HC Deb 28 July 1906 vol 162 cc257-78

said he should endeavour to state as briefly as he Gould the considerations which had prompted the Government to introduce the Bill which he had now the honour of submitting to the judgment of the House. The House was aware of the existing provisions and machinery of the Crofters' Acts. The principal Act was passed in the year 1886. It was the sequel and the product of some years of acute land agitation and had entirely justified in its results those who were responsible for it. There was great discontent in the Highlands at the time: distress, high rents, evictions, and general unrest. The Crofters Act established a system of statutory fair rents with periodical revision, fixed by the Crofters Commission, who were endowed with other powers, including powers for the enlargement of holdings. By general consent the Act had succeeded beyond all expectation: rents were paid regularly, the interest of the landlord had increased in value, while on the other hand the security of tenure had encouraged the crofter to improve his holding. Better houses had been built and there was a higher standard of cultivation to be found. In the year 1894 and also in the following year a Bill was introduced by the then Secretary for Scotland, Sir George Trevelyan, to amend the Crofters Act. These amending Bills proposed to admit leaseholder to the benefits of the Act and to extend the operation of the Act to eight additional counties. He ought to mention also that in 1897 the Congested Districts (Scotland) Act was passed, establishing a Board of Commissioners with an income of £35,000 a year to be applied at their discretion to providing land for sub-division into holdings, aiding migration from congested districts, developing agriculture, dairy-farming, the breeding of live stock, and other purposes. These two authorities had in recent years co-operated within the congested districts in the work assigned to them by Parliament. Of the purposes of this Bill the first which he should mention was the amendment and extension of the Crofters Acts within the crofter area. The Bill removed some of the restrictions limiting available land under Section 13 of the Act of 1886. These restrictions had in practice made it impossible for the Crofters Commissioners to deal with a large number of applications for enlargement which had reached them. The Bill also reduced the minimum number of competent applicants for enlargement of holding. It provided that the holder of land might use his holding for subsidiary or auxiliary occupations. It provided for the admission of leaseholders to the benefits of the Act. It raised the limit of qualifying rental from £30 to £50, the limit contained in the existing Small Holdings Act. It made amendments in the power of bequest and assignation of tenancy. It gave powers for the creation of new crofter tenancies, in the first place by agreement, and in the second place, where agreement was not found to be possible, by compulsory order. There were other amendments which he need not dwell upon at that moment. So much for the area of the existing crofter counties. He might note in passing that the congested districts form only a part of the so-called crofting counties. There remained the question of the extension of the Crofters Acts beyond the existing area. In considering this question two remarkable contrasts must be pointed out. Looking at them together for a moment, the main work of these two authorities, that was to say, the conferring of security of tenure at a fair rent and the settlement of crofters at a fair rent upon the land, operated according to the locality in which the work was done in two different directions. In one part of the country the purpose was the relieving of congestion, in the other, checking and counteracting de-population. In the western islands, where there was great congestion of population—cottars squatting upon the lands of crofters, and so forth —the work to be done and which had been done by these authorities was directed to the relief of congestion. On the other hand, on the mainland, except in a few isolated localities, their work had been directed to remedying the evil of de-population and to increasing the number of settlers on the land. There was another striking contrast. What was meant by a "crofter"? In the congested districts of the western islands, the crofter might be and often was a tenant at a rent of a pound or more, of an acre or two, with a share in the common grazing. There were 555 tenants under a rent of £1 in the island of Lewis alone; while on the eastern seaboard the crofter might be and often was a tenant of a holding of from five to five and twenty or thirty pounds a year, owning a considerable small stock of sheep or cattle, frequently without a share in any common grazing, and as a matter of fact indistinguishable in the circumstances under which he carried on his industry from any small farmer of a like rent in any part of Scotland, except that he enjoyed the security of tenure and the fair rent which he had under the Crofters Act. These two facts—firat, that the Crofter Commissioners had been striving to meet the two opposite evils of congestion on the one hand, and on the other, de-population; and, secondly, the identity in condition of the crofter upon the eastern mainland with the small farmer elsewhere in Scotland—showed that for the last twenty years the Crofter Commissioners had been working out problems, some of which were no doubt peculiar to the Highlands, and others of which were undoubtedly common to the whole country. It was right, he considered, that he should take this opportunity of paying a warm tribute to those who had during the last twenty years in the case of the Crofter Commissioners, and in the case of the Congested Districts Board, for the last nine years, been concerned in the administration of these Acts. The country, he felt sure, recognised the debt of gratitude which was due to them, especially to the Crofters