§ (9.0.) MR. ANGUS SUTHERLAND (Sutherland)
Mr. Speaker, my justification for bringing this matter before the House in this way is that it is a matter of pressing urgency which concerns a considerable portion of the northern part of this Kingdom. I do not doubt for one moment that Her Majesty's Government would only be too glad to avert any trouble to themselves by carrying out reforms which ought to have been carried out long before now. The question of deer forests in the Highlands is one of importance, not only to people of the Highlands, but to people in other parts of the country. This question is generally what is called the crofter question, though the name is entirely new to the Highlanders; but if, however, the name can be used for the purpose of obtaining justice, I have no objection to it. What is called the crofter question can be summed up in the deer forests. I have framed my Resolution upon the definite recommendation made by the Royal Commission. I fully admit that my Resolution does not go the whole length that the needs of the case would justify, but I expect that in consequence of putting the subject before the House in this way the people of the Highlands will get an amount of support in this House that will be beneficial to them, and encourage them to keep within the bounds of the law. The adoption of this Resolution will show the people of the Highlands that there is a desire on the part of the House of Commons to do them justice. The recommendations of the Commission do not come up to the necessities of the case'; but if the Government show they are prepared to legislate upon even the moderate recommendations of the Commission, it will be an earnest to the people that they intend to do something that will really 1363 be for their benefit and good. I need not detain the House by going into all the circumstances that led up to the agitation in the Highlands. We know what has troubled the Government in maintaining law and order, as they say, in the Highlands: it had its origin in matters that are long past in the history of the Highlands. The fact that the Government persist in allowing the present state of matters to remain as it is continually invites public attention not only to the present circumstances, but to the prior circumstances, out of which the present state of affairs arose. The public conscience was shocked to such an extent by the result of the clearances in the Highlands that Her Majesty's Government issued a Commission to inquire into the circumstances. Of the composition of the Royal Commission I have not very much to say. It was a Commission that could in no way be described as one "having popular sympathy. Two of its members were the largest proprietors of deer forests in the Highlands, and, with the single exception of the hon. Member for Invernessshire (Mr. Fraser-Mackintosh), there was not upon the Commission a single man who was known to be in sympathy with the people of the Highlands. My Resolution, based on a recommendation of a Royal Commission so constituted, ought, I think, to deserve some consideration from the House of Commons. The Commissioners were instructed to inquire into everything that bore upon the state of the people known now as the Crofters and Cottars of the Highlands. They divided their Report into several parts. One part was entitled " Deer Forests and Game." To indicate to the House the state of mind in which they approached the investigation of the subject I will quote what they say on this point. They say—The subject of deer forests has naturally engaged our attention. Statements have been of late years frequently made, both in the newspapers and by public speakers, to the effect that deer forests are the cause of depopulation in the Highlands, and are productive of injury to the inhabitants that remain. In several of the papers read by witnesses during our inquiry similar expressions have occurred. It is proposed, therefore, to enumerate the principal grounds of complaint, and to comment on each in detail.I have read most carefully the whole of 'the evidence given before the Commission, 1364 and with, I think, three exceptions, I have seen no reference made to the subject of deer forests as bearing upon the particular question of depopulation. The Commissioners go on to say—The principal objections advanced against deer forests, as presented to us, are the following—1. That they have been created to a great extent by the eviction or removal of the inhabitants, and have been the cause of depopulation.In the presence of the hon. Member for Invernessshire, who has an intimate knowledge of the people of the Highlands, and who was a member of the Commission, I say it is notorious that no one who knew anything of the state of matters in the Highlands ever asserted that deer forests were the cause of depopulation. It is asserted that the Highland clearances were carried out for the purpose of forming large sheep runs; but ultimately the landlords found it was more profitable to change the sheep runs into deer forests. The inference might be drawn from the Report that all this about depopulation was the sort of argument put forward by the people who went about agitating for the rights of the Highland people. The Report proceeds—2. That land now cleared for deer might be made available for profitable occupation by crofters. 3. That it might at all events be occupied by sheep farmers, and that a great loss of mutton and wool to the nation might thus be avoided. 4. That in some places, where deer forests are contiguous to arable land in the occupation of crofters, damage is done to the crops of the latter by the deer. 5. That deer deteriorate the pasture. 6. That the temporary employment of gillies and others in connection with deer forests has a demoralising effect.I wish to direct the attention of the House to the great discrepancy there is between the conclusion drawn by the Commissioners and the evidence laid before them on these points. With regard to the observation that the Commissioners found there was no great strength in any of these objections, I will read only one short extract from the evidence. As to the demoralising effect of the temporary employment upon gillies and others, the Rev. Roderick Morison, who is not a wild and irresponsible 1365 agitator, but a minister of the Established Church at Kintail, Rossshire, said:—Now this land is wholly withdrawn from contributing to the supply of any of the needs of the human race, except the need of Higland lairds for cash. The venison produced is not worth speaking of, and is indeed often, if not generally, left to rot on the ground or thrown to dogs. And though no doubt wages are paid to keepers, gillies, watchers, &c., none of these men are productive labourers, and they are as completely withdrawn from the industrial population as the land on which they live from the food-producing resources of the country. Further, it is well-known that the life these men lead is demoralising in the extreme, and soon renders the majority of them useless for any purpose except that for which they are trained, so that when thrown out of employment they become simply an incubus on society. Removed, as most of them are, from all the influences of religion, education, and social and family life, it is difficult to foretell what they may become. They are not unlikely to prove, in course of time, a very troublesome and difficult element in the social fabric.As I have said this is the statement of a responsible gentleman—a native of the Highlands—and who has had ample opportunities of seeing everything he describes. Whatever e qualifications of the Commissioners to have formed a proper judgment may have been I am perfectly satisfied for the present that the Government should make a beginning by carrying out the recommendations the Commissioners have made. I am sensible of the fact that they lack definitiveness, but they point to a principle, and what I say is, we are en titled to expect that the House should endorse the principle in the Resolution. The Commissioners deprecated the turning of any more land into deer forest unless it was above a certain altitude, and they expressed the opinion that they were not in favour of any further afforestation of land. But what has happened since the Commission reported? 