§ MR. J. G. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
moved as an Amendment to the Address, at the end to add:—And we humbly express the regret of this House that, although the Commissioners appointed by your Majesty in 1892 to inquire into the Land Question in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland have reported that nearly 2,000,000 acres of land now occupied as deer forests, grouse moors, &c., 'might be cultivated to profit, or otherwise advantageously occupied by crofters or small tenants,' there is no indication in your Majesty's Speech that arrangements will be made for acquiring some portion of this land, so that the crofters, cottars and fishermen may be able to live under more favourable conditions than those under which many of them now exist.He said that the Highland people had no imaginary grievance. It was a real and substantial one, and had existed for a number of years. The last Government when it came into power appointed a Royal Commission to inquire whether any lands were available for the purpose set out in his Amendment. Up to that time, and indeed up to the present time, the landlords had been creating new deer forests. When a deer forest was put up for sale in London, it was usually stated 336 in the conditions of sale that part of the forest had been in the occupation of crofters, and that consequently there was good grazing for deer. The Commission appointed in 1892 held 64 public sittings in various parts of the Highlands, and they took the evidence of landlords, crofters, cottars, fishermen, factors and the law agents of landlords. The Commission also inspected the lands in question personally. Their Report was issued in 1895, and it showed that there were 1,782,785 acres of land suitable for crofters, cottars, and fishermen. They divided that land into three classes. That suitable for new holdings they put at 794,750 acres, for the extension of existing holdings at 439,188, and that suitable for moderate-sized farms at 548,847 acres. They also distinguished between the old arable and pasture land. It was worth noting that as the arable land fell out of cultivation population diminished. In Argyleshire, for instance, 23,116 acres of old arable had gone out of cultivation, and whereas the population in 1831 was 100,973, in 1891 it had fallen to 74,998—a decrease of 25,975, or upwards of 25 percent. during 60 years. What a record! This end was attained by evictions of a brutal and merciless character. In Inverness-shire the old arable land out of cultivation was 20,779 acres. In 1841 the population was 97,799, and in 1891, 89,847, a decrease of 7,952, and in these figures no allowance was made for the normal increase. This was a sad record for the Queen's reign. The condition of these people to-day was as bad as it could possibly be. In the Island of Lewis, with a population of 30,000, some years ago 27 townships were cleared in order to add to deer forests and large farms. The people were driven from these townships to the sea-shore and barren spots to eke out a living as best they could. These were people who had brought their land into cultivation, and had built their own houses, and yet they were ruthlessly driven from their homes. The Royal Commissioners in their Report referred to the need and the pressing importance of providing these cottars and fishermen with land, and they recommended that each should have a patch of ground for the cultivation of potatoes 337 and grazing sufficient for one cow. The Commissioners spoke of the men as honest and hard-working, a character they well deserved. He was always pained when he heard the Highlanders of the West Coast spoken of as if they lacked the energy and industry which would enable them to thrive. Those who made such remarks knew nothing of life in the Highlands of Scotland, and the hard conditions under which the fishermen pursued their industry. Their work was at night, and if they were seen in the daytime smoking on their crofts, it should be remembered that men could not work 24 hours a day. The Commissioners spoke of them as hard-working, capable men, who would readily take up holdings and carry them on successfully. When he was last in Lewis, a few months ago, the new owner of the island happened to be there, and it was arranged that a deputation of leading men of Stornoway and the island, merchants, traders, ministers of religion, and others, should wait upon the owner with the view of getting a few holdings for fishermen's dwellings in accordance with the recommendation of the Royal Commissioners. He introduced the deputation. He had a letter from the owner yesterday refusing to give an inch of land, and as regards the congestion of crofters, he said he hoped this would be gradually relieved in course of time. That the crofters' children were being educated in English in the Board Schools, and when they grew up they would be able to migrate to the mainland or other parts of the wide world in order to gain a living. Such was the owner's answer. But the Government should do something for one of the darkest spots in the British Islands. When he was there the people were greatly dissatisfied. He begged them to be quiet and patient, for he believed that the owner would do something for them, or that the Government would take action to carry out the recommendations of the Comissioners. As the result of the policy of the past, poverty abounded to an alarming extent. As an indication of that he quoted the assessable rental of the parish of Barvas, £2,785. The total amount of rates per £ was 10s. 4d., the assessment for the poor being 8s. 2d. The population of the parish was 7,500. The corresponding 338 statistics for the neighbouring parish of Lochs were: Assessable rental, £3,634; total amount of rates in the £, 8s. 8d., of which the amount for poor rate was 6s. 6d. Of course there was poverty, and well there might be, when for generations the people had been robbed of their inheritance, and had not enough ground upon which to cultivate potatoes for their own wants. A special meeting of the Parish Council of North Uist was recently held to consider the question of allotments. The Council applied to the proprietors in North Uist for allotments for 82 applicants, who had among them 51 horses, 103 cows, 77 