Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £50,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1892, for expenditure upon certain public works, and for improved communications, within the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
§ (7.44.) MR. CALDWELL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)
I had hoped that on this Vote the Government would have explained a little more fully than they have done hitherto their policy as to these works, as this is not a question which should he dealt with piece-meal. It should not be looked upon as a question of the profit or advantage of a number of individuals, but as one of advancement of works for the benefit of a large portion of the United Kingdom, of the amelioration of the condition of the people living in the congested districts of Scotland, and of permanently improving the resources of the country. Viewing the matter in that light the first point I would ask the Government to consider is whether it is of advantage to the country to retain the people in the Highlands and Islands? On that point I would go over very briefly the advantages to be secured by maintaining these Island homes. In the first place there is the Army to be considered. Everyone will admit the importance of the Islands as a recruiting ground. You find in those parts of Scotland where the Highlands have become depopulated that there is a scarcity of recruits, and the stature of the men has become considerably lowered. As to the Western Islands they contribute largely to the Naval Reserve, and you actually have an application from the Island of Lewis for the establishment of a training ship there. Then, again, you find that four-fifths of the Police Force of Glasgow come from the Western Highlands and Islands, and you find that these men are not to be excelled in any other part of the United Kingdom for physique and stature. Therefore, as a recruiting ground the Highlands and Islands are of immense importance. Then you find that these districts supply a large amount 1248 of skilled and unskilled labour to the industrial centres of Scotland and elsewhere, and that they supply a large proportion of the servant girls to Glasgow and to the large towns. I venture to say that there are more domestic servants coming from there than from any portion of Scotland. In the Eastern portion of the country also, the Highlands and Islands supply a large proportion of the factory hands. But in the case of domestic servants, the supply is getting short—the demand is greater than the supply. I think, therefore, that it is to our interest to preserve these Highland and Island homes. The crofters do not remain at home all the year round. Some of them go fishing on the East coast, others go to the large towns, whilst others devote themselves to the making of railways, for which they are particularly adapted. We find, on inquiring into these matters, that the men employed on the railways live on the lowest possible allowance, and send home large sums through the Post Office. They live at home in comparative poverty — I do not say this for the sake of making them appear objects of charity—and are largely supported by the savings of their children, who go out as domestic servants. I mention these facts as showing the importance of the crofting districts, as a matter associated with the well-being of the country at large, and as against the policy which some hon. Members would pursue, of emigrating these men from the Highlands and Islands, and the policy which prevailed before the passing of the Crofters' Act. We find that the crofts are only in a condition of cultivation through the energy of the crofters, and that the policy of the landlords has been to get rid of them wherever it was possible—a policy for which, from a certain point of view, we cannot blame the landlords. The poor rates and the School Board rates are exceedingly high in these districts, and if the landlords can get rid of the crofter element and convert the crofts into sheep farms, they will get rid of a permanent burden. One of the objections to deer forests is that their effects on railways are prejudicial, and that they practically prevent any railway being profitable that passes through them. Where there were formerly villages and farms there are now nothing but deer, with occasionally the lease- 1249 holders and their friends living there. In dealing with this matter, I do not advocate that the Government should give charity to the crofters; but I am in favour of their developing the resources of the country not for the present merely, but for all future time. It is not charity to individuals to increase postal and telegraphic facilities, and the people pay as much as anyone else. And so with harbours. The people do not ask that harbours should be provided for them free, but if harbours are provided on the West Coast in the same way as on the East Coast the fishermen are prepared to pay a tax upon each boat that enters them. Nor do the people ask for railways free. They are quite ready to pay 1d. a mile and the usual charge for goods. All they ask is that, considering the particular circumstances of the Highlands and the inability of the people to provide these things for themselves, they shall be provided by the State. Experience has shown that the provision of railways and postal facilities will tend to develop the Highlands. Nothing so developed the Highlands half a century ago as the making of the Highland roads. The Government paid half the cost of those roads, and the landowners paid the other half. A large contribution was made by the Government towards the maintenance of the roads until about 20 years ago, when it was felt that such an improvement had taken place that all charge on the Exchequer for maintenance could be removed. If we look at a map of Ireland we find in the congested districts an absence of railway facilities similar to that which exists in the Highlands. Railways are as much necessary now as roads were when the Highland roads were made. As regards the fishing industry, I would point out that around the Island of Lewis and the Island of Skye you have the best fishing ground in the United Kingdom. What is required there is that there should be a certain amount of harbour accommodation and also a certain amount of shelter. Hitherto crofters have combined their crofting with fishing, and it certainly would be of great advantage that fishing should be cultivated as an industry apart altogether from the croft, the croft being a minor means of labour whereby the crofter keeping a cow 1250 should produce milk and butter and keep poultry, &c., for the use of his family. Therefore the proposals of the Government, so far as they go, to extend and enlarge the harbour at Ness, to construct a harbour or landing stage at Carloway and at Portraguran, would be quite sufficient to meet immediate wants, for it is better to have good harbours where the fishing industry is concentrated than to have a number of small harbours here and there. The Atlantic storms are severe on this coast, and in addition to these harbours you should have a certain number of boat shelters, which, as the Commission have shown, could be provided at a cheap cost, and these shelters would enable boats of large size for deep sea fishing to ride at anchor sheltered from these storms when they come in. The difference between the West coast and East coast fishing is that on the West coast there are no harbours or shelters, and the crofters when they come in from fishing must haul up their boats on shore; and when they put out again they must stand knee-deep in the water and put in their ballast, and in stormy weather it is as impossible to get the boats off, as it is to bring the fish in, without the greatest danger of the boats being knocked to pieces. It is said sometimes you may find the East coast fishermen fishing off the West coast, while the West coast boats are on shore. Quite so. But the East coast fisherman has a big boat and a harbour where he can anchor it, and so he can prosecute his industry, while his less fortunate brother on the West coast cannot get off shore. This is one of the first conditions in order to develop the fishing on the West coast—which is the best in the United Kingdom—the provision of suitable harbour accommodation. I think the Government are alive to the advantage of harbours. I could not venture to ask them to enlarge their area for harbours, but in the meantime boat shelters to the construction of which the people would contribute a considerable portion of the labour could be provided, in the opinion of the Commissioners, for from £500 to £1,000; and in the leading centres of the fishing industry I think these might be constructed. Here, however, I must part company with the Government proposals. 