HC Deb 22 July 1897 vol 51 cc743-57

  1. (1.) For the purpose of the purchase of land by the Commissioners (who are hereby authorised to purchase and hold land and dispose thereof as in this Act provided) the Lands Clauses Acts shall be incorporated with this Act, except the provisions of those Acts with respect to the purchase and taking of land otherwise than by agreement; and the provisions of Sub-section four of Section three of the Allotments (Scotland) Act 1892, with respect to the settlement of disputed compensation for land, shall apply, with the necessary modifications, as if the Commissioners were therein referred to.
  2. 744
  3. (2.) Any limited owner may sell land to the Commissioners for the purposes of this Act at such a price, or for such consideration as, having regard to those purposes and to all the circumstances of the case, is deemed reasonable.
  4. (3.) The Commissioners may, if they think fit, before disposing of land for the purposes of this Act, adapt the same by dividing and fencing it, making occupation roads, and executing any other works, such as works for the provision of drainage or water supply, which can, in the opinion of the Commissioners, be more economically and efficiently executed for the land as a whole.
  5. (4.) The Commissioners may also, if they think fit, adapt the land for the purposes of this Act by erecting thereon such buildings, or making such adaptations of existing buildings as, in their opinion, are required for the due occupation of the land, and cannot be made by the crofters or cottars or fishermen.
  6. (5.) Where any right of grazing or other similar right is attached to land acquired by the Commissioners for the purposes of this Act, the Commissioners may attach any share of the right to any holding in such manner and subject to such regulations as they think proper.
  7. (6.) The Commissioners may accept any gifts of property, heritable or moveable, for any or all of the purposes for which money is provided by this Act, and apply them according to the directions of the donor, if consistent in their opinion with the purposes on which they apply the said money, and, subject to any such directions, may apply them in like manner as that money.


moved to leave out Subsection (1), and to insert;— (1.) For the purposes of the acquisition of land by the Commissioners (in the event of their being unable to obtain it by agreement on reasonable terms) they are hereby authorised to cause public inquiry to be made in the congested district, and direct notices to be given to the owners, occupiers, or lessees of the land proposed to be taken, and all persons interested shall be at liberty to attend the inquiry, and to support or oppose the taking of such land, and, if after the inquiry the evidence is such as to show no reasonable cause against the acquisition of the land by the Commissioners, then they shall take the necessary steps for acquiring the land on such terms and conditions as they may determine. He said he moved the Amendment for the purpose of giving the Board greater facilities to acquire land. The Bill provided that should any difficulty arise in obtaining land, the Commissioners might adopt the Lands Clauses Act, and the Allotments (Scotland) Act, 1892, but these were cumbrous and costly processes. He challenged the Lord Advocate to find land for the purposes of the Bill by these processes in the most congested part of the Highlands—the island of Lewis. The island was in the possession of one individual, who would not part with an inch. If the Commissioners did get land under these Acts, they would be driven to give the landlord his own price. In Ireland the Congested Districts Board reported in the Fourth Annual Report, page 10, that they are of opinion it will be impossible for them to give due effect to this important department of their work "— that was, migration and enlargement of holdings—unless compulsory powers be given them to acquire such lands at fair value. That was after the experience of four years; and he thought it justified hint in asking the Government to accept his proposal. It was not the policy of the landlords in the Highlands to provide sites for the people. Their policy had been for a good many years to clear out the population in order to make deer forests. That was the policy of the Highland landlord, and that had been for a considerable time past. There was plenty of land to be had if compulsory powers were given; but he wanted the Commissioners to get it at a fair and reasonable price, and not at the landlord's fancy price, and if they were tied down by a costly legal process there would be no chance of making the Bill a success.


