HC Deb 25 June 1897 vol 50 cc620-5

8. Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £17,500, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1898, for expenditure in. connection with certain public works, and for improved communications, and other purposes, within the Highlands and islands of Scotland.


complained that there was a diminution of the grant made for the steamboat services in the Highlands, which meant that the steamboat accommodation in these parts would be greatly diminished. He hoped the Government would be prevailed upon to reconsider their decision in the matter, and provide the necessary money to keep up this communication. He also complained that there had been reductions in the amounts allocated for the provision of piers and harbours, lighthouses and beacons, and other necessary works. The Ross-shire County Council, and the Orkney and Shetlands County Council had sent him petitions protesting against these reductions. The majority of the Ross-shire County Council were supporters of the Government. It was a Tory County Council, and not a Radical County Council, and yet its members condemned in the strongest manner the withdrawal of these grants. The Lewis District Committee had passed resolutions regretting the withdrawal of grants for piers awl road-making in the district. A large proportion of the cost had been promised, and free labour, both for making piers and roads, offered by the people. The withdrawal of the grants had had a disturbing influence on the population. Gunboats had been sent there before now to maintain order, in. consequence of the treatment of the people by the landlords. It was not fair that local people interested in these improvements should have to put their hands into their pockets to provide plans, and make other preliminary outlays for piers, boatslips, etc., and after this expense had been incurred and the plans approved by the authorities to find that the Government would furnish no money to carry out the works. He hoped the money would be provided, and that the works would be pushed forward and finished. Under the Light Railways Act the Highland Railway Company would probably make an arrangement for the construction of a light railway across the island of Lewis, but they could do nothing until the Carloway Road was finished. He appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to have some consideration for the little children in the Highlands who had to cross the moors in order to reach the school houses, and regretted that the money which was being devoted to the making of the necessary pathways had been withdrawn.


referred to the making of the Carloway Road across the island of Lewis. He believed it was originally anticipated that a sum of £15,000 would be necessary for this road, but it was now estimated that a sum of £8,000 or £10,000 more was required. He wished to know whether the Government intended to finish the road. The prosperity of the island depended chiefly on the development of the fishing industry, and if they could have a light tramway running from the west to the east coast it would do more to develop the fishing industry than anything else. He thought the reduction of the Vote was a very large one; the expenditure in regard to the minor roads had certainly been extremely useful in developing the resources of the Highlands, and they hoped also that the reduction in the case of piers and harbours would be reconsidered.

MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanark, Partick)

said he regretted very much the large reduction which was made on this Vote, as he believed the money had done a great deal of good in some of the wildest and poorest parts of the country. He regretted also the sudden and unexpected manner in which the reduction had been made. He believed the road to which the hon. Gentleman had alluded was a thoroughly unsatisfactory undertaking; and to spend more money on it would have been foolish. But there were a great number of small works, such as the making of piers and foot-paths, which ought to have been continued. He would also point out that all the money voted for those works in past Sessions had not been so spent; and under the rules of the Treasury the balances had to be returned again. In 1894–5 the amount voted was £36,000; the amount actually spent, £23,000; and the amount surrendered to the Treasury, £13,000. In 1895–6 the amount voted was £39,000; the amount actually spent, £34,700; and the amount voted to the Treasury, £4,300. In 1896–7 the amount voted was £36,200; the amount actually spent, £27,200, and the amount voted £9,000. That meant that in those three years £26,000 out of the amounts voted had been given back to the Treasury. Under those circumstances the reduction of the Vote by £10,000 was most uncalled for. He thought that out of those savings the Vote should have been kept up.


said that in the programme published by the First Lord of the Treasury on behalf of his Party in the General Election of 1895, one of the items was for public works on the west coast of Scotland. Of course, great weight was attached to the words of the right hon. Gentleman, and as a consequence, in many parts of the North of Scotland, relying on the words of the right hon. Gentleman, plans for public works were prepared, were submitted to the Department and approved of; but owing to the reduction in the Vote those works had practically been stopped. He asked the right hon. Gentleman some time ago when the Government proposed to institute the public works which the right hon. Gentleman alluded to in 1895, and the right hon. Gentleman referred him to the Vote in the Estimates; but on looking up that Vote he found that there was a considerable reduction. They were therefore entitled to demand some explanation from the Government of the reduction of the Vote, especially as it was admitted by all those who knew the Highlands that the works which had been carried out under the grant were of a highly beneficial character to the Highlands.