2,000,000 acres of land in the Highlands of Scotland had, up to that date, been made into deer forests, and since that time 200,000 acres had been added to the forests. In a Report of a Select Committee appointed in 1873, it was shown that deer forests occupied 9 per cent. of the acreage of the Highlands. In 1884 the percentage had 1366 risen to 29, and, according to Lyall's Sporting Guide, it had in 1890 risen to 56½. I think the House will agree with me that this waste of land should be checked, and that the land should be devoted to purposes which would be more beneficial to the public. The recommendations I ask the Government to carry out are very moderate. What do the majority of the Commission say? They report—The appropriation of land to the purposes of deer forest might be prohibited below a prescribed contour line of elevation, so drawn as to mark in a general but effective way the limit of profitable root and cereal cultivation, of artificial pasture, and of pasture adapted for wintering live stock, a line which on the east side of Scotland, in a high latitude, might be approximately fixed at an altitude of 1,000 feet above the sea level, and on the western seaboard at a lower level than 1,000 feet, making allowance locally for the convenience of the march. The advantage attached to this system would be, that the area of land which could possibly be devoted to sport alone would be circumscribed once for all, and all indefinite apprehensions, whether on the part of the farmer, the crofter, or the public at large, would be set at rest. The disadvantages attached to the hard and fast boundary would on the other hand be that the line might in some cases include for the purposes of sport exceptional spots available for profitable use, and might in others, especially on the west coast, exclude rugged and precipitous tracts, extending to the very verge of the salt water, of little use to the crofter or farmer from situation or quality, but yet well suited for deer.I consider that is a very reasonable recommendation and one which, as I have said, for present purposes would satisfy the people of the Highlands. The Commissioners go on—The alternative method would be, that in each particular case in which the proprietor desired to withdraw land from agricultural or pastoral occupancy, and deliver it over to deer, the area should be subjected to the inspection of a government officer, and that those portions of it which were adapted for crofting cultivation, for small tenancy, or generally for cultivation or wintering sheep, should be reserved, leaving the residue which was only available for summer Pasture to be appropriated at the discretion of the proprietor.I fail to see how the Government can refuse to adopt a Resolution based upon such moderate recommendations. This question of deer forests is one upon which the whole of the land question in 1367 the Highlands turns. It is because landlords in the Highlands get a better price now for the land that was first taken away from the people that the people of the Highlands do not get that justice to which they are entitled. I have my own opinion regarding sport. There is legitimate sport, and it is just as good when the land is devoted to grazing as when it is made into a desert. It is not very far back in the history of the Highlands when you could count all the deer forests on the fingers of one hand. Eminent lawyers have stated that there is some difficulty about the modern deer forests, and that it is not known very well whether those who hold them are not poachers. I remember seeing a case reported in which a Judge in the Superior Court in Scotland ruled that no person could prosecute anybody for shooting a deer in the forest of Athol, except the Lord Advocate. Perhaps the Lord Advocate will give us some information on the subject. These forests have grown in number, and if they did no harm to the people, I do not suppose that I or my constituents would trouble much about it. What I say is that they prevent the people of the Highlands earning their livelihood in a decent manner. It is said that the people can go to the Great North-West of Canada, and the predecessor of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate stood up in his place in this House, and said he was sorry for the people who dwelt in the Highlands, as it was such an inhospitable climate. Only two or three days after that speech was delivered I saw the right hon. Gentleman speeding away towards that inhospitable climate, whither he was going to recuperate. Why the Highlands of Scotland are the great sanitorium of England. The Highlanders desire that they should remain so even more than they are at present; but English gentlemen are not content to meet the Highlanders on a proper equality, and want them only to be their gillies, and to carry their shooting-bags. The Government have shown great generosity to the people of the Highlands by giving them harbours. A long 1368 time ago the people were turned out of the Highlands and sent down to the seashore to become fishermen, and, strange to say, it is only now that the Government are giving them harbours. We believe that deer forests are not at all necessary for legitimate sport, but are opposed to it. Quite as good sport is got on sheep-runs as in deer forests. I know a gentleman who refused to take a deer forest because he preferred to have mixed shooting. The modern craze for deer forests simply arises from the fact that there are sportsmen who are not sportsmen, and who must have an artificially-formed desert for their own particular purposes. There are a great many other aspects of this question, but I have no desire to unduly trouble the House with regard to them. I may say, however, that the whole Highland question is at the present moment summed up in this question of deer forests. It has been stated over and over again that, instead of diminishing the amount of local labour, deer forests increase it. I can read you the evidence given by a man, who was perfectly capable of giving evidence on this point, before a Select Committee of 1873. Lord Napier's Commission said that deer forests were beneficial to the Highlands. If so, why have recommendations been proposed which would retard their growth? I see that a Member of that Commission is here to defend the Report, and I hope he will do so. It is stated that the only land used for deer forests is land that is incapable of other use. I have frequently seen that where sheep will live and thrive deer will die. I have seen deer carted away in heaps after a heavy snow storm, which the sheep lived through. The late Mr. Purvis was questioned by Mr. Clare Sewell Read before the Select Committee of 1873 as to the difference between the numbers of people maintained on a sheep run and in a deer forest. He said lie employed from six to eight shepherds himself, and one gamekeeper was sufficient for the whole place as a deer forest. He also stated that a sheep-farm which employed from eight to ten shepherds could be quite easily managed by two keepers except, perhaps, in the shooting season. Asked the number of men 1369 employed under each system generally, he said the number must be in favour of sheep-farming by six to one at least. He said, further, that sheep would live where deer would not live, and that in 1859-60, when he lost a third of his sheep through starvation, the deer died first. Gentlemen who only see the country in the summer and autumn do not know what happens in the winter when severe weather comes on and the animals are driven to the lower ground. If the proposal of Lord Napier's Commission were carried out it would not mean the extermination of the deer in the Highlands. You cannot confine them, they will come down to feed in the spring. If all the land capable of cultivation were given to the crofters to-morrow, there would still be deer in the Highlands. Are they not indigenous animals? They will never be exterminated, and there will be plenty of sport and more manly sport than can be had now. To say that the deer would be exterminated is to speak without knowledge. I need not waste time in combating the absurd statement that when sheep are displaced by deer there is very little loss of the food supply of the country. Highland mutton is known everywhere, but how little is venison an article of food for the people in the market? Yet the Royal Commission accepted this dictum from gentlemen who were interested. However anxious Gentlemen who occupied positions on the Commission may have been to arrive at the truth, they being only human were bound to be influenced by the fact that if they reported against deer forests they would be taking away a considerable portion of their own revenue at the same time. Notwithstanding, it is the duty of the Government to accept such recommendations as the Commissioners have made, and I think it would be for their own benefit to show that they are determined to redress the wrongs from which the Highland population have suffered in the past. After the Report of the Commissioners was issued, and before the Crofters' Act was passed, there was in 1885 a meeting of Highland landlords held in Inverness, and they declared distinctly, at that meeting, that they were prepared, as opportunities arose, to enlarge the 1370 holdings of their tenants. Nothing, however, has been done in this direction, but, on the contrary, the afforesting of the land has been going on ever since. It was because of the promise of the Highland landlords on that occasion that the Crofters Act of 1886 did not contain more drastic measures as to the acquisition of land by the people. Despite that promise very few enlargements have been carried out, and I think I have made out a very good case why the Government should accept this Resolution in the spirit in which it is offered. It is proposed in a very moderate spirit—a too moderate spirit some of my hon. Friends say—but I want the Government to see the reasonableness of the demand that legislation shall carry into effect the recommendations of the Commission, and that the land shall be devoted to whatever purpose is best for the good of the people of the Highlands and the welfare of the country at large. I have great pleasure in proposing the Resolution.