1251 The proposals of the Government which I admit are founded on the recommendations of the Commission. Assuming the fish are brought into harbour, the next step is to get the fish to market as speedily as possible. The proposal of the Government is that these harbours shall be connected with Stornoway by steamers going round the Island, and here local opinion is entirely at variance with the Government proposal, and those who know the nature of the sea there know it is an impossible plan. Take the best steamer you have there that plies between Strome Ferry and Stornoway; why it is a mere tab on the water and often unable to contend with the waves. It was all very well for the Commissioners to visit the Western Islands at a season of the year suitable for yachting, and in fine weather on board the Admiralty yacht Enchantress nothing seemed more pleasant and suitable to them than communication between different points of the coast by sea; but if they had had my experience of crossing from Strome Ferry to Stornoway with the sea breaking over the deck and passengers having to be battened down, I do not think they would have recommended this steamer communication round the Island, No steamer could keep up such a means of communication without a great sacrifice of time, and the delay would be such in some weather that the fish would be unfit for market before it could be delivered. Through disregarding local opinion the expenditure at Ness was rendered useless because, as was pointed out, the harbour silted up, then a second expenditure was incurred there, and now further expenditure was proposed. Local opinion is now unanimous in favour of connecting the harbours at Ness and Carloway with Stornoway by means of a light railway. The distance from Ness to Stornoway is about 25 miles, and from Carloway to Stornoway about the same distance, and by means of such a railway either of these would be within a couple of hours communication with Stornoway and the South. The fishing industry would greatly benefit by this, and so would the intermediate agricultural district; the line would traverse between the points I mention, and eggs, butter, poultry, cattle, and all the dairy produce of the Island would 1252 have a ready means of transit to market. The expense of such a light railway may be estimated at £3,000 a mile, or £150,000, and that at 2¾ per cent. means £4,000 a year. Then take the Island of Skye, a similar distance would have to be traversed connecting Glen-dale and Uig with Portree, the headquarters of the Mail Packet Service. And so for an expenditure of £300,000, or at a cost of £8,000 a year, you have a speedy means of communication between the harbours and the mainland. The proposal here is that a sum of £10,500 a year shall be devoted to a subsidy for steamer communication, but the means of communication I suggest would serve practically the whole of the Islands at a less cost. We know what a railway will cost, but the capital sunk in harbour works must always be an uncertain amount. Local opinion is unanimous that as a means of speedily conveying an unexpectedly large catch of fish to market the steamboat will be useless. Nor had the Commissioners any strong opinion that the steamer communication would meet the requirements; they took the view that it might be tried, and if it did not do then the steamer might be withdrawn and matters left as they are. But there is no doubt the steamer will not answer the purpose, and why then go through the pretence of making this connection? Simply, you are undertaking expenditure upon harbours without providing the means of sending fish from thence to the leading centres of the Islands and the southern markets. As the boatmen are willing to contribute a reasonable amount towards the cost of the boat shelters, so the population would contribute towards the original cost of the railway. Then the last point I mention is the mainland communication. The theory is, I presume, that by communication with Stornoway and Portree, the whole produce of the Islands of Lewis and Skye would be spread through the district, and there are proposals for opening up the means of communication on the mainland. It happens that, because of the geological formation, it is not possible to run a line along the West coast, as has been done on the East coast, and you can only make railway communication from the centre of Scotland to points on the West coast here 1253 and there. Now, there are two schemes to consider—the Mallaig route and the Ullapool route. With regard to the Mallaig route, the railway is already made to Fort William, and thence must go North or West, and, accordingly, the Railway Company propose a terminus at Altbea, with communication with Ullapool and Kyleakin. Negotiations with the Highland Company have not been satisfactory, and the Mallaig route would be 110 miles nearer the Southern market for the Islands than any Highland Railway Company's station. The traffic in itself would not pay, but I think if the Government would encourage competition between the Highland and the Great Northern Company, and the construction of a railway upon the basis of a third of the cost being met by the Government, a third by the Company, and a third by the landed proprietors, full benefit would be secured by the Islands of Skye and Lewis and the mainland districts. I may also mention the necessity for improving the postal communication with Uig. The proposal to spend £15,000 upon the road from Stornoway to Carloway is condemned by local opinion as absolutely useless, so far as it will affect the fishing industry. If the Government are prepared to spend £15,000 upon roads there are other districts where the outlay would be useful. But as a means of intercommunication this road will be useless; to convey fish from Carloway would be too expensive by this means, and horses cannot always be ready to convey an unexpectedly large take of fish. I hope the Government will look at these matters in the light of public policy for the development of the industry of these districts for all future time; and the improvements, whatever they may be, which are ultimately adopted for the purpose of developing the congested districts of Scotland, should not be carried out at the expense of Scotland alone, as has been suggested, but should be charged upon the Imperial Exchequer, as has been done in the case of Ireland. (8.29.)
(9.1.) DR. MCDONALD (ROSS and Cromarty)
I have no intention of going over the extent of ground traversed by the hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division, though there are many things 1254 that should have been considered and are not contemplated. We have been promised so many things in the Highlands by Liberal Unionist proposals that I am afraid there will be very considerable dissatisfaction when the boon to the Western Highlands is found to be so small, and I do not think any of my Colleagues will be as satisfied with the result of the influence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham as the Birmingham Post is. The value of the harbour accommodation is small when it is unaccompanied by the speedy means of sending fish to market. More fish may be landed and salted, but this is by no means so satisfactory a method of dealing with it as by sale in a fresh state. I must say in reference to the whole amount for the Highlands that we think the benefit will be very little, especially when dealing with points we shall come to later on. With regard to railway communication, I hope the Government will endeavour to give us the second line to the West coast; they should remember that, in dealing with the Highland Railway Company, they are dealing with a very hard customer, and the monopoly that Company enjoys has continually stood in the way of improved communication. I hear that the Highland Company have refused to work the projected line except at an exorbitant sum, and that the Great Northern have volunteered to do the work at a much smaller sum; and I also hear that influence is being brought to bear upon the Government to get them to go back to the Highland Company from the offer of the Great Northern. But I hope and trust the Government will fulfil their moral contract with the Great Northern. The improvement of the means of communication will give us the utmost benefit, and without this the harbour improvements will only be to the advantage of the villages near. There is one particular purpose for which I cannot understand why the Government are pressing money upon a locality—I mean the road from Carloway to Stornoway. I cannot understand why the Government are stubbornly insisting, against the advice of everybody in Lewis, on spending £15,000 in reconstructing a road which is good enough already for 1255 all purposes. It is true that there are hills; but if horses have to walk up a hill they can trot down it, and there is no use in reducing the gradients. The District Council protest they do not want the money for the purpose; but Government give them to understand that if they do not use it in this way they shall not have the money at all, and, of course, in the interest of the district, as it will provide a certain amount of employment, the money will not be absolutely refused, but they do not conceal the opinion that in any other sense the outlay will be wasted. It has been hinted that the Government intend to make a tramway on this road later on; but the First Lord of the Treasury, in answer to a question, said distinctly that it was not their intention to do so, and the gentleman in charge of the works, Colonel Malcolm, has also said he knows of no such intention. The Commissioners recommend that these proposals shall not be carried out without the consent of the County Councils or Harbour Authorities, and practically local agreement, but here local opinion is dead against the proposal, and yet the Government persist on the money being spent neither on piers and harbours, which would be useful, or in making roads in those parts of the island where there are absolutely none. There is one district in Lewis where there is not an inch of public road, and where the population of 2,000 persons make their way through moor and bog as best they can. I myself, when I went there, had to hire a special steamer from Stornoway as the only alternative to wading through the bogs. Many of the people there have never seen a road. Yet the Government stupidly insist upon spending £15,000 on an existing road in another part of the island, which is good enough for all purposes for which it is required. There is one other point to which I wish to draw attention, and that is, that the Government have failed to carry out the recommendation of the Commission, that there should be a training ship stationed at Stornoway. It is said by the Government that it is too far north; but I am told that there are 1,500 to 2,000 men ready to join the Naval Reserve who cannot be taken up in consequence of 1256 this want. There are no better men for the Service in the British Islands than in the Island of Lewis, hardy sailors, and in every way better men than you can get from towns. I hope the Government will re-consider this point in the interest of the Navy and of the Highlands.
