§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (Sir GEORGE TREVELYAN, Glasgow, Bridgton)
formally moved the Second Reading of the Crofters' Holdings (Scotland) Bill.
MR. GRAHAM MURRAY (Buteshire) rose to move the following Amendment:—
That, in the opinion of this House, the present Bill, while interfering with contractueal rights without adequate justification, neither provides means for the improvement of the material condition of the poorer crofters and cottars in the Highlands, and the alleviation of the distress duo to the redundancy of population in the overcrowded townships, nor is calculated to diminish the difficulties which have in recent years arisen between the different classes of the community.
He said that hon. Members who were particularly interested in this subject would remember that in 1892 the Government appointed a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the conditions of the Highlands, and upon several occasions, when pressed by their supporters as to when they would introduce their Bill, they replied that the Commission had not yet reported. The inquiry was limited to certain specified counties, which were those to which the original Crofters Act applied. Whether the House looked to the terms of the remit to that Commission or to the view that the Commissioners took of their duties, it would be seen that the primary and only object of that inquiry
was to discover if there could be found a remedy to that state of congestion which certainly existed in some districts of the Highlands. One result of this Deer Forest Commission had been to give a quietus to the argument that all that had to be done to remedy evils which existed in certain parts of Scotland was simply to turn out the sporting tenant and let some one else come in. The case against the deer forests, so far as the Report of this Commission went, had entirely broken down. This was not a matter for surprise, because it had also broken down in the case of a well-known Commission that reported many years ago. He took it that the real reasons for this congestion, especially in the western districts of Scotland, were to be found mainly in the habits of the people. The Celtic race that inhabited the western district had always been peculiar in that their virtue in loving their country had almost turned into a crime; they had been exceedingly unwilling to take any of those opportunities of going elsewhere and bettering themselves which had been largely taken advantage of in other parts of the kingdom. The crofting population were not really a population of farmers in the way in which the term farmer was understood in any other part of the kingdom, because they were not a self-supporting population on the croft The crofter mainly did Something else; generally he was a fisherman, or ho earned his living at some other employment in the neighbourhood. The croft was really the crofter's house, just as much as was the case with an artisan who had his house in the suburb of a town. The crofters never supposed that they could get their living off their crofts, and they had never been able to in the past. There was no doubt that, historically, the origin of the present congestion was excessive subdivision, and subdivision was the effect of the habits of the crofters themselves, and was not in any sense due to the action of the landlords. In cases where the landlords had been strict, and even severe, there the crofter population were better off now; but where in olden times there had been laxity and indulgence, there the crofter problem had assumed its acutest form. When the late Sir James Matheson bought the Lewis, the population
was 11,000; now it was 30,000. Although the Lewis had a seaboard, there was certainly a very great racial mixture there. On the eastern promontory there were the finest specimens of fishermen to be found in the British Islands. The same, however, could not be said of some of the inhabitants on the west, who often allowed the coast fishermen from the other side of Scotland to come in and take away their bread. If this island had been left to the ordinary development of economical conditions, the population would probably never have increased much beyond its capabilities of affording employment. When this rich proprietor bought it, however, he spent an enormous fortune on the island, and thus created employment, which, together with the laxity in regard to subdivision, caused the enormous increase in the population.
MR. GRAHAM MURRAY
said, he did not think the Lewis men needed much importing. Orkney and Shetland would probably be in much the same condition as the Lewis were it not that they were very much superior as regarded harbour accommodation, and that as a rule the inhabitants produced better seafaring men than the Celts on the western side of the Lewis. No doubt these western Highlanders were of great service to the Naval Reserve and the Militia, but this was often the reason for their returning home instead of migrating, when they might do so with beneficial results, to other parts of the country. The general tendency was towards the creation of larger holdings. Two years ago the Duke of Argyll had shown, in some instructive articles written in The Scotsman newspaper, that on an estate in Northumberland, belonging to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland, there were the same traces of a crofter population, but no one proposed that that part of the country should be re-divided and that crofters or small tenants should be put upon it. The Deer Forests Commission certainly shared the views which he had been placing before the House, because they pointed out that it was not evidence to say simply that these were places off occupation; and they pointed 884 out also that there had been such a difference in the standard of living within recent years that it was quite improbable that now-a-days the people would longer be satisfied with the old conditions under which they had to live in out-of-the-way places. The Commissioners further said that, though it might be that some individuals were desirous of settling in those places, still they were satisfied that this desire was not widespread, and that, in any case, they were not prepared to make any recommendation with regard to any part of that area which had not been scheduled. All this state of congestion, which was the true problem of the crofting in the west, was a state of matters which he was thankful to say did not exist in the east of Scotland. He now proposed to ask—first, what did the Bill do to remedy this evil? As to its being an evil the Deer Forest Commissioners spoke in no unambiguous terms as to the cry for the means of subsistence on the land, and for getting proper houses on the land on the part of the landless cottars. He was not a supporter of the Government, and therefore he was not privileged, like their own extreme supporters, even if he had the wish, to be rude to them. But ho wished to call attention to a speech delivered during the Recess by the hon. Member for Caithness, in which he said at a meeting that—In accordance with the pledges given to him last year by Lord Rosebery the Crofters Bill should have been introduced in the early part of the Session, and that one of the excuses given fur the delay was that the Government were waiting for the Report of the Deer Forest Commission; but it turned out that they were only humbugging them, as not a single recommendation of the Report was in the Bill.Now, he did not adopt, or associate himself with, the language of the hon. Member, but when he looked at the problem, as set forth by the Commissioners, and looked at the provisions of the Bill, he was bound to say that it seemed to him that it did not touch that problem. There was no way in which this Bill could be worked to make provision for a single new holding; there was no provision in the Bill under which the cottar was benefited one whit. He remembered with approbation what the Secretary for Scotland said when introducing the other Crofters' Bill. He was 885 dealing with the difficulty as to stocking, and he said then that he could not see his way to recommend that the Government should provide from public funds money for stocking a farm, because they might just as well expect money to be asked for the labourers in Warwickshire to stock farms at the expense of the crofters of Sutherland. But there was another way, and it was clearly pointed out in the Report. They might make provision for the enlargement of holdings, but at the same time they must take care to have some safeguard that the persons put on those lands which were taken for the first time were in some way able with advantage to profitably occupy them. The whole of the Commissioners practically kept that in view. But this matter did not rest on a mere barren opinion, and those among them who read the Scotch papers might be aware that at the end of last week a scheme of land purchase was sketched out, and to that scheme were appended the names of the three Commissioners who signed the addendum Report. He did not think it was the time, nor was it his place, to pronounce upon the desirability of the land purchase scheme; that was a matter for the responsible Government to undertake. But quite apart from a land purchase scheme, the Commissioners said that there must be some safeguard, even in the occupation of grazing. One of the great blots in this Bill was that there was no safeguard whatever. In the portion which dealt with the enlargement of the crofters' holdings, the only thing it did was simply to take the present Crofter Commission and to let them loose upon a set of lands which had been scheduled; and scheduled, so far as the opinion of the three Members to whom he had referred was concerned, wholly and solely for the creation of new holdings. In one clause only the Bill proposed anything in the nature of a safeguard, and how illusory that was would be found when the clause was looked at. He referred to Clause 9, in which it was provided that where any portion of a farm or other holding held under lease was assigned by the Commission for the enlargement of holdings, the Commission, when they so assigned it, should fix the amount of the deduction, if any, which ought to be made from the rent 886 payable by the tenant under the lease. But was there not a very obvious lacuna in this provision? Suppose there was a neighbouring farm with a rent of £100 a year, and suppose upon crofter application a part of that farm was given, and the rent of the part so given fixed at £20. Was there any provision in Clause 9 to say that the deduction was to be exactly £20? If not, the two parts that used to make the whole of the rent in old days would not make the whole in the new. It should be remembered that the application was to be for specific land, and made at the instance of the crofter. Did they not suppose that the crofters had sufficient knowledge of their own interests that when they saw a neighbouring farm which they liked they would have the sense, so to speak, to pick the eyes out of it? If they did, what was then to be done? Upon whom was the loss to fall if there was a loss? or was there to be a provision that there should be no loss—that after the thing was done they would be able to take the remaining rent of the landlord and tenant and add that to the fair rent, which had been fixed for the first time to the crofter, and that those together should meet exactly the old rent? If it did not, all he could say was, that they would be destroying the landlord's property without compensation. Nobody, even on the most fantastic historic basis, could say that this particular crofter had any particular right to this particular land. On the other hand, they had the fact that the landlord who had been in possession of the property had found a willing man in the open market who was content to give him the rent which, up to that time, had been exacted. Accordingly he found that this part of the Bill was nothing more nor less than an attempt to prolong the life of what he must call the moribund Crofter Commission. That Commission, during the last year, had not done sufficient work to justify its own existence. The amount of rents that it had dealt with was something under £3,000, and the reduction of these rents was perfectly trivial—something, he thought, under £100. The reason why more work was not done was not that those gentlemen wished to be idle, but simply because there was no work to do. There were other things to 887 be thought of, but he could find no trace of them in this Bill. He would like hon. Gentlemen opposite to remember that there was such a thing as a crofting rate. In the Lewis, for instance, they would find that the whole of the arrears were in the crofting portion of the island. Of course this was only natural, but he would point out that, if the whole land in the Lewis were given to the crofters, it would, in the first place, be nothing more than a mere palliative for the evil; and, in the second place, it would not go to the root of the matter, but would be exhausted in a few years, and would render the island bankrupt, so that it would be impossible to collect the poor rate there. The question of sport had also to be considered. The amount of extraneous matter which was put into Scotland, and which the people were all so glad to strip the Englishmen of, was simply incalculable; and one result of any extension of artificially propagating crofters would be that it would tend to endanger the sporting rents. These matters ought not to be overlooked. His point was, that in this, which lie called the legitimate portion of the Bill, the Government had not thought fit to regard the recommendation of their own Commissioners—that recommendation which was the vital point on which the Report was founded—and had not thought fit to put in a single safeguard with the object of insuring that these new holdings, when created, should be given to persons who would be able to stock them properly. Was it best to intrust the selection to local bodies who would know all about those persons or to send down a commission of strangers to inquire into their fitness? In matters of discretion such as this it was certainly best to have a local body who knew the men. If something of that sort were not done, the result of allowing the Crofters' Commission a fresh lease of life and a free hand to go and extend in some ill-defined way the holdings of the existing crofter population, the result would be to entail a loss upon the present landowner, to render valueless portions of the Highlands which were now economically cultivated, and to aggravate the existing evil. So much for sins of omission. He had something more serious to say as to sins of commission in the Bill. Speaking 888 roughly, the two great proposals in the Bill were the application of the Act to leaseholds and to certain crofting counties. The only justification given by the Government when the Crofters Act of 1886 was introduced and when the present Bill was brought in was the historical origin, and the Secretary for Scotland said that he looked on the crofter class as persons who had an historical justification for being given these lands. This had been answered over and over again. The Bill was open to the grave objection that it interfered with contracts, though he knew that, in the minds of some hon. Gentlemen, who broke contracts by the dozen, that was a small thing. The Irish analogy was no justification for this proposal, though his right hon. Friend, Mr. Balfour, was twitted with having broken contracts in one of his Acts. But what happened in the Irish Land Acts was that when the leases expired the holders under the existing law got the status of crofters, whereas no one in Scotland acquired the status of a crofter by effluxion of time. What was done in Ireland was simply to accelerate the period which would certainly come; but this Bill proposed to bring in for the first time a set of persons who, under the original proposals, were never crofters at all. The effect of applying the Crofters Act to leases was absolutely different, according to the portion of Scotland which was thought of when prescribing the application. He was willing to admit that, so far as the original crofting districts were concerned, there was really no practical reason why the Crofters Act should not be made applicable to leaseholders. In the west of those districts he had been referring to leaseholders were few and far between, though, in other portions of the Highland districts—notably the eastern fringe of the crofting counties—they would find more leaseholds, and that was one of the places where, not unnaturally, trouble arose, as it did at Ardens. The Secretary for Scotland took the enormous responsibility of practically refusing his assistance to allow the Queen's Writ to run when the case against the rents had never been heard and when there was nothing more than a popular clamour against those rents. So far as the real Highland counties were concerned, he did not believe that the proposal to apply 889 the Act to leaseholders would do one whit of harm. But, when they came to connect that with the proposal in the present Bill—and he maintained that they could not separate the two—when they came to a proposal to apply the Act to new counties, it became a proposition of the greatest magnitude and one to the importance of which he believed the House and the Government had not awoke. What were these people in the east? An unfortunate play had been made upon the word "crofter," which simply meant a small farmer, who had a small piece of land with a rental of, say, £10 to £12 a year, who lived on his farm. He might eke out his existence by other employment, if he could get it, but, primarily, he was a farmer, and he was only called a crofter because he happened to live in a crofter parish. But who were the people to whom this Bill was to apply? They were no more like the original crofters than a householder in London was like a tenant in the north of England. As a peasant he was admirable. He was a peasant of which any State would be proud, and probably no other parts of the country could show such a splendid record of self-advancement as that shown by the small peasants of Elgin and Nairn, East Aberdeenshire, and other counties in the East. Again and again cases would be found of men who had begun as ploughmen, and who, after living on small crofts of the value of £12 a year, had migrated. The descendants of such men often possessed the best farms in the countryside. This was a peasantry that was willing to move wherever improved conditions of life were likely to be obtained. These peasants did not live in townships and were not chained to particular holdings. In the East hereditary tenancy was a very rare thing, and this rarity was not the result of evictions, which were comparatively unknown, but of the migrations of the tenants with a view to the improvement of their fortunes. Land legislation applicable to the west might very well be inapplicable to the East. In the East there was no congestion and no subdivision of holdings, and that the relations between the landlords and the tenants were, on the whole, perfectly satisfactory could not be denied. There 890 could be no confiscation, because improvements were not executed by the tenants. There was, therefore, no justification for the establishment of any system of the nature of dual ownership. In certain places, no doubt, tenants had built their own houses, but where that had been done the rents were very small and the leases had been treated as improving leases. But in East Aberdeenshire the improvements had been effected by the estates. Did the Secretary for Scotland know what the effect of his own Bill would be? Did he understand the details of the systems prevailing in East Aberdeenshire? For example, did the right hon. Gentleman know what "dead inventory" was? It was the custom on estates for the landlord to supply the stone and lime for a house and for the tenant to provide the woodwork. A tenant who left had a claim to be reimbursed for the value of the woodwork either by the incoming tenant or by the landlord, and if the latter paid for it and thus became the proprietor of the whole structure the term "dead inventory" was applied to the transaction. He did not think that the House yet realised in how extraordinary and haphazard a way this Bill would be applied. The original Crofters' Act of 1886 declared a crofter to be a man who resided upon a holding from year to year in a crofting parish, and it defined a crofting parish in which there was evidence of any common grazing within 80 years. Under this Bill, however, a leaseholder would be able to claim to be a crofter if only he resided in a parish conforming to the description of a crofting parish. The Secretary for Scotland, in introducing the Bill, tried to justify his proposals by saying that the old distinction between the clans and the lowlands did not coincide with the county boundary; but did the right hon. Gentleman think that it coincided with the parish boundary? The origin of parishes was wrapt in the mists of antiquity, it was concealed among the records of a defunct ecclesiasticism. But in respect of the application of this Bill, the question whether a locality should have the benefit of a land court would depend upon the existence of a record that within 80 years two or more men had had common grazing in 891 the parish. Had the Government formed any idea as to the number of parishes to which the Bill would apply? He doubted whether they had made the necessary inquiries, and he felt certain that the Secretary for Scotland did not realise the extent and scope of his own measure. It would give fixity of tenure to small leaseholders in parishes declared to be crofting parishes; it would create a set of small occupancy entails. They used to hear a great deal about the desirability of the free transfer of land. Hon. Members opposite who favoured that policy ought to consider this a retrograde measure. By establishing these small leasehold tenancies in the way proposed they would, of course, paralyse estate management, and would discourage improvements by the landlord. How far was the operation of this Bill to extend? Could it be supposed that its operation would be kept within the arbitrary lines laid down by the Secretary for Scotland? Was the Bill to apply to Perthshire, and if to Perthshire why should it not apply to Fife? In almost every condition large parts of the two counties were exactly similar. Carse of Gowrie was just one of those places which would be declared to consist of crofting parishes, because, though rich and fertile itself, it was hemmed in by the Sidlaw Hills, where there must be places where there had been common grazing within 80 years. Digressing for a moment he wished to say a word in defence of the attitude which he had always taken up on the subject of the application of crofter legislation to his own constituency. In Bute the tenancies were mostly large and the Crofters' Act would therefore not apply. Arran again would get no benefit from the Crofters Act. It was not a crofting island, as now understood; it was a house-letting county. The normal population of Arran was 5,000; in the summer-time it was 25,000. He knew places where the people got £12 and £14 a month in the summer months for letting, and where the rent they were at present paying was £1 a year. Suppose the rent were reduced by 10s. a year, what benefit would it be to them? But if the House was going to take the island out of the present management and make the owner a mere rent-charger, then he could not be expected to keep the estate as he had done for the benefit of the 892 Arran people; and once they opened the door to the ordinary building speculator, the days of Arran lodging-keepers were gone, and the people would be ruined. He maintained there was absolutely no call, in anything connected with the management of the estate, for the application of the Act. As they could not stop this movement by the arbitrary line of a county, so they could not stop it by the arbitrary line of £30. If they were going to give the status of a crofter and the advantages of the Land Court to tenants under £30, how about the man who pays £30 10s.? Was he going to sit down tamely and not agitate for what his neighbours had got? And lastly, how was the Government ever going to stop it according to the fanciful delimitation of a particular parish? He had used his best endeavours to find out the number of parishes to which the Act could be applied under the extraordinary test of a common grazing—he had very good information with regard to Forfarshire—and he said confidently that there they found parishes side by side, with tenants under exactly the same conditions, and yet, just because in one parish there happened to be some old moss, some old bit of common grazing, it was to be declared a crofting parish, and the other was to be left out in the cold. Did they suppose such a state of things would ever be allowed to go on? The parish which was not favoured would, of course, at once begin an agitation in order to get similar advantages. The meaning of that was that if they passed this Bill they would be doing nothing less than passing a Land Act for Scotland. He had put down an Amendment on the Paper; but on mature consideration, he did not propose to move it, because he did not intend to make hon. Gentlemen opposite a present of an attitude which was not his, nor that of those who sat beside and behind him, by saying that under no conditions was anything to be done for the crofters. He had indicated clearly enough what portion of the Bill was legitimate; but other portions contained provisions which had no right to a place in the Bill at all. They were ill-considered provisions, the application of which the Government at present did not see and could not know. They were principles which, if put into practice, meant nothing less than a Land 893 Court for Scotland—he might say for the United Kingdom. If they were to have a Land Court for the United Kingdom, at least let them face the question. To the landlords of Scotland, and especially to the smaller landlords, such a Court might mean destruction, and they had a right to re-echo the old cry of Ajax: "At least let us perish by the light of day." They wished, of course, to move such Amendments as would destroy that part of the Bill in Committee—if the Bill ever reached Committee; and if the Government did not accept those Amendments then they would think it their duty to divide on the Third Reading.