, who said that he had himself put an Amendment down practically raising the same question, maintained that unless compulsory powers were given to the Congested Districts Commissioners, they would be hampered in their operations by the refusal of landowners to sell land at a reasonable price. Available land might not always be suitable for migrating crofters. Unless compulsory powers were granted one man might obstruct a scheme of which all the other landlords in a district approved. If a landlord refused to provide land which was required in connection with the construction of a harbour, the Commissioners would be compelled to come to Parliament for a public or private Bill. The case necessarily in fact would be at the mercy of any landlord whose property was affected in any way by an improvement scheme. The precedent of the Parish Councils Act, which contained a provision for the compulsory acquisition of land without reference to Parliament, ought to be followed in this case. The Light Railways Act supplied another precedent of the same kind. The Congested District Board was to consist of the Secretary for Scotland, the Under Secretary, the Chairman of the Fishery Board, the Chairman of the Crofter Commission, the Chairman of the Local Government Board, and the other persons nominated by the Secretary for Scotland. It would be practically a Government Department, which would not be likely to act unjustly or arbitrarily. Under the Amendments which he had put upon the Paper, there would be an appeal to the authorities of the Local Government Board, who might order an inquiry which should be final.


Do I understand that the hon. Member will stand or fall by this Amendment?


replied that he would. Under his Amendment there would be ample protection against any possible abuse on the part of the Congested Districts Commissioners. They would be supervised by a Government Department which was responsible to Parliament. The clause as it stood was reactionary, because it gave no special facilities for acquiring land for the benefit of the community, and this was contrary to the policy of modern Acts of Parliament. Without compulsory powers they could not hope to do anything. An heir of entail—to give one example out of many—a limited owner would be unable to provide land for the purposes of this Bill, being himself unable to enter into the necessary contract.


reminded the Mover of the Amendment that this question had been fully discussed in Committee, and that he then said that he could not accept the proposal. He could not go back upon that declaration. The Bill, as he had pointed out, was an experimental one, and the question was whether it would be right to go the great length of granting compulsory powers before it had been shown that the Bill could not be worked satisfactorily without them. In connection with the construction of railways, drains, and waterworks it was necessary that there should be compulsory powers, because the opposition of one person, if there were no such powers, might defeat an elaborate and highly desirable improvement scheme. There was not the same reason, however, for giving compulsory powers in connection with the very wide operations undertaken under this Bill. It never, for example, could be of the essence of proceedings under the Measure that a crofter should be migrated to a particular farm. There was a great deal of land available in the market. The analogy which the hon. Member had tried to establish between this Bill and the Parish Councils Act and the Light Railways Act was not well founded. The only purpose for which land could be compulsorily acquired under the Parish Councils Act was to obtain a site for the erection of parish buildings, and light railways stood, of course, in the same position as other railways, inasmuch as there was often only one route which they could take, so that if one person stood out against the construction of a line, he would be able to defeat a whole scheme but for the power of compulsory purchase. The hon. Member had said that under the Bill as it stood even the limited owner could not give his land; but the clauses of the Lands Clauses Act relating to the land were incorporated in the Bill, and therefore the limited owner could give his land for the purposes of the Bill. The Government could not go back on the decision they came to in Committee.


greatly regretted that the Lord Advocate on second thoughts had not seen his way to depart a little from the rigid view he took of this matter, because as far as a very large part of the Bill was concerned, this was the one provision to give it reality. ["Hear, hear!"] Two or three years ago it was his fortune to serve on a Committee on the question of the colonisation of his countrymen from the northwest of Scotland. The one thing borne in upon his mind by the deliberations of that Committee was, that anything that could be done in the way of relieving congested districts by the process of removal, must be done by migration, and not by emigration. ["hear, hear!"] Of course the difficulty was the expense. The Lord Advocate said that for such a process as that there was plenty of land available. He quite agreed, but could it be got at a reasonable price? ["Hear, hear!"] Surely the one thing that was wanted to give some backbone and stiffness and energy to this movement was compulsory powers of taking land. That came before everything else. The Lord Advocate had said very truly that this was an experiment, and that an experiment should not be pushed too far; but compulsory powers of taking land had been approved by both Houses of Parliament of late years for a great many purposes, and there was no doubt that provisions such as were included in the Scotch Local Government Act a year or two ago, if applied to this purpose, would be perfectly efficient. ["Hear, hear!"] As he had said, he believed that so far as the most essential part of the Bill was concerned, this was the provision most required. ["Hear, hear!"]

DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)

contended that although an experiment was being tried, such provisions ought to be introduced as would probably make the experiment a success, and Scotch. Members felt very strongly that without some sort of compulsory powers there was very little chance of the Bill being a success. It was true that this proposal had been debated before, but it was their duty to keep pegging away, and he was very glad to think that his two hon. Friends had brought the proposal up again, and he hoped they would give their supporters an opportunity of recording their views in the Division Lobby. If it was true that plenty of land could be got on easy terms, the compulsory powers would not be brought into play at all. It was admitted that the crofters were in an exceptional position, and this clause, or something like it, was absolutely necessary for the proper carrying out of the practical operation of the Bill. He thought they might trust the Commissioners to carry out a provision of this kind with justice to both sides. [Hear, hear!"]


said he wished to appeal to the First Lord of the Treasury in this matter, because he knew more about it than the Lord Advocate. The right hon. Gentleman had practically been the author of legislation of this kind, both in Ireland and in Scotland. This same experiment had been tried in Ireland, and the Irish Commissioners in their Fourth Annual Report, declared that it was impossible for them to carry out what they considered the most important part of their work unless they had compulsory powers. So this was not a new experiment. It had been tried under exactly similar conditions in Ireland, and had been shown to be a failure. 95 per cent. of the Highland landlords would probably assist the Government to carry out their experiment, but the other 5 per cent. would not. ["Hear, hear!"] Sir John Ord would not, and why should the Commissioners not have the power to compel Sir John Ord, who did not act according to his interest, but according to his passion. Lord Napier, too, was a man who refused to listen to argument, and these were some of the men who had control of the land that was required. If this were the end of a Parliament, there might be some ground for refusing these powers; but it was very unlikely that there would be a change of Government for several years, and he prayed the First Lord of the Treasury to consider this question.


said that the regret he felt at the refusal of the Government to agree to compulsory powers had been increased by the few words that had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who led them to understand that they were not to regard this Bill as of a permanent nature. If it was to he limited to a certain number of years, that was all the more reason why compulsory powers should be given. The most elaborate provisions were being made, covering the widest field of usefulness, but the one essential for carrying them out was being left out of the Bill. To a body of the kind proposed to be set up, there could not be the slightest danger in giving them compulsory powers. Repeated allusion had been made to one landlord in the highlands, but there was more than one case where land was located, and where it was absolutely certain it could not be obtained except by compulsion.


