§ (9.2.) MR. CALDWELL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)
Having regard to the limited time available for the discussion of the Resolution which stands in my name, and knowing that a number of crofter Representatives desire to speak upon the subject, I will be brief in my explanation of the nature and scope of the Motion it is now my privilege to move. The Resolution does not attempt to deal with the whole of the crofter grievances which have arisen under the operation of the Act; it relates only to those of more public and general importance in regard to which Parliament may fairly be asked to express an opinion. In the first place, the Resolution declares that the benefits of the Crofters Act should be extended to small leaseholders. Prior to the passing of the Act the only way in which an enterprising crofter who desired to improve his holding could protect himself was by obtaining a lease when it was possible for him to do so. But even this protection was limited in its operation. Although he might greatly improve his holding from the time the lease was granted, yet at the end of the lease those improvements made by the tenant became by the operation of the law the property of the landlord, and in the generality of cases without any compensation to the tenant; and on a renewal of the lease the landlord had the power to exact an increased rent in respect to the very improvements of the tenant. But such was the operation of the law, and the small leaseholder had to choose between expatriation or acceptance of the landlord's conditions, amounting practically to confiscation. Apart from this question of confiscation, the leaseholders who may be said to be the most enterprising section of crofters and whose object was to make the best of the holdings they had taken, have by the Act been placed in a position very much inferior to the ordinary crofter. The ordinary 551 crofter has acquired by the Act a recognition of his improvements; he is secured in his tenure, and is not liable, like the leaseholder, to have his rent raised at a future time in respect to his own improvements. It is not necessary to urge this matter upon the attention of the present Government. The principle of the admission of the leaseholder to equal benefit from land legislation with the non-leaseholder has been recognised already by this Parliament in the case of Irish tenants, and this Resolution is well within the limits of Irish land legislation on the same subject. Leaseholders are described in the terms of my Resolution as "small" leaseholders, and in the term I include leaseholders whose annual rent is not over £30, and the period of whose lease is 21 years or under. The application of the Resolution is not to Scotland generally, but only to the crofter counties—counties where the soil is poorer and the climate worse, and the conditions of agriculture more unfavourable than in most of the districts of Ireland which have received the benefits of similar legislation. Therefore, I do not anticipate that there will be any objection from the Government to the first part of my proposal. The second demand I make is that all the improvements made by the tenant or by his predecessors in the same family and not paid for by the landlord shall be expressly exempted from the payment of rent. This was indeed the scope and intention of the Crofters Act; but in practice it has not been given effect to, and hence arises the necessity for expressed recognition and enactment. Upon this point I am relieved from taking up the time of the House at any length with argument, for I find from the Amendment given notice of by an hon. Member on the other side of the House (Mr. Shaw Stewart), and which no doubt represents the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the House is to be asked to declare its opinion that all improvements made by a crofter or by his predecessors in title—a wider declaration than mine, which has relation only to predecessors in the same family—should be fully protected. I may take it, therefore, that the second part of my Resolution meets with approval from both sides of the House. 552 Thirdly, I invite the House to declare that the Commissioners should be empowered to enlarge present holdings, and create new holdings, an inquiry being instituted to ascertain the amount of land available and suitable for that purpose. By this it is intended to give fixity of tenure to the crofter, and to enable him to live on his croft. It is obvious that the retention of the crofter on the soil can only be a benefit to himself and the community when he has land sufficient for his industry and enabling him to maintain his family. To pinch and circumscribe his holding is but to perpetuate that poverty which it was the object of the Crofters Act to remove. The enlargement of crofter holdings is a most important consideration; but the Act has so surrounded these extensions with restrictions and qualifications that, as the Commissioners specially reported in 1888, very few applications for extension are made, and the Commissioners find many difficulties in the way of granting such applications. The small-ness of the existing crofter holdings has been the source of much complaint in the Highlands; it is a widespread grievance. But, again, most fortunately, the tendency of Parliament and the country has been steadily advancing in the direction of measures for keeping the occupier on the soil. Not to speak of the Land Purchase Act for Ireland, the very Bill which has engaged our attention in Committee to-day, the Small Agricultural Holdings Bill, shows the direction in which public opinion is moving, and the desire that is springing up in all parts of the country for the creation and extension of small holdings which shall be sufficient to employ the whole industry and knowledge of the cultivator. When speaking of an inquiry into the amount of land suitable and available for the erection or extension of holdings, I do not contemplate the limitation of the inquiry to the amount of arable land available. Hill pasture and grazings are necessary appendages to crofter holdings, and milk farming is an important element for the sustenance and up-bringing of a crofter family. Grazing land is then a necessity. The advisability of extending the system of small holdings seems to be universally admitted in the House, and the only real point, in dispute is 553 whether their creation should be left to voluntary arrangement, or should be brought about compulsorily. Anyone conversant with the state of matters in the Highlands must feel how necessary is Compulsion to effect the desired end in the crofter counties. The amendment to be moved from the other side of the House suggests that land purchase is the true remedy; but I would only observe that there is no use in purchasing a holding and permanently settling a man on the land where the croft is obviously too small for the occupier to earn a living. We must first obtain reasonable-sized holdings before we speak of land purchase. To talk of land purchase now as the solution of this question is simply to delay reform. The land purchase suggested is obviously purchase by voluntary arrangement, and not under compulsory powers of purchase; and everyone who knows anything of the condition of things in the Highlands knows how utterly impracticable a system of voluntary purchase there is. With this explanation, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.
§ (9.15.) DR. CLARK (Caithness)
With great pleasure I second the Motion. Before I address myself to the proposals contained in the Resolution, I may be allowed to say a word or two on the operation of the Act in the Highlands. We have now had the Act in operation for five years, and I think we are able to form a fair opinion of the effect it has had and will have in the future in the Highlands. I hold in my hand a table showing all the decisions given by the Crofter Commission in the last five years, and, if time permitted, I should like to read it to the House. But I take only my own county, Caithness. In the first year 250 cases were determined by the Commissioners, and the average reduction of rent was 40.9 per cent. In the same year the cancelling of arrears was 70.9 per cent. In the second year the reductions of rent amounted to 51 per cent. and the reduction of arrears 74 per cent. I will not trouble the House with the figures for the whole five years; these, I think, will be sufficient to show that our contention that there was severe rack-renting in the Highlands, equal to that in Ireland, is fully borne out by the facts. 554 The percentage of rack-renting in the Highlands was much higher than in Ireland. During the five years and three or four months the Commission has been sitting it has determined 11,739 cases. The old rents amounted to £59,000, the fair rents fixed to £41,000, a reduction of 30 per cent. over all the cases. If we deduct the case of the Duke of Sutherland, who applied to the Court to have his fair rents fixed—he, I suppose, desiring it for the sake of his reputation as a landlord—deducting these cases, the average is very much greater. Even the 30 per cent. is higher than in Ireland, where I think the average reduction has been 23 or 24 per cent. In the same period 66 per cent. of arrears were cancelled. Arrears were determined in 11,700 cases, and the amount £149,000, of which amount £100,000 was cancelled. So far we may say the Act has operated very successfully, and the result demonstrates that our contention was right and that the First Lord of the Treasury, when he pledged his reputation as a politician that it would be found there was no rack-renting, but that only fair rents were exacted, was altogether mistaken. Our contention, which we did not press very much, was that there was worse rack-renting in the Highlands than in Ireland. Well, now we want the Act extended to two classes of crofters who are now excluded, and first of these I mention the sub-tenants. It was the intention of Parliament that these sub-tenants should come under the Act, and the Crofter Commission carried out that intention. But the Court of Session, going beyond its power, decided that these people were not crofters within the meaning of the Act. Why the Court of Session should have determined that I do not understand, because the Act debars them from giving such a decision, the 31st Clause declaring that in the event of any dispute arising as to whether a tenant is a crofter within the meaning of the Act it shall be within the jurisdiction of the Commissioners to determine such a question, and the decision of the Commissioners in regard to any matters committed to their determination shall be final. Notwithstanding this, however, the Court of Session interfered, and the Court and the Commission are now at 555 loggerheads. The Court of Session has interfered, the sub-tenants have been taken from the protection of the Act, have been evicted by the landlords, and there may be some trouble in Argyllshire. The Lord Advocate thinks the Court should determine; we say the Court went beyond its powers. I remember one case in point which occurred while the Irish Land Act was before the House. The hon. and learned Member for Longford (Mr. Timothy Healy) wanted to move an Amendment to protect the improvements of the tenant, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Gladstone) the then Prime Minister, said it was totally unnecessary, that the Bill did that, and that no Court would dream of arriving at any other conclusion. However, the Court in Ireland treated that clause as the Commissioners have