§ Amendment proposed,
To leave out from the word " That " to the end of the Question, in order to add the words " having regard to the recommendations of the Royal Commission (Highlands and Islands of Scotland, 1884) concerning additional afforest-meat of land, and to the fact that, since the date of the Report of the Commission, additional land has been afforested to such an extent as to constitute a grave national danger, this House is of opinion that immediate legislation, based upon the recommendations of the said Commission with regard to Deer Forests, in the Highlands of Scotland, is urgently called for,"—(Mr. Angus Sutherland,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, " That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ (9.41.) DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)
In seconding the Resolution it will not be necessary for me, after the full statement of my hon. Friend, to detain the House more than a very few minutes. When the Royal Commission reported in 1884 there were, roughly speaking, 2,000,000 of acres. of land in Scotland under deer forests, or one-tenth of the entire area of Scotland, and, of course, a vastly larger proportion 1371 of the Highlands. Since then some 200,000 acres, or 10 per cent. have been added to this enormous area. The statement of my hon. Friend was not at all exaggerated when he described the composition of the Commission in regard to deer forests. Upon that Commission were Sir Kenneth Mackenzie and Cameron of Lochiel, proprietors of nearly 100,000 acres of forest, or 5 per cent. of the entire amount, and it is natural to suppose that they would not take up an unnecessarily hostile position affecting the interests of the large property they represented. Yet, despite the peculiar composition of the Commission, the Report laid down in effect the proposition that deer forests should not be extended. They expressly said that at that time most of the land specially adapted by its natural features to the habits of deer and the purposes of deer forests, and which could, without substantial injury to other interests be thus applied, had been appropriated, and the formation of other deer forests should be discouraged. Yet, since then, the land under deer forests has increased 10 per cent. The Commissioners made recommendations which, if adopted, would have prevented the extension of deer forests, if they had not led to their curtailment. They recommended that such should not be formed below a given altitude —1,000 feet above the sea. Now, my hon. Friend has said that it is alleged that at that altitude deer cannot live, and that makes me think all the more highly of the recommendation of the Commissioners. The question has been raised as between deer and sheep, and I may say that with that question I am very little concerned; what concerns me is the question as between deer and sheep and men. It is the question as between animals on the one side, and mankind on the other, that compelled the Crofter Commission to Report as they did, composed as they were. They proposed restrictions on deer forests in the future, they proposed that the proprietors of deer forests should be compelled to fence in their property, and that when the deer came upon the 1372 crofters' holdings, crofters should have an inalienable right to kill the animals. They made various other recommendations calculated to check the evils of an extension of deer forests, and to protect the crofters' industry. The Commissioners had evidence before them that crofters had to watch all night to protect their produce from deer raids, and other evidence showed how the estate rules, incident to the preservation of deer forests, were oppressive in the highest degree. Here the tenants could not keep a gun, there they could scarcely marry, and could not harbour their sons' wives and daughters' husbands without an infraction of these rules. The Commissioners did not make any recommendations that could be considered as trenching upon proprietors' rights. They were inclined to regard the whole matter in the most philosophical light, and they said if the whole of Scotland were withdrawn from the food-producing area, such was the importation from abroad that it would make remarkably little difference to the food supply of the people, there would be no scarcity, and only a slight increase in the price of the best quality of Highland mutton. Yet the Commissioners go on to say that the absorption of the country by deer forests, even though the people were provided with land in our colonies, where they can carry on their industry under more comfortable and lucrative conditions, must be viewed with alarm, because it is resisted by the force of public opinion, and attended with an amount of irritation much to be deprecated. Now the right lion. Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture, I know from previous experience, will tell us about the advantages, the increase of employment, the wealth, that deer forests bring to the country, and that these advantages are greater than would accrue if the land were under sheep; but I venture to say that his authority, great, as I know it is, and great as is his acquaintance with deer forests from a sporting point of view, cannot be placed against that of Cameron of Lochiel, a sportsman also, one of the largest proprietors in Scotland, and a gentleman who has had more to do with sheep farming than any other man in the district where he lives. He has 1373 always had the most friendly feeling towards the people of his race, and has always shown himself ready to give every consideration to all their claims. He, in the special Report which he drew up from his own point of view, recommended an alternative which consisted of the application of the principle that advances should be made to crofters on the security of their stock—an alternative which, as lie said, "would gradually lead to a re-distribution of the land, without doing violence to proprietary rights." Proprietors, as he says, if his recommendation were adopted, "would probably be compelled to sacrifice some share of the rents they have lately been receiving from deer forests; but this is a precarious source of income dependent upon the fashion of the day." But since the issue of the Report of the Commission, the congestion in the Highlands has increased, disturbances have occurred, and public attention has more than ever been directed to this subject. We have an American millionaire as lessee of an immense tract of country extending from coast to coast, exercising his right in connection with this deer forest in the most arbitrary and tyrannical fashion. We all know of how a crofter was persecuted in connection with a pet lamb, so that deer might not be disturbed. Even au officer of Her Majesty's Excise was turned off the land where he ventured to intrude under warrant to look after illicit distillation. We have had popular tumults in Lewis, and it has transpired that in this congested district, where recourse has been had to State-aided emigration, at a cost which would require the value of the fee-simple of the soil to deport the so-called surplus population, raids have been made upon deer forests covering 144 square miles of ground. We shall be told that these deer forests could never be made capable of supporting a Highland peasantry; but is it not a matter of notoriety that in the glens over which these forests " extend there are to be met with, the ruins of villages where a Highland population once lived. It may be true that the clearances were not made for deer forests; but it is equally true that they were made for creating large sheep farms, and the soil being exhausted and these found 1374 not to pay, the land has been converted into deer forests to meet the present fashion. Not one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission have been carried into effect, with one small exception, which I was instrumental in inducing the House to adopt—the rating of deer forests in the occupation of their owners, not at their former agricultural value, but at the rate they might be expected to let. I will say no more, because our time is limited and there are many Members desire to take part in the Debate. I would only warn the Government that, the longer they delay dealing with this question the more drastic will be the remedy demanded. For the present we claim there shall be no extension, and that below a certain altitude there shall be an inspection, and that land suitable for crofters' cultivation should cease to be deer forest. It will be something to secure, that the evil shall not increase, though I do not say we shall be satisfied with that; and for my part I wish to see all the land that is cultivable in these forests restored to the people from whom it has been taken. Wise proprietors like Cameron of Lochiel, who see what is coming, are willing to meet this demand in a fair and equitable spirit. If this is not done the day of grace is fast slipping away and the recommendations of the Commission of 1881 will soon be regarded as wholly inadequate. Parliament is becoming more democratic, and the rights of proprietors so studiously regarded in the Report of the Commission will not much longer be held not more sacred than the right of men to live and labour on their own native land. I heartily second the Resolution.
§ (10.0.) MR. SHAW-STEWART (Ren- frew, E.)
