§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum not exceeding £11,600, be 117 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, 1909, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of His Majesty's Secretary for Scotland and Subordinate Office, Expenses under the Inebriates Acts, 1879 to 1900, and Expenses under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1899, including a Grant in Aid of the Congested Districts (Scotland) Fund."
§ MR. GULLAND (Dumfries Burghs)
said he wished to call the attention of the House to a matter of great importance, viz., the position and work of the office of Secretary for Scotland. Many Scottish Members had brought forward in that House complaints about the delay in the administrative work of the Secretary for Scotland, such as, for instance, the Edinburgh Water Trust Provisional Order, the question of the recent appointment of professors in Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities, where the chairs were vacant for nearly six months, the ever present and ever pressing trawling question, which still remained unsettled, and the question of the treatment of the unemployed in Glasgow. He did not wish to discuss the rights or the wrongs of those questions. His point was to show that there were those grievances, and to draw attention to what he believed to be the reason for them. He maintained that the Secretary for Scotland and his Department were overworked, and that there was put upon that Department far too much pressure. He would briefly remind the Committee of the history of the appointment of the Secretary for Scotland. After thirty years agitation the office was created by Act of Parliament in 1885, and the Secretary was given a salary of £2,000. His duties had been increased by subsequent Acts, and they were constantly growing. In 1894, by statute the right hon. Gentleman was appointed President of the Local Government Board for Scotland, and to-day he was responsible to the House for a large number of public Departments. There was the Scottish Education Department, the Prisons Commission, the Fishery Board, the Lunacy Commission, the Crofters Commission, 118 the Congested Districts Board, and the National Galleries Board, and, moreover, he was entrusted with a great deal of patronage, much of which in England fell within the Department of either the Prime Minister or the Lord Chancellor. He had general charge of the work of the town and county councils, and he had a great deal of work in connection with Private Bills' Procedure and Provisional Orders. He had control of the constabulary in Scotland, he had the question of land valuation, and he had also to deal with river pollution, and to administer the Inebriates Acts. Under that head he would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman when they might expect to hear of the appointment of the Committee on the Inebriates Acts, promised some weeks ago. He had also general charge of the Universities of Scotland, and the House last year passed a Bill creating the Scottish Department of Agriculture, which would also be under the charge of the right hon. Gentleman. Another difficulty that the right hon. Gentleman was subjected to was that he had two addresses. Much of his work had to be done in London, but the administration was concerned with Scotland, and that involved extra work and a great deal of travelling. He did not think that that was an ideal system of managing Scottish business. He was afraid that if he said the only proper ultimate solution of administering those affairs was by a Parliament in Scotland, he would be ruled out of order, so he would refrain from dwelling on that subject; but as long as Scottish affairs were administered from London they should be administered properly. The work done by the Secretary for Scotland was done for England, not by one Member of the Government, but by several. There were the Home Secretary, the President of the Local Government Board, the President of the Board of Education, and the President of the Board of Agriculture, and most of those officers had two representatives in the House of Commons. There were the Home Secretary and the Under Home-Secretary.
The hon. Member appears to be advocating a rearrangement of offices, and that is out of order. All 119 that he can deal with here is the administration of the office of Secretary for Scotland.
§ MR. PIRIE (Aberdeen, N.)
said that the Secretary for Scotland was responsible, and if they could not criticise his administration on the present Vote what opportunity would they have to do so?
The Local Government Board for Scotland and the Fishery Board cannot be discussed on this Vote, nor can the Universities Grant.
§ MR. GULLAND
said he must content himself with saying that under the existing system it seemed to be impossible for the Secretary for Scotland to carry out the administrative work in the way it should be done. The administrative work of the right hon. Gentleman had to be carried on along with his legislative work, and in the pressing times in which they were living, when Bills rained upon that House, the right hon. Gentleman had so much of his time taken up in attending to his legislative duties that, having no Under-Secretary to leave at the office in his absence, the administrative work of Scotland did not get the attention it deserved. Then a great deal of his time was taken up by receiving and listening to deputations; that of itself was an enormous labour, and even his holidays were spent studying the land question or the fishing question, so that really his whole time was given to the administrative work of his Department. He was afraid he could not suggest an adjustment of the duties, and the appointment of an Under-Secretary, but he felt, when the Prime Minister told them earlier in the session that there was to be an inquiry into the readjustment of duties in other Departments, that this was an opportunity to bring that question under his notice.
§ MR. GULLAND
said he was glad the Chairman had given him the opportunity of saying as much as he had. What was true about the Secretary for Scotland was true also about his staff; they also were overworked. The Scottish Members, when 120 they went to the Scottish Office, received courteous and usually satisfactory treatment, but he imagined that that office was under-staffed, and he thought that the salaries, as compared with those of other offices, seemed low. When they went to the Scottish Office they were always referred to the Assistant Under-Secretary, a splendid official, and perhaps the most ubiquitous official now serving the Government, but all the affairs of Scotland had to come under his purview. He also was burdened with too much administrative work, and there was put on him, in a session like the present, an enormous amount of work in the drafting and re-drafting of Bills—not only Scottish Bills, but every possible Bill that in any kind of way applied to Scotland. Then there was the duty put upon the Secretary for Scotland of answering the Questions that Scottish Members raised. That day there were no fewer than fifteen Questions, and they gave the right hon. Gentleman a great deal of trouble to find out the facts and to put them so well before the House. He saw now that another part of his administrative work was the answering of unstarred Questions of English and Irish Members who appealed to him to enlighten them as to the more perfect Scottish system of carrying through numerous matters. They grumbled about the delay in the administrative work, and he believed there was reason for grumbling, but he did not think they had a charge against the right hon. Gentleman personally; it was because Parliament had put on him so much work that it was impossible for him to give——
§ MR. GULLAND
remarked that he had said all he had to say, and he pointed out in conclusion that when that administrative work of the right hon. Gentleman was so great it was very difficult for the affairs of Scotland to get the treatment to which they were entitled.
§ MR. PIRIE
said he wished to criticise the administrative functions of the Secretary for Scotland and the administrative deficiencies of the office. Everyone would recognise that 121 there was nothing personal in what he had to say. On the contrary, the objections he had to state were to the present system, and not to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland in dealing with the administrative duties he had to carry out. He wished to prove how since the appointment of the Secretary for Scotland the natural development of democratic government had brought about the present situation. and must inevitably bring about a further development of the grievances which were felt in relation to the treatment of Scotland. It appeared that immediately after the Union the office of Secretary for Scotland existed for about fifty years, after which it was abolished. In 1853 an agitation was begun for the restoration of the office which had been abolished about a hundred years before. The same arguments were used in the House of Commons then against the restoration of the office as were used now when the Scottish Members urged that they should get greater independence when dealing with exclusively Scottish affairs. They were told that to restore the office of Secretary for Scotland would be undermining the Union. Anything more fallacious he really could not conceive. In 1883 and 1884 Bills were introduced by Mr. Gladstone to restore the office of Secretary for Scotland, and at last in 1885 the office was restored. In 1887, still further powers were given to the office by the then Conservative Government, and in 1894 further duties were put on the over-worked official.
That is exactly upon the same lines as I have already ruled to be out of order. The hon. Member must not proceed upon those lines.
§ MR. PIRIE
said he would try to deal with the actual matters which had come before the House in the form of Questions which the Secretary for Scotland himself had been obliged to answer from his place. The other day the Secretary for Scotland was asked as to the length of time occupied by the correspondence which had taken place between the Board of Agriculture and the Fishery Board in regard to the trawling question. The hon. Member skilfully avoided giving a direct answer 122 to the Question. If hon. Members would refer to Hansard of 1897 and 1898 they would find that exactly the same Questions were put in regard to trawling in the Moray Firth as were being put at the present time.
The hon. Member is entirely out of order. There is a separate Vote for fisheries, and matters connected with fisheries have to be discussed upon that Vote, and not upon this one.
§ MR. MORTON (Sutherland),
on the point of order, said that the question of trawling in the Moray Firth in so far as it related to the operations of foreign trawlers could surely be discussed on the Vote for the salary of the Secretary for Scotland. They were told that day by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that he was waiting apparently for the Secretary for Scotland to move and give some assistance.
Whatever the Secretary for Scotland is responsible for in connection with fisheries comes upon the Fisheries Vote, which is the next Vote to this, and whatever the Foreign Secretary is responsible for comes upon the Foreign Secretary's Vote.
§ MR. MORTON
asked whether the action of the Secretary for Scotland in regard to fisheries could not be discussed on the Vote for his salary.
No, it is always the case when you have a separate vote and a separate subject to have the discussion upon that Vote. This Vote is for the office of the Secretary for Scotland, and any subject in regard to fisheries must be discussed on the Fisheries Vote. Matters relating to the work of the Secretary of State for 123 Foreign Affairs can only be discussed on the Foreign Office Vote.
§ MR. PIRIE
said that that was most unfortunate. It was another example showing the difficulty Scottish Members had in calling attention to matters relating to the administration of Scottish affairs. They were driven from pillar to post. They only had about six hours for the discussion of these matters when the salary of the Secretary for Scotland was put down, and it was most unfair that they should not be allowed to discuss them. He must enter his emphatic protest against a method of procedure which rendered it impossible for——
It is precisely because the hon. Member is not taking advantage of his opportunity that I have called him to order.
§ MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
said it was not for the Scottish Members to advocate the cause of the Secretary for Scotland. His amount of work and his salary were his look-out. If he did not want the job he need not take it. The Scottish Members were entitled to have their work properly and efficiently done. He personally had every reason to complain of the way in which his questions with regard to the migration of cottars were answered. He wished once more to call attention to the condition of affairs in the island of Lewis. In Lewis cruel evictions had been carried out in the past, and, though in the last year the landlord had stayed his hand, at any moment there might be an outbreak of the troubles there with disastrous results. He insisted that serious attention should be given to the subject. Again and again they were told the matter was under consideration, and meantime congestion went on, and nothing was done. Deer forests increased, and men and women suffered and starved. It was not legislation but administration he asked for. Under the Act of 1897 the Secretary for Scotland had the machinery for migration, but he did not put that machinery 124 in motion. It was repugnant to his feelings to make the charge of neglect; but the delay was inexcusable, and he had pledges in writing that a scheme would be ready early in June. Promises of land reform had been many before the general election; but nothing had been done but the bringing forward of an impossible Bill for vote-catching purposes. ["Hear, hear," and "Oh, oh!"] He had good reason for what he said. Another subject he desired to refer to was the state of matters in the island of Vatersay. There was arising the repetition of an old story, and the trouble grew out of the old idea of landlords that they should control their tenants body and soul. ["No."] Yes, he knew the Highlands and Hebrides well, and Lady Gordon Cathcart inherited the old traditions, and seemed to think she should decide upon the occupation her tenants should follow, that they should go fishing, and not cultivate their patches of land. This lady would, if she could, forcibly deport the cottar and squatter families as Colonel Gordon did in 1851. Most distressing stories had been told him of the action then taken, but thank God a landlord could not now exercise such power, and he heartily hoped that the Lord Advocate would adhere to his determination not to allow the forces of the Crown to be used for such dirty work. The land at Vatersay was under a lease which expired in 1907, and Lady Gordon Cathcart entered into an arrangement in August, 1906, to grant a fresh lease, utterly disregarding the wishes and requirements of the people. How could these poor cottars clear off from an island in the Atlantic like Barra? The Highlands were rapidly becoming a vast deer forest, and he regretted that the Secretary for Scotland did not rouse himself to the importance of keeping this fine race of people on the laud. The right hon. Gentleman followed a laissez faire policy, and said it would all come right. It did not all come right. There had been a big row, and there would be a bigger row presently, and ten men were lying in Edinburgh gaol as a consequence of laissez faire policy. He was a lover of law and order, but there were times when men could not stand it any longer. This land was occupied by their forefathers, and they had a better right to it than Lady Gordon Cathcart. The land in dispute was sheduled by the Deer Forests Commission as suitable for crofts. 125 Both Governments had been equally bad, and grossly neglectful in this matter. Lady Gordon Cathcart appealed to the Government to enforce the Trespass Act of 1863, but the Government refused and referred her to the civil Courts. He was thankful to the Lord Advocate for not sending gunboats, but Lady Gordon Cathcart made a fierce attack on him because he did not make an apology and go down on his knees and beg her pardon. He had never heard of a Minister of the Crown written to in that high-handed fashion, and was glad that, while treating her with the utmost respect and courtesy, he refused to apologise for what he said in the House. He hoped that he would continue to pursue that firm attitude. Lady Gordon Cathcart asked the Government either to enforce the law or to buy the farms. He hoped that they would not allow dictation of that kind to come from any Highland landlord. He wished that they had twenty or thirty men from Scotland to stand shoulder to shoulder like the Labour Members. They had done much since they came into the House, and he said with all his heart. "God bless them," and hoped that they would go on. But the Scotsmen did not stand together. He had often noticed that if there was a chance of getting any money out of the British Exchequer, Nationalists, Tories, and Labour Members stood together to get as much as they could, but the Scottish Members failed to do so. In 1899 he moved an Amendment to the Queen's Speech asking for legislation for the cottars, crofters, and fishermen in the Highlands and islands of Scotland. The late Prime Minister and every right hon. Gentleman now on the Treasury Bench went into the lobby with him and 142 Members voted for the Amendment and 145 against. Six more votes on that occasion and the Tory Government would have been beaten. He thought he was entitled nine years afterwards to come and ask the Government to do something for these poor cottars, crofters, and fishermen. The Government had been asked to reduce the sentence on these men, but there was no reprieve for men who interfered with the land laws. He asked for something to be done for these unfortunate people, and unless something was done speedily for the Highlands he believed that many more men would be put into 126 gaol and there would be more breaches of the law. He was most anxious there should be no breaches of the law, but the right hon. Gentleman must arouse himself and do something, What was the good of their majority if they did not use it? They had not used it so far as the Highlands were concerned. He sincerely hoped that something substantial would be done, and that a migration scheme would be evolved without loss of time. For that the right hon. Gentleman required no legislation.
§ MR. PIRIE,
referring to an earlier ruling of the Chairman asked whether there had not frequently been on the salary of the Chief Secretary for Ireland discussions on all the subjects for which he was responsible; and, the Secretary for Scotland having declared that he was responsible for all these Boards, which were similar to those in Ireland, were they not entitled to discuss the action of the Scottish Boards? He trusted the Chairman would look into this question, because it was a great hardship on Members from Scotland that they should be deprived of the only opportunities they had for discussion.
Exactly the same rule applies to Ireland as to Scotland. When Members wish to discuss the Congested Districts Board in Ireland, that Vote is put down. When they wish to discuss the Department of Agriculture, that Vote is put down. Other things are discussed on the Vote for the salary of the Chief Secretary for Ireland.
The hon. Member can raise his protest if he wishes. He can put down a Resolution to draw attention to my ruling. Undoubtedly the hon. Member has not studied the 127 question. What I have stated is undoubtedly the rule of the Committee. For my own part, I need not tell the Committee that I should be only too happy if there were no such rules. It is a great trouble to me to have to carry them out, but, being here, I must carry them out. There is no question about that.
§ MR. YOUNGER (Ayr Burghs)
said he did not question the ruling of the Chairman; as far as he was concerned he would be the very last to dispute it. He had hoped before the general discussion was closed to bring under the notice of the Committee a question which directly affected the administrative powers and duties of the Secretary for Scotland, whose Department was very hard worked. Everyone on that side of the House, at all events, would be only too willing and glad to acknowledge the courtesy and kindness they invariably met with from the right hon. Gentleman in regard to matters on which they approached him. The question he desired to raise, if he was in order, was the very serious one which had arisen in Lewis in connection with what might be called the breakdown of local government there. The rates had risen in twenty years from 2s. or 3s. in the £ to l5s. or 16s. They were almost wholly paid by one individual, who unfortunately was in a position in which he found it impossible to raise the money with which to pay them, and the whole of the local government of the district was likely to break down. He wished to get from the right hon. Gentleman an assurance that he would look into the matter, and deal with it. He asked whether he would be in order in raising that question.
I do not quite know what is actually the question which the hon. Gentleman desires to raise, whether it has reference to law and order. I presume the hon. Gentleman is not going to advocate something which would require legislation.
If it is a question of a local impasse which the Secretary 128 for Scotland could do something to meet, then it can be raised by the hon. Member; but if the hon. Gentleman desires to refer to a subject which relates purely to local government, then it would arise on the Vote for the Local Government Board.
§ MR. YOUNGER
said it was extremely difficult to explain precisely what he wanted, or what remedy to suggest. Some twelve years ago a similar difficulty arose, and the Secretary for Scotland at that time came forward with a grant out of some fund which he had at his disposal, and he kept the machine of local government going irrespective of legislation. He believed the right hon Gentleman knew of that case, and he did not know whether in the circumstances he would be in order in proceeding with the question.
§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (Mr. SINCLAIR,) Forfarshire
Nothing can be done otherwise than through the agency of the Local Government Board Under these circumstances I would suggest that whatever question is desired to be raised on the point by hon. Gentlemen opposite is proper for discussion on the Vote for the Local Government Board.
§ MR. MITCHELL-THOMSON (Lanarkshire, N.W.)
said he had put a Motion on the Paper to reduce the Vote by £900, but it would be for the convenience of the Committee if he were to move instead the reduction of the entire Vote by the sum of £1,000. Reference had been made to the present situation in the island of Lewis by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty, but he ventured to say that the facts had become a little distorted in the stream of the hon. Gentleman's eloquence. He would like to say one or two words as to the actual facts. The remote island of Barra probably contained 18,000 acres. In 1878 the present proprietres; succeeded to the estate, and the estate was divided into 8,000 acres crofts, and 10,000 acres farms. 129 As time went on, the population of Barra increased at a continuous and steady rate, and a demand arose for more land for small holdings. In 1883 the proprietress gave about 4,500 acres of land to be divided into small holdings, and in 1901 a further demand arose, and the proprietor gave 3,000 acres. At the present moment the proprietress held practically no land in Barra which she had not cut up into small holdings. The adjacent island of Vatersay was smaller, and comprised 2,250 acres.