treated similar clauses—the intention of Parliament has been set aside by the Courts. Another class we desire should be included is the leaseholders. In my own constituency the rents are being reduced by 50 per cent., and we have had cases of 60, 70, and 75 per cent. One case of £24 was reduced to £6, and on one large estate several hundred crofters got their rents reduced on an average by 50 per cent. The leaseholder, however, whose interest is much greater, is still paying unjust rent; and some of them, I am sorry to say, finding it impossible to live decently, and at the same time pay these rack rents, are leaving the country for America. Another class, of whom little has been said, is the cottars. They come under the Act, but I do not think there has been a single decision in regard to them since the Act came into operation. Their condition is a very hard one, and I think something really should be done for them. They are the men who, by agitation, helped us to get the Act. The cottar, who is probably an agricultural labourer, under this Act now owns his house, and I think if we are going to extend this principle as in Ireland we should be more logical and consider the case of the agriculturists. If we are to stand between the landlord and the tenant to prevent the evil of competition, we are equally called on to stand between the farmer and the cottar. We have in the past stated that there 556 has been terrible rack-renting, and the decisions of the Crofters' Commission prove that to be the case. I frankly admit, however, that if you were to give them their holdings for nothing; you would not solve this question. The case of improvement is as in the Irish Land Act. We endeavoured to draft a clause, but as a matter of fact that portion of the Act has not been carried out at all. The result is that, the crofter is paying 15s. and 18s. per, acre for what used to be let to himself, his father, or his grandfather at 1s. or 2s. 6d. per acre. Some time ago I spoken to a valuer, who was a convener in my county, as to the case of a man whose holding, originally let for 5s., was afterwards increased to £6. We maintain that this advance was based solely on the man's improvements. The one vital requirement, and without which everything else is useless, is more land. In this connection I will take the three crofting counties—Inverness, Ross, and Sutherland. What are the facts? As far as Sutherland is concerned there have been 1,427 cases determined by the Commission, and the average fair rent fixed is £3 7s. 8d. In Ross during the five years there have been 3,605 cases determined, the average fair rent, fixed being £2 9s. 10d. In Inverness, 3,582 cases, and an average fair rent of £3 0s. 10d. So that, taking these three counties, 8,694 cases have been determined, the average rent being £2 12s. 8d. per annum. Therefore, if you were to pass a no-rent manifesto you would simply be giving to these unfortunate men the equivalent of 1s. per week. All that can be done to improve their condition under the present circumstances has been done by the Government in giving security of tenure. They have not, however, got sufficient soil to produce a fair living, and the real question to solve is how to increase the size of the holdings. In the Act there are several pages, the purpose of which is to permit the Crofters' Commission to enlarge holdings. How many cases have come before it? In 1887 there was no case; in 1888, one case—a case which the Duke of Sutherland practically called in the Commissioners to determine—affecting 210 crofters. Next year the Commission got to Orkney, where there were six cases affecting 56 557 crofters, and in which infinitesimal increases were made. In 1890 there was one case in Caithness, by which four crofters secured an increase of holding; and there was another case in Sutherland affecting 68 crofters. In Ross there were two cases, by which 17 crofters got a small increase of holding; in Inverness 13 got holdings; in Argyle, 10; and last year there were 14 more cases affecting 116 crofters. If we deduct the Sutherland cases, where the Duke simply got the Commissioners to go North to do the work, there have only been 100 cases in the rest of the six counties during these five and a quarter years. Thus the provisions have been perfectly useless as regards our object in seeking to give these men sufficient land on which to thrive. The point arises, Is there sufficient land for the people? I suppose Lewis will again be trotted out. A larger population now exist, there is any amount of arable land in the hands of the sheep farmers and graziers, and it is curious to note that since the Commission sat about 600,000 aeres more have been added to the deer forests. I contend that if that land had been given to the crofters their position would have been very much better. Our contention is that the subject is a debatable one, and that we ought to have information. It is time the question was determined, and my friend proposes a solution, by means of some kind of Commission of Inquiry, to determine how much of the land can be used. I have for 30 years watched the land, and what I remember as green fields is now covered with bracken and heather, and looks as much like heath as unclaimed land. Year after year all the green spots are disappearing, and where thousands of pounds have been spent by the Duke in improvements, the heather and bracken are coming in to take possession. The only people who can make and secure the improvement are the crofters themselves. I have much pleasure in seconding the Motion of my hon. Friend, and I trust the Government will do something to further its object.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, the Crofters' Holdings (Scotland) Act ought to be extended and amended in the following respects—namely: that the provisions of the
Act be extended to small leaseholders; that all improvements made by the tenant, or his predecessors in the same family, and not paid for by the landlord, be expressly exempted from the payment of rent; that adequate powers be given to the Commissioners to enlarge present holdings, and to create new holdings; and that to this end an inquiry be instituted with the view of ascertaining authoritatively the amount of Iand suitable and available for that purpose."—(Mr. Caldwell.)
§ *(9.40.) MR. SHAW-STEWART (Renfrew, R.)
The scope of the Motion before the House I venture to think amply warrants a Lowland Member taking part in this debate. But beyond that I think I might bring forward the fact that any thing that affects any part of Scotland must be of interest to any Scotchman, whether he lives in the Highlands or in the Lowlands; and perhaps a Scotch Member who is not directly interested in the ownership ortenancy of Highland lands may take a somewhat impartial view of this important question. I have on the Paper an Amendment to the Motion in the following terms, which I now beg to move:—Leave out all after "That," and insert "while in the opinion of this House, it is important that all improvements made by a crofter or his predecessors in title should be I fully protected, the main improvement in the system of land tenure in the Highlands is to be sought in the extension of the principle of land purchase to that part of the country.Now, Sir, the Motion of the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Caldwell) deals with three points—the leaseholders, the question of improvements, and the question of the enlargement of holdings and the establishment of new ones. In dealing, first, with the question of leaseholders it is almost imperative that the House should remember the history of the subject as connected with the Crofters Act of 1886. I have diligently read the reports of the debates during the time of the passage of that Act when the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. J. B. Balfour) was Lord Advocate, and I find that acting in that capacity he studiously and strenuously resisted the inclusion of leaseholders in the Act. The distinction between a crofter and a leaseholder is very plainly set forth in that Act, and to differentiate the leaseholder from the crofter, I can use no better words than those employed by the hon. Member for North-East Lanark (Mr. Crawford), who, during the debate on 559 the Bill of 1886, said: "Speaking roughly and generally, a tenure under a lease is a sign that the man is not a crofter." This Act, being intended to benefit crofters, naturally excluded leaseholders. In the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clackmannan—The man who has made his bargain is clearly out of the historical scope of the Bill.Subsequently, in 1888, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clackmannan took up a different attitude with regard to the leaseholders, on the ground of a changed condition of things owing to another Government having admitted leaseholders in Ireland in 1887 to the benefits of the Irish Land Act. For my own part I do not think the analogy is good, and I believe it would be difficult for the right hon. Gentleman to show clearly that the case of the leaseholders in Ireland was on all fours with that of the leaseholders in the Highlands who seek to be admitted to the benefits of this Act. The Crofters Act was mainly brought in to deal with a phase of circumstances which had arisen through a course of historical events peculiar to the Highlands, whereas the Irish Land Bill of 1881 did not deal with any special case in any part of Ireland, but with the whole system of land tenure in that country; and, therefore, to compare the Irish Land Act of 1881 with any Bill affecting Scotland you would have to take into consideration a Bill dealing with the whole land tenure of Scotland. Then as to the question of the enlargement of the holdings. The hon. Member who last spoke (Dr. Clark) dwelt upon this point to some extent, but he did not say how it was proposed to amend the Bill in this respect. Now, Sir, I think we ought to be told how hon. Members opposite would propose to extend the Crofters Act so as to make it deal more largely and extensively with the enlargement of holdings. Are they prepared to withdraw the restrictions laid down in Section 13 of the Crofters Act, and which, I maintain, are in the interest of the crofting community as a whole? One of these restrictions is to the effect that it shall not be competent for the Crofters Commission to assign land for. 560 the enlargement of a holding if it forms part of an existing farm or other holding, unless the rent or any letting, value of it shall exceed £100. That was evidently put into the Bill in order to prevent the harm that could be done by reducing the already small farms. Well, I take that restriction as an example, and I maintain that all the others are intended to be framed in the interest of the crofting community as a whole. Although a few individuals might be benefited by sweeping away these restrictions, yet I believe that by doing so the large body of crofters would suffer. With regard to the question of improvements, I fully agree that a crofter ought not to be damaged by any improvements he has made. But I would ask hon. Members opposite whether they could devise any better plan to insure that than by laying down the plain direction, found in the Act, to the Crofter Commissioners—namely, that in fixing a fair rent they shall take into account any improvements that have been made by the crofter? In the course of a debate in 1891, the hon. Member for Sutherland (Mr. Angus Sutherland) said—"The great and burning question in the Highlands is not reduction of rents," which I think shows that the; question of improvements does not press very heavily upon the crofting, community, "but more land." That opens up an entirely new question, and one quite different from that of the enlargement of existing holdings. It opens up the question of new holdings altogether. Well, Sir, it is part of the policy of the Party to which I have the honour to belong to increase the number of holdings and the ownership of land, whether in England, Ireland, or Scotland. I could quote pages of sentences from speeches, both of the Prime Minister and the First Lord of the Treasury, to the effect that it is their earnest wish to bring about a cluser union between the people and the land. The House, however, must guard against setting up new crofts, and thereby intensifying the evils which we have spent years in trying to-mitigate by this very Act. That is a thing we must keep clearly in mind, and more particularly so considering the present condition of agriculture. 