§ The sums paid to the Local Taxation (Scotland) Account under this Act in respect of any financial year shall he applied by or under the direction of the Secretary for Scotland in manner following (that is to say):—
- (1.) In paying to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue the sums payable during that year for Land Tax by Royal burghs and burghs of barony or regality in Scotland; and
- (2.) In transferring to an authority to be hereafter determined by Act of Parliament the sum of fifteen thousand pounds for the Improvement of Congested Districts in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, such sum to be applied as may be provided in the said Act, and until so applied to remain to the credit of the Local Taxation (Scotland) Account; and
- (3.) In distributing the balance among County Councils and Parish Councils in Scotland in proportion to the deficiency, ascertained and certified as
1518 hereinbefore provided, in each case arising from the provisions of this Act in the produce of rates, leviable by the said Councils respectively.
- (4.) Every sum paid or payable under this Act out of the Local Taxation (Scotland) Account to any authority in respect of any rate shall for all purposes be deemed to have been raised or to be raisable from occupiers by the said rate."
§ MR. J. CALDWELL (Lanark, Mid) moved to omit Sub-section (1). The Land Tax was not a tax which was levied upon all burghs. It belonged to the period of the old burghs, and, since the old burghs were in existence, a great many new burghs had been created where there was no Land Tax. Therefore, one objection which he had to the Burgh Land Tax sub-section was that they were taking national money and applying it to a portion merely of the community in order to relieve them of a particular burden. For his part, he would perfectly approve of the direct abolition of the Land Tax in burghs in Scotland, but it should not be done in this particular way. They should give to every burgh its fair quota of the Scotch money, and then allow each burgh that wanted to redeem the Land Tax to relieve themselves of it out of their own share of the Scotch money which belonged to them. Why should they be allowed to do it out of money which belonged to the rest of the community? If they wanted to redeem the Land Tax, let them do it under the Finance Bill. Since the Land Tax was imposed, the valuation of land had enormously increased in these burghs; and, if they were anxious to get rid of this tax, it would be a small rating that would be imposed on the proprietors. The fact was this was merely a sop to facilitate the passage of the Bill. Under the Finance Act, England would get out of the Imperial purse, for the reduction of her Land Tax, £100,000 a year; and they were proposing to relieve Scotch taxpayers of the Land Tax—but, how were they going to do it? They were going to do it out of Scotch money, while, in the case of England, they were doing it out of Imperial money. It was monstrous on the part of the Government to relieve the Burgh Land Tax in Scotland out of Scotch money, whilst they were relieving 1519 the Land Tax in England out of the Imperial Treasury. He did not object to Scotch burghs relieving themselves of this burden, but they ought to do it out of their own share of the Scotch money.
§ MR. ROBINSON SOUTTAR (Dumfriesshire)
said there was an injustice connected with this clause which was indicated by subsequent Amendments. He had heard a rumour that that injustice would be done away with. He referred, of course, to the case of burghs which had already redeemed the Land Tax.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. GRAHAM MURRAY,) Buteshire
I am going to accept the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Dumfries Burghs (Sir Robert Reid) later on.
§ MR. T. R. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)
was opposed to the sub-section, and also to the second sub-section, not only on the limited ground indicated by the hon. Member for Mid Lanark, but also because he held that it was quite absurd to continue a tax which, yielding £9,000 a year, took £2,000 a year to collect. If the Land Tax was to be done away with, it should be done by the Finance Minister through the Budget. He objected to taking this money out of this particular fund for this particular purpose. The Government, he contended, were not entitled to take money for other purposes than the relief of agricultural tenants in accordance with the declared object of the Bill. In Scotland as elsewhere, they suffered from high rents and low prices, and agricultural distress existed there. That was the main object of the Bill, and the occasion for its introduction was a claim in England, though not in Scotland, for an alteration in the law of rating. The Government had in consequence agreed to determine the agricultural rating by a half, and they had given the whole sum necessary to England for that purpose. But now they said that in order to carry out the system of the equivalent grant a similar sum would be allocated to Scotland. He was opposed to both Bills, but accepting the foundation on which they were based, he said the Government were, bound to give a sum similar to that allocated to England. If they went outside that sum they should 1520 go outside for the purpose of general Scottish interests, but in the two directions in winch the Government had gone outside they had gone to limited interests and communities in Scotland. That was very unfair. In the interests of the Bill itself he strenuously opposed the two sub-sections by which the Government proposed to divert a portion of the money which belonged to the agricultural tenants of Scotland.