younger cattle, and 525 sheep, besides other means, and they asked for some 2,000 acres of rough pasture and 140 acres arable land. The proprietors failed to give any land for such purposes. This, notwithstanding the fact that the Report of the Commissioners showed there were 1,529 acres of old arable land gone out of cultivation, and more than 8,000 acres of pasture land. To the Government he looked to find a remedy for such a grievance, to put this question of allotments on a satisfactory footing. The state of matters in the island of Lewis was most serious. He should regret extremely a recurrence of such a state of things as arose before the passing of the Crofters Act, when the Government sent gunboats to the outer islands to compel the payment of miserable rack-rents. The Crofters Act was a godsend to the people, it, gave them fixity of tenure, and rents fixed by a Land Court. In many cases rents were reduced from 40 to 60 per cent., and in some instances arrears were wiped out to the extent of 90 per cent. The Highland population were a peace-loving people, and he only wished that some Members of the Government would visit the Western Highlands and Islands, as a few years ago the Secretary for the Colonies did, and see the conditions of existence there for the fishermen, crofters and cottars. It was no use merely going to Stornoway or Portree. Too often the Scotch Office derived its information from landlords and their agents. Let a Member of the Government go to the islands and realise the conditions of life of the people. In the course of debate much had been said 339 as to the condition of the peasantry in the West of Ireland, and he sympathised with the people there. He had been in the poorest districts in the West of Ireland, and he could safely say that, horribly bad as were the conditions of life there, the conditions of life in the outer Hebrides were worse. Let English Members understand that landlords in those districts spent no money on the holdings as English landlords did, everything was provided by the tenant, who built his own house, such as it was, with turf. Every year the roof of the house was renewed, the old material being strewn on the land for manure. If the people had more land, if they had some of the 2,000,000 acres the Commissioners said were fit for cultivation, soon their condition would improve, and they would have those well-built houses which it was gratifying to see had, in some instances, resulted from the working of the Crofters Act of 1886. He might be asked what he proposed should be done for the landlords. He would reply, "Let the land be valued by a Land Court." The people were prepared to pay a fair rent, and the machinery of the Crofters' Commission could be used for the purpose which he had in view. The Commissioners were able men, who would act fairly towards the landlords, and they knew the nature of the land. He could not understand why the Highlands received so little attention from the Government. Was it because the Highlands had so few representatives? If there were a solid phalanx of Highland representatives he could not help thinking that more would be done for that part of the country. The Government had set aside some £15,000 for the benefit of the congested districts. For that he was grateful, although the sum was so trifling that only a small experiment could be made with it. How was this money going to be spent? Were the Government going to aid the fishermen or were they going to make roads and harbours, or were they going to provide for a better system of education so as to enable the rising generation to go into the world with a better mental equipment than they could obtain now? What, however, the people chiefly needed was land. In 1895 the late Secretary for Scotland brought in a Bill containing proposals for utilising some 500,000 acres 340 out of the 2,000,000 to which his Amendment referred. The present First Lord of the Treasury, who was then Leader of the Opposition, opposed the project, saying that the Bill was not a generous one, and did not make provision for the poorer crofters and cottars. In fact the right hon. Gentleman then showed the most ardent affection for the Highland crofters and fishermen, but now that he had crossed the floor of the House his sentiments appeared to have undergone a change. He looked upon the question to which he called attention not only as a Highland but as a National question. In recent years unusually large sums had been voted for naval and military purposes, and it was well known that many of our best soldiers and sailors had come from the Western Highlands. Some years ago as many as 10,000 soldiers came from Skye. But now recruiting in the Highlands was not as successful as it used to be. The children of men who fought the battles of this country in days gone by felt that successive Governments had not treated the people fairly, and resenting this they refused to join the army. Special efforts were made when the late Secretary for War was in office to obtain recruits in the Highlands, but the success of those efforts was so small that it was calculated that each recruit cost the country something like £100. If the people were but fairly treated they would, he felt sure, readily join the services. The Highlands were rapidly becoming places for breeding and rearing deer and sheep. Surely the production of a hardy and contented race of men was more important. If things went on as they were now, the Highlands would become depopulated, and there would be no more Highlanders, men of splendid physique and fine fighting qualities, to replenish the ranks of the army and navy. He appealed to the Government to take some action in the matter, and to make a start. Let them give the people access to the land. This was a year of rejoicing, being the jubilee of the Queen's reign. Her Majesty had always shown the greatest affection and regard for the Highland people. Let the Government then this year gladden the heart of Her Majesty by doing something to improve the conditions of the Highlander's life. The sons 341 and descendants of the men who had fought at Waterloo, Inkerman, Alma, and in many other battles, were assuredly entitled to some consideration and sympathy. He begged to move the Amendment standing in his name.
