§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £7,954, be granted to His 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, 1902, for the salaries and Expenses of the Office of His Majesty's Secretary for Scotland and Subordinate Office, and Expenses under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1899, including a Grant-in-aid of the Congested Districts (Scotland) Fund."
§ *MR. WEIR
moved the reduction of the Vote by £100 in order to call attention to the failure of the Secretary for Scotland to look after the interests of the Highlands and Islands. He hoped the Lord Advocate would give them 1131 some information in regard to the Hydro-graphical Conference which was held last month at Christiania. He also desired to know whether the Secretary for Scotland had approached the Treasury for more money for cruisers to protect the interests of line fishermen round the coasts of Scotland. An efficient steam packet service for the Western Highlands was much needed. And during the five years which had elapsed since the Light Railways Act was passed not a single light railway had been constructed in the Highland crofting counties. It was the duty of the Secretary for Scotland to look into all these matters. Why did he not go to the Hebrides to see the actual state of things for himself? He had brought up the question of the congestion in the Island of Lewis time after time; memorials had been sent up, but no attention was paid to the condition of this island. In 1898 he brought forward the question of Croir Farm, and pointed out its suitability for the settlement of the people. More recently he called attention to the fact that the two large sheep farms in Kintail were about to be cleared for deer, but the right hon. Gentleman told him that the Secretary for Scotland had no knowledge of the matter. Surely it was his business to get some information from the district. Instead of this the Secretary for Scotland, it is said, applied to the Chairman of the Deer Forests Commission of 1893, who resides at Brighton.
The hon. Member then proceeded to deal with the congestion in the island of Lewis, and read a memorial which had been forwarded by the parish council of Stornoway to the Secretary for Scotland, which declared that the sufferings of the crofters, squatters, and cottars due to this cause were indescribable, and urged that the Lewis fisherman ought to have at least three to four acres of land attached to his house. The council further urged that, seeing that out of a population of 30,000 nearly 5,000 men were connected in one way or another with the defence of the Empire, these grievances deserved to be inquired into. That was the opinion of the members of the Stornoway Parish Council, who knew all the facts, and who lived on the spot. Yet the Secretary for Scotland had apparently done nothing. He hoped 1132 the Secretary for Scotland would inquire into the matter himself, and not ignore appeals of this kind. Only yesterday he asked why it was that not a single yard of land had been acquired in Ross-shire or in the Island of Lewis by the Congested Districts Board. He was told in reply that some twenty-eight or twenty-nine lots had been offered in Stornoway parish at the rate of 25s. per quarter acre. He hoped the Secretary for Scotland would go to that district; he would not only improve this knowledge of Highland questions, but also his health, and he would find in the Island of Lewis a purer air than in any other part of the kingdom. Why did not the Congested Districts Board acquire land for the people? The Secretary for Scotland was the Chairman of that Board, which was established under an Act of Parliament having for its object the settlement of the people on the land, and £35,000 a year was set aside for that purpose. On the 31st of May last the Board had a balance of £61,867. Why did they not spend the money? This year's grant would be £35,000, which would give close upon £100,000 available.