§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (Sir GEORGE TREVELYAN, Glasgow, Bridgeton)
admitted the knowledge and grasp of his subject shown by the hon. and learned Member, but a great part of his speech was really directed not only against the Bill, but essentially against the Crofters Act of 1886. Now there was not one principle in the Bill—there was scarcely one detail—which Parliament had not approved, or intended to approve, no less than nine years ago. All that the Bill did was to supplement the deficiencies which Parliament left in the Act of 1886—deficiencies, he was bound to say, as few as ever were left in an Act of that importance—to supplement them, and then to extend the Act to other parts of Scotland, not altering its character, not altering in any way the class of persons to whom it was to be applied, but leaving it as it was, as it is, as he hoped it would be, an Act for the benefit of the crofters in Scotland where ever crofters might be found. The hon. and learned Gentleman said the Commission appointed three years ago made no recommendations which applied at all to the Bill as brought in by the Government; but that was not the case, for the Commissioners reported that they had been able to schedule lands suitable for profitable occupation by industrial tenants, adding that the occupants of this land must be selected with great care, and must only pay a fair rent for the holding, using those words in the statutory sense. The Commission scheduled 439,000 acres of land. That was to say, roughly speaking, twenty times as much land as had already been granted to the crofters in extension of their holdings, and which 894 was suitable for the improvement of the existing holdings. If they wanted to fulfil the conditions which the Commissioners laid down, and which the hon. and learned Gentleman approved—that the occupants of these lands must be selected with care, how could they select them with greater care than by taking the crofters who already were established in their crofts as farmers, who had learned everything from father to son, who were men of established position in the neighbourhood, and if they were to be called upon to pay a fair rent, using the words in the statutory sense, for their holdings, what better guarantee could they have than that they were crofters under the statute, paying a fair and statutory rent. It was no small matter that a Bill had been introduced increasing by twenty times the amount of land which was available to be given in the extension of existing crofters' holdings and laying down conditions under which that land could be so given instead, as at present was the case under the Act of 1886, of it only being given in such small portions as not at all to fulfil the intentions of Parliament? The hon. and learned Member referred with something of regret to the state of the Lewis. Every hon. Member in that House knew something as to the condition of the Lewis, and all would gladly do something to improve that condition. But hon. Members must take to mind the fact that this question of the crofters was not only or mainly a question of congestion. The complaint was that the Highlands of Scotland were now much more thinly inhabited than in the old days, and that land which ought to be cultivated, and which ought to breed a fine race of men, living in happiness, was devoted to other purposes—to the exclusive possession of sheep farms and, to a less degree than many imagined but still to a certain degree, to sporting purposes. The Lewis, happily, was not all the Highlands. It was not even a characteristic district of the Highlands. The evils of the Highlands were different, and they were great. Instead of there being an enormous population and no land which could be cultivated by men there was a very sparse population indeed, and a great deal of land which, with advantage both to the farmers and the public, would raise cattle 895 and crops. The hon. and learned Gentleman made an allusion to the Duke of Argyll and to his (Sir George Trevelyan's) estate in Northumberland. He had not spoken or written on this subject from that day to this. The truth of the story of his estate was this. In one of those terrible snowstorms about seven or eight years ago the Duke of Argyll did their county the honour of being snowed up in the latitude of Morpeth. He was snowed up for about 60 hours, and, he was glad to say, received that hospitality, which any man would be proud to give him, from a neighbour of his. The Duke of Argyll, who was for very good reasons annoyed at the drift of crofter legislation recently, spent this time in what he called getting up his (Sir George's) estate, and as the result of this study did him the honour of publishing in The Scotsman more than 12 columns of large print describing what went on on that property. His Grace said, among other things, that in the old days—150 or 200 years ago—there had been a large crofting population, but there was no such population now. He was not going to indulge in the bad taste of telling how his estate was managed, and would leave that to general report. The great charge made against him by the Duke was that, while he spoke of noble Lords in the Highlands devoting large spaces of land to pleasure, there was a portion of his own land, called Wallingham Demesne, upwards of 2,700 acres, entirely devoted to pleasure. The whole of these 2,700 acres, with the exception of a garden of reasonable size, was pasture held generally in single fields by the upland farmers, and which now, he was very glad to say, under the new Parish Councils Act, would be cut up to a considerable extent in holdings of four acres for allotments. That was a specimen of the facts which the Duke of Argyll stated with regard to his estate. It never was a crofting property, and Northumberland was not a crofting county. He did not believe that 150 or 200 years ago there wore a dozen, or even six, small freeholders in any part of the property. He thought it best to leave the Duke of Argyll's charges absolutely alone, and from that day to this he had heard nothing more about them, and he believed they fell absolutely dead upon the public, and they had only confirmed his habitual practice of never 896 answering any personal charge whatever. The hon. and learned Member said there was nothing in the report of the Commissioners which the Government had put into their Bill. He thought that was a proof that the hon. Gentleman had not studied it very carefully.
MR. GRAHAM MURRAY
interposed the observation that that was the statement of the hon. Member for Caithness.
§ SIR G. TREVELYAN
said, he would then answer the hon. Member for Caithness. In the first place, there were these 439,000 acres which had been scheduled for the purpose of being available for the extension of crofters' holdings. Then there were the very strong recommendations of the Commissioners that rules should be laid down regulating the grazing rights of crofters and the number of cattle they were allowed to place on common grazing. That had been followed out in the Bill. Then there was the suggestion with regard to the club farm system, which had also been followed out. A much more important recommendation was that in which these eight gentlemen, of all parties in politics, and of every sort of calling and position, united in making a set and careful panegyric on the benefits which the Crofters Act had conferred on all classes in those parts of the Highlands where it had been put into operation. The Government had embodied in their Bill that opinion of the Commissioners—first, by extending it to those leaseholders who had hitherto been outside its scope; and then, by extending it to those other parts of the Highlands which had not at present the benefit of its provisions. The hon. Gentleman quoted the Supplementary Report of the hon. Member for East Renfrew. He could only speak with great respect of any production to which his hon. Friend had put his name, because he was sure every Member of the House must be very grateful to him for the immense amount of work he did at the expense of so much time and trouble. The hon. Member stated that the land scheduled for the specific purposes of the Report could only be profitably cultivated and advantageously occupied under a well-considered scheme of land purchase by a representative body, with full powers of 897 carrying out properly all the regulations, both as to the selection of tenants for new holdings and also the occupation of all the grazing scheduled. He entirely agreed with the hon. Member with regard to that large portion of land to be given to new buildings, but he entirely disagreed with him as to the part which could be given for the enlargement of existing farms. He thought that ought to be regulated, as now, by the existing Crofters' Commission, and ought, as now to be given to the crofters. Then the hon. and learned Gentleman said the hon. Member for East Renfrew and his two colleagues, Mr. Forsythe and Mr. Gordon, very properly did not content themselves with a mere short and lucid Report, but gave a scheme. What was their proposal? Their first proposal was that there should be a system of land purchase; that the land should be bought by the public from the proprietors and then distributed among the new crofters. But out of what fund and by what body? They proposed it should be done by the county councils. He must say their experience of the county councils in the Highlands, admirably as they did their work in many particulars, did not incline him to think they could take the place of the Crofters' Commission, or that in any case they would be a proper body to be middlemen and brokers between the landlords and the tenants. In the summer of 1894 careful inquiries were made as to what use the county councils had made of the Small Holdings Act and the Allotments Act, and the result was that at that time, in the counties of Argyll, Bute, Elgin, Fife, Orkney, Sutherland, and certain Lowland counties, applications had been received in some cases in considerable number from the poorer people in these counties for allotments and small holdings, but the county councils, after due inquiry and consideration, resolved not to put the Acts into operation; and he must say he met his hon. Friend on the threshold and declared that he thought the county council was not the body to be instrusted with this duty. The hon. and learned Gentleman also urged that no land should be divided unless the whole plot was taken up by the county council. To that he could not consent. It would be a fatal objection if, when there was a great mass of 898 land scheduled as available, a few crofters should not be able to get a certain portion of it unless the county council was willing to take it all over. He could not agree either with the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member that the sheriff and not the Crofters' Commission should settle legal disputes. The Crofters' Commission was the cheapest body, so far as he knew, that ever dealt with great questions between man and man. Something like £5 was the outside of the expenses of almost the largest transaction which could be conducted by the Crofters' Commission, while before the sheriffs court the very minimum expense would be £40 or £50. But this was not only a question of cheapness; it was a question of administrative efficiency and experience, and he thought it would be an evil day if Parliament were to throw aside the admirable experience which the Crofters' Commission had obtained and the great confidence which, he did not hesitate to say, it had acquired from all classes of the community. The hon. and learned Gentleman complained that the Government had not put into their Bill any protection to the farmer—with the exception of the clause which enabled the rent to be regulated by the Crofters' Commission—when a portion of his land was taken for crofters. In the opinion of the Government no such protection was needed, because their Bill was an Amendment of the Crofters' Act, which in Sub-section 3 of Clause 13 enacted that no land forming part of any farm should be assigned for the enlargement of a crofters' holding unless the Crofters' Commission were satisfied that the land could be so assigned without material damage to the letting value of the farm. No injustice had been done in that respect hitherto, and there was nothing in the class of men who administered the Act, or in the manner in which the Act was administered, to apprehend that any injustice would be done in the future. In the latter part of his speech the hon. and learned Gentleman attacked the Government rather severely for what he called their sins of commission. The policy of the hon. and learned Gentleman and of those who sat around him—a policy which he (Sir G. Trevelyan) was glad they had determined to adopt—was 899 to allow the Bill to get a Second Reading, and then in Committee to attack those sins of commission by proposing in detail to leave them out of the Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman objected to the extension of the advantages of the Crofters' Act of 1886 to leaseholders. The hon. and learned Gentleman objected to interference with contracts, and said that, in the minds of Members of the Government, contracts were small things, and that they would break contracts by the dozen, which induced an hon. Gentleman on the Government Benches to remark that the late Conservative Government had in Ireland broken 150,000 contracts. The hon. and learned Gentleman thereupon tried to lay down certain points of difference between Irish leaseholders and Scotch leaseholders. He thought then, as he thought on previous occasions when he had heard the same argument, that those distinctions would not hold water in the manner in which the hon. and learned Gentleman endeavoured to enforce them, but that, on the contrary, they enormously strengthened the case for the Government. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the difference between the Irish Act and the Bill before the House was that the Irish farmer-leaseholder, under the Act of 1881, acquired the status of a present tenant on the expiry of his lease; but that the Scotch leaseholding crofter did not get the benefit of the Act of 1886 on the expiry of his lease. What did that mean? It meant that the Irish farmer-leaseholder did not get the benefit of the Act of 1881 at the time it was passed; but that he was to get it at a future time, and that the Scotch leasehold-crofter did not get the benefit of the Act of 1886 at the time, nor was he to get it at any future time. Two wrongs did not make a right. The Scotch farmer was in a worse position than the Irish farmer; but he denied that that was a reason for keeping the Scotch farmer in that position; and he maintained that every argument in support of giving to the Irish leaseholder the benefit of the Land Act held good in favour of giving to the Scotch lease holding crofter the benefit of the Crofters Act. The origin and character and nature of the leaseholder's farm were the same as the farms of the people around him. But he saw his neighbours' rents 900 reduced, and their futures absolutely secured, while his rent remained untouched, and in some cases remained at the figure at which it stood 20 or 30 years ago, although since then the rents of English farmers and Lowland Scotch farmers had been reduced by economic causes by, on an average, 25 per cent. He did not understand the hon. and earned Gentleman to seriously disapprove of his action, or rather his want of action, in regard to the Ardens crofters. What happened in that case? The Standing Joint Committee of Sutherland, who had control of the police, refused unanimously, with the exception of the sheriff, to call in the aid of the police of other counties for the purpose of serving writs of eviction on the crofters, which the sheriff informed them could not be done by their own police; and they refused to take that action, not for motives of economy, but because of the state of the public mind in regard to the condition of the crofter-leaseholders. He might have overridden the decision of the Standing Joint Committee, But he did not do so; and the present quiet of those districts, and the conferences which had taken place between the landlords and tenants in those districts, convinced him that he had taken the right course in preventing those poor people from being turned out of their crofts, against the opinion, apparently, of all classes in their own county, until Parliament could give them that relief which he hoped they would maintain through the instrumentality of that Bill. The hon. and learned Member had said that, so far as real crofters were concerned, he did not object to the extension of the benefit of the Act of 1886 even to leaseholders, but that what he did object to was the extension of the Act to counties which would bring in men who were not real crofters. It was impossible that anyone who was not a real crofter could be brought in under the Bill, owing to the strict definitions of "crofter" and "crofter parish" in the Act of 1886. The hon. and learned Gentleman had asked him whether he had made any inquiries as to whether there were crofter parishes in the counties set forth in the Bill. He had made the most careful inquiries in the quarters where the most authoritative information in regard to 901 the Highlands was to be obtained, and he had received the most satisfactory information that there were crofter parishes answering to the description in the Act in every one of those counties. It was also said by the hon. and learned Gentleman that there might be one single crofter in a parish which would make the parish answer to the description in the Act; and that, therefore, every leaseholder in that parish could be brought under the benefits of the Act. On the contrary, he was informed that a parish was never constituted a crofter parish on account of one individual, and that there was a considerable number of crofters in every parish which had been constituted a crofter parish. The Chairman of the Crofters' Commission had stated that there was rarely any difficulty in answering the question whether a parish was a crofters' parish or not. Out of 150 crofting parishes there were only six or seven in which special inquiries had to be made in order to decide whether or not they were properly crofting parishes. He was informed that one and all of those who had received benefit from the Crofters Act were undoubted crofters, and that there would not be the slightest difficulty in confining the advantages of this new Bill to undoubted crofters if the limit of £30 were preserved; and the Government considered it was quite necessary to preserve that limit. When the hon. and learned Gentleman talked about paralysing estate management, and taking away from the landlord any inducement to make improvements, he was denouncing and attacking the original Bill. The effect of the original Bill had been on the Highlands in general most satisfactory. The hon. and learned Member said he proposed to withdraw his Amendment. He did not deny that the hon. and learned Gentleman did his best in his speech to prove that the Amendment was just. The Amendment consisted of three parts. In the first place, it stated—That, in the opinion of this House, the present Bill, while interfering with contractual rights without adequate justification—The present Bill did not interfere with any contractual rights which had not already been interfered with by the Act passed by both Houses of Parliament 902 nine years ago—an Act which had worked to the admirable benefit of the districts to which it had been applied. There was nothing whatever in this Bill which violated this principle which was not violated in the Crofters Act. The next part of the Amendment to which he would refer was that the Bill—is not calculated to diminish the difficulties which have in recent years arisen between the different classes of the community.Now, nothing was more certain than that in the Highlands one great and undoubted advantage of the Crofters Act had been, first of all, entirely to do away with the friction and ill-feeling that existed between the great mass of the people and the Government, and, in the next place, to do away with very nearly all the ill-feeling and friction that existed between landlords and tenants. The landlords, as well as tenants, had gained. The landlords got their rents—reduced rents certainly—and they lost nothing by not being allowed to exact the nominal arrears. To that part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment he must give an absolute denial. And then came the middle of the Amendment—viz., that the Bill does notprovide means for the improvement of the material condition of the poorer crofters and cottars in the Highlands, and the alleviation of the distress due to the redundancy of population in the overcrowded townships.He did not say that was altogether correct, but, even supposing it was, that was not a reason for neglecting the Bill. The last great proposal for the benefit of the crofter was the Bill of 1886. There was an Amendment brought forward on the Second Reading. That Amendment said—that the distress and overcrowding of the Highlands ought to be relieved by crofter emigration.That Amendment had been put into practical shape by high-minded, public-spirited men, who had the resources of this great country at their command, and it had resulted in a sad and lamentable failure—a failure in which there was no bright spot whatever; and he was bound to say he thought the crofters could only look back to that Amendment as to a well-meant endeavour, for reasons with which they did not agree, 903 to deprive them of the benefit which legislation eventually gave them. He thought that part of the hon. and learned Member's Amendment, which said that the Bill was insufficient to remove the overcrowding of the congested districts, could only be regarded as a sort of indirect means of delaying and defeating the measure. He was glad the hon. and learned Member did not want to delay and defeat the measure as a whole, and had withdrawn the Amendment. He did not think that in his speech the hon. and learned Member had given any valid reason against any single provision of the Bill, and he earnestly hoped that the Bill would become law very much in the shape in which it was now before the House.
§ * MR. SHAW-STEWART (Renfrewshire, E.)
said, he approached the consideration of the Bill in the same spirit in which he had embarked on his duties as a member of the Highland Commission, that was to say—with an anxious, and even eager, desire to support and uphold every proposal that he believed could really re-act to the benefit of the crofter population. That being the case, he found that the leading principles of the Bill were principles to which he was entirely and out-right opposed. There was not the slightest reason, historical or physical, why the Bill should be confined to the counties named in it. There was no reason whatever that he could see why if the Bill was good for those counties it was not good for every other county in Scotland, or to the northern counties of England, if not, indeed, to the whole of England. At any rate he would be justified in examining the Bill as though it were not limited to certain counties, but applied to all the counties of Scotland. It was necessary to recall what the Crofters Act of 1886 was, what its provisions were, and why it was applied to certain counties. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland seemed to have formed an exaggerated estimate of the value of that Act. It was quite true, as was shown in the Report of the Commission which he signed, that new houses had been put up since the passing of the Act. The Commissioners stated:We found new and improved houses and buildings erected by the crofters themselves since the passing of the Act.904 But he could not recall more than three or four in any one of the townships they visited. Hon. Members must not run away with the idea that the Crofters Act had been an unadulterated benefit wherever applied. It carried with it the most dangerous principle that could be applied to agricultural holdings, be they large or small, and that was the principle of dual ownership. They had seen how much evil that principle had worked in Ireland. Whatever good the Crofters Act had done, it had done it in spite of this inherent principle. In scores and hundreds of cases of well-managed estates the proprietors had been accustomed to provide material for building and repairs, but the moment the principle of dual ownership was brought into play they very naturally could not be expected to continue to do that. So far as the Act had succeeded at all, he regarded it as a drastic remedy. It had been applied with a certain amount of success to a set of very special circumstances, but to say that because it had been successful when applied to special circumstances it should be extended to other parts of Scotland was as much as to say that because they found a strong remedy succeeded with a patient lying seriously ill they should apply the same drastic remedy to every man in health. He was afraid the right hon. Gentleman also took too favourable a view of the question of arrears since the passing of the Crofters Act. Any one who had read the Report of the Highland Commission would be amazed at the amount of the arrears in the Island of Lewis. When the Royal Commissioners visited that place fair rents had been fixed, and yet the arrears on the fair rents amounted to no less a sum than £12,000. In the southern portion of Skye there were 12 parishes where the fair rents totalled up to £428 5s., and where, in 1893, the Royal Commission found that the arrears outstanding amounted to over £1,000.
§ * MR. SHAW STEWART
said, that those figures were given by Mr. Macintosh, factor to Lord Macdonald, and though he was cross-examined at considerable length his statement was 905 unshaken. He was certain that it astonished the friends of the hon. Member opposite at the time. He gave that fact to indicate that there was a reverse side to the shield, which it was only prudent to bear in mind when the right hon. Gentleman opposite spoke of the Crofters' Act of 1866 as an unadulterated success. He wished to speak with all respect of the Chairman of the Crofter Commission. He had served under him on the Royal Commission for over two years, and he had nothing but regard and friendship for the Chairman personally. But while he had the greatest respect for Sheriff Brand, and equal respect for and confidence in the other gentlemen who worked with him, believing that they had fulfilled their duties very well, he thought it was time that the Crofter Commission came to an end, because they had nearly finished all the work which they had to do in the Highlands. For nine years that Commission had been going about at a cost to the country of between £7,000 and £9,000 a year. The cost of the Commission up to the present time amounted to something like £67,000, and last year the estimate was for more than £7,000. Looking to the report of last year's proceedings, he found that while the Commission inspected some 540 crofts, the reduction in rent which they found it necessary to make did not amount to £250. The applications numbered 14, and of those 12 were diminished, and 2 were sustained. Of course there was a certain amount of work still to be done; but it could perfectly well, and more cheaply, be overtaken by the local sheriffs assisted by two local assessors. This opinion was shared by many who had watched the proceedings of the Commission; and if it were correct, then it was time that the Commission came to an end. Yet the House was now face to face with a proposal to give the Commission a fresh lease of life in another direction altogether. He did not think that the Members of the Government had understood what would be the results of the application to other counties. The Secretary for Scotland endeavoured to meet the argument of his hon. and learned Friend by saying that the proposal was quite safe, because, in the first place, it had to be determined what was a crofting parish; and the right hon. 906 Gentleman said that in the Highland counties no crofting parish had been found to be such except where there were a number of crofters already living there. But that was simply because the Act then applied to parishes which consisted mainly of crofters. It was now proposed, however, to apply the Act to parishes where crofters in the real sense of the word did not exist, had not for years existed, or perhaps had never existed at all. It was no exaggeration to say that there could be found numerous instances of the following kind in the counties to which it was proposed to extend the Bill. A 30 acre wood had been cut down within the last eight years, and the owner had not replanted it. He granted the grazing to two or three small tenants in the neighbourhood. The fact of that common grazing granted to tenants at less than £30 a year, was enough to establish that parish as a crofting parish, and to admit to the Act numbers of other men who might be living in that parish, not only as leaseholders but as tenants from year-to-year, and who would be astonished to be told that they were crofters. In some parts of Forfarshire these year-to-year tenants were not at all uncommon, and numbers of year-to-year tenants as well as leaseholders would be admitted all over these counties, and to an extent which he did not believe was contemplated by the Government or their Scotch supporters. They might say that this would do no harm. But it would be sowing the seeds of strife for future generations to extend this principle of dual ownership in the land. For some years the evil of this principle in Ireland had been patent, and every means for bringing it to an end, such as the Ashbourne Act, had been welcomed. But in the face of this example, Parliament was calmly asked to apply this very principle, not only to the crofting counties in the North of Scotland, but to every single county in Scotland. He could not imagine a more serious blow to the struggling industry of agriculture all over Scotland. As to the second part of the Bill, it was not too much to say that it was almost an insult to the crofting community to offer them this measure. For two years nothing had been done in the direction of legislation to 907 relieve the pressing needs of some of the congested districts of the highlands; they had been told to wait for the Report of the Highlands and Islands Commission. That Commission had scheduled an immense quantity of land; and, indeed, he and his colleagues had been taken to task for agreeing to such a schedule. But he called his colleague opposite to witness that the greatest care was taken to combine in the schedule land suitable for new holdings with land suitable for grazing. His hon. Friend could not contend that the Royal Commissioners contemplated that part of the land which they set apart for grazing being dealt with separately, instead of as a whole in connection with the land for new holdings.
§ * MR. J. MACLEOD (Sutherlandshire)
I take exception to that statement at once. The land referred to in the Bill is stated in the Report as scheduled pink "for extension of existing holdings."
§ * MR. SHAW STEWART
said, that he at any rate had no conception that a Bill would be introduced dealing with land set apart for grazing quite separately from land set apart for new holdings. The latter was that which was nearest the crofter's heart. It was what he wanted first and most sorely; and to propose any measure for the crofter's benefit which did not provide for the establishment of new holdings was practically to give him a stone when he was asking for bread. He was aware that in thus criticising the measure it would be a fair retort to ask him, "What better remedy would you propose?" He spoke for no one in the House but himself, but he did speak for two of his colleagues on the Commission—one a practical land valuer, and another a Highland laird—who, with him, believed that something could be done to solve the crofter difficulty by a system of land purchase. He would not then go into the details of the scheme of land purchase put forward by himself and his friends, but would conclude by saying that he was so convinced of the evil effects which the Bill would have if extended beyond the present counties, and that it would confer no real benefits on existing crofters, that he, for one, would be ready unhesitatingly to record his vote against it.