§ MR. J. COLVILLE (Lanark, N.E.)
said that hon. Members who represented large police and Parliamentary burghs objected to this distribution of Imperial funds to one section of the burghs of Scotland. He supported the rejection of the sub-section.
MR. J. G. HOLBORN (Lanark, N.W.)
said he had experience of the land tax in Scotland and pointed out that it was not levied as a rule on any rational system in the Scotch burghs. In his own burgh the tax was levied not on the land but on the trade carried on in certain streets in the town. It was not a general tax over the town, and it was costly in its collection. Indeed, the collection of the tax was a farce, and it ought to be abolished; and if that was the feature of the Government's proposal he held that it was a good feature. He was glad to see that the tax was being dealt with in the Bill.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
said that, as a representative of one of the burghs affected by this provision, he thought they were entitled to inquire what would happen if the equivalent grant had been equally distributed. In the burghs which he represented the land tax amounted to £175 a year. Under the distribution hitherto observed in the equivalent grant the proportion would be about £3,000 instead of £175. Supposing that this £175 had to come from Imperial taxation, no doubt it would have been received as a public advantage; but why should it come from this equivalent grant? The case of England had been cited which received a remission of £100,000 land tax. That was to be dealt with partly by means of Scottish money; but in Scotland they had to buy the remission of the land tax out of their own money. That was part of a system which was grossly unfair in its operation. It might 1521 be said that the land tax was extortionate and difficult to collect in England; but this was none the less true of Scotland, where it was both costly to collect and extortionate. On the whole he thought that the clause was indefensible.
§ MR. R. B. HALDANE (Haddingtonshire)
said he found himself in agreement with his hon. Friend the Member for North-West Lanark on this matter. ["Hear, hear!"] He was wholly without any instructions from his constituents on the subject. He represented agriculturists and three Royal burghs. It showed how profound was the interest taken in Scotland in this matter that he had not had a single word of communication from either one party or the other on the matter; and, so far as he knew, they were in a state of complete apathy about these provisions, so at present he was free to take a judicial view of the question. [Ministerial laughter and cheers.] And his judicial inclinations led him to the same conclusion as his hon. Friend. When one had to spend money on agricultural land, or congested districts, or the remission of the Land Tax, one asked why should not the burghs have the benefit of these doles when they were going about? He was sure they would not object to it. ["Hear, hear!"] He thought the Amendment an unfortunate one, and he would vote against it.
THE LORD ADYOCATE
said he intended to stick to the clause. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire put very fairly two considerations for the Bill. But he forgot the third, which was that there was a grant here which represented the contribution from personalty to realty. The Land Tax was an imposition made long ago upon burghs representing realty at that time, and accordingly it seemed quite in accordance with the general views of the Bill, though, no doubt, it was not the main one, to give this relief. It was certainly all the better to give this relief when they were saving a great deal of money which was now misused by saving the enormous expenses of collection—£3,000 a year, of which £1,300 would go straight into the pockets of the burghs themselves. With regard to the distribution of the money among Royal burghs, it was much better to take it as 1522 it had been divided by the Convention of Royal Burghs. There was a contention that this ought to have been done under the Finance Bill, whereby the English Land Tax was redeemed at the expense of the Imperial Exchequer; but if what might be called the excrescences of a tax were penned off where they pressed most, he did not think that the mere fact that the excrescences happened to be in England, Scotland, or Ireland created a necessity. In the proper sense of an equivalent grant, it was clear what they were doing in this Bill did not conclude the question, which was still to be taken as open and arguable. He was struck by the conflict of interest of the hon. Member for Leith, in his capacity as Member and in his capacity as laird of land bearing unearned increment round the "Lang Toon of Kirkcaldy." [Laughter.] At the close of his speech they had a judgment of Solomon, which proceeded to give the infant in favour of the town of Kirkcaldy—[laughter]—and he hoped he Would have the benefit of the hon. Member's vote on this occasion. [Ministerial laughter and cheers.]