§ MR. MITCHELL-THOMSON
said the hon. Member was including Sandray, which was a separate island. The land was sold to the Congested Districts Board, and in August, 1906, the rest of the land was relet upon a new lease to the tenant who had had possession of it for many years, at a rent of £400. The soil of Vatersay, he understood, was a thin soil, and while eminently suitable for grazing was not so suitable for purposes of agriculture. There was said to be considerable difficulty about the water supply, and he understood the tenant was allowed to go across to Barra to get water to water his stock. There was no school, of course, and no church, and the Congested Districts Board had not power to supply any money voted to them for the purpose of building a school, and therefore a school would fall to be built out of the rates. The parish rates in Vatersay were 17s. 4d. in the £ and the county rate 22s. 6d. in the £ and the building of a school would be a matter of somewhat serious consideration. He said this because some question had arisen as to the suitability of the island for making small holdings. It had always been the view of the proprietress that the land was not suited for the making of small holdings. It was scheduled as a suitable area by the Deer Forest Commission, but he was informed it was very doubtful whether the island was ever actually visited by any members of the Commission or their representatives. Experts had reported upon the soil of sixty acres of the land, but their reports were entirely contradictory. One said the soil was of very good quality, and the other said it was very poor; 130 therefore they were in some difficulty in judging of the precise nature of the facts. What surprised him was that when a practical test was suggested by the Secretary for Scotland, complaint being made of the soil of that portion of Vatersay at present in possession of the Congested Districts Board, the people appeared to have put objections in the way, and the test, he understood, had not been carried out. He did not know why objections were put in the way or why the test had not been carried out. So much as regarded the geographical part of the case. In 1906 one or two cattle were landed in Vatersay, and more were brought over, and eventually the Sheriff was sent by the Scottish Office. He reported that the proprietress ought to be asked not to take any action, because the people who brought the cattle over had promised to remove them. No action was taken, and the cattle were still there. In August, 1906, the new lease of which he had spoken was arranged, and in October, 1906, the first of the squatting began. These men had gone over there, had got timber and some kind of corrugated iron, and had erected a number of houses. He was told there was at present something like 150 people. The first time this extraordinary state of facts was brought to the notice of the House of Commons in debate was in 1907, when the Leader of the Opposition referred, on the Small Landholders Bill, to the state of affairs in Barra. The Lord Advocate, on being appealed to as to whether there was perfect peace in the crofting districts of Scotland generally, said that throughout the whole realm of his jurisdiction there was perfect peace except in one remote island, the island of Barra, where the proprietrix had been unfortunate in her relations with her tenantry. He said these poor tenants at Barra had gone over to the neighbouring island of Vatersay, interfering with no human soul, in order to plant a few potatoes, hoping they might come again in the spring and reap what they had sown, and when he had been asked to interfere and take steps to vindicate the law he had said this was not a proper case for interference, because it was a question of disputed civic possession. He would not comment on the agricultural miracle involved in the suggestion that these people were going to sail over in October 131 and return in the spring to reap the potatoes which, they had sown, but with regard to the rest of the statement it was inaccurate in almost every matter of fact contained in it. "The poor tenants of Barra"—the men were not tenants but cottars—"interfered with no human soul." The statement of the hon. Gentleman opposite in regard to the present position of affairs would show sufficiently how things stood in that matter. "Question of disputed civic possession"—these men had never claimed in a Court of law any shadow of a title to the land. Everybody admitted that the land belonged to the proprietrix, and the only question was as to the reason for their being there. For a maximum of inaccuracy in a minimum of words that was pre-eminently conspicuous. What was to be done in regard to the present state of affairs? More land was wanted, and it was said that Lady Cathcart put difficulties in the way of the acquiring of that land. In a sense, he could understand hon. Members taking that view, because Lady Cathcart had always thought Vatersay was not a place fitted by nature for experiments in small holdings. If they went further, and said that having accepted its suitability she had then put difficulties in the way, no suggestion could possibly be more remote from the truth. Lady Cathcart had offered, not once, but repeatedly, to sell the land to the Congested Districts Board. Why had they not accepted that offer? There was no question of price, because it had never got the length of the price being mooted. Lady Cathcart said she was perfectly willing to accept a fair and reasonable price, and to submit the question to arbitration, and to take whatever price might be adjudicated as fair and reasonable. He had noticed in Questions and in other ways in the last few weeks a sort of suggestion that Lady Cathcart had in her dealings with a Government Department stuck out for an exorbitant price. If hon. Members would look at the statement which had been circulated, they would see on page 36 a statement of Lady Cathcart's transactions with the Government. There were only two transactions in Barra and Vatersay. One was a sale of sixty acres in Vatersay, 132 at a price which the Government's agent, who inspected the land, said was a fair price, and was practically the price which he had put upon the land himself. The other was a sale of land in Barra in regard to the price of part of which he understood no question was raised. The rest was sold for £5,500, and it was said that that was too much. It was said that the Crofters Commission proceeded, immediately the estates were acquired by the Government to reduce the rents. It was quite true., The price paid by the Government was £7,500 for the whole, and the rents were reduced to something like £5,500. The difference between the two represented, in the first place, compensation to the tenants who were forced to surrender their existing leases, and, in the second place, the value of the land for other than agricultural purposes. Lady Cathcart would have got the full price, and more than the full price, which she got from the Government, from the other competitor who was in the market at the same time. In the present case there was no question of price, but the right hon. Gentleman said it was out of harmony with the Government policy, and insisted on his own suggestion. The first thing that happened was that the Secretary for Scotland wrote a letter on 5th September, 1907, making proposals for the settlement of the island under the Congested Districts Board. Lady Cathcart thought that was not a wise proposal, but when pressed by the Government she reluctantly consented. The first thing was to make some arrangement in the existing situation. A new lease had come into operation, and had been arranged thirteen months before. Lady Cathcart was naturally anxious to see what was to be done for her tenants, because she had had previous experience of land taken by the Congested Districts Board, or rather land which had been scheduled by them. Lady Cathcart, in the case he alluded to, gave notice to her tenant, who quitted the land, and afterwards the Congested Districts Board were unable to carry out their scheme, and the land was thrown upon her hands, the result being that she had not been able to get a tenant for that land. It was almost incredible, but the Government had taken up the position that compensation 133 to be given to the tenant for surrendering his lease was not a matter for the Government but a question to be settled between the proprietor and the tenant. In this House and in Committee over and over again they were assured that in legislative proposals the Government had taken steps by Amendments to secure that loss on the letting value to the landlord and the tenant, arising from the acquisition of a farm for small holdings, should be compensated. In the case which he had laid before the Committee the Secretary for Scotland afterwards wrote informing Lady Cathcart that the whole of her form might not be required for new holdings. If there was in Barra this tremendous hunger for land, why not take those 2,000 acres? Probably he would be told they were not all suitable, but in that case what the Government really proposed was to pick out the heart of the form for small holdings. In 'the present trouble with the squatters Lady Cathcart had been told that she had a civil remedy. He had heard her ladyship blamed because some hon. Members held the idea that she had hastened into Court in order to get these men put into prison, but nothing could be further from the truth. Lord Tweedmouth in the House of Lords said that the action of the Vatersay men could not be stigmatised too strongly, because it was monstrous and intolerable. His Lordship further stated that Lady Cathcart had been badly served by her agents, and if an interdict had been taken out and enforced the trespassers would have been driven off her land. Here was a case where a Member of the Liberal Government was not blaming the proprietrix for resorting to the law, but blaming the agents for delay in taking legal proceedings. He was aware that proceedings by civil process were cumbrous and expensive, but there was another process ready to the hand of the right hon. Gentleman and his advisers which they declined to use, but their reasons for declining appeared to him very insufficient. The process he alluded to was under the Trespass Acts of 1865. They had no law of trespass in Scotland, generally speaking, but squatting without the consent of the owner was an offence 134 under the Act of 1865, which provided that—Every person who lodges in any premises or occupies or encamps on any land being private property without the consent and permission of the owner or legal occupier commits an offence and may be prosecuted and punished.That was the law in Scotland, and why was it not applied by the right hon. Gentleman? The first answer given was that the Act was inapplicable in this case because it was intended to refer only to single instances, and this was a case of continuous possession of land. A more extraordinary statement was never made on behalf of a Minister of the Crown. In order to escape the penalties of the law it appeared that all a man needed to do in future would be to persist in his wrong-doing. It was wrong to do this for one day, but if they went on occupying the land for a long time it could not be objected to. At any rate, that was the sum and substance of the position taken up by the Secretary for Scotland. The Lord Advocate, however, took a different view, and he said there was no precedent for interference in this case, and that it would be an act of great impropriety to apply any such legislation to the present state of affairs. In the year 1891, in the island of Orinsay, that Act was applied and no question was raised in the Court at the time as to its competency and though no law agent was present, there was a very clever agent representing the Land League present who was afterwards complimented by the Judge upon the ability with which he had stated his case. Fortunately occurrences of this character were very rare and this was the only precedent in regard to an affair of this magnitude. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman and the Law Officers of the Crown that this very Act was being invoked in the case of a much humbler class of offender. When a tinker was imprisoned for sleeping out the conviction took place under the Trespass Act of 1865. If humble offenders of that kind were brought up under that Act, why had it not been applied in this case? A man could be brought up and punished under the Act for sleeping out and yet they refused to apply the Act in the case of men who had taken 135 forcible possession of land which did not belong to them. He called that robbery and there was no other name for it. He knew that in the House and out of it there was a great amount of sympathy with the case of these men, but he could not say how far that sympathy was founded upon a real knowledge of the facts. Those men undoubtedly had I a very hard life and lived in poor houses, and experienced the greatest difficulty in making both ends meet. They had a hard life and were the victims of circumstances and of a system which the Government wanted to extend, to the whole of Scotland. The houses were poor because they had divorced the landlords from interest in the upkeep of them. The holdings did not pay because they were uneconomic. He wished to call attention to the fact that the statement in the note at the bottom of page 4 of the Correspondence was most misleading. The document referred to was never pretended to be a judicial statement of the situation as it existed. The sheriff had written a letter, which was in posession of the Scottish Office, stating that the document was an ex-parte statement of the case, and that he did not make an inquiry which in any sense of the term was judicial. He simply went down to the place, took the men's statements, and reported them. The note might lead one naturally to a different conclusion. There were one or two statements in regard to matters of fact to which it might be worth while to call attention, because they were absolutely denied by Lady Cathcart and her agents. It was stated in the report, for instance, that no house sites were available at Castlebay. He was informed that house sites were available, and that a number of fishermen were paying a moderate feu duty. [An HON. MEMBER: "How many?"] He could not say, but he was told the number was considerable. Did the hon. Gentleman deny it? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] He could only give the information which was given to him. It was a question of fact, and the hon. Member might have different information from his own. There was a reference to a letter which had been written forbidding a man to build a house. That must have struck hon. Members as being a very serious matter and a singularly hard case. On looking into the matter 136 he found that the place where that man was forbidden to build a house was a common grazing, which in 1883 was subdivided between thirty or forty tenants, and there was a written agreement that for the common interest none of the tenants should put up houses upon it. The case of the man to whom the Sheriff specially referred seemed hard, but when looked into what were the facts? In 1891 that man entered into a lease of a grazing, and, after he had been there ten years, ho left, and was then nine and a half years in arrear with his rent. It was a judicial rent which had been fixed by the Crofters Commission. The last suggestion in the report was that Lady Cathcart had not appreciated her duty as landlady. Nothing could be further from the fact. He had told the Committee what was done. He had heard it suggested that Lady Cathcart had made a profit out of all she had done. If that were true, was it to be a crime for a landlady to make a profit out of what she did for the benefit of the community? Was it the Liberal idea that they were always to benefit the community at the expense of the landowner. So far from benefiting by what she had done, in regard to land Lady Cathcart had been at considerable pecuniary loss. There was one case which was so striking that ho would state it to the Committee. It was the case of a common grazing which was let as a club farm in thirty-five shares. The rent to each member was £3 16s., giving a total of about £130. That was the amount Lady Cathcart was offered for the farm by a man of ample means and capital. The Crofters Commission in 1891 reduced the rents and cancelled the bulk of the arrears. The rents then due were £904 8s. and the arrears were £772 1s. At the present moment the rents were still in arrear by many hundreds of pounds. If Lady Cathcart had not subdivided that holding she would have got a rent of something like £130. As a matter of fact, she had only received rents amounting to £15 11s. He said that in answer to the suggestion that Lady Cathcart in subdividing the land in Barra had been solely consulting her own interest and disregarding the interest of those residing on the island. Much had been made of the sheriffs description of the squatters as fair and reasonable men; but the words which followed were not quoted—"except in 137 their desire to get land, and take it if need be." The Government sent the sheriff to the islands to try to induce these men to desist from their course of action. The sheriff said to them, "Please go away, you are breaking the law." They said, "No." Then the Government turned to Lady Cathcart and said, "You must arrange for these men to stay, and you must do it at your own expense." He blamed the Government for not having adopted the advice of the sheriff to buy the land, which could be had from Lady Cathcart at a reasonable price. He blamed them for refusing compensation to the tenant. He blamed them also for not having maintained law and order, and for having tried to evade responsibility for the consequences. There were only two solutions of the difficulty. One was a scheme of emigration beyond the seas. Lady Cathcart sent some emigrants from South Uist and Benbecula to Canada some years ago. The latest account of thorn was that they were comfortable and independent on farms of the average extent of one hundred and fifty acres, and that they retained the most grateful memories of Lady Cathcart. The only other possible solution was the establishment of some more complete system of industries in the islands. That was the remedy suggested by the Congested Districts Board in this year's Report. But the Government shut their eyes to both of these solutions. They supposed that peace and happiness were to be secured by the extension of the system of dividing and sub-dividing the land among the crofters, which had produced so far but indigence and unquiet. He blamed the Government for the course they had elected to take. He blamed them far more for pursuing that course with a lack of consistency and courage, as well as with a total disregard of every principle of justice. He begged to move.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £10,600, be granted for the said Service."—(Mr. Mitchell-Thomson.)
§ MR. A. DEWAR (Edinburgh, S.)
hoped he might congratulate the hon. Member for North-West Lanark on having dealt with what was necessarily a very 138 difficult case with considerable ability and much moderation, and—if he might say so—his speech was able because it was moderate to a very large extent. He had no doubt the hon. Gentleman felt very keenly on this case—as he did from the other side, and as many hon. Members beside him felt. He hoped he might be able to emulate the hon. Gentleman's moderation in anything he had to say. There were really two questions involved. There was, first of all, the dispute between Lady Gordon Cathcart and the Secretary for Scotland and the Lord Advocate. The hon. Gentleman opposite had dealt with that at considerable length, and he thought he had better leave these right hon. Gentlemen to defend themselves. But there was another question which had been raised by the hon. Gentleman. That was the very long and very distressing dispute between Lady Gordon Cathcart and her tenants. Hon. Members could not understand the dispute with the Secretary for Scotland and the Lord Advocate without first of all mastering the other dispute and the full facts in connection with it. He had taken some trouble to acquaint himself with the facts, and if the House would be good enough to bear with him he would try to explain them. He once held a view not unlike that of the hon. Gentleman and of others whom he had heard speak or whose words he had read—that Lady Gordon Cathcart was a much ill-used lady. He thought the Leader of the Opposition in Glasgow put the case this way. Here were a lot of unprincipled men deliberately seizing the property, without any legal right or moral justification, of a singularly benevolent lady who all her days had been helping them. The right hon. Gentleman said that on 17th January last in Glasgow. What he regretted was that the right hon. Gentleman should have chosen that particular time for making that statement. At that time these ten men were not in prison. Their case was sub judice, they were under the order of the Court to appear before the Court; and he regretted to say that the effect of the right hon. Gentleman's speech in Scotland was very serious for these men. The public at once took the view 139 of the right hon. Gentleman, and the newspapers wrote—he must say with unwonted freedom—about these poor men, who could not afford to bring either the newspapers or the right hon. Gentleman into Court, while they were themselves imprisoned for contempt of Court. The Scotsman, writing on 29th January, on the case as presented by the right hon. Gentleman, said—Her [Lady Gordon Cathcart's] fault has been habitual and perhaps unwise indulgence of the cottars, who are now repaying her generous and too considerate policy by forcible seizure and wanton injury.That was to prejudge the case. Was it wanton injury without any moral justification? Had she all those years been too indulgent to those ten men and their fellows? He had examined the case very carefully and had reached the conclusion that that was not a true representation of the case. He did not blame the right hon. Gentleman, except in so far as he had been supplied with and circulated the wrong facts. What was the character of these men? Were they likely to be guilty of a wanton act of spoliation? They were of the West Highland fisher class. He did not put his case too highly, as was well known to Scotsmen in the House and to those who had visited the Hebrides, when he said that there was not a more law-abiding, peaceable, and loyal class in the King's dominions or anywhere else. Crime in the ordinary sense was entirely unknown among them. Any trouble that they had had was trouble arising from the land. That was the general character of the class, and the character of these particular ten men to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred was given by the sheriff of the county in his report to the Secretary for Scotland.