561 Now, Sir, I come to the subject of my Amendment, and, I think, if we sought to improve the system of land tenure in the Highlands by the extension of the principle of Land Purchase, more would be accomplished than by an extension of the Crofters Act. I will put forward two reasons why I believe that is the better plan. In the first place, let us deal with the question of the new holdings, which the hon. Gentleman opposite laid such stress upon. A system of land purchase for the Highlands would, of course, have to be made applicable to the Highlands. I think we might take both the principle of the Land Purchase Bill in Ireland and the principle of the Small Holdings Bill now in Committee, and devise a purchase scheme for the Highlands, drawing its life from these two measures. Now, in dealing with new holdings, you are going quite outside the range of the Crofters Act, which does not pretend to deal with them. I submit, however, that by extending the provisions of the Small Holdings Act, with Amendments suitable to the conditions of life in the Highlands, we might find a way of setting up the new holdings. The second advantage of my Amendment is that it would deal with leaseholders. If the principles of the Irish Land Purchase Act were extended to the Highland leaseholders, they would gain two advantages over the Crofters Act. First of all, they would have a reduction of rent beginning at once, for under a similar purchase Act to that of Ireland the annual payments made would be less than the yearly rent. The second advantage, which, I think, must be patent to hon. Gentlemen opposite, is that they would have a fixity of tenure of a more valuable kind than that which they would obtain under the Crofters Act, because that Act only keeps it in the family, whereas under a system founded on the Irish Land Purchase Act it would be inalienably their own. Well, Sir, this would be exactly in harmony with the recommendations laid down by the Crofter Commission of 1884. They recommended that facilities for purchase should be given to crofters, and added that in their opinion the possession of real property ought to be a powerful agent in forming-habits of industry and self-respect, and 562 would supply resources of rational enjoyment. I cordially re-echo that sentiment, and it is because I wish to see the aspirations for land ownership in the Highlands satisfied under conditions which will not increase a poverty-stricken peasant proprietary, nor interfere with the natural development on a large scale of the resources of the Highlands, and in the hope of bringing about a better state of things and a more prosperous community which will redound to the happiness of my country, that I have brought forward this Amendment, which I now beg to move.
§ (10.0.) COLONEL MALCOLM (Argyllshire)
I have very great pleasure in seconding the Motion of my hon. Friend, and I think I may say that the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Caldwell) has not by any means made his meaning clear. He says he wishes the provisions of the Act to be extended to small leaseholders; then he wishes adequate powers to be given to the Commissioners to enlarge present holdings; and he also wants to create new holdings. Who are those new holdings for? He says nothing to give us any idea whether they are for the crofters or for the leaseholders. And then he wants an inquiry to find out authoritatively what land is suitable and available for the purpose. I should like to have some authoritative definition of what is suitable and available for this purpose, and I think until hon. Members opposite can give some reasons for their demand they have no right to ask us to vote for an inquiry.
To leave out all the words after the word "That," in order to insert the words "while in the opinion of this House it is important that all improvements made by a crofter or his predecessors in title should be fully protected, the main improvements in the system of land tenure in the Highlands is to be sought in the extension of the principle of land purchase to that part of the country,"—(Mr. Shaw-Stewart,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That, the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ *(10.3.) MR. JOHN B. BALFOUR (Clackmannan)
As the hon. Member for East Renfrew (Mr. Shaw-Stewart) has more than once referred to what I 563 said on two different occasions, first in carrying through the Crofters Act of 1886, and afterwards in the discussion in a subsequent year, it is only courteous to him and fair to the House that I should make a few remarks on this Resolution. He has accurately stated that in carrying that Bill through the House in 1886, we relied upon what may be termed a historical basis. The Bill was not intended and it was not represented as a measure which was intended to deal with what may be called the commercial tenant, that is a man who goes from one part of the country to another and takes land as a man might buy an article in any other commercial pursuit. It was intended to give legal sanction to rights which had existed by custom, but had partly been lost or become imperfect, and as we were dealing with customary tenure it was right and fitting that we should take care that the Act would not extend to different oases, such as that of the commercial tenant. It is quite true further that at that time there had been no recognition by Parliament of the propriety of reforming or altering the terms of contract leases, and I do not understand that the hon. Member for St. Rollox or his seconder propose in asking the House to affirm this Resolution that the House should commit itself to anything like a general reformation or alteration of contract leases or commercial leases throughout Scotland. This resolution refers to the Crofters Act; it is founded on that Act, and takes up and carries forward the principles of that Act. And I will give my hon. Friend two very good reasons for supporting this Resolution, and for what I said some years ago when, as he mentioned, he saw me sitting where he is glad to see me sitting now. One reason is that between the time when the Crofters Act was passed and the discussion two years after, the House had for the first time recognised the propriety of Parliament intervening to alter the arrangement under leases on a very much wider scale, and with very much wider effect than any that could be covered by the Crofters Act, and so it was very natural when there had been a Parliamentary recognition of that propriety, that it should seem to not a few of us not unreasonable that some of the 564 advantages which had been given to his Irish brother should be given to the Scotch crofter. That is one reason why I said what I did at the time, and why I repeat it now. Another reason is that it has been represented to me, and I believe it to be true, that in not a few cases the landlords in the crofting districts, when the Bill was going through Parliament, or before the Crofter Commission came to the locality, persuaded their crofter tenants to sign leases. Such cases may not have been very numerous, but I was told that they existed, and that when the inquiry arose as to whether a man was a crofter in the statutory sense or not, something was put forward which was or purported to be a lease. I do not suppose my hon. Friends desire to carry this Resolution beyond the kind of cases to which the Crofters Act applies, and in deciding now that the mere fact of a lease having been entered into should not deprive a man of the benefits of the Crofters Act if he otherwise fulfils the conditions laid down in the Act, Parliament would simply be carrying out the spirit of that Act and preventing the intention of that Act from being defeated in the manner which I have just indicated. Therefore I do not think it necessary to detain the House by saying anything more on the matter beyond that I adhere to the principles upon which the Act of 1886 was founded. That Act, as I have said, was founded on a historical basis, but now six years have elapsed, and we have something beside a historical basis to go upon. But there is another consideration. The Crofters Act of 1886 was certainly a novelty in legislation applicable to Scotland, and I do not think anyone would blame Parliament or those who were directly responsible for the measure, for desiring to legislate cautiously and carefully, and in such a way as would conduce to the general and prevalent acceptance of the measure by the community and to its practical success. We had at that time very little information on most important matters. We had, it is true, the Report of the Commission of 1884, and it was a valuable mine of information; but it was necessarily limited, because it did not cover the whole ground, and now the experience of six years of the 565 operation of the Act has added very largely to the information which Parliament has in its possession. In that connection, I would say that one point upon which we have fuller information now than we had then is as to the great prevalence of over-renting in the crofter districts. We had no evidence of that great prevalence in 1886. The Report of the Commission of 1884 rather led to the belief that it was a rare and exceptional circumstance, and no one could complain that the measure was founded on the only authentic information which the Government were able to place before Parliament on the subject. But now when we find, as the result of judicial inquiry, as far as that judicial inquiry has gone, that it has been thought right and just by the Commission to reduce by 30 per cent., and in many parts of the crofting districts by 50 per cent., the rents which had been exacted from the crofters, this information puts a different colour on the whole of this matter, and may well embolden Parliament to deal with it less experimentally than was previously done when there was less information in the possession of Parliament. I am not going to follow my hon. Friend through the whole of his argument, but he mentioned the question of the enlargement of holdings. There again we thought, and I believe with the general assent of Parliament and the country, that it was our duty to proceed cautiously with legislation; and the principle that actuated those who were responsible for the Crofters Act was, that while they were desirous of providing facilities for enlarging the holdings of the crofters, they must take care that in so doing they did not injure the prosperity and welfare of the crofter communities in other respects. That is one of the reasons why many safeguards were introduced into this Bill. One of these safeguards