Although a Lowlander, representing a Lowland constituency, I may perhaps be allowed to take part in this Debate, for everything that affects the prosperity or the reverse of the Highlands affects Scotland as a whole. If it were true; as has been declared by the Mover of the Resolution, that the crofter question is summed up in the question of deer forests, hon. Members on this side of the House would certainly support the Resolution. But I do not gather from the speech 1375 of the hon. Member that he has proved the assertion with which he commenced. I was glad to hear the hon. Member say that the depopulation of the Highlands is not, as is popularly believed, due to the clearance of the land to create deer forests, but that the clearances were mainly for sheep farming. Now, if the hon. Member has read carefully the Report of the Select Committee of 1873 he cannot fail to see that one great cause of the depopulation, certainly in Ross-shire, was the suppression of smuggling. Though hon. Members may laugh it is not my assertion. I find it in the evidence given before the Select Committee of 1873. In this occupation a considerable number of the population were engaged—
§ MR. SHAW - STEWART
The evidence of Mr. Horatio Ross. The hon. Member has quoted the evidence of Mr. Purvis, and I think the evidence of Mr. Ross, a Highland resident for a number of years, is equally entitled to credence when he gives this in addition to the clearances for sheep as one of the reasons for the decline of the population in Ross-shire. The hon. Member based his Motion on the Report of the Commission, and then proceeded to throw some discredit on the Members who constituted it, which seems a peculiar way of proving that the recommendation of the Committee should be attended to. The hon. Member says those recommendations should be put in force because there has been so large an increase in the area afforested since the Commission reported in 1884. Now, what were the recommendations of the Commission? The Commission did not make any recommendation to be carried out at that time, these recommendations were only to be carried out in a certain event. These recommendations, or suggestions 1376 rather, were only to be given I effect to in the event of there being a very much larger area of land afforested. The Commissioners said that it bad been shown that in recent times crofters had rarely been removed for the purpose of making additions to deer forests, and that comparatively little of the land so occupied could be made available for cultivation or pasture. The Commissioners pointed out that deer forests gave about as much permanent employment as sheep farms, and that as regards temporary employment deer forests offered a great advantage, affording more work to masons, joiners, plumbers, plasterers, slaters, road-makers, wire-fencers, and other trades, and in the season brought more trade to shopkeepers. I am not a champion of deer forests, and have no connection with them, but I am naturally interested in the question as a Scotch Member, and I am bound to say the hon. Member has not made out his case that drastic changes should be made as he suggested. The Commissioners, while not anticipating that there would be any large increase in the area of deer forests, made certain suggestions as to the lines upon which legislation might proceed should such a contingency arise. Has there been a large increase? Before the Committee on Colonisation last year, it was shown that in 1883 there were 109 deer forests, with nearly 2,000,000 acres of land, while in 1890 there were 114, with very little over 2,000,000 acres, the increase being 148,500 acres. This is from the evidence of Mr. Malcolm, who seems to be a man who knew what he was talking about. Is that such an increase as to constitute " a grave national danger "? That is the point, because if there has not been sufficient increase since 1884 to constitute a grave national danger I do not see that we are called upon to interrupt the legislation of the Session—which is heavy enough already—to introduce legislation based on the suggestions of the Commission of 1884, which were only contemplated to be carried into effect in the case of a great increase of afforesting. If the hon. Member has failed to show that the increase since 1377 1884 has amounted to a national danger, then his Motion must fall to the ground. On the general question of deer forests, the hon. Member dealt with it rather on the ground of sport. But it is far too grave a question to be dealt with in that light. I represent a constituency in Scotland which contains many working men, and, therefore, I am bound to consider the matter from the economic point of view, and not from the sporting point of view. Were we to do away with deer forests, should we benefit the Highlands or the reverse? I find from the Reports of the Commission of 1884 and the Committee of 1873 that deer forests pay in many parishes in Scotland quite half of the public burdens.
§ MR. SHAW-STEWART
And if you do away with the forests what rent will you get? I believe that if we were to do away with deer forests to-morrow we should reduce the Highlands to the condition in which they were before this immense amount of money was brought into the country, we should also reduce the agricultural value of the land to about two-thirds, and sporting-rents would be non-existent. If hon. Members opposite can prove to me that the Highlands would be better for the abolition of deer forests, I should be glad to vote for the Resolution. But I do not believe that the putting down of deer forests would benefit the Highlands, and, therefore, not out of any consideration for sport, but on economic grounds, I feel bound to vote against the Resolution.
(10.15.) DR. M'DONA LID (Ross and Cromarty)
The hon. Member who last spoke said the Government would be only too glad to do away with deer forests if that would afford a solution of the crofter question. That may be the opinion of individual Members, but I am afraid that it is not the opinion of the Government. I say it would go a great way towards the solution of the crofter 1378 question. Whatever the opinion of hon. Members opposite, or of people who know little about the subject may be, it is the opinion of the crofters themselves that to do away with deer forests would help them very considerably, and they will not be satisfied till something is done in that direction. The hon. Member, referring to the recommendations of the Commission of 1884, said that they were merely suggestions, and that it was not intended to recommend that legislation on such lines should be adopted. He quoted paragraphs from the Report. Well, on looking at that Report, I find it sets forth that it is the opinion of the Royal Commission that provisions should be framed under which croftlands should be protected against diminution for the purpose of afforestment. If the hon. Member will again examine the Report he would find that, although in the previous sentence the Commissioners used the word " suggest," they really indicate an intention to give effect to the recommendation there and then. The hon. Member who has just sat down said that no arable land was taken away for those deer forests. I do not know whether the hon. Member has ever walked through one of those deer forests; but if he were to take an exercise from Lochalsh to Beauly, he will find the ruins of many farmhouses. There is a good deal of arable land included in Mr. Wynan's deer forests.] It is quite a common thing to fence in a piece of arable land in the glens, and to sow corn upon it, so that in the winter there may be food for the deer, who otherwise could not live. That is done regularly in some parts of the Highlands.
Yes. It shows that the forests are not sufficient to keep the deer unless the oats are sown for them. If that were not the opinion of the owners they would not go to the expense of sowing the corn.
§ MR. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)
The hon. Member has stated that the deer eat grain grown during the winter months. I should like to know the peculiar part of the Highlands where they grow that grain?
I do not know what the hon. Member means, neither do I know that grain is grown in the winter months. But perhaps the hon. Member knows the country where it is grown in winter. It certainly does not in Scotland. One hon. Member asked what' would become of the Highlands if the rent of the deer forests were not forthcoming? Now, one argument in favour of deer forests is that they are said to pay their owners better; but if on that ground all the Highlands were converted into deer forests because good rents were got for them, what would become of the population? It might pay better for a time, but acting on that principle the whole of the people of the Highlands would have to be expatriated. Many people go on the theory that the so-called deer forests are not fit for anything else, but we in the Highlands know that that is a very great mistake. I was asked yesterday by a man of considerable culture and knowledge if the trees were very thick in the deer forests. That showed that he knew nothing of deer forests, for there are no trees in them at all. And then as to the possibility of keeping sheep on these lands, what does an animal live upon when there is no food obtainable? It lives upon its reserve of fat. It is a well-known fact that deer have hardly any fat as compared with sheep at certain seasons, and consequently sheep are far more likely to thrive in these 1380 forests than deer. With regard to the depopulation of the Highlands, the Commission in their Report say no one could contemplate the conversion of arable and pasture land into forests without alarm. And yet, as has been pointed out by my hon. Friend, a considerable quantity of such land has, since the Report, been added to the deer forests, and the process is still going on. The truth is, that as the leases of the large sheep farms fall in, the landlords are not able to stock those farms, which they are obliged to do when the farmers go out, and therefore it is that they let the farms as deer forests. Take, for instance, the deer forests in the Lewis, of which so much has been heard. I admit that the Government have done a great deal for the Lewis, but I am sorry they have not seen their way to making a road in that part of the Lewis where on about six square miles about 1,500 people are located. There is one person in Ross-shire who has a deer forest extending from one side of Scotland to the other, and, as far as I know, not a shot has been fired in that forest for at least four or five years. Do hon. Gentlemen opposite know that it is credibly reported of that gentleman that he keeps that forest up only to show the rottenness of the laws of this old country of ours. It therefore cannot be said to be kept up for sport in any form. I have no objection whatever to part of the land, which is useless for the people, being used for deer forests; but I maintain that most of the land is fit for the people, because it has been proved that sheep can live on it if deer cannot.