§ (9.18.) Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ (9.20.) MR. ANGUS SUTHERLAND (Sutherland)
I have no intention of going into the general question of the policy of the Government on this Vote, nor do I know that the question of general policy arises, though I may say that if I and my friends had the disposal of the amount allocated we could devote it to much better purposes than are proposed here. But we desire to assist Her Majesty's Government to dispose of the grant to the best advantage. But I limit myself now to a consideration of the Government proposals, as they affect my own constituency, and I think it will be an ad vantage if Members deal with details with which they are best acquainted. First, in reference to steamer communication, I would draw attention to the maps published in the Commissioners' Report, with routes marked, and particularly to routes 5 and 6 referring to the coast of Sutherland. First, I wish to know whether it is intended to subsidise any steamers on the North and East Coasts of Sutherland. Secondly, with regard to piers and harbours. With regard to piers and harbours, I have little cause to complain. The Secretary for Scotland agreed to include within the scope of the inquiry on that subject the North Coast of Sutherland, and I gladly recognise the reasonable manner in which he met my representations. Three harbours on that coast are recommended. With regard to two of them, the Government agree to advance three-quarters of the cost, but only two-thirds for the third. The difference will only amount to £150 to £200; and I hope the Treasury will see their way to make up that small difference. Then, as to the construction and maintenance of these works, I would press upon the Government the necessity of providing that all the money advanced from the public 1257 Treasury should go directly to these works. I also have to complain that, so far as I know, more stringent conditions have been enacted with regard to Local Guarantees in Sutherlandshire than elsewhere. I do not see why that should be the case. Lastly, I have to complain that no information whatever has been afforded with regard to the construction of railways. I shall be glad to know what the Government proposals on that point are. It has been taken for granted that the lines of railway in any case will pass through Ross, but I do not know whether there is any justification for that assumption. I should have thought the most direct communication with Stornoway would be by Lochinvar; but I hope whatever means of communication are established sufficient guarantee will be taken that the expenditure is incurred so as to benefit the greatest number of people. Upon the points I have mentioned I should be glad to have specific information.
§ (9.29.) MR. LYELL (Orkney and Shetland)
As representing a constituency specially interested in the improvement of means of communication with the south, I may be allowed to ask for a little more information as to the manner in which this money is to be spent, than has yet been afforded. With regard to the way the money is to be spent I wish to point out that one of the greatest wants in Orkney and Shetland is sufficient means of lighting the coasts and harbours. The sum to be spent on this object is not nearly enough to effect the improvements that are earnestly required. I wish to know whether the sum of £1,000 devoted to this purpose is to be spent in arranging for the erection of the larger lighthouse works along the west coast, and particularly of Orkney and Shetland. The whole of that coast is absolutely unlighted at the present moment. I wish for more information as to how the lighting is to be carried out; and as to what extent the money is to be spent in furnishing harbour and leading lights. I believe the fishermen would be willing to pay a reasonable amount towards providing leading and harbour lights. The improvement of mail communication is on the 1258 point of being completed. This is an improvement which the Shetlanders have demanded most urgently, and it promises to be a means of developing the material resources of the islands, by providing them with a better outlet for their fish. I hope the Government will provide some assistance towards the further development of the roads in these islands. The education of the children is greatly retarded because of the defective state of the roads, which make attendance at school very difficult in foggy weather. With regard to the question of railways, my constituents are specially desirous that a railway should be made to Gillsbay in Caithness, believing it will afford a better means than exists at present of despatching their produce to the south, as well as ensure a much more regular departure and arrival of mails.
§ (9.34.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
I hope my friends representingcrofter counties will excuse my intervening with a word of warning to them, and a word of appeal to the Government on behalf of the east coast of Scotland. I must remind my friends in the Highlands that the County of Aberdeen has a larger number of crofters than any of the counties in the Highlands, and that on the east coast of Scotland there are a larger number of fishermen than there are in any individual county in the Highlands. And there is undoubtedly a growing feeling that whenever the people of the east coast are called upon out of their taxation to supply material assistance to the fishermen and crofters of the west, they are neglected themselves and allowed to provide everything out of their own means. There are many fishing communities on the east coast who very much want harbours for the development of the fishing industry, and I appeal to the Government whether year after year three-fourths or two-thirds of the cost—I do not grudge it; on the contrary, I am glad that these Highland counties are receiving assistance — but is this to go on without any assistance whatever being given to the East Coast? We have been assured by the Fishery Board that the case of the East Coast is necessitous, that the conditions under which the 1259 fishermen labour are hard, and they say they have no means at their disposal out of which to give assistance. The hon. Baronet (Sir H. Maxwell), I am sure, will not fail to represent this appeal on behalf of the East Coast to the Scotch Office. The hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Caldwell), who is acting as Commissioner for some one, says one of the things we require for national purposes throughout Scotland is a supply of soldiers. I should be very sorry if we kept up the Highlands of Scotland for that purpose, and I hope my county will not be reduced to the state of poverty which would make enlistment the only refuge for young men. What we want is the development of the industries in the Highlands, in order that more renumerative and more inviting employment may be provided for the young men. I am sure the Members for Banffshire and for Elgin will confirm me when I say there is a strong feeling of discontent all along the coast in regard to the way in which the fishermen there are treated in comparison with those in the Highlands. What they wish is that, if the development of the fishery industry is a national purpose— and I believe there is no purpose for which the funds of the State can be put with greater national advantage—if the Government consider it their duty to apply money to the development of harbours on the West Coast they should put the people on the East Coast in the same position, and especially where the people come forward and offer to contribute their share in the same way as the people in the west they also should be assisted to make harbours. The hon. Member (Mr. Caldwell) says the East Coast fishermen can fish to greater advantage, because they have larger boats, but these larger boats have to be built by the men out of their own means; and the proposal of the Government is to give the fishermen on the West Coast large boats to compete with the East Coast fishermen. These large boats fish from the larger harbours, but there are a great number of fishing towns on the East Coast where the men have not been able to build large boats. They have to fish from their own villages, and they require facilities by which they can carry on their in- 1260 dustry in ordinary weather. I do not wish to be supposed to be protesting against anything the Government are inclined to do for the development of the West Coast. I wish to reinforce the remarks of my hon. Friends that in any development of the railway system special attention shall be given to that competition which the Government must know is necessary, and I have noticed with some dissatisfaction that there has been an inclination to throw everything into the hands of one Railway Company for its own special purposes and for the development of its own dividends. I should be neglecting my duty were I not to warn the Government that the feeling on the East Coast is growing in volume, and will some day force itself upon the attention of the Government. They did not grudge the West Coast the benefits it is going to receive, but they require telegraphs and railways along the East Coast for the development of the fishing. They also require harbours for the safety of the fishermen. All we ask is that in applying public money some regard should be paid to fair play. If not, the people of the East Coast will rebel, and ask that they should receive some return for the contributions they make to the Imperial Exchequer, while pressing wants are neglected.