These poor crofters, squatters, and cottars were not asking for doles. Money expended in settling the people on new holdings was not a gift, for it would be repaid by the people. It was very wrong that only £18,000 out of this £98,000 should be expended upon this object. In the Island of Lewis there had been no land acquired by the Congested Districts Board. He was a lover of peace and order, and he wanted things to go on peacefully and comfortably in the Highlands. He sometimes wondered if the Secretary for Scotland was anxious to have a repetition of what occurred in 1885 and 1886, when gunboats were sent down to the Highlands. Because the Board had not acquired land the law had been broken, and would be broken again. He was anxious to avoid conflicts between the people and the military. It was the Secretary's inattention to this matter that had incited these men to break the law. There were nearly 2,000,000 acres of land scheduled by the Deer Forests Commissioners as suitable for the people, and he wished to know if the Congested Districts Board had approached the pro- 1133 prietors in order to acquire any of that land. What was wanted was not a system of leases, but the settlement of the people on the land under the Crofters Act. They did not want leases at the expiration of which the poor people might be turned off land on which they had sweated and toiled to make fertile. That was not the object for which the Congested Districts Board was appointed. The hon. Member instanced a case in which an attempt was being made to shift the crofters from a particular township to a place some miles off, the object being, as he contended, to make that township into an extended deer forest. The main purpose of the Board was the emigration of the people from the congested areas, but, amongst other matters, it had also powers to provide stallions bulls, rams, and so on for the Highland districts. He was sorry to have to bring the bull into the arena of the House of Commons once more, but he felt bound to do so. The number of bulls required last year was sixty, but the Board were able to provide only forty-five. Surely the remaining fifteen bulls could have been secured in Ireland. The excuse of the Secretary for Scotland that the bulls could not be obtained was childish in the extreme. The Board conducted its operations in a most un-businesslike manner. In addition to providing bulls and rams, the Board was supposed to encourage the breeding of poultry, but in three years all that had been done in that direction was the provision of five cockerels and twenty-two hens. Another branch of the operations of the Board was in connection with bees, and the result in this direction amounted only to twenty-four swarms of bees and two extra hives. It was simply scandalous that although the Board spent each year nearly £900 in salaries, and £500 in travelling expenses, all that could be shown for it was about £18,000 spent for land, over and above the cost of forty-five bulls, five cockerels, twenty-two hens, and twenty-four swarms of bees. He hoped his Amendment would receive the support of a number of hon. Members on the other side of the House. The Board had powers also for the purpose of making roads, but instead of roads being made in districts where they would be useful to the people, they were too 1134 often made simply to suit the convenience of landlords and big farmers. A large number of passages might be quoted from the report to show the miserable inefficiency of the Congested Districts Board. The money set aside for the purposes of the Board, instead of now being expended for the benefit of the people, was hoarded up, and on the 31st March last there was a balance of over £61,000. As he stated when the Board was established, compulsory powers for the purpose of acquiring land were absolutely necessary, and until such powers ware bestowed the Board would continue to fail to secure land in certain districts. He appealed to the Lord Advocate to urge these matters upon the attention of the Secretary for Scotland, whom he was sorry not to see in the Peers' gallery. These matters were discussed only once in the year, and his Lordship might at least have attended in order to listen to the debate upon these important matters affecting the Highlands of Scotland. He moved to reduce the Vote by £1,000.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £6,954 be granted for the said Service."—(Mr. Weir.)
§ MR. JOHN WILSON (Falkirk Burghs)
desired to ask the Lord Advocate two questions, to which he hoped he would receive straightforward answers. The first was with regard to the appointment of a sheriff substitute for Lanark. The people of the ancient and royal burgh of Lanark, which he had the honour to represent, were very much dissatisfied because the burgh was not dignified by the permanent residence there of the sheriff of the county. According to the terms of his commission the sheriff was bound to reside in Lanark, but he was now allowed by the Secretary for Scotland to live in Glasgow. He believed it was said that a house could not be obtained in Lanark, but if the sheriff was directed to abide by the terms of his commission there was not the slightest doubt that a suitable house would be found. The second question he desired to raise was in connection with another ancient and royal burgh, which also he had the honour to represent, namely, that of Linlithgow. A procurator fiscal had been appointed at Linlithgow who, he was informed, was not a qualified law 1135 agent. In reply to a question in the House it had been stated that this gentleman had over thirty years experience as a deputy fiscal. That, however, must have been a mistake, because the Act under which deputy fiscals were appointed was not passed until 1877. He desired to know why, when so many properly qualified law agents applied for this position, this unqualified gentleman was brought from outside the burgh and pitchforked into the office? It should also be borne in mind that, not being a qualified law agent, this gentleman was liable to a penalty of £50 for any legal business he might transact.