§ * SIR WILLIAM WEDDERBURN (Banffshire)
said, with reference to what had fallen from the last speaker, that he would be glad to see the Bill made applicable to the whole of Scotland as regarded that class of persons in the position of the crofters. He was not, however, in a position to speak except for the constituents whom he represented. On behalf of them he tendered to the Secretary for Scotland his sincere thanks for having brought in a Bill to extend the Crofters' Act to the north-east counties of Scotland. The main and substantial object of his constituents was to obtain protection for their improvements. They believed that that protection would be given if they had fair rents and fixity of tenure; and those benefits would be conferred by the Crofters' Act. They were, therefore, excessively anxious that the Crofters' Act should be extended to them. He had attended many meetings in which mixed opinions were held, but at every one of them a unanimous vote was recorded in favour of the extension of the Crofters' Act. So unanimous was the opinion on this subject that even his opponent in the constituency had stated publicly that he was prepared to support the extension of that Act. The whole of the crofters as a class had made their own improvements. He had seen them at work. These men were very skilful and industrious; he had seen them engaged in removing boulders, stones, and black heather, and in making fine cultivable soil. They drained bogs and laid down drain-pipes; in short, they put into the soil a great deal of capital as well as labour. The crofters also built their own houses, and many of them were very good structures of two storeys with slated roofs. But the present state of the law was most unjust, because the result of the expenditure of all this capital and labour was that the property belonged not to the tenant but to the landlord. He mentioned a case in which a crofter actually purchased timber of his landlord with hard cash. The man put the timber thus bought in the roof of the house he was building, and as he fitted it into the roof it ceased to belong to him—it became the property of the landlord. The 909 same result happened with the slates; as each slate was nailed down it ceased to belong to the tenant. The crofters, therefore, grievously needed a reform of the law which would remedy this injustice, and which would confer on the tenant the ownership of the improvements he had made. When this Bill was first introduced the Leader of the Opposition laid some stress on this question of improvements and the right to them. The right hon. Gentleman said that he considered the argument of similarity of situation and condition to be one deserving of considerable weight. The similarity of condition and situation between the people in his constituency and the crofters in the West Highlands consisted in the fact that they almost invariably built their own houses and created their own improvements—in fact they created the land. An Eastern philosopher said that that man was the best citizen who made two blades of grass to grow where one only grew before. But here were men among the crofting population who made 20 blades of grass to grow where only one grew before; and he asserted that the ownership of 19 of these blades of grass ought to be with the tenant, while the one blade which formerly belonged to the landlord should belong to him still. All that was wanted was a perfectly fair arrangement. Something had been said with reference to a land-purchase scheme; but the crofters did not want the ownership of the land so much as reasonable security and protection for their improvements made by their own labour. The Leader of the Opposition further said that in the extension of the Act a very difficult question had been raised, and that he was anxious to safeguard the cases where, for example, the landlord had made the improvements. The right hon. Gentleman added that in a crofting parish it might happen that the landlord had made the improvements, and that they might not be secured to him. He agreed in that respect with the right hon. Gentleman. If a landlord had made the improvements, by all means let the Government secure them to him. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman would be willing to agree to a definition of a crofter parish which would meet his object of protecting the 910 tenants' improvements without endangering any fair and reasonable rights of the landlord—with the latter he had no wish to interfere. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was not aware that he had had the honour, in conjunction with some of his friends, to bring in a Bill to extend the Act to the north-east counties of Scotland. The definition of a crofter proposed in that Bill was—The tenant of a holding the annual rent of which does not exceed £30 in money, and who by himself, or his predecessors in the same family, has paid for the larger share of the permanent or unexhausted improvements in his holding.That would provide against any case of injustice to the landlord, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would give it his consideration. He wished also to ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland whether he did not think the time had come when the definition of a crofter might be advantageously extended. It was quite true that the Crofter Commission had extended it to all the original counties, and he had no reason himself to doubt that if it was applicable to Sutherland and Caithness, it would be applicable to the north-eastern counties. At the same time it depended on the legal decisions of the Commission, and he thought it would give satisfaction if it were definitely laid down that the authorship of the improvements was the test. That would have the further advantage that it would include other classes who were great sufferers at present. In many cases, artisans in Scotland, or, as they were called there, village tradesmen, had a little cottage and holding which they held practically in the same way as the crofters, and yet they could not get the benefit of the Act. The hon. and learned Member for Bute had challenged him to mention any cases of wholesale eviction in Banffshire. He had never made any complaint against the landlords of that county as a class, but such cases were not unknown, and he would refer the hon. and learned Gentleman to the evictions in the Botrarm parish, which occurred not so long ago. It was not so much actual eviction that he complained of as the power of eviction. It was the want of security and independence that was complained of. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bute had also said 911 that he had maintained at a meeting that this Bill would make the Crofters Act applicable in Banffshire, and that another Gentleman said it would not. It was true that his opponent in that county had been very busy telling everybody that this Bill was a delusion and a snare, and that the Act would not apply at all in a great part of the county; but he did not appear to have studied the decisions of the Crofters' Commission, nor to hold with the Leader of the Opposition that this was a very big measure.
§ * SIR W. WEDDERBURN
said, he understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that it was a measure which raised the most difficult questions and required a great deal of discussion. It seemed to him that in Parliamentary language this meant that there would be great difficulty in passing it through the House.
Yes, I said it raised very difficult questions, but I also said that if it was passed it would do very little good.
§ * SIR W. WEDDERBURN
said, that if that was the right hon. Gentleman's opinion he differed from the humble people he represented. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman to assist in getting such a definition as would avoid the difficulties to which he had referred, and would arrange for the protection of the industrious in the improvements they had made.
The hon. Gentleman, in the very fair and moderate speech he has made, has referred very pointedly to what I have said on previous occasions, and to the general opinions I have expressed on the subject of the reform of the laws relating to land tenure in the Highlands. The whole speech of the hon. Gentleman was in favour of a measure which would give protection to the small tenants in his constituency in their improvements. He would be content, it seems, with any measure that would carry out that object, and his approval of this measure is based on the fact that he thinks it would afford that protection. But the hon. Gentleman must see that, while the object he has in view is a very legitimate 912 object—and it is one in which I entirely agree—the machinery proposed in this Bill is a very dangerous and clumsy way of carrying it out; and, further, that it is a very imperfect way. The hon. Gentleman pleads for the protection of the small tenants in their improvements. In my opinion small tenants have an absolute right to be protected; but they have no greater right than the big tenants, and, therefore, the right ought not to be confined to one or two counties in the north-east of Scotland. I should like to see that protection extended in a safe and fair form to all counties in all cases in which expenditure by the tenant has taken the form of a legitimate improvement of the holding of which he is the occupier. But observe that this Bill touches but a very small part of the Highlands, and but a very small class in the counties to which it refers; and, in order thus imperfectly to carry out a perfectly legitimate object, the hon. Gentleman is prepared to support a clause in the Bill which contains more anomalies than any clause ever introduced into any Bill. The particular clause to which I allude is, of course, the clause to extend the Crofters' Act to new counties. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland said that there was no principle sanctioned in this Bill which did not find ample justification in the previous legislative efforts of the Government in regard to crofter legislation. I entirely dissent from that statement of the right hon. Gentleman. I wish to call attention to the effect which this clause will have upon parishes where there is no pretence that the holders of land, whether large or small holders, are historically or economically of the class properly called crofters. My hon. Friend near me has pointed out with irresistible force that under Clause 13 it would be possible, and even probable, that parishes could be found in these added counties in which the mere fact that there were, or had been within the last 80 years, two people in the enjoyment of a cottage holding would enable every tenant under £20, whether a new comer to the parish or one who had lived there as the last of a line of ancestors, to claim to come under the Act. The Act would apply not only to him, but also to holdings in which everything has been done by the owner and nothing by the occupier, and would 913 bring them under the scope of legislation which is admitted to be of so exceptional a kind that we ought most jealously to watch the smallest extension. The right hon. Gentleman appears to think it is so great a blessing to put these people under the Crofter Commission that any excuse is sufficient ground for doing it. The whole circumstances of a parish may be those which prevail in the Lowlands of Scotland, or in England, or in France, or in America; they may be the familiar conditions under which the landlord makes the improvements and under which the tenant lives under free contract, in which there is no interference as between one class and another by any body of gentlemen having a right to fix rent or to fix the interest on capital; because if you are going to allow the Crofter Commission to deal with the rent of holdings on which the improvements have been made by the landlord, you give to that Crofter Commission not only the duty of fixing the rent on the unimproved value, but also the duty of deciding what interest the landlord shall get for his own free expenditure of capital—you are going to do that, and on the smallest excuse and provocation possible. It is true the right hon. Gentleman told us that never was a parish declared to be a crofting parish unless there was a considerable body of crofters in it; but he forgot that up to the present time the Crofters Act has practically been confined to counties where the mass of the agricultural population were crofters. You are now going to extend it to counties where you will only find a crofter here and there in comparatively few parishes and possibly in isolation. Is it not certain that in such circumstances you will find that you will have deliberately brought under this crofting system parishes and populations who have none of the characteristics which a crofting parish, by your own definition, ought to possess? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I put on one side the question of improvements, because I think hon. Gentlemen opposite will admit that the declarations made on this side upon the subject of protecting tenants in the enjoyment of their improvements have been as full, as explicit, and as satisfactory as any declaration of opinion could possibly be. But remember we are not dealing 914 now simply with the case of protecting tenants in the enjoyment of improvements; we are going much further; we are bringing under the control of a body of gentlemen absolutely irresponsible even to this House, or to the Government, or to anybody but themselves, the management of practically all the relations between landlord and tenant, of all the relations between neighbours; and, more than that, we are actually handing over to them the decision as to the principles upon which land is to be cultivated. This Crofter Commission you mean to perpetuate is to decide not merely fair rent, not merely questions of boundary, rights of way, and all matters which must arise between the occupiers of contiguous holdings, but you are going to leave them to determine in these crofting parishes whether land shall be held as a farm or under common grazing—in fact, you are going to give them the whole control of agricultural affairs both of owner and occupier with regard to every tenant under £30, be the previous history of that tenant what it may, be his relation to the improvements on his farm what it may, be he connected or not historically with the parish. I say that that principle is bad. It is a course you may be driven to pursue under stress of necessity; it is a course which may have some justification with regard to the northern counties, and which may have, in your opinion, full justification in those counties. But can any gentleman say he wishes to see the relations between citizen and citizen, whatever their class in life may be, put under the control of a Commission unless there be some overpowering, controlling motive? You are deliberately extending a system which is intrinsically an imperfect system, which you may have been right originally in setting in motion, but which it is your bounden duty to limit as far as possible, so as to preserve as far as may be the healthier régime of free contract between man and man. Therefore, for my own part, feeling as I do that this is not a proper way of protecting the small tenants of the crofting counties, not the proper way of preserving to them the enjoyment of their improvements; feeling that it is a deliberate extension of a system of land management which is only tolerable as a remedial measure in an intolerable state of things; I shall 915 certainly resist the clause in its present shape, or in any shape which it may assume. When this Bill goes into Committee I shall do my very best to persuade the House and the Government that they are committing a serious breach of trust, a serious legislative mistake, and an error for which we shall all pay in time if we persist in thus unduly extending the regimen of a system of land tenure which they would be the last to desire to see introduced into Northumberland and Durham, and which certainly there is little more justification for in Elgin and Ayr. I will ask the House to consider what are the principles which ought to animate a Government entirely desirous of improving the condition of that large, and I fear in many cases most impoverished, population which crowds the districts along the western coasts of the Highlands and the adjacent islands. My hon. and learned Friend has pointed out that the poverty which they suffer from is largely due to congestion, by which I do not, of course, mean the crowd of a very large population into a very small area, which very often is not congestion at all, but the crowding of a population upon an area totally incapable of supporting them in comfort; that is the first of the evils to which the poverty of the western part of the Highlands is due. Secondly, these evils are the consequence of bad methods of cultivation, the difficulties of climate, and the total absence in many cases of the capital necessary if you are going to cultivate grazing farms to advantage. I think I may add one more cause, which is the overwheming pressure of the rates, which have proved to be absolutely ruinous to landlords, and directly or indirectly have weighed most heavily upon the larger number of tenants. These being the evils we have to contend with, what is the remedy proposed by the Government? The climate they cannot touch; but congestion and bad methods of agriculture. the want of communication, and possibly the rating difficulty, are more or less within the control of legislative remedies; and if they cannot be cured, it is not absolutely impossible to relieve them. But I look in vain in this Bill, from the first clause to the last, to find one single provision by which the lot of the poorer members 916 of the crofting population will be improved. I grant that in a few cases where there is a weathy crofter with either a superfluity of capital or of stock, and where there are contiguous to his holding grazings which come under the operation of this Bill, I grant that this man's lot may be improved—and possibly improved at the cost of the landlord; but the lot of no other class is touched at all. So this Bill is a legislative paradox, for it asks us to help those who need little help from it, and leaves absolutely unhelped those who cry with the greatest justice for something to be done for them. The shortcomings of this Bill appear to me to mark clearly the difference of policy which has always divided the two sides of the House. In our attempts to deal with problems of a similar kind in Ireland we have endeavoured, by the extension of the railway system, by the Congested Districts Board, and by other machinery of a similar kind, to do something real and substantial for the benefit of the poor people. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have always preferred the simpler and easier, and, above all, the cheaper course of not spending a sixpence out of the Imperial funds, but of carving out from the property of one class any advantage, real or supposed, which they intended to give to another class. I am convinced that the plan of the Government was not only injurious—I had almost said not chiefly injurious—to the landowning class in Ireland and in the Highlands; but, whether this is so or not, I am sure that the general principle of the policy we advocate will have incomparably greater effect in really touching the evil which stares us in the face, which will not be touched, which you yourselves do not profess will be touched, by the Bill you have introduced with so much pomp and circumstance. If the Government had brought forward some plan for railway extension, some plan parallel or similar to the Congested Districts Board in Ireland; if they had attempted to deal with this question of congestion, then I should have said they really had produced something for the benefit of the populations on whose behalf these legislative measures are contrived. But they are content with the construction of a Bill which will have no permanent effect, and which will benefit 917 no body of individuals except the three gentlemen who will receive salaries as Crofter Commissioners. I said just now the Bill would be injurious in some respects to those whom it was intended to benefit. That it may be injurious to the landlord is denied by none; that it will be an injury, or may be an injury, to the small occupier is surely obvious when you reflect how much in many parts of the country small occupiers must depend for any amelioration of their lot upon the introduction of capital into the country, and upon the free expenditure of money upon improvements, not merely by themselves, but also by others. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down told the House that in the county he represented small occupiers had no desire to become owners. I regret to hear it, because I have always wished to see small ownership extended in every part of the country; but I admit that there is one advantage in small occupancy as compared with small ownership. There being no landlord, there is no source from which the occupier or cultivator of the soil can hope to obtain capital for improvements, without seriously diminishing resources which ought more properly to lie used in conducting from year to year the current business of a farmer. How can you expect landlords under legislation of this kind ever to spend money on small holdings? In Ireland it was open to you to say—and it may be with some justice—that it was so little the practice of landlords to spend money on permanent improvements that it is possible, without grave injustice, to ignore the small minority who did. That is not the case in Scotland, and has never been the case in Scotland, outside the west coast and in the Highlands. The Scotch tradition is for the landlord to undertake the bulk of the permanent improvements, and it is well that it should be so. You put an end to all that by legislation of this kind; you discourage all expenditure and make every owner of land feel that the money he puts into his land, when he can put it into the funds, is money he is handing over to the tender mercies of eccentric legislators, when he might keep it with absolute security and hand it on to his children. I cannot conceive that this 918 will not re-act unfavourably to the prospects of agriculture in Scotland, and England too. There is an echo of legislation of this kind far beyond the area originally affected. But that is not all. I desire to see an extension of the system of small owners, but I also desire to see, where that is not possible, an extension of the system of small occupancy. But what landlord, who ought not to be in a lunatic asylum, would ever let a farm of less than £30 value in any county of Scotland or England to which legislation of this kind might be applied? Is it not obvious, on the face of it, that you penalise the subdivision of holdings by measures of this kind; is it not manifest, when the Government come down and say all holdings under £30 shall be under a peculiar system of tenure unfavourable to the landlords (and also, I think, to the tenants—but certainly to the landlords)—is it not manifest that no landlord under these circumstances would create holdings to which this special disability would extend? So it seems to me that, both in the counties to which you wish to extend it, and partly in counties where it already exists, you inevitably drive landlords either into occupying the land themselves or making their farms so large that they will escape the net you spread for all small holdings. Therefore, Sir, the result of my survey of this effort of the Government in legislating for the Highlands comes to this—that they are determined to extend to counties where it is wholly inappropriate a system which, in so far as it is tolerable, is only tolerable in the really crofting districts of Scotland; that in doing so they have no consideration for the special circumstances of those counties to which they mean to extend it; that they have not taken a course in which I should have supported them—of simply protecting the tenants in the enjoyment of their improvements; that they have done nothing to stimulate self-reliance on the part of the occupier, but have done everything they can to prevent expenditure on the part of the landlords; and, while these are positive evils which this legislation would produce, they have carefully abstained from initiating, on their own behalf, legislation which would materially improve the condition of the 919 crofters and cottars in the West Highlands; and having, apparently, no invention of their own on the subject, they have not condescended to imitate the example we set them in dealing with similar problems in Ireland. I do most earnestly entreat the crofter Members— if I may venture to address them on the subject—and I certainly entreat the Government, to change the whole spirit of the policy which appears to animate them. Let them remember that, if it be justifiable at all to treat exceptionally those very poor agricultural districts in Scotland and Ireland, it is justifiable to expend on their behalf public funds. This, however, is not the view of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman has gone out of his way to tell us on previous occasions that not one penny of money will he take out of the common fund of the British nation for the purpose of benefiting these poor people. Well, I say that people on whose behalf it is justifiable to pass exceptional land legislation are the people it is justifiable to assist by special financial aid; and if the Government set to work to see what system of railway extension they can make, what system corresponding to the Congested Districts Board they can set up, then they would have had my hearty and cordial support. As it is, I cannot but feel that if this Bill passes in its present shape—as I hope it will not—it cannot do anything but harm to the counties to which it is proposed to extend it; and as regards the counties to which crofter legislation is already applicable, if it be capable of producing any benefits at all, those benefits must be confined to that very small and scattered minority which require no special aid or assistance from this House.