On the return of Mr. Speaker after the usual interval,
§ MR. JAMES CALDWELL (Lanark, Mid)
, in seconding the Amendment, said that he had always taken a great interest in the crofter question, and had endeavoured to keep it out of Party politics, as all questions of distress among the people should be kept. When the Liberal Government were in office he had supported an Amendment similar to the present one. Both Parties had admitted the existence of distress in the Highlands, but they differed as to the means of relieving it. The Liberal Government passed the Crofters Act to secure fair rent and fixity of tenure, and gave grants from the Imperial exchequer for encouraging the fisheries and making roads. Put the Unionist Government had, of course, been afraid of any legislation which would alter the Land Laws, and they had spent Imperial money in improving communications. At one time, too, they made a grant to encourage emigration, but that policy had not been persisted in, because it had failed. Out of the money allocated to Scotland under the Local Government Act, they had set aside £10,000 a year to be devoted preferentially to the Highlands, and in the Agricultural hating Bill another £15,000 a year was devoted to the Highland congested districts. One might object to that policy as throwing the burden on the kingdom of Scotland instead of on the United Kingdom. The grants for the Irish congested districts were made out of Imperial funds: but he would not press that point. When, however, the people of Scotland were paying £25,000 of their own money for the Highlands, there was the better case for asking the Government to do something which the Government alone could do. Everything that could be said about agricultural distress in England or Ireland, applied with equal force to the Highlands; and there were in the Highlands special aggravations of the distress which 342 did not exist elsewhere. The soil and the climate were much worse than in the Irish congested districts; the yield per acre was smaller in every kind of crop, and the crofters had no means of obtaining manure. But the real deficiency was in the size of the holdings. In the crofting counties the average holding was only about £4 a year; and it was impossible for a man to keep himself and his family on the produce of such a holding. Though there were 2,000,000 acres suitable for cultivation, it was impossible for the crofter by any means to increase his holding. Therefore he had to combine crofting with fishing, or go somewhere else to work for a period of the year. Both expedients were bad for the man's cultivation of his holding. What the Government were asked to do in this case was simply what they did for a railway company, or a public body desiring to acquire land. Let the Highlands be treated as an exceptional ease, and the taking of land be authorised for the purpose of increasing the size of the holdings. It was often said that this was a question of rent. It was nothing of the kind. Supposing the crofters who paid £4 or £10 a year rent for their holdings got those holdings for nothing, how could they support themselves and bring up their families in the circumstances in which they found themselves, being cornered on every hand? The crofter cannot get an inch of ground beyond his own holding, and if even he got the benefit of the Crofters Act and had a fair rent fixed, or even if he got the holding for nothing, what earthly use would it be to him? The landlords' policy in the Highlands was a policy which had existed some years ago in the other parts of Scotland also. The landlords generally had got the feeling that if a population were brought about their places by trade and by manufactures the poor rates would go up. There was no doubt that the poor rates were high in the Highlands, but when the people were kept in poverty and prevented from earning a living it could not well be otherwise. Even if the policy of the landlords which he had indicated kept down the rates, it was most detrimental to the public interest, because the industrial centres of Scotland would badly feel the want of a population 343 reared in the Highlands upon which to draw for workers. The best workers in Glasgow were men and women who had been born and brought up in the Highlands. About three-fourths of the policemen of Glasgow had been reared in the Highlands, and were selected for the force because of their fine physique, and it was well known that there was no better recruiting ground for the Navy and the Army than the crofting districts of Scotland. It was, therefore, obvious that in the interest of the country as a whole, apart altogether from the question of humanity, it would be a good thing to develop the population of the Highlands of Scotland by enabling the crofters to live, and not to starve as they were doing, at present, upon the land. There was no difficulty whatever in carrying out the policy recommended in the Amendment. There was no difficulty whatever in finding land in order to increase the crofters' holdings. The landed proprietors who would be affected by the policy of the Amendment had millions of acres, and their interests would not be interfered with in any way, for the land that would be required for the crofters would be to them a mere bagatelle. Then the effect would be to benefit even the landlords themselves. In the first place, if any land was taken from them for the purpose of increasing crofts they would be compensated by getting the full value of the land. The rates would get less because the land would increase in value; railways would pass through the districts, and they would be followed by tourist traffic, and therefore, a great service would be done to the landlords themselves from a pecuniary point of view. For all these reasons he had great pleasure, though not representing a crofters' constituency, in seconding the Amendment.
§ DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeen, W.)
said he did not think any apology need be made by his hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromartie for having brought this question before the House. Scottish business was usually neglected, and it seemed likely that fewer facilities would be given this year than hitherto for the discussion of questions affecting Scotland; and, therefore, his hon. Friend was fully justified in having availed himself of the Debate on the Address in order to lay the sore grievances of the 344 crofters before the House. He himself did not belong to a crofting district, but in Aberdeenshire they had a large population who were living under the same conditions as the crofter population of the Highlands, and, as he had often urged in the House, were fully entitled to enjoy the great benefits of the Crofters Act. Therefore, from the point of view of his own constituency, he thought it was his duty to support the Amendment. He remembered well that during the Debates on the Crofters Act many prognostications of evil were indulged in. But all these prophecies were falsified, and he believed that the prophecies that were now being made by the opponents of the Amendment would meet with the same refutation in time to come. Everyone acquainted with the writings of Sheriff Brand knew the great benefits that had followed to the crofters from the Crofters Act. Even in his evidence before the Welsh Land Commission Sheriff Brand pointed out, that the. Act had made a remarkable change for the better in the crofters of the Highlands. They were more industrious, more independent, and greatly improved in every way. The House had admirably carried out all the recommendations of the Crofters' Commission except one, namely: that the crofters should have in addition a fixity of tenure and a fair rent, and the right to have their crofts extended in order that they might have scope for the energies they undoubtedly possessed. The Commission pointed out that the only way to do that was to enlarge the holdings. The crofters were often accused of laziness by people who knew nothing about them. Men could not well be otherwise but lazy if they were deprived of the opportunities for industry. If they put men down in a certain district and did not give them land to cultivate, and refused them harbours by which they might develop the trade of fishing, they could not be blamed if they walked about with their hands in their pockets, simply because they could not find any industrial occupation. But, as he had said, the crofters—thanks to the Crofters Act—were already different men. They worked more industriously, they built their own houses out of their own pockets, and, if they got the opportunity of extending their crofts, there 345 was no doubt that they would become as industrious and hard-working as any other section of the agricultural classes of Scotland. If the Crofters' Commission had done nothing more than to show beyond all doubt that there was plenty of land that could be worked benefically by the crofters, it would have done a great service, for one objection formerly to the policy recommended in the Amendment was that the necessary land could not be obtained. The Commission had pointed out that there was a large quantity of land in all those districts that might be acquired without hardship to anyone to enlarge the crofting holdings. Some years ago he took the opportunity of visiting the Islands of Lewis and Skye, accompanied by his late respected friend, Sir George Campbell. They might talk about Ireland, but really he saw in those islands places more wretched than could be seen in any other part of the world. They had, no doubt, been since improved, but they could be still further improved, and the way to do that was by giving the crofters some of the available land which was lying idle all around them. He should say that in Lewis, although the surroundings of the people were miserable, he saw the finest race of human beings, male and female, that he ever saw anywhere, and he saw on their little holdings crops produced that would have done credit to much finer soil. He believed it might be urged that if the policy they recommended were adopted it would interfere with the sport of the landlord. He himself was a sportsman, as was the Lord Advocate also, he thought, and he should be very sorry to do anything which would interfere with sport; but he held that sport must always give way to public opinion. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not, however, think that it would interfere with sport; on the contrary, it would secure the loyalty and co-operation of the tenants, and, inasmuch as the landlord would only part with some of his land on fair and honourable terms, it might have the effect of propping up some struggling Highland families of old descent who were now very impecunious. They ought not to allow the population to leave the country until they had exhausted all the resources of civilisation in the endeavour to keep them at home. The 346 crofters were a very fine set of men, who would fight for us, and had done so in the past, and if their lot was ameliorated they would be a happy and united set of people, whom it would be a great advantage to us to keep at home.
