HC Deb 18 February 1898 vol 53 cc1171-7
DR. CLARK (Caithness)

In moving the Amendment which stands in my name, on the subject of the condition of the crofters, cottars and small tenants in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, I will at this late horn endeavour to deal with the matter very briefly. While it is the case in Scotland generally that increase of population has been accompanied by increase of wealth, and of the standard of comfort, it is unfortunately the fact that in the Western Highlands and Islands the reverse is the case; our population in the crofter counties has decreased; our wealth, which is principally agricultural, has also decreased, and our standard of comfort, if it has not decreased, has, at any rate, remained stationary. The condition of things is becoming worse and worse every year, and it is now far worse than in many parts of Ireland. There is no district in Ireland or county in Ireland where the poor rate is equal to what we have in the North of Scotland. Take the most northerly county of Scotland, Sutherland. The average poor rate paid in Scotland is 4s. 4d. in the £. That would be a big sum, even in a congested Irish parish; but in special parishes it is even more than that, going up to 9s. 6d. and 11s., and the average being 4s. 4¾d. It is much the same in my own county, Caithness, the largest figure being 7s., and the average 4s. 9d. Perhaps the Lord Advocate will tell me that this is due to agricultural depression. Well, the Lord Advocate knows something of the county in which he was born—I think it is a Highland county—Perth; he will find that in the first dozen parishes he looks at, the poor rate is at most 3d. or 4d. Now, what is the cause of this enormous increase in the northernmost counties? The cause is that you have the land held by a few persons. Now, Sir, this matter has been discussed on many occasions, and the facts are admitted; the difficulty is now how to remedy the grievance. We have been told by this Government, and previous Governments, that there is not land in Scotland to support the people, and they have offered us money to send the people away from Scotland to Manitoba and British Columbia. But, then, the last Royal Commission, after going over the country, unanimously reported that there were about 1,780,000 acres of land which they recommended should be given to the poor people; and a Bill was brought in by the late Liberal Government for the purpose of getting this land distributed amongst the people. That Bill was unfortunately killed, because that Government was killed. Now you have appointed a Congested Districts Board to aid in various ways to raise the standard of comfort among the poor, but there is no power by which you can acquire the land and distribute these 2,000,000 acres, which the Commission unanimously recommended should be given over to the people. I hope we may have an assurance from the Government that they intend to do something to prevent these people from being entirely wiped out. I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name.

*MR. J. G. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

I beg, Sir, to second the Amendment, and, with the permission of the House, I should like to quote a few figures, to show how urgent is this matter, in view of the steady depopulation of the Highland counties. Argyllshire in 1831 had a population of 100,973; in 1891 it had fallen to 74,998. Inverness in 1841 had a population of 97,799; in 1891 it had fallen to 89,847. Ross and Cromarty in 1851 had a population of 82,707; in 1891 it had fallen to 78,727. Sutherland in 1851 had a population of 25,793; in 1891 it had fallen to 21,896. Caithness in 1861 had a population of 41,111; in 1891 it had fallen to 37,177. I am surprised that the Government do not appreciate the importance, from a national point of view, of this steady depopulation of the Highland counties of Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House knows the Highlands, and he knows how they are being depopulated. To-day you cannot get men to fill your Highland regiments, and I think this is a very serious matter, and one that should have the best consideration of the Government, especially a Government that wishes to increase our Army. Although it is three years since the Commission reported that there were nearly 2,000,000 acres of land which might be cultivated to profit, the situation remains unchanged; not one acre of that land has been made available. The Deer Forest Commission Report showed that there were, in the five Northern counties, no less than 56,739 acres of old arable land now out of cultivation, the figures being:—Argyllshire, 23,116 acres; Inverness, 20,779 acres; Ross and Cromarty, 5,515 acres; Sutherland, 4,296 acres; Caithness, 3,003 acres. The late Government brought in a Bill to give compulsory powers to take land, but, as my hon. Friend has said, a change of Government killed the Bill, The result is that no advance whatever has been made, and matters are going from bad to worse. When Sir George Trevelyan brought in his Bill to deal with 500,000 acres of these lands the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, who then sat on this side, expressed regret that that Bill did not meet the wants of the small crofters and cottars. Now that the right hon. Gentleman is himself in power, and has the opportunity, I hope he will bring in a Bill to give effect to the generous proposals he made then. Now, Sir, this Amendment refers generally to "questions affecting the interests of the people in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland"; and, besides the land question, there are various other questions which I think would be covered by the Amendment. There is one that I should like to enter into—I mean the trawling question; but I find there is a Bill already before the House dealing with that subject, and I presume that would debar me from discussing that matter now. Then there is the question of small tenants holding under lease. Unfortunately, these small tenants were not included in the Crofters Act of 1886, and those who hold under lease live in fear and trembling because, when their lease expires, they are at the mercy of their landlords. You will find two crofters, neighbours; one has his rent reduced fifty per cent. by the Crofters Commission; the other, who does not hold his land in the same way, but under lease, can get no reduction whatever That is a state of things which I think ought not to exist, and the Government should take some steps to remove these anomalies. Then, Sir, there is the question of piers and harbours.