§ SIR D. MACFARLANE
expressed his cordial agreement with many of the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition. It seemed to him that if the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary for Scotland could have been closeted together, the latter dealing with the clauses relating 920 to the landlords and the Leader of the Opposition with the financial clauses, they might have produced a most satisfactory measure. The hon. and learned Member for Bute denied that there was any parallel between leaseholders in Ireland and leaseholders in Scotland. But he forgot that the Irish Act of 1887 did not apply to the limited number of leaseholders under £30, but to all leaseholders, no matter what their rent. This was a good Bill as far as it went, but it did not go nearly far enough in any direction. In the Report of the Deer Forests Commission 750,000 acres were scheduled as suitable for new holdings, and there was nothing in the Bill which proposed to make a single new holding. He had received many communications from the Highlands on the subject of the Bill. Resolutions of public meetings had been sent him requesting him to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill, on the ground that it was inadequate and that it left out the cottars and the landless and needy classes. He sympathised with their anger on the subject, but he had informed the senders of these resolutions that he was not prepared to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill on that ground or to prevent leaseholders and others from deriving the benefits conferred upon them by this Bill because it did not include other classes; that if this Bill were rejected on the Second Reading the landless and the cottar class would be no better off, and the tenants and others would be much worse off. He looked upon this Bill as a small instalment towards the payment of a large debt, and as such he was prepared to accept it. He wished this Bill had been discussed by the Scotch—or the so-called Scotch—Committee, because it had been so adulterated by English Members that it was no longer really a Scotch Committee. It seemed to be the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite that Members on the Ministerial side coming from Scotland were communists and revolutionists, and were not to be trusted to deal with a measure of this kind. He found it hard to believe this. He had never seen them holding meetings in Hyde Park on Sundays, or met them going to the Scotch Committee singing the "Marseillaise." He believed they might be 921 trusted to deal fairly in the Committee between landlords and tenants. In his opinion, the course which the right hon. Gentleman had adopted in reference to this measure was one that was very dangerous to its success. He could tell the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland there was a feeling of extreme dissatisfaction with the provisions of this Bill in the north, and he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. A. J. Balfour) that the measure would require considerable alteration in Committee before it would meet with general approval. He, however, could not take upon himself the responsibility of opposing this Bill on the ground that it was unsatisfactory, and he should support the Motion for its Second Reading in the hope that it might be so amended in Committee that it might afford, at all events, a small modicum of justice to the crofters, and would enable some portion of the three-quarters of a million of acres of land in Scotland which was available for the purposes of the extension of crofts to be used for that purpose. It had been said on the part of the Government that the Bill had been kept back until now in order that the Report of the Crofters' Commission might be thoroughly well considered and digested, and its recommendations embodied in the measure. In his view, the Bill absolutely failed to carry out any of the recommendations of the Commission. The only thing that the Bill did in the way of extending the privileges of the crofters was to enable one instead of five crofters in a district to take action. The Bill entirely failed to do that for which the crofters had been patiently waiting for the last three years. The hopes which the crofters had entertained during those years had been disappointed, and it was only yesterday that a resolution was unanimously passed at a public meeting held in the Islands embodying a Vote of No Confidence in the present Government. He made full allowance for hon. Members who were not as well aware as he was of the necessity for carrying Bills of this character, but the people in the Highland districts did not understand how it was that any Government possessing a majority in that House were prevented from carrying out the pledges which they had given three 922 years ago. Those people could not understand that a Bill might be killed, not so much by direct opposition as by being overwhelmed by an enormous number of amendments being moved. He, however, thought that half a loaf was better than no bread, and therefore he should vote for the Second Reading of the Bill on the understanding that he should endeavour, with the assistance of hon. Members opposite, to amend its provisions in Committee.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE ERESBY (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
said, that he was afraid that the Bill would injuriously affect one class of persons in Scotland who were deserving of protection—he referred to those who were successfully working sheep-farms in that country. It was a fact that the sheep-farmers in Scotland had suffered less from the depression of agriculture than any other farmers in the United Kingdom. The Report of the Crofters' Commission showed conclusively that the chief part of the land stated to be available for the extension of crofter holdings was occupied by sheep-farmers. It was a mistake, therefore, to suppose that that land was used for the purposes of deer forests. It would be most unjust to the sheep-farmers to deprive them of just that portion of their land which enabled them to make their farms pay. It would, in his opinion, be most unfair and unwise to take the sheep farms for the extension of crofter holdings, and yet it was said that unless the Commissioners had power to do so, it would be useless to pass a Crofters' Act. As far as he understood the question, it was contended that if the crofters were to be materially benefited, power must be given to take away the best portions of their land from the sheep-farmers. In his view the present sheep-farming tenants were entitled to protection. Many hon. Members opposite had expressed a strong opinion that the English tenants were entitled to fixity of tenure, but in that case how could they support a proposal which would deprive the Scotch sheep farmers of their holdings in order to give them to others. He did not think that it would be possible to convert Scotland into an El Dorado for crofters, or that this measure would settle the crofter question once for all. Even if all the sheep-farms were turned into crofts many grave difficulties would 923 still remain to be faced. A great difficulty would necessarily remain to be dealt with in the case of common grazing grounds from the fact that where large numbers of ewes were turned out it was necessary that tups should be turned out also. Then a man sometimes kept an urchin and some racing dogs, so as to keep the sheep off the best bits of pasturage, so that his own sheep might feed there. He was sure the Commissioners could not settle this question to the satisfaction of a large part of the community. The best they could hope for was that they might extend these crofters' holdings by extending the grazing of some of the best sheep-farms in the neighbourhood, and by doing that they might cause a great injustice to the existing tenants. He wished the question might be settled, and he spoke without any prejudice on the subject, as in that part of Scotland with which he was acquainted there were no crofters; there might have been long ago, but he was afraid the land had not been good enough to support them. There was one very large proprietor, certainly, who had a great many crofts on his estate which he believed were in a fairly prosperous condition; he did not believe this Bill would much benefit them. He did not care to support the Bill, because he did not believe it would settle the question, and it would not only inflict hardship on the landlord, but also on the already existing tenants on sheep-farms.
§ * MR. SEYMOUR KEAY (Elgin and Nairn)
said that, had the previous speaker heard the speech of the Secretary for Scotland, he would have seen that in the Act of 1886 there was a provision which would effectually debar any land being taken if the taking of it would injuriously affect the letting value of the remainder. He must admit that he was one of those who came under the lash of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who told them that the extending of the Crofters Act of 1886 to additional counties in Scotland was, in his opinion, the biggest absurdity ever proposed to be committed by any Government. He was one of those who had ventured to urge upon the Government the inclusion in the Bill of the counties of Elgin and Nairn, which he had the honour to represent. He was very glad that the Amendment which 924 had not been moved had been put upon the Paper, because he thought it was well calculated to bring before the House and the country the real position that the extremer sort of landlords desired to claim with regard to the land. The hon. Member for West Renfrewshire had told them that in his opinion the Bill contained the most disastrous principle of dual ownership. But this plain language was nothing more nor less than what they desired. They wanted the landlords to come forward in the good old undisguised spirit, and say that nobody but they had the slightest right in the soil of the country, and that it was only on sufferance from them that anyone else possessed the right to live on the surface of the planet. What did dual ownership mean? Simply that the man who cultivated the soil, and the labourer who assisted him, should have the right to live upon its surface upon some fair terms. He had been challenged by the hon. and learned Member for Buteshire with regard to one or two points. The hon. and learned Member had said that the fact of receiving sporting tenants, and letting Highland properties to them was not a disadvantage, but a saving of the districts from something like bankruptcy. He had said that the sporting tenant, having hired the land at a higher rent than it would yield if cultivated by the people of the country, was an advantage, not only to the landlord, but to the people amongst whom that rent was partially spent. Had the hon. Member's attention been drawn, however, to the fact that in Scotland, within the last 10 years, according to an official Return which had been presented to Parliament, a very large number of properties had been let to sportsmen at a rent considerably less than the agricultural rent which had been paid by the Highlanders, who, with their wives and children, had inhabited those properties? Certain sporting properties scheduled in that Return were bringing in now a rent of only £5,000 a year, where formerly, when inhabited by an agricultural population, they had brought in £6,000. That was a point which ought to be considered by hon. Members opposite before they accused them of a false policy, in desiring to turn out the sporting tenant, for the beneficial 925 object of the retention, maintenance, and propagation of the Scottish people upon the soil of their own country. Of course, they all admitted the exceptional case of the Island of Lewis, but neither by the Crofters Act of 1886, nor by the present Bill, was it contemplated to remedy the congestion of the population of the Island of Lewis, but to remedy the depopulation of the Highlands of Scotland. By another return based upon the last census it would be found that in the county of Nairn, after making due allowance for the ordinary increase of population, the natural agricultural population had, during the last ten years, absolutely disappeared to the extent of one-fourth. Now he had been challenged by the hon. and learned Member for Buteshire with regard to the question of eviction and confiscation in the counties of Elgin and Nairn. Well, he was sorry to say that there were many instances of the kind. He did not say instances of violent evictions, such as took place in Ireland a few years ago, before the eviction-made-easy enactment was passed; but there were evictions and confiscations of the most substantial character, although they might not have created all the disturbance which the hon. and learned Gentleman thought would arise if they existed at all. He would point to a salient instance, and he thought he was right in saying that there was more than one instance relating to the same landlord, who was no less highly placed a gentleman than the Duke of Fife, and who possessed large stretches of land in the county of Elgin. His Grace had for some years past, very wisely he thought, been disposing of that land in blocks of from 100 to 400 acres. It was due to his Grace that he should mention that, in comparison with many other landlords, the Duke maintained the character of being a good landlord. Yet what had happened when those blocks of land were sold? The most substantial houses had been built upon them during the progress of the leases, and when a farmer died, or for some other cause, his Grace desired to sell the farm or the land, he sold it to the highest bidder, house and all, lock, stock, and barrel, and put the whole of the money into his own pocket. That was a fact well known in the counties he represented, and though he would not say that it was to his Grace that the Tory 926 candidate for Elgin and Nairn had alluded, yet he thought that in a speech which that gentleman delivered last year in prosecuting his candidature, he was probably alluding to this case. In replying to a question as to whether he would extend the Crofters' Act to Elgin and Nairn the candidate said:—You know that sometimes a crofter builds a house, and when he has built it feels snug and comfortable, and looks forward to ending his days there. If the property falls into other hands he is in danger of being turned out and of losing the value of his house. That is unjust, and therefore I should strongly approve of the Crofters' Act being extended to Moray and Nairn, so as to protect these men.He would not venture to say that his Grace was being alluded to, but he had heard of instances, which he believed to be absolutely undoubted, that when those sales took place, the whole of the value of the house had been confiscated. There were positive instances in which grave injustice had been done in this way by the confiscation of house property, and it was noteworthy that the fact had even forced itself upon the notice of the Tory candidate for the Division which he had the honour to represent. He would venture to make one further remark, and that was—that the counties of Elgin and Nairn occupied a very invidious position with regard to the present order of things. Almost the whole boundary of those counties marched along with Inverness-shire, which was in possession of the Crofters Act. What was the result? There had even been transfers of land from one county to the other since 1872. The boundary between the counties was ill denned. Sometimes a dyke, sometimes a rivulet or a river, or nothing but a wire fence, divided the counties; so that all along the line of some 50 miles, the people on one side were in possession of fixity of tenure and were able to build respectable houses and live in them in comfort, to pay a fair rent, and to stock their land, while on the other side the crofter did not dare to put a sixpence into the soil or a tile on his house more than he could possibly help. All that they were asked by the Government to do, was simply to uproot that wire fence, and extend the blessings which Inverness-shire enjoyed through the Crofters Act to the counties which he represented. He quite agreed 927 with what had fallen from the hon. Member for Argyllshire, and also from the leader of the opposition as regarded the fact that the Bill was not big enough or wide enough to cover the smaller holders in the Highlands. He remembered in the Debate on the First Reading that the Secretary for Scotland took up this point when it was enunciated by the Leader of the Opposition, and the Secretary for Scotland very promptly invited him to bring forward any such Amendments in Committee as would extend and lower down the level of the blessings of the Act to those poorer classes. He joined with the Leader of the Opposition and the Secretary for Scotland in the hope that when the Amendment Paper appeared they would see that Amendments had been put down, by one or the other of the right hon. Gentlemen, for the purpose of broadening out the value of this excellent measure, so that it would throw its mantle of prosperity and of justice round a much larger number of the poorer people of Scotland than it now proposed to do.