§ (10.30.) THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. P. B. ROBERTSON,) Bute
I can sincerely congratulate the hon. Member for Sutherlandshire both on the speech and the terms of his Motion. The hon. Member has spoken, as he always does, with a measure of good humour and intelligence, which we all appreciate. But on the terms of the Motion my congratulation of the hon. Member is perhaps more of an ironical character. The hon. Member has put into his Resolution two topics very badly calculated to attract the interest of the 1381 House. He has urged upon its acceptance the recommendation of the Royal Commission, and has called attention to what he describes as a great national danger. First of all, as regards the recommendation of the Royal Commission. I listened with great interest to all parts of the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I did not discover that it was strongly permeated by a profound respect for the recommendations of the Royal Commission, because he permitted himself to say that some of their statements were absurd and ridiculous, and he added that he was not going to insult the intelligence of the House by repeating some of their conclusions. At the same time, he called upon us, out of respect to the Royal Commission, to adopt its recommendations. Now, the conclusions which the hon. Gentleman describes as absurdly ridiculous are argued out and supported by reasons which will recommend themselves as forcible and cogent. They discuss the whole social and economic bearings of deer forests upon the condition of the Highlands, and they arrive at strongly favourable conclusions as to the benefits conferred on the Highlands by the existing system. They arrive at that conclusion upon grounds so explicitly and carefully stated and well argued out that he would be a bold man who would merely stave them off by epithets such as the hon. Gentleman has applied to them. I find, on turning to the Report of the Royal Commission, that the Commissioners do not assign to the recommendations referred to the precise position which the hon. Member does. The recommendations on which the lion. Gentleman has laid stress are treated by the Commissioners as within the region of speculation. They say, for instance, they do not anticipate with any degree of certainty that the contingency to which they have averted will arise,But, considering the divergency of opinion expressed and the possibility of unfortunate results from prolonged excitement in connection with this question, we may well consider whether the Government and Parliament may not contemplate such legislative restrictions as will restrain the progressive afforestment of land and allay the apprehensions which are widely felt on the subject. Admitting that this suggestion is worth being entertained, we 1382 trust we shall not be thought to go beyond the confines of our Commission in offering suggestively some indication of the lines on which legislation might possibly proceed.Indeed, it would be difficult to find in 20 lines of the Report of any Royal Com-mission such a series of hypotheses, qualifications, and reservations.
§ MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON
That still further corroborates my argument, for the Commissioners say that they are of opinion that provisions should be framed under which the crofting classes would be protected—observe that that was before the Crofters' Act of 1866 was passed—against the diminution for the purposes of afforestment of the arable or pasture area. I venture to say that the Crofters' Act to which I have alluded affords even a more drastic remedy than was suggested by the Royal Commission. The recommendations which the lion. Gentleman pressed upon the attention of the House were couched in very careful language, and merely offered as alternative suggestions, and offered for discussion. The lion. Member for Sutherlandshire said that there were three recommendations of the Royal Commission which were put as if they were cumulative and combined. They are nothing of the kind. They are alternative suggestions. The first, which was put in cautious language, very well adapted to the highly problematic nature of the suggestion, was that there might, be a line of 1,000 feet below which a deer forest should not come. They went on to add that they knew that that formula would break down on the West Coast; but on the East Coast it might be adopted. So far as I could discover, the formula to be adopted for the West Coast was nothing less than the sea level. That is not a very exacting limit. The second alternative was that there should be a Government Inspector to look into the afforestments, and see whether there was cultivable land included in them which might be turned to use in the future. The hon. Gentleman 1383 did not even mention that plan as either reasonable or probable. The third was in favour of some reservation of ground for forestry as distinguished from afforestment, for there was much to be said for forestry as one of the industries of the Highlands which might be developed. I hope that I have shown that the lion. Member for Sutherlandshire has rather misplaced the recommendations of the Commission, because he values their doubts more than their certainties While he regards their conclusions as being so absurd and ridiculous that he will not insult their intelligence by discussing them, he idolises their doubts and uncertainties. Has the hon. Gentleman made out his case on the footing of these recommendations? In the first place, the lion. Gentleman referred to the afforestments which have taken place since the date of the Commission in 1884, the extent of which he puts at 200,000 acres.
§ MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON
The hon. Member for Caithness says " more than 1,000,000." The hon. Member interrupted my hon. Friend in the same way, and interposed a good round figure. The hon. Member went before the Colonisation Committee and said that 1,100,000 acres had been afforested since 1883. But the hon. Member for Sutherlandshire has been before the same Committee, and his estimate is 200,000 acres. The hon. Member for Caithness said on the 10th of February, 1891, that he had brought this estimate before the hon. Member for Sutherlandshire, and that the estimate of the latter was only 2,000 or 3,000 acres different in 500,000. That was a bold effort to capture the hon. Member for Sutherlandshire, but it did not succeed. The lion. Member for Sutherlandshire had from the 10th of February to the 24th of April to harmonise his differences with the hon. Member for Caithness, but he waives off the suggestion of 1,000,000, and manfully adheres to his own estimate of 200,000 acres. This is a question o fact and observation; and as 1384 the hon. Gentleman alleges that there is a great national danger, the extent of the afforestment must determine the greatness of the danger. Mr. Malcolm, who has apparently gone into the matter with carefulness and accuracy, and who has given precise and definite figures, says that since the Report of the Commission the extent of the afforestment has been 148,500 acres. But, for the purpose of argument, I will take the figures of the hon. Member for Sutherlandshire. The hon. Member declares that the change to which he refers constitutes a grave national danger. How does it do so Does the hon. Gentleman desire that these 200,000 acres should be restored to the sheep farms? Because the change that has been made since 1884 has been merely turning large sheep farms into deer forests. Is the hon. Gentleman justified in contending that a grave national danger is constituted by having a few deer forests in place of sheep farms? The House ought to be careful in adopting a conclusion of such vast proportions to remove the tendency to alarm, so far as the public mind is concerned, as to what will be the extent of the injury which will constitute this grave national danger. Were we in safety when we had the large sheep farms, and, if so, what new condition of things has been brought about to the detriment of the farmers who are usually under the aegis of hon. Gentlemen opposite? Turning to the recommendations of the Crofter Commissioners, they say that the two points which they were to have in view were, first, to keep for the crofters what they had already—and that has been done—and then to reserve the areas of cultivable land which should be available in order to constitute a sufficiency of holdings for the crofters. The hon. Member's speech contained a great deal, but it did not contain a suggestion as to how much land there is available for cultivable holdings in the tracts afforested. We are left in the dark as to that. The matter is left as an abstract question, consequently we are left to assume that the hon. Member cannot assert that in these afforested tracts there is more than the average amount of cultivable land. What does all this amount to? Take the 200,000 acres and deal with 1385 them as a sum of proportion. We know exactly what is the proportion of cultivable land in an ordinary sheep farm such as is turned into a forest. Most of it is high and rough, and very little is cultivable. The hon. Member will hardly venture to affirm that there are more than 200 acres of cultivable land in the afforested acreage which he has named, and a crofter ought not to be penned in a holding of less than 10 acres. Therefore, accepting the lion. Member's own figures, the whole grievance which is said to constitute a grave national danger, comes to this—that some 20 crofters' holdings have been absorbed by these afforestments. The hon. Member ought to be anxious to retain the respect which is entertained for his case and his character by abstaining from exaggerations as grievous as those I have pointed out.
§ MR. ANGUS SUTHERLAND
I did not base my case on the fact that holdings of cultivable land are everywhere necessary. There is no reason why small holdings should not be pastoral as well as agricultural.
§ MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON
The House must observe that the whole of the reasoning of the Crofters' Commission has proceeded on taking hill-pasture as well as arable ground, and all the conclusions of the Commission assume that a sheep requires a certain amount of hill ground—five or seven acres, I think—in order to maintain an existence. The A B C of the calculation is that you must have a small patch of arable land and a sufficient acreage for sheep for the crofter to begin with. I have shown, therefore, how devoid of solid foundation are the cases stated by the hon. Member. But I must add a few words on another most important subject—one on which there is, no doubt, frequently an extraordinary attempt made to excite prejudice. Sir, I deprecate most strongly—as the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire did with great force and effect—the notion that this question of deer forests is exclusively a sportsman's question. It is 1386 really an economic question affecting the welfare of the Highlands; and the mature conclusions of the Crofters' Commission, after hearing all persons interested, were that for the general well-being of the Highland population, deer forests do more than sheep farms. I am dealing now with the allegation that there is a grave national danger, and it is indispensable that the public should have a clear notion on that subject. As a matter of history, how comes it that in the instances referred to deer forests have been substituted for sheep farms? Not through the caprice of the landowner, not in order to increase the amount of sporting land, but for a purely economic reason—because the fall in the price of wool has made sheep farming a bad business in the North of Scotland, and rents cannot be obtained for large sheep farms; and in every one of the instances where there has been a change since the Crofters' Commission from sheep farms into deer forests it has been due not to any desire to establish luxuries, but simply to employ the land in the only advantageous way available. That is proved to the mind of every one who examines the evidence taken by the Committee, presided over by the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Mr. Mackenzie, one of the leaders of the crofters, stated that what had led to the change was the fact that for large sheep farms even barely reasonable offers could not be obtained, while advantageous offers were made for deer forests. The Crofters' Commission reported on this subject—The number of persons permanently employed in connection with deer forests as compared with sheep farms is about the same, and as regards temporary or occasional employment the advantage is in favour of deer forests.The Commissioners on the more general question also said—Contrary to what is probably the popular belief, deer forests in a far greater degree than sheep farms afford employment to masons, joiners, plumbers, rural tradesman, &c.Therefore I emphasise the statement that deer forests are, under the present economic conditions, not advantageous merely for the selfish purpose of the landlords who draw a big rent, but advantageous to the whole community. I will refer to an expression of opinion 1387 not by this Parliament, but by one differing in its composition from this very largely—I mean the short Parliament from 1885 to 1886. In the Crofters Act provision was made for the enlargement of holdings, and a clause was assented to by the Member for Clackmannan to the effect that the enlargement should only be made from deer forests in the event of the Commissioners believing that it was for the advantage of the whole community that the change should be made. I say that this was a challenge on the part of Parliament — not a Tory or Unionist Parliament, but one of a very different character—to the parties interested, to show whether the economic condition of the Highlands was better served by one state of things than the other. I have dwelt on these considerations, because the present Motion, although it refers to a comparatively limited subject, opens up large questions. We are asked tonight to avert a "grave national danger." It is my opinion that it has not been shown that there is any grave or national question to meet. I will go further and say that upon the facts before us the change that has taken place appears to be a change for the better. I trust that the House will resolutely negative a Motion, which, if carried, would give rise to misleading expectations as to the opinions held by Parliament on the state of matters that are not to be considered in the interests of sportsmen or any privileged class, but as every question of this kind should be considered, in the interest of the whole country.
§ (10.58.) MR. MARJORIBANKS (Berwickshire)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman who as just sat down has attempted to deal with the arguments of the hon. Gentleman behind me in a light and trivial spirit. He has shown that there are such things as ornaments of Debate, and I am afraid that sometimes, also, there are ornaments to the Resolutions which are presented to the House. I find that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has fixed on an ornament of the Resolution of my hon. Friend, and has treated that ornament 1388 as if it were the whole Resolution. He has drawn attention to the words " grave national danger," and has made fun of them, and has left out of consideration and argument the serious and material part of the Resolution. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that my hon. Friend whilst he professed profound respect for the utterances of the Royal Commission did not pay much attention to the words of their Report. Now, that is a charge that I am prepared to meet with an absolute denial. I want to know how my hon. Friend could have paid more respect to the Report of the Commission than by adopting word for word the recommendations of the Commission with regard to this question of forests. I must say I have to find fault with the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has placed the recommendations of the Commission before the House. The right hon. Gentleman has attempted to show that the Commission's recommendations are mere suggestions as to possible legislation. The recommendations of the Commissioners were fourfold—first as to the fencing off of deer forests from arable land.
§ Mr. J. P. B. ROBERTSON
I directed myself to what the lion. Member for Sutherlandshire spoke of—namely, fresh afforestment.
§ MR. MARJORIBANKS
What we have to consider are the words of the recommendations. The second recommendation is that no land should be taken from crofters for the extension of a forest without other land being substituted therefor. The third is with regard to a method for deciding what land may in future be appropriated for forests. as to which I admit the Commissioners put forward merely suggestions of an attitude limit being fixed, or of a reference to a Government Inspector; and the fourth is as to the planting of land. It seems to me that these recommendations are exceedingly moderate, and they are recommendations which can be adopted by any Government without resorting to revolutionary method, and without doing anything which would injure any interest in Scotland. I certainly should 1389 not have been prepared to support the Resolution of my hon. Friend if it had gone to the lengths suggested by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire (Mr. Shaw-Stewart), who seemed to think it involved the destruction of all deer forests in Scotland. I am bound to confess that many people greatly exaggerate the damage that is done by deer forests and the danger to the country that results from them. But there is one thing in the use and another in the abuse of deer forests. I admit that there is great abuse of forests in Scotland, and it is to stop that abuse that I think legislation is required. I should like to refer for a moment to some of the statements made by supporters of the Resolution. The hon. Member for Sutherland spoke of the statement made by the Rev. Roderick Morrison to be found in Appendix A to the Report of the Crofters' Commission. The rev. gentleman said in that statement that the venison produced was not worth speaking of, and that it was often, if not generally, left to rot on the ground or thrown to the dogs. I am bound to say that is an absolute falsehood. I can tell the House how the idea arose. There was a very clever picture in Punch by Mr. Du Maurier representing Mr. Winans seated, surrounded by the dead bodies of deer. Well, I am no friend of Mr. Winans, but I may say that he never got so far as to leave the bodies of the deer lie had killed rotting on the ground. Then the rev. Gentleman went on to say that none of the men employed in a deer forest were productive labourers. That is also a very considerable exaggeration, to use the mildest term. I know that these men are used in many other ways than for mere sporting purposes. They are used for the making of roads to a very large extent indeed, and I think sufficient credit has not been given to the proprietors of deer forests for the way in which they have opened up the country by the making of roads.
§ MR. MARJORIBANKS
0h, that is a mistake. The rev, gentleman further said the life these men lead is demoralising 1390 in the extreme. I know them, as a rule, to be temperate, well-educated religious men, often elders in the church to which they belong. I should like the rev. gentleman to make this statement to men so employed in his congregation. I do not think he would find he would long retain his congregation. The hon. Member for Sutherlandshire raised the question of the comparative capacities of deer and sheep to stand hard weather. It is quite true that sheep will stand very hard weather at a high altitude. But those that do so are the hogs, the old sheep of the flock. If a farmer were to attempt to keep his ewes and lambs at high altitudes in winter, the result would be so grave that he would very soon have to give up sheep-farming altogether. I admit that if you were to confine the deer to the tops of hills which were covered with snow they would die. But the deer in bad weather goes to the low ground and finds wintering for himself. My hon. Friend (Mr. Sutherland) said many people preferred to shoot deer on sheep runs than in a forest. I have considerable sympathy with my hon. Friend on that point. I have myself killed a great number of deer on sheep grounds, but I would point out that sheep ground is not a bit more available for the purpose of the crofter than forest. Any sheep ground on which it is possible to kill deer is sheep ground in the occupation of large holders, and is, therefore, just as much a desert and just as solitary as a forest.