I was appealed to by the hon. Member for Caithness to state to the House what light the lessons from the Irish experience in this class of legislation—which I had some share in initiating—throws upon the problems we are now discussing. There are no powers of compulsion in the Irish Act, but the hon. Member for Caithness has quoted quite accurately a sentence from the last Report of the Irish Congested Districts Board, in which that Board state in their judgment they cannot carry out any huge scheme of migration unless compulsory powers are given to them. I do not argue whether that view of the Irish Congested Districts Board is accurate or not. I believe that, so far as the landowners are concerned, there has been no difficulty in finding estates to purchase, and I am informed that at all events it is doubtful whether the prices asked for those estates are in excess of their proper value. Upon that point, however, I have no adequate information at my disposal, and I should not like the house to think that anything I have said is the expression of my settled judgment after full investigation. But even granting to the full the contention of the Irish Congested Districts Board, there is a broad distinction between the case of Ireland and the case of Scotland in this matter. I remember when I was directly responsible for the administration of the Irish Congested Districts Act the difficulty was to find an area suitable for migration. There was no difficulty in finding landlords to sell. The difficulty was, when you had got the land, to get rid of the rights of the tenant—all those small rights and casements which exist in almost every part of Ireland, but which do not exist in those parts a the Highlands of Scotland which may with advantage be used for the purposes of promoting emigration. I, therefore, think that even if compulsory powers were granted to the Irish Board that would not carry with it necessarily that they should be granted to the Scotch Board. But at all events let us begin by giving them, to the Irish Board, which has existed for some years, before we give them to Scotland, where the whole matter is in the experimental stage. I was responsible for the Irish Bill, which included migration; and I am responsible not less directly for the Scotch Bill, which in that respect copies the Irish Bill; but let it be remembered that migration, however desirable, is very difficult to carry out successfully. ["Hear, hear!"] I am quite sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite, like everybody who has gone into the matter from a business point of view, to see how it would work out financially and socially, must come to the conclusion—as I have come—that the experiment, though worth trying, is one to which we would be foolish to pin too much hope as regards the congested portions of the Highlands. ["Hear, hear!"] Quite apart from the question of the price of the land, there are great financial difficulties in the way, and the whole matter is so confronted with problems hard, indeed, of solution, that bold would the prophet be who would say with confidence that the migration clauses of this Bill are going necessarily and certainly to open a new order of things in regard to the congested portions of the Highland district. ["Hear, hear!"] I think the experiment should be tried, but it should be tried with the good will of every one concerned. ["Hear, hear!"] After all, if you are going to give, without safeguards, powers to this Commission—however selected it may be—to take any man's land for good on their own valuation you will excite alarm, which may be exaggerated, but which will be real, which will surround the working of this Bill with difficulties, and set against it those whose co-operation is most desirable. ["Hear, hear!"] I, therefore, hope the House will endorse the position which the Government have arrived at after full consideration, which is that it would be overloading the Bill in its present stage, which is wholly experimental, if it were to introduce into it powers which were not given in the case of Ireland; and which, if they are not required in the case of Ireland, are far less required in the case of Scotland, where the land tenure is such that the purchase of large tracts of land is unhampered except by the rights of the landlords. No such condition of things exists in Ireland; and while, therefore, there may be a necessity for compulsion in that country no such necessity exists in the case of Scotland. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. ROBERT WALLACE (Edinburgh, E.)

said he had listened with great attention and respect to the Lord Advocate's repetition of his argument, but it had failed to convince him. In fact, it had left him less convinced than he was on the first occasion the Lord Advocate spoke on this subject. The Lord Advocate relied very much upon the fact that this was an experiment for a short period of time; and the right hon. Gentleman's argument was that if this experiment, without the condition of compulsory powers, failed at the end of five years, they could then see what could be done. But truly some experiments were so obviously fore-doomed to failure without certain conditions, that it was foolish to deprive the experiments of the presence of such conditions. He was perfectly certain that this experiment was in the most important instance fore-doomed to failure. There were landlords in districts of the Highlands front whom they would not get on any terms, during the five years, a single square foot of land by consent. It was, therefore, clear that in those districts, at all events, there would be certain failure. These districts were not trifling in extent; they were districts of a very large area; and they were also peculiarly congested districts in which, if the experiment was of any use at all, it ought to be tried with the most signal success. Besides, the whole tendency of legislation was to endow the administrators of enactments with compulsory powers. The Legislature seemed to think that even if an absolute case had not been made out for compulsory powers, it was better to err—if it was an error—on the safe side, and to give the administrators of enactments compulsory powers. If the compulsory powers were not needed they would not, of course, be exercised; but if it should turn out that circumstances made the exercise of compulsory powers necessary, they were there ready for application. He contended that the Lord Advocate had the presumption against him arising from the very nature of the case and from the very character of the present proposed legislation. This legislation was to relieve congested districts by migration, but unless those who managed the matter had a free hand, they could not administer the Act successfully. The administrators of the Act could not have a free hand if the possessor of a certain tract of country, or of a certain portion of a tract of country, had it in his power to say "You sha'n't come near me unless you pay me so much," and the charge he would make would no doubt be exorbitant in the opinion of the outside public and of competent judges. Holding these views he must vote for the Amendment.