said that the Committee should remember what was the origin of this Vote. A. Commission reported that it would be desirable in the interests of the Highlands and Islands to undertake certain works of public utility, and an expenditure of about £170,000 was suggested. Parliament had entirely carried out that recommendation, and, indeed, more than the sum originally promised had been expended from year to year. The Estimate this year was £10,000 less than that of last year; but there would not be at all a corresponding decrease in expenditure. As to the general question of helping the Highlands and islands, the First Lord of the Treasury, in the speeches which had been referred to, said that it was a proper thing occasionally to use Imperial money for the development of outlying districts. That promise had been most amply redeemed. It was necessary to look beyond the amount of the particular Vote to what had been done generally for the Highlands. Last year the Government gave a guarantee for a railway, and this year they had promised an additional £20,000 a year to be spent by the Congested Districts Commission. As to the Carloway Road, only £12,545 of the Vote of £15,000 had been spent; but the question would have to be dealt with shortly, because the Estimates had been too small. Subhead C of £1,000 would be used for making minor roads and footpaths. As to the diminution of the sum for steamer communication, the Vote was originally given on the recommendation of the Highlands and Islands Commission that money should be spent for a limited period in improving the existing communications. But it was also recommended that if the experiment were found not to stimulate trade sufficiently to make the service self-supporting, it should be discontinued. Last year a Departmental Committee was appointed to inquire into the results of this steamer service; and the Committee reported that no great improvement in the trade of the districts served had been effected. They went into the matter, and resolved that so far as the direct service from Oban to Stromness was concerned, it might very well be discontinued, because there were other ways of taking the mails. So far as the round route was concerned, they recommended that the service of two steamers going in opposite directions might be replaced by a service of one steamer, and, so far as the question of trade was involved, it was quite certain that they were amply justified in their proposal. There did arise the question of postal communication. His right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was, of course, prepared to stand entirely to the promises he made in his Budget speech, and he had his authority to say that, without committing himself in any way, and entirely associating himself with the report of the Departmental Committee, he would be happy to consider the matter from the postal point of view. If he found it necessary, in order to come up to the letter or the spirit of his promises, to reconsider the scheme of the Departmental Committee, he would do so, keeping in view, of course, the question of postal communication, which was not directly before the Departmental Committee. He hoped that would be satisfactory to hon. Members.


was glad to hear that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would endeavour to give effect to the promises he had made in connection with postal reforms. He wished to draw attention for a moment to the statement of the Lord Advocate, that £170,000 had been expended on works in the Highlands and Islands. He did not know whether he was aware that the Napier Report strongly recommended that a harbour should be made at Portnaguran, Lewis, at a cost of £30,000. Nothing had been done. A sum had been voted annually for piers, harbours, and minor works, but there was a want of energy, of effort, or of tact on the part of those who had the expenditure of the money. The money ought to have been spent. The Highlands were too poor to allow £10,000 to go back into the Treasury each year. They could not afford to have any money diverted from the congested districts of the Highlands of Scotland. They would have the question of "black" houses to deal with as soon as the Public Health Act became law, and every penny of the £20,000 would be wanted to build suitable houses for the people. He would like to ask the Lord Advocate what progress was being made with the Carloway Road.


said he could not tell the hon. Member exactly the number of men engaged on the works, but, as he understood, the works were in progress and that the money would be expended.


asked the Lord Advocate, in regard to the satisfactory statement he had made with regard to postal communication, whether they were to have from the Chancellor of the Exchequer the same postal facilities on the West highlands as they had at present; whether they were to have, as they had before, a six days' service, or a three days' service, as was proposed in the report of the Departmental Committee?


said he could not pin his right hon. Friend down to details. The matter would be considered in the light of the Report of the Departmental Committee and of the promise made in the Budget speech.


said he could not regard the statement of the Lord Advocate as satisfactory, and by way of protest against this considerable reduction of the Vote, he begged to move its further reduction by £1,000. [A laugh and ironical cries of "Agreed!"]

Question put, "That a sum not exceeding £16,500 be granted for the said Service."

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 16; Noes, 55.—(Division List, No. 248.)

Original Question put, and agreed to.

Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next; Committee to sit again upon Monday next.