HC Deb 25 April 1895 vol 32 cc1635-70

On the Order for the Adjourned Debate on the Motion for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Crofters' Acts,


said: It will be well we should inquire how the leading principles laid down by Parliament in 1886 have worked, before we consider how those principles may be more carefully carried out by amended legislation. Have the Crofters' Acts been a blessing to the districts to which they have been applied or have they been the reverse? Now, on this point, the Government are able to give a straight and impartial opinion to the House. A Commission has lately been appointed, drawn from all Parties in politics and from gentlemen in various callings, and this Commission has, in the most unqualified manner, reported very strongly in favour of the operation of the Crofters' Acts. On that favourable opinion I am quite prepared to base the Bill. Everyone who knows the Highlands knows this favourable verdict is well deserved. How did the Act find the Highlands, and what did it make of them? The crofter had no security of tenure. In the house he had built, the farm he had improved, he had no property whatever recognised by the law. Again, he had no protection against arbitrary increase of rent. He was overwhelmed with arrears, which he could not pay or ever hope to pay. More than that, he was confined within his small and sometimes diminishing holding. The hills on which the black cattle of his fathers fed were not for him. He earnestly desired, and in vain, to be allowed not to appropriate or invade, but to lease, at a full rent, grazing land which would enable him to utilise his crops by feeding stock, and keep his stock first, and then, perhaps, his family, from starving. And, as the outcome of all this, the people were first miserable, then discontented, then turbulent, at last openly defiant of the law. I think none of these propositions will be disputed, nor will it be disputed that from the moment the Crofters' Commission appeared in the Highlands all these evils began to mend. The first fair rents were fixed in December 1886. Since that date more than 14,000 holdings have been visited and dealt with. Besides that, a large number of rents have been voluntarily reduced by landlords. More than 1,250,000 acres have been visited and settled by the Commission. The rents have been reduced from £73,000 a year to £52,000 a year. The arrears were £180,000, and of these £122,000 have been cancelled, and the rest may fairly be said to have been paid. The reductions granted on excessive rents and the extinction of the burden of hopeless arrears have brought about among the tenants a widespread feeling of satisfaction and contentment, and have enabled thousands of crofters to make a new start, with a sense of having been fairly treated, and with legitimate hopes for the future never entertained before. That is the case as to fair rents. The provision for the security of tenure has had a marked effect on the moral and material welfare of the crofters. It has fostered in them a spirit of independence and manhood. It has led to the better cultivation of the holdings, and it has led to the erection of a great number of excellent houses and farms, of a more healthy and permanent description than ever were erected in the old days of insecurity. That is what it has done for the tenant, and it has likewise done a good deal for the landlord. By the nominal sacrifice of a proportion of rent not greater than Lowland landlords and landlords in England have been obliged to give on account of economic causes, the crofter landlords have been saved from a state of friction and of actual hostility with their tenants. Instead of struggling with their tenants for a rent which the latter were unable to pay, and for arrears which they were still less able to pay, they have now a right to demand, and in the great majority of districts quite readily obtain, the new rents and the remains of the arrears. The result has been that the tenants and the landlords have gained, and that the State have gained also, for the old state of semi-rebellion that formerly existed in the Highlands has passed away, and the old scandals are a thing of the past. The crofting counties under the operation of the Act are as quiet as Cumberland or Surrey. I will now go to the provisions of the Bill; and I will deal first with that part of it that relates to the extension of holdings. Parliament sanctioned that principle in 1886. The immemorial industry of the Highlands is a combination of arable farming with grazing, and it is in order to enable the crofter to have the indispensable mountain grazing that Parliament accepted the strong, and perhaps in these days new, principle of compulsory leasing. Great hopes were entertained by the crofters and their friends from the operation of the Act, but, on the whole, those hopes have been disappointed. Between 1886 and 1893 there have been 217 applications for the enlargement of holdings by 2,450 crofters. There would doubtless have been a great many more if they could have been made with a fair chance of success. But only 57 holdings have been, enlarged, and only 840 crofters benefited, and these figures include some extremely handsome arrangements that have been made by landlords voluntarily. This state of things has to be remedied, and the goodwill that Parliament has shown towards the crofters has to be carried into practical effect. Therefore the first step of the Government has been to appoint the Commission which has just brought its labours to a close. Once for all, I must say that I think the public owe a very great debt of gratitude to the gentlemen who have served on the Commission. It was a vast work—a sort of cadastral survey of six Scotch counties—and no one who knows anything about the nature of the work can possibly doubt that it has been quickly and thoroughly done. At what expense of time, and of health too, I am sorry to say, that extremely rough work was done may be guessed from the fact that there were 64 sittings of the Commission during the two years, and that the work of survey went on in many cases for a week after each sitting. The Commission ascertained that in the six counties 440,000 acres of land still remained which are suitable for the extension of existing holdings. How much of that land has been utilised for the purpose of the Act? Only 843 acres of arable land and 25,500 acres of pasture—not 27,000 acres in all, or not 5 per cent, of what might have been brought within the beneficial intentions of Parliament. In 1888, during the late administration, at my request a Report was called for in which reasons were given why the intentions of Parliament had been defeated, and why the enlargement of holdings could not be carried out with the same success as the fixing of fair rents. The Crofters' Commission were of opinion that one of the main causes that had prevented applications for the enlargement of holdings being lodged was to be found in the Act of Parliament, in Section 13, which fixed the scope of the words "available land." The first sub-section requires that land applied for must be "contiguous or near" to the land already occupied, and the second that the land applied for be "not under lease other than a sporting lease" for a term of years at the date of the passing of the Act. But besides that, since I have held my present office I have been continually inquiring of those who were able to inform me, and the result of my inquiries is that the Government propose to embody in the Bill certain clauses which they believe will make the Crofters' Act completely effective in this respect. In the first place it is proposed that in the case of pasture land the condition of its being contiguous to the crofter's holding shall be removed, but in the case of arable land that it shall be maintained. In the second place, the Bill removes the restriction against taking land in the case of a farming and grazing lease in existence at the time of the passing of the Act of 1886; that restriction does not exist in the case of a sporting lease. At present land can not be taken from a farm which is let at less than a £100 a year. Now agricultural rents have undoubtedly fallen 20 per cent., and perhaps more, in those parts of the Highlands, and the Government propose to recognise that fact and so allow land to be taken from a farm having rent of £80 instead of £100 a year. In the next place, under the existing law, if an application is made for the enlargement of a holding it can not be granted if the combined rent of the crofter's croft and his share of the grazing amounts to over £15. The limit appears to the Government to be unfortunate. Thirty pounds is the limit of the crofter's rent, and a farm of £30 a year is the sort of farm that the Government would like to see the crofters have, and therefore they propose to raise the limit for the combined holding from £15 to £30 a year. Under the Act land taken for the enlargement of a croft must belong to the same landlord, and there is a great deal to be said in favour of the provision, but it has been brought to the knowledge of the Government that there are cases in which the land has been alienated by the landlord in other than what might be called a bonâ fide manner for the purpose of evading his obligations under the Act. In order to carry out the spirit of the law the Government think that the matter should be dealt with. It can be no grievance at all to a man who has made other than a bonâ fide alienation of his land that they should make provision against his withdrawing himself from the scope of the law, and, as the Government hope by these new provisions that the enlargement of holdings will be very much increased, so there is a danger that this practice would increase likewise, and they