wants the trumpeting, I think he would be found perfectly well able to blow his own trumpet, without requiring any assistance from the country. Now, there is one other point referring to the Lord Advocate, not as a trumpeter, but as an anti-trumpeter. I am anxious to be relieved from the disagreeable duty of discussing it, and the slightest sign from the right hon. and learned Gentleman will make me subside. I think he has, during the last year—unconciously I hope—been in the habit of blowing blasts of ridicule and of disagreeable observations against his native country, and its Representatives in this House. I do not want to enter upon this topic, but I am fully prepared to do so, and I have a hat-full of documents here on this Bench. If the Lord Advocate will only say that we are mistaken in thinking that he regards us, as a whole, as a contemptible set of beings, who are only good for the purpose of being ridiculed at country meetings at which he has to make himself pleasant to his own supporters, I shall be satisfied. But he does not offer to do that. He is not willing to let bygones be bygones, and, therefore, I must proceed. I wish to make an appeal in connection with the relationship he seems to be pleased to occupy with regard to the Representatives of Scotland. I do not complain of what he does in this House. He may have prudential reasons for being pleasant to us here. But out of it, I do not think he conducts himself in such a way as to further the success of Scotch business and Scotch influence here. He must know it requires all the power which Scotch Members can command in order to secure a proper acknowledgment of the claims of Scotland in this House, and that any person in a high and well rewarded official position ought to consider it his duty not to weaken, but rather to strengthen, the hold which Scotland may have on the business of this House. Now, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman on all occasions so conduct himself as to promote the claims of the Representatives of Scotland with regard to public business? During the last Recess he went down to Inverness, and, speaking of us, he said that one of the greatest difficulties in the way of Scotch business arose from the unpopularity of Scotch Members in the House of Commons. He continued— It is idle to mince matters, but one of the chief things which make it difficult for a Minister to propose Scotch business is that it entails a torrent of idle talk from the dullest of speakers. He went on in other ways to emphasise the same description of his country and its Representatives, and when he was challenged, if I remember rightly, by the right lion. Gentleman the Member for Berwickshire, he rather strengthened the cause of complaint by throwing additional ridicule upon us in speaking of the possibilities of a Scotch Parliament. He spoke of it as one of the most dismal prospects that could he seen, because of the dulness, the horribleness, of any such Assembly being created. What I want to ask the Lord Advocate is, whether this continual trumpeting of the ridiculous nature of his country, and of its Parliamentary Representatives especially, will conduce to the forwarding of Scottish business in the House? I appeal to the generosity of the right hon. Gentleman. It is all very well for the Lord Advocate, with his Titanic gifts, to bestride our narrow world like a collussus, while we petty men walk under his huge legs. If, while engaged in that humble, if unfortunate occupation, the right hon. Gentleman should sit down upon us when in his way, and squelch us into a political pulp, how can he expect that that will be a mode of making us fitter and better for the promotion of Scottish business? I think that the Lord Advocate should be generous in the exercise of the high gifts which, by his own declaration, he constructively possesses, and tolerant to the unfortunate gifts which, by the same declaration and acknowledgment, the Scottish Members possess. It is all very well to have a giant's power, but it ought not to be used with a giant's strength. The right hon. Gentleman ought to descend to the level of men of poor estate, and remember that the Scottish Members are doing the best they can with the scanty power which nature has bestowed upon them. The right hon. Gentleman ought to do the best he can to screen our defects, and to make apologies for our weaknesses, and to say that, as far as he has been able to observe, the Scottish Representatives are doing the best with the humble opportunities and with the imperfect powers that nature and Parliament have allotted to them. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman's style of speaking of his country and of his countrymen is unworthy of him.

(6.35.) MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON

The salaries for trumpeters are payable only to certain persons who were appointed before the new arrangement came into operation, but the present arrangement will probably soon pass into abeyance. The allowance for subsistence money of the clerk is regulated by scale, and the reason why the sum is larger in the case of the clerk than in the case of the legal secretary, is due to the clerk's being in town for a longer time during the year than the legal secretary. As to the cost of drafting Bills, no doubt there is a discrepancy between the number of Bills drafted and the number passed into law; but if the hon. Gentleman will lend the Government his aid in making the Bills Acts of Parliament, the yield of legislation may be a great deal larger. As to the speech I delivered at Inverness, let me point out that I have already been tried for that speech. One of the Opposition leaders, the right hon. Member for Berwickshire (Mr. Majoribanks) took the earliest opportunity of bringing the question forward on the Address, and the worst passages of that speech were read out. [Mr. WALLACE: Not the worst.] The hon. Gentleman will, therefore, find that if the case has been misconducted against me on the first trial, and on which I was acquitted, the remedy lies, not against me, but against those who represented the hon. Gentleman on that occasion. The right hon. Member for Mid Lothian also took part in the discussion; so that if the case is one which, as treated by the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, miscarried, and after being treated by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian again miscarried, I do not think that I am called upon to make any further defence. The hon. Member has spoken of the forbearance I have received from the Scottish Members. I agree with that observation, and I hope that nothing I have said or may say in future will be inconsistent with the personal good will I have enjoyed from my Scottish Colleagues.