speaks of the general prosperity of the locality, for it might have been that unless there had been some safeguard we might, while adding to a croft or a group of crofts in any particular place by statutory machinery, have done an injury to the community as a whole, either by diminishing employment, or in some other way. The aim was to benefit the crofter community as a whole, and I 566 think the precautions we took were sound. But it does not follow from that, that upon a review of the operation of the Act, if it is proved that the restrictions and safeguards which Parliament thought necessary in 1886 can, to any extent, be dispensed with, or if it is proved that these safeguards have prevented the effectual application of the leading provisions of the Act, it would be unreasonable to re-consider the matter in the light of six years' experience. In point of fact, the number of extensions under this Act has been very small. Then the hon. Gentleman suggested what he considered an alternative. We are all agreed upon the importance of protecting the interests of the crofters, but if I wanted to be hypercritical I should object to his expression, predecessors in title. The expression we used was predecessors in the same family, because at the time the Act was passed the crofters had no legal title. If we had said predecessors in title, it would therefore have done the crofters no good. It is true the crofters have had the benefit of the Act for six years, and there may now have been some predecessors in title in a legal sense, but we prefer our own expression of predecessors in family. With respect to my hon. Friend's alternative, what I understand he proposes is that the main improvements in the system of land tenure shall be sought in the extension of the principle of land purchase to that part of the country. That opens a very large question indeed, and I am not going to enter upon it now. But what I do say is that whether my hon. Friend is right or whether he is wrong in looking to land purchase as the main source of improvement, that can be no possible reason for not improving existing legislation until we have got land purchase, if we ever are to get it. You should make the Crofters Act as effective as you can consistently with its leading principle, whether you may afterwards be tempted to proceed to another principle or not. But I do submit that the reference to land purchase can be no reason at all to put forward against the Resolution of my hon. Friend. We know that it is common to say that, because something else of a totally 567 different kind would bring about a better result, you should not improve what you have got until that comes up for consideration. I only wish to say that this mention of land purchase is rather seeking to put on the public generally or the taxpayer what, according to the aim of the Crofters Act, should have been done by a fair adjustment of the relations between landlord and tenant, and that is taking up a wholly different question. The aim of the Crofters Act was to say what were fair relations between the owner and occupier of the soil in these crofting communities. Undoubtedly that would be to put the burden upon totally different shoulders, and whether the general taxpayer would prefer that he should take over the adjustment of those relations is a question for him to consider when the proposal is made. In the meantime, we consider that any defects and shortcomings in the scheme of 1886 ought to be perfected, leaving over for the present the question of the adoption of another principle. My hon. Friend who seconded the Amendment did so in a rather interrogative form; rather on the ground that he did not quite understand what the Resolution meant. The hon. Member for Argyllshire (Colonel Malcolm) did not know what land suitable and advisable for the purpose was. I am afraid the hon. Member's reading does not extend to the Crofters Act of 1886, for in it he will find a whole chapter devoted to explaining and defining available lands, and I understand that my hon. Friend in the Resolution takes that definition in the latter part of his Resolution—An inquiry be instituted with the view of ascertaining authoritatively the amount of land suitable and available for that purpose.I venture to think it is a reasonable proposal that you should find out how much land is available in a statutory sense or in an enlarged statutory sense, for these holdings; that is to say, not withdrawing land from more useful and profitable occupation by the inhabiting community, which was the test in the Crofters Act, but land defined in the terms of the Act; or such modification of them as experience may have dictated. Interpreting the Resolution in that sense, it appears to me to be in accordance with the spirit of those Acts; and I maintain, whether 568 ultimately in Scotland generally or parts of Scotland, land purchase may or may not be introduced, there can be no reason for not making our present statutory system as perfect as we can, consistently with the principles on which it is founded.
§ (10.25.) THE LORD ADVOCATE (Sir C. J. PEARSON,) Edinburgh and St. Andrews Universities
I have listened with interest to the explanation which my right hon. and learned Friend has vouchsafed to the House of what undoubtedly, on his part, is an important change of position. There can be no doubt that, when the Act which we are discussing was introduced under the care and guardianship of the right hon. Gentleman, the justification of certain provisions which have been canvassed to-night was laid upon matter of principle; and in so far as it is laid upon matter of principle, it appears to me that the explanations given to-night do not meet the contentions of my hon. Friend behind me. It is said that the Act of 1886 was passed at a time when such legislation was, to some extent, a novelty, and it has also been said that one of the reasons for re-considering the matter was that the right hon. Gentleman has been informed since that there were certain cases in which the crofters had been persuaded by their respective landlords to accept leases. I should have thought, Sir, that that was a matter which the right hon. Gentleman had in his mind, and might very easily have provided against.
§ *SIR C. J. PEARSON
But I should have thought that was a matter that is either perfectly innocent—and in the right hon. Gentleman's statement of the case it seemed perfectly innocent—or else he makes charges against landowners of having done that in defraud of legislation, which shows a defect in legislation for which he is responsible, but which is not touched by the Resolution now under consideration. The right hon. Gentleman has given no explanation, satisfactory to my mind, of the fact that in supporting this Resolution he has departed in point of principle from what he laid down in introducing the legislation of 1886, because it stands on the records of the House that the 569 legislation then proposed was justified, and justified strenuously in face of opposition, by reference to the historical basis on which the matter rested and which is absolutely undisturbed by anything which has happened since. In the progress of the Act through the House, the question of extending its provisions to leaseholders was considered, and was rejected by the right hon. Gentleman. I do not wonder that he rejected it. He rejected it on two grounds, which are as sufficient now as they were then. He rejected it in the first place, because if you extended it to leaseholders there is no reason for stopping at the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in that extension; and, in the second place, because, according to the principle of the legislation he was submitting to the House, the commercial aspect of it was out of the question, and he was not proposing anything which would involve the touching of commercial bargains, but was proposing legislation founded entirely on the old alleged historic position of the crofters. I ask the House whether anything has been said against the reasons then given for limiting the Bill as it was limited, or in support of the Resolution of the hon. Member? Something has been said, in support of the first topic of the Resolution, by reference to the case of Ireland. I think, when closely examined, and after the change of front has been discounted, that is all which has been advanced in support of that part of the Resolution. This is not the first time that that argument has been used in this House on that very subject. The reply was made at the time—and is as effectual now as then—that the case of Ireland in this particular presents no analogy to the case of Scotland as settled by the Crofters Act. The Act—of 1887 I think it was—it is quite true, dealt with tenants in Ireland, but it dealt with the tenants of the whole country, and not merely with exceptional districts; and, in the second place, as I always understood, it dealt with the whole country with the object and purpose of putting an end to dual ownership. There was a period during which that could not be introduced all at once, and it was in reference to that interval that the legislation was passed with 570 reference to the Irish tenant, which has been referred to to-night as a reason why legislation of a permanent nature should be applied, in what I cannot think is an analogous case, to Scotland. The hon. Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark) seemed to think there were other classes of persons than leaseholders who ought to be included in the improved legislation; he mentioned, I think, the cases of cottars, and sub-tenants. As far as the case of cottars is concerned, he seemed to think the Act had not had much application.
§ *SIR C. J. PEARSON
Well, the inference I should draw from that is that the Act has either not been required in the case of cottars or that the conditions have been so satisfactory that there has been no occasion for an appeal to the Commissioners. The hon. Member says that sub-tenants were included in the Act—that they were intended by Parliament to be included in the Act. I would only remind him that while the Supreme Court of Scotland does not arrogate to itself any power to over-ride the Crofters Commission, or to review its decisions under the Act, that Court is quite within its power in deciding, in a competent proceeding, whether sub-tenants have been excluded. The intentions of the Legislature must be construed by a Court of Law according to the words used by the Legislature, and in so construing them I am not aware that the Act has been infringed in the least in the direction the hon. Member indicated. One word as to the second part of the Resolution—as to improvements. There can be no doubt from the words of the Act of 1886 that the Crofter Commissioners are bound—are expressly enjoined—to take into account the unexhausted improvements which existed on the land when fixing a fair rent. What difference is there between that, an instruction by Parliament to a judicial tribunal, and the proposal now put forward as if it were an ameliorative one? In one sense we can all agree with the hon. Member on the point; but my agreement with him is founded on the fact that the Act provides expressly for the very thing which he 571 desires to obtain. When the hon. Member for Caithness was on that part of the subject, what was it to which he pointed? How did he propose to demonstrate to the House of Commons that the instruction of Parliament to the Commissioners had not been technically carried out? He gave one instance only, an account of an interview he had had with a valuer.