think that it were well that Parliament should meet it on the threshold. We therefore propose that the vacant land of a holding shall be available for the enlargement of other holdings, and in case land is taken for the enlargement of holdings from a farmer under an existing lease we propose that the Commissioners shall have the same powers they now have in the case of a deer forest and shall be enabled to arrange the amount of the rent that has to be paid under that lease. Then we propose to do away with the necessity for five crofters applying for the enlargement of a holding, and to enable a single crofter to make the application. Finally, it is proposed by the Bill that, instead of having the beneficent powers of the Act of 1886 renewed by successive Expiring Laws Continuance Acts, those powers shall be made as permanent as the Commission itself is I now come to the provisions for improving the status of the crofter. A considerable number of people belonging to the crofter class and residing in crofter parishes are at present excluded from the benefits of the Act because they hold under lease. By the Act of 1887 leaseholders generally were admitted to the benefits of the Irish Land Acts, and the arguments which held good in the case of Irish leaseholders appear to me to hold good for the Highland leaseholders also. These men see their neighbours enjoying fixity of tenure and reduced rents in farms like their own in respect of the nature of the soils and the character of the cultivation, and yet they are possibly paying agricultural rents which are on a level with those which existed before the great fall in agricultural prices. These leasehold communities still form centres of great discontent, and the men who compose them command the sympathy of the immense majority of their neighbours of every class. These leaseholders, then, the Government propose to admit to the benefits of the crofter legislation. Then there is the case of the crofter who in 1886 held under a lease which has now run out, and who has been defenceless since its lapse. The general policy of Parliament in dealing with Ireland has been that no tenant should suffer because he happened at a particular moment to be under lease, and similarly under this Bill anyone who is under lease at the time of the passing of the Act will be admitted to the benefits. The framers of the Bill have been very careful to admit all the crofters, but do not wish to admit people who are not crofters. For this reason the Government refused in 1886 to have anything to do with free sale, and they still refuse, because under free sale farmers from all parts of the country might claim the benefits of the Act. But, as I have said, they are desirous to admit all genuine crofters, and as some genuine crofters do not fulfil the condition of actual residence on their holdings, the Bill proposes that a crofter residing within the crofting parish where his holding is situated shall be admitted to the benefits of the Act as being in bonâ fide occupation of his holding. The Bill makes the decision of the Crofters Commission final upon the question whether a man is a crofter or not. The next point for consideration is the question of common pastures. The Government hope for a greater extension of such pastures. In connection with them grave difficulties have arisen in the past, and if care is not taken there will be a development of such difficulties in the future. Where crofters enjoy the benefit of common pasture, the clever, energetic, and more wealthy man can, if he chooses, and often does, get more than his share of the common property, and the weaker and poorer men suffer in consequence. Parliament supplied a remedy in the Act of 1891 for the regulation of common grazing. In the case of existing grazing, the Commission, upon the request of two crofters, can under that Act appoint a committee to regulate the amount of stock which each crofter can put upon the land, and can frame rules for the management of the common pasture. It is not, however, in the power of the Commission when they grant common pasture for the first time to regulate the amount of stock or to appoint a committee. Then it is alleged that the more powerful crofters—and in remote parts of the country a single strong man can exert a very powerful influence upon his weaker neighbours—having put more than their fair share of stock on the grazing, prevent the poorer crofters from applying to have the grazing regulated. Again, persons who are not crofters, but inn-keepers, clergymen, schoolmasters, farmers over £30, often have shares and interests in crofters' grazings, and sometimes the landlord and the crofters have concurrent rights. These people can not by statute be brought within the scope of the Grazings Act. The Highlands and Islands Commission said in their Report— From all these considerations it is abundantly plain that mere extensions of grazings, unaccompanied by the presence and enforcement of rules efficiently directed to the regulation of the stock and to the equitable maintenance of the grazing rights of each crofter interested, is not to be thought of. It would be impossible to report in stronger words than those, and the Government have, in concurrence with the view of the Commission, inserted in the Bill a little code of Amendments which they hope will be of great value. They give power to the Commission, when making a now common pasture, to issue regulations as if it were an old one. With regard to existing grazings, they make the powers of the Commission to put the Grazings Act in force universal in all cases, and do away with the condition as to an application from the crofters. They allow the Commission to apply their regulations to the cattle of persons who are not crofters, but who have the common rights. One most valuable power of a kindred nature the Bill gives to the Commission. Prior to the Crofters Act local difficulties and disputes between crofters were dealt with by the landlord or his factor or ground officer, the decision being in the last resort enforced by the power of removing the crofter. That was a patriarchal and very effective system, but since the passing of the Act this irregular tribunal has disappeared, and in this Bill there is a clause giving the Commission power to settle these little controversies. I wish now to say a word about a particular clause. One of the conditions to be fulfilled by a crofter desiring to obtain the advantages of the Act is that he should not allow his dwelling to become dilapidated; but in Orkney and Shetland the crofters at present find it impossible to obtain stones with which to repair their buildings, and they ask to be allowed to pick stones on their own ground for the purpose, which they can do now because the landlord enjoys all the mineral rights, or to be allowed to take stones from the quarry where the crofters have been in the habit of getting stones. This the Government consider to be a very moderate request, and they propose to comply with it. Concluding my review of this group of questions, I desire to refer hon. Members to the recommendation of the Commission with regard to club farms. They said— We desire to recommend n large extrusion of the 'club-farm' system. Under it crofters have no individual hill storks, but only a joint ownership in the stock. Where this system prevails the crofters, or townships of crofters interested in a grazing, hold a common stock duly proportioned to the 'carry' of the ground, with one central management for herding, breeding, clipping, selling, and dividing of profits, or, where necessary, imposing assessments required for the undertaking; as, for example, to pay wintering, shepherds' wages, and the general upkeep of buildings and fences. When this system is carried on honestly and properly, not only is the very most made of the ground, but the individual crofter is more certain of his or her return than otherwise, especially where as in the case of a widow, an invalid, or an occasional absentee, grazing interests fail to receive due attention. In accordance with this recommendation we propose a Clause giving the Commission power, when they are satisfied that a club farm is the only way in which land can be worked, to provide for the management of the common grazing under regulations which carry out that principle. These then are the proposed Amendments of the Crofters' Act; and the question is whether the Act so amended ought to be confined to special districts or to be extended to all crofters wherever they may be. The Act of 1886 was founded upon what I may call the historical basis. That was the view of Parliament in 1886, and that is the view of the Government to-day. I may perhaps be allowed to read a few lines from the speech which I made when introduring the Bill of 1886:— What is the reason that Parliament is interested in this population? It is partly from respect of their character; it is partly from the interest which everyone who travels and reads takes in them, and the country in which they live; but it is, above all, that, as a population, they suffer from a very great grievance, which I hope is not irremediable. That grievance is that, taking the population as a whole, they are originally a population under circumstances entirely different from those which now exist, and that those circumstances were altered, by no fault of theirs, for the benefit of others. Next, I propose to read a passage from a speech of Lord Salfsbury's, not because the noble Lord expressed in that speech any concurrence with the principles of the Crofters' Act, but because this passage contains the very best description which I have ever seen of the reasons given by the defenders of the Act for their attitude. The noble Lord, speaking at Edinburgh on November 30, 1888, said:— The