*MR. A. GRAHAM MURRAY
understood that the hon. Member had to leave the House early, and therefore he would reply to his questions at once. With regard to the first, point, the hon. Member was speaking of the sheriff-substitute and not of the sheriff. When the Act of six or seven years ago was passed there was not a sheriff-substitute resident in Lanark; most of the Lanarkshire sheriff-substitutes resided in Glasgow. During the time of the late Government, in consequence of the great amount of work thrown upon the sheriff-substitutes by the Fatal Accidents Inquiries Act, it became absolutely necessary to appoint an additional sheriff-substitute. The Treasury consented to the appointment, and, as it had long been known that the people of Lanark were anxious to have somebody residing there, although the authorities were aware that most of the work would be in Glasgow, they consented to it being arranged that the gentleman appointed should live in Lanark. This stipulation was accordingly stated in the commission. The gentleman appointed, however, was not a new officer, but was transferred from another district. He was transferred "between terms," when it was impossible for him to get a house suitable for a sheriff-substitute to live in. He therefore asked permission from the Secretary for Scotland, who referred the matter to the sheriff, to live for the first year in Glasgow, where practically the whole of his work was, while he was looking out for a suitable house in Lanark.
*MR. A. GRAHAM MURRAY
contended that most of the work was in Glasgow, so much so, indeed, that the last occupant of the office applied again and again for transference to Glasgow altogether. There was no intention on the part of the Secretary for Scotland to alter the arrangement made when the appointment was first agreed to. With regard to the second matter referred to by the hon. Member, a procurator-fiscal had recently been appointed at Linlithgow, but the patronage of the appointment was not with the Government. Procurators-fiscal were appointed not upon his (the Lord Advocate's) recommendation to the Secretary for Scotland, but by the sheriff. The only grounds on which it was in order to refer to the matter at all on the Vote before the Committee was that the Secretary for Scotland had a veto in case of the appointment of an improper person. It need scarcely be said that the discretion of the sheriff was never interfered with unless it was feared that an entirely improper person was being appointed; in fact, he had never known a case in which that veto had been exercised. The sheriff appointed this gentleman, from among many candidates, because both he and the local sheriff-substitute had been entirely satisfied with the manner in which he had done the work of deputy-fiscal for the last six years in the same court. The hon. Member had rather given the Committee to understand that this gentleman had been brought from somewhere far away from Linlithgow, and that nobody knew anything about him, whereas the fact was that he had proven himself to be a useful public servant, and had served in that particular court for six years to the entire satisfaction of the sheriff himself. More than that, he had had thirty-three years experience as deputy-fiscal.
§ MR. JOHN WILSON
asked whether the Lord Advocate was not aware that the Act under which deputy-fiscals were appointed was passed in 1877, so that he could not have had thirty-three years experience.
*MR. A. GRAHAM MURRAY
said he was not aware of anything of the sort. 1137 The Act under which deputy-fiscals were appointed under present conditions was passed in 1877, but before that it was a matter entirely for the sheriffs, and the office of deputy-fiscal had been in existence for the last 200 or 300 years. This gentleman had testimonials from sheriffs under whom he had served in different parts of Scotland. It was true that he was not a qualified law agent in the sense of having passed the Law Agents' Examination, but he was practising long before the Act under which those examinations were held was passed; and, as a matter of fact, the law agents' qualification had never been required for a fiscal at all. There were several other deputy-fiscals who were not qualified law agents. The point was that the gentleman knew his business thoroughly, and had had a very long experience, and the idea that, with these testimonials, the Government could interfere with the action of the sheriff was altogether out of the question. With regard to the liability to penalty, the particular Act by which that liability was imposed had been repealed.
§ MR. JOHN WILSON
read from the Stamp Act of 1891 a list of acts for the committing of any of which an unqualified person was liable to a penalty of £50.
*MR. A. GRAHAM MURRAY
pointed out that a deputy fiscal did none of the things which the hon. Member had mentioned.
*MR. A. GRAHAM MURRAY
said that this deputy fiscal had what was called "restricted employment," and if he engaged in other practice he would be liable to the penalty; but the present Stamp Act, in the view of the law officers of the Crown, had absolutely no application to the office of fiscal. He had thought it well to go into this matter fully, as otherwise an injustice would have been done to a gentleman 1138 who had been a very estimable public servant, and one who ought not to be spoken of as having been pitchforked into his position.