§ MR. THOMAS SHAW (Hawick Burghs)
said the principle of any distribution of Treasury money should be as far as possible for the benefit of the whole population. Of the three burghs he represented, Hawick, the largest, got nothing from this money. Galashiels got nothing, and Selkirk, by far the smallest, got a small dole. These burghs, which were contributors to the British Treasury, and should get the sum of £2,500 by a fair distribution, got the sum of only £11 14s. The Lord Advocate had said the money was distributed according to the recommendation of the Convention of Royal Burghs. But it was the first time he ever heard a legislative proposal in the House seriously defended on the ground of the distribution of money because it was a Convention of Royal Burghs proposal. The proposal perpetrated a clear injustice on the police and Parliamentary burghs. Why, if they were making a grant to the burghs, not leave them to distribute the money according to the wisdom of the locality? If Hawick had had equal money granted to it it would have applied it in the interests of technical and secondary education. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ * MR. R. WALLACE (Perth)
said this clause was one of the exceptions to the rule that the grant of money under the Bill would go to one class only, whereupon his hon. Friend near him turned round and objected to what he (Mr. Wallace) regarded as one of the few redeeming features of the Bill. In Perth, several hundreds a year fell on the rates through this tax. The hon. Member for the border burghs asked why Hawick was not to have a share of this money. The answer was because Hawick was not suffering as Perth had been suffering for years past from the unjust tax now proposed to be abolished. [Ministerial cheers.] He strongly supported the Government in this matter.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
said he would support the Amendment, but on different grounds to those put forward by some of his hon. Friends. In Dundee, instead of the Land Tax falling upon land, it fell largely upon shipowners. It was, in fact, a tax upon personal property.
* MR. J. McLEOD (Sutherland)
said that whatever the tax might be now, originally it was a tax upon land. The opposition of some of the burgh Members on his own side of the House was very amusing. The county Members had shown greater respect for principle on this question than the burgh Members, and the Committee ought not to be guided by the question of whether some particular burgh Royal would benefit by this clause to the extent of a £5 note. The only result of this Bill would be that those who have paid rates for years will cease to pay them. That, in his view, would be a mere dole to the ratepayers. The law at present was that the landlord should pay 4s. in the pound on their rack rents, but by this Bill that 4s. in the pound was to be reduced to Is. in the pound. The way that that rate arose was that certain privileges were given to certain traders, and that this was the price which they paid for their monopoly. That House had taken away the privileges that were conferred upon the Royal Burghs under the old Scotch Act, for the purpose of making 1524 the rates more fair and equal. Why should all the burdens under which men bought their land be removed? The amount paid by the Royal Burghs was utterly insignificant, in some cases it being only £1 10s. 1d., and in only about a dozen instances it being any amount of importance. The fact was, that, having got this money to spare, the Government did not know what to do with it. Having taken off half the agricultural rates in England, they felt themselves compelled to appropriate a proportionate sum to the relief of the rates in Scotland. Up to 50 years ago, the occupiers in Scotland paid no rates at all—they being invariably paid by the landlords. The present Government, however, appeared to be predisposed against all burdens upon the land. But when men bought land they bought it with all the burdens upon it, and it was unfair to give the landowners relief at the expense of the other classes of the community. The landowners were unjust stewards, who were endeavouring to shift their own proper burdens, which they had deliberately undertaken, upon the shoulders of the people. In fact, they had drawn up a kind of "no rate" manifesto for themselves. In his view this Bill would tend to promote that Radical feeling in Scotland which the reign of the Liberal Party had done so much to undermine. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said that in his opinion it was absurd to describe this Burgh Land Law as a Land Tax at all, seeing that it was levied upon shipping and houses in towns and upon railways.
* MR. McLEOD
said that in his view the very name "Burgh Land Tax" showed that this was originally a Land Tax, and he could see no ground for this proposed relief from hereditary burdens. The speeches of the borough Members in favour of relief from this burden were very amusing. The county Members had shown greater respect for principle on this question than the burgh Members, and the Committee ought not to be guided by the question of whether some particular burgh Royal would benefit by this clause to the extent of a £5 note. The only result of this Bill would be that those who had paid this tax for years would cease to pay it. In his opinion, if it came to a 1525 question or relief, it was the Highlands of Scotland, and not the Royal Burghs, which required it most. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ SIR HENRY CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
said he thought that the Committee would be disposed to treat this question in a practical manner. Of course, this grant of a certain sum of money to certain burghs could not be accepted as a set-off against the grant which was proposed to be given to the country districts. From that point of view, of course, it failed altogether, because there were large and growing burghs which would get no advantage—["hear, hear!"]—while others which may be in a more decaying condition would get a certain advantage. He had been amused at the difficulties of some of his hon. Friends who were torn two ways. It was ridiculous to look upon it as a compensation to town communities for what was being given to country communities, because it left out many of the town communities in Scotland, but he did not regard it from that point of view. This was an impost which was open to the greatest objection. It was most costly to collect, and it was collected in many instances in a most haphazard way. His hon. Friend the Member for Dundee had said that in Dundee a great part of this charge fell on shipowners and other people engaged in business, and to call that a Land Tax was quite absurd. It was irregular and costly, and on these grounds should be abolished.