MR. JOHN McLEOD (Sutherland)
said he was greatly disappointed with the reference which was made in the Queen's Speech to Scotland. It appeared to him that, after the repeated inquiries which had been held in regard to this matter of more land in the Highlands, an undoubted case had been made out. He had no doubt that the Lord Advocate would have no difficulty in going back to the period before the Royal Commission of 1883 had reported. When that Commission took evidence the cry was not so much that the rents were high and the conditions of tenure onerous, but that the people had insufficient holdings. The Liberal Government in its wisdom made provision for the giving of more land in the Crofters Bill of 1886, but unfortunately there was a considerable minority on the Government side of the House opposed to that part of the Bill, which was accordingly very considerably modified, with the result that the Act was practically of no value as a remedy. So marked was its failure in this respect, that a year after it came into operation the then Lord Advocate of a Conservative Government asked the Crofters Commission to make a Special Report on the subject. That Commission unanimously reported that the reason why no land, or very little, had been given to the crofters was that it was impossible for them to get it under the conditions laid down in the Act. The controversy as to whether there was or was not land available continued for some years, until at last they who had agitated this question succeeded in getting a Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the subject. He had had the honour of serving on that Commission. So careful was the right hon. Gentleman the then Scottish Secretary (the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridge-ton Division of Glasgow) as to the composition of this Commission, that without the vote of the Chairman, who was practically in a judicial capacity, it was impossible for those of them who more particularly represented the crofter 347 interest to succeed in scheduling any land as available for crofter purposes. That Commission, as was well known, re ported that close upon 2,000,000 acres of land were available for the enlargement of holdings or for new holdings. He confessed that he had no expectation that the present Government would settle this question of more land on the lines which he would like to see adopted, but he did expect they would have introduced legislation which would have made the land available, whether in the shape of peasant proprietorship or other wise. The more intimately he became acquainted with the condition of things in the Highlands the more surprised he was that any Government, whether Liberal or Conservative, should allow these conditions to continue for a single day. He found from the returns of the Registrar General of Scotland that in his own constituency the poverty was so great that the marriage rate was only one-fourth of what it was in the Lowland counties of Scotland. It might be urged that it was a very strong measure to endeavour to compel proprietors to give up land for the purpose of its occupation by crofters, but he did not think it was necessary now to argue that question. The historical position had been stated too often, and they had the authority of the present Prime Minister for saying that, so far as the tenure in the Highlands was concerned, it was an exceptional case, and they were entitled to special treatment. ["Hear, hear!"] Land not money was wanted in the High lands. The Highland people did not come to the House as beggars, and he spoke as the son of a man who had been evicted. Let them have the natural facilities and opportunities which but for laws passed by that House they would have access to. That was all they asked for. From his own personal knowledge he did not believe the land lords would suffer any loss of sport. If they had access to natural opportunities, he could assure the House it would hear no more complaints from the Highlands of Scotland.
§ MR. MICHAEL DAVITT (Mayo, S.)
supported the Amendment, which he considered embodied a just and reasonable demand. He submitted that a very complete case had been made out from the 348 prayer of the Amendment. It was a disgrace to any Government calling itself Progressive that bodies of people possessed of great if rugged virtues should be compelled to eke out a miserable existence on a few acres of soil while round about them nature had provided almost unlimited room for industrial expansion. The most valuable article that land in Scotland or elsewhere could grow was men, women, and children. For the life of him he could not understand why Statesmen should deny that it was better for Scotland that two million acres of land in the Highlands should be devoted to the growth of sheep than the cultivation of sport. Five or six years ago he visited the Crofters' Colonies in Manitoba, and he was glad to say he found some of those hardy islanders doing remarkably well. They were not restricted to small crofts, for the Manitoba Government recognised the value of an industrious body of men cultivating the soil of the country. Public money was freely voted to transplant these Highlanders to the Canadian North West, and he could not help, while speaking to the crofters out there, thinking that that money would have been better expended in providing them with larger holdings in their own country. ["Hear, hear!"] He sincerely trusted the Lord Advocate would give some hope that action would be taken before long to enable these crofters to extend their holdings.