§ *MR. JOHN DEWAR (Inverness)
desired to call attention to the operations of the Congested Districts Board, especially in the western islands. The question was a very serious one, and the present state of affairs had given rise in his constituency to a great deal of discontent and unrest. He approached the subject in no unfriendly spirit, for he recognised that the Board had done a very great deal of good work. His complaint was that enough had not been done, that what had been done was not done in time, and in some cases it had not been done in the right way. If one read between the lines of the report it would be seen that the Board themselves believed that enough had not been done. The work of the Board consisted in trying to improve stock and agriculture; in carrying out of public works in the shape of piers, roads, and so on; and the settling of people on the land. The last-named duty was the most important of all, but the Board appeared to think it the least important. They had not realised the intensity of the desire of the inhabitants to occupy the land. With regard to the improvement of stock, he could not speak of the manner in which the duty was carried out, but he could assure the Committee from his own observation that there was very great need for it, and the work was one to which the energy and enterprise of the Board might very well be devoted. The work of the Board with regard to piers was a most important one, for the purpose of improving the conditions of life in the islands. It was very desirable that more rapid means of communication should be established, and he only wished the Board could give some assistance in making the postal communication in the islands more effective. With regard to the building of piers, he knew one pier which had been built through the assistance of the Board to which there was no access by either sea or land. There was no road to the pier, and the approach from the sea was so dangerous that it was very seldom that boats of any size could reach it. He appreciated very highly the 1139 work of the Board with regard to roads. They had made many excellent roads, and in Harris alone they had been the means of making a good many miles of footpaths, which were of great service in enabling school children to get to school, and otherwise in improving the means of communication. But of the methods of carrying out their operations he could not speak with so much approval. In this connection, he desired to read an extract from a letter he had received—As an illustration of the manner in which this work is occasionally carried out, the Factor of an estate was asked to meet one of the Supervisors of the Board to arrange about a road which was to be made. The Factor arrived on the ground only to find that the Supervisor had been sent without any instructions whatever, although the road had been surveyed by three different engineers before that, and they had received two different estimates. It took two days to reach Lochmaddy to wire for instructions and to return, the instructions being to do the best they could, and those two days besides all the previous labour were wasted and thrown away.That was a practical criticism of the methods by which the works were carried out. While they must have the greatest respect for the Board in some ways, the inspectors they employed were not exactly the kind that were needed. The most important work of the Board, and the work which would yield the best return, was the settling of people on the land. The Board seemed altogether to fail to realise that the people were so anxious to get on to the land, to till and to occupy it; they did not appreciate the gravity of the situation. The Lord Advocate had more than once said that it could not be expected that those who broke the law would get anything. That was a very proper observation, but when the Committee knew the facts of the case they would probably wonder whether after all the crofters were the proper persons to be in the dock. In Barra it required eight years of constitutional agitation and a general rising to draw the attention of the Congested Districts Board to the condition of the people. At present there was a great opportunity to settle people on the land in those parts on reasonable terms. Sheep farms were not now profitable, and the landlords were very willing to treat. His fear was that if the people were not settled 1140 on these farms they would be devoted to deer, and he was anxious that they should be occupied by men and women rather than by deer. In England the difficulty was to get the people to stay on the land; in Scotland there was a great population which was anxious to settle on the land, and it was the duty of the Board to make it as easy as possible for them to do so. In order to show the benefit to the country of having men and women on the land, he would give a concrete case which had come under his own observation. The particular case to which he had referred was a farm in the Western Hebrides which had been let at a rental of £120 per annum. The farmer's profits might be put at another £120, and there were six labourers employed at £30 a year each. That made a total of £420 a year as the return to the country from that land used as a sheep farm. That farm was now in the occupation of twenty-four crofter families, each of whom paid a rent of £5, making £120 in all—an amount equal to the rent previously paid. But each of those crofters was earning from crops and stock at least £30 a year. This made £720 altogether, or a total return of £840 as against £420. Then, to look at what Mr. Kruger would call the moral and intellectual return, he would