Commission, and if he might say so, to the Chairman, who had presided over its work from the beginning, for their devoted and ungrudging labours in the public service. The Crofters Acts had never been, amended except in one or two small particulars in the early years after the passing of the principal Act in 1886. The Congested District Commissioners had done considerable work of an ameliorative character in many directions. In relation to the work of the Crofter Commissioners their work had lain in two directions: they had been successful, with the voluntary co-operation of various landlords, in the formation of crofters holdings by agreement. There were various instances of work of this kind carried out by them which had been hitherto and promised to be entirely successful. On the other hand, they had instituted a policy of land purchase which had not been entirely successful. Let him put before the House briefly the contrast between these two policies. They were familiar with the policy of land purchase, the model of which was to be found in Ireland. The experience of the Congested Districts Board tended to show that, at present, at any rate, the crofter did not ask for land purchase. It would be much more costly than crofter legislation, which had been successful. It was not necessary. It would expropriate, landlords, which was not desirable. The reluctance of crofters to purchase had led to great difficulty. On the other hand, under the crofter policy the rent of the crofter was fixed and periodically revised by the Commissioners; he made all his own improvements; he had no power of free sale; he had security of tenure, provided that he observed certain conditions which protected the landlord. This security of tenure, as he had already said, encouraged the crofter to expend his capital in improving his holding and every shilling he spent in the improvement of the holding for his own use improved the security of the landlord for the rent, and therefore the capital value of the holding. So far as the crofting counties of Scotland were concerned, there was therefore some experience to guide them, and he now returned to the question of the extension of the operation of the Act beyond the Highland counties. Great objection was taken in 1886 by critics of the Bill in the House of Commons to the narrow limits of its operation and in particular to the definitions upon which the Act was founded. In the Act, which applied to yearly tenants only, a crofter was defined as a person who was tenant of and resided on his holding, the annual rent of which did not exceed £30, and which was situated in a crofting parish, and the successors of such person in the holding, being his heirs or legatees. A crofting parish was denned as a parish in which there were at the commencement of the Act or had been within eighty years prior thereto, holdings consisting of arable land with a right of pasturage in common with others, and in which there still were tenants of holdings from year to year who resided on their holdings. The Government of 1886 firmly refused to extend the operation of the Act beyond the original seven counties, on the ground that they were convinced that beyond these limits no crofting parishes as denned above were to be found. In fact, the 1805 Bill did not in words alter this definition, but in proposing the admission of leaseholders it departed from the historical clan theory upon which the definition of "crofter parish" seems to rest. He had already pointed out that in many districts on the mainland the crofter under the Act was simply a small farmer who made his own improvements, as he might be in any county in Scotland. As a matter of fact, the 1886 Act admitted to its benefits individuals who, personally, had no historical claim, and parishes where in 1886 there was no common grazing, and where there was none now. These considerations had been evident from the first, especially to those counties which Sir George Trevelyan proposed to include in his Bill. To adopt the area of the 1895 Bill and to adhere to the definitions of "crofter" and "crofting parish "would, it was believed, admit to the benefits of the Act the island of Arran and certain isolated parishes elsewhere; that was only a very small proportion of the crofters and not necessarily the most needy, in the eight additional counties proposed in 1895. Large areas of land in the occupation of small tenants in these counties would be excluded from the operation of the P II. To apply the Crofters Act to some of the small holders in one of these counties and a Small Holdings Bill to others in the same county, each system with separate procedure and machinery, was hardly practicable. The Government, in view of these considerations, had therefore decided to abandon the definitions of the 1886 Bill. There were other considerations which were pertinent to this subject. Circumstances had somewhat changed since 1886, when high rents, accumulations of arrears, and evictions brought about the Crofters Act. Rents had fallen at least as heavily outside the crofting area as within it under the operation of the Act. There was a strong demand for small holdings legislation. While in many branches of farming, Scotland and England might be said to lead the way among the progressive countries of the world, in regard to small farming we lagged behind. On the one hand our farming suffered; we were increasingly dependent upon foreign nations for large supplies of perishable farm produce; from time to time small farms were thrown into large farms; and, on the other hand, our rural population was dwindling, and men who had devoted the best years of their life to farm service and farm labour found no career open to them in the country and were driven to swell the drift of population towards the large towns. There was room in this country for both kinds of farming; nobody contemplated the immediate division of the land of the country into small farms. But there was a strong demand for small