§ MR. A. DEWAR
said he had not the exact words of the report with him, but the right hon. Gentleman attacked the men as having made forcible seizure of property and as being guilty of wanton injury. The Scotsman interpreted that as the meaning of the right hon. Gentleman. The sheriff of the county was not in the least a land agitator. He was a strong Conservative, a most eminent 140 lawyer, and one of the fairest-minded and most highly-respected men in Scotland. That gentleman went down and inquired on the spot. It was not a judicial inquiry. He went on the invitation of the Secretary for Scotland to see if he could clear up the situation. He tried to get at the facts and to discover where the real trouble lay and who was to blame. The sheriff's report was that the men were respectable, reasonable, intelligent, courteous, kindly, and thrifty. That was the class of persons against whom the case was that they had deliberately seized and wantonly injured property without any moral justification. He found corroboration of that report in the fact that every public man and every public body who had ever gone there took precisely, the same view. And yet these decent, respectable, law-abiding men had broken the law. Why? If they had done wanton injury it must have been under very strong pressure. Was there a burden they had had to bear all this time in silence and alone? The Committee had not heard of that. The hon. Member for North-West Lanark had said that this was an extremely difficult case. He did not want to attack this lady, and would not do so. She was the owner of this property at Vatersay. He had not the least doubt of her kindness. But she lived far away from the islands she owned. She had not shown her face there for thirty years. These simple-minded people thought that if they only could see this lady their troubles would speedily end, and he agreed with them. But this lady had delegated the management of her estate to others—to a firm of solicitors. He did not approve of the management of estates by solicitors. Experience showed that absentee landlordism generally brought trouble. He had not the slightest doubt that these particular solicitors were quite a respectable firm; but he contended that the manner in which this estate had been managed during the past, thirty years was such that, if his information was correct, it would throw a very different light on the action for these men than had been afforded by the speech of the hon. Member for North-west Lanark. Mr. Wilson, the sheriff, further said that there was great public sympathy 141 in the islands with these people, because of the fact that Lady Gordon Cathcart had neglected her duty as a landowner, and long indifference to their necessities had gone far to drive them to exasperation. The sheriff did not use language of that kind or put it into the mouth of public opinion without anxious consideration. That language was significant it was a hint to hon. Members to be just. He found that in the year 1901, when the present Secretary for Scotland was not responsible, the Congested Districts Board Inspector, in his Report, said—I found the people very reasonable and moderate in their talk and their demands.What had produced the change? Barra was fifty miles and more away from the mainland. It was isolated from markets. When one went there the first thing that struck him was the houses like large beehives, mere temporary erections studded anywhere. Some of the townships, closely packed, were situated on a bog often knee-deep in water. Some were down by the sea-shore below high-water mark. If one inquired why these people built on bogs when there were thousands of acres firm enough, the answer was that they could not get any other land—not a foot of it. The hon. Member for North-west Lanark said that there were sites to be had at Castlebay. The hon. Gentleman would not say that unless he were instructed and believed it to be true. But his information was to the contrary; that it was impossible to find a site at Castlebay. These men were not of the crofter class, but cottars; cottars were landless men; and that was the root of the agitation. He agreed that they had no legal right to be there. They were there on sufferance. They had built their huts on sufferance, and the ground officers could come and say: "Pull down that house," as they had often done. The cottars desired land; they prayed for land, not to steal it, but to buy it pay rent for it, but could not get it; and so they built on bogs, or on the shore below high-water mark. The result was that the houses were grossly unhealthy. Disease swept through them from time to time—typhoid, scarlet fever, and diphtheria. He had gone through the Reports of the sanitary inspectors and 142 they said that "the houses were unhealthy, the ground air was moist and impure, and gave rise to disease." Could anyone wonder that when these epidemics broke out it was a very serious matter to these primitive people, who were far from doctors. Everyone of the ten men now in prison had had fever in his house. Seven of them had lost relatives by fever. They earnestly desired to escape, and to pay for their escape. Time after time for twenty-five years they had petitioned Lady Gordon Cathcart, and had received no reply to their petitions. They had parish councils created, and they had some powers to create small holdings. The parish councils petitioned Lady Gordon Cathcart, and received no reply. The county council of Invernesshire sent down a deputation to Vatersay and to Barra, and held an inquiry lasting over nine days, and they reported that land was available; that land was urgently required; that land would be highly beneficial; but the land was not to be obtained on reasonable terms. What were the terms demanded for what, after all, was the health and life of the people? Why was it that a parish council could not get land on reasonable terms? What objection was there to keeping these people, who were supported by the public bodies, on the land. If these men who had reported on the matter were right then the estates management were wrong. Did the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, on 17th January, know the conditions under which these people were living owing to the want of land? Did he know the efforts they had made for twenty-five years to get land by peaceable and legitimate agitation? Did he know that the public authorities had demanded land on their behalf? If he knew all this, as he knew it now, did he still think there was nothing in the way of moral justification for their refusing any longer to live in their unhealthy environment? Was there not a point beyond human endurance, and had not that point been reached? He admitted that the law should be obeyed, and must be obeyed, but did not something also depend on the quality of the law? Were there not some laws that every good citizen disregarded without any loss of self-respect? There was the case of 143 passive resistance. [Laughter.] If hon. Gentlemen opposite did not approve of passive resistance there was the illustration of the speed-limit for motor cars. Would any hon. Gentleman opposite who owned a motor car, or who rode in one, get up and say he did not disregard that law every day?
§ MR. A. DEWAR
said he was very glad to see that some hon. Gentlemen on the back benches obeyed the law. He knew the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition could not say so, because it was common knowledge that the right hon. Gentleman had twice got into trouble for not observing the speed-limit. Therefore, if the law appeared to the people to be unreasonable they would never be got to obey it. Of that the speed-limit for motorcars was really an illustration. If a law which interfered with pleasure could be disregarded without loss of character or self-respect were those who disregarded it to condemn other's who disregarded a law which inflicted untold miseries and privations on them? Were they, in the language of the Leader of the Opposition, utterly "without moral justification?" They had obeyed this law all their lives. They tried to alter it by every constitutional means for twenty-five years. They were in the last extremity. The Small Landholders Bill brought relief in sight. They were full of hope as it passed through that House, but when it became apparent that it could not become an Act and alter the law they were in despair. They took the law into their own hands. They went to Vatersay. Vatersay was but a mile from this unhealthy bog. Some of these men were in prison now, and yet their fathers lived on crofts in Vatersay. In 1857 they were evicted and sent over to Barra. These men still considered they were morally entitled to go back to what they thought was their home. Hon. Members opposite would admit that there was the law of dual ownership in these parts, yet they were attacking the Lord-Advocate because he would not make these men criminals. Hon. Members had said the estate managers had been generous and considerate. 144 In 1883 some land was divided up into crofts, but, after all, every landlord had some responsibility as well as privileges, and surely one of the responsibilities were to see to it that every man on the estate had a chance of living a healthy life. Land was divided up in 1883 and crofters put upon the estate. When the Crofters Commission came to the estate five years after they reduced the rents 35 per cent. It was not generous, after all, because the rent was too high. It might be good business, but it was not generosity. The land was sold to the Congested Districts Board for thirty-eight and a half years purchase. Twenty-five years purchase was the usual price. Again he said that might be good business, but it was not generosity. Six hundred acres at Vatersay let at 2s. an acre was sold for £600 which came to over 100 years purchase. Again good business, but not generosity. It was said that harbours had been erected, water had been brought, and hotels built—that was quite true, but his information was that all that had been done on sound business principles. [Cries of "Why not?"] There was no reason at all why not, except that hon. Members must not now plead generosity. The right hon. Gentleman referred to generous and considerate actions, but Lady Gordon Cathcart made 12½ per cent. by it. Water was brought three-quarters of a mile by gravitation from this lady's own lake. For that water, the fishermen were charged 10s. a season, and the lighters 15s., amounting to a revenue of over £200 a year. This was perhaps good estate management, but the right hon. Gentleman must not call it generosity. The case against the Lord Advocate was that he did not put the Act of 1865 into operation. That Act was known in Scotland as the "Tinkers" Act, and was to prevent loafers, tinkers and tramps from sleeping and smoking in out-houses and in haystacks. It had always been used for that purpose except once, when it was sanctioned for this purpose. The right hon. Gentleman was once Secretary for Scotland; had he not frequently known squatting in various parts of the islands, but he had never once suggested this Act being put into operation. In fact, 145 on one occasion the right hon. Gentleman stated that this Act would not apply at all. A conservative Lord Advocate, McDonald, said—If a man trespasses on the property of another he can only be turned out on the operation of a civil Court, and the owner of the property has to suffer any damage done that may occur during the time necessary for that operation, because we believe that this is a free country, and because we believe that everybody will submit to the jurisdiction of the Court. Without that we should have no basis for our liberty at all.That was said by the Conservative Lord-Advocate of the day, who was now at the head of the criminal jurisprudence of Scotland. And not only that, but the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition agreed with him. The right hon. Gentleman said—I confess I thought that the able and conclusive reply of the Lord-Advocate would have sufficed the House as our contribution to this somewhat too prolonged debate.The right hon. Gentleman agreed that the basis of our liberty depended on each man turning trespassers off his own land, and that law was well settled in Scotland. This was a case where the mismanagement of an estate had brought serious trouble with the tenants. Was it to be said that the Secretary for Scotland should step in whenever that happened and pay any price demanded? Would the House believe that in the middle of the negotiations in this instance a new lease was entered into for nineteen years? ["No."] Yes; after these people had gone there, and all this trouble had begun, the lease was deliberately renewed for nineteen years, and it was demanded that the Secretary for Scotland should pay this man his price. But he congratulated the Secretary for Scotland and the Lord-Advocate, who had gone a long way, on their courage in having refused to be browbeaten, and in having refused to be dictated to by all the journals in Scotland in regard to this matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland had safeguarded the public funds and had withstood the tempest, and so had the Lord-Advocate, and they ought to tell them that they were proud of them to-day. The real question here was, he feared, far bigger than he would be permitted to deal with in this debate, and as had been 146 said the real blame rested with the land laws, which in the fulness of time would have to be altered. These people believed that they had the right to cultivate a few acres of their own native land, if they were able and willing, and prepared to pay a fair price. Hon. Gentlemen opposite even had admitted that principle, yet they had ten respectable men in Scotland sent to prison because they desired to get back to the land—the policy which for years in that House they had been advocating. He had seen these men in prison and talked with them. The House would perhaps permit him to say that he had never seen a better type of men in his life. They were quiet, respectable and reasonable. They had a passionate love for their native land, and desired above all else to be allowed to cultivate a few acres of it. The land was available, urgently required, and would be highly beneficial, they were told by public authorities. Why should they not have it? Why send them to the slums? The Royal Naval Reserve was recruited from these parts. These men are able and willing to serve their country if they had a chance. The hon. Member had read passages from a pamphlet which endeavoured to blacken the character of these men. He saw that, on page 11, it said that one man had a croft for ten years. He asked the hon. Member how the writer knew that the man had a croft. The man to whom the reference was made—his name was Campbell—had not a croft. He would like to know why on one page of this book it should be said that this man had a croft, and then on the last page, page 20, it should be stated that he had share of a grazing. They were two very different things.