I have only one word to add to what has been said by the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Wallace), and I say it rather in explanation of the circumstances under which the Lord Advocate made the speech which I presume I may characterise as an unfortunate speech. It must not be forgotten by my hon. and learned Friend that when the Lord Advocate made that speech his foot was on his native heath, and he was surrounded by the flower of the constitutionalism of the Highlands. Some allowance, therefore, may be made for the exuberance of spirit which the hon. and learned Gentleman displayed on that occasion. Knowing the circumstances, the people of the Highlands have forgotten what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said. The senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) had occasion to speak in Inverness very shortly after, and he administered to the Lord Advocate a well-merited castigation. The hon. Member compared himself to young David who was taking a pebble from the brook to throw at Goliath. The people were satisfied with the efforts of the hon. Member for Northampton. I trust, therefore, that this matter, though it did cause a great deal of friction at the time, will now be forgotten.


I should like some information from the Lord Advocate as to the circumstances under which he has taken no action in regard to the charges made by Mr. J. S. Scott against the right hon. J. H. Macdonald. The case is one which has excited considerable interest and a certain amount of sympathy in my own constituency.

(6.44.) MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON

The case has been repeatedly considered by myself and my predecessors, and I cannot see any reason to depart from the conclusion arrived at—that there is no ground for any proceedings.

(6.45.) DR. CLARK

I trust that we shall soon get more money for Scotland, so that important legal functionaries, beginning with the Crown Agent and going down to the poorest Procurator Fiscal, will be placed in a position that they will be independent of private practice. In reference to this matter our complaint was that the English Members do not listen to our arguments, but come in to vote when the bell is rung. The right hon. Gentleman thought the reason was that we were rather dull speakers. Well, no one can say that the right hon. Gentleman himself is a dull speaker. There are few men in this House who have the clearness and eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman, but, by a curious irony of fate, when the right hon. Gentleman came to explain the provisions of the Scotch Police Bill—the only Bill passed this Session with reference to Scotland—all the Benches behind him emptied, and only five Scotch Members and four English Members on his own side remained to listen to his short and able exposition of the measure.


I wish to draw attention to a question in connection with the Procurators Fiscal in the Highlands. When questioned by me recently the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Advocate undertook that the Procurator Fiscal should not undertake any duties other than his official duties. I have now to remind the right hon. Gentleman that gentlemen appointed to this position have had to suffer in their incomes on account of the carrying out of this undertaking, and I think it would be well if the right hon. Gentleman would bring his influence to bear in order to secure to Procurators Fiscal the making up of loss of income they have sustained in this matter.

Vote agreed to.

4. £26,559, to complete the sum for the Register House, Edinburgh.

(6.48.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark) with the approval, I think, of many Scotch Members, pointed out just now that Scotchmen were almost always paid too little for the valuable services they render to the country, and when I questioned the accuracy of this observation my hon. Friend was quite aghast at such heretical notions being entertained by an Englishman. Now, I wish to have some information respecting this Vote. I see, in the first place, that the Keeper of the Records and the Registrar General gets £1,200 per annum. I should like to know who he is, and what he does. A deputy Keeper of the Records gets £600, and a Curator of the Historical Department £600 a year. Then there is a Keeper of the General Registry of Sasines and Hornings. What are Sasines and Hornings? There are six assistant Keepers to look after these Sasines and Hornings. The gentleman who looks after these Hornings gets £1,000 per annum, and I want to know what he and his six assistants do for the money.

(6.51.) MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON

I am afraid the hon. Member would have to sit out a course of lectures in order to fully understand all these points. A sasine is a title to land. In our country these titles are registered, and we are proud of our system of registration. An enormous number of writings come within the jurisdiction of the Keeper of sasines. His is a highly responsible position, and the security of landed property, as far as admistration goes, is really in his hands, and those of his assistants. As regards hornings, the requisite warrants for carrying out a decree used to be generally described by that old-fashioned word. I may say that the whole of this Registry has been recently explored, and I would refer the hon. Member for further particulars to the hon. Gentleman (Dr. Clark) who sits next to him.