§ MR. HEDDERWICK (Wick Burghs)
said he intervened with reluctance in the Debate because he recognised the probable futility of the whole proceeding. But if the Debate should have the effect of impressing on the Government the desirability of doing something during their tenure of office for the crofters in the Highlands of Scotland, the Mover of the Amendment would have reason to congratulate himself. Everyone who knew anything about the Highlands at all would be aware that there was a large portion of the population living on the confines of starvation. The necessity for doing something had been practically admitted by the Government, inasmuch as at the close of last Session the Lord Advocate allocated £15,000 out of the grant under the Rating Act, nominally to the relief of the congested districts in the Highlands. Had the Government made up their minds as to the destina- 349 tion of that sum of £15,000? If not, he would suggest that they might, as a be ginning, purchase some of the 2,000,000 acres of land which the report referred to showed to be available for cultivation by crofters. What sort of men were these Highland crofters? They were hardy, they were brave, they were loyal. When Great Britain was menaced by the greatest war we ever entered into—the Peninsular War—the Isle of Skye furnished the country with 10,000 men—the flower of the British Army. Such a contingent of fighting men might be looked for now in vain in Skye or the islands of the Western Hebrides. And why? Because whole masses of the inhabitants had been evicted, their homesteads razed to the ground, and the tracts they occupied given up to sheep, deer, and grouse. More land for the crofters would not materially diminish sport. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. JOHN COLVILLE (Lanark, N. E.)
, in supporting the Amendment, asked whether the Government should not give considerable sums of money to be allocated, in order to deal with the 2,000,000 acres of land which the Commission had reported to be suitable for cultivation, so that the Highlanders would not be compelled to leave their native lands and crowd into towns, where their influx lowered the wages. If the Scotch Members were now alive to the necessity of combination and agitation, Parliament would hear a good deal more about the state of things in the Western Highlands. The very fact that last year the Government gave £15,000 to those districts proved that they recognised the necessity for some steps to be taken, though the amount was fully ten times too little for adequately dealing with the question. He trusted the Lord Advocate would be able to give them an assurance that an honest attempt would be made to improve the necessitous condition of the crofters and fishermen in the west of Scotland. If they attempted to make a comparison between the Imperial money spent on Scotland and Ireland it would be seen that a large margin was still to the credit of Scotland, which might very well, in part, be devoted to the social alleviation of the condition of the crofters and fishermen.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (MR. GRAHAM MURRAY,) Buteshire
said the question 350 of the extension of the crofter tenure to parts of Scotland described as being under crofting conditions, was not a question fairly raised by the Amendment. If the Commission which reported in 1895 made one thing clearer than another it was that the so-called case against deer forests had entirely broken down. The Commission came to the conclusion that not much was to be done in the way of making land available for cultivation which was at present occupied as deer forests. They said themselves that the land used as deer forests was, to a great extent, rocky, sterile, often remote and inaccessible, and, in configuration of surface and other circumstances, not suited for crofter holdings. He entirely agreed with the observation of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire as to the necessity for sport giving way to public convenience, but he would remind the hon. Member that sport had two aspects. If by sport he meant the pleasures of the class he quite admitted that could not be taken into account in consideration with other interests much more serious to the community. But sport besides that had an entirely economic aspect, which must be taken into consideration and bear its full weight, even in comparison with those other interests. No one could look at the rentals in Scotland without seeing that the economic value of sport was of the greatest importance to Scotland, and accordingly he did not think they could enter into any measure which would tend to alter the conditions of sport without facing a very grave economic difficulty. As regarded the Debate generally, he thought a somewhat false assumption had underlain the discussion, more, perhaps, in tone than in anything that had been actually said. It seemed to be assumed that the problem was a perfectly easy one, and that there was nothing to do except simply to take the land that was wanted. The Amendment stated that nearly 2,000,000 acres of land were available for the extension of crofters' holdings, but, as a matter of fact, the report of the Commission stated that there were only 439,000 acres so available. The difficulty at the bottom of the whole matter was the disregard of the means by which that land could be made available with any certainty of success. It was very notable how completely some 351 hon. Members disregarded even the terms of the report. The hon. Member for Mid Lanark, for instance, gave an account which entirely reversed not only the historical process, but also what the Commissioners said. The hon. Member said that one of the great disadvantages of the present system was that the land was so small that the crofter was driven away from his proper occupation of crofting, and had to undertake the occupation of fishing, or something of that sort. On the other hand, he thought most people would agree that the historical origin of crofting runs precisely in the other direction; that was to say, that the man had originally some other sort of occupation, and then, having a home, he eked out the resources of that home by the possession of a croft. The report of the Commission stated that the kind of a holding which, for the most part, crofters were accustomed to was one affording a home, but making it necessary that the crofter should supplement what he derived from his holding by labour, or fishing, or carrying on some trade or business in the various districts. The Commissioners also declared that the practical success of any scheme depended upon the land being cultivated by men with adequate means. He thought he had said enough to show that this was a very complex problem. The hon. Member for Mayo intervened in the Debate, and he would ask that hon. Gentleman whether he had not had experience in Ireland of the great injury a population suffered by being quartered on land which was really insufficient to support them. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment complained that people had been driven down from the hills to the sea shore.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE
He was sorry he had misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. After all it was a question of degree; but, as he was saying, Ireland afforded an illustration of how unfortunate it was for a people to be quartered on land which was insufficient to support them.