refer to the Borve settlement, on the estate pf Lord Fincastle. There were on that settlement several men serving His Majesty in the Army or Navy or Naval Reserve; five of them at the front, and there were two young men from the district studying for the learned professions. The Commissioners say:—Mr. E. K. Carmichael, C. E., who acted for us in arranging the holdings, and who is familiar with crofting life in the Long Island, visited the Borve settlement in November last. He has submitted a report on the condition in which he had found the settlers; in the course of that report he says:—'I expected to see a considerable change, but I was not prepared for so great an improvement as had been wrought, not only in the place, but in the people. A great part of this improvement is undoubtedly due to the splendid road the Congested Districts Board are making. The crofters have, however, drained the land allotted to them, so that even in this wet season it seems quite a different place from the bog through which one waded last year. Two of the crofters had erected "white" houses, and a number of others have put up houses in which they live 1141 in the meantime, but which will be converted into byres and barns when they have had time to build more permanent dwellings.'The people themselves are greatly improved. Always a fine, independent set of men, they have now gained more enthusiasm and more life, and a good deal of friendly rivalry has sprung up among them.'Mr. Carmichael assures us that the people are doing their best, and that 'the changes in the last year forecast a great success for the Borve settlement, benefitting the proprietor no less than the tenant.'In the cases he had mentioned the work had been well done, but he wanted more of such work done by the Congested Districts Board. What had been done in these cases had been done upon the initiation of the landlords; and why had the Congested Districts Board not done more with the balance of £60,000 which they had in hand? There was only one case for which the Board deserved credit, and that was the case of Barra, and the result in this case was largely due to the personal influence of Lord Balfour.
The whole of the Island of Barra belongs to Lady Gordon Cathcart, and there is a large population on the island living under conditions which would not be tolerated if they were nearer public opinion. They have petitioned Lady Gordon Cathcart for years to give them land, not so much for cultivation, although they desire that also, as for the erection of decent and suitable houses. On the passing of the Allotment (1892) Act they presented a petition to receive the benefits of that Act, and on the creation, of the parish council they approached that body, who investigated their case and wrote Lady Gordon Cathcart's factor, in July, 1895, asking if Lady Gordon Cathcart would voluntarily give the necessary land The factor, in his reply of the 26th August, asked particulars, which were given in a letter of the 29th.Tanuary, 1896. This letter he believed was never answered. The parish council eventually applied to the county council to put the provisions of the Allotment Act in force. The application was received with disfavour, but ultimately a committee was appointed to investigate the circumstances on the spot. This committee was supposed to be prejudiced against the application, but after their examination they reported unanimously in favour of it on 29th September, 1897.
1142 Instead of acting on the report of their own committee, the county council, at a meeting on the 21st October, 1897, carried a motion referring the parish council to the Congested Districts Board, although, in view of Lady Cathcart's refusal to sell the land, the county council only had power to acquire it compulsorily. The Congested Districts Board, he believed, replied to that effect. The county council, on the 5th May, 1898, sent to the parish council a series of questions, some of which the parish council could not answer, and replies to the others might have been given by their own committee who made the investigations. No action having been taken, by the county council, the parish council laid the whole matter before the Congested Districts Board. The next appearance of the county council is, claiming £37 15s. from the parish council to pay the expenses of their deputations to investigate the matter. In view of the hopelessness of getting the request for land for erection of decent houses, the cottars and crofters made their demonstration last autumn. At this crisis Lord Balfour brought his own personal influence to bear on Lady Gordon Cathcart, and induced her to sell 3,000 acres to the Congested Districts Board. This is said to be not nearly enough. The constitutional agitation had been going on from 1892 at least. In another letter he had received from Barra, the writer stated—I fear that the cottars of the east side have been treated to rather less than half a loaf, as all the decent arable land on the east side has been retained by the Macgillivrays, and a croft of purely hill-grazing will never answer for their needs in the matter of potato ground and grain crop. Of course it will relieve congestion to some extent, even on the east side, and the west side people will come off all right, but really they would have needed about another thousand acres of land, mostly arable, to give them a proper chance.Why did the Board in this case wait for an outbreak—for they had all the powers which they now possessed in 1892, and this agitation had been going on for eight years, and yet the Congested Districts Board did nothing to get the land until the people defied the law?