(9.45.) A LORD OF THE TREASURY (Sir H.MAXWELL,) Wigton
I have to reply to some of the questions addressed to me during the progress of this Debate. I cannot help thinking that Scotch Debates, though they may not rival those of other nationalities in liveliness, at all events may be admitted to equal them in the thorough interest and local knowledge which is contributed by hon. Members in regard to their constituencies. It has been remarked that it might have been expected that the Vote would have been accompanied by some explanation of the various items, and of the methods by which the money is to be applied. I must ask hon. Members to remember the somewhat unfortunate circumstances in which we are placed in consequence of the Scotch Department being absolutely unrepresented in the House on the present occasion. We have the combined facts of the prevailing epidemic and the General Assembly now sitting in Scotland 1261 at work on this occasion, so that the Scotch Office is entirely unrepresented. I have not the honour of being in the slightest degree connected with that Office. I only represent the Treasury, which hon. Members are aware is sometimes greatly at issue with the other Departments. The hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division of Glasgow began with a general dissertation on the policy of grants made to the Highlands and the Islands. Into that question, under the circumstances to which I have just alluded, I can hardly be expected to enter fully. At the same time, although I am not a Highlander, I lay claim to be in sympathy towards that race, of which all Scotchmen are justly proud, namely, the Celts of the West of Scotland. The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire has spoken of the jealousy which not unnaturally exists between the East and the West of Scotland. That constitutes a main difficulty in devoting any public money to the promotion of industry in particular localities. Moreover, that jealousy is not restricted to the East and West.
§ SIR H. MAXWELL
The hon. Gentleman, however, said that the discontent is growing in strength and importance in the East of Scotland, and will at no distant day force itself upon the attention of the Government. The hon. Member for St. Rollox asks for information as to the principles of the Government in regard to the money to be spent on railway communication, and expresses a hope that those who are charged with the consideration of the various schemes propounded will attach sufficient weight to the importance of competition between lines. That subject is under consideration, but no decision has yet been arrived at. But a small Committee, consisting of Major Hutchinson, of the Board of Trade, Rear Admiral Sir George Nares, and Mr. Tennant, the late manager of the North-Eastern Railway, has been appointed to advise the Government upon this subject. As regards subsidies to Steamship Companies for improved communication, the total expenditure is estimated at £10,500 per 1262 annum for a term of years, probably four or five. Of this about £7,500 will be spent upon the West Coast, and £3,000 on the improvement of the Shetland service. Four new or improved services are already at work on the West Coast under a temporary arrangement, which will expire on or before 30th September, 1892. With the experience then gained the whole question will be re-considered, and it is hoped that tenders will be invited from the public for all the services which it may be considered desirable to maintain. The negotiations with regard to the Shetland service are not quite concluded, but it is hoped that they will result in the provision of two additional steamers per week each way in the summer, and one additional steamer in winter. The estimated expenditure for the current year on all these services is not expected to exceed £7,000. As regards grants in aid of public works, the expenditure already sanctioned amounts to £43,000. In addition to this, a certain sum (probably £15,000 or £20,000) may be required for minor works, such as small piers or boatslips; but no decision has yet been arrived at, as legislation will be necessary to enable County Councils or other Local Bodies to undertake the necessary liabilities for the construction and maintenance of the works. It is also possible that a further small grant may be required for similar works in Orkney and Shetland; and an offer of a sum of £2,500 has been made to the Trustees of Lerwick Harbour, subject to certain conditions. The grants for piers and harbours already sanctioned are—£16,500 for the harbour works at Ness, in the Island of Lewis; £2,000 for a harbour at Carloway, in the same island; £,8000 for a pier and breakwater at Gott Bay, in the Island of Tiree; £3,500 for a pier and breakwater at Talmin Bay, in Sutherland; £4,000 for a steamboat pier at Uig, in Skye; £3,000 for a boat harbour at Skerry, in Sutherland; £3,000 for a boat harbour at Portskerra in Sutherland; £3,000 for the extension of the harbour at Scrabster, in Caithness. It is not expected that more than £20,500 will be expended in the course of the present financial year. The expenditure contemplated for the present on light- 1263 houses and beacons is £4,500; but difficulties have arisen with regard to the maintenance of the lights, and the Government are not in a position to announce a definite decision. It is contemplated to spend about £3,000 on the west coast, and about £1,500 in Orkney and Shetland. The first cost of the telegraph extensions which have been sanctioned is £6,662; and the works have already been taken in hand by the Post Office. There will be one new line in the Island of Lewis, two on the west coast of the mainland, two in Skye, one on Orkney, and two in Shetland. An offer has been made to the Local Authority for the improvement of the road from Stornoway to Carloway in the Lews, so as to facilitate the transit of fish from the latter place to the southern markets; but it is not yet known whether the offer of the Government will be accepted. The expenditure on all the above (except piers and harbours) during the current year is expected to be about £20,000. As regards the grants in aid of railways, it has not been possible to arrive at any final conclusion; but the Government have appointed a small Committee consisting of Major General Hutchinson, R.E., C.B., of the Board of Trade, Rear Admiral Sir G. S. Nares, K.C.B., and Mr. Henry Tennant, late general manager of the North Eastern Railway Company, to advise them further on this subject. It is hoped that their Report will be received in time to make a proposal to Parliament in the course of this Session. As to administration, with a view of ensuring that the funds contributed by the Government to the above works shall be efficiently and properly expended, Colonel Malcolm, R.E., C.B., has been appointed, with a suitable staff of assistants, to superintend the works and report from time to time on the progress made with them. The expenses under this head are estimated at £2,500. The new steamer services in the West Highlands include (a) acceleration of present service between Strome Ferry and Stornoway; (b) daily service Oban to Castlebay and Lochmaddy, calling in Skye; (c) daily service round Mull, calling at Coll and Tiree four days a week; (d) Portree to Dunvegan and Lochmaddy three days a week.