§ MR. THOMAS HEDDERWICK (Wick Burghs)
said he represented six burghs, some of which would benefit under this clause. He regarded the proposal, however, as unsound in principle.
§ MR. CALDWELL
said this Land Tax had been separated by Act of Parliament, and that which was allocated in Scotland was collected in Scotland, and that which was allocated in England was collected in England. If, therefore, they were going to relieve the tax in Scotland out of Scotch money, they ought in England to relieve it out of English money. If they took it out of Imperial money Scotland was entitled to an equivalent grant.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
said he was astonished to hear his right hon. Friend 1526 the Member for Stirling Burghs advocate the abolition of this tax. England originally had her Land Tax, and a certain proportion of that Land Tax was by the Act of Union placed on Scotland, and the county districts were still paying that. There had been no reply given by the Lord Advocate as to whether this tax should be abolished at Scotch or English expense. England was this year going to pay £100,000 less, and he contended that Scotland should benefit, and not Ireland, because when the Act of Union took place this tax was small, and Ireland was free from the Land Tax. They were by this proposal changing one of the principles laid down in the Act of Union, and placing a greater burden on Scotland than she ought to bear.
§ MR. ALEXANDER CROSS (Glasgow, Camlachie)
said he understood that no answer had been given to the various objections because these had been so self-contradictory. The city of Glasgow was entirely in favour of this clause, and, generally, did not object to the Bill. In Glasgow they felt the absurd anomalies of this antiquated tax.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON moved, in Sub-section (1), after the word "Tax," to insert the words "and King's mails."
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE
said he had already practically given his reasons why he could not accept the Amendment, in answer to a question put to him by an hon. Member on the subject.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ SIR ROBERT REID (Dumfries Burghs) moved to insert at the end of Sub-section (1), "In paying to any burgh a sum equal to the annual amount of the Land Tax redeemed by such burgh." Some of the burghs of Scotland had redeemed the Land Tax. Dumfries was a conspicuous example of that self-denial, having last year entirely wiped out the Land Tax, which amounted in its case to £117 a year. Now that the Government proposed to abolish the Land Tax altogether, it was only fair that burghs which had redeemed the tax should have some 1527 consideration, and he was glad to say that the Lord Advocate—whose fairness in this matter he sincerely acknowledged—had accepted the Amendment.
§ MR. T. H. DALZIEL (kirkcaldy burghs)
thought the Amendment was introducing a principle that was exceedingly novel in legislation. He wished to know for how many years the proposed consideration would go hack; would it apply in every case of a burgh that had redeemed its Land Tax; and what was the amount of money to be paid?
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE
said there was no going back in any sense. What would happen in the case of Dumfries, whose quota of the Land Tax was £117 a year, was that it would get £117 a year for the five years the Act would be in operation. The same principle would apply to every burgh which had applied its Land Tax.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
said the Committee had now reached the only point of the Bill in which the Members who were not Scotch Members were concerned. He referred to Sub-section (2), which proposed to set aside a sum of £15,000 for a Board which was to be constituted by a subsequent Act of Parliament on the model of the Irish Congested Districts Board. Many Members doubted whether it was justifiable to differentiate districts in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and in Ireland from districts in England and Wales, where poverty and congestion just as great existed, and apply this special class of relief legislation to Ireland and Scotland only. He had not that knowledge of the working of the Irish Congested Districts Board to enable him to pronounce with confidence upon it, but from what he did know of it he doubted whether its working had come up to its principles. He therefore moved the omission of the Sub-section.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE
said the Government were not committed to the policy of setting up a Congested Districts Board in Scotland. The application of the £15,000 was a matter for future consideration; and the Government would refuse any Amendment which 1528 proposed to tie them down to any particular scheme. On the general question, he thought there was a consensus of opinion in Scotland that there were some districts of that country where the difficulty of obtaining the means of subsistence pressed so heavily on the inhabitants that there was a necessity for some special assistance.