The disturbance in Barra led to further disturbances, and he would give briefly the history of the North Uist case. The estate belonging to Mr. 1143 Campbell Orde has been in the market some time. The neighbouring crofters said it was extremely suitable for a crofters' settlement, and it was occupied sixty years ago as a crofters' settlement. On the matter being brought before the Congested Districts Board they got a report which said that it was not suitable for a crofters' settlement. Nothing will make the crofters who know the locality believe this, and they took possession of the farm. The Congested Districts Board have sent one of the Crofters' Commissioners to give another report, and they thus had another case of respectable, peaceful citizens being compelled to break the law to obtain justice. The Congested Districts Board had done excellent work in carrying out crofter settlements on the estates of Sir Arthur Orde, Viscount Fincastle, and also, he believed, on the estate of the Duke of Sutherland: but in every case those settlements were due to the initiation of the landlord, and not to the Congested Districts Board. So far as he knew, the only case in which the Congested Districts Board deserved credit for having tackled this question was the Barra case, and that was due, he believed, almost entirely to Lord Balfour's personal exertions and influence.
In the Scouser case the Crofter Commission was so restricted that, although they were convinced that sheep should be substituted for cattle, they had no power to enforce their decision. The landlord offered another site, but the crofters declined to go there, although they offered to go to Scorriebrick, which was another part of the same estate, and was part of the land scheduled as suitable for crofter holdings by the Deer Forest Commission. He wished to impress strongly upon the Committee the importance of this work, and he thought it was their duty to urge the Congested Districts Board to do a great deal more in this direction. The Board was composed of excellent men. Lord Balfour was chairman, but he was the busiest man in Scotland, and could not be expected to give personal attention to all these matters. Sir Colin Scott Moncreiff lived in London, three of the members lived in Edinburgh, one in Mull, one he thought in Sutherlandshire, and another in Brighton; and the circumstances were 1144 such that it would be difficult for the Board to have many conferences. The secretary only gave part of his time to the work, being employed in the Exchequer Office in Edinburgh. It seemed to the hon. Member that it would be a very much better arrangement to have a man who would give his whole time to the work, and who would go about finding out where the shoe pinched, in order to draw the attention of the Board to the matter.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
said the Report was not altogether satisfactory. It was a disappointing Report, and all the more disappointing because the Board was composed on the whole of very good men. Certainly Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, who had just been lost by the Board, was an able, kindly, and energetic man. He believed that member's place would be well filled by MacLeod of MacLeod. With such a Board, one would have expected more in the way of results. He thought the Board had frittered away its resources. It had taken up a great number of different matters, some of which had been gone into at considerable length by the hon. Member for Ross-shire. But the chief object of the Board was to settle the people on the land. He was not one of those who thought there was an unlimited amount of land available for that purpose. Although he might be singular in the opinion, he thought that a large population might be maintained on the land over a great part of the Highlands more readily by timber-growing than by crofting. In Lewis and other parts of the Hebrides, to which reference had been made, a large population could be maintained in comfort where there was ready access to the fishing grounds and landing places. He could state from his own knowledge that there were many parts in the outer Hebrides which could be used by crofter fishermen, and which had been put into large farms. Apparently difficulty was found in obtaining these sites. What had been done was very largely due to the efforts of two or three landlords who desired to help the Congested Districts Board. Work had been done in Sutherland and Strathnaver, and also by MacLeod of MacLeod; but where they wanted to extend the system of crofter holdings it had been 1145 found that the land was not dealt with in the same spirit as on the Sutherland and MacLeod estates. The members of the Board were of opinion that the powers granted by the Act were in some respects inadequate; they were inadequate in respect to the larger farms. The work of the Board had largely failed because they had not compulsory powers to deal with the more pressing cases. In the absence of powers to deal with such cases, the Board had been left to spend its money in a vast number of different ways, useful no doubt, but which were not the purposes for which the Board was instituted. They found the Board erecting lighthouses, making roads, dealing with questions of the improvement of stock, erecting meal mills, and dealing with a great number of useful subjects, but still outside the primary work for which the Board was instituted. He did not entertain any exaggerated opinion as to the amount of land that was really available for the purpose of extending the crofting area, but he held that there was on the west coast a considerable amount. It was unfortunate that the outbreaks referred to should take place because compulsory powers had not been given to the Board. He thought that to some extent they should be able to check the decline of the population. It was not very marked on the west coast as yet, but it might come at any time. He believed they were all concerned in the maintenance of as large a rural population as they could in the Highlands, and it was a pity if this should be neglected through not being able to deal with land where the Board had not been able to get facilities from the proprietors.