(6.53.) DR. CLARK

I looked into this matter two or three years ago, and my mind was relieved on the subject by finding that this Registry costs us nothing at all, as the expenditure is covered by the fees paid by landlords. A short time ago we were making money out of these sasines and hornings. The Department is being revised now, and I hope the Treasury will, by-and-by, be making £10,000 or £15,000 a year out of the sasines and hornings. The Chief Registrar is also Registrar General, and he performs other functions; but we are practically able to get all the registration work done for nothing.

(6.55.) SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)

I think this expenditure is fully justified, and that we have one of the best systems of registration in the world. I think we have reason to complain that the Lord Advocate did not defend our system sufficiently. The right hon. Gentleman is a paid officer, and I think it a pity he did not make a better reply, but left it to my hon. Friend (Dr. Clark) and myself to do it for him.

Vote agreed to.

5. £6,620, to complete the sum for the Crofters' Commission.

(6.57.) DR. CLARK

It is necessary to raise an important point with reference to this Vote. The great thing wanted in the Highlands, above all others, is the power to increase holdings, and I trust that before this time next year some measure will be passed on the subject. The Commissioners have not yet been able to hear all the cases brought before them. I have always held that if you give the bulk of the crofters their land for nothing you would not sufficiently increase their standard of comfort. In the 7,000 or 8,000 cases determined by the Commission it has been established beyond all question that rack-renting has been going on, because the Commissioners have reduced rant from an average of £6 a year to an average of £4 a year. Now, it is absolutely impossible for a man to bring up a family in decency and comfort on a croft rented at £4 a year, and it is, therefore, necessary to increase the holdings. The Committee upstairs wanted to call the head of the Commission to give evidence as to why there has been practically no increase in the holdings, but we were told Sheriff Brand did not care about coming before the Committee. We were told that the Commissioners had sent a Memorial to the Secretary of State, and I trust we shall have that placed on the Table of the House, so that we shall know whether or not these clauses that are so necessary to the well being of the Highland people are a dead letter. With regard to the complaint made for two or three years by my hon. Friend the Member for Rossshire as to the reduction of rents made by the Commissioners, I have been able to verify it in my own county, and I say most emphatically that the Commissioners are not putting the Act into operation, but are wresting its provisions for the benefit of the landlords and against the crofters. In one set of cases in Caithness the average reductions have been 50 per cent. on the rent and 75 per cent. on the arrears. These appear great reductions, but even a reduction of 50 per cent, left the rents higher than they should be. The crofters are entitled to an average reduction of 80 per cent., seeing that the rents are charged on the improvements made by themselves and their predecessors in title. The only way to determine the matter equitably is to give the landlords what is sometimes called prairie value—that is to say, the value of the land separated from the value of the improvements made by the crofters. This land, 30 or 40 years ago, in most cases was not worth Is. an acre to the landlord, whereas now, thanks to the capital and labour of the tenant, it has risen in value as high as £2 an acre, and a reduction from £2 to 18s. an acre, which is the average reduction made by the Commissioners, is still an inadequate reduction. I do not blame the assessors, but the system of valuation. In the ordinary course the valuators value the croft as it stands, without considering the value created by capital and labour alone. And some of the decisions have been iniquitous. When a man has had a considerable reduction made on his rental he has been compelled to pay a sum equivalent to two or three years' rental in the arrears. You have three Courts sitting, and all the valuators at work, and there is considerable difference in the decisions as to values and as to amounts of arrears. Sometimes only 12 months reduced arrears are awarded, and at times the amount is equivalent to a year's fair rent, while at other times it is equivalent to two or three years' fair rent. At one of the sittings we have had a Commissioner and two or three assessors. The Commissioner is an old factor who, I suppose, has given effect to considerations which have guided factors in times gone by. He has required the crofters to pay a large amount of arrears, and has given only a short time for settlement. The landlords, in some cases, availing themselves of their powers under the Acts, are anxious to secure a settlement before the appeals from the single Commissioner to the full Court can be heard. I think some steps should be taken to frustrate these tactics, otherwise, before the appeals can be heard the crofters will be declared bankrupts and driven from their holdings. I trust the Lord Advocate is considering this matter, and that before this time next year there will be an Appeal Court to consider these cases before the landlords are able to make the crofters bankrupt.