§ * MR. W. ALLAN (Gateshead)
said, he had looked through the sections and clauses of the Bill, and had asked himself whether this could really be a Liberal measure. He had failed, however, to see anything really Liberal in it. He looked in it in vain for something that would meet the hopes of the Highlander, but he was sorry to say that he could find nothing in the measure which would satisfy those Highland hopes and aspirations which had existed in the breasts of the long-suffering clansmen for many years. This Bill, therefore, was to his mind nothing more than a miserable congeries of claptrap clauses, and he looked upon it as practically an insult to the Highland people. In fact, there were only two clauses of value in the whole Bill, and it would be found that they referred to the leaseholders. The Bill indeed seemed to be for the benefit only of the £30 leaseholders. Why had not the drafter of the Bill extended it to the poorer section of the Highlanders? He had been through the Highlands many times, and he knew many of the cottars who were toiling in their little patches of ground. Where was there any security for them in that Bill? 928 There was no hope whatever in the Bill for the poorer class of crofters in the Highlands, and therefore he considered it an insult to the Highland people and to intelligent Gaelic-speaking men. He wondered why it was that a Liberal Government, which professed great love for the working-classes and the poorer sections of humanity, should not have introduced something into the Bill that would have been a tangible benefit to them. It was well-known that there were some landlords who would be glad at this moment to sell thousands of acres of land even at prairie value. Why had not the Government come forward to buy two or three thousand of those acres so as to put some of the poor cottars upon the land, and to assist them in stocking their little holdings. Would not that have been fair, honest, and just legislation, and have gone a long way towards fulfilling the hopes of the Highlanders? But there was no such proposal in the Bill, in which he could find nothing that was calculated to improve the condition of those poor men. Money had often been voted in that House for the Sister Island. He had never objected to it; in fact he had voted in favour of it. Why, then, could no votes of money be granted to assist the poor Highlanders in their little fishing villages, where there was much difficulty for the men to land their catches of fish through the want of proper harbour accommodation? Why could not the Government get a few thousand pounds voted to improve the harbours of the Western Highlands? Though he agreed with the Bill in a certain sense, so far as the leaseholders were concerned, yet he could only say as a lover of the Highlands, and as one who knew the Highlanders very well, that he was gravely disappointed with this so-called Bill, which, when he looked over it, he thought must surely have been drafted by a landlord. In no quarter of the House would the claim of the Highland population to assistance be denied. It was known what kind of men had been taken out of the Highlands, and what those men had done for the glory of the Empire. Why, then, he asked, was not something done by the Government to purchase land for these poor cottars and to assist them in stocking that land, thus enabling them to 929 rear once again the grand race of men who had so often carried the British name to glory? Instead of proposing a Vote for such a practical purpose, this Government, which called itself "Liberal," only came forward with this miserable bagatelle of a measure. When Ministers went all over the country preaching and promising benefits for the working classes, he wanted to see something tangible produced, when opportunity offered—something like they voted and endeavoured to do for the Sister Island. He trusted, when this Bill came before the Committee, that every Member would stand out against its only applying to the thirty-pounders, and would insist on extending its provisions to the poorer cottars; and he hoped that all would then do what was possible to make the Bill worthy, not only of the House, but of that country which it was supposed to benefit.
§ * MR. C. B. RENSHAW (Renfrew, W.)
said, that, representing as he did, a constituency which was partly industrial and partly agricultural, he regarded with considerable apprehension some of the provisions of this Bill, and especially the proposed extension of the Crofters Act to leaseholders in counties outside the crofting counties. This last, he was afraid, would raise grave questions in the future as to how far these limitations could be confined, in the first place, to those counties which were included in the 13th clause; and, in the second place, how far it would be found ultimately possible to limit them to the artificial standard of £30 of annual rent. According to the Return moved for by the Member for South Aberdeen, in those counties included in the 13th clause, and in which the provisions relating to crofting parishes were to be extended to leaseholders under £30 of annual rent, there was very little difference between the number of agricultural holdings under £30 and those in some counties which were not included within the scope of the Bill. In Kincardineshire, out of 1,464 farms, 645 were under £30 annual rental; Elgin, out of 1,769 farms, 1,107 were under £30; Banff, out of 3,045 farms, 2,014 were under £30; Aberdeen, out of 11,339 farms, 6,453 were under £30; Perth, out of 3,921 farms, 1,233 were under £30, and so on. In some of the counties not included there was 930 almost as large a proportion of farms under £30. In Clackmannanshire, for example, there were 140 farms, of which 68 were under the figure; Dumfries, there were 2,739 farms, of which 1,023 were under; Fife, 2,640 farms, of which 1,316 were under, and Roxburgh, 1,197, of which 462 were under £30. That being the case, it seemed evident that, if the House once admitted the principle of the extension of the Act to counties other than those which had hitherto been regarded as the crofting counties, pressure would inevitably be brought to bear on the Secretary for Scotland to include additional counties. He could easily understand the grounds upon which the argument would be advanced in favour of their inclusion. He noticed in The Scotsman newspaper a few days ago a quotation from a speech of the hon. Member for Banff-shire, in which he advocated the extension of the Bill to counties outside the six crofting counties on the ground that it was "real Liberal organisation."
§ * SIR W. WEDDERBURN
I think there is a little misunderstanding about that. I said that to get the confidence of the people it was the right thing to meet their just wishes, and to pass measures in accordance with true Liberal principles.
§ * MR. RENSHAW
had quoted the words he saw reported and which, he believed, had not been corrected in the public Press by the hon. Member.
§ * MR. RENSHAW
said that, at all events, he did not think his hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire (Dr. Farquharson) would question the accuracy of another quotation he was about to make from a speech the hon. Gentleman was reported to have delivered on the occasion of a visit, he thought of pressure, which he paid to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland. On that occasion the hon. Member was reported to have said—Such a measure of inclusion would be beneficial to the country at large, it would be beneficial to the people who were individually concerned and to the Government, and above all, it would be beneficial to the Members who had to represent these parts of the country in Parliament.931 Those were the specious grounds upon which hon. Members on the other side of the House had put great pressure upon the Secretary for Scotland, and it was, he was afraid, in consequence of this undue pressure, and the exigencies of the political position, as well as their own position in the counties they represented, that these additional counties had been included or that it was proposed to include them in the provisions of the Bill. He not only deprecated the extension of the provisions of the Crofters Act to other counties, and to leaseholders on the general grounds to which he had alluded, but he was apprehensive they would have another and most disastrous effect. The Leader of the Opposition had pointed out what he believed would be the effect of this proposal to deal differently with holdings under £30 from other agricultural holdings. The inevitable result would be that they would make landlords try to get rid of holdings under that amount where they existed, and thus militate immensely against the creation of small holdings in future. In future no landlord, if he believed the provisions of this Bill were to be given effect to, and leaseholders under £30 of annual value were to be dealt with in the way proposed in this Bill, would be likely to create new small holdings or give allotments. The machinery of the County Councils could be set in motion, and they would have small holdings and allotments, which had been obtained through the instrumentality of the County Councils, which would not be affected by the provisions of the Bill; and on the other hand they would have small holdings and allotments which, prior to this date, had been established by existing landlords, but which would be subject to the provisions of the Bill. A landlord who had divided up his farm and created small holdings, would thus be exposed to its provisions, and the small holdings he had created, if situated in a crofting parish, would become the subject of settlement in regard to rent and other conditions, by the Crofters' Commission. He was very much disposed to believe, after all, that the proposal to extend the provisions of the Crofters Act to counties other than those which had hitherto been regarded as the crofting counties, was to find 932 additional occupation for the Crofters' Commission. He noticed, that like every other body which did its duty efficiently and had not fresh work found for it, it was running out of a job. Last year the Crofters' Commission dealt with 540 crofts, which were rented at £2,292. The rent was reduced to £2,056, or a reduction of £236. There were two groups of applicants for enlarged holdings, and whilst the total reduction made amounted to £236 the expense of the Commission to this country was £7,000, so that he ventured to say they were paying a great deal for a very small result. He had not the slightest doubt that if the Bill as submitted to the House was passed, the result would be to find an enormous amount of work for the Commission. He should like to call the attention of the Secretary for Scotland to the fact that in the Bill he might, at all events, have made some provision for dealing with a grave matter, which was referred to by the Commissioners in their annual report for the year just concluded. Under date November 26 1894, there was a statement as to the erection of dwelling-houses in contravention of the Act in the Island of Lewis. He should like to ask—Why was no provision inserted in this Bill to deal with the question dealt with so fully by the Crofters' Commission? What did they say in their Report which covered the years 1893–94. On page 147 it was stated:—The Commissioners deem it their duty on the occasion of issuing Orders in the various Applications under Appeal to refer particularly to the following matter:—In the Act of Parliament, section 1, sub-section 4, it is provided: 'That the crofter shall not, without the consent of his landlord in writing, sub-divide his holding, or sub-let the same or any part thereof, or erect or suffer to be erected thereon, any dwelling-house otherwise than in substitution for those already upon the holding at the time of the passing of this Act.' The Commissioners accordingly regret to have found in the course of their inquiries, both under the Fair Rent Applications and under the Appeals, that in most, if not all, quarters of the crofting area throughout the Island of Lewis, there has been pursued what cannot be otherwise characterised than a systematic violation of this provision of the Act In other districts under the Act there are no doubt to be found here and there instances (which, however, are rare) of contravention of this provision, but in the island of Lewis the contravention is general, and appears to be persistent. The new dwelling-houses are 933 built sometimes on the arable or outrun of the holding and the holding itself sub-divided, but generally speaking on the common pasture. In many places there are to be found two dwelling-houses attached to the holding, and sometimes three. In one house lives the old crofter with his wife and certain members of the family. In another and separate dwelling-house is to be found one of the sons, married and with a family; and in a third dwelling-house, on the croft or on the common pasture, another son, or son-in-law, or some other relative of the crofter, also with a wife and family; the total number of individuals thus aggregated being often considerable. It is scarcely necessary to say that the holdings where this state of matters is to be found do not afford arable land, nor the rough ground pasture for grazing purposes capable of maintaining in any comfort such a number of persons. The Commissioners do not stop to inquire what have been the particular causes of this state of matters. They think it sufficient in this note to call special attention to the fact, and to express their opinion that such a condition of affairs, if allowed to continue, must entail serious consequences. It is further to be observed that while a number of the cases under Appeal were found, on inspection of the holdings, to be cases wherein had occurred a contravention of the provision before mentioned, by sub-dividing, sub-letting, or the building of more than one dwelling-house, no objection to the admissibility of the Appeal was urged for the landlord on any of these grounds, except in the case of Angus Macarthur, Lot 1 Kirkibost. The Commissioners have accordingly disposed of the Appeals as in the absence of such objections, but they cannot shut their eyes to the very serious extent and degree to which the Act has been contravened, and the consequent necessity for some vigorous procedure being adopted towards remedying the evil.He should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman why it was that this expression of opinion, having been given in the month of November last, and a strong appeal made on behalf of the Crofters' Commission to enable them effectively to discharge their duty under the existing Act, no provision had been made to deal with this question in the Bill now before the House? The right hon. Gentleman, in his speech that evening, had talked about crofters as cultivating land not at present cultivated, but which should be, and he referred a little disparagingly to sheep-farming. He should like to remind the right hon. Gentleman of what sheep-farming had really done for Scotland, as was exemplified by the statistical account of Scotland published in 1793. Those sheep farms were regarded at that time as an enormous boon to the parts of the country in which they were established. One contemporary account de- 934 clared that "putting sheep on the hills amounted to lifting land from the bottom of the sea," which meant that a profitable use had been found for land that previously had practically been lying waste. Strongly as he sympathised with the crofters, he believed they occupied a position which was an impossible position at the end of the nineteenth century. The difficulty of the congested districts along the shores and in some of the glens of the west of Scotland could not possibly be solved by the methods proposed by the Bill. He did not believe that in the future of the country there was any permanent place for small farming, such as the farming of crofts, carried on in districts remote from centres of population such as those on the west coast of Scotland. He knew from personal experience that, in the populous county of Renfrew, which he had the honour to represent—a county with great centres of population, such as Glasgow and Paisley—the whole tendency during the century had been to consolidate farms, for it had been found difficult to carry on agriculture profitably otherwise. He hoped the time would soon come when some legislation would be evolved which would have the effect of alleviating the lot of the crofter. But he did not believe that that end could be attained by extending the holdings of the crofters, or by other inducements to them to continue to live where they were living at present. He believed the Bill would really and truly injure the crofters, for it tended to perpetuate the system under which they at present existed, and made no attempt to direct their attention to other fields of livelihood; and he, therefore, would be glad if a Division were taken against it.
§ * MR. T. R. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)
said, he desired to say a few words in regard to one particular point of the Bill, which was the clause that had been the subject of the most adverse criticism from the other side of the House. The speeches which had been delivered from the other side showed very varied lines of opposition to the Bill, and also disclosed a very varied programme, which evidently the Unionist Party desired to lay before the country as their crofter programme. One of the items of that programme was the abolition of the Crofters' Commission. He 935 did not think that that would prove to be a very popular item in the north of Scotland. No adequate cause had been shown for the abolition of the Commission. It was not quite fair to condemn the Commission because of the small amount of abatement of rent which had been made in the year just past. The Commission had other matters to deal with besides the fixing of rents. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition found fault with the Commission, not because they did too little, but because they did too much. Another item of the programme was made clear when the Leader of the Opposition said that the Government ought not to have introduced a Bill of this kind at all, but that what they ought to have done was to make advances of public money to the crofters. He ventured to say that a suggestion of that sort, coming from the Leader of the Opposition, when the right hon. Gentleman knew that he had no power to carry it out, was made, not for the House, but for the constituencies in the north of Scotland. He would have thought that the experience of the Unionist Party when in Office would not have encouraged them to continue such a policy in regard to the Highlands of Scotland. In the beginning of their career in Office they established a scheme of Government-aided emigration for the crofters of the Western Highlands. Public money was advanced in aid of the scheme, and the working of it was placed in the hands of honourable and capable men; and yet it grievously failed, and had to be abandoned. Then there was a Departmental Committee appointed by the Treasury to inquire into the wants of the Western Highlands, and an Act based on the Report of that Committee was passed. He did not want to go into the details of the Act, but he would ask the late Lord Advocate whether there had been anything like a satisfactory return, political or economical return, for the money that had been expended under that Act?
§ SIR CHARLES PEARSON (Edinburgh and St. Andrews Universities)
We did not look for a political return.