§ *SIR C. J. PEARSON
He had a communication with a valuer, and it came to this: that in the opinion of that valuer one of the elements to be taken into consideration in fixing a fair rent was whether the land was in its own nature capable of improvement, and that that was credited to the owner. The improvability of the land is part of the value of the land. The question is, to whom ought that part of the value to be credited? If it is to accrue to the crofter, the hon. Member's language, translated into plain English, means that fair rent is to be fixed on prairie value. Then I ask, was that the meaning and intention of the right hon. Gentleman's legislation in 1886? Most of this discussion has dealt with the enlargement of holdings, and subsidiarily with the creation of new holdings. Well, Sir, I am at a loss to follow the figures which the hon. Member has submitted to the House on this subject. I have taken out some of the figures as accurately as I can, and I find that including Sutherland — you cannot get much benefit from the figures if you exclude one of the counties—the total figures, down to the end of 1891, show that the number of enlargements;granted—a great many more have been considered—has been 32. I do not say that is a large number, but I think it is considerably more than the figures of the hon. Member But then this enlargement of holdings affects a considerable number of individuals. The result is that it has taken effect in an extension of holdings in the case of 527 crofters. I do not say that that is all that might have been done, or all that was expected to be done. But I have listened with interest and expectation in order to hear in what respect those safeguards which the right hon. Gentleman himself put into his Bill in reference 572 to the terms on which land should be taken for the enlargement of holdings, could be safely and appropriately limited or done away with. I have not heard of a single one of these safeguards upon which any Member laid his finger, and said, "That is too restrictive," or that it should be abolished. And I think if hon. Members will only read those safeguards as contained in one of the clauses of the Act, including even those that deal with deer forests, they will see that while these restrictions recognise the large and legitimate interest of the landowner where his land is to be taken away from him, in most cases also they are obviously for the interest of the crofters themselves, and of the crofter community in the immediate neighbourhood. Now, it is a serious thing to raise by Resolution, and without any attempt to enter into details, the question of abolishing or materially modifying these restrictions, which were found to be just and reasonable. At the same time it is true, as I have said, that the enlargement of holdings does not bulk largely. That may be owing to the poverty of the people, who have to satisfy the Commissioners that they could utilise the additional lands before they are meted out to them by the Commission. As to the assertion that the failure of that part of the Act to produce a large effect has been owing to the restrictions which were imposed, I have heard, at all events, nothing to-night to make me think that this is so, or that these restrictions are capable of very large modification with safety to the community which are most interested. As to the creation of new holdings, there again I come to the historical basis of the legislation. You abandon that altogether when you propose to give the same rights to those who have gone quite recently and who have settled down without being able to attach themselves to the old historical tenure. It seems to me you will be in danger of creating a fresh class of crofters, who in turn will require Acts for the enlargement of their holdings. That part of the Resolution, which was very little spoken to, and which was not much elaborated by the hon. Member who moved it or the hon. Members who have supported it, is one 573 which is entirely met by the proposal in the Amendment. The Amendment moved to this Resolution is one which the Government are quite prepared to accept; and it appears to me it is in that direction that the true solution of this problem is to be found. The Amendment safeguards the question of improvements. It recognises that it is proper that where a crofter is having a fair rent fixed he should have his own improvements withdrawn from the consideration of the fair rent which should be awarded. For the reasons which I have assigned the Resolution seems to me to be inadmissible, and the Amendment to suggest what will ultimately be found to be the true and safe policy.
§ *(10.46.) MR. FRASER-MACKINTOSH (Inverness-shire)
I think the people of the Highlands will be very much disappointed with the speech which we have just heard. All the arguments it contained were used six years ago. I am glad, however, that the late Lord Advocate has stood out boldly on this occasion and expressed himself in a distinct manner that the changes in the Act which were suggested by the Crofter Members in 1886 should now be carried out. The Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for the St. Rollox Division of Glasgow has my hearty support. When Lord Napier's Commission was investigating the grievances of the people of the Highlands in 1883 the question of the amount of rent did not come before us in an acute form. The great question that came before us was, according to the words of the people themselves, "more land," and that cry rose from every district, from every locality of the Highlands and Islands. Until more land is given to the people the Highland question will never be solved. The Lord Advocate has referred in his speech to the fact that nothing was said as to how extension of holdings was to be given and carried out. Perhaps I might be allowed to mention to the House a matter that came under my own observation within the last 14 days to show the necessity—I may say the absolute necessity—for increased holdings in many parts of the Highlands and Islands. I visited for the first time in a parish in the Island of Skye, in my own county, a township called Elgol. 574 It was a miserable place, cribbed, cabined, and confined, bordering upon the sea. There were 37 heads of families, including in all 200 souls. It was formerly, within the memory of people living in that place, only occupied by five heads of families, who lived there in comfort, a credit to themselves and to the people they belonged to. But by the operations of the former landlord whole townships were cleared off in other parts of the estate and crowded into this place. A great deal of sickness prevailed there some years ago; fever spread in it; nurses had to go there from Edinburgh, and a number of people died. Why should not these people be provided for when I may say there are hundreds of acres of land lying waste in the hands of the proprietor of this very estate, without any stock upon it or being devoted to any good purpose whatever? The above case has come under my own observation; and there are hundreds of them all over the Highlands and Islands in the same position. One word as regards the class called "cottars," who may be described as holding a worse position than the labourers in England. From a property in South Uist a petition was sent to me, signed by 30 heads of families, making the most grievous complaints of the way in which they have been treated under the Crofters Act. Formerly these poor people were allowed to take land for a certain time for a certain purpose;, now, owing to the restrictions under the Crofters Act, if a crofter allows a cottar for a few months a bit of land even for raising potatoes, there is a danger, under the Crofters Act, of his tenure being destroyed. I was very glad to hear the speech of the late Lord Advocate this evening. But I must say that if three-fourths of his Bill had been omitted and struck out altogether, it would have been an excellent Bill. As to the Amendment that has been moved by the hon. Gentleman opposite, I am very glad in one sense to hear it; but it is not a proper answer to the demand that is now before us. That there should be an increase of the small proprietary all over Scotland is a suggestion that I am very much in favour of, and if the hon. Gentleman will bring forward a 575 Motion to that effect I will be most happy to support it; but in the meantime, as I do not consider his Amendment to be a fair or legitimate answer to the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for the St. Rollox Division, I must vote against it.