§ MR. A. DEWAR
said it was not a mistake. The point was that he had heard the whole story, for he had seen the man in the presence of his fellows. He asked him what was the real explanation of his story. He said: "The factor offered me a share of grazing." "I went there, and there were seventeen other men with shares of the grazing. When I 147 went there I was the eighteenth. The seventeen men said: 'What right have Volt to a share of the grazing?' I said that the factor had sent me, and that he had made me deposit a pound before he would accept me. They would not allow me to share. I went back to the factor and told him. The factor said nothing. He never gave me my grazing, and he has never returned me my pound." That was no doubt an ex parte statement, and he thought it right to tell the House frankly the source of his information in order that they might test it. But he would be very sorry to stand there and give information which he did not know to be accurate. He believed it to be accurate; it was given to him in the presence of the other men, and they agreed with it. This pamphlet was admittedly inaccurate, because it called this man a crofter in one place, and then in another it said that he had a share of grazing. He certainly never had a croft, and he believed that he never had a grazing. He paid £1 deposit for one, but never got in. He had now finished, and he left the Lord Advocate and the Secretary for Scotland to defend themselves. He had not touched upon the case at all. He had endeavoured to tell the House, so far as he knew them, the true facts of the case.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (City of London)
said the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down had occupied some part of his speech with an attack on the merits of the management of Lady Gordon Cathcart's estate, and he had endeavoured to prove that the cottars and crofters who were breaking the law at that moment in Vatersay were substantially and in reality only exercising those primal rights of which no law had a right to deprive anybody. That was his contention he understood. In order to make out that contention the hon. and learned Gentleman had traversed a wide field. He had accused him of making a speech about a case which was sub judice, and accused Lady Gordon Cathcart's agent, in a pamphlet circulated that morning, of misleading and inaccurate observations, and he had given a good many trimmings and adornments to the general basis of his argument on 148 which he proposed to say one word before coming to the crucial and central point of the hon. and learned Member's observations. His last point was that the pamphlet was extremely inaccurate, because it called a man a crofter who had only a share in a grazing farm. Did this man sleep out of doors?
§ MR. A. DEWAR
There is no house on a joint grazing at all. A cottar has only a right to put his cattle on a certain spot along with seventeen other men who share the grazing. A croft is a very different thing, and that is why I say the statement in the pamphlet is inaccurate.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
begged the hon. and learned Gentleman's pardon. This man had, of course, a residence on the island, and had a share of the common grazing. They might, if they liked, draw a distinction between that and. other forms of crofter holdings and other farms, to be more accurate; but to say that there was any misleading statement, or that the ordinary usages of language were violated by saying that this man, who resided in an inland parish with a share of a common grazing, was a cottar, or that such a statement was almost criminally and falsely inaccurate, was pressing a very narrow point much too far.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said he would deal equally briefly with the hon. and learned Gentleman's attack on himself—an attack most courteously delivered, but he thought most unfounded. He had made a speech in January in Glasgow, in which he dealt with the case of Lady Gordon Cathcart. He had forgotten the precise language he used on that occasion. Like many other persons who had a great many speeches to make, nature had kindly provided him with a memory which enabled him to dismiss them. By the courtesy of the Secretary for Scotland he had been provided with a copy of the speech. He thought that, 149 so far as it dealt with this question, it was an extremely good one. He had forgotten how good it was. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that in that speech he had made an attack on the character of these men who were forcibly occupying somebody else's land. He had said no more about these men than the hon. and learned Gentleman had said himself. He said that they had broken the law. The hon. and learned Gentleman said they had broken the law. He had made no vituperative attack upon them. Perhaps he did not know the Western Highlands so well as the rest of the Highlands, but he could entirely endorse what he took to be the hon. and learned Gentleman's view that these people were very law-abiding, and in a general way sober and agreeable persons to deal with. He did not say a word against them otherwise than that they had broken the law. If he was asked whom he blamed for breaking the law, he would not put the chief onus on them, but on their advisers. He would have said they were misled by agitators, and that learned Gentlemen, like the hon. and learned Gentlemen himself, had gone down and told them that that was breaking the law, but it was a perfectly innocent and moral way of breaking the law, and he would have said that such advice given to people like that was sure to be followed, and that the blame did not attach so much to the unhappy dupes as to—he did not like to say reckless agitators or unscrupulous advisers, but he most distinctly said that the theories which the hon. and learned Gentleman had advanced were absolutely inconsistent both with any administration of the law and with the prosperity and welfare of those for whom the law existed, not the rich, but the poor. The hon. Gentleman had proceeded to make what was more serious than any personal criticism of himself. He had made some comment on the whole management of the Gordon Cathcart estate, which seemed to him to be quite unfounded. He had said that the county council stated in 1897 that the land could and ought to be obtained. But since then the whole of the land on Barra that belonged to Lady Gordon Cathcart had been subdivided. There was not a single acre which had not been given, 150 for good or for evil—and it Was a Very doubtful question which—into the hands of small tenants. The hon. Gentleman had said that Lady Gordon Cathcart must not claim generosity for that. He did not know that Lady Gordon Cathcart did claim generosity. She had lost money by it. She might have let the land to somebody who would have paid rent, but she had let it to small tenants who had not paid the rent, and if it was worth while to deal with the I question of her gains or losses that was a subject which the House ought not to forget. Then the hon. Gentleman had said: "You talk of the excellent management of Lady Cathcart's estate. Go to Barra. Look at the houses which are built there." But those were largely the houses, not of the tenants, but of the squatters who ought not to be there under the law passed by the hon. Gentleman's friends—the Crofters Act—the setters whom the Crofters Act forbade to be there for obvious reasons connected with the economic prosperity of the land. But they were there. Against the law they had built these wretched hovels. Against their own interests they were still squatting upon holdings no more than adequate, which their fathers were cultivating, and the landlord was powerless to resist this illegal action of the children of her tenants. Was she to be blamed because houses which she did not want to be built were put upon her land by persons forbidden to be there, not by a small technical Act passed in the interest of the owners of the soil, but by an Act which was always represented as a great social reform, passed deliberately in the interests of the crofters themselves, by the Party to which the hon. Gentleman belonged? Were they to understand that among the many functions which were to be thrust upon the landlords was that of building houses with proper drainage, water supply and accommodation for all the persons who ought not to be on their land, but who remained to the detriment, destruction, and bankruptcy of the whole community to which they belonged? The hon. Gentleman had said that she sold the land for thirty-five years purchase. But the number of years' purchase for which it was generous to sell land depended on how high the land was 151 rented, and it appeared that one of the competitors for the land at thirty-five years purchase was the very tenant who had been occupying it. If anybody knew the value of the land which he wished to buy, it was the tenant who had been occupying it, and it was perfectly absurd to say there was anything excessive or exorbitant in the price which she obtained for the land. But that was not all. It appeared that the persons to whom she sold it, the Congested Districts Board, sent their independent valuer, and they wrote afterwards to her and said the price which she had put upon the land was not in excess of the price their valuer had put on it. Was it fair of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had the unusual advantage of being the counsel for these unfortunate and misguided men, to raise a cheap and easy cheer against a landlord who could not be there to defend herself, and who belonged to a class which it was very easy to attack and of which the defence was not always a very popular undertaking?