*MR. A. GRAHAM MURRAY
I must say that if all matters which are dealt with by criticism were discussed in the temperate and generous spirit shown by the hon. Member for Inverness the duty of replying would be a very much easier one than it sometimes is. I want to say a few words upon the general question. In the first place it is rather surprising, I think, to hear that the primary object of the work of the Congested Districts Board was to settle the people on the land. I do not, of course, wish to dispute about phrases. It is one of the great objects of the Board in so far as the Board see their way to do so, but the primary object was to deal 1146 with the congested districts in whatever way they could best help them. I humbly think that the matter of settling people on the land is rather unduly magnified by hon. Members opposite; not magnified as to the desirability of doing it if it can be done, but magnified in judging the Board, who, after all, must be judged according to their resources and opportunities. I would remind hon. Members that it is perfectly obvious that if the idea was to remove congestion wherever there is congestion by means of enlarging the holdings of the people, it would require money, but of course the amount of money at the command of the Board would be absolutely and entirely inadequate, I could not help thinking that there was a strong condemnation of such a policy in the remarks of the hon. Member for Ross-shire. Taking Lewis as an example, he complained of what had been done for that island. He said it was absolutely necessary that the fishermen should have holdings of four acres. The hon. Member made himself the mouthpiece of the district council at Stornoway. He knows perfectly well that the population of Lewis is such that we could not do it. Of course it would be perfectly impossible to remove congestion in that way. I cannot think, so far as the experience of the Board is concerned, that the want of compulsory powers has anything to do with the question. I will tell hon. Members one or two points that have to do with it. Remember the class of people we have to ideal with. They want small holdings and they object very strongly, as a rule, to removing very far from the neighbour hood in which they are. We have to consider this fact. You cannot expect, as a rule, that any landlord would be willing to what I may call pick out the eyes of his estate in order to give portions suitable for small holdings and keep the other portions, which are either unsuitable for that purpose or are already under crofter tenure and therefore not suitable for sale. On the other hand, if you wish to buy whole estates it is very seldom that you can get one entirely composed of land suitable for those small occupancies. If you take all these things together, it is not every place that is at all suitable for the furtherance of the object you have in view. I claim for the Congested Districts Board that they 1147 really have done their best, and I am bound to say that I think they have had a good deal of testimony to that effect from the hon. Member for Inverness. It was rather significant certainly when he was speaking on the general question, and wished to point out to the House how much it would benefit the country if we were to put people instead of sheep on the land, that he should take a case for illustration which had been actually carried out by the Congested Districts Board. I am not quite sure that I see eye to eye with him in his arithmetical problem, but it is enough for me that when he urged what was best for the interest of the country he should take one of the actual results that had come from my noble friend's hand in the Congested District Board. I think hon. Members will be surprised to hear that, as a matter of fact, I have before me, more or less, particulars of thirty-six different estates or parts of estates as to which there have been negotiations. Of course I am not going through these, for obvious reasons.
I would like to say a word or two on the questions of resettlement and migration which the hon. Member brought specially before the notice of the Committee. The hon. Member for Ross-shire complains that nothing has been done at Croir. I think he is aware that although the Board were anxious to obtain the settlement of crofters there, a lease of the farm had been given by the proprietor.
*MR. A. GRAHAM MURRAY
Of course holdings at Stornoway were refused. These were fens, and not farms. I pass on to say something of matters at Barra. The hon. Member for Inverness 1148 has referred to what has been done, and he asked a question, which I can answer, as to why the whole of the farm has not been bought. It could not be bought because, as a matter of fact, the farm is at this moment running under long lease. The tenants were so anxious to get possession of the farm that they offered to buy the whole estate, so that really it was a very good compromise for the Congested Districts Board to be able to buy a considerable amount of the land. They did this after an arrangement had been mutually come to between the landlord and the tenants, because that meant that they got the tenants to give up the leasehold rights over the farm. The inducement given to the tenants was that they were enabled to become proprietors of another portion of land on a neighbouring farm.