§ MR. ANGUS SUTHERLAND
My right hon. Friend will admit that it is also possible to kill deer on crofters' ground.
§ MR. MARJORIBANKS
I do not think I should expect to kill many deer on common grazing. Reference has been made to the ruins of villages which it is said are to be found in deer forests. It is a very rare thing, as far as my experience goes, to find the ruins of villages in deer-forests. I do not say that they are not to be found, but that the ordinary ruin in a deer forest is that of 1391 the shieling where men used to take their cattle out during the summer to feed on the high ground. The hon. Member for Rossshire spoke of having seen ruined villages when walking through the forest now in the occupation of Mr. Winans. Twenty-five years ago, before that land was made forest, I stalked over the whole of it, and I can assure him that such ruins do not exist in the glens—Glen Cannich and Glen Affaric — he speaks of. The hon. Member also spoke of oats being sown for deer, and the fences being taken down so that the deer might go in and eat the crop. His experience must be exceptional. I quite admit that deer are fed in winter in places, but the process ordinarily adopted is to make up ropes of hay and straw, and put them out in the forest for the deer to gnaw. I believe that a noble Lord used once to bring beans from Egypt and put them down on the seashore for the deer to eat. The hon. Member further said that sheep could get through the winter better than deer, because they had so much reserve fat on them, whilst deer had not. I should say that there is no animal known which has such an extraordinary faculty for laying on fat as the deer, and Christmas time is the very time when most fat will be found on a hind. It is only as long as the deer forest combines the greatest amount of good with the least amount of harm that it can go on. It is the requirements of the small holders will have to be considered, and it is perfectly evident that if the land is required for, and capable of, cultivation it ought to be available. I believe that to give effect to the very moderate recommendations of this Commission would be a most useful thing, and a measure of concession to the crofter requirements in the Highlands, which even a Conservative Government might give without sacrificing one jot of its principles. For these reasons I shall support the Resolution of my hon. Friend.
§ (11.17.) Du. CLARK
I quite agree with my lion. Friend the Member for Sutherlandshire that had it not been for the deer forest the crofter question would 1392 not have attained its present acute state. It was not a question between sheep and deer, but between sheep and men, and it would be far better to have the sheep and the men back. But the deer forest mania came in, and the landlords have been able to turn their sheep farms into deer forests, which will pay very well as long as the fashion lasts. But in all probability a new turn will be taken, and then the big landlords will find that deer forests will no more pay than did the sheep farms, and then, perhaps, they will be very glad to get the men back again. Now, Mr. Malcolm's evidence has been quoted. Mr. Malcolm is Secretary to the Society formed by the landlords for the Protection of the Deer Forests. We wanted to get reliable evidence, and we got Mr. Macrae, Secretary to the Land League, to make a series of investigations. He took Mr. Malcolm's report and his book on the subject, which the Duke of Argyll and the Duke of Sutherland eulogised too much, and he pointed out how from 1883 the deer forests in the whole of Rossshire had increased from 9 per cent. to 29 per cent. He also took the Sportsman's Guide for the present year, and showed that the amount had increased 56½ per cent. Now, Mr. Malcolm's interest in the landlords has never yet been called in question, and the figures which he gave to the Committee will be recognised by the Minister of Agriculture, who is a relation of the Duke of Sutherland, as accurate. When the Report of the Commission was published, the Duke returned 145,000 acres as deer forests. Mr. Macrae's researches show that he has increased that quantity by 400 per cent., and he enumerates the names of the farms. I brought these figures under the notice of my hon. Friend (Mr. Sutherland), previous to my giving evidence before the Commission. My hon. Friend told me that these figures were true.
§ DR. CLARK
I suppose we can get them verified from the valuation roll of the country. Well, we have had a defence of the deer forests from my right hon. Friend who has replied to the speaker on this side, and if it be true that we have got a case that will not hold water, then the Lord Advocate ought to laugh at us. My right hon. Friend tells us that we are mistaken about houses being in ruins, and that they were mere shielings used in winter. But it is a fact that we not only find houses but chapels in ruins. In the Park Deer Forests there are 18 townships turned into deer forest. I am not at all astonished at the Report of the Royal Commission being so tentative. It was a Commission of big landlords, who held a large number of deer forests, and got big returns from them. If you had a jury of wolves or sheep you would get a Report of much the same character. But even this jury of men who had destroyed the High lands reported that afforestment should be restrained, and that the crofters ought not any longer to be turned away from the forests. Evidence was also given that there ought to be a limit to the altitude. Neither the late nor the present Government, have carried out any of the recommendations of the Commission, and the result is that the deer forest system is growing and growing, and the people have less and less room, and are being huddled together in places where they cannot live and thrive. They are being physically, and perhaps morally, deteriorated. You have had more afforestation since the Commission said that things had better remain as they were. We have had the economic argument trotted out, but if the figures are accurate, we have had the enormous growth in deer forests of something like 50 per cent. in seven or eight years. As the matter now stands, the Government are not going to do anything to carry out the recommendations of the Commission. But the time is coming when we shall have an appeal to the country, and we 1394 intend to appeal to the people in the North as to whether the land is to be' used for the good and the well-being of the whole, or for the amusement of the few. We have no doubt that when the time comes the verdict will be given in our favour.
§ (11.32.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. CHAPLIN, Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
I hope the House will allow me to intervene in this Debate for a few moments I am glad to admire the spirit and ability with which the hon. Member in introducing this Motion, called attention to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, as well as the sympathy he evinced for the people of the county which he represents in this House. The Government have no reason to complain of the tone of the speech in which the Motion has been introduced, and have certainly no disposition to defend the abuses of deer forests which have been referred to in this Debate. I do not think that any Member of this House will reprobate with greater austerity than we desire to reprobate the alleged conduct of the foreigner who has been mentioned, who holds such large tracts of land, and whose methods of so-called sport have gone far to create widespread dissatisfaction with deer forests in general. I think there is some excuse for the exaggeration which is sometimes indulged in on this question, and on that point I shall have something to say before I sit down, in reply in particular to the hon. Member for Caithness. But what are the facts with which we have to deal? The hon. Gentleman who introduced the Motion referred to the six objections to the system of deer forests which are quoted in the Report of the Royal Commission, and he told the House that he differed entirely from their conclusions. But I observe with some surprise that the hon. Member only dealt in his speech with the sixth objection by way of disposing of the statements of the Commissioners. In support of his case, the hon. Member referred to the evidence 1395 give by the rev. gentleman the minister before the Commission that vension is left to rot on the ground. That evidence, Venture to say, is tainted with a great deal of ignorance prepared to say that that' statement an absolute fabrication. Venison is neither left on the ground to rot, nor is it thrown the dogs. All the venison which is not consumed in the establishment of the owner is widely distributed among the cottagers; and if you put the question to the shepherds or to any of the poorer classes in the Highlands—to those who live in the neighbourhood of the deer forests—you will find that a great part of the substance on which they live throughout the winter is venison, and that it is the only flesh which enters their cottages for consumption. For this they are in debted to the liberality and generosity of the owners of the deer forests in the Highlands. With regard to the rubbish talked by this rev. gentleman as to the bodies being allowed to rot on the ground, I will undertake to say hat greater nonsense was never given utterance to. Now I come to the question of the acreage which has been added to the deer forests since 1884. That is a point on which the hon. Member for Caithness particularly challenged me. The Resolution submitted to this House to-night stigmatises the increase in the acreage as a grave national danger. If it does not amount to such a danger, then, of course, the Resolution falls to the ground. The hon. Member made a number of quotations, and endeavoured to show that in one county alone—the County of Sutherland—511,000 acres had been added to the deer forests since 1884. He was good enough to give us statistics. Since dinner I have put into operation the resources of the telegraph, in order to make myself fully acquainted with the real facts. I will, with the permission of 4 House, reply to his statements. The hon. Member for Caithness said that of Glendhu, consisting of 128,000 acres, had been placed under deer. It has been placed under deer; but it consists of about 35,000 acres, and the information was supplied to me by the agent of the Sutherland in the Lobby 15 minutes ago. I also telegraphed 1396 to the Duke of Westminster, who replies that Glendhu was cleared because no tenant offered to pay the rent. He puts the extent of the farmat about 40,000 acres. Let the other instances cited by the hon. Member—