* MR. McLEOD
expressed the opinion that, had it not been for the operation of certain laws passed by the Imperial Parliament, the people of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland would not be to-day in the position of having to come to the House to ask for assistance. By those laws practically the whole of the population of his constituency were at the beginning of the century lifted out of their ancestral homes, and those of them who were not compelled to emigrate were placed by the sea coast. The result was that in an area of 1,750,000 acres of land there was only a population of little more than 20,000, and yet a considerable portion of that population were in an extreme condition of poverty. The average size of a holding in this area was not more than two acres, and the average rent of the holdings was £3. He marvelled more and more every day how the people could exist in such circumstances. It was essential that the House should do something to remedy that condition of things which had been brought about by the operation of Acts which had been passed by Parliament. In his view Parliament could give greater relief to the population of Scotland than the proposed system of grants-in-aid would do. The Crofters Act was of the kind of legislation he referred to. But the Crofters Act of 1886 was passed, not for the purpose of replacing the Crofters in the holdings from which they had been evicted, but to fix fair rents and protect the tenants' improvements in respect of their new holdings. In the Report of the Scotch Deer Forests Commission, which was presented to Parliament last year, it was stated that by fixing fair rents the impression had been removed from the minds of the Crofters that they were being made to pay rents on their own improvement, and generally the condition of the people had been improved. It was perfectly clear that 1529 that House could legislate in such a way as would place the Highland districts in a better position than they would occupy under this proposal of a grant-in-aid. But unfortunately a Tory Government were in power, and they could not look to them for any effective reform of the Land Laws of Scotland. But although they might not be able to get land reform from them, a Tory Government did sometimes give money. If they could not get the best thing from the Government they must try and get the next best thing. Indeed, the only complaint that he had to make against the Government in this matter was that they had not given a sufficient sum of money for the purpose in view. At the same time he had the strongest objection to the sub-section in its present form. The Government proposed to ear-mark a certain sum of money, not for any definite object, but for the general purpose of improvement in congested districts. They had not, as yet, the slightest indication as to what the Government proposed to do with this money, with the exception of the statement of the hon. and learned Member for Inverness, who had been unable to say more than that it should not be used for the purposes of emigration. He did not know whether in making that statement the hon. and learned Gentleman was speaking for himself or on behalf of the Government. In the latter case he should assume that the Government had given up their absurd idea of relieving the congested districts by removing a few score of families from there to parts abroad. The main and chief objection that he had to the sub-section in its present form was that the Committee were asked to vote money without being told what was to be done with it. To his mind that was a very extraordinary proposal. He certainly could remember no case in which it was proposed to take a certain sum of money for the improvement of particular congested districts without any statement being made as to how the money was to be applied. Before the Committee passed from this sub-section they ought to know what the mind of the Government was on this particular point. With regard to the proposal to set up a Congested Districts Board, the Lord Advocate had stated that the mind 1530 of the Government was perfectly open; he hoped that it did not mean that it was perfectly vacant. At the last election, both Parliamentary and County Council, the county of Ross, which contained the most distressing problem of landlord-made congestion, had this question of a Congested District Board fairly and squarely before them, with what result? The candidate who advocated the proposal was ignominiously defeated on both occasions. The Highland people, like others, were beginning to find out what was for their own interest, and they did not want to see certain congested districts stereotyped into pauper warrens. Congestion in the Highland districts would cease to-morrow if the landlords would only throw open the land to the people. According to a unanimous Report of a Commission composed of Members on both sides of the House, there were at the present time close upon two millions of acres of land in the Highlands which were available for small holdings. How was that fact reconcilable with the theory of congested districts? One of the suggestions upon the Paper was that this money should go to the Crofters' Commission, which was already an existing authority which had an intimate knowledge of all the circumstances of the case. There was also a very practical suggestion made in the Report of the Deer Forests Commission—namely, that something should be done towards improving the quality of the stocks and crops on the present holdings. Nothing could be better than that the Crofters Commission should in a small way improve the condition of the people in these areas by administering the sum to be granted under this Bill in this particular manner. There was also a suggestion that this money should be given to the Fishery Board for Scotland. That also was a suggestion which, he thought, would meet with the entire sentiment of the people in this matter. The Highlands had undoubtedly been neglected in the past in the matter of harbour accommodation, and it would be a very proper thing to hand the money over to the Fishery Board for Scotland, and allow them to spend it either in building new or in improving existing harbours. Another suggestion he would venture to press upon the Government was that they 1531 should hand the money over to the Highland County Councils to administer, and they would deal with it just as well as it was admitted they did with the other moneys which they already received. It appeared to him that, under the circumstances he had indicated, the Government should not do anything that would be the means of stereotyping a condition of things which need not exist for a single clay if that House and the parties concerned would only agree to put an end to it.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