Scottish Crofters' Bill was no Measure for which I am responsible, and I do not profess to admire it in all respects, but it had this particular note, it was not a disturbance of old long-established rights. The ground on which you interfered with the position of the Scottish crofters was that you said that up to a comparatively recent period they had held upon a tenure not the general tenure of these islands, and that,hat tenure had by lapse, by carelessness, by use, by encroachment, been converted into a condition of things wholly and unjustly disadvantageous to themselves. It was said that the old clannish tenure, which was very different from the ordinary law of landlord and tenant in this country, had slipped into the law of landlord and tenant, entirely to the advantage of the landlord, without any consideration for the valuable interest which the clansman formerly had in the land on which he lived. Well, that is a very fair argument, and the Act of Parliament, the Crofters' Act, 1886, which followed from it was that the rule of prescription observed generally in this country should be considerably extended—extended from 60 to 80 years—and that all who these 80 years had been in the condition of crofters should have their case specially considered. Well, that was a decision perfectly consistent with ordinary doctrines of the rights of property. Whether you thought it wise or thought it foolish, there was nothing in it which affected the rights of property in general. It would be most unfair for me to claim that as Lord Salisbury's opinion on the subject of the crofters, but a better description of the principle on which the Crofters' Acts were founded could not be given. Parliament wished to legislate for the benefit of the old Highland population, and did its best carefully to define that population in the Act. The definition states that— a crofter is a tenant who resides in a holding of not more than £30 a year, situated in a crofting parish; and a crofting parish is a parish in which at the commencement of this Act there were, or had been within 80 years— —that was Lord Salisbury's 80 years— prior thereto holdings consisting of arable land held with a right of pasturage in common with others. The task of ascertaining whether a parish was or was not a crofting parish was not a very difficult one to the men who sat on the Crofter Commission. In 1886 they began the great work by ascertaining where these crofting parishes were. The information necessary was very easily obtained in most cases. In a few instances the work was attended with difficulty, and special inquiry became necessary; but before long it was determined by them, and confirmed by the Secretary for Scotland, that out of 163 parishes in the seven counties, 151 were crofting parishes, and, as far as I know, no serious objection was ever taken to that decision. There will be no great difficulty, of that I am assured, in finding out in other counties besides the seven, which are crofting parishes and which are not; and I am assured likewise that in other counties in Scotland, in some cases many, and in some cases several, such parishes exist. Common sense shows that it must be so, because any one who knows anything about old Highland history knows that the conditions of old Highland life had no concern with boundaries of counties. The line between Aberdeenshire and Inverness-shire and the line between Perthshire and Argyllshire was not the line of demarcation between the clansmen and Lowland farmers. The line drawn in the Act was fixed for several reasons. In 1886 the work on hand was very heavy, and that part of the country which most stood in need of reform had to be first served. The seven counties on which the Commission reported, and in which crofting parishes lay most thickly and most universally, had to be first attended to. In the second place, and this is a most important point, the legislation was novel and strange, and most people doubted whether it would be successful, and hon. Members, in the most perfect good faith, expressed in the House doubts whether there was any serious amount of over-renting or any large amount of arrears in the Highlands; and, finally, the crofters in the counties which were excluded had been very quiet and peaceful. They had taken no part in any disturbances, and had made their representations only through the mouth of their Parliamentary representatives. What a difference there is now. The work in the old crofting counties is as good as done so far as rent and tenure are concerned, and the Act has proved an enormous success and an immense benefit. I do not wish to make any comment on the Irish Land Acts, but everybody must have noticed that there was a period of some years during which there was a great deal of disapprobation expressed with regard to them, though afterwards they were extended and generally approved. That never took place with regard to the Crofters' Act. From the very first it received the general approbation of that part of society acquainted with its operation. The great reduction that took place in rents, and the vast extinction of arrears, prove how very much the Act was wanted where it was applied; and the natural deduction to be drawn from that was that it was probably wanted where it had not been applied. And, finally, the crofters outside the seven counties have deserved the attention of Parliament by nine more years of law-abiding patience under their exclusion from the benefits of the Act. That they have been quiet is not a disqualification; it is a title to the recognition of the House. The Government propose to extend the Act to all counties in which there are crofting parishes. The additional counties named in the Bill are: Elgin and Nairn, Banff, Aberdeen, Kincardine, For-far, Perth, and Bute and Arran. Those are counties in which, according to information which has reached us, crofting parishes exist. If it can be shown that such parishes exist elsewhere most careful inquiry will be made before the Committee stage; but for obvious reasons it would be most unadvisable to include in the Bill any counties or districts which, when the Bill conies to be worked, would be disappointed by finding that they contain no crofting parishes. This is a Bill for making legislation with respect to crofters as complete as Parliament can make it, and for extending it to crofters wherever they reside. It is a Bill for applying for the benefit of crofters nearly half a million of acres, which the Commission have ascertained to exist, and have carefully surveyed, for the extension of their holdings. It is a Bill which makes good on behalf of crofters not only every promise that has been made but every claim put forward inside or outside Parliament. It is a very important Bill; but it is one that is possible and practicable, unless we endeavour to embrace too much within it. At the end of their Report the Members of the Highlands and Islands Commission say:— Mere extensions of existing holdings, or extensions of grazings, may be obtained without much difficulty and without raising any serious questions; hut, on the other hand, we have not failed to notice that the transference of tenants and their establishment on new holdings might raise questions of public policy. That is a most true, most statesmanlike conclusion. The question of forming new farms and of settling down in them people who are not farmers now, of what in Ireland was known by the, name of "migration," would be an undertaking on new lines, of enormous magnitude, and which would require, in order to carry it out, vast sums of public money. To enter on such an undertaking in this Bill would be to endanger, even, I believe, to wreck and destroy all we hope to accomplish for the crofting population of the Highlands. On one point the friends of the crofters may be reassured. The Government do not intend to interfere with, and never dreamed of interfering with, the existence and efficacy of the Crofters' Commission. It has been suggested that the Commission should be abolished, and its duties transferred either to the Sheriff's Court or to the County or Parish Councils. The experience which the Commission has gained, the great and wide-spread confidence with which it is regarded, are qualifications and attributes of the greatest value to the public, and could never be recovered in the same measure by any other body if the continuity was once broken. The leader of the Opposition, on the Second Reading of the Irish Land Bill, expressed a wish that the Irish land machinery could be rendered less costly. It is not too much to say that the proceedings before the Crofters' Commission could hardly be made cheaper than they are at present. Fortunate, indeed, was the country in securing the services of such men as Sheriff Brand and his colleagues, including Mr. Mackenzie, the Secretary, in order to set on foot a system which, entirely new and strange only nine years back, is now regarded with gratitude by those who have the benefit of it, and with hope and envy by those who are still excluded from it. I trust that hon. Members, in approaching this question, will give a thought to the public opinion of those counties whose interests are concerned in it. Is there one of those counties opposed to the provisions of the Bill? I doubt whether any candidate or member of any Party for any county from the Pentland Firth to the river Forth could be found who would not say-that among the people whom he represents there is only one feeling and one sentiment, and that is, that the boon which in 1886 Parliament intended to be given to the crofters should be made complete and permanently secure, and should be extended to everyone who holds the position and bears the name of crofter. I hope the House will allow this Bill to be read a first time.

MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)

I do not think that this is the occasion upon which it would be desirable, or in accordance with the convenience of the House, that I should attempt any main survey of the legislative project which the right hon. Gentleman has laid before us; but his speech naturally suggests some comment, and there are some questions which it may be to the convenience of all interested in the question should be made and should be asked. The right hon. Gentleman began his observations by a survey of the effect of the Crofters' Commission, in which he saw no dark spots at all. I do not at all wish to minimise the good results that may have occurred, and I believe did occur, in many parts of the country from the Crofters' Act; but it is a melancholy fact known to every one who has read the Report of the Commission, that in that part of the Highlands which gave most trouble to the Government of the day, where the economic problems connected with the crofter question press most severely both upon the populations concerned and upon politicians and Statesmen who have considered their case, the effect of the Crofters Act has not been all that its authors had hoped. There is an ominous paragraph in the Report of the Commission which gives an account of the condition of the Island of Lewis. From this it appears that if peace is given to that part of the Highlands, and if the law is not openly defied, it is none the less true that legal debts are not paid, and the evils of overcrowding and the sub-division have gone on unchecked. The arrears which the Crofters' Commission adjudged to be just arrears, and which ought to be paid to the landlords, remain at the present day for the most part unpaid; and I am not aware it has been in the power of the landlords to put any machinery in motion by which those just obligations may be enforced. After all, it is not our business to-day to discuss the exact degree in which the Crofters' Act may have succeeded or failed. What we have to deal with are the proposals of the Government which they have made with regard to the population in the six crofting counties, and in some others as well. The first observation I have to make is that this extension of area is one that necessarily raises very grave issues indeed. I perfectly understand the position of the Government. They say— You have given to the Crofters in six counties in Scotland certain immunities; there is a population situated precisely as they are but beyond the arbitrary borders of the six counties to which the original Act was confined; you cannot in justice or in policy exclude from the benefits of the legislation those persons who resemble them in every other respect except the accident of locality. I admit the force of the argument; but you cannot avoid in legislation some hard and fast line, though a line in every part of its course cannot be logically justified. Have the Government contemplated this result? It appears that if one tenant exists outside the six counties in a parish who is able to prove that for 80 years he has held, year by year, with the rights of grazing, a farm under £30 value, he not only gets the benefit of the Act himself, but he constitutes the parish in which he resides a crofting parish. When a crofting parish has been constituted by the action of one individual, everybody else in that parish, though they may only have come into it 10 years ago, though every improvement on their farm may have been made by the landlord, and though they may have a lease from the landlord—those persons, as I understand it under the Bill, will find themselves entitled to all the privileges of crofters, though they have not one single attribute characteristic of that class, except the attribute of living in a parish where there happens to be a crofter. If I have rightly interpreted the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, I think he would agree that he has raised a question of very great difficulty, which will necessitate a great deal of discussion in the House, and will require most careful safeguarding in the Bill if it is not to lead to grave abuse and injustice. I pass now to the provision in the Bill which extends the Crofters' Act to the leaseholder— a provision which, in my opinion, is dangerous in itself, but which derives increased significance from the fact that the old limit of area has been abandoned by the Government. The Government have quoted, in justification of their action, arguments which show, as I understand, what was done by the late Government in the Act of 1887 with regard to Irish land. They appear to think that their action at the present time is on all fours with the action which we took seven years ago. That is an entire misconception of what was done in 1887 and what is proposed to be done now. It has been stated over and over again that we in 1887 were the people who first broke leases in Ireland. Leases were absolutely destroyed by the Land Act of 1881. What is the essence of a lease? The essence of a lease is this, that a man makes a contract with a landlord to hold land for a certain length of time at a certain rent, and at the end of the time to hand the land back to the landlord in the condition and in the circumstances in which he took it. Under the Act of 1881, with regard to land under lease in Ireland, the result was that when a lease fell in, the land was not handed back to the landlord in the condition in which it stood under the original leaseholder; on the contrary, it came, under the Act of 1881, and was subject to all the limitations of ownership which that Act imposed on all owners. Leases were, therefore, destroyed; the essence of them was struck out by the Act of 1881, and all we did by the Act of 1887 was to carry out to its logical issue the process which had been begun, and put an end to a state of things which could not be justified, as far as I know, on any principle whatever. But the state of things in the Highlands is very different. The Crofters Act did not touch the position of the land when the lease came to an end. It was handed back to the landlord under the Act of 1892 in the same condition and under the same tenure as it was let to the tenant; and, therefore, if you wish to quote any analogy for the action you are taking with regard to leases, I point you to the action of the Land Act of 1881, and not to the action which was taken in 1887. I come to what may be described as the main provisions of the Bill, those, namely, which have to do with the extension of holdings. The first question I ask is whether the extension of the holding which the Government contemplate, except in the few particulars mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, is still subject to the limitations of the Crofters Act of 1886? The right hon. gentleman contemplates that land shall be taken from farms which are a going concern, and shall be transferred from those farms to the crofters. That may result in no damage either to the landlord or to the tenant. In that case the question of compensation will not come in; but suppose that it results in damage both to the landlord and to the tenant, or to one or the other, what provision or compensation is to be made, or is the transference to the crofters not to take place? I believe the original words of the Crofters' Act of 1886 provide that— if the land forms any part of any farm, whether subject to lease or not, unless the Crofters Commission are satisfied that the part proposed to be assigned… can be so assigned without material damage to the letting value of the remainder, the Commission shall not contemplate any action. Will the right hem. Gentleman say whether that provision is abrogated by the new Bill, or whether it still stands? If it stands, it is, I think, manifest in a large proportion of cases that the Crofters Commission will be powerless to increase the size of the holdings. If it is abrogated, the right hon. Gentleman will have to provide compensation out of some fund not yet specified by which the landlord or the tenant may be recouped for the injury thus inflicted upon him. That is a very important question, and I hope before the Debate closes he will let us know how it stands.


I think I stated actually all the changes made.