§ MR. A. DEWAR
said he did not think on reflection the right hon. Gentleman would accuse him of having come down to raise a cheap cheer. The right hon. Gentleman and his followers had repeated the statement that this was a singularly generous lady, and that she had shown her generosity in this matter. He replied to that by saying she got a very good price.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said he could not accept the explanation of the hon. Member. Lady Gordon Cathcart's position, as he understood it, and he believed this was uncontradicted and uncontradictable, was that through all this she had used her property, not in the way which she thought most advisable for her own interest or for the interest of her tenants, but in accordance with the advice of the Congested Districts Board. She did not believe anything would be gained by dividing up the land; and she was right, as he thought. She did not believe the course pressed upon her by the Government was right, but she adopted it, and if they were going to discuss her money generosity, he would like very much to ask whether Lady Gordon Cathcart had or had not 152 pecuniarily gained from this part of her property. Lady Cathcart would have been ruined had she depended upon what she got for her property in Barra, as an unfortunate landlord of Lewis had been unable to meet his financial position for precisely similar reasons. The last point of the hon. Gentleman was that all this trouble would have been saved if the Land Bill of the Government relating to Scotland had been passed into law. The Land Bill suggested by the Government, as they told them over and over again, was an extension of the Crofters Act from the Highlands to the Lowlands of Scotland. That was the blessing they were going to give to the Lowlands of Scotland. But the Act was in force in the Highlands. This very part of the Highlands was under the Act.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman is entirely mistaken. They have been given under this very Act on this very estate.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said that that was the hon. Gentleman's point. His idea, therefore, was that all this trouble had arisen because the Government had not compulsory powers to take the small island of Vatersay and divide it up. What were the facts about the small island of Vatersay? The facts were, in the first place, that, in the opinion at least of the owner of the island, it was not fit for crofting. In the second place she said: "Well, if you dissent from that, I will sell you the land." In the third place she said: "If that does not satisfy you, I will go against my judgment and allow it to be divided up among the crofters; only you must Compensate the tenant." Did the hon. Gentleman say that under the Government Scottish Land Bill of last year the tenant would not have been compensated? He was very ready to interrupt a moment ago. He did not interrupt me now.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said in that case the whole case broke down. The landlord was prepared to do precisely that which would have been done by compulsion under the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman had it been passed into law. And the man who stood in the way of that Bill being carried out, the man who prevented the island being subdivided, the man who prevented the compensation being given to the tenant, was the Secretary for Scotland. He thought he had dealt with all the more important aspects of the hon. Gentleman's speech, but, in his opinion, that speech did not touch the really important aspect of the question, and it was to that that he would most earnestly and respectfully ask the attention of the House. He was not going to enter into the controversy as to the particular action of the Government or the Lord Advocate—whether they ought to have intervened earlier or under a different law. He personally thought they had been much to blame for the course they had pursued, but he had really nothing to add to the really admirable presentation of the case by his hon. friend behind him. There was a deeper and, as he thought, an uncontroversial aspect of the question which he would most anxiously press upon all who were interested either in the land question generally or more particularly in the land question as it affected the Western Islands of Scotland. The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to hold that what was wanted in that part of the world was the perpetual division and sub-division of these wretched holdings into fragments more and more uneconomic, or perhaps he had better say less and less economic. This was not a question of dividing into better farms and into a more desirable system rich land on which men could live and thrive and pay their rates and rent, and bring up their families. Those holdings started by being like the very worst holdings in the West of Ireland, and the terrific and appalling lesson of the Irish famine had not penetrated there. It had produced in Ireland, he believed, wonderful effects. He did not believe that the danger of sub-division in 154 Ireland was now anything like what it was when he came into the House thirty years ago, still less what it was before the great Irish famine. The danger of subdivision was as great in the Western Islands as it ever was in the worst period of Irish history, and the results were more disastrous. It was only because the relatively small population concerned prevented our taking account of what was going on there that the full gravity of the situation was hid. Let them take the very island they were discussing. Let it be remembered that that island was not a rich grazing island; it was one of the far outworks of Scotland towards the Atlantic—a wet and misty, sunless clime, a poverty-stricken soil. This island, of the natural and inevitable barrenness of which only those who had visited these islands could form a conception, had the following history as regards population. In 1861 the population was 1,853; in 1871, 1,990; in 1881, 2,100; in 1891, 2,300; and in 1901, 2,500. In the forty years from 1861 to 1901 the population has increased by 37 per cent—and this upon land where the holdings were as small as they ought to be, and where the increase of population was an increase, not of small holders who ought to be there, but of cottars who ought not to be there in their own interests and in the interests of society. The rates of this wretched parish were 22s. in the £ He believed the Government had had to take over the administration of the Poor Law, which meant paying part of the rates themselves. They had had to take over education, which meant paying for education themselves. This parish, living in the poverty which the hon. Gentleman seemed to think justified the action the people had taken, was so poor that practically it was living upon the general charity of the community, and living miserably. Lady Cathcart told them that this small island which had been invaded was unfit for crofters, that in dry seasons the water was inadequate—that was disputed, but it certainly had no schools. There was nothing which constituted a civilised community; all that would have to be built. Out of whose funds? Out of the funds of the clients of the hon. Gentleman opposite, or out of the funds of the general taxpayer? But Barra and the 155 neighbouring island did not stand alone. Let them take the case of the Lewis. The Lewis were much larger islands. In the Lewis there were at this moment 3,000 crofters—that was to say, 3,000 legitimate tenants. And what was their average rent? Their average rent was £1 18s. 6d. In addition to the 3,000 crofters, and on the land of the 3,000 crofters, they had no less than 1,500 cottars, who lived in miserable houses run up by themselves. They only lived there against the laws. They lived there without paying rates, without paying rents—parasites on the community themselves, bringing forth families, which, he supposed, were again to subdivide still more this miserable district. The rates in Scotland were divided, as all Scotsmen knew, between landlord and tenant. The landlord was owed £20,000 arrears of rent. On these £20,000 arrears of rent he had had to pay rates; he had had to pay the other half of the rates. He felt himself unable to meet the financial situation. The whole life of the community had been brought to an end of its own resources, and Lewis, like Barra, was thrown upon charity, was unable to carry on the duties which were thrown upon every community in the country. It could neither educate itself nor look after its own sanitation, nor carry out any of the functions which they entrusted to local authorities. Was there the smallest sign that this tragic process was being brought to an end? It was the business of the Government, of course, to see that the law was fulfilled; it was the business of the Government to see that no subdivision took place. He did not wish to be severe upon them for not carrying out that function, because he imagined it to be a very difficult one. He really did not wish to judge them too harshly; but this was a plain duty, and it was a duty which they did not fulfil. Let him tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that the idea that they could make up for this growth of cottar population on the islands which were inhabited by such small illegal outlets as were produced by the raid, the moral defence of which he had so rashly undertaken, was surely profoundly mistaken. Let them grant that Lady Cathcart was wrong about the water supply of Vatersay. Let them imagine that the 156 Government at last saw that if they believed in this system of small holdings they ought either to buy the land as they could under the Congested Districts Act, or take it and compensate the tenant, as they would if their own Bill had become law—granted. Let them suppose that those clients of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite got their holdings. Vatersay was going to be immediately a worse Barra, as Barra was a worse Lewis. The hon. Member did not even suggest how the school was to be built. He did not even suggest how the water supply was to be carried out. Those people could not do it; the landlord could not do it; was the Government going to do it? The hon. Gentleman, if he had persuaded any Member of the House that the evils of the Western Islands of Scotland were going to be dealt with, or even palliated and alleviated, by such transactions as had recently taken place—even if they were legal, even if though illegal they were moral—if he had done that he had done a great wrong to the social welfare of that part of the Highlands. He had too much regard and affection for the population of the Highlands—[" Oh, oh," and a LABOUR MEMBER: Parasites.] There were persons in this House who thought that affection was never shown except by suggesting illegality. He took a different view, and he repeated and everybody who knew him knew that he spoke the truth—that he had the greatest affection and regard for this Highland population. There was no population in the world who so rapidly entwined themselves into one's affections as the inhabitants of those bleak and desolate districts. But it was really madness to suggest that their lot was to be improved by telling them that they were doing right when, in fact, they were doing wrong; and even less was their lot to be improved by not throwing the whole of their weight into stopping this hopeless subdivision of land—this accumulation of uneconomic holdings, this addition of cottar to crofter until universal bankruptcy spread over the land—that was the worst of all. He did not wish to attack hon. and right hon. Members. Personally, he thought they had grossly mismanaged the whole 157 of this affair, and that they had behaved most cruelly to Lady Gordon Cathcart. But that was a small matter. They might be angels of light; Lady Gordon Cathcart might not deserve—though as far as he knew she thoroughly did deserve—the name of an enlightened landlord. Let them remember that this debate on the state of Barra did not touch merely the action of the Lord-Advocate or of a particular landlord; it touched the whole social condition of a particular portion of these islands, and he submitted that the doctrine preached from those benches, and the practice of this Government led, and could only lead, to the further difficulty, degradation, poverty, and bankruptcy of a population which, for its moral as well as for its intellectual character, assuredly deserved well of the House and of the country.
§ MR. SINCLAIR
said nobody could say that the discussion of the Scottish questions which came under the Vote now before the Committee had not aroused interest in the House. They had listened to two speeches, both of which had interested the Committee deeply, though from different points of view. In the earlier part of the discussion several general points were raised by hon. Members, and he would ask to be allowed to reply regarding those matters at a later stage in order that the discussion might be concentrated at present on the topic which had been discussed by the three speakers who had preceded him. The general position of the case was presented with eloquence and earnestness by his hon. friend the Member for South Edinburgh in the admirable speech he had delivered. He would saynothingon that aspect of the question, but he would address himself to some of the criticisms which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. In the first place, considering that the right hon. Gentleman had publicly thrown his great influence in Scotland into this controversy, he had hoped that they would have some practical suggestion from him in dealing with the difficult question before them. He must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having succeeded in importing into the discussion some matter which was at an 158 earlier stage of the debate ruled out of order by the Chairman or his deputy when he entered on the discussion of the Lewis rates. He would not follow the right hon. Gentleman into a general survey of the advantages and the disadvantages of the crofter legislation, because he conceived that at this stage the discussion of that matter would be out of order.
I think I ought to explain that the right hon. Gentleman himself assured me that the reference to Lewis made by the hon. Member for the Ayr Burghs involved a point in regard to local government. In this case Lewis was used as an illustration by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City in connection with the question of land congestion, and, therefore, it was legitimate.