said he was most unwilling to occupy any of the time set apart for Scotch business, but this was a matter in which his Scotch friends might be helped by Irish experience. ["Hear, hear!"] The First Lord of the Treasury had alluded to the establishment of the Irish Congested Districts Board, which was the only monument of the right hon. Gentleman's administration in Ireland which had been the cause of any popularity at all, and the experience of the Board was most valuable and interesting. The First Lord of the Treasury threw some doubt on the proposition that it was established by the Congested Districts Board as the deliberate result of their experience that compulsory powers were necessary for the due trying of this experiment. He could not imagine for a moment that that opinion could he accepted by any one who had followed the experience of the Congested Districts Board in Ireland. That Board had attempted to carry out this great problem of migration, and after an experience extending over two or three years they had unanimously come to the conclusion which they had solemnly embodied in a report, that it was impossible to give the experiment fair play unless they were provided with compulsory powers. The Irish Congested Districts Board was a Government nominated Board of which the Chief Secretary was chairman, and in the face of a statement of that character it was hardly possible for the First Lord of the Treasury to maintain his position—viz., that the question still remained in doubt whether compulsory powers were required for the due carrying out of the experiment. In Ireland, time after time, they had been refused these compulsory powers, hut that was no reason why justice in this matter should be denied to Scotland.

MR. T. SHAW (Hawick Burghs)

said they could not successfully encourage the migration of crofters to land without two conditions—in the first place, that they put themselves in the way of acquiring land for themselves, and in the second place that they put them in the way of acquiring that land upon reasonable business terms. Now he ventured to say that the migration of the crofters under this Bill would prove a most futile experiment unless the principle of this Amendment was adopted. He should like to know the views of the Scotch. Unionist Members with regard to this matter. What they wanted was to see the crofters become their own landlords. Unless they got compulsory powers it was absolutely impossible for the Highland problem to be solved.

MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

said no one could have listened to the Debate without a feeling that the Government had had the worst of it. As regarded Ireland, the case stated by the Member for Mayo was invincible. Here there was a Board which declared that it was impossible to carry out the powers given to it. He feared that the Government did not seriously mean to make this Bill a useful Bill. What was the use of this Bill without compulsory powers? It might as well not be passed. Take the case of the Island of Lewis. What was the use of the Bill in that case without compulsory powers? They had the people huddled together like rabbits in warren, and a short way off there were acres of land. There was plenty of room to live, hut the land was refused to them by the landlords. The people, however, were compelled to remain in this state of congestion. It was absurd to talk of disturbing tenants. There were no tenants to disturb. The only people who would be disturbed would be the gamekeepers. He called attention to the fact that although this was a question affecting the crofters, not a single Unionist, Member was there to a single word in favour of them.


regarded the Bill as practically hopeless. If they were not engaged in a solemn farce they must accept something like this Amendment. The one substantial benefit which the proposed to confer was the procuring of land for the people, and by refusing to accept this Amendment the Government were depriving the Bill of its best chance of success.

*SIR W. WEDDERBURN (Banffshire)

said that the Debate would not be complete unless the House had the advantage of the opinions of the hon. Members opposite representing such important portions of the Highlands and Islands as Inverness-shire and Argyllshire. The hon. Members were gentlemen of great local experience and influence, and he thought the House was entitled to know how they proposed to make the experiment a success, especially when the Opposition speakers had shown, good grounds for believing that under the Government, conditions success was impossible. As to the advantage of securing the goodwill of all concerned, it was the opinion of the Crofters' Commission that compulsory power was one of the most important conditions for an amicable settlement.