I now understand, then, that there will be no power on the part of the Crofters Commission to enlarge any holding by the addition to it of land, if the transference of that land in any way injures the letting value of the farm. In that case the question of compensation falls to the ground, and it is also evident that many of the hopes founded on the proposals of the Government are destined to disappointment. The next matter to which I desire to call attention is the question of the class whom you expect to benefit by your procedure. Everybody knows that in the main the difficulty will be as to grazing pasture and not arable land. There may be here and there a case of the latter kind, but all of us who have knowledge of the affair must be aware that in the main the questions we have to consider are those which have reference to the increase of grazing land. Arable land can be made useful as to labour, but grazing land is absolutely useless except to the possessor of stock; and I would venture to say that the persons who will benefit by the grazing are not the poor classes whose interests we all naturally especially desire, but crofters who are already extremely well-to-do persons, whose existing stock exceeds the amount of grazing land which they possess. The only way by which we can carry out the object we aim at is by providing machinery by which the poor crofter can be supplied with the stock necessary, but the Government have made no proposal of that kind, and I think they were well advised not to do so, for they would have been plunged at once into a Serbonian bog. Yet, though I think an omission of this kind exremely natural under the circumstances, it makes their Bill almost valueless for the very class whose condition they and we desire to improve. Who is it among the population of the Highland counties whom you most desire to aid? It is the cotter, and it is the small crofter, whose condition differs hardly at all from that of the cotter; and, as I venture to say, there is not a line, there is not a word, in these proposals of the Government which in the slightest degree will benefit either the cotter or the small crofter. There are three problems connected with the Highland land question which have been the cause of serious anxiety, pain, and perplexity to everyone connected with that country. There is the problem of over-population. There is the problem of the cotter, and there is the problem of the poor crofter. Can you do anything for the problem of over-population? I am not saying—I am not suggesting—that I have any legislative scheme by which that problem can be solved; but it appears to me that to bring forward a Bill for the benefit of the Highlands and leave all these things outside, absolutely untouched, either by the surgical knife or any alleviating medicine, is not statesmanship, and it is likely to lead to a great deal more disappointment than any benefits likely to follow from the proposals of the Government. I have mentioned the case of the Island of Lewis. I do not lay blame on any individual or on any class; but if you leave untouched this central blot you will have done absolutely noting. ["No, no!"] I think the condition of the Highlands is illustrated by the Island of Lewis, and this Bill does nothing for the Lewis; perhaps no Bill can do anything for the Lewis. What will the overcrowded population of that island gain from proposals to extend their holdings when there is no available grazing land? What will they gain by a proposal to give them additional pasture for their stock when they have no stock to put on the pasture? What will the cottiers gain from a Bill in which the word "cotter" does not appear at all? I give the Government credit for good intentions. I am far from saying that there are no proposals in their Bill which will not benefit some parts of the population of the counties to which in the main the Bill refers; but as a solution of the present question—which is how to improve the poor Highlanders most deserving of our sympathy and support—I fear, unless I am greatly mistaken in the purport of the speech, it will be found that we shall fail in the object we have in view, and that the position of the people will not be in any tittle benefited by the proposal of the Government.

DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)

said, he was sure his right hon. Friend must have felt, in introducing this Bill, great satisfaction in reflecting on the success which had attended the present Act as far as it had gone. They had had the highest and most emphatic testimony as to the excellent working of the Act. The crofters under it had improved their holdings and built houses; they had made new men of themselves. If there had been no further achievement he thought his right hon. Friend might well congratulate himself. As to the Island of Lewis, it was a dark spot. It was an object-lesson, showing the absolute necessity of the extension of the Crofters Act. The people wanted more land. They were cribb'd, cabin'd, and confined in small villages, and they were crying out with a voice which was to be answered now, "More land." There was land which might well be devoted to the crofters of Lewis. The islanders were a very kind people, as anyone who travelled in the island knew. The women were handsome, the men strong and vigorous, and the children particularly healthy, and if such people were satisfied with their conditions of life then all he could say was that they were easily satisfied. These fine people should be allowed to live in their native country, and not driven abroad to live in an uncongenial climate under conditions that they did not understand. He should be glad to see the principle of fair rent and fixity of tenure extended to every part of Scotland. The fair rent should be fixed by traveling Commissioners—men of the same type as those on the Crofters' Commission; and as to the second principle nothing was so vital in the present condition of agriculture as stability of tenure. He was bound to say that he confessed to a shadow of a flicker of disappointment such as had been indicated by the Leader of the Opposition—namely, that the benefits of the Act had not been applied to almost all holders in the north of Scotland. In Aberdeenshire, for instance, they had a larger number of small holdings than in almost any other part of Scotland; and he would like to ask whether it would not be possible to admit small holders in the north, who carried out one or two of the crofters' conditions, to participate in the benefits of the present measure. Perhaps this suggestion might be taken into consideration at some future time, and thus mitigate some little of the disappointment which might be experienced in the north when the people in that part found that only persons living under all the crofting conditions were to come under the present measure. They could not expect it to regenerate all the human conditions of farming, which, as every one was aware, were bad enough, even on large farms; and it was even more difficult to get a living out of a small holding. If the suggestions which had been made could be given effect to in the Bill, it would infuse hope into the small holders in Scotland, and he should predict for the Bill in the future no less success than had attended the Act in the past.

DR. G. B. CLARK (Caithness)

said, that he had to congratulate the Secretary for Scotland on his Bill, and he also had to congratulate the Leader of the Opposition on the suggestions which he had made. He hoped that his right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland would accept those suggestions. The class of leaseholders under £100 would be much benefited by inclusion in the Bill. Nine years ago the present Duke of Sutherland—the largest crofting landholder in Scotland—strongly urged upon the Government of the day to include leaseholders in the Crofters' Act. The answer of the Law Officer of the day was that, although he recognised that these men had a strong claim, still Parliament had not come in and broken contracts. Since then, however, 150,000 contracts—some of them leases for 99 years—had been broken in Ireland by the Act of the late Government. The Leader of the Opposition said that they would have come under the ordinary Irish Land Act when their leases expired. Yes, if they had been living in 80 or 90 years' time. At the end of that time, when the leases expired, the then holder would, no doubt, have got the benefit. The same reasons which now compelled the Secretary for Scotland to bring in this Bill were similar to those which led to the Irish Land Bills—the poor people on the land were a cause of disturbance. In Sutherlandshire, the Queen's writ did not run, and there was not sufficient local police force in the county to enable it to run. An application was made to bring in some foreign police from Glasgow or Edinburgh. This was refused, as being a grossly unjust thing to attempt to get rid of people, and to try to make them pay impossible rents. He did not blame some of the men who had been trying to get those rents; some of them were trustees, and were obliged, as such, to do so by the terms of their trust deeds. On the other hand, they had impecunious people who were trying to live, and who were unable to grant reductions. In this state of things, it was right that the Government should step in now. The same state of things existed in Ireland when the late Government brought in their Bill and broke all contracts in Ireland. Experience had shown that these changes were necessary, but he thought that the Secretary for Scotland would require to go further, and to take in a class of men whom he had not mentioned, namely, those who did not hold under the existing Act. Undoubtedly, the question raised by the Leader of the Opposition was a most important one: What was to be done in the congested districts; what was to be done for the poor crofter; what was to be done for the poor cotter? In the island of Lewis, they had an average rental value of under £3 a year for each holding, and if they were to be allowed their grants rent free, they would only benefit to the extent of about a shilling per week. What was wanted was to get rid of the deer forests and large farms in Lewis, and then it would be possible to do the poor people good. He and his friends had tried to do something of the kind about ten years ago, but they were unable to accomplish their object. Changes had, however, occurred since then. They had now local bodies: Parish Councils and County Councils; and what, he asked, was to hinder the Imperial Government from lending to those local bodies money which they could see invested for the purpose which he had indicated? All the difficulties had been met, and the plans had been laid down under the Act of last year. He did not propose to discuss now what was in the present Bill, but he would say that, in his opinion, it would require modification. He thought that the Government would do well to follow the lead which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. A. J. Balfour) had given them, and do something to solve this problem fairly, fully, and completely. It was worth remarking that the people of Scotland had been able to get money from a Conservative Government more easily than from a Liberal Government; but whereas, in the past, the aid had been more to the landlord, it could now be given more to the people, through the medium of the local bodies. Scotchmen did not generally spend money in a foolish fashion, and they would not err in being extravagant. If the Leader of the Opposition would aid the Government in passing this measure and making it effectual, Scotchmen would be obliged to the right hon. Gentleman.


thought that hon. Members had better reserve discussion till the Bill was in their hands. He concurred with the last speaker in being extremely pleased to hear the open statement of the Leader of the Opposition, because he gathered from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks that the Government were not going far enough in their legislation. A little time had brought about many changes. He remembered quarrelling many nights with the right hon. Gentleman in 1886 on the Crofter question, but he was now glad to think that nine years had wrought a change in the right hon. Gentleman's views. He hoped that hon. Members would now allow the Bill to be brought in, for there would be plenty of time to discuss it on the Second Heading and in Committee.