holdings legislation. That involved as a sine qua non the grant in some form or other of security of tenure to the occupying cultivator; without it the small holder was helpless; with it he seemed to prosper everywhere—in Ireland, in the agricultural countries of Europe, and as a crofter. Many causes had contributed, no doubt, to reduce the number of farm labourers employed on our farms: labour saving machinery and other causes which he need not now name; but if the experience of other countries was to count for anything the only way to attract men to live in the country was to give them a secure interest in the land they cultivated. To check depopulation, the first step was to check the absorption of small farms. The absorption of small farms was not confined to the crofter counties, and the present Bill permitted all small holders in Scotland paying a rent of £50 and under to have a fair rent fixed and so to come under the provisions of the Bill. Further, the Bill gave powers for the creation of small holdings. The House would remember that the Crofters Act contained powers for the enlargement of holdings. This Bill applied and developed these powers for the creation of new tenancies under tenure of the Bill, in the first place by agreement. The Bill further provided, under careful safeguards and with consideration for the various interests concerned, that where agreement was not found to be possible, that was to say, where, in the opinion of the Land Commission, suitable and otherwise available land was refused by a landlord for the purposes of the creation of tenancies under the Bill, the Land Commissioners, after duly satisfying themselves on all points that might have arisen, might issue a compulsory order. In the creation of these new tenancies, whether by agreement or by compulsion, an alteration in the economic distribution of land was made in the public interest. It might be compared to the work of municipal corporations and private individuals in the pulling down of slums and the erection of new dwellings. There was a money loss in these transactions. It was not fair that it should fall on the former owner, and it was not fair to throw it into the rent of the new tenant. The community must bear the loss. Similarly with the dividing up of land into new tenancies. The farm stock might have to be cleared off and in some cases sold at a loss. The land must be divided and prepared; roads made and houses built. The difficulty of finding money for these operations had been one of the great obstacles to many proposals for the creation of small holdings. The experience of the Crofter Commissioners and of the Congested Districts Board tended to show that, while there were proprietors who were not willing, there were also proprietors who were willing to provide land and to accept selected crofter tenants, provided aid could be given, as it had been in several cases, to meet the cost of removing the farm stock and of dividing up and preparing the land. Authority was therefore given in this Bill to the Land Commissioners to expend their funds in grants or loans for the purpose of meeting such initial expenditure; in grants to enable landlords to fulfil their obligations under existing leases which might be compulsorily terminated, and in loans to individual applicants who wished to erect dwelling-houses on their holdings; and in so far as the expenditure took the form of loans, conditions were prescribed with a view to providing secuity for repayment. He now turned to the remaining provisions of the Bill. The Crofters Commission and the Congested Districts Commissioners disappeared and were merged in one body named the Scottish Land Commission, which was authorised to carry out the above purposes of the Bill. The annual income of the Congested Districts Board remained applied as heretofore to the congested districts, but would be so applied by the Land Commission for the purposes of the Bill, and the Land Commissioners were further authorised to expend an additional annual sum for the purposes of the Bill which might be expended in any part of Scotland. One further point. There was a strong feeling in Scotland that the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, however zealous and energetic it might be in the discharge of its duties, was too distant and too little in touch with Scottish requirements to fulfil satisfactorily the demands made under present day conditions upon a Department of Agriculture. For instance, there was a demand for the encouragement of forestry as specially suitable or possible under Scottish conditions. The development of a class of small holders might be expected to increase those demands. It was therefore thought expedient in this Bill to create the nucleus of a separate Agricultural Department for Scotland. A Commissioner of Agriculture for Scotland was appointed with a general power of supervision of agriculture in Scotland, to whom it was intended to transfer, as found convenient, powers now exercised in Scotland by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. Provision was also made for the transfer to this Commissioner of certain powers now vested in the Congested Districts Commissioners, which under this Bill would hereafter vest in the Land Commission, but which it was thought might with advantage be transferred later to the Commissioner of Agriculture and be made of general application to the whole of Scotland. These were the main provisions of the Bill. It would be printed and issued as soon as possible. It was laid before the House as a proposal of constructive reform, an endeavour, a scheme which must be considered as a whole, as a careful attempt to solve a problem of vital importance to the country.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to encourage the formation of small agricultural holdings and to amend the Law relating to the tenure of such holdings (including crofters' holdings) in Scotland; and for other purposes connected therewith."—(Mr. Sinclair.)