§ * MR. BUCHANAN
thought he was justified in using the word "political," as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, after the 936 General Election of 1892, stated in a public letter that the crofters should not complain if the Unionist Party left the further prosecution of the claims of the crofters in the hands of those the crofters had chosen as their representatives. But he would throw aside the political results, and ask what good economical or social results had flowed from the crofter policy of the late Government? He did not think any large body of Members could be got to agree that good practical results had ensued from the expenditure of money on railways and public works under that Act, but what he particularly wished to insist upon was, that the indefinite promise of money from the public purse, made across the floor of the House by the Leader of the Opposition, when an election was pending in a Highland county, was a great abuse of the right hon. Gentleman's position as the Leader of a great Party. That indefinite promise could only be meant for consumption in Inverness-shire. The Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Members for Bute and West Renfrew had taken exception to the extension of the operation of the Crofters Act. The grounds of their opposition were partly general and partly special. The general grounds had been urged again and again, and they went to the root of the whole of the crofter legislation; certainly they went fundamentally to the root of the principles of the Act of 1886. In the course of his speech the Leader of the Opposition said, that the applying of the Act to other districts in Scotland was a clumsy method of obtaining a remedy for a grievance which he himself acknowledged. They must all have welcomed the right hon. Gentleman's admission that full compenstion should be paid to the tenant for all improvements he had made on his holding. No statement on the subject could have been stronger than the right hon. Gentleman's words, but what was wanted was something more. That was not good enough on the present occasion. They wanted something practical. It was no good to have a pious opinion expressed, even by so distinguished a person as the Leader of the Opposition, because, as yet, the right hon. Gentleman was nothing more than the Leader of the Opposition; he had no power to 937 put his views into operation, and, therefore, his expression of opinion was no better, for all practical purposes, than the expression of opinion of any other Member of the House. Having expressed such a view, the right hon. Gentleman opposed the best means, and the only means available, for obtaining the end he had in view. The supporters of the Bill advocated the present scheme for giving the crofters compensation for their improvements upon the broad general ground that in Scotland they had had full experience of the practical operation of the Crofters Act and of the working of the Crofters Commission. It was because it had been found that the Crofters Act had been valuable, particularly for the specific purpose of giving compensation for tenants' improvements, that they advocated the extension of the Act to other parts of Scotland. In the Report of the Highlands Commission, it was said that the fixing of fair rents had, to a large extent, removed the sense of hardship arising from the belief that the tenants had to pay rent upon their improvements, that the combination of fair rent and statutory security of tenure had, amongst other things, imparted a new spirit in the crofters and imbued them with fresh energy. What could they have stronger in praise of the general effect of the legislation of 1886 and of the way in which it had been carried out by the Crofters' Commission? The report went on to speak of the vigorous efforts made by crofters in many quarters to improve their holdings, and also of the improvement in the dwellings. In Sutherlandshire, where the Crofters Act had been in operation, the medical officer called attention to the immense improvements in dwellings that had taken place. The grounds upon which they who represented the north-eastern counties of Scotland came to the House and asked that the operation of the Act should be extended was that they had had nine years experience of the results of that legislation, and they had overwhelming testimony of its success in dealing with the grievances of the people. They argued that if there were large bodies of men in other parts of Scotland who were similarly situated, who were under similar economic conditions and suffering under similar grievances, the same equally good 938 results would ensue if the same remedy were applied. That was the whole case stated in a nutshell. Small matters of detail could be dealt with in Committee, but there was one point to which he wished to allude now, and that was the definition of a crofting parish He agreed with the hon. Member for Banffshire, that the definition in the Bill, which the hon. Member and he introduced some time ago, was a much better one than that in the present Bill. There could be no objection to the definition being made more complete than it was at present. The arguments adduced now were used in 1886. They were particularly used in regard to Orkney. There was a general representation on behalf of the owners of land in Orkney that there were no crofting parishes there, and that, therefore, Orkney ought not to come under the Act. The Commission held a special inquiry into the subject, and they decided that all the parishes in Orkney were crofting parishes. The decision was confirmed by the Secretary for Scotland, and that Gentleman was the present Leader of the Opposition. The Government had introduced this 13th clause with the intention, he felt sure, of bonâ fide extending the benefits of the. Act of 1886 to the other counties of Scotland, and they would not resist any necessary Amendments to secure that that extension should be effectual. He and his hon. Friends welcomed the proposal which the Government had made. It had been demanded, not by politicians of one Party only, but by all parties in the parts of Scotland concerned, and by the great majority of Scotch Members, ever since the Act of 1886 was passed.
§ * SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
said, that the hon. Member represented one of the largest and flattest counties in Scotland, and if the Crofters' Act were to be extended to that county, as the Government proposed, there was no reason why it should not be extended to every county in the Lowlands, as well as in the Highlands, of Scotland.
§ * SIR MARK STEWART
, continuing, said that they wore not in the same position. There were crofters and 939 crofters, and remedial legislation was not necessary for all. No doubt the hon. Member would wish these proposals to be extended all over the United Kingdom, but what would be the advantage, and would they be acceptable in all parts? In Inverness-shire this Bill was ridiculed and regarded as no sort of palliation of existing grievances. It was for that reason that he opposed the Bill. In the counties to which the Bill was to be extended there were certainly a number of estates which had crofter holdings on them, but would the hon. Member propose to take out those farms and put them under totally different management? The very motive power of a well-managed estate was that the man who began with a small holding in time obtained a croft, and then a larger one, until at last he became a large farmer. That was the essence of Scotch farming, and had hitherto characterised it as the best system in the world. The hon. Member had made merry over what he termed the promises of the Leader of the Opposition on the eve of a contested election. But the Leader of the Opposition had only contrasted the policy of one side of the House with that of the other, and had pointed out that if there were a real grievance a practical policy was absolutely necessary—namely, to give something towards the alleviation of the deficiency. It was no vise bringing in a Bill the greater part of which would do little good, and one clauses of which would do a great deal of harm. It could not be denied that the money which had been expended in Ireland had done a vast amount of good there. If the Government had proposed something in the nature of the Ashbourne Acts they would have proved themselves to be in earnest. He wished as much as any hon. Member opposite to protect the improvements of the tenants and to see the tenants flourishing, but that would not be the result if this Bill were passed. Did the Government intend to pass the Bill? They certainly would not be able to do so if the 13th clause were retained. No doubt the Government would get the Second Reading of this measure, but would that advance it one step? Would anyone be convinced by that that the Government were in earnest? He challenged any crofter Member to give his candid views 940 of the position. The Bill was merely meant to adorn the Government's shop-window, and to induce people to believe that the Government were doing a good business. The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire let the cat out of the bag when he spoke at the deputation which waited on the Secretary for Scotland and which was attended by the Radical Members from the north of Scotland. The hon. Member said that this clause would be beneficial to the country at large, and to the Government, and, above all, to the Members who represented those parts of the country concerned. That was the real reason. But that was not the way in which sound measures were proposed and carried. They were brought before the House in a plain, straightforward way, on their merits. As to the protection of improvements, it was well-known that the Agricultural Holdings Act did not work well. Why not amend that Act? The Government would then have had support from both sides of the House, and the proposal might have been carried in the present House of Commons. Nothing was done in this Bill for the rest of Scotland. It was all very well to laugh at the result obtained by advancing public money; but the present Government were willing enough to take all the revenues of the Scotch Church for labourers' houses and harbours and nursing homes. If their policy were good in one case, why not in the other; and why not provide money out of the public funds to help these people in the west of Scotland? For a good object the House would not refuse to vote the money. This was a very bad Bill for agriculturists. If fixity of tenure and fair rent were extended by a Commission to small properties situated in the midst of large estates, while the other farms were not in the same position, great difficulties would arise. The landlords would not spend money as they had hitherto done. He could give endless instances in which many thousands of pounds had been spent in a short time to make estates more productive and to relieve the burdens of the tenants. Would that go on if the landlord had not the light to choose his own tenant? It might be said that the Bill would hit bad landlords; but even then, would the small 941 good which could be effected compensate for the threat harm? Agriculturists must stand or fall together, and if one class were injured, the others must suffer. He maintained that this Bill would do great harm to the landlord, and would be of little good to the tenant—in fact, none at all. The Bill took away the stimulus which ought to urge the small tenants to better themselves in the race for life. If this Bill passed as it stood, and applied to the other Scottish counties, hon. Members might depend upon it that its effect would not stop there. It would extend far and wide over Scotland, a result which was not desirable. Besides, the people did not require it, while legislation such as this really sapped the honesty of small cultivators by holding out a temptation to them. The Bill, in short, was a bad Bill. It ruined the management of estates; it reduced the income of the landlord, and it would reduce the value of the estate. The main objection against it, however, was that it did not satisfy the people in the north; it was not worth the paper on which it was printed, and if its principles were extended to Scotland and England as a whole, the Government would be embarking on a ruinous policy of which no one could foretell the end.
DR. FARQUHARSOST (Aberdeenshire, W.)
said, that judging from the past he had full confidence in the honesty and sincerity of the Government in carrying out what they had professed and promised; and therefore he believed that they had brought forward this Bill with a definite intention to pass it into law. He joined with other hon. Member from the north of Scotland in expressing gratitude to them for having brought forward this Bill, and especially for the concession of including the northern counties within its scope. Some speakers had referred to some observations he had made at a deputation to the Secretary for Scotland. After those observations had been made ho found himself elevated to a position of unusual prominence. A special leader in every Tory paper in Scotland was devoted to that speech, and now that evening he found that speech again quoted. On that occasion he said that the Crofters Bill would be beneficial, first of all, to the people of Scotland; secondly, to the Government; and, perhaps unwisely, to 942 those who represented the northern counties of Scotland. It was always beneficial for a Member of Parliament to be connected with wise and just legislation; and personally he was proud to have taken a share in promoting this legislation and in extending its provisions to other countries. If he had no worse record of oratory or of legislation than that against him in the, future he might perhaps be inclined to think that he had not lived altogether in vain. This Bill was nothing more nor less than the logical and legitimate outcome of the Act passed nine years ago. Attempts had been made to minimise the success of the Crofters Act in conferring great benefits on the people. It was, however, only nine years old, and if in this short time success had been so great, surely great in proportion was the credit to those who introduced the Bill and conferred such benefits on Scotland. The success of the Act, however, was only partial, because the most important part of it had not been carried out, namely, the extension of holdings or more land, for which the crofters had been craving for so many years. The present Bill was intended to give more land to the crofters, so as to give them more elbow room, to take away the great evils of congestion, and to remove them from the helpless and hopeless condition which had been so often described. The hon. Member opposite spoke of this Bill as extending the great evils of dual ownership. He did not think that it did. The principle which this Bill carried out was the principle of stability and fixity of tenure which he hoped some day to see extended throughout the three kingdoms, and which would confer on the holders of agricultural lands an absolute right to compensation for improvements made by them. The Agricultural Holdings Act was admitted to be a failure, and it had broken down at almost every point, the tenants being no better—perhaps, even a little worse—off than they were before it was passed, He did not think that Scotland and Ireland could rightly be compared in these matters; the conditions of agriculture were so different that it was difficult to argue from one set of conditions to the other. A dread had been expressed as to the proposed extension of the Crofters Act to the northern counties of 943 Scotland, and an opinion had been hazarded that this was not wanted; but he asserted that no political proposal of modern times had been received with greater gratitude than this proposal to extend the Crofters Act to northern Scotland. The Bill, distinctly laid down that only those counties where there were crofter holdings should be included in this proposal. Why, he asked, should the northern counties be excluded? A great deal of the land in those counties was held under the same conditions as land in those Highland counties which enjoyed the benefit of the Act simply because they had the good luck to be visited by the Crofters' Commission. They had been told a good deal about the imaginary dangers which would ensue. What were the dangers of the landlord? There were restrictions in the Crofters Act to protect the landlords. The landlord could sport over the property, could quarry and take minerals, could dig peat, and could even stop a tenant from putting up a public house. He thought that the landlord, under those conditions, rather got the best of it. Then they were told that the effect of the change would be that the landlords would not spend any more money on improvements. But he would remind hon. Members who put forward that argument, that the land would still belong to the landlord, who would hardly be such a fool as to cease to spend money on absolute improvements, nor to be so unmindful of their obligations, and they would have the satisfaction of knowing that their tenants would be more contented under the proposed change. For these and many other reasons he gladly welcomed the Bill.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
said, that they had been asked whether they meant business in supporting this measure. He hoped that they did, and he hoped that the Government meant business in bringing it forward. He would also express a hope that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. A. J. Balfour) and his supporters meant business, for if they did the right hon. Gentleman could do, as a Privy Councillor, what he himself could not do—namely, to propose grants to buy land and thus assist the poorer crofters in the Western Highlands of Scotland in a similar way to that in which the Congested Districts Board acted 944 for the poorer tenants in Ireland. He remembered that in the last Parliament a Bill corresponding with the first two clauses of this Bill was brought forward merely to include the leaseholders in the operation of this Act; and it was opposed by right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, and so thrown out. He believed that only one Member of the Unionist Party supported it. He was glad now that the late Solicitor General for Scotland had told them he was persuaded that the leaseholders ought to be included.