*DR. D. MACGREGOR (Inverness-shire)

said he was very glad to join in congratulating the Secretary for Scotland on being able at last to bring in this long-looked for Bill, which, however, would have been brought in earlier but for the action of the Leader of the Opposition. While on the one hand he was willing to admit that the Bill was a good one as far as it went, he was bound to say, on the other, that it fell far short of what the Highland people had a right to expect. As the right hon. Gentleman opposite had remarked, it did not touch at all the real sore in the Highland question, and he could not but regret that the Secretary for Scotland, whose sympathy with the Highland people was well known, had omitted the crucial point of the matter from the Bill. The Bill extended legislation, no doubt, by admitting the leaseholders to the benefits of the Act; but that the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to do last year. It was nothing new. It also made some minor amendments of the present Act as far as the parishes and townships were concerned, and it likewise proposed to extend the benefits of the Act to other counties. But what about the enlargement of holdings to the people who had too little land to live upon, and to the cotters who had no land at all? What were those cotters? They were simply crofters without land. They had been spoken of as outsiders, and as unconnected with the crofters; but they were men of exactly the same class, who had either been evicted from the land they occupied, or who had been unable to get any land at all. He would point out to those who were interested in the Imperial question of the public services, that many of these cotters were old soldiers and sailors who had served their country well, and had returned to the land of their fathers with the hope of getting a little land to cultivate in order to end their declining years in comfort. But they were denied this by an ungrateful country. They need only look to the splendid work which the Highland soldiers were now doing in the mountain passes of India for the relief of Chitral, to see what the character of these men were, and he thought they deserved sympathy and consideration when they returned to their homes. But without regard to their heroic services, they were denied on their return even sufficient ground in which to cultivate the necessaries of life. It was a fact that thousands of Highland people were without the necessaries of life, because they were denied the land wherewith to cultivate them, a condition of things which was unworthy of a country which called itself Christian. Too much money was spent on the public services. If less money were spent on the Navy and Army and Civil Services; if fewer pensions were voted by that House to people who little required them; there would be money left to provide the Highland people with land enough to support their families by their own industry. It had been shown that when those people got fixity of tenure, compensation for improvements, and fair conditions they were not only industrious and paid their rents, but built better houses and surrounded themselves with better sanitary conditions. They had been called indolent. Why? Because, before the Crofters' Act was passed, whenever they reclaimed any land from the bog, or from the mountain-side, and made a little crop to grow upon it, the landlord put up the rent immediately to an exorbitant extent, and thus took away all encouragement from the poor people to persevere. If they refused to pay, or were unable to pay rent, they were turned adrift by the landlord. Many of these men were the cotters to whom reference had been made, but the right hon. Gentleman had made no attempt whatever to do anything for them. The Report of the Highland Commission, which had been so long delayed, was simply valueless so far as the present Bill was concerned. But that Report showed that there was land enough in the Highlands—and more than enough—to give a reasonable croft to every industrious cotter. The Commission were able to schedule nearly 2,000,000 acres of land which were available for crofter holdings, and which would be greatly benefited by occupation. What was to be done with that land? No practical suggestion whatever was made on the matter by the right hon. Gentleman—no suggestion to increase, or enlarge, the holdings. Yet, there could be no solution of this question until some proposal of the kind was made. Moreover, there were estates in the Highlands suited to crofters which had been altogether passed over by the Commission; not an acre of these estates had been scheduled. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give some explanation of this fact. He did not intend to insinuate partiality or favouritism, but it was an unfortunate coincidence that certain Members high in the Government should be the owners of some of those estates. Then the important question relating to the congested districts, which was at the bottom of much of the distress in the Highlands, had been passed over, and the question of migration also had not been referred to. Several years ago proposals were made by the late Government to migrate a portion of the Highland people to Columbia as a remedy for the congestion, and a grant of £150,000 was voted for that purpose. Where was that money now? He believed that the whole of it except £5,000 or £6,000 was still in the Treasury. Why could not that money be laid out, in a practical and businesslike way, for the relief of the congested districts in the Highlands? But, after all, would it not be a great mistake from an Imperial point of view, to emigrate those people—who were in many respects the backbone of the population—especially while there was land enough in the country for their industry and maintenance I Was it not the far wiser course to make an effort to provide them with land, since they were willing to till it, and to pay fair rent for it? Was it not obvious that this course was better for the country, for the landlord, and for the people as a whole? He hoped the Secretary for Scotland, or the Lord Advocate, would offer some explanation on the points he had raised, and would give some hope that the Bill would be made one which would be really worthy of acceptance by the people of the Highlands, who had waited so long and patiently for it.

*MR. GRAHAM MURRAY (Buteshire)