§ (10.0.) DR. CLARK (Caithness)
I have been waiting for some information before speaking upon this Estimate; but after hearing the hon. Baronet, I must confess that I do not even yet fully understand the policy of Her Majesty's Government There have been several kinds of policy in relation to this question. There was the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, who was the author of a plan for developing the resources of the Western Highlands under a Unionist Government, so that they might get some support from the people of that part of the Kingdom. Then we had the hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Caldwell) sent there as a sort of non-official Commissioner, and he made a Report to the head of his own Party. After this we had the Secretary for Scotland proceeding through the district, and he, like the hon. Member for St. Rollox, promised the people all manner of things on behalf of the Unionist cause. Then we had the Commission appointed by the Government, and composed of a body of individuals who knew nothing at all about the Western Highlands, and from them we have had two Reports; and, following on these, we have had the Civil Service Supplementary Estimate, by which the House is called on to vote a sum of £50,000 for the benefit of the people of that district. I should suppose that the cost incurred by these Commissions and others seeking information on this subject, if we could ascertain the amount, would be found to be equal to the amount we are asked to vote. If the Government were proposing to give the County Councils power to spend the money, they would be doing something that might really benefit the Western Highlands; but, as it is, the only result that I can see is that the mountain has been in labour and has brought forth a ridiculous mouse. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Rollox did obtain some information, and did try to apply it in a useful way, while Lord Lothian also went among the people, and endeavoured to do the best he could under the circumstances. As to the Commission, the people were not at all satisfied with them, and the phrase by 1265 which that last Commission is known is that of the "Flippant Commission." They knew nothing at all about the Western Highlands; they did not appear to want to know; and their Report showed their utter ignorance of the question they were appointed to obtain information about. In fact, they went about treating the people in the most cavalier manner, and the result of this sort of blind leading the blind procedure is that the money expended on this Commission has been thrown away. There is, in the Report of this Commission, a lot of information such as we have had from other Commissions about the housing of the people. We know that in the Western Highlands and Islands any attempt on the part of the crofters to improve their houses is immediately followed by an increase of rent; not that the landlords do this; but the ground officers and factors are in the habit of taking advantage of any opportunity for screwing up the rents, the result being the rack-renting system, which has so long prevailed. I am glad to say that where the Crofters' Commission has been, an improvement is to be found, and the former oppressive rack-rents have been greatly reduced, the people now being able to do something for themselves; but the Commission says—They were even more surprised at the reluctance of the people to help themselves than they were at the poor houses in which they lived.The Commissioners also draw a comparison between the condition of the thrifty, energetic East Coast fishermen, who have such splendid boats and fishing gear, and whose hardy nature and better craft enable them to go out where the western fishermen are afraid to show themselves. Now, I happen to know something of both these people. In Sutherland there are both West and East Coast fishermen, and there the West Coast men are quite equal to those of the East Coast. What I say is that where they are not so well favoured it is the past policy of the Government which has brought them to the condition they are in, and now the Government accuses them of having fallen. As to the Island of Lewis, we are told that it contains more people than 1266 the area inhabited can properly maintain, and that is one of the few statements of the Commission that I can thoroughly endorse. If the Commission had suggested that the deer forests should be given back to the people, that would have been a sensible suggestion; but they have only suggested that the extra population should be got rid of by emigration. Complaint has been made that the West Coast people are getting all the money; but, as far as my knowledge of the fishing grants is concerned, it is the East Coast people who have got all the money, and the West Coast people who really have the right to complain. I think that if proper inquiry had been made these foolish grants which the Government have adopted from the Commission would never have been proposed. There is a grant of £3,000 which we are asked to vote for my part of the country; and when we come to a proper analysis of the Vote, I shall move its reduction by that £3,000, because I consider it money thrown away. This is the only case in which the Government give £3,000 right away without any portion being subscribed from local sources.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. JACKSON,) Leeds, N.
It was the recommendation of the Commission.
§ DR. CLARK
I know it was; but they made no real inquiry into the matter, having only had one day in the neighbourhood of Thurso, and the result is that they have made a Report than which a more foolish one was never presented. In Thurso Bay and the Thurso River which runs into it, the Thurso people are endeavouring to establish such a harbour as may properly develop the resources of the district. The inhabitants have subscribed £4,000, and have borrowed £15,000 for this purpose, and yet the Government actually suggest that we should vote £3,000 for the renovation of the old pier at Scrabster, where there are no such facilities for harbour purposes as at Thurso. Then the Government propose to spend £16,500 for the harbour at Ness, on which already many thousands of pounds have been wasted, and there are other proposals with regard to which, on the Report stage of these Estimates, the 1267 Government have promised to consider an Amendment which I brought up as to conferring on the County Councils power to deal with these matters. The Government accept the principle of that Amendment, though they say it is not sufficiently explicit on certain points, and that they would prefer special legislation. In fact, more than two months ago they said the Lord Advocate was considering the point with a view to legislation; but although the Bill has not yet been prepared, the Government are asking us to vote this money. I hope, however, to hear something more from the Government about the proposed legislation, and I trust that the hon. Baronet (Sir H. Maxwell) will be able to afford the necessary information. If you are going to throw money away on this road I shall vote against it. I think the Government will be well advised if they act on the suggestions of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham as to the development of the resources of the Western Islands. But whatever they may do, I say that I look upon all these panaceas of the Government to solve the difficulties in the Western and Northern Highlands as utterly worthless. There can be but one satisfactory remedy, and that is to replace the people on the land from which their fathers were driven away. The Government are trying to prevent the solution of the land question in the only satisfactory manner, and whatever they may do in the way of migration or the development of local resources they will require to spend much more money than is at present contemplated. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and his friends have led the people to believe that something is to be done for them, and the outcome of all is a lame and halting proposal by the Government to vote a miserable sum of £50,000.