§ MR. DAVITT
The evils in Ireland arose from the fact that the people were driven off the good land on to the bad.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE
He only used that as an illustration to show that 352 people might be quartered on land which would not support them. It was all a question of making such arrangements as would bring about the result that the land was properly cultivated by people possessed of adequate means. They had always admitted on his side of the House that the condition of the Highlanders left something to be desired. The Government tried to show their views on that question last year by devoting a sum of £15,000 to the improvement of that condition, and they were at this moment engaged in framing a scheme by which that money would be utilised. No doubt it had been the way of Governments in past years to embrace in the Queen's Speech every sort of question on which they might think of embarking at some time or other; but the Government had, this year, taken up the practical position of limiting the references in the Queen's Speech to what might be called the immediate possibilities of legislation. When he said they were engaged in framing a scheme he was using no mere vague phrase, but he meant that they were really considering and drafting a measure under which the sum of money he had referred to might be made available. In doing that, to a certain extent, they initiated a general scheme; but anything that was done on a small scale must be done by way of experiment before any large measure could be taken. He thanked hon. Members for their generous assurances of their belief that both the right hon. Gentleman and himself were in sympathy with the difficulties of the congested districts, and he could assure them that he was in good hope that it would not be very long before they would be able by the introduction of a Measure to show that they were in the way of putting that sympathy into a practical shape.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
said he was very glad to hear that the Government intended to do something in the way of migrating some of the people in the congested districts, and settling them in other parts. He denied that the Highland crofter began as a fisherman. A couple of centuries ago he was a type of the old Aryan Village Communities, in which the people held a certain amount of land in common. Even now, in certain districts, the same condition of things 353 would be found existing, which 500 or 600 years ago existed nearly all over Europe. In Shetland, people would be found living as they lived 200 years ago, with a certain amount of pasture land in common. At the beginning of this century, when wool was high, men were driven from being farmers to become fishermen, and to try to make a sufficient living out of that pursuit, together with the produce of a small piece of soil. He had certainly been astonished at what the Lord Advocate had said in reference to the Report of the Royal Commission. The Commission in that Report stated that there were between four and five millions of acres of uncultivated land in the country, but that it was perfectly impossible that a large portion of the mountain districts could be used for grazing or for agricultural purposes. But when they came to deal with the deer forests they found themselves able to schedule certain portions of land which were fit for either occupation or for cultivation. Of course, in certain parts the soil was of a higher and more fertile character than in the neighbouring districts. Such land, however, was better than the crofters held as a rule. In his view there were two or three million acres of land which were of such a character that they might be applied for the extension of existing and for the creation of new crofts. All that they claimed was that there were large tracts of land which were now deer forests upon which crofters might make a living. All that he maintained was that they were right in their statement that there were at least a million and a-half of acres now used as deer forests which were available for the purpose. Why was it that in the face of this fact the Poor Rate in the congested districts amounted to 8s. in the £. The Commissioners had pointed out that during the previous five years there had been something like 2,500 applications on the part of the crofters in Lewis in respect of land, the rent of which was valued at from £4,000 to £5,000 a year, and they pointed out that in some 500 cases the fair rent fixed was 20s. Let the House compare that statement with the fact that one man paid £4,000 a year as the rent of a deer forest extending over 50,000 acres. Deer forests sometimes extended over 100,000 acres. That was 354 the reason that they had the existing state of things in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The fact was that it paid better to let the land as deer forests than in any other form. Why was there such a large amount of distress, and why were the rates so high in the county of Caithness? The Report of the Commissioners showed that in that county 56 farms, the rent of which averaged £300 per annum, were held by twelve individuals, who between them paid some £16,000 per annum rent. The result was of course that other people could not get land for agricultural purposes, and in consequence they had to flock into the congested districts. He did not know what the Government were going to do in the direction of relieving the congested districts, but he had gathered from what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland that they were not even aiding the people to make the most of the present law. Parliament had passed a Small Holdings Act for Scotland, under which power was given to Parish and District Councils to acquire land and to distribute it among the labouring classes. The crofters who held crofts of the annual value of 20s. could not get an extension of their holdings under the Crofters Act, but it was supposed that they might be able to do so under the Small Holdings Act, and the Parish and District Councils had taken steps to grant their applications. The Lord Advocate however had held that the labouring classes did not include the poorer crofters, and because the latter held small crofts they were excluded from the benefit of the Small Holdings Act, and the Parish and District Councils were prohibited from acquiring land in order to distribute it among them. He did not know why the Scotch Office Law prevented Parish and District Councils giving the crofters more land. He and his friends had been able to establish the fact that there was land, and that the misery and poverty which existed was the consequence of men being driven off the land. If the Government would do something to enable the hardy peasantry in the Highlands to live under fair and decent normal conditions they would do a great deal. And the present Government could do more than a Liberal Government, because the latter 355 had always to fear another place. A Conservative Government could take up the question and settle it in a really final fashion.
§ SIR W. WEDDERBURN (Banffshire)
said the Lord Advocate had omitted to notice the fact that the Crofter Commissioners reported that there were 794,750 acres of land suitable for new holdings.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE
I quoted the words of the Commissioners—"suitable for new holdings 794,750 acres."