observed that the feeling which the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean had given utterance to with regard to opinion in that House and England was shared in many parts of Scotland. He was glad to hear the hon. Member for Sutherland say that the ground upon which the Highlands came to the House for relief was that a great deal of their poverty was due to bad legislation. That was the only justification for what had been done, and that was why the exceptional treatment extended to the Highlands had hitherto met with general approval. He did not think the House and the Government ought to go further than that. There was considerable jealousy and distrust of any further extension of proposals of this sort. There was a suspicion that a good deal of the money which had been exceptionally given in the Highlands and Islands had not been very profitably used, partly through bad management and partly through other causes, and in this respect he was sorry to see the present Government was still further advancing in this direction by the present Bill and by proposals like the West Highland Railway Bill, because, from a financial point of view, he thought they could not, but apprehend considerable loss of public money. With regard to the other and more important aspect of the question, he considered there was great reason for the expression of opinion one found in parts of Scotland, and to which the right hon. Baronet had given utterance. There were many poor people in this country and in Scotland, who were very similarly situated, and suffered very similar grievances and difficulties as did the people in the Highlands. There were crofters outside the Highland counties who experienced many of the same grievances; 1532 there were enterprising fishermen in other parts, who were without harbours and could not get the money to make them. They did not grudge the legislation that had been passed and the aid that had been given to the crofters and fishermen in the Highlands, but the more and more the system was extended the more and more would they come to ask why if they were in a similar condition, similar legislation could not be brought forward to remedy similar grievances? They would ask why further public money should be devoted to harbour construction in places where the fishing was less valuable, and the population were not more enterprising than in the East of Scotland. While the other parts of Scotland did not grudge anything that might be necessary to do away with the evils inflicted on the Highlands, they did look upon this exceptional treatment as regarded administration and legislation for one part of the country alone as a thing to be avoided as much as possible, and one which the House should be very jealous of extending without good cause.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
believed that when they were spending subsidies like these in Ireland and Scotland, hon. Members other than those representing Irish and Scotch constituencies were entitled to express their views. The only reason why the Lord Advocate defended the expenditure of the £15,000 in this particular district was because of the exceptional poverty which prevailed there. But there were other districts where great distress prevailed, and if the sum of £615,000 was to be spent in the Highlands the Government ought to be prepared to carry the principle much further. The hon. Member for Sutherland had pointed out that this was no remedy for the distress in the Highlands, and if the Government had the courage to restore these people to the fertile lands from which they had been driven in order that deer forests might be made, they would find a more effectual remedy for the congestion which had been thus caused than would be afforded by the expenditure of £15,000. Hon. Members were entitled as British taxpayers to object to the expenditure of £15,000 on what, after all, was not a remedy, and which enabled the Government to evade real responsibility in the 1533 matter. A winter or two ago there were districts in South Wales and in the Forest of Dean where there was much more distress and real congestion than there were in the Highland Districts, but the Government did not come to the assistance of that distress. The only distinction between the Highlands and other congested districts was that in the Highlands, and also in the West of Ireland, they had had disturbances which had called attention to the matter; the Government had thereupon proceeded to expend money in those places, but they would not do so in districts infinitely more distressed in Wales, but where the people had hitherto been peaceable.
§ DR. CLARK
observed that the distress in Welsh districts and in the Forest of Dean was due to economic causes, not introduced by legislation, whereas in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland the distress was due to legislation. Legislation could not relieve distress due to economic conditions, but it could relieve distress which legislation had caused. He protested against the doctrine that the Scotch members had not the right to spend this money as they might determine. The money was to be set aside for some purpose. If it was to be set aside for the purpose of trying an experiment in migration he should have no objection, and should vote for the clause. They had tried two experiments—he thought £10,000 was one sum—in emigration, and they were ghastly failures. He himself sat upon the Committee that inquired into the question of emigration, and he went, as a Member of the Committee, to the Far West to look at the Colonies to form an opinion of the men there, and he came to the conclusion that it was a complete failure. He found every house unoccupied. The same thing had occurred in the other two districts. The colonists had not altogether gone, but the bulk of them had gone, and those who remained had not been paying their money. If they were going to try an experiment in Scotland tentatively, on a small scale, and were going to use this £15,000 for the purpose of trying migration, then he thought that would be a fair method of using a portion of this money. There was plenty of soil and of people. That was a question upon which until lately there were differences of opinion. The 1534 First Lord of the Treasury and the late Conservative Government all along held that there was not sufficient land or which men could live and thrive in the Highlands where the people could be placed.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREA SURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I have never held that theory.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said what he had always held was that it was quite impossible to settle the districts to which reference had been made unless at enormous expenditure for individuals. They would have to set them up, not as people working tillage farms, but large farms, and they would have to provide them with stock.