§ (10.36.) MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
Having for a number of years taken an interest in the Highlands, I may be permitted, though not a Scotchman, to say a few words on the subject. It is always rather doubt ful wisdom to ascribe to people of whose mental processes one knows little 1268 motives of which we know still less, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that such a policy as I may have devised for the Highlands is not dictated by any desire to obtain support for this Government, because it was largely conceived in the time of the previous Government. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have an unselfish interest in these people, and am not actuated solely by political motives. The hon. Member said that the hon. Member for St. Rollox went as my emissary, or ambassador, to the Highlands. That is paying him a very poor compliment. The hon. Member for St. Rollox did not go to the Highlands as an ambassador or emissary of mine, but entirely from his own good will and interest in the subject. I fail entirely to understand the object of the speech just delivered, unless it is to convince the Government that it is quite unnecessary for them in the future to appoint Commissioners to inquire into the technical difficulties, to settle the financial problems involved, when they have all the information in the person of the hon. Member for Caithness. What is the state of things in the Highlands? We are dealing, not with an ordinary, but with an exceptional population, and that is my answer to the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire, who objects to the proposal to meet the exceptional distress in the Western Highlands because he says his constituents, with whom there is no-exceptional distress, would be discontented, and would even rise in practical rebellion against the Government if consideration were shown to their less fortunate neighbours in the West I do not think he could have seen the inference which would be drawn from his own statements, and I am perfectly certain that Scotchmen generally sufficiently appreciate the peculiar condition of the West Coast, and the crofter districts especially, to be quite willing that special consideration should be given to their case without making that special consideration the foundation for a demand which should extend to the whole of Scotland and the United Kingdom. The first attempt to deal with that peculiar condition was made in the time of the Government of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian by my 1269 right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Sir G. Trevelyan). The Bill of my right hon. Friend was a generous Bill, which went as far as the majority of the House of Commons was prepared to go at that time, but everybody will admit that it was a comparative failure. Practically the only thing the measure has done has been to reduce the rents of the crofters, and reduce them to an extraordinary extent—30, 40, and even 50 per cent. But then we are face to face with the eternal difficulty of small holdings. When we have to deal with holdings so small that a man cannot get a living out of them, the question of rent is a secondary question. If a man's rent is £2 a year, and it is reduced 50 per cent., the percentage indeed is enormous; but how is a man going to live out of 20s. a year who starves without it? What the Government for the first time is attempting to do is to carry out the policy which it has also attempted for the congested districts of Ireland, and to endeavour to secure the material improvement of the country by improving communications and by stimulating and increasing the facilities for different industries, so that the people shall not be wholly dependent upon the land, and that those who are dependent on the land may obtain better results. This is an experiment, no doubt, and the hon. Member for Caithness has spoken of the amount granted as only a miserable, paltry sum of £50,000 for the purpose. Admitting it is an experiment, can any one be so foolish, so mad, so unjust as to expect that the Government will take a larger sum from the taxation of the country until, at all events, they have had sufficient experience to say that the expenditure will be justifiable? If, as the hon. Member, out of the plenitude of his wisdom and knowledge, has said, this experiment is destined to be an utter and a complete failure, why, let us be thankful that only £50,000 will have been spent, and that the remainder of the large sum he would devote to the purpose will be available for some great scheme of his own in that future Government to which he is looking forward to carry it out. But the sum is not a miserable sum. It is sufficient for an experiment, and it is only because the proposal is an experi- 1270 ment that we are entitled to ask the Committee to assent to it at the present time. It is, however, an important experiment, and one which may have remarkable results. I do not believe that money was ever wasted in the making of roads. I believe the best expenditure ever made in the Highlands was that made upon roads. It is said that you must have tramways and railways as well as roads. Well, Rome was not built in a day. I admit that the scheme of the Government is not sufficiently extensive; but if the experience of the next few years justifies the experiment the Government has begun, I do not doubt for a moment that the House of Commons will be willing to vote further sums to pursue that policy. I wish to point out that we are in this matter striving in a new direction to deal with what has hitherto been an insoluble problem. We are bound, in my opinion, to go on trying experiments until we have solved the problem of this very exceptional poverty and distress. We ought not to treat those poor people as pariahs, or as hopelessly condemned by fate and circumstances to a continuance of the hard existence they have had to bear for many years past. I take a more sanguine view of this question than the hon. Member for Caithness, for I believe the experiment will be successful. It is possible that here and there mistakes may be made and some money wasted, but no Government is or can be infallible, or can be certain that in dealing with these local matters no mistake can be made. I believe, however, as I have already said, that in the long run this policy will be successful, and I desire to see a great extension of it. But I do not stop there. I would advise the crofters and those who represent them to be satisfied with finding that attention is being paid to their condition, and that an earnest, sincere, and intelligent endeavour is being made to remedy it. We should not press forward everything at the same time. I am prepared to admit that I do not think the present condition of the land question is altogether satisfactory, any more than it is in Ireland, even after three successive agrarian measures. In Ireland we are coming to the conclusion that the whole system of dual tenure is 1271 a mistake, and that the only way to a final settlement is to make the tenants owners of their land. I have a strong opinion that something of the kind will be found to be the case in the crofter districts of Scotland, and that something will have to be done to give, at all events, a certain number of the crofters a proprietary interest in the soil which they cultivate. Nor do I believe that it will be difficult. Of course, the chief difficulty is in the poverty of the people; but I believe there are some districts where the policy might be carried out—in the islands of Orkney and Shetland, for instance. I believe numbers of tenants and numbers of landlords will be found in those islands who will at once come to terms if anything like the offers that are being made to the tenants of Ireland under the Land Purchase Bill are made to them. If the policy is good for Ireland, why should it not be good for Scotland? I can see no difference in the two cases. I can understand that there may be some difficulty when we come to deal with large farmers, but we are dealing now with a class of tenants in Scotland who are of exactly the same class as the small tenants in Ireland. If I do not press the Government now to undertake this legislation, it is because I know, as a practical man, that their hands are full. I am grateful to the Government, if I may speak for the crofters, for having done so much, and I am not going to groan at them because they have not done all. They have done more in the matter than any previous Government, and I hope they, or some other Government, will do more in the future. After all, this is only the commencement of a great policy for the material improvement of these districts, and I hope that the experiment will meet with the success which it certainly deserves.
§ (10.53.) SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)
It seems to me that we want more complete information from the Government as to their extraordinary management of the Business of this House, and as to the occasions upon which they take Supply. Nobody expected, for instance, that it would have been taken to-night. I am well aware that the Government can, if they 1272 think fit, vote away the money of the taxpayers of this country. I am not one of those who object to taking this £50,000 because it is a small sum. I would rather have that than nothing at all. We certainly are entitled to this miserable £50,000, but it is a very small sum compared with the untold millions which you are spending upon Ireland. We know that Ireland gets so much because the Irish Members make their voices heard so often. At the same time, I think, with the hon. Member for Caithness, that after all the Commission's inquiries and promises we have had, this is a paltry sum. Why should not a substantial sum of money be applied to a system of migration in Scotland as well as in Ireland? I differ from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham in the desire to turn large numbers of small farmers in the Highlands and Islands into owners. One of the most crying evils that requires to be dealt with is that of tenure. I think it would be well to permit the construction of light railways in the Highlands. In Scotland there are only three points at which the railways touch the sea, and for the development of the fishing industry an extension of railway communication is urgently needed. If new railways are constructed, it would be a huge mistake to render them dependent upon the Highland Railway Company, for that railway is the worst of monopolists. I can only, in conclusion, express a very strong hope that whatever is done in this House, there will be no attempt to place the West coast in competition with the East coast.
§ (11.0.) MR. DUFF (Banffshire)
My right hon. Friend has dealt with the Report and recommendations of the Commissioners. I believe the total expenditure recommended in that Report to be incurred is £280,000, and, so far as I am concerned, I shall be very glad if any Government could have seen their way to carry out the recommendations of the Commission. To night, however, I propose to confine my remarks to this Vote of £50,000. It is proposed to spend £43,000 on piers and harbours. I think that my right hon. Friend opposite admitted that this expenditure was one 1273 very strongly recommended by the Commission. I wish to point out the desirability of constituting Local Authorities in Scotland, to whom may be entrusted the construction and maintenance of harbours. If you are going to carry out the recommendations of the Commission, and to provide money for the harbours, it is absolutely necessary that something should be done to constitute Harbour Authorities. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham I think was scarcely fair in what he said about my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen. I did not understand the latter to complain of money being given to the West coast of Scotland. We do not complain of that at all. It is not fair to say that there is any jealousy between the people living on the West coast and these on the East coast; but what we do say is that if you are going to apply certain principles to the West coast, you must treat the East coast with equal fairness, and apply to the fisheries there exactly the same principles. The fact of the matter is that the money which is now to be given for harbours in Scotland is partially drawn from the fishermen on the East coast, and they think that if it is to be spent on the West coast it is rather too much to ask them to contribute funds for a purpose from which they themselves can derive no benefit. Yet that is exactly what you are now doing. There has been much distress on the East coast. The value of herrings has depreciated greatly during the last three or four years, indeed it is not incorrect to say that it is now only one-third what it was at one time. In consequence of the depressed condition of affairs many of the people in my own constituency have gone out to New Zealand, Nova Scotia, and to other parts of the world to try and find work there. We think that when so much is being done on the West coast some assistance might be given on the East coast. The Chancellor of the Exchequer may remember that a request was made to him last year, which I believe he at the time entertained somewhat favourably, that a certain sum of money should be given to the harbours on the East coast.