said that no one who had listened to the speech of the Secretary for Scotland could fail to have in his mind the fact that the right hon. Gentleman had introduced a. Bill of very great importance. One was reluctant to allude to the fact that such a Bill should be introduced at such a, late period. It was a Bill well worthy of being considered on its First Reading during the whole of one day's debate, and he thought some more favourable occasion than a Saturday afternoon ought to have been chosen for its introduction. It was a Bill of a wide and embracing character, and made a fundamental change in the composition of the Crofters Commission, whilst otherwise it dealt with a variety of subjects. He regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had not been able to see his way to give the House a slight hint of what he had proposed to do by this Bill, in order that when it came before them they might have been able to give it adequate discussion. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman generally upon that part of his speech in which he praised the success of the Crofters Commission, and announced to the House that in many respects they had carried out their duties most faithfully and well. He had rather wondered that under those circumstances they should have been swept away altogether by this Bill, and that their functions should have been transferred to another Board. He should have thought in the case of a Commission that generally had been such a success it would have been better in the first instance, possibly, to extend its sphere of usefulness in the counties in which it had done so much. The right hon. Gentleman based his measure on the Bill that was introduced into this House by Sir George Trevelyan some years ago. But Sir George Trevelyan did not go nearly so far as the right hon Gentleman in his proposals. Sir George Trevelyan proposed to extend to small leaseholders in the crofting counties the provisions of the Crofters Act; he did not go outside the crofting counties, and he proposed, if he (Mr. Cochrane) remembered aright, to limit the amount of rent paid by these leaseholders to a very low sum. But his right hon. friend must take warning by the response which Sir George Trevelyan's Bill met with. It did not meet with acceptance in Scotland, and he would warn the right hon. Gentleman that the same fate might befall his more extended attempt. Why did the right hon. Gentleman depart from the definition of a crofter which was given very clearly by Sir George Trevelyan? Speaking from memory, he believed Sir George Trevelyan laid it down that the crofter class was distinct from other classes of the community because they had a hereditary claim upon the land. Those were the circumstances which they had to meet and in which certain of the crofters had been dispossessed of their holdings. That was a perfectly different set of circumstances from that which arose in the case of ordinary leaseholders in Scotland. This Bill was not confined to the Highlands, but was to extend to the whole of Scotland. If it applied to the whole of Scotland, why should it not apply to the whole of England as well? He thought some of the English Members on the other side would have something to say to that. If the Bill were confined to the crofting counties there would be something to be said for it, but when the right hon. Gentleman applied it to the rest of Scotland then a question of the greatest magnitude arose. The Prime Minister cheered that remark. When at subsequent stages this Bill was dealt with, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would bear those cheers in mind and not curtail discussion on a Bill of such great importance. The right hon. Gentleman, in the speech to which the House had just listened, had given no justification for departing from the policy laid down by his predecessor in office. The right hon. Gentleman had given no reason whatever for including the leaseholders of Scotland. He had shown no scintilla of evidence that there was any claim throughout Scotland for this extension or that it was in any way desired. He ventured to say that to do that about small crofts in Scotland having fixity of tenure which, from the very nature of the case, compelled the holders to make their own improvements would have a paralysing effect. Fixity of tenure had two sides to it. Not only was a man entitled to remain, but he must remain; not only was he entitled to pay the rent, but he must pay the rent; and when the small lease-holders realised that, the right hon. Gentleman would find that the proposal was not so attractive to them as he thought. Any small leaseholder who was anxious to renew his lease on the same terms as that on which he held it had not the slightest difficulty in obtaining an extension of his lease. When