I do not think the matters to which the hon. Member is referring come within the scope of this Amendment.


I should not have ventured to travel outside the particular subject of the condition of the crofters but for the general words in the Amendment to which I have referred. But, Sir, the hour is advanced, and I do not desire to detain the House. I trust the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, who knows the Highlands so well, who, when he was in Opposition, evinced so strong an affection for the Highland people, and who claims to be a member of a Highland clan, will give a pledge tonight that something will be done in this matter during the present Session.

Amendment proposed at the end of the Question, to add the words,— And we humbly express our regret that no reference is made in Your Majesty's Speech to questions specially affecting the interests of the people in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland; and that, although the Commission appointed by Your Majesty in 1892 to inquire into the land question in those districts has reported that nearly 2,000,000 acres of land now occupied as deer forests, grouse moors, and grazing tracts 'might be cultivated to profit, or otherwise advantageously occupied by crofters and 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 condition of the crofters, cottars, and small tenants may be improved."—(Dr. Clark.)

Question proposed, "that those words be there added":


I would remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that last year a Bill was introduced by the Government, and passed into law, which gave a large sum of public money for the purpose of dealing with the very problems that have been brought before the House to-night. Those problems are being dealt with through the machinery then set up by Parliament. Under these circumstances it seems to me little short of an abuse of the custom of raising questions on the Address to complain that the Government do not now bring in another Bill, a new Bill, before we have had even the opportunity of testing the results which we expect to derive from the Measure passed last Session. Sir, I hope the House will now consent, not merely to bring the Debate on this particular Amendment to a close, but the whole Debate on the Address. I am sure the general opinion is that we have now, for a sufficient number of days, gone through the preliminaries of the Session, and that it is really time to allow the House to proceed to the important, practical, substantive work of the Session. Of course, I cannot prevent the hon. Gentleman dividing if he desires, but I hope the Debate will not proceed further, and that other gentlemen who have Amendments down will defer to the general feeling of the House, and consent to withdraw them, so that we may to-night conclude the Debate on the Address.

MR. CALDWELL (Lanark, Mid)

I wish to point out that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House is hardly putting the case fairly when he states that the Act which was passed last Session dealt with the subject-matter of this Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that what the Act of last Session did was to deal with

distress. But the object of this Amendment is not to give a dole out of the Treasury to the people; it is to give more land to the people, so that they should be able to maintain themselves, and require no dole whatever. Then, may I also point out this to the First Lord, that the dole of last Session was given purely out of Scottish money; and you, a Unionist Government, which deals with the United Kingdom as one whole, can find Imperial money for the relief of distress in Ireland.


We gave £20,000 a year out of Imperial funds.


And how much out of Scottish capital? I am only pointing out that this is a kind of distress which we in Scotland are subscribing most liberally to cope with; but it is not a question of giving doles, either out of Scottish funds or out of the Imperial Treasury. It is a question of giving the people more land in accordance with the unanimous recommendations of the Royal Commission, so that they will be able to improve their position, and not require to come to Parliament at all.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 50; Noes 171.