(7.7.) MR. BARCLAY

I consider the point raised by the hon. Member for Caithness is a very important one indeed, upon the principle that where the tenant has executed all the improvements the landlord is not entitled to anything more than the original value of the land, and, indeed, according to the provisions of the Act itself, I contend that the reductions, instead of being 30 per cent., ought to be 90 per cent. However, I hardly think this is a suitable occasion for considering the matter fully. It is worth a formal discussion in the House. The Lord Advocate cannot interfere with the judgments of the Commissioners, and it appears to me that the only influence which can be brought to bear upon them is discussion in this House. If the attention of the Commissioners is prominently called to the principle embodied in the Act, I think an effect would be produced in the direction the hon. Member wishes. I would suggest, therefore, that next Session we should raise, or attempt to raise, a formal discussion on this question in the House, and that seems to me the only way to have a legitimate effect on the decisions of the Crofter Commission.


If rents are not reduced to just proportions, it is the fault of the Commission itself, because the latitude allowed under the Act is of the widest description. The Commissioners are asked to take into account all the circumstances of the locality, and, having considered the conditions of the holdings and of the tenants, to fix the rents accordingly. It cannot be denied that the whole of the improvements made in these holdings have been made by the people themselves, the land when taken in hand having hardly been worth 2d. an acre. If it had been worth any appreciable sum for grazing or other purposes, these people would never have got it. It is the crofter himself who has made the land valuable by the expenditure of his own labour and capital, and that he should now be called upon to pay for his own improvements, is a great grievance. Notwithstanding the respect I have for the President of the Commission, I think that many of the rents fixed are much too high. Even in cases where the reductions have been striking on rents charged on the tenants' own improvements, I think there is room for still further reductions. There is a point of hardship I should like to mention. Where a number of tenants join in making application for an enlargement of their holdings, each has to pay a stamp fee of Is. 6d., even if there are 500 of them, whereas, when a landlord makes an application in respect of a number of tenants, he has only to pay for a single stamp. I called the attention of the President of the Commission to this matter, but, as far as I know, no alteration has been made in the practice. I agree with the hon. Member who last spoke that this Act is one which requires to be thoroughly discussed in the House, but I am of opinion that in order to remedy existing grievances legislation is required.

(7.15.) MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON

The clause referred to by the hon. Member for Caithness with regard to the con- solidation of crofts will be kept alive under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. The criticisms of hon. Members in relation to some of the decisions of the Commissioners, and the desirableness of their adopting a principle of more drastic reduction, are matters with which I cannot deal, as they are matters within the discretion of the Commissioners. The Commissioners are appointed to act as Judges under an Act of Parliament, and it is not for me to express approval or disapproval of the methods they adopt. The hon. Member must know that the reductions have been, in many instances, very striking, and also that there has been as much criticism on the action of the Commissioners in the other direction. With regard to the procedure of the Commissioners as to their sittings, that is a point on which they must be left to exercise their discretion. It seems a fair suggestion that the hon. Member has made, but the matter must rest with the Commissioners. The hon. Member for Forfarshire rather pointed to another occasion as the proper one for discussing the wide subject he is interested in, and the action he desires to see taken would very much involve the course suggested by the hon. Member for Caithness. I do not know that I need reply to the observations of the hon. Member for Sutherlandshire, for it seemed to me that his remarks were in the nature of criticisms for the information of the Commissioners, as to the light in which their proceedings are regarded. At any rate, he has made no practical suggestion for the modification of those proceedings.


Except as to the matter of stamps. And there is this other point I would draw attention to, namely, that the Commissioners, in whom full powers are vested in the matter, will persist in appointing assessors from a class that are opposed to the interests of those whose holdings they have to value. Is it because the Commissioners think that there are no persons sufficiently intelligent among the crofters to be able to fix rents, or because they have an animus against that class, that they never appoint crofters? So far as my knowledge goes, there is nothing which has roused more exasperation amongst the crofters than the method of selecting assessors.

(7.19.) MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON

The Commissioners must take the responsibility for these appointments. Several questions have been addressed to the Government on this subject, and in each instance the objection has been submitted to the Commissioners. Their reply has been that they have confidence in the integrity and intelligence of the assessors appointed. As the hon. Member knows, almost any appointment would meet with criticism from one side or the other. We must rely on the discretion of the Commissioners. As to the matter of stamps, I will take care that consideration is given to the point mentioned by the hon. Member. As to the Memorial sent to the office of the Secretary for Scotland by the Commissioners, I presume it is confidential and cannot be laid on the Table of the House.