, in common with other Members who had addressed the House, desired to reserve the observations he intended to make on the Bill until he had had an opportunity of seeing its provisions. He wished, on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition, to express the hope that ample time would be given by the Government for the consideration of those provisions before it was brought up for Second Reading, especially in view of the fact that the maps in connection with the Highland Commission had not yet been supplied to hon. Members. He thought there was very little connection between the right hon. Gentleman's Bill and the Report of the Commission, and even in regard to the enlarging of the holdings he did not gather from the right hon. Gentleman's statement that this would be a help. He thought it was noticeable that what might be called the case against deer forests, so far as the Report of the Commissioners went, had broken down. They pointed out that even if the whole of the land that was given to deer forests was made over to the people it would only be a temporary alleviation of the evils from which they suffered. The part of the Bill with which he certainly had sympathy was that which dealt with the enlargement of holdings. No doubt the position of the cotter as regarded the enlargement, or even the creation of holdings was at present a little ambiguous, but he was content to wait until they saw the provisions of the Bill. He wished, however, to sound one note of warning with regard to the taking of land which was at present under lease, for the enlargement of holdings. Of course, the present Act only applied to leases current from the date of the passing of the Act. It was all very well to commit to the determination of the Crofters' Commission the question as to whether it would or would not do harm, on the whole, to take part of the land which was under an existing lease, but that would do very little good to the landlord and tenant without a provision for apportionment. There was an actual case where some land which crofters wished to have added to their holdings had been under lease at the passing of the Act, and the lease had expired about a year after the passing of the Act. At that time there had been no application made by the crofters, and the landlord had naturally re-let the land to a tenant under a 19-years lease. Then an application was made by the crofters to have this land given to them: the Court held that as the phraselogy of the Act only applied to leases current from the date of the passing of the Act, the lease was no embargo against the land being so allotted, and it was allotted. But there was no provision in the Act as to apportionment, and therefore the unfortunate landlord and tenant found themselves in this position—that part of the land was taken and, of course, a fair rent fixed as between crofter and landlord. Not unnaturally, the farmer from whom the land had been taken did not take the same view as the valuer of the Crofter Commission had done, and there was no means of extraction from the impasse into which they had got. The practical value consequently was reduced, and the sum total got by the landlord afterwards was not equal to the sum total before. He should therefore scrutinise the Bill somewhat jealously, to see whether there was a practical provision for making it impossible to take land unless there was also some provision for apportionment. The application of the Act to leaseholders was a difficult and delicate matter, and he was not at present inclined to view the proposition with favour. The right hon. Gentleman had founded his claim for this extension on what he called historical reasons. He understood that the peculiar position the crofters were in was—first, that they were people who with their predecessors had lived from time immemorial upon the same spot, and whose right was, as a matter of fact, really coeval with that of the landlord; and secondly, that they were people who, as a whole, had undoubtedly made their own improvements, in which respect their case was analogous to that of the Irish tenants. If the leaseholder could say the same thing, undoubtedly the logic would be irresistible, but he asserted they could not. There might be particular crofting parishes in which the leaseholders could say so, but there were also numberless leaseholders in Scotland, in parishes called crofting parishes, of whom it could not be said that they had occupied their holdings from time immemorial, or had made their own improvements. It would be easy to instance whole estates where the improvements had not been so made. Therefore the historical basis of the right hon. Gentleman entirely failed. He understood it was not proposed to alter the definition of a crofting parish, and it would be remembered that the existence of two or three crofters' holdings stamped the crofting character on the whole parish; in such cases everyone whose rent was under £30 would be admitted to the benefits of the Act. Was this not an attempt to introduce the thin edge of the wedge, and to make a Land Court and a Land Bill for Scotland altogether, an aim which the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire had avowed? Such an attempt would undoubtedly be resisted by that side of the House. A Land Court to fix rents was nothing else than a system of dual ownership, and the only possible justification for such a system was, that the improvements had been made by the tenant himself. In Scotland such a state of things did not exist except with this very limited class, and he feared that, under the guise of seeking to benefit this limited class, they would be really introducing a system which would be not only unjust, but radically bad. These remarks had all the more weight when they considered the proposition in the Bill to extend the parts of the country to which the Crofters' Act applied, for the extension of the benefits of the Act to leaseholders would be more far-reaching in the added counties than in the counties to which the Act at present applied. He did not know whether any parish in Bute could be held to be a crofter parish. Although there might possibly be an instance of a person holding from year to year with common pasture which would entitle the Crofter Commission to declare it a crofting parish, yet taking the tenantry of parishes altogether—and there wore only three parishes in Bute—they were certainly not people who had inhabited from time immemorial on a year to year tenure. They had been under leases, and they were persons who had had much done for them by an exceedingly generous landlord. And no one admitted this more than themselves. Arran, on the other hand, was a part of the world where holdings were very much smaller. His right hon. Friend asked whether by Member for these counties would say they did not look forward to the application of a Bill with hope. But last year the hon. Baronet who sat for one of the Divisions of Glasgow, introduced a Bill to attend the Crofters' Act by including Bute therein. There were two Petitions—one in favour of the Bill, and one against it. The fact that spoke for itself was, that the signatures in the Petition against very largely exceeded in number the signatures in favour of the Bill. He himself did not attach great weight to Petitions one way or the other. Still there was the fact. Personally he had no doubt whatsoever that the passing of a Crofters' Act for Bute, so far as it was applicable to Arran, would not be of any practical importance to Arran holders. He said this not upon general grounds, but because anyone who knew anything about Arran knew that the conditions of Arran were exceedingly peculiar. Although they had an historical connection, so to speak, with the Highlands, and many of them had held from year to year for a long time, yet the conditions of the Arran crofter were quite different from those of the crofter in the West Highlands or the North, because he had come to be a person who did not maintain himself by the ordinary arts of the crofter, but by house-letting to the inhabitants of Glasgow and Paisley. When they came to the application of tenure to an island like that, it would be found that, practically, the islander would gain much more from liberal treatment, and no competition from other people, than he would gain under any Crofters' Act, by which the island would be opened up to others besides himself. He said that because he did not wish hon. Members to think his mouth was sealed about his own constituency. He took a larger view—as to how this Bill would affect Scotland. He had indicated what he believed to be the chief sources of danger in these two proposals which his hon. Friend had embodied in the Bill, and he associated himself with the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition in saying that he did not think these proposals, such as they were, touched that which they all considered was the real Highland difficulty and the real Highland grievance.

MR. J. G. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

said, he wished to thank the Secretary for Scotland for introducing this Bill. But it should have been introduced two and a half years ago. The Highland people had not been fairly treated in the matter. Since the advent of the present Government to power many small tenants holding under leases had been turned out of their holdings. This would have been avoided if the promises and pledges given by the Liberal Leaders had been carried out, The Secretary for Scotland said the Crofters' Act of 1886 had been a blessing to the people. He agreed. In many remote parts of the Highlands dwellings of turf had been replaced by houses of stone, with slate roofs kept in nice order—very different from the sort of places in use before the passing of the Act. He was indebted to the Secretary for Scotland for doing what he had done for the Highland people. But it was a great mistake to suppose that the Highland people were contented. There was great discontent, but it was slumbering—waiting for the fulfilment by the Liberal Leaders of their pledges. He was glad the Leader of the Opposition had spoken as he had, and he hoped that he and his colleagues would be found supporting any Amendments that might be proposed for the inclusion of the small crofters in the Bill. The people of whom in 1886 the Lord Advocate of the day spoke as a "landless class," were crofters who had been evicted. The Secretary for Scotland had talked of the kindly feeling that had been promoted between landlord and tenant in the Highlands since the passing of the Crofters' Act. But in Lewis bitter hatred existed towards the landlords in consequence of the brutal treatment of the Highland people by grasping, avaricious landlords. Rack-renting had gone on to a scandalous extent. Fixity of tenure would be one of the greatest boons conferred by the Bill. The improvements made by the tenants were not considered by the Crofter Commission, and the result was they were charged rents which they were unable to pay. If the recommendations of the Crofter Commission in 1886, and what was proposed by the Conservative Government had been carried out, deer forests and large grazing farms would now have been in the possession of the people for the benefit of the people. The Conservative Government set aside £150,000 to promote the emigration of crofters from Lewis. It was strange that a Conservative Government should have been more liberal in providing funds for the Highland people than a Liberal Government. He hoped the Liberal Leaders would do what they could to induce the Chancellor of the Exchequer to open his purse strings more in favour of the Highland people. There was a large population in Lewis. The land which was devoted to deer forests and grazing farms—the former of which were in the hands of a few individuals from London and America—should be in the possession of the people. This Bill would not settle the Highland question. He for one should be sorry to see a repetition of what happened in the time of the Liberal Government in 1884, when gunboats were sent to shoot down poor honest people. One gunboat was lost. They did not want to have gunboats lost in trying to coerce the Highland people, Let a Bill, based on the recommendations of the Deer Forest Commission, be introduced and not "a blind" like the present Bill, which was not based on those recommendations.