Asher, Alexander Healy, Maurice (Cork) Nussey, Thomas Willans
Brigg, John Healy, Tim. M. (N. Louth) O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)
Brunner, Sir J. Tomlinson Hedderwick, Thos. Chas. H. O'Brien, P. J. (Tipperary)
Caldwell, James Holburn, J. G. Phillips, John Wynford
Cawley, Frederick Jordan, Jeremiah Price, Robert John
Clancy, John Joseph Kearley, Hudson E. Provand, Andrew Dryburgh
Clough, Walter Owen Kilbride, Denis Robson, William Snowdon
Crean, Eugene Knox, Edmund Francis Vesey Souttar, Robinson
Daly, James Lambert, George Stevenson, Francis S.
Davitt, Michael Lewis, John Herbert Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)
Doogan, P. C. Lough, Thomas Sullivan, T. D. (Donegal, W.)
Ellis, Thos. Ed. (Merionethsh.) MacAleese, Daniel Tanner, Charles Kearns
Finucane, John M'Cartan, Michael Wedderburn, Sir William
Flavin, Michael Joseph M'Ghee, Richard Williams, J. Carvell (Notts.)
Foster, Sir W. (Derby Co.) Maden, John Henry
Gibney, James Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Hayden, John Patrick Moss, Samuel Dr. Clark and Mr. Weir.
Hayne, Rt. Hn. C. Seale- Murnaghan, George
Allen, W. (Newc.-under-Lyme) Fison, Frederick William Moon, Edward Robert Pacy
Allhusen, Augustus Hy. Eden FitzGerald, Sir R. U. Penrose More, Robert Jasper
Arnold-Forster, Hugh O. Fletcher, Sir Henry Morrell, George Herbert
Ascroft, Robert Flower, Ernest Morton, Arth. H. A. (Deptf'd.)
Ashmead-Bartlett, Sir Ellis Forster, Henry William Murray, Rt. Hn. A. G. (Bute)
Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John Foster, Colonel (Lancaster) Murray, Chas. J. (Coventry)
Bagot, Capt. J. Fitzroy Garfit, William Murray, Col Wyndh'm (Bath)
Baird, Jno. Geo. Alexander Gedge, Sydney Newdigate, Francis Alex.
Balfour, Rt. Hn. A. J. (Manch'r) Gibbs, Hon. V. (St. Albans) Nicholson, William Graham
Balfour, Rt. Hn. Gerald (Leeds) Goldsworthy, Major-General Nicol, Donald Ninian
Banbury, Fredk. George Gordon, Hon. John Edward Northcote, Hn. Sir H. S.
Bartley, George C. T. Goschen, George J. (Sussex) Orr-Ewing, Charles Lindsay
Barton, Dunbar Plunket Goulding, Edward Alfred Paulton, James Mellor
Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M. H. (Bris.) Graham, Henry Robert Pollock, Harry Frederick
Beach, W. W. B. (Hants) Gray, Ernest (West Ham) Powell, Sir Francis Sharp
Beckett, Ernest William Green, Walford D. (W'dn'sb'y) Pryce-Jones, Edward
Begg, Ferdinand Faithful Greene, Henry D. (Shrewsbury) Purvis, Robert
Bemrose, Sir Henry Howe Greville, Captain Rentoul, James Alexander
Beresford, Lord Charles Gull, Sir Cameron Richardson, Sir Thos. (Hartlpl.)
Bigwood, James Gunter, Colonel Ridley, Rt. Hn Sir Matthew W.
Blundell, Colonel Henry Hanbury, Rt. Hn. Robt. W. Ritchie, Rt. Hon. C. Thomson
Bond, Edward Hanson, Sir Reginald Robertson, Herbt. (Hackney)
Broderick, Rt. Hon. St. J. Hardy, Laurence Round, James
Burdett-Coutts, W. Heath, James Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)
Campbell, J. H. M. (Dublin) Helder, Augustus Sharpe, William Edward T.
Carlile, William Walter Hill, Rt. Hn. Lord A. (Down) Sidebottom, Wm. (Derbysh.)
Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.) Howell, William Tudor Simeon, Sir Barrington
Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbysh.) Hutton, J. (Yorks, N. R.) Smith, Abel H. (Christch'rch)
Cecil, Lord Hugh Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick Sinclair, Louis (Romford)
Chaloner, Captain R. G. W. Johnston, William (Belfast) Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. (Bir.) Kemp, George Stanley, Edw. Jas. (Somerset)
Chamberlain, J. A. (Worc'r) Kenyon-Slaney, Col. W. Stephens, Henry Charles
Charrington, Spencer Kimber, Henry Stewart, Sir Mark J. M'Taggart
Clare, Octavius Leigh King, Sir H. Seymour Stirling-Maxwell, Sir Jno. M.
Cochrane, Hon. T. H. A. E. Lawrence, Sir Edw. (Cornwall) Sunderland, Sir Thomas
Coghill, Douglas Harry Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.) Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)
Cohen, Benjamin Louis Lees, Sir Elliott (Birkenhead) Taylor, Francis
Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie Thornton, Percy M.
Colomb, Sir John C. Ready Llewelyn, Sir D-. (Swansea) Tollemache, Henry James
Compton, Lord Alwyne Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R. Tomlinson, Wm. E. Murray
Corbett, A. Cameron (Gl'sgw.) Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine Vincent, Col. Sir C. E. Howard
Cross, Alexander (Glasgow) Long, Rt. Hon. W. (L'pool) Wanklyn, James Leslie
Cubitt, Hon. Henry Lopes, Hy. Yarde Buller Warner, Thos. Courtenay T.
Curzon, Rt Hn G. N. (Lanc. S. W.) Lucas-Shadwell, William Webster, R. G. (St. Pancras)
Curzon, Viscount (Bucks.) Macartney, W. G. Ellison Webster, Sir R. E. (I. Wight)
Dane, Richard M. Macdona, John Cumming Wentworth, B. C. Vernon-
Davenport, W. Bromley- Maclean, James Mackenzie Whiteley, H. (Ashton-under-L.)
Dickson-Poynder, Sir J. P. M'Arthur, Chas. (Liverpool) Williams, J. Powell (Birm.)
Digby, John K. D. Wingfield- M'Calmont, H. L. B. (C'mbs.) Willox, Sir John Archibald
Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles M'Iver, Sir Lewis Wilson, John (Falkirk)
Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph Malcolm, Ian Wilson, J. W. (Worc'sh N.)
Douglas, Rt. Hn. A. Akers- Maple, Sir John Blundell Wodehouse, E. R. (Bath)
Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V. Martin, Richard Biddulph Wortley, Rt. Hn. C. B. Stuart-
Fardell, Sir T. George Milbank, Powlett Chas. John Wyndham-Quin, Maj. W. H.
Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn E. Milner, Sir Frederick George Wyvill, Marmaduke D'Arcy
Finch, George H. Milton, Viscount TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Finlay, Sir R. Bannatyne Monckton, Edward Philip Sir William Walrond and
Fisher, William Hayes Monk, Charles James Mr. Anstruther.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question again proposed,—