§ (11.11.) DR. CLARK
As the Secretary to the Treasury cheered the state- 1274 ment of the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for West Birmingham that he did not understand the meaning of my speech, perhaps I may make the meaning clear. [Cries of "Oh!"] I am sorry some hon. Gentlemen opposite are ill. The meaning of my speech is this, that when you want information you ought to send out a Commission composed of individuals who know something about the matter to be investigated. This Commission was sent out to give you information and to make suggestions regarding roads, tramways, and railways. In this Report what have we got? The recommendation to spend £15,000 on one road, a road which is the best road in the Island, while there are large districts without roads at all. Can anything be more absurd than that? There is not a single scheme put before us for any tramway or railway. If you wanted to get information you ought to have sent men who would have given a little attention to the matter; you might have sent the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, or more especially the hon. Member for St. Rollox. The Report, in many ways, is absolutely valueless.
§ COLONEL MALCOLM (Argyllshire)
Is the hon. Member aware that one of the members of the Commission, Sheriff M'Kechnie, is the son of a crofter?
§ DR. CLARK
I believe he is an Iona man, a constituent of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He may have been the one man on the Committee who understood the subject. We are told the population is exceptional. Why are they exceptional? Simply because they have been driven off the land and compelled to live under conditions which make comfort impossible. We are acting now just as we acted when the last Government was in office. When the Crofters' Bill was in Committee, we moved to report Progress in order that the time of the House should not be wasted on the Bill, and we moved the rejection of the Bill on the Third Reading, because we considered the Bill would be absolutely useless to cure the great evil the people complained of. We told the House six and seven years ago as we tell you now that if you adopt the recommendation of the right hon. 1275 Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and make all these men peasant proprietors, giving them the land for nothing, and relieving them from the payment of taxes, you will not solve the problem. Until yon enable the men to acquire their holdings and give them additional land; until you engage in schemes of migration and emigration where necessary, you will not cure the great evil, the want of land. It is asked whether this scheme is to settle the question. Of course it is not. One good purpose has been served to-night. We have had a speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, the father of this policy. The supporters of the right hon. Gentleman have visited the districts concerned, and have declared that "we and the Unionist Government are your true friends; we are going to give yon harbours, tramways, and railways," but the speech of the right hon. Gentleman has pricked the bubble, and Unionist candidates will disappear from the places where they are now trying to obtain support under false pretences.
I hope that the Government will not press the Vote tonight. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham told the House that by expending this £50,000 the Government will do more for the Highlands than any Government has done before. That comes from a man who was a Member of the Cabinet when the Crofters' Bill was passed. Why, he must know that in the shape of capitalised value of the reduction of rents the Crofters' Act put £1,000,000 of money into the pockets of the crofters.
§ (11.24.) DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)
I think the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir G. Campbell) has done good service by expressing dissatisfaction that in consequence of extraordinary and mysterious negotiations we have been landed suddenly into Scotch Supply. It is a mere fluke that Members from the Highlands of Scotland happen to be present on this occasion to take part in a Debate which so intimately concerns their constituents. The Irish Votes are always so arranged as to suit the convenience of Irish Members. I do not in the least complain of this, 1276 but it contrasts very strangely with the practice regarding Scotch Votes. I think the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire has done well in bringing forward the grievances of his constituents. There certainly is some distress in Aberdeenshire, and a large number of what may be termed crofters are deprived of the benefits of the Crofters' Act on the ground that they are not in the crofter district. I should like to see the area of the Act extended, if not to the whole of Scotland, at least to some other districts. Certainly the people in other parts of Scotland are looking wistfully, and hoping to share in the good things that are going. I hope my hon. Friend who has brought this question so often before the House will do so on some future occasion with success, and that my part of Scotland will derive some portion of those benefits which do not seem to have been received with so much favour in those districts to which they have been directed.
§ (11.27.) MR. ANGUS SUTHERLAND
I did not enter into the question of general policy when I last addressed the Committee, but now I should like to say a few words in regard to the bearing on that policy of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. The right hon. Gentleman set out by stating that there were exceptional people and exceptional circumstances in the Highlands. Do the exceptional circumstances date from 1886 or 1884? No, Sir, they originated in the beginning of the century when the people were cleared off the land and sent to the districts that are now called congested. It is idle for any Member of the House to suppose he can successfully tackle the difficulty in the Highlands unless he begins by reversing the policy of 1819 and 1820. There has been no more distress in the Highlands for the last three or four years than there has been at any time for the last 80 years. The right hon. Gentleman says that the boon conferred by this gift of £50,000 will be greater than that consequent on the passing of the Crofters' Act. I wish the right hon. Gentleman would go to any public meeting in the Highlands and make that statement. I am not con- 1277 cerned to defend the action of the Liberal Government, but to say that this gift of £50,000 is a boon equal to the passing of an Act which, besides giving them reductions of rent, gave them security of tenure, and enabled them for the first time to exercise the political privileges which belong to them as subjects of the Queen, is absurd. Over and over again we were promised amendment of the Act, and if a Liberal Government were in power the Act would be extended. I do not undervalue the sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and it is the more valuable that he has been to the districts himself; but unless he recognises the position taken up by the Highland people, his recommendations are of no use, and have no chance of success. The second part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech contradicted the first part. In the first place, he said, and said truly, that the holdings of the people were not sufficient to pay rent, and yet the right hon. Gentleman went on to propose that the tenant occupiers should be made proprietors. But would not that stereotype and perpetuate the very condition of things we want to sweep away? We want are distribution of the people on the land.
§ (11.32.) MR. CALDWELL
I am not concerned to say what the Liberal Government intended to do, but the proposals upon which the Government now proceed are essentially different. The land question was dealt with by the Crofters' Act, and so far as it went it was a boon to the people of the Highlands. The present Government are trying to benefit the people by new methods, founded on those the Chief Secretary is applying to Ireland for the development of the material resources of the country, the improvement of harbour accommodation, and the acceleration of the means of communication. But what we have to complain of is that, while the intentions of the Government are perfectly good, and while they gave their proposals mentioned in the Queen's Speech, yet, though we have this Vote now, there has been no declaration of the principle upon which the Government propose to proceed, or the scheme 1278 by which they propose to give effect to their intentions. We have a series of disjointed Votes here and there, but we are unable to see how these will act upon the general scheme of the Government. We are entitled, I think, to some information. The Representative of the Government present on this occasion has done the best he could, but he has told us that the Representatives of the Scotch Office, who may be supposed to know all these details, are absent in Scotland.
§ SIR H. MAXWELL
I said my right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate is ill, and that the Solicitor General for Scotland is required to attend the General Assembly in Edinburgh.