§ *(10.55.) SIR G. O. TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I must say that the announcement of the Lord Advocate has thrown a very new element into the Debate. At any rate, from this side of the House we cannot be charged with what we are usually charged with in this House—namely, bringing forward a sensational Motion compared with that which has been accepted by the Government. We keep ourselves entirely within the limits of the Act of Parliament, which has passed both Houses and has been tested for five years; and we ask the Government to amend it. But the Government meets us by supporting a Resolution, and a Resolution which has not been commended to the House by any detail, by any argument on principle, but a Resolution which opens up an immense field. That is to say, that a system of land purchase is the proper method to deal with the grievances of the Highlands. Now, upon that point I will only say this: that we will discuss that when we come to the right time, when it is brought forward by a responsible Government in the shape of a definite proposition. But at present all we say about it is this: that we do not accept it as an answer to the demands brought forward in the present Resolution, because these demands are demands upon the landlords of the Highlands. We ask that they should restore to the tenants that which Parliament—as I will show in a few moments—has proclaimed to be the tenants' right; and we do not wish to shift the burden from their shoulders to the shoulders of the general taxpayers, who include all the tenants, all the labourers, all the men of business in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland alike. Now, the Lord Advocate says that no reasons—no adequate reasons—have been given for this Resolution. There are four clauses in the proposal of my hon. Friend. The last in order, but by far the most important, is that proposal which is at the bottom of the improvement of society 576 in the Highlands, which is the substance of the aspirations of the people, and is the enlargement of their holdings and the acquisition of more land. Now, this is no new question. It has already been approved in principle by Parliament. The principles by which Parliament expected to be able to carry out this great boon to the people of the Highlands are embodied in several pages of the Statute Book; but unfortunately, in this part even this most defective measure, the Crofters Act, was largely found to be defective. I shall venture to read two or three sentences from the speech in which the Crofters Act was introduced in 1886:—This is a Bill founded strictly on the historical and local circumstances of a very peculiar district. We do not want to make the crofter a possessor or a landed proprietor He and his ancestors never have been landed proprietors or possessors; but they claim the right of grazing a certain number of sheep and cattle on the higher pastures on payment of a certain rent. Without that right neither he nor they could live; and we propose to put the genuine crofter with a genuine holding in possession of that right.That was the intention of the Crofters Act—of one main part of the Crofters Act. But the Crofters Act has failed to carry out that intention for reasons into which I will not enter at this moment. These reasons are exposed to the public in the very able successive Reports of the Crofters Commission, and more especially in the special Report which on my urging the Government laid before the House in the year 1888. The aspiration of Parliament was that every genuine crofter should have his holding enlarged, if necessary, out of the land that is at present put to other uses. That was the aspiration of Parliament; and what has been the result? In the year 1891 there were 59 applicants from Argyllshire; none of them had their holdings enlarged. There were 244 applicants from Inverness-shire; no holdings were enlarged. There were 244 applicants from Ross and Cromarty; and not a single holding was enlarged. It was the same in all the rest of Scotland, and in the case only of 113 applicants in Sutherland were holdings enlarged. In 1890 there were 111 individuals in Sutherland who were benefited by the Act by having enlargements of their holdings; and over the whole of the rest 577 of the Highlands only 44 individuals were benefited by the Act, so that in the course of these two years those who obtained moorland were only 22 on an average in each year, except in Sutherlandshire, out of 40,000 crofters in Scotland, of whom 25,000 come already under the scope of this Act. Now, what is the case of these poor people? They are people who have in past days been evicted from their holdings which Parliament by legislation has deliberately pronounced to be, in part at least, their property. There is one single proprietor who in old days removed altogether six whole townships, restricted the grazing of others, collected all the people who remained into the diminished area, and largely increased the rents of that area. That is a specimen case. I do not give the name—I do not give the place. It is an old story; but Parliament has now pronounced by the Crofters Act that the people who remained on the land — and equally those people who were turned off the land—had a very definite, tangible, moral, and what ought to have been, and is now, a legal part, in their own farms. Parliament is therefore absolutely bound to place these people in the position in which they were before they were deprived of that which by legislation Parliament has pronounced to be their right; but whether Parliament is justified or obligated to do so or not, at any rate it has announced that it thinks that it ought to do so, and this Resolution of my hon. Friend is for the purpose of making it affirm that the Act which it has passed is insufficient and ought to be amended. Now we come to another clause of this Resolution—the extension to the leaseholders. I listened very carefully to the speech of the Lord Advocate, and I could find no single argument of any sort or kind against that extension. He spoke of my right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. J. B. Balfour) not having been sufficiently careful to make his Land Act perfect all at once. I must say that I think it is greatly to the credit of my right hon. and learned Friend that the first draft of the Crofters Act was so very efficient, so very complete. What is the story of Ireland? First, there was the Land Bill of 1871, then the Land Bill of 578 1881; and it was not until there had been two great Land Bills that the matter culminated in the Land Bill of 1887, which gave to the leaseholder a part property in his farm. It is a very little thing that we should ask in this the second attempt at land legislation for Scotland that which this Government have done in the third attempt at land legislation for Ireland. If it is for the benefit of the crofter who is not a leaseholder, if it is his right to obtain this position, it is equally for the benefit of the crofter who is a leaseholder, and it is equally his right; and it is of the most enormous benefit that every part of the crofting population should be included in this Bill. It is for the benefit of the individual. I do not know that in any place in which I have travelled I ever saw anything more interesting than the change in the houses which were occupied upon the crofts after the crofters came into the secure tenure of their holdings. I have seen a little village, at the higher end of which there were a number of houses which were as good as the best cottages in the North of England; while at the other end were the ruins of poor hovels, which were as bad as the worst hovels that, I am sorry to say, I have seen in some parts of the West of Ireland. The old hovels were the buildings in which the crofters lived before they had security of tenure; the new cottages were the dwellings which they built after they had obtained security of tenure. There you have an indication of the advantage to the individual. But what an advantage it is to the community! Another thing I was told on all hands. We here at a distance have been very much perturbed, and I think greatly shocked, at the lawlessness of the Highlands. It was a fact that for several years, and during the best part of one Administration and the whole of another—these Administrations coming from different parties in this House—the Queen's writ did not run in a great part of the Highlands, and rents could not be collected, no serious attempt being even made to collect them. I was informed, when I was in the Highlands, that in those parts of the country to which the Commission had not gone there was the greatest difficulty in getting the rent— 579 in some cases even an impossibility; but when the Commission had once gone there, when they had dealt with the arrears in that sweeping way in which they did deal with them, when they had fixed a rent which the conscience of the people recognised to be a just rent as the law proclaimed it to be, then from that moment, and after that moment, the rents began to be freely and regularly paid. The immense benefit to the individual, and the immense benefit to the community, which would be granted by extending to the numerous leaseholders those benefits of fixity of tenure and fair rent which have worked such miracles on the populations who have come already within their sphere, requires to be answered by much more serious arguments than the not very convincing tu quoque which was levelled by the present Lord Advocate across the Table against my right hon. Friend. For my own part, I believe Parliament is quite prepared to lay down this doctrine—that every holding on which the tenant substantially creates the fixtures should come under the Act, even when that tenement and that farm is held on lease. The limit should be a limit of rent, and, if Parliament so chooses, a limit of locality. But within that locality, at any rate, and within that rent, the tenements ought to be brought within the beneficent operations of this most important Act where the permanent improvements are made by the tenant, and not by the landlord. And now, Sir, I am much obliged to the House for hearing me so attentively while I have gone through the main propositions of this Resolution. There is only one that remains, and that is the proposition that all improvements made by the tenant or his predecessor in the same family, and not paid for by the landlord, should be expressly exempted from the operations of rent. This part of the Resolution is, I conceive, framed to meet the anxious feeling that exists in the Highlands as to the universality of the obligation upon the Commissioners of taking into consideration the improvements which have been made by the crofter and his predecessor. It is very generally felt in the Highlands that the first clause of the sixth section in the Act directing the Commissioners to take 580 into consideration those improvements is not sufficiently strong, and has not been carried out with sufficient regularity. Whether that is the case or not I do not know; but this I do know, that wherever I went I received memorials from the people of the district, and that those memorials invariably contained two prayers, whatever else they contained—first, that the land contiguous to the crofter's holding should be available for the enlargement of such holding; and, secondly, that all the improvements of the holding of the crofter should be attributable to the crofter occupant thereof, except to the extent to which the landlord might prove such improvements to have been executed or paid for by him. Now, those two petitions are the gist of what the Highland people wish and desire. They are entirely within the four corners of that great Bill which Parliament in its wisdom passed in 1886—a Bill, I will venture to say, which, in its operations—where its operations have been put into force—has been more successful and more thorough in procuring those things which Parliament wished than perhaps any other Bill which Parliament has passed. And it is to supplement this Bill, and not in any way to go beyond it, that we ask this House of Commons this evening to agree to the Amendment.