§ DR. CLARK
He said he had no objection to it. The right hon. Gentleman himself apparently intended to discuss the point, but inadvertently omitted to do so. [Mr. BALFOUR: "Hear, hear!"] He must admit that, both the First Reading and in this Debate he had admired the tone of the right hon. Gentleman, who could solve this difficulty. He had done a great deal for Ireland; he could do it for the Western Highlands; and he would earn much gratitude if he would. He had been a Highland landlord of an estate that had been sadly depopulated, but he was a good landlord himself, and no further harm was done; indeed, he tried to undo what had resulted from the follies of the past, and, if he would do as much for the whole system, they would all be very much obliged to him. This Bill, he quite agreed, would not touch the real difficulty in the Highlands. There was no use in thinking that by a Bill of this kind they were going to solve it. Let it be understood that this Bill, good as far as it went, was practically of no value. The leaseholders were a very small section of the population; probably in the whole Highlands there was a couple of thousand leaseholders, and the only difference between them and the men round about them was that the leaseholders had placed a little more capital upon the land. But because these men had put more money upon the land in the making of improvements they were allowed to become bankrupt and were driven away, whilst the men round about them, the year to year men, who had not spent money, were free and were paying only half the rent the leaseholders were paying. Of course, the 945 result was there was dissatisfaction. If the Leader of the Opposition would work on true Conservative lines, he would try to solve this difficulty by supporting the proposal to extend the Act to leaseholders, and he would thus takeaway ones weapon from those who were aiming at the abolition of landlordism, instead of strengthening their hands by postponing the settlement of the question. The late Law Officer for Scotland referred to Lewis as an example of the congestion and sub-division prevailing throughout the Western Highlands. Judging from his remarks he could hardly have read the Report of the Commission, in which the facts were clearly stated. This Commission, of which one member only was favourable to the crofter movement, took four typical parishes. One had a rental of £6,400. Seven big tenants paid £5,800 and 300 crofters paid £600; and there was a large deer forest rental. In another parish deer forests paid £1,120 and four land tenants about £1,000, while 250 crofters paid £1,500, or about,£3 a head. About one-third of the people in these parishes were crofters who had no land at all. A measure on the lines of the Ashbourne Act might be of great values in bringing the people back to the land. The processes by which the crofters' holdings were taken away and the displacement of the people effected, wore too familiar to require statement now; but the method was described by the Royal Commission. The Bill did not affect the class who most needed help. It did nothing to create new holdings. What a Bill was required to do was, to take the people of the townships and send them back to the land. He had just driven through 40 or 50 miles of country, and had seen what the Commission had seen and described. The people wore settled on ground that was almost valueless, and from which it was impossible to obtain a living; but there were miles of splendid land with nothing on it but a few sheep. Nothing could be more ridiculous and more contrary to the spirit of the nineteenth century than the condition of these Western Highlands, where people were crowded on useless land, and yet there was plenty of good land if only the people were allowed to cultivate it. He regretted the Government were unable to do anything now 946 that would be remedial. Now that the Leader of the Opposition was in favour of a settlement, surely the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be able to find £100,000 to bring it about. When both Parties were agreed that those who had been driven from the land to make room for sheep and deer were to be replaced on the land of their fathers, surely the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be able to help them to come to an arrangement. Sailing recently near Strome Ferry, he noticed that the proprietor had built himself a fine castle, but the rest of the people were living in the most miserable and contemptible huts. Why the local authorities permitted these huts to be used as residences, he failed to understand. For the people on the estate nothing was done. As a remedy for evils of this kind, emigration had been tried, but it had been a dead failure. Migration might be a success, and he trusted that the Leaders on both sides of the House would consent to give it a chance. He did not think that the Crofters' Commission would be a very idle body for the, next year or two, for they had to re-value the holdings which were valued at an early stage of their operations. The rents of holdings were now in many cases from 20 to 30 per cent. too high, and must be brought down to the level of present prices. The late Solicitor General for Scotland had told them about Arran, his own happy land. In Arran there would be grievous poverty if it were not that in the summer months visitors to the island were willing to pay high prices for accommodation. He could give a number of cases in which the rents of tenants in Arran had been raised. There was, for example, the case of Louis Hamilton, who obtained a lease at a rent raised from £13 to £18, and who built a house for his own use for nine months in the year, and for the accommodation of visitors for three months. The late Duke of Hamilton wanted to raise the rent from £18 to £80 upon the poor man's own improvements, but reduced the proposed increment to £33 after attention had been called to the case. Then, last Autumn, when he was in the island, a case occurred in which rent was to be raised from £3 to £30, but he did not make much fuss about the 947 matter, because the person chiefly affected was a clergyman of strong Conservative views, and because he thought it not undesirable that the reverend gentleman should realise what it was to have one's property confiscated by the Duke. In the Bill of last year, present leaseholders were included, but the unfortunate class whose leases had expired were excluded. Now they were to be included if their rents were below £30 in 1886. He hoped that in Committee an Amendment abolishing that condition would be agreed to
§ MR. W. WHITELAW (Perth City)
said, that the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire had been stupid enough to make one of the silliest charges ever made in the House of Commons. He had said that the Leader of the Opposition had made, that night, a promise of public money for the crofting class, because an election was proceeding in Inverness-shire. It was impossible that the speeches that were being delivered in that House that night could be read in Inverness until to-morrow morning, and, therefore, all that the electors of that place would know before they went to the poll was that this Bill had been read a second time. He could not help thinking that if Dr. Macgregor had not resigned his seat just when he did the House would have been transacting other business than discussing the Second Reading of the Crofters' Bill. It was said that only a Member of the Government could move an Amendment embodying a proposal to vote money for the relief of the poor crofters, and in that case he invited the hon. Member to place the light hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in such a position that he would be able to move the Amendment in question. The hon. Member for Caithness had said that he could not understand where the so-called absurdity of the Bill came in. He should like to point out to the hon. Member that if it could be proved that any two men had had a common grazing in a particular parish, the provisions of the Bill would be applicable, whereas if that proof were wanting in an adjoining parish, even although it was a matter of common knowledge that such common grazing had existed, the provisions of the Bill could not be enforced in that parish. That, in his view, amounted to 948 an absurdity. In his view the Bill was not suitable for the purposes for which it was introduced. If there was any ground whatever for legislation of this character in any part of Scotland, then a pure land Bill applicable to the whole of the country should have been introduced, when the whole question could have been dealt with fairly and squarely. Several hon. Members who had taken part in the Debate that night had referred to the successful working of the Crofters Act. It was unnecessary that he should detain the House in discussing the question of the success or the non-success of the working of the provisions of that Act. It was perfectly true that, in certain districts of Scotland, it had worked successfully; but it was equally true that in those parts of the country where it would have acted most beneficially it had remained practically a dead letter. That had been amply proved by the Report of the Deer Forests Commission. The result was that no practical good had resulted from the operation of that Act. It was also the fact that the third clause of that Act, which prohibited the subdivision of crofter holdings, had been allowed to become a dead letter, and that the great evil of subdivision of holdings still continued to exist unchequed. Neither did this Bill propose to check the evil of the subdivision of holdings in any way. He thought the Government might have made some attempt to deal with the way in which the law as it at present existed was openly defied by the crofters in the Lewis. With regard to the leaseholders, the Government proposed to extend the action of this Bill to all leaseholders under £30, providing they were in a crofting county. When the Crofters Act was under consideration a considerable amount of discussion took place with regard to the leaseholders, and the hon. Member for East Lanarkshire proposed to make a general application of the Bill to a limited class of leasehold crofters—namely, those whose families had been crofters on the same holding within the last 30 years. That, certainly, would be less objectionable than the proposal of the Government, because it would mean that no one but a really bonaâ-fide crofter would be admitted to 949 the benefits of the Act. What the result of the present proposal would be with regard to those who paid just over £30 had already been shown; it would be bound to lead to the abolition of a large class, and it would not be hard to evade the Bill altogether. Several hon. Members had used their eloquence to show the hardships under which leaseholders in Scotland lived. It had been said that the leaseholders had drained and reclaimed land, and that, of course, was a statement which naturally excited sympathy not only in the country, but in the House. But these hon. Members had not told them whether they had inspected the leases under which these lands were held. He had read a most interesting extract from a speech made by his right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate during the Debates on the previous Act of 1886. The right hon. Member referred to leases where a piece of ground was let at a low rent, for probably 21 or 30 years, on condition that the tenant who occupied it should reclaim so much additional land, and said it was quite plain that it would be extremely difficult to deal with cases of that kind under the Bill. It could not be said, therefore, that the Government did not recognise the extreme difficulty of dealing with these cases, and yet there was not the slightest attempt made in this Bill to deal with them. The Government conveniently forgot the difficulty, and tried to pass a Bill which had a popular name in the Highlands, which might do something to bring back those numerous votes which their Church policy had estranged from them in the Highlands of Scotland. What could be the use of telling the poorer class of cottars and crofters that there were thousands of acres suitable for their cultivation and for putting stock on when they had got neither capital nor stock? If the Government had been consistent they would have proposed to grant public money to carry out the purposes of the Bill. He did not believe in that policy, and he did not believe they could make the crofter system pay. The hon. Member for Caithness had declared that what they wanted was to get rid of the Deer Forests. If the Report of the Commission proved anything, it proved that the outcry against the Deer Forest was a perfect sham. The Members of 950 the Commission had practically stated that the land available from that source would not provide for a tenth part of the crofter population.
§ MR. W. WHITELAW
said, it was shown in the land schedule in the appendix to the Report. The amount of arable land in Deer Forests available for the crofter population was 2,196 acres; and of pasture land 177,648 acres. It was also stated that a crofter family required 10 acres of arable land and 270 acres of pasture land, and if hon. Members went through the figures they would see that the deer forests would give just sufficient arable land for 220 crofter families, and just enough pasture land for 645 crofter families. To say in face of that fact that the abolition of the deer forests would in any way materially affect the prosperity of the crofting population of the Highlands was absurd. The hon. Member for Gateshead had dilated a great deal on what the noble population of the Highlands had done in the past to advance the glory of the British Empire. But it was unfortunately a fact that at the present day the greatest possible difficulty was experienced in getting the men among the population in the West Highlands to join the Army or the Navy, either to maintain or to increase the glory of the Empire. One of the finest regiments in the British Service, he believed, so far as physique and character were concerned, was the Militia Regiment of the Cameron Highlanders recruited in the district. Effort after effort had been made to get those splendid men from the West Highlands and the Lewis to join the Service, but in vain; because they managed to make just sufficient to live on from their crofts, from the pay they got during the Militia training, and the high rate of pay they made at certain seasons of the year. Only last year a considerable party from one of our smartest Highland regiments went through the Western Highlands and the Lewis with fife and drum band to recruit, and one of the officers who accompanied the party told him that it was impossible to get a man from the district to join the regiment, and only six men altogether were obtained as recruits by this organised march through 951 this part of the country. It would be a great advantage to the Highlands to make the crofters understand that as long as they were content with their present system they might manage, with the help of Crofter Acts and other aid, to eke out a bare living for themselves and their families, but that they would never rise to anything better, never become wealthy, nor rise to the position of farmers of any substance. The greatest want in the Highlands was undoubtedly the opening up of the country by railways, so as to give the fishing population greater facilities for taking the fish they caught to markets, where they might get a tolerable price, for them. Week after week, during the fishing season, fish in large quantities might be seen lying and rotting on the shores on the west coast, simply because there were no means of getting them away to market. Now, the late Government, he knew, from certain correspondence he had seen, were distinctly in favour of this policy of opening up the country by means of railways, and he had reason to know that a grant was as good as promised for making a certain railway, which would have been of enormous advantage to the west seaboard and to the Lewis. But it so happened, unfortunately, that that advantage was not taken of that promise. Still, the fact remained that the late Government were in favour of the policy he referred to, and were ready to assist in order that it might be carried out If the present Government had brought in a scheme of that kind, or some scheme which they could have shown would really give the people of the Highlands a chance of improving their condition, they would have been supported by hon. Members in all parts of the House in carrying it out. But when the Government contented themselves with simply bringing in a Bill which their own supporters had told them over and over again was absolutely futile, and could really do no good whatever to the class of people most deserving of their attention, they could not expect any assistance from that side of the House.
§ SIR JOHN KINLOCH (Perth, E.)
rose to ask a question of the Lord Advocate. Some 30, 40, or 50 years ago a great deal of division of the commonty took place in parts of the country 952 where the crofter question did not apply and was not known. Many of the island glens might be taken as examples. Several proprietors in certain cases agreed together that the commonty should be divided; and he wished to know in what position the parishes in which the glens were situated would be placed under the Bill. He might instance Forfarshire, where the crofter question was not known at all, and where division of the common lands was extensively carried out in the small glens. What position would those parishes be placed in by the Bill? Would all the tenants under £30 rental in those parishes be included in the benefits of the Crofter Bill?
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE
said, that commonties in Scotland might be, and often were, divided under Statutes with which they were all familiar. If only the cattle or sheep of the common proprietors had grazed upon, the commonties, he did not think that this would bring them within the scope of the Bill, but that it would probably be otherwise if there had been common grazing on the part of tenants. It was difficult to give a satisfactory answer without knowing the actual facts of the case; and if his hon. Friend would furnish him with these, he would be glad to give him a reply.
§ SIR J. KINLOCH
But in the case I speak of there are tenants upon them. It is a very important matter for Forfarshire, for it will involve one-third of the county.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said, he had sat through the Debate for two reasons—first of all, though not a Scotch Member, he was a Scotchman, and had great sympathy with the people in the Highlands; and, in the second place, he had watched with interest the experiment that was being carried out in the West of Ireland, and anyone who knew the West of Ireland knew well that the conditions there were largely the same as in the crofting districts. The hon. Member for Caithness had asked the Government a very pertinent question—namely, whether they meant business with this Bill. It was now the middle of June; there; were before the House three or four very large Bills, 953 none of them in a very advanced state, and they had not yet got one single vote in the Civil Service Estimates. When his hon. Friend the Member for Caithness asked that question he looked at the Bill, and he was forced to come to the conclusion that in some parts it was highly contentious. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire had said, in the absence of the leader of the Opposition, that the right hon. Gentleman had made an election speech with Inverness-shire in view. He was sure that the whole of the proceedings of the Government that night were in view of Inverness-shire; but, be that as it might, he had come to the conclusion that if this Bill was to pass, some operation would have to be performed. There were in the Highlands of Scotland a large number of leaseholders in exactly the same position as the Irish leaseholders. The ordinary yearly tenant had got the advantage of the Act, but the leaseholder was left precisely where the Irish leaseholder was left—that was, out of Court. In 1887 his right hon. Friend opposite cured that in Ireland, and he did not think it was possible for the House, having admitted the Irish leaseholders to Court, to deny admission to the Scotch leaseholders. He could have understood a Bill simply dealing with Scotch leaseholders, and proposing only to confer the benefits of the Act on them. That would certainly have passed, but this Bill did not so much deal with the Highland question, which was the pressing question after all, but absolutely proposed to extend the Crofters' Act to other parts of Scotland. The whole cry had been for a remedy for the Highlands, but the main part of the Bill was to extend the Crofters' Act to other parts of Scotland. If the other parts of Scotland were to be dealt with, that was more a matter for a general Bill protecting tenants improvements. There were a number of Scotch Members who imagined that a Land Court was one of the greatest blessings that could befall a country. On that point he would like the Chief Secretary for Ireland to give his candid opinion, There might be, as there was in Ireland, a Land Court intervening between landlord and tenant. But the only justification for a Land Court was its necessity. It was a distinct descent to a lower plane of civilisation and departure from the 954 principle of free contract in rent being fixed by any Court whatever, and any man who knew anything about the Irish land problem knew that our only salvation was to get back to single ownership. But he rose for another purpose. The Member for Caithness said there was no use in applying the Ashbourne Act to the crofters. The Leader of the Opposition, in what he thought was one of the best speeches he had ever heard in the House—a generous and statesman-like speech—by no means confined himself to the Land Purchase Acts in Ireland. What had been done under the Congested Districts Board in Ireland would not only fit in with the wants of Scotland, but would prove a real remedy. In the west of Ireland the Board had purchased an estate for £13,000, on which they found 32 tenants, and in the centre a grass farm of 400 or 500 acres of best land. This best land was reserved for the bullocks, and the poor land for the people. The Board bought out the grass farm, enlarged almost every holding on the estate out of the grass farm, built a school house and five new houses, repaired all the old ones, made roads all through the estate, and, when they had done this, sold the property to the tenants under the Land Purchase Acts, and the tenants were now paying, as a terminable annuity, rents hardly larger than they paid under the old system to the landowner. The same thing might be done in Scotland. The real difficulty in the matter was, so many people nowadays thought nothing of a gift unless taken from somebody else. Some were ready to use the resources of the State to any extent to enable people to help themselves; others were only satisfied when collaring some class of people by the throat and handing over their property. He believed in his heart that the real remedy for this lay in the application to Scotland of the very principles that were being applied and worked out in the west of Ireland. But the Board had dealt with another estate in the same way. He had never been able to understand why Irish tenants should be specially favoured with these blessings, and the crofters of the Highlands of Scotland should be denied them. When the leaseholders' part of the Bill was passed it would then be time to consider whether it 955 should be applied to other parts of Scotland.
§ Bill read 2o, and committed for Monday next.