they told the small leaseholder that out of the fulness of their heart it was intended to fix him on his croft and compel him to pay the same rent and pay for all the improvements, he would not greet the proposal with cheers. One could not meet with the crofters without being impressed with the fact that they were a fine, intelligent body of men, and one would be glad to see them living under every condition that would make for their happiness. But they must not merely dwell upon the historical and sentimental aspect of the case. Time had gone ahead, and the conditions of life all through the country were not what they used to be. There would be an increasing difficulty in getting men who were content to live in the primitive conditions in which the old crofters used to live and thrive from fifty to eighty years ago. There was now a great desire to move to the other parts of the country. The whole standard of living had changed. He believed that the case made out for the crofter was roughly that he had been from time immemorial almost coeval with the land, and that he made his own improvements. For that reason only, so far as he could make out, it was proposed to put the leaseholder on the same footing. Were the Government going in the first place to set up a Land Court for Scotland to fix the rent of every small farmer throughout the Lowlands of Scotland? At once they would be face to face with questions of enormous difficulty. Were they going to initiate in Scotland that fatal form of ownership which they all deplored in Ireland, and had spent so much to remove, the system of dual ownership? Here were questions of enormous importance deserving most careful consideration. He did not gather from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman exactly how he was going to deal with the question of de-population. He failed to gather that the right hon. Gentleman was going to deal in any way with that important branch of the question. He could not see that he had any proposals to relieve the somewhat unhappy position of the small cottar, or that he was going to deal in an adequate manner with the grievances of the crofters. One of the principal grievances now felt by crofters was that whilst it was proposed willingly to give him land on which to raise his crop, he had no means of getting the wherewithal to stick it. He thought that in the applications to the Treasury which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to make he might consider that necessity. If the right hon. Gentleman studied the Report of the Commission, he would see that three whole pages were taken up with the question of settling disputes as to who was to succeed into entails. If a similar system were brought in from all leaseholds in Scotland, the legal profession might be well one in which to place their sons if not to enter themselves. In giving fixity of tenure, would they really be carrying out the proposals that the very title of the Bill suggested? Was this a Bill to promote small holdings? Was a landlord who divided his land into small holdings and let it out to a tenant on an agreement that at the expiration of nineteen years the land should be handed back to him, likely to encourage the class of small leaseholder in Scotland if he was entitled to step in and take the improvements for his benefit? That would not turn him into a successful farmer. As a rule a ploughman obtained a small farm and after steady progress he would take a bigger one, but the right hon. Gentleman was now proposing to fix him in one place because he had entered into a permanent contract to pay a rent for a certain number of years. Under those circumstances the prospects of the ploughman rising in the social scale would be considerably lessened. Not only would he find all the farms about the size he wanted permanently fixed in the hands of a par- ticular class, but every landlord who now kept a small farm in the centre of his estate would be induced to give it up and add it to the next farm. It was almost impossible that a Bill of this magnitude embracing so many subjects could be effectively dealt with in this way. The Bill would' interfere with freedom of contract, and he had seen no clear justification for that in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. It did not deal adequately with the cottar and the crofter, or provide for their material improvement. It did not deal with the redundancy of population and it hindered the formation of small farms, which were the stepping stones by which the ploughman rose to a more prosperous state of affairs. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had done right in not considering the further stages of this Bill until the Autumn session, when he hoped the disucssion upon it would be as full and free as it deserved to be.

*MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

said he was glad that after many years of waiting a Bill dealing with this question had been brought in, and he desired to thank the Secretary for Scotland and the Prime Minister for having introduced it. He also desired to thank the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down for his sympathetic remarks in regard to small cottars and crofters. They had been waiting and asking the late Tory Government in vain for the last ten years for legislation. They never could got land legislation for Scotland from a Conservative Government, and he did not think they would if they lived for 100 years. The policy of the Congested Districts Board in Scotland had not succeeded. They had no compulsory powers and he was glad to hear the Secretary for Scotland state that the Bill would give compulsory powers for the enlargement and creation of new holdings. For years in the island of Lewis they had been trying to get land and had failed, because they had no compulsory powers. He had no doubt that in due course when English agriculturists found Scotland was going ahead of them they would ask for similar legislation. He hoped that in future the landlord would be prevented from seizing the crofter's house and all the improvements in case of bankruptcy or failure of heirs to the exclusion of all other creditors. There were some matters of detail which he desired to raise but he would deal with them in Committee. He was very grateful to the Secretary for Scotland and the Prime Minister that the leaseholders had been brought in under this Bill. For fifteen years he had been agitating for this reform, and each year had brought in a Bill to include crofter leaseholders. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had made a mistake in raising rents from £30 to £50. Hon. Members were aware that fixity of tenure had made the greatest difference to the Highland crofter. He hoped in regard to questions affecting the Highlands that they would not be guided by newspaper reports or opinions of sportsmen who were in the habit of visiting the Highlands for a few weeks pleasure. It should be remembered that the crofter had to build his own house, and that the landlord did not provide one shilling of the cost. It seemed to him in regard to that matter the right hon. Gentleman did not understand the facts. Those who had travelled in the Highlands and witnessed the work done through the operations of the Crofters Commission would admit that the results so far could not be praised too highly. There were willing and unwilling landlords, and the working of this Bill would depend in a great measure on the spirit in which all concerned approached the subject. In the island of Lewis and other congested districts it was essential that advances of a generous character should be made for the building of houses. The poor people there had been robbed of their rights for generations. He hoped the Bill would be printed and circulated without delay in order that it might reach the Highland constituencies at the earliest possible date. He was sure that the Prime Minister was at the back of the proposals now made, and that he would facilitate the progress of the measure.

*MR. CATHCART WASON (Orkney and Shetland)

congratulated the Secretary for Scotland on the introduction of this Bill which he had so ably explained. It was perfectly evident to the representatives of the northern districts that the right hon. Gentleman had thoroughly studied the great questions which affected the north of Scotland. He had done well to divide the Bill into two parts. The hon. Member from North Ayrshire wanted to know what justification there was for the introduction of the Bill. In answer to that he would say—" we are the justification for the introduction of the Bill."

This land reform had been demanded with a practically unanimous voice from one end of the country to the other. The measure which the right hon. Gentleman had now brought forward would, he believed, do excellent work in Scotland. There was one matter to which the hon. Member referred in the guise of a threat in recalling the fate of Sir George Trevelyan's Bill. That was a long time ago. The Bill failed because it was not sufficiently drastic. If they did not get a reform now, and if they had to wait a few years more, they would have to face a much bigger land agitation than they were endeavouring to meet at present He sincerely trusted that the efforts of the Government to promote this moderate scheme of land reform would be successful.