§ (11.13.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
The right hon. Gentleman has, perhaps, a better title to speak on the merits of the Crofters Act than any other gentleman in this House, because, unless my memory fails me, he was the person who was the sponsor for the infant which he now so much eulogises. I am rather surprised that he finds that the Bill he introduced to Parliament now requires amendment. Of course, I admit that after six years' experience any Bill, drafted by whomsoever it may be, may well require re-consideration and amendment in detail, and I do not think that even the handiwork of the right hon. Gentleman may not require some re-consideration. But as I shall presently show, the alterations which he now desires to make in the Act strike at the very root and principle on which the Bill was orginally framed, and are inconsistent with the 581 very fundamental considerations which he advanced to the House in defence of that Bill when he first brought it before us. I propose to deal briefly with the three points raised by the Amendment, and especially the defence of those three points as presented to our consideration to-night by the right hon. Gentleman. I shall take the last point he has brought before us first, that namely connected with the improvements of the crofters. On this subject, as has been quite truly remarked by more than one speaker, there is no disagreement in principle between the two sides of the House. We are all agreed that the crofter should have full right to the value of the improvements, and that his rent should be fixed after an ample estimate has been taken of the value of those improvements. And yet, says the right hon. Gentleman—I am continually receiving memorials from all parts of the Highlands praying that these improvements may be properly valued.If they are not properly valued, it is either the fault of the Act, or it is the fault of the Commission. But as I do not believe it is the fault of the Commission—and I am sure it is not the fault of the Act—I cannot but believe that the memorials which the right hon. Gentleman has received err, as other memorials err, by being founded on an imperfect knowledge of the facts. What says the Act? The Act says that—In fixing the rent the Crofter Commission shall hear the parties and shall fix the rent after considering all the circumstances of the case, the holding and the district, and particularly after taking into consideration any permanent or unexhausted improvements on the holding and suitable thereto which had been executed or paid for by the crofter or his predecessor in the same family.Now, Sir, these words are wide. The right hon. Gentleman apparently thinks they are imperfect. He has not told us, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. J. B. Balfour) sitting next to him has not told us, in what respect they think they are deficient. Both have said that better provision should be made for dealing with the improvements of the crofter. They had the words of their own Act—I presume drafted by the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. J. B. Balfour) and approved of by the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. 582 Trevelyan)—before them, words which appear to cover every conceivable case in which the crofters require compensation, and they have not condescended to inform the House in what particular these very wide words are deficient, in what possible manner any crofter whose case is justly adjudicated upon by the Crofter Commissioner can be damnified in respect of his improvements; and until the framers of the Act show us how it is deficient, what is the use of coming down and telling us that it ought to be amended? Can we conceive a less business-like transaction than telling us the crofters' improvements are not adequately safeguarded and yet not telling us in what particular the safeguards provided by the Act are deficient, and in what particular they ought to be amended? I agree with the principle laid down in the Act and repeated by the two right right hon. Gentlemen and by the mover of the Resolution; but before it is worth while for the House to take into consideration what new statutory defence shall be provided for the crofters in this particular it surely is not too much to ask those who were originally responsible for the Act to tell us in what particulars they think that it falls short of the object for which they framed it. However, I do not propose to delay the House upon any subject upon which we are agreed, although I think in this particular matter the speeches of the right hon. Gentlemen savour rather of vague rhetoric than of business-like suggestion. I turn to what the right hon. Gentleman describes as the main part of the Motion, and what in fact is described as the part of the Motion which deals with the only portion of the Act in which any deficiency has been shown. I think that was an incorrect expression of the right hon. Gentleman, for the Bill also requires amendment on the subject of leaseholders. At all events, the view of the right hon. Gentleman is that that is the main deficiency in the Act, and, therefore, the main and most important clause in the Amendment of the hon. Member for St. Rollox is that which deals with the enlargement of leaseholds. It will be admitted that compulsorily to enlarge anybody's holding, be he crofter 583 or anybody else, at the expense of somebody else's holdings, is a very serious step to take, and one which Parliament will take if at all, only after providing every safeguard and precaution. I wish to know what are the safeguards and precautions in the original Crofters Act which the right hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to see either omitted or amended? In their interesting Report laid before the House, and dated 1887, the Crofters' Commission enumerated the reasons which, in their opinion, rendered the number of cases in which they could compulsorily enlarge the crofters' holdings fewer than they could desire. Those reasons were two. The Bill laid down that a holding may only be increased out of contiguous land which is either in the occupation of the landlord or is not on lease; and also that before the crofter can claim a compulsory enlargement of his holding, he should see that he has adequate money to work his existing farm. I wish to know which of those two reasons the right hon. Gentlemen opposite desire to see either abrogated or modified? Do they seriously think that the position of crofters is to be improved, not by increasing their farm by the process of addition from contiguous land, but by dealing with another farm in another district which they are to cultivate in addition to their present holding; and if they think neither of these two restrictions should be removed, do they think that the restriction as regards the means of cultivation should be removed? In other words, do they think it is a proper thing for this House to enact that land should be compulsorily taken away from a tenant who has money to cultivate the land, and handed over to a tenant who, by my hypothesis, has not? It appears to me, if I might venture to say so, that though we would all like to see small crofters' holdings enlarged, the difficulties could not be got over by any possibility through a simple modification of the Crofters Act. Poverty is the main reason why these holdings cannot be increased. The aggregation of poor tenants on a poor soil, in a poor climate—that is the reason why they cannot increase their holdings—and that is not a state of things which can be done away with by a simple Amendment 584 of the Crofters Act, whatever hon. Gentlemen, for electoral or other purposes, may say to the contrary. The right hon. Gentleman drew a pathetic picture as usual as to the crofters being removed in enormous numbers from their original holding on a certain great estate. Everyone who heard him must know that he referred to the Sutherland Estate.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
He must have done so. I know the Highlands as well as the right hon. Gentleman, and I never heard of any estate on which families have been removed on a large scale within the last two or three generations except the Sutherland Estate. On that estate, I boldly say, though it is not a popular doctrine in some parts of the House, the public spirit shown by the owners, whether mistakenly or not—I believe it was not mistaken—is deserving of the highest admiration. It is a matter of historic notoriety that they do not make money out of that estate, but that they spend money upon it, and that for generation after generation they have lavished funds drawn from other parts of the country in attempting, according to the best of their lights, to improve the position of their people. I am, perhaps, audacious enough to think that after the criticisms I have ventured to pass—I will not say upon the suggestions made by right hon. Gentlemen, but upon the pious opinions they have expressed—we shall not hear any more of any modification of the Crofters Act in the direction of giving additional powers for the extension of holdings. I therefore turn to that part of the Motion which deals with the inclusion of leaseholders. And here I confess I listened with immense surprise to the right hon. Gentleman. I could perfectly understand Members rising in other parts of the House and saying, "You have extended the Irish Land Act of 1881 to Irish leaseholders, why not extend the Crofters Act of 1886 to leaseholders in the crofter counties?" That is a very plausible argument, but it is not one which comes very well from the right hon. Gentlemen who framed the present Act, because they distinctly framed it on the ground that the crofters, holding from year to year by customary tenure, 585 have peculiar rights through that tenure not possessed by any other farmers in this island; the whole basis of their legislation was an historic basis. The whole ground on which they moved the Bill was that there is a customary tenure prevailing in the Highlands by which the crofters possess certain rights from which a few landlords here and there desire to drive them, and because they take that view of their own Bill they themselves resisted the very Amendment for which they are now going to vote. It appears to me, whether it is right or wrong to introduce leaseholders into the Bill, it is impossible for any man who sincerely believes in the original ground upon which this Act was introduced to suggest such an Amendment or to support it when suggested by others. First let us consider the analogy brought forward in regard to Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. J. B. Balfour) has repeated to-night an argument he used on a former occasion. He said, both then and now—When the Bill was introduced I was prepared to resist this Amendment; but now a Conservative Government have extended to Irish leaseholders the privilege claimed for crofter leaseholders I am absolved from my principle, I am permitted to vote for that which I have formerly spoken against.I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman used that argument as a tu quoque argument, a form of argument to which I have no objection; or whether he thought it absolved him in foro conscientiœ. I can hardly believe that the right hon. Gentleman, in the silence of his own chamber, and reflecting over the Bill he himself has so laboriously drawn, was really satisfied in abandoning his own principles in regard to Scotland simply because it had occurred to him that he might attack the Unionist and Conservative Party for abandoning their principles with regard to Ireland. But what did this Irish analogy mean? In 1881 a Bill was passed, not for a portion of Ireland, but for the whole of Ireland; not for a few Irish tenants, but practically for all; not for tenants below a certain valuation, but for tenants whatever their valuation might be. From that Bill leaseholders were nominally excluded. How does that compare with the Crofters Bill? 586 The Crofters Bill did not apply even to the whole of the agricultural population, but only to an infinitesimally small portion of it; and in the very limited district in which it did apply it applied only to a very limited class of tenants—tenants who held land at a rent under £30. There is another distinction which appears to me to have escaped almost every hon. Gentleman who has argued on the subject. The right hon. and learned Gentleman who attacked the Unionist Party for extending the Act of 1881 to Irish leaseholders talked as