*MR. T. R. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)

said, he must congratulate the Secretary for Scotland upon the Bill he had introduced, and the speech he had made; and he could hardly believe that the proposals now made would not be received with favour by the hon. Member who had just spoken when he came to see them in print. The Secretary for Scotland deserved the thanks of Members representing constituences in the north of Scotland for the way in which he had endeavoured to meet them with regard to crofters outside the Highland line by placing them in a position similar to that of crofters inside the line with regard to their obtaining the benefits of the Act. The point was pressed upon the Government in 1886, and there was still stronger reason for pressing it strongly now, because they had had a demonstration of the results that flowed from the operation of the Act. He was glad the right hon. Gentleman had seen fit to meet them, and trusted he would make sure that the terms of the Bill would really include the crofters of the North Eastern counties. One reason for pressing the point was—in this, as on previous occasion, the right hon. Gentleman had laid considerable stress on what he called the historic basis of this legislation. In a certain sense that historic basis might be claimed for the crofters in the North-East as well as for those of the Western Highlands. The crofters of the north-east undoubtedly embarked in the work of reclamation considerably earlier than and the crofters of the Western Highlands. Therefore the period of 80 years, in the original Act, however well it might be adapted to the circumstances of the Western Highlands, might possibly be insufficient to meet the cases of crofters in other parts of the Highlands. The right hon. Gentleman should see whether in the original Act the definition of crofters and crofter parishes were fair definitions, and whether they would apply to crofters outside the line. If he was going to include leaseholders he would have to alter the definition of crofters in the Act; and if he was going to alter the Act in one direction, it might be hoped that he would alter it in another direction. If the objection was taken that they were endeavouring to include men under a different form of tenure, he replied that they were not endeavouring to do that, but that they were seeking to include by this Bill two forms of Highland tenure, and to bring within the scope of the Act other forms of tenure than those which prevailed in the Western Highlands alone.

MR. M. H. SHAW-STEWART (Renfrewshire, E.)

said that, whatever opinions might be held as to the finding of the Commission of which he was a Member, it could not be said that this Bill was based upon their findings. The hon. Member for Bute had already dealt with the proposal to include leaseholders, and he would therefore content himself by making one remark. If he were a leaseholder on a well-managed crofter estate, he should not wish to change his position; but, if he were a lease-holder on a badly managed estate, he should probably be better off under the Act. It did not at all follow that lease-holders would be benefited by the change in their position which would be made by them coming under the Act. He certainly heard, with some surprise, that the provisions of the Bill with regard to grazing were of such modest dimensions; and he knew they would not satisfy the wishes—whether they were reasonable or not he did not say—of the great bulk of the Highland population. The Bill did not attempt to deal in any way with new holdings, and perhaps the question of providing new holdings was the most vital point in any scheme for giving more land for crofter occupation. He did not say it could easily be provided; but if it were the provision of it would operate in two ways—it would allow fresh land to be given to a certain number of crofters, and the granting of new holdings would relieve the congestion of certain districts. Whether or not they thought it advisable to institute new holdings, that was the chief question of interest to the Highland population, and had been so for some time past. But this Bill did not touch that point at all. The Bill dealt to a limited extent with the extension of grazing. As he understood, the present allocation of grazing remained, with this alteration—that grazing might be taken by the Commission which was not contiguous to the present holdings. That might work usefully, but it would be of limited application, because the extension of grazing to a township was of little use unless the new grazing were tolerably near to the holdings of the people you wished to benefit. Therefore, while the Bill would provide a little more grazing for certain districts, the whole would be but as a drop in the ocean. Coming to the proposal to reduce the limit of the farms from which grazing might be taken he could not congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on wishing to lower the £100 limit. It was of great importance to the Highlands that there should be moderate-sized farms, such as were represented by a rent of £100, and it would be detrimental to injure such farms by diminishing them. It would be useful to allow one man, instead of requiring five, to make an application for extension and to apply the grazing clause to all grazing in the future; but there would be difficulty in dealing with a class of men who were not legally crofters, and who had rights of grazing which could not be proved by law. The hon. Member for Invernessshire had read the Report of the Commission rather largely; he had spoken of a million and a half or nearly two millions of acres having been reputed by the Commission as fit for crofter occupation. The Commission scheduled a little over 1,700,000 acres, but more than half a million of that was coloured brown on the map as not fit for ordinary crofter occupation. He believed that, as far as it was possible, every square mile of land had been visited by the Commission; and he did not agree that any had been overlooked. The land which was not included in the scheduling was omitted because the Commission did not think it proper for inclusion. For praise or blame he associated himself entirely with his colleagues on the Commission. They had agreed to report unanimously, and they must all take their share of the responsibility. They had been at great pains to produce results founded on common-sense, on the interests of the crofters, and on what would prove to be in the long run the interests of the proprietors as well. He was perfectly certain that the Bill would not set at rest the unfortunate differences existing between landlord and tenant in the Highlands, and he wished, for many reasons, that it had been a Bill of larger scope, difficult as such a Bill would be.

MR. MARK NAPIER (Roxburgh)

said, that he did not wish to sound any discordant note in the general harmony of praise and thanksgiving with which this Bill had been received, but he wished to refer to one or two objections which fell from the Leader of the Opposition, to whose speech he had listened with great interest, because, on the whole, it did not seem to betray hostility to the principles of the measure. The right hon. Gentleman's complaint rather seemed to be that the Bill would not bring within its scope the poorer class of cotters and crofters. But it was perfectly open to the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends to introduce Amendments in the direction which he had suggested; and he was very certain that the right hon. Gentleman would meet with hearty support from almost all the representatives of Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman cited the case of a man who had no capital and who would not be able to stock his land. That was not a substantial difficulty at all. In his own county there were many men who had come into possession of small pieces of land, and who had found the want of capital no bar to their enterprise. He did not suppose that any of the crofters who now cultivated the land and got something out of it had received any assistance from any source but their own energy and self-denial. There was one man who came to the county which he represented, from Ireland, possessing all the qualities which were so much admired in Irishmen—a large family and a small purse. The family was almost the whole store of the man's wealth; he was without a friend, and he was a Roman Catholic and opposed in religion to the prejudices of those among whom he settled. But he got hold of five acres of waste land, and setting to work on it with his sons, in a short time he had converted the waste land into pasture and arable. He had now calves and sheep and a pretty farm. An hon. Gentleman had complained that the explorations of the Lord Advocate had not been extensive enough in the north; and he would press the Lord Advocate to continue them in the south. He was grieved that hon. Gentlemen from Highland districts should assume that their constituents alone were entitled to the benefits of the Bill. Why should not crofters in the south, the south-west, and the south-east be included, as well as the Highland crofters? He knew of many parishes in the south where people conducted their crofting operations exactly as they were conducted in the Highlands; and he hoped that if proof were given of such cases the Government would consent to include them in the Bill. There was a village in his county, established 80 or 100 years ago, in which the people were granted leases of the land on which their houses stood, and were induced by the promise of small rent to build strong and substantial houses. But these were absolutely valueless to them without the land, and the land was not granted on the same tenure, but only by verbal lease, and from year to year. The people were thus at the mercy of the landlords' agents, and if they did not obey his mandate they found that the land, by which alone they were able to live, was taken from them, without any compensation for improvements. He wished to add his cordial thanks to those which had been already offered to the Secretary for Scotland, for the manner in which the Bill had been introduced, and he sincerely hoped that the Bill would be passed, including within its scope all crofters in Scotland.

Leave being given, the Bill was brought up by Sir GEORGE TREVELYAN and read 1° to be read 2° upon Thursday next, and to be printed. [Bill No. 214.]