§ DR. CLARK
said that was a prophecy; but he would like to ask what was done with the people who were evicted during the clearances, when they were driven away from the good land to the seaside. He frankly admitted that to a large extent the soil of Scotland would not pay for capitalists' improvements, but it would pay for the improvements by the labour of the holder. I: they allowed the crofters by their own labour to bring about those improvements, they would be able to do so What they wished to know was whether the Government intended to use this money for harbour purposes. Person ally, he should strongly oppose the money being frittered away in the erection of any more small harbours The condition of things was this—that the land was in the hands of pluralist capitalist farmers. The result was that it was not properly cultivated, and the people were all congested in certain districts. What they required was a change of conditions. Let the people be transferred to these large farms, and if an attempt was made by the Government in the way of migration, he thought it would be a useful method of spending a portion of the Scotch money and he would gladly support it.
§ MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
who was received with Ministerial cries of "Oh," thought they were entitled to some explanation from the Government as to their intention in regard to this matter.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
thought it would he very unfortunate if they were to limit the functions to be performed by the Congested Districts Board or any sot of officials who would be required to deal with this money. Undoubtedly one of the objects would be migration. That was part of the duties which fell upon the Irish Congested Districts Board. That board had endeavoured to carry it out as far as it possibly could. One of the difficulties they had to contend with in Ireland would not be found to exist in Scotland, because in Ireland it was found absolutely impossible to get land which was not already occupied by some other kind of holding. Whether or not this policy of migration could be carried out in Scotland on a great scale, or what amount of money would be required for that purpose, he would not, at that moment, venture to say, but that undoubtedly was one of the objects with which any board would be required to deal. Then another object of the board would be to improve such industries as already existed in the congested districts. No such result could possibly occur as that mentioned by one hon. Gentleman—namely, that of stereotyping the congestion in any district. On the contrary, the whole object of the Congested Districts Board was, as soon as possible, to get rid of the congestion and to make that state of things inapplicable to these districts He hoped that the general statement of the views of the Government would satisfy the Committee, and that they would not endeavour in this sub-section to lay down any limiting words as to the use to which this money might be applied.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said it was an advantage to have received this fuller information as to the intentions of the Government from the right hon. Gentleman. So far as he was concerned he heartily supported the proposal of the Government. He could not refrain from pointing out the difference between the amount-provided in this sub-section and the amount provided for in the West Highland Railway Bill. He would have very much preferred that the £250,000 had been included in this Bill, and the £15,000 given to the landlords in consideration of the making of the railway. They were satisfied from the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury that this £15,000 was going to be devoted to the interests of the working crofter population. That was really all they desired.
* MR. McLEOD
wished to enter his most earnest protest against any idea of a Congested Districts Board.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton) moved to omit from Sub-section (2) the words "an authority to be hereafter determined by Act of Parliament, "and to insert instead thereof the words" the Crofters Commission. "That Commission, he said, had the greatest knowledge of the whole of the Highlands, and especially of the most congested districts. The President was a man of most remarkable power and of absolutely unequalled experience of the sort required for the administration of this money, and if they on that side of the House apprehended that it was the deliberate intention of the Government to create a new Board, or even that they did not share the feeling of confidence in the Crofters Commission which he and those around him entertained, they would be compelled to press the Amendment to a Division. One of 1537 the most remarkable qualifications of the Crofters Commission in dealing with the Highlands was the confidence which it inspired both among landlords and among tenants. Confidence was of very slow growth in the agricultural bosom, but it had nourished in this case, and the mass of good feeling which had accumulated itself around the Crofters Commission was only equalled by the enormous mass of experience and administrative efficiency which had gradually grown inside that Commission. He did not challenge the Government to give any positive answer. It would be enough for him to know that he was correct in interpreting what the Lord! Advocate had said on the previous Amendment to mean that at this moment the Government had no intention of setting up a new Board, and that they entertained towards the Crofters Commission something of the feelings he had expressed.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE
remarked that, from what had been said by the First Lord of the Treasury and himself, it was quite obvious that what would fall to the Government to determine would be, first, what was the work to be done, and next, what was the body most capable of doing it. The body that would do the work would, to a great extent be determined by the character of the work to be done. Under the words of the clause it would certainly be open to the Government to take any existing body—about which he would not say a word one way or the other—and the Crofters Commission would be a possible competitor. But all this was entirely for the future, and it would be idle to say anything about it. He did not know the really non-existent mind of the Government on the matter. One absolutely cogent argument against admitting the Amendment was that the Crofters Commission as at present constituted had no administrative powers at all, and could do nothing with the money if they got it.