§ SIR W. WEDDERBURN
understood the hon. and learned Gentleman considered that that figure was not applicable to the present Resolution. It was quite certain that land was as much wanted for new holdings as for extension of holdings. What he and his hon. Friends wanted was to prevent the expatriation of the Highland population, and it was because the sons and grandsons and nephews of the existing crofters had no new land to take up that they were obliged to emigrate to Australia, America, and New Zealand. In another respect the hon. and learned Gentleman had somewhat minimised the importance of the Resolution, for he had said the crofters would not be benefited by getting an extension of holdings, because they were suffering from having bad land and it would not do them much good to receive more bad land. The Commissioners, however, asserted that a great deal of the new land was not only as good as the land now occupied by the crofters but very much better. Again, the Lord Advocate pointed out that sheep occupied much more of the land scheduled than deer. A very natural and reasonable explanation of that was that the land occupied by sheep was much better land than that occupied by deer, and the object of the Commissioners was to provide the crofters not with bad but with good land. There was another point to which it was well to draw attention. The House might be under the impression from what had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman that the Commissioners were not unanimous in respect to the scheduling of land. There was a difference of opinion amongst the Com- 356 missioners with regard to the method by which the land was to be given to the crofters, but as to the scheduling of the land they were unanimous. He was surprised that hon. Members, especially Scotch Members, opposite had not used their great influence to induce the Government to take action in this matter. At elections hon. Members who sat on the Government benches were most zealous in advocating the claims of the crofters, but in the House of Commons they were silent. It was left to the scattered remnant of the Opposition to do the best they could for these poor people. It seemed to him an extraordinary thing to appoint an important Commission, receive the Report, and then stultify the Commissioners by taking no action. He and his Friends did not ask for charity but they asked for justice. They asked that capable and honest men should have the means of earning bread for themselves and their families.
§ MR. ANDREW PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars)
said it could not be said that the speech of the Lord Advocate was unsympathetic, but it certainly was very indefinite. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of £15,000, but he did not say how that sum was to be applied or whether he intended to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission. They should not forget that this Commission was appointed by a Conservative Government, and there were reasonable grounds to show at the time that it was necessary. The findings of the Commission, too, had since proved that there were very strong reasons why it should have been appointed. Without going into the details recorded by the Commission, it was sufficient to know that there were hundreds of crofters in dire distress because their holdings were not sufficiently large to enable them to earn a livelihood upon them, and that at the same time there were thousands of acres of land available in the districts to either enlarge the holdings of the crofters, or to place very many of them on new and larger holdings. No one who had not been to the Island of Lewis could fully realise the distress of the crofters there. A few years ago he went to the island to see for himself the condition in which the people lived, and his experience was a very painful one. 357 Since then, doubtless, some improvement had been effected through the visit and work of the Crofter Commission, but notwithstanding this the condition of the people was still very bad, and it was absolutely necessary that the Government should do something for their relief. Hon. Members on the other side had on previous occasions expressed sympathy with the efforts to improve the condition of the crofters. In 1895 when the question was before the House, the present leader of the House—who was then in a position of less responsibility—approved the object in view, and said the crofters were deserving of all sympathy and support. That being so he would ask the right hon. Gentleman to now put that sympathy in practical operation by urging the Government, of which he was a leading member, to take further action in the matter. They
§ had the Report and recommendations of the Commission before them, embracing all the facts, and they knew that there was plenty of land with which the holdings of the crofters might be enlarged. The existing distress must continue unless greater facilities were given to the people to earn a living. The number of acres required to do this was far larger than could be dealt with by the small sum set aside last year, and he should be glad to hear whether the Bill to be introduced was to be one merely of an experimental kind, or whether it was intended by means of it to carry out any of the recommendations made in the Report of the Commission. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 77; Noes, 144.—(Division List—No. 4—appended.)359
|Allen, Wm. (Newe, under Lyme)||Flynn, James Christopher||Morley, Rt. Hon. John (Montrose)|
|Allison, Robert Andrew||Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.)||Murnaghan, George|
|Asquith, Rt Hn. Herbert Henry||Gibney, James||Nicol, Donald Ninian|
|Blake, Edward||Gourley, Sir Edward Temperley||Nussey, Thomas Willans|
|Brigg, John||Haldane, Richard Burdon||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)|
|Burns, John||Hammond, John (Carlow)||O'Brien, P. J. (Tipperary)|
|Causton, Richard Knight||Harrington, Timothy||O'Connor, Arthur (Donegal)|