I wish hon. Members would look at the Report, because it is exceedingly instructive to know what are the difficulties which are met with in dealing with the people themelves. The hon. Member for Inverness gave a perfectly fair account of the proceedings at Sconser, but he did not read out the whole condemnation of the place from the medical point of view. He knows, and any member of the Committee who reads the Report will see, that practically the outbreak of typhus was due to the insanitary conditions of the place. The township is entirely overshadowed by a hill over 2,000 feet high. The offer made was, as the hon. Member for Inverness admitted, a most generous one, and yet as a matter of fact none of these people would move to another place. It seems to me that their action may be regarded as similar to that of a man who, if he received what you would call a generous offer of a house in Whitechapel, would reply, "I will take a house in Belgrave Square."
§ MR. CALDWELL
The Lord Advocate is omitting to make any reference to the fact that the crofters gave special reasons why they preferred another place.
*MR. A. GRAHAM MURRAY
I know those reasons perfectly, and if the hon. Member will read, page 8 he will find the reasons on the other side. The reasons of the crofters were very inadequate, I have not the slightest hesi- 1149 tation in saying. There, again, is an illustration of the difficulty you very often have in dealing with people of this class. They are not as a rule very anxious to migrate, but if you look for more land in their own immediate neighbourhood it is not always possible to find it. What I am anxious to show is that the Congested Districts Board are continuously keeping their eyes open to acquire any property of a suitable kind. It is not every property that is suitable, and although it is perfectly easy to indulge in general condemnation at the expense of the Congested Districts Board, as the hon. Member for Ross-shire has done, he must consider their opportunities, and that they have done their best according to their circumstances.
I think a great deal of the most valuable work of the Board is in other directions than migration. They have been doing a great deal in connection with the development of agriculture and stock. If hon. Members are interested in this they will find that the Report tells them in detail, and they will see that the Congested Districts Board has done a great deal of good in this direction. The hon. Member will pardon me for reminding him of one fact. He was concerned about the number of cockerels, but he entirely forgets that a sitting of eggs, which under ordinary circumstances eventually means stock, is as important as the distribution of live poultry. I want to say a word about roads. The hon. Member for Ross-shire made the very general accusation that these roads were not made in the interest of the country at all, but in the interest of the landlords and big farmers.
*MR. A. GRAHAM MURRAY
These roads are not undertaken except upon the recommendation of the district council. Although the hon. Member has referred to a road in the island of Barra, I must say that that particular road was recommended by the district council of Barra. It is quite obvious that there is not the slightest use of making a road in a district if, immediately after that, the road is not to be kept up in the district, and the only authority that 1150 can keep up the road is the district council.
I have gone through somewhat rapidly and under pressure of the circumstances of the hour the various points raised by hon. Members. I believe the true justification of the action of the Congested Districts Board will be found by a perusal of the Report, and I would be perfectly willing to rest the judgment of those who read it against the vague declamation of the hon. Member for Ross-shire. The composition of the Board has been admitted to be individually excellent. Something has been said about there not being a secretary giving his whole time to the work. Well, the Secretary for Scotland was of opinion at the outset, and experience has not made him alter the conviction, that it would be much better not to have the whole time of a man, but, if necessary, to send a man to report on various parts. If you had the whole time of a man there would, in one sense, not be enough for him to do, and in others there would be too much. He would occupy a great deal of his time not in proper secretarial work, but by turning himself into an inspector. He thought it better to have a proper secretary always at headquarters, and to get the necessary supplementary information by particular inspections in other hands. Experience has shown that he has not come to a wrong conclusion. On the question of land, I think the hon. Member has been misled as to the meaning of the Allotments Act. It has only been in existence for three years, and I quite agree with the hon. Member for Inverness on this matter.
§ It being midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next; Committee also report progress; to sit again upon Monday next.