said the speech of the Secretary for Scotland was such as they might have expected from him in bringing in this Bill. The main lines of the Bill were not only bold but sound. He thought the £50 line was right. It was in the Bill which he brought in with his right hon. friend some years ago. When they came to extend the crofting area there was really nothing for it except the inclusion of the whole of Scotland. That was inevitable, They might dispute as to the exact kind of protection to be given to the small tenant within the crofting area and outside of it, but whatever they did beyond the crofting area must necessarily extend to the whole of Scotland. He did not think they need trouble about definitions. He thought now, as he had always thought, that in the old Bills the definitions consisted to a considerable extent of fiction. He thought the present Bill was based on fact. The whole country was alarmed at the lack of population in the rural districts and was beginning to appreciate that there were two ways in which the population could be restored; one was by small holdings and the other by allotments. Much attention had been given to the question of small holdings but very little attention had been given to the other matter, and he hoped more would be done in regard to it. As to the proposals of the Bill he could not himself give a decided opinion because the Small Holdings Committee had not yet reported. Local authorities were really of no use in dealing with the subject of allotments or small holdings. It was not because of want of will, but there was want of method and economy. When there was a central committee of the kind proposed not only would the question of loans come in, but also the question of cheap equipment., upon which an immense amount depended. Alarm had been expressed about the possibility of the Commission's taking a piece of land in a farm and dotting down a number of small farm on it. That was not the system on which the Bill would have to be worked. There were some districts where with compulsory powers the Commission would naturally in the first place give small holdings a chance, and where they had a right to expect they would succeed. He saw no difficulty as to that part of the proposal. The Crofters Commission had a most intricate and difficult work to perform, and it had performed it with much tact and justice. All over the Highlands there had been a great change. He did not know what had been the cause. It might have been brought about during the war when many recruits were raised from the Highlands. But for one reason or another there was far less opposition to small holdings than there had been, and he believed the great majority of landlords would cooperate with the Commission, whatever their views might be, in carrying out the policy of his right hon. friend. He believed this Bill would be of advantage in both the Highlands and the Lowlands. There were, no doubt, other ways b v which the ends they aimed at might be arrived at, and he thought there should be a certain amount of latitude in regard to details. They must admit considerable right of initiative on the part of the State if they were to make any real progress in dealing with the land question. He congratulated his right hon. friend on the measure which he had introduced, and he believed that rightly administered it would bring prosperity to the whole country. The Bill should, in his opinion, be sent to a Grand Committee of Scottish Members so that it might be properly and thoroughly considered.


thanked the Government for introducing this Bill, and especially the Prime Minister, who had so far redeemed the promise which he made during the last election. Some hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House had stated that they were going to oppose the Bill. He supposed that the Tories would oppose anything which was intended to upset the old feudal system; but it must be remembered that the Tories had passed an Irish Land Act which had upset all feudal notions as to land tenure; and that which Parliament had given to Ireland could hardly be refused to Scotland. It was significant that all the crofter counties were now represented in this House by Liberal Members, whereas, under the old system, the crofters were practically bound hand and foot to their landlords and had to vote as they were told. In the county of Sutherland there was plenty of land to give every crofter a sufficient holding on which he and his family could live. Nearly 400,000 acres had been earmarked by the Royal Commission for that purpose. Undoubtedly the proper user of the land was one of the most important questions which could arise in any country; and the problem had been solved in Belgium, Holland and Denmark, where small holders were able to till the land and live upon it. The unemployed question could only be solved by keeping the people in the country, and giving them the land to work upon. For over twenty years he had been traversing the crofting counties, and a better population could not be found anywhere. He denied that these people were lazy; they were only too anxious to till the land if they were allowed to do so. He hoped that the Government would afford assistance to the crofters in getting their produce to market, which would be not only for the benefit of the crofters, but for the benefit of the country at large. He was glad to hear that there was to be compulsory powers because he was sure that a great many landlords, when they knew that compulsory powers were to be given, would come to terms with their crofting tenants. In fact, he believed that in very few instances would the compulsory powers have to be used at all. He was glad that the Congested Districts Board was to be done away with. It had made many mistake, it had done no good whatever, and nobody would be sorry at its demise or weep over its grave. He trusted that the right hon. the Secretary for Scotland would be able to issue copies of the Bill as soon as possible, so that the constituencies in the crofting counties and in Scotland generally might be fully instructed as to its provisions between now and the 23rd of October.

MR. R. L. HARMSWORTH (Caithnessshire)

said that this was a day to which the people in the north had looked forward for many years past, and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman would give heart to thousands in that part of the country. He thought the Bill projected was sound and generous. He had been informed that the Crofters Act had been of considerable assistance to the landlords; and he had been told by both landowners and factors that they would not oppose an extension of the Act to leaseholders. It was absolutely necessary that there should be no reduction in the £50 limit in the county which he represented, for that was the kind of holding for which there was the largest demand. He hoped that his right hoi;, friend would use his utmost endeavour to get the Bill printed and circulated as soon as possible.