Question put, "That the words of the sub-section to the word 'and,' in line 27, stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: —Ayes, 175; Noes, 107.—(Division List, No. 323.)


moved in Sub-section (1) to leave out "Sub-section 4 of Section 3 of The Allotments (Scotland) Act, 1892," and to insert "Sub-section 10 of Section 25 of The Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1894." The object of the Amendment was to apply the same method and scale of compensation as the Government laid down in the Military Manœuvres Bill, and so to make the legislation of the two Bills exactly on the same lines.


said that although he was not responsible for the drafting of the Military Manœuvres Bill, still at the same time he thought the compensation therein proposed might be appropriate in that case, inasmuch as it contemplated compulsory powers. He preferred the enactment in the Bill because it was taken from an Act in which there was no scheme of compulsory powers, and therefore more appropriate to the case.


saw no reason why they should pay more for the land that in the ease of the Military Manœuvres Bill.

Amendment negatived.


moved at the end of Sub-section (2) to insert:— a limited owner may, with the sanction of the Local Government Board, given under this Section, convey the land for that purpose either without payment of any purchase money or compensation, or at a price less than the real value, and may so convey it free of all incum-brances. Provided that the Local Government Board shall not give their sanction under this section unless they are satisfied that the purpose for which the land is conveyed is such as is calculated to benefit the remaining land held by the same title or other land of the same landowner, and provided also that, if the land proposed to be conveyed is subject to incumbrances, the Local Government Board before giving their sanction under this section shall cause notice to be given to the incumbrancers, and shall consider the objections, if any, raised by them. Amendment agreed to.


moved, after the words last added, to insert:— Any crofter in possession of a holding under the Crofters' Holdings (Scotland) Act 1886, and Acts extending or amending the same, may sell or transfer his right and interest in and to the same to the Commissioners for such consideration as may be mutually agreed upon, and the Commissioners may sell or transfer such right and interest to an occupier of a neighbouring holding held of the same landlord, or may sell or transfer said right and interest to any other person to be occupied as a separate holding, the purchaser or transferee from the Commissioners coming in place of the original crofter, and being subject in all cases to the terms and conditions upon which the land was held at the date of the original sale or transfer, and to such further terms and conditions as the Commissioners may determine. Provided that no existing holding shall be increased by any sale or transfer under this section so that in the opinion of the Commissioners the rateable value will exceed twenty pounds. He thought it was obvious it would not be possible to relieve congestion unless there were a power of this kind in the Bill.


resisted the Amendment because it allowed to the crofter a power to sell his holding without the agreement of the landlord for the purpose of giving it over to the Commissioners, who in turn might sell it to an occupier of a neighbouring holding held of the same landlord, or to any other person, to be occupied as a separate holding. Whatever might be the case in Ireland, the Government thought it would be a great mistake to give the power of sale in Scotland. He could not accept an amendment which for the first time recognised the right of sale in the crofter—a right which would certainly be used as a precedent for trying to extend to him something which it was not advisable he should have.


contended that it was very important to give the Commissioners power to remove crofters in certain cases. Crofters were sometimes, like landlords, selfish and stupid, and they did not want selfish and stupid crofters to prevent the success of a great experiment. In Ireland they had realised the necessity of this. There they found landlords willing to sell and a number of tenants likewise, but because a few avaricious, stupid, selfish creatures refused, or asked preposterous terms, nothing could be done, and so the Congested Districts Board in Ireland had asked for similar compulsory powers. The people who were most affected were not the crofters, but the cottars. The crofters comparatively were well off, because they had land, but the cottars had no land. He thought there were only two ways of dealing with the matter, either to re-enact the first clause of the Crofters' Act, permitting them to assign their tenancy with the assent of the Crofter's Commission, or else to give the Crofter's Commission power to turn them out. He had hoped the Lord Advocate would have brought forward some plan to meet the case.


supported the Amendment. He thought the Commissioners should have the power to give these people compensation, and to get their croft added to another croft, or to give it to another crofter or cottar. He failed to see how the Bill would work satisfactorily unless some arrangement of the kind was adopted.


moved an Amendment providing that the Commissioners might adapt the land by erecting "or assist in erecting" buildings for the crofters, cottars, or fishermen.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 9,—