|Clark, Dr. G. B. (Caithness-sh.)||Hayne, Rt. Hon. Charles Seale-||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)|
|Clough, Walter Owen||Hazell, Walter||Pickersgill, Edward Hare|
|Collery, Bernard||Healy, Maurice (Cork)||Power, Patrick Joseph|
|Colville, John||Healy, Timothy M. (N. Louth)||Provand, Andrew Dryburgh|
|Commins, Andrew||Hedderwick, Thomas Charles H.||Robson, William Snowdon|
|Crean, Eugene||Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Charles H.||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Curran, Thomas B. (Donegal)||Jones, William (Carnarvonshire)||Strachey, Edward|
|Daly, James||Kearley, Hudson E.||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)|
|Davies, W. Rees-(Pembrokesh.)||Knox, Edmund Francis Vesey||Sullivan, T. D (Donegal, W.)|
|Davitt, Michael||Lambert, George||Tanner, Charles Kearns|
|Dillon, John||Lawson, Sir Wilfrid (Cumb'land)||Tuite, James|
|Donelan, Captain A.||Lewis, John Herbert||Wedderburn, Sir William|
|Doogan, P. C.||Lloyd-George, David||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|Dunn, Sir William||Lockwood, Sir Frank (York)||Wilson, Henry J. (York, W. R.)|
|Ellis, Thos. Edw. (Merionethsh.)||Macaleese, Daniel||Wilson, Jos. H. (Middlesbro')|
|Earqnharson, Dr. Robert||MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Farrell, James P. (Cavan, W.)||M'Arthur, William|
|Fenwick, Charles||M'Donnell, Dr. M. A.(Queen's C.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES, MR. Weir and Mr. Caldwell|
|Ffrench, Peter||M'Ghee, Richard|
|Field, William (Dublin)||M'Leod, John|
|Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir A. F.||Beach, Rt. Hon. Sir M. H. (Brstl.)||Cavendish V. C. W. (Derbyshire)|
|Arnold, Alfred||Beaumont, Wentworth C. B.||Cecil, Lord Hugh|
|Arnold-Forster, Hugh O.||Begg, Ferdinand Faithful||Chaloner, Captain R. G. W.|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Blundell, Colonel Henry||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. (Brm.)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Manch'r)||Bowles, T. Gibson (King's Lynn)||Charrington, Spencer|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Clare, Octavius Leigh|
|Bartley, George C. T.||Campbell, James A.||Clarke, Sir Edward (Plymouth)|
|Bathurst, Hon. Allen Benjamin||Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lanes.)||Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E.|
|Coghill, Douglas Harry||Hehler, Augustus||Phillpotts, Captain Arthur|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Hill, Rt. Hn. Lord Arthur (Down)||Pierpoint, Robert|
|Colston, Chas. Edw. H., Athole||Holland, Hon. Lionel Raleigh||Platt-Higgins, Frederick|
|Cook, Fred. Lucas (Lambeth)||Houston, R. P.||Plunkett, Hon. Horace Curzon|
|Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)||Howell, William Tudor||Pollock, Harry Frederick|
|Cripps Charles Alfred||Howorth, Sir Henry Hoyle||Pryce-Jones, Edward|
|Cubitt, Hon. Henry.||Hutton, John (Yorks, N. R.)||Purvis, Robert|
|Curzon, Rt. Hn. G. N. (Lnc., S. W.)||Jessel, Captain Herbert Merton||Rankin, James|
|Curzon, Viscount (Bucks.)||Johnston, William (Belfast)||Rasch, Major Frederic Carne|
|Dane, Richard M.||Kenny, William||Richardson, Thomas|
|Davenport, W. (Bromley)||Kenyon, James||Ridley, Rt. Hon., Sir Matthew W.|
|Dilke Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||Knowles, Lees||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)|
|Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph||Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool)||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)|
|Dorington, Sir John Edward||Lawson, John Grant (Yorks)||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)|
|Douglas, Et. Hon. A. Akers||Lea, Sir Thomas (Londonderry)||Seely, Charles Hilton|
|Doxford, William Theodore||Llewellyn, Evan H. (Somerset)||Sharpe, William Edward T.|
|Drage, Geoffrey||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. E. (Essex)||Smith, Abel H. (Christchurch)|
|Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V.||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand)|
|Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton||Long, Et. Hn. Walter (L'pool.)||Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)|
|Fardell, Thomas George||Lowther, Rt. Hon. James (Kent)||Strauss, Arthur|
|Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edward||Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley|
|Fergusson, Et. Hn. Sir J.(Mnc'r.)||Lyttelton, Hon. Alfred||Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier|
|Finch, George H.||Macartney, W. G. Ellison||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Macdona, John Cumming||Thorburn, Walter|
|Fisher, William Hayes||Maclure, John William||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Flannery, Fortescue||M'Killop, James||Tomlinson, Wm. Edw. Murray|
|Flower, Ernest||Malcolm, Ian||Wanklyn, James Leslie|
|Garfit, William||Martin, Richard Biddulph||Warkworth, Lord|
|Gedge, Sydney||Maxwell, Sir Herbert E.||Webster, Sir R. E.(Isle of Wight)|
|Godson, Augustus Frederick||Mellor, Colonel (Lancashire)||Welby, Lieut.-Col. A. C. E.|
|Goldsworthy, Major-General||Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M.||Willox, John Archibald|
|Gorst, Et. Hon. Sir John Eldon||Milner, Sir Frederick George||Wilson, John (Falkirk)|
|Goschen, George J. (Sussex)||Milton, Viscount||Wodehouse, Edmund R. (Bath)|
|Goulding, Edward Alfred||Milward, Colonel Victor||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Gray, Ernest (West Ham)||Monckton, Edward Philip||Wyndham, George|
|Green, Walford D. (Wednesb'y)||Monk, Charles James||Wyndham-Quin, Major W. H.|
|Greville, Captain||More, Robert Jasper||Wyvill, Marmaduke D'Arcy|
|Gull, Sir Cameron||Murray, Rt Hn. A. Graham (Bute)|
|Hamilton, Et. Hon. Lord Geo.||Myers, William Henry||TELLERS FOR THE NOES, Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.|
|Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robert Wm.||Pease, Arthur (Darlington)|
|Heath, James||Pender, James|
|Heaton, John Henniker|