(7.20.) DR. CLARK

We have a right to know how it is that the benevolent intentions of Parliament in dealing with the one question of interest to the Highlands are practically a dead letter. The Act states that the Crofters' Commission, after considering all the circumstances of, the case, And particularly after taking into consideration any permanent or unexhaustive improvement in the holdings which have been executed or paid for by the tenants, may fix a fair rent. We thought the insertion of that word "particularly" would have drawn special attention to the question. Well, I have waited for several years, and have inquired into some of these cases myself, and I find that, instead of deducting the rent which has been put on the improvements made by the tenant, or his father, they have merely reduced it. I trust we shall have a Bill on the subject next year. The other question to be considered is that of determining the appeals before the Commissioners go away to other places. It is looked upon as a very great grievance by the crofter, if he is unable to pay three years' rent in one year, that he should be forced to go away to another part of the country to appeal against such an injustice.

(7.23.) MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON

I agree in principle with the hon. Member as to appeals, but it is impossible always to keep the Commissioners in one part of the country. If new cases have been considered before old ones were disposed of, it has been because the new were more urgent than the old.

Vote agreed to.

6, £70,090, to complete the sum for Prisons, Scotland.

(7.24.) MR. C. S. PARKER (Perth)

On this Vote I must call attention to what I regard as an act of gross injustice committed four years ago, for which, by much perseverance, I have obtained redress in the case of most of those concerned, but one or two are still suffering injustice in the General Prison of Perth. I believe, also, there are similar cases elsewhere. What I complain of is, that a binding contract was made, in some cases many years ago, with prison warders and clerks, that this contract included provision for free quarters, and that in the year 1886, by a mere stroke of the pen, the Prison Authority, as I contend, harshly, inequitably, and illegally took away those free quarters. The men affected appealed to the Prison Governor, who took their view of the matter, and represented it strongly to the Prison Commissioners. The Prison Commissioners communicated with the Treasury, and I have now reason to think that the initiative in breaking faith as to free quarters, came from the Treasury. On several occasions I brought the matter before the Earl of Dalhousie, the present Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) and the present Secretary for Scotland, Lord Lothian, and, bit by bit, I obtained assurances that these men should be replaced in their free quarters. On the last occasion the question was referred to a Treasury Departmental Committee, which recommended that the free quarters should be granted in all the cases but two. I feel grateful for this decision, but I regret that it was not extended to the other two men. The language of these unfortunate men is most respectful. I hold in my hand a letter from one of those concerned. He is a first-class warder, and he produces a copy of a letter of 1882, granting him free quarters in the prison at Barlinnie, and a promise in 1884 that he should have free quarters in Perth Prison, which he held for two years, and then they were arbitrarily taken from him. I am anxious not to put the Committee to any unnecessary trouble in this matter, but I think that a case like this, of justice to individuals, ought not to be allowed to drop because 14 out of 16 of them have had their just demands conceded. I am prepared to offer these terms to the right hon. Gentleman, that if he will carry out the engagement he has made, and let me know, detail, in what grounds can be assigned for making a distinction unfavourable to these men, I will fairly consider them, and, if there is anything substantial in them, I will not press the matter any further. If, however, the reasons are in the nature of special pleading, I must raise the question again in a full House. I really think if the Treasury would look at the matter in a broad spirit of equity they would see they ought not to have deprived these unfortunate men of that which was granted to them.


I am extremely sorry if the hon. Member has not had all the information it was in the power of the Treasury to give, so as to remove from him the obligation of periodically bringing forward this question. I hope I may be allowed to repudiate the suggestion of special pleading in the matter. There is no special pleading on the part of the Treasury, which, sometimes, however, has disagreeable duties to discharge. In this case everything has been done by the Treasury which could possibly be expected. A Departmental Committee was appointed to consider the matter, and the hon. Member himself will admit that no Committee was ever appointed which was more free from prejudice. The Treasury has given effect to the recommendation of the Committee, which decided that in the cases to which the hon. Member specially refers, the warders had no claim. The hon. Member asks for the grounds of the decision. I will let him see the official Report, and if he is not satisfied, he will be able to bring the matter forward again next year.

(7.38.) MR. CALDWELL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)

These men had free quarters given to them, and then the free quarters were taken away again. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to make inquiries into the matter, and to exercise his own judgment, which I should respect far more than that of a Departmental Committee.

Vote agreed to.

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