*MR. AINSWORTH (Argyllshire)

said the mere fact that the Bill proposed to establish a Land Commission with full power to deal with all cases of hardship was very satisfactory. When the right hon. Gentleman referred to the possible expropriation of landlords, he was bound to say that in the part of Scotland with which he was associated that was the very last thing they desired. Nothing caused them more sorrow than when they saw the sale of the estates of families who had long lived in the district. Among the powers to be given to the Land Commission he hoped to see included that of land purchase. There certainly were cases in which it was highly desirable in the interests of all parties that the property should pass en bloc from the present proprietor to the Land Commission. He hoped power would be given to the Land Commission to become absolute owners instead of being merely the machinery for the transfer of land from one set of proprietors to another. In the case of congested or over-populated districts, such a power would relieve the situation. They were all agreed as to the importance of preserving the population of the Highlands. During the last thirty or forty years that population had decreased by one half. That was a matter which urgently demanded attention, because if there was one section of the population worth preserving in the United Kingdom it was the population of the Highlands. Historically speaking, it was one of the oldest populations permanently settled on the land. They all knew the share it had taken ill the foundation of our Empire.

*MR. WILKIE (Dundee)

representing as he did an industrial centre in the Lowlands of Scotland, wished to dwell on the importance of attracting the people back to the land and of keeping the people on the land. Prom that point of view he heartily welcomed this Bill as one of the means whereby they might hope to help to solve the great unemployment problem. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire complained that the Bill would interfere wth freedom of contract. Well, he hoped that it would Interfere with the so-called freedom of contract in land, and that it would thereby save the people from being starved. They were told that the Land Commission was to have compulsory powers, and he would like to press on the Government the importance of making the Commissioners representative of the masses and not merely of the classes. While he did not commit himself to every detail of the Bill, not having seen them, still he welcomed the measure as they welcomed the appearance of the rainbow through the rain; as it enabled them to feel that the Government's promise was not to be in vain.


wished to join in the chorus of congratulation to the Secretary for Scotland on his large and drastic measure of reform. Previous speakers had nearly all been representatives of county constituencies, but he desired to offer his praise as a representative of the city and burgh constituencies. This question was not merely one relating to the land, and to the depopulation of the rural districts and valleys of Scotland. The townships of Scotland suffered severely, and it was on behalf of the poorest paid labourers in the great cities, who were suffering from the migration of those clans which once found a living in the Scottish glens, that he ventured to express the hope this Bill would pass. The measure would in his opinion go far to help the lowest paid labourers in the city. He had no desire to say a word against the Congested Districts Board, but he very much doubted the wisdom of the expenditure it had incurred by sending lads from the country districts into the town, and subsidising them during their apprenticeship so that they might enter into competition with the sons of skilled artisans desirous of following their fathers' trade. He knew cases in his own constituency of Greenock whore artisans were unable to get their sons apprenticed simply because of this subsidised competition.

*MR. MOLTENO (Dumfriesshire)

, as the representative of a Lowland constituency, desired to join in the chorus of praise. The Bill dealt with a matter of vital importance to the country. Reference had been made to the depopulation of the Highlands, but those records could be fully equalled in some of the southern counties of Scotland, where the decrease of population could only be likened to the devastations caused by the Thirty Years German War. He could point to one parish in which in the last fifty years 250 cottages had been destroyed and 1,200 of population had disappeared. When the population of their villages was thus decaying they might well ask the reason why. The land was as good as any which could be found elsewhere, and the population was even better, or the Colonies would not be so eager to attract the people composing. They had the finest markets in the world. Why, then, this decay? It was the land Jaws which were at the root of the evil: tenants had not sufficient security for their investments in the land, so that they could not avail themselves of those newer methods of cultivation and organisation which were enabling agriculturists to make such strides in other parts of the world. Tney were open to the increasing competition of those who had security of tenure. In Canada they had fixity of tenure, so too had they in Denmark, and it was not confined to those countries, as he gathered when recently reading a work on the "Transition of Agriculture," which described how the fortunate small holders of Lincolnshire and Worcestershire sent whole train loads of produce to Glasgow. A man should have some security for his labour, and he thought the Bill would tend to create a prosperous, happy, and contented rural population.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Sinclair and the Lord-Advocate.