if Irish leases had not been interfered with before that date. That was a profound mistake. The Act of 1881 not only interfered with Irish leases, but interfered with them in a fundamental way. The essence of a lease is that the landlord lets his land to a tenant on certain conditions for a certain period at a certain rent, and on the condition that at the end of the lease the land should be given back to him in the same condition in which it was originally let. Were Irish leases left uninterfered with? Why, that last condition, the most essential of all, was absolutely destroyed under the Act of 1881. It is true that the conditions as regards the cultivation of land were not interfered with; but it was provided that, when leases came to an end, the land should not be given to the landlord to be dealt with as he desired, but that the tenant who had the end of the lease should thenceforth be a tenant with all the rights under the Act of 1881, with fixity of tenure, and a right to have a fair rent fixed. Thus, under the Act of 1881, the greatest right of ownership the landlord had was deliberately taken away by the British Legislature, and the Act of 1887 did not so much deal with leases as with the small fragments of leases left by the legislation of six years earlier. The framers of the Crofters Act of 1886, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton and the right hon. and learned Member for Clackmannan, whom we have heard with so much pleasure and, I may add, with so much astonishment to-night, deliberately excluded leases altogether from the Act. They said, and said rightly I believe, in the language of the hon. Member for 587 East Lanark, that the tenant who holds under lease is ipso facto not to be included in the crofter class, as he is not a customary tenant and has not the historic basis of tenure which a crofter has. Under the Act of 1886 not only were leases not touched, in the sense that rents were touched, they were not touched at all. They were not touched in the sense that the Irish Act of 1881 left leases untouched; they were touched in no sense whatever, and the landlord at the end of these leases became the absolute owner of the land as in England he becomes the absolute possessor of the land when it is no longer held by the lessee. Do not hon. and right hon. Gentlemen see the enormous difference between the cases in Ireland and in Scotland? The argument is that there is some analogy existing in the case of Scotland to justify this extension of the Act of 1887 to Scotland, but there is no such analogy. Argue the question on its merits if you like, but there is no analogy. There was no suggestion in the case of the Irish Act of 1887 that we were for the first time interfering with contracts, whereas you are in this case, for the first time, proposing that contracts fairly entered into between landlord and tenant shall be set aside in the interest of one of two parties. The right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. J. B. Balfour) has alluded to certain cases which have come within his knowledge of leases having been entered into in the crofter counties, after the Act of 1886 was introduced, but before it became law.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am quite sure he has not attempted to deceive the House, or in any way to exaggerate the cases as they have reached him. They are monstrous cases, and there is not a word of defence to be said on either side of the House for the man who deliberately used force for the purpose. If it can be shown that illegitimate pressure was exercised to take advantage of the hiatus between the introduction and the passing of the Act, by all means let us apply such remedies as the cases require. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman will admit such cases are few, and 588 stand outside the general scope of the proposition. How many other cases are there? They must be very few. I do not believe there is a crofter of the few who hold leases on the whole of the west coast of Scotland. I do not know whether any hon. Gentleman has heard of such. I have made inquiries, and I have heard of none. As we all know, the great mass of the crofter population is congested there; and if these leaseholders exist, they would be found there if anywhere. I do not believe they exist in great numbers. Even those most anxious for the Resolution will hardly maintain that there are any great number of persons to be found whose cases would be ameliorated if this provision in regard to the breaking of leases were carried out. What are we asked to do? For the sake of an occasional tenant scattered here or there in the more thinly-populated districts in the eastern parts of Scotland we are asked for the first time in the history of legislation in this country to introduce a provision for the breaking of contracts deliberately entered into between landlords and tenants. Is that a contingency the House contemplates with equanimity? Is that a form of legislation hon. Members seriously think will benefit the persons for whom it is intended? We are occupied four days in the week at present in the discussion of the Small Holdings Bill, and hon. Members opposite desire that the measure should tend to the creation of small tenants rather than small owners of land. They are anxious to see the number of small agricultural tenants increased. Do they think that if they interfere in this matter of leases, of contracts between landlords and tenants, that there is a single landlord in England, Wales, or Scotland who will be idiot enough ever to make a contract with a small tenant unless he is obliged? Do hon. Members not see that by this kind of interference they are rendering it impossible for any of those contracts to be made, which in their speeches on every day in the week, except Tuesday at 9 o'clock, they have led us to believe they desire to have carried out? Is it not madness to say to a landlord who has entered into a contract with these small tenants, 589 "You have entered into these agreements, but we break them." Will any landlord enter into such a contract again? If under such circumstances a landlord should ask my advice, I should say, "Parliament has begun to take these matters into its own hands; leave them to Parliament to finish. Let Parliament undertake the whole administration of land." It would be foolish for a landlord to enter into a contract with a small tenant under such circumstances, because, however equitable the arrangement might be, he might find Parliament coming down and quashing the bargain, and making some other arbitrary proposal to which he had never been a party, and which, if he had foreseen, he would never have assented to. Is it not a monstrous suggestion that we should, for the sake of a fractional part of an insignificant section of the Scotch population—insignificant, I mean, in point of numbers; the leaseholders are but a fraction of the crofters, as the crofters are relatively insignificant in point of numbers to the population of the whole country—is it not monstrous to say that for this fraction of the population we should lay down a new principle of legislation the end of which you cannot foresee, which is based upon no settled ground whatever, having no plain object in view, apparently doctored to meet some particular electoral cry, not intended and not suited to benefit any large portion of the agricultural community in England or Scotland? If you once begin to break leases, I do not see where you are to stop, and why you should leave any contracts unbroken. I confess I do not see how the community which exists on contracts, and contracts alone, can hold together. These are considerations which demand serious attention. Do not let us to-night vote for an Abstract Resolution which cannot be carried into effect without the disastrous consequences I have ventured to foreshadow. Easy it is, very easy, to vote these Resolutions. They appear to carry with them no special responsibility, for, after all, they are vague and may mean nothing, they are vain and empty sounds until embodied in legislation. Unless you can see your way to legislation applying to all classes of the community—and you would shrink from any such general application 590 —it would be insane to pass such a Resolution on which such legislation is to be ultimately founded.
§ (11.50.) MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling, &c.)
I am not going to make a speech, but I may be permitted to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question. We have not heard any announcement from the right hon. Gentleman as to the attitude he assumes towards the abstract Amendment to the Resolution moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew (Mr. Shaw Stewart), which was accepted in the name of the Government by the Lord Advocate. The Amendment suggests the alternative of land purchase applied to the crofter districts, and I think it is somewhat remarkable—it is due to oversight probably—that the right hon. Gentleman has not alluded to that Amendment accepted on his behalf by the Lord Advocate. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman does he endorse what was said by the Lord Advocate?
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
And in that case whether the Government intend during the present Session to propose legislation for land purchase in the crofter districts of Scotland?
§ (11.52.) MR. ANGUS SUTHERLAND (Sutherland)
I have no desire to intervene at any length. The right hon. Gentleman has been pleased to attribute to us the design of bringing this matter forward for electoral purposes. If we had had any such design it would have served its purpose in drawing from the right hon. Gentleman the speech he has just delivered. The right hon. Gentleman has twitted my right hon. Friend on the action he took in regard to the Act, and he has said that he approved the principle of the Act. But the right hon. Gentleman said on the second reading:—I give assent to the Second Reading with grave misgivings, and I will do my best in Committee to remove from the Bill as much as may be of the evils in it which I fear are ingrained in the very fabric and substance of the measure.I am free to admit that so far as my knowledge goes the right hon. Gentleman did his best in Committee to remove those features to which he objected. I admire the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman very much—it had many 591 good qualities; but it lacks any quality that will find for it acceptance in the Highlands to which the Resolution applies. He made a great deal of the want of analogy to the case of the inclusion of Irish leaseholders, but I prefer to take his own ground and to take the proposal on its merits. On that ground we justify the proposal, for we find that through the operation of the Act an imaginary line is drawn, on the one side of which a man has his rent reduced from 30 to 50 per cent. with security of tenure; while on the other side an unfortunate crofter must continue to pay his old rack-rent merely because he happens to be a leaseholder. Such there are in my own constituency. A great deal has happened since 1886. Leaseholders in Ireland have been given fair rents and security of tenure. The arguments used to-night against the Resolution have been trotted out time after time, and I cannot withhold admiration from the courage of the right hon. Gentleman in bringing forward the high old Tory arguments which have been so repeatedly knocked down. I need not further refer to them. Meanwhile, what has become of the Amendment? It is, in my opinion, a far more revolutionary proposal to buy up the crofts than to extend the existing Act. It might be desirable under certain conditions, but now it would perpetuate the evils of which we complain. First, there must be a redistribution of the people on the soil, and after that we may consider a scheme of land purchase. That part of the Resolution which relates to an inquiry has not been much noticed. That clause has been put in because it has been asserted, though not this evening, that there is no land in the Highlands available for the purpose. This we deny, and so we ask for an inquiry and an authoritative declaration on that point. I heartily commend this very reasonable Resolution to the favourable consideration of the House.
§ Question put.
§ (11.55.) The House divided:—Ayes 113; Noes 152.—(Div. List, No. 121.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ It being after Midnight the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.