§ MR. CALDWELL
I am sure we all sympathise with the Lord Advocate, but I am bound to say I do not see why the business of this House should be superseded by the affairs of the General Assembly in Edinburgh. But we know perfectly well that this has been a Cabinet matter, and the First Lord of the Treasury or the Chancellor of the Exchequer must have full cognizance of these matters. I do not suppose that the Solicitor General for Scotland has so much knowledge of the details as the hon. Baronet. The whole of this plan, we have been told, was conceived by Lord Lothian, the First Lord of the Treasury, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who of all Members of the Government is most likely to know the policy to be pursued, has listened to hardly a single speech during the discussion, and has given the Committee no information in this respect. That we have not been given such information leads me to doubt if the whole plan has been thought out. We have, as I have said, but a few disjointed proposals. You take a Vote of money to be spent under the direction and with the consent of County Councils in Scotland; but you know you cannot spend a penny of that money during the year, and. you must have the authority of an Act of Parliament before it can be spent. Of the £43,000 you ask for harbours, only £16,500 can be properly advanced to the Ness Harbour Trustees; but as regards the remainder, the County Councils have not yet the power to undertake the re- 1279 sponsibility proposed to be placed upon them. It is absurd that you should, under the pretence of doing so much for the Highlands, take a Vote for money which you know you cannot spend this year, or until you get statutory authority. There is nothing to be gained by passing the Vote, for no money can be spent on the fisheries during the present year. But that I wish to avoid the appearance of opposing the Government in regard to this particular Vote, and that I wish to facilitate in every possible way the policy enunciated of developing the resources of the Highlands, I would move to report Progress and defer this Vote until the Government have given us their plan.
§ (11.40.) DR. CLARK
I beg to move a reduction on account of Subsection 2 of No. 3, the piers and harbours portion. I move the reduction of the Vote by £3,000, the proposed expenditure upon Scrabster Harbour. In what I may call the warrant for the appointment of the Commission, the Commission were told to indicate the districts where distress existed to an abnormal degree, and to find methods of remedying the evils, developing the resources of the district or otherwise. This will do nothing towards developing the natural resources, it will not help the fishermen or crofters, and as I object to money being voted under false pretences, I move the reduction.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £47,000 (being a reduction of £3,000 in respect of the Scrabster Harbour), be granted for the said Service."—(Dr. Clark.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN,) St. George's, Hanover Square
We have taken the earliest opportunity of putting our proposals before hon. Members; but I do not think we have been met in a fair spirit by hon. Members opposite. We have gone considerably out of our way to assist the crofter districts; we have made proposals which are novel proposals. We have made proposals for increasing and improving the means of communication; but I cannot say that hon. Members from Scotland have met us in the spirit we might have expected. I do not know whether the present 1280 Motion is made in earnest; but, assuming that it is, we have no desire to resist it, and accept the reduction.
§ (11.43.) MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling, &c.)
I do not know on what possible ground the right hon. Gentleman bases the complaint he has made against hon. Members from Scotland. Are we to accept on bended knees and without criticism all the proposals which the Government make?
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has heard the speeches which have been made this evening. Their general tenour has been one of great complaint; the composition of the Commission, the time they devoted to their work, and the whole attitude of the Government has been severely criticised throughout the Debate.
§ MR. CAMPBELL BANNERMAN
And we have a perfect right to criticise severely if we think proper. I have not been present during the whole discussion, nor, I think, has the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But I have heard enough to be aware that the Scotch Members have been reasonably discussing these important proposals in a spirit which always has characterised, and I trust always will charactise, Scotch Members. We are not accustomed to receive money, even from the right hon. Gentle man, without looking at it before we receive it; we are anxious that money should not be misspent in our country. The Scotch people are a frugal people, and like to see a thing done in an economical way. I know nothing about Scrabster Harbour, but the hon. Member who represents the county says that the money will be misspent. [Cries of "Agreed!"] But we are qute willing that the money should be spent in other places, and in a proper way, to carry out the recommendations of the Commissioners. The right hon. Gentleman is endeavouring to drive two horses in different directions. He cannot seek to have the political advantage in Scotland of having spent this money there, and at the same time thrust upon the people of a locality expenditure they do not wish to have. This, I understand, is the ground upon which my hon. Friend makes this Motion on a detail as to which I have no information, and am not, 1281 therefore, entited to detain the Committee. As to the general discussion, I altogether repudiate the blame which has been thrown upon Scotch Members by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I regret extremely that the right hon. Gentleman should have thought himself justified in doing so at the close of a Debate of this kind.
§ (11.47.) MR. GOSCHEN
I have not blamed the Scotch Members, but I do regret the spirit in which they have met the Government when it was conferring boons upon the country, and had a right to expect that our proposal would be met in a very different spirit.
§ MR. ANGUS SUTHERLAND
Can the right hon. Gentleman say when he will be in a position to give us the information we have asked for?
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I thought the information had been given, but the Government are anxious to go forward with the works, and we cannot commence without the sanction of Parliament. I therefore beg the House of Commons to pass this Vote. Every care will be taken in the expenditure of the money, and I earnestly hope that, with the exception of this sum of £3,000, the remaining sum will be voted, so that we may begin those works which are urgent.
Earlier in the evening I put a question with reference to the expenditure of £15,000 on the road between Stornoway and Carloway, and I would ask again if it is the intention of the Government to insist upon this? I understood the hon. Baronet to say the Government had not quite made up their minds, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can give me a more definite answer, and say whether there is any intention to construct a tramway line along the road.
§ MR. ESSLEMONT
I quite agree with the withdrawal of this amount of 1282 £3,000. The right hon. Gentleman was not present when claims on behalf of other harbours were urged, but I hope that now these claims will have re-consideration.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
This incident in reference to the Motion of the hon. Member for Caithness will not modify in the slightest degree the desire of the Government to do what they can for the benefit of the Western Highlands and Islands, and we may consider the £3,000 set free possibly for future use. The road at Carloway will be improved if the Local Authority practically approve of the plan. If the Local Authority are opposed, we, shall not proceed with it; but careful calculations have been made with regard to it. It has been considered the road might be made more convenient for the conveyance of fish. Further inquiry will be made with regard to Thurso and other places. As we have consented to the withdrawal of the £3,000, I now ask that the remainder of the Vote be agreed to.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
We thought that an economical and speedy way of carrying out works would be by the appointment of an officer who should be the eye and representative of the Secretary of State in the localities; and so that time should not be lost by constant reference to head quarters, such an officer has been appointed.
§ (11.55.) DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)
I am not going to stand long between the Committee and a decision. I only wish to warn our Scotch friends that merely a protest and a promise in reply should not satisfy them. Probably they will find themselves, 12 months 1283 hence, compelled to do the same thing again. I hope, indeed, the appeal will then be made with better result to different occupants of the Treasury Bench, for I warn the Members from Scotland that they must not rely on a Chancellor of the Exchequer who would desert either side for place.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported to-morrow, at Two of the clock.
§ Committee to sit again to-morrow, at Two of the clock.