|Name farms||Hon. Mems. East.||Actual acreage as supplied to Mr. Chaplin.|
|Strathmore of Melness||80,000||31,000|
|Ben Hee of Skinness||40,000||5,000|
|Coulmore and Coulbeg||40,000||19,000|
§ Thus, while the hon. Member says that 511,000 acres have been added to the deer forests in the County of Sutherland since 1884, according to my information the real amount is 153,000, and the hon. Member was consequently nearly 400,000 acres wrong.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
That is the best replay can put before the House. The House will judge of the sort of value they may generally place on the information of the hon. Gentleman. I look upon this as specimen of the want of information which widely prevails in connection with the question. Statements are constantly being placed before the public which are utterly and entirely misleading as to the real merits of the matter. But supposing the hon. Member is right, why have these forests been cleared? It has been because tenants could not be obtained for them as sheep farms. Anyone who, is acquainted with the County of Sutherland must be aware that the Duke of Sutherland lies spent a gigantic fortune in the endeavour to reclaim land for the benefit of the people, and a few years ago no one was more sternly opposed that he to placing land under deer. But when the time arrived when sheep farms Ceased. to pay, in consequence of the enormous; fall in the price of wool, brought about by foreign competition, every proprietor gifted with common sense had to consider by what means he could derive a 1397 revenue from his property, a revenue which, in the case of the Duke of Sutherland, is spent entirely in the county and among the people. Surely no one would have been justified in refusing a, rental derived from sporting holdings which it was, impossible any longer to obtain under the old system. The hon. Member stated that sheep will live where deer die in a severe winter. That assertion I venture to contradict across the floor of the. House. I have had some experience in this matter, for it happens that some years ago, in a very wild and inclement district in the County of Sutherland, the sheep on certain farms died off in large numbers, owing to the cold and snowstorms, the tenant was ruined, no one else would take the holdings, and they were converted into a deer forest. I walked over the ground in the early spring, and while I saw hundreds of carcases of sheep, I found but very few of deer. Where one deer had died, sheep had died by the hundred. It was impossible to continue the holding as a sheep farm, and that I believe illustrates the reason why so many of these deer forests have been added in the Highlands. The hon. Member who introduced the Motion said that the failure of the sheep farms afforded a golden opportunity of restoring the crofters to the land. To what sort of land? Why, according to the hon. Member's own showing, to land so destitute that even deer could not live on it in the winter. Upon the economic question it will not be necessary for me to detain the House long. The Royal Commission sifted this question thoroughly, as their Report shows, and they hold that the deer forests afford as much, employment as the sheep farms. As to the food argument, the amount of sheep displacedamounted only to 132,000, out of a total in the United Kingdom of 31,000,000. The food argument, therefore, will not bear investigation for a single moment. The recommendations of the Commissioners for all practical purposes are only two, and relate to forests created after 1884. They have been pressed on the attention of the Government with much energy by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwickshire. The Commissioners recommended that deer forests should not be created in districts less than 1,000ft. 1398 above the sea. Such a limitation would be absolutely impracticable, for some of the most suitable districts for deer forests are on the West coast of the Highlands. In many cases upon the West coast the hills rise almost precipitously out of the water, and even within the limits of 1,000 ft., the land would in many cases be useless, except for a deer forest. It is on the immediate coast—where the snow does not lie, that it would be most useful for the purposes of wintering the deer, and such a limit as that which is proposed would exclude this land, which in many cases would be useless for anything else. I am told the question whether certain districts shall be permitted to be converted into deer forests should rest upon the decision of a Government Inspector, but I cannot imagine anything likely to afford a less satisfactory solution of the difficulty. I will merely say, in conclusion, that the Motion rests solely on the contention: that the existence of these deer forests constitutes a grave national danger. I think my right hon. Friend has absolutely disproved that, and there is not now a shred of argument in support of it. The real questions which we have to consider, are those asked by the Commission. Does the occupation of land as deer forests inflict any hardship or injury on any class of the community, and, if so, upon what class? And, secondly, does the occupation of land as deer forests produce any crop or benefit to any class, and, if so, what class? To the first of these propositions the Commission in general terms unhesitatingly say " No," and to the second " Yes." The House of Commons will attach more weight and importance to the opinion of a body of gentlemen who have had the whole evidence placed before them than it will to the opinion of any individual Member of the House. The Commission says that since 1884 the addition to the deer forests in the Highlands has been comparatively small; it has been shown that it has been brought about because there are no other means of laying out the land to advantage. In the course of the operation not a single crofter has been evicted or removed from his holding. That is the case upon which the Government is asked to postpone the Irish land question and other Imperial business, 1399 in order to introduce immediate legislation upon this question, so as to remove a national danger which has been shown not to exist. I am bound to say that the demand embodied in the Resolution is so extreme and unreasonable that the Government are justified in refusing it.
§ (11.55.) SIR G. TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I have to thank the right hon. Gentleman for his careful and interesting statistics produced at such short notice, but what do they prove? They prove that within the last few years the deer forests in Sutherlandshire have been more than doubled. Besides that, I know of my own knowledge that in the Island of Lewis a very large piece of land has been turned into a deer forest—at the least 50,000 acres. In Sutherlandshire we have an addition of 150,000 acres; and, further than that, the increase of acreage has been going on on a, large scale in Argyllshire, Inverness-shire, and Ross-shire. I affirm there is a national danger in these conversions. Was there no national danger in the recent deer raid in the Lewis? And that was carried on in a forest which fulfilled all the conditions of the Commission, it was on a low elevation, and if the recommendations of the Commission had been carried out, it could not have been turned into a deer forest. If hon. Members wish to know what the danger is let them read the extremely eloquent speech of the hon. Member opposite. The reason he gave for the existence of the forests was that the land would not pay for sheep-farming because of the rents charged by the landlords; and, in consequence of this economic law, the right hon. Gentleman said landlords were justified in turning the land into deer forests, and this was to be done by the frank advice of the Minister of Agriculture. The Commissioners protest, in a most eloquent passage in their Report, against the doctrine that because of any economic question the Highlands should be turned into a desert. The hon. Gentleman said that these 200,000 acres would not support 1400 100 crofters. But the Commissioners say each five acres will support a sheep, so that these 200,000 acres should support 40,000 sheep, and I should like to know how many crofter families could be supported by 40,000 sheep. The people of the country have unanimously elected Members who sent them to Parliament to ask that these forests might be trenchantly dealt with, and in the long run they must have another sort of answer from the Government.
§ (11.58.) The House divided:—Ayes 120; Noes 73.—(Div. List, No. 154.)
§ Main Question proposed, " That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ SUPPLY — Committee upon Monday next.