§ Amendment negatived.
* MR. McLEOD,
in whose name an Amendment stood to increase the sum for the congested districts in the Highlands and Islands from £15,000 to £46,000, said there appeared to be some doubt as to whether that Amendment was in order.
* THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
The Amendment is quite in order. The effect of it would be, of course, to decrease the amount available for the relief of agricultural rates by the sum by which the amount provided for the congested districts is increased. The hon. Member will observe that the subsection dealing with the matter of the congested districts comes second, and is, so to speak, a second charge on the funds available. The hon. Member is entitled to move to increase the amount, but of course the amount available for the relief of the rates will be diminished.
§ *MR. McLEOD moved, in Sub-section (2), to leave out the words "fifteen thousand pounds," and to insert instead thereof the words "forty-six thousand pounds." He said that the ground on which he did so was that in his humble opinion the sum proposed in the Bill was utterly and entirely inadequate for its object. Unless the Lord Advocate proposed to accumulate the sum available under the Bill, it would be of no use for any scheme. Divided among the six Highland counties, it only gave an annual sum of £2,300 to each, and, if they proposed to divide the money on the principle adopted when emigrating the people, it would only relieve a total of 75 families per annum, or a baker's dozen per county.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE
said that, had he wished, he could not accept the Amendment, because it would upset the whole of the calculations on which the Bill was based. If in future the 1539 scheme undertaken were of such a character that more money was required, it would no doubt be the duty of the Government to ask the House for further aid. This grant was only intended to provide the nucleus of a fund.
§ * MR. ALEXANDER WYLIE (Dumbartonshire)
said that when the proportion of three-eighths was settled by Clause 1, he understood that the subsequent Amendments which stood in his name, and similar in character to those of the hon. Member for Sutherlandshire, would naturally fall.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON
said that his proposal had been to increase the sum from £15,000 to £20,000. But he wished to ask the Lord Advocate whether, in the event of a scheme being submitted for founding a forest school and experimental area in the Highlands, that scheme should be considered along with others. Any money spent on a specific purpose was better than relief of rates. The Royal Commission had dwelt on the importance of re-afforestation in the Highlands. Such a scheme would give a larger field of employment, and it did not stir the animosity of any particular section. Indeed, it was supported by all sections.
§ * MR. J. M. WHITE (Forfarshire)
said that the proportion of five-eighths was, after all, only an approximation. His object in asking that the amount should be raised was that more money might be available for piers and harbours, and the fishery. The whole sum available in Scotland for the fishery was only £3,000 a year, and £1,500 from the Herring Brand surplus. That was no good, and indeed it was a curse, because it prevented the proper development of the fishery by larger special grants. He had it from an official source that the present demand for harbours in the Highland districts amounted to £250,000,000. This £15,000 was altogether trifling and contemptible.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE
said that the hon. Member was under a misapprehension 1540 as to the effect of the Amendment. It did not touch the amount of money available. That was fixed at eleven-eightieths.
* MR. McLEOD,
in asking leave to withdraw the Amendment, stated, in further illustration of the inadequacy of the sum proposed by the Government, that in Lewis alone the sum of £31,090 12s. 6d. was required for roads, and £153,300 for harbours. The discussion he thought had been valuable as showing the inadequacy of the sum the Government had given.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. URE (Linlithgow) moved, in Subsection (3), to leave out the word "deficiency" and to insert instead thereof the word "amounts."
§ Amendment agreed to.
MR. URE moved, in Sub-section (3), to leave out the words—
in each case arising from the provisions of this Act in the produce of rates leviable by the said councils respectively,
and to insert instead thereof the words "for the purpose of regulating such distribution."
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 4, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 5,—