§ MR. SINCLAIR
expressed the hope that the Chairman would not think he was questioning his discretion. He was congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on having found a legitimate opportunity for introducing into the debate a subject which hon. Members had raised and which was ruled to be out of order. He was not going to follow the right hon. Gentleman into that sphere, He asked the House to note, for it was worthy of note, the position which the right hon. Gentleman had taken upon the present occasion. The right hon. Gentleman never lost an opportunity of declaring himself opposed to the whole policy of the Crofters Act. In doing so, he did not give much practical help in solving questions such as those which the Committee had before them that day. The right hon. Gentleman knew, and the House knew as well, that the people of the Highlands of Scotland were convinced that the Crofters Act had been the charter of their liberty. It had been shown during the past eighteen months in Parliament that their sympathy had been with the Government in endeavouring to extend and amend the application of that Act. Now he came to the point under discussion, namely, whether the Government, as represented by the Lord-Advocate, the Solicitor-General, and himself, had in the exercise of their duties rightly administered the various statutes 159 which bore upon this matter. He agreed with the hon. Member for South Edinburgh that debates which involved criticism of individuals were especially disagreeable in that House. He had no intention of criticising or making any personal allegations against the proprietress of this estate. He would venture to say one or two words on the peculiar position which this estate occupied in Scotland in controversies of this kind. It was very noteworthy that on this estate alone had there been recurring difficulties of this kind. From 1883 onwards this estate had been notorious for the occurrence of difficulties of this kind. It was obvious to anyone who read the Papers presented to Parliament that the tenants were completely out of sympathy with the proprietress or rather with the estate management, because his hon. friend was perfectly right in reminding the House that they were profuse in expressions of personal respect towards the proprietress herself. It was true also of this estate, and it was true of no other estate in Scotland, that active intervention by the Government in these troubles had been necessary on three separate occasions during the period he had mentioned, and on two of these occasions the intervention was undertaken by the Government of the right hon. Gentleman himself. Large sums of public money had been involved, and, indeed, there was repeated proof that on no other estate in Scotland, he was glad to think, had the same kind of charges to be made. He would just enumerate them. The correspondence which had been laid before Parliament disclosed very clearly the endeavour of the estate management to throw the whole responsibility for these transactions and for the unsatisfactory condition of things on the Government. He asked the House to observe that these Papers made it clear, in the first place, that the estate management had been directed in accordance with a theory which was quite impracticable, and which had been condemned by all practical men who had been called to look into the matter. Repeatedly these tenants had been lectured and told to give up thinking of the land, and to do as the East coast fishermen did and restrict themselves 160 entirely to fishing. Over and over again it had been pointed out that to compare the condition of the people who lived and worked in this island with the position of men living along the coast of the Moray Firth, who had access to shops, markets, productive farms and to the ordinary articles of consumption, was entirely incorrect. These men must have land for their children who were growing up, and if there were to be houses built and made available for them land was essential. It was the pressure of circumstances upon them, and not any desire to break the law—the needs of themselves and their families—which was at the bottom of the mischief. As a matter of fact, the estate recognised this in a limited degree in 1883 when land was broken up by the estate in order to meet those needs. Even then there were restrictions placed upon the concessions given which greatly reduced their value. His hon. friend had pointed out that when the rents came to be valued again by the Crofters Commission later on they were reduced all round by an average of 35 per cent. There were other restrictions which he need not enumerate placed upon the holdings, and subsequently removed. All through these negotiations, and all through the long letters which detailed the history of the position of the estate, there were repeated proofs of the strong opposition of the estate management to any further concessions of this kind being given. The estate management might, in its own opinion, be right or wrong, but he said it had been universally condemned, and condemned by nothing more than by its failure to meet the circumstances of the case. He asked the Committee to look at the last transaction. It was under the Conservative Government that a portion of land was bought in this Island for the purpose of being broken up. The price paid was £7,500, and that land was subsequently valued by the Crofters Commission at £5,512. The loss was borne by the taxpayers. As Mr. Speaker said the other day: "All Governments are fair game." That was the view of the people who sold land. [An HON. MEMBER: Not always.] He was not dealing with always, but with this particular instance.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Lady Cathcart, at the moment she sold the land, had as good an offer, if not a better offer, than that of the Government.
§ MR. SINCLAIR
said that there were always two ways of looking at these transactions. The Government took one view, and he thought it was the right view, when under unpleasant necessity they were obliged by public needs to step in and buy an estate. He would quote from the pamphlet, which the right hon. Gentleman had already quoted, in order to show the spirit in which the estate management regarded the offer of the Conservative Government. It said, referring to Lady Cathcart—She had two competitors for the property, both extremely anxious to purchase.It was quite true in one sense that they were extremely anxious to purchase. The right hon. Gentleman said that that was a necessary step, and to describe his, Government as going into the market and competing eagerly with some other competitor for the possession of land in Barra, was to attribute to the right hon. Gentleman and his Government a view which they never at that moment held, What he said was that there was a loss of about £2,000 on the transaction. What was the doctrine which the Opposition thought should apply to such cases? Did they say that the Government should always bear the responsibility when difficulties of this kind arose, a situation: which they had no hand in creating? This difficulty was small compared with those which had to be met already on this estate. He said nothing on the question of the Trespass Act. His right hon. friend the Lord Advocate was far more able to inform the House as to the action; taken by the Government on that matter; he would only deal with the question as disclosed in the Papers, and low they were to meet the present difficulty. In the first place the Government had made a most generous offer to the estate management. He did not think he Committee recognised how great the obligations and how large the expenditure were which the Government had undertaken in this matter; but when they faced the facts they were met with 162 the same difficulties with which the right hon. Gentlemen opposite were confronted ten years ago. The same unreasonable claims were made; the same restrictions were sought to be imposed upon them; and the same difficulties as to how the Government were to deal with the new agreement made with the tenant. There was not a word of recognition in these Papers of the responsibility which the past and present Governments had had to bear in this matter. Therefore, he asked the Committee to be good enough to follow him briefly on the point he had mentioned. The Government had been blamed for refusing to pledge themselves to pay compensation to the tenant. The right hon. Gentleman had quoted the Bill of last year and the Bill of this year, as providing—which it did—for the payment of such compensation as must be determined, but he thought they had better deal with the present instance and not with another, an altogether different case.
§ MR. COCHRANE (Ayrshire, N.)
The Land Tenure Act of 1906 also imposed compensation being paid to a person leaving a farm.
§ MR. SINCLAIR
said that that might be, but he was not dealing with that matter low; he was explaining the position of the Government in dealing with the Vatersay case. It was said that the question of compensation had been standing in the way of an agreement being come to in an amicable manner, which would have placed the land at the disposal of the settlers. That was an entire misapprehension. What were the circumstances? Some months ago, after parts of the land had been taken for the use of the settlers, and after cattle had actually been placed upon it, and a year after they had full knowledge bat petitions had been presented, asking that the land should be made available for settlers, the tenants and the proprietor entered into an agreement for new lease in August, 1906. If anyone complained that the tenant did not know what he was doing, that he had not measured the risks, that cattle belonging to the raiders, as they were called, were at that moment on his farm, then, if the tenant entered into that agreement 163 without some caveat he was very neglectful of his own interest. The tenant and proprietor were fully cognisant of the risks and difficulties attending the conclusion of such an agreement, and he contended that the compensation to be paid under such circumstances should come to a mere bagatelle. What was the object in bringing in the Government in this matter? The Government received no information, although this was denied by the hon. Member for North West Lanark. It seemed to him incredible that while the proprietor was in correspondence with an advantageous offer for the land, when obviously the possibility of the land having to be made available for these settlers was known, no information was sent to the Government of the expiry of the lease, and of the fact of a new agreement being entered into for a lease binding the tenant and proprietor for a period of ten years, and possibly for nineteen years.
§ MR. MITCHELL-THOMSON
said that the first suggestion to Lady Gordon Cathcart of a scheme was made on 5th September, 1907, but the lease was arranged for in August, 1906, and actually came into operation at Whitsuntide, 1907, six months before any suggestion came from the Government.
§ MR. SINCLAIR
said he was very well aware of that; but the hon. Member knew from the correspondence that he had not gone beyond the truth in his statement. The cattle were on the land of the raiders and were returned to them; and the cattle were again put on the land by the raiders. He asked what possible claim could there be against the Government under these circumstances? Besides, in this matter he stood for the taxpayers, and he knew that the obvious effect of bringing in the Government would be to invite both the proprietor and the tenant to put their hands into the pockets of the taxpayers. More importance had been attached to this matter than need be, because it was argued in the correspondence that this small matter was really the obstacle to a settlement. If the Committee had followed the details of this matter they would know, as those 164 who took part in the discussion of the Small Landholders Bill of this year and last year knew, that this question of compensation was a bagatelle compared with two other payments for which the Government had made themselves responsible. One was the loss on the letting value and the other the valuation of the sheep stock. The negotiations broke down because the estate management had deliberately and persistently declined throughout the whole controversy to accept any settlement which did not involve the handing over of the whole of the island to the Government by purchase. It had been repeatedly stated that Lady Gordon Cathcart had frequently made suggestions to the Government on this matter. He maintained that no suggestion to solve the difficulty had ever come spontaneously from the estate management at all. The suggestion came from himself in September, 1907, the difficulties having grown to such dimensions that it was impossible for him any longer to stand outside. Accordingly, he wrote to Lady Gordon Cathcart and urged that some settlement should be come to; and he put forward a proposal for making the land available to the settlers. Then came the refusal, and a counter-proposal which was equivalent to the purchase of the island by the Government.
§ MR. SINCLAIR
said that the hon. Gentleman would see from the correspondence that the estate agents, the estate management, and the proprietress concentrated their attention throughout on the endeavour to obtain compensation for removing the tenant. Why? Because once the tenant was gone, the island would have been thrown on the hands of the Government, not as owners, with power to do with it as they liked, but as placing them in the position, on the one hand, of being responsible to the proprietor for the rent of the land, and on the other of being unable, on account of the conditions and restrictions imposed on the tenancy, to act freely and settle the people upon the land. That would have been the position of the Government. What would have been the position of the owner? Having 165 compensated the tenant at the cost of the Government, and having obtained a guarantee for the rent, she would still have retained the ownership and in some degree the control of the land. And all this within her legal rights! He declared that in essence that was an extreme assertion of the rights of property, and an extreme disregard of the duties and responsibilities of the possession of property. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition earlier in the debate had quoted the case of Barra as illustrating the whole position of the Western Islands. It was a singular fact that of all the islands Barra was the only one which showed an increase of population. No other part of the Long Island or the other islands showed an increase of population. Even in Lewis, which was a highly congested and thickly populated island, there had been no such increase of population in recent years, as there had been in Barra. What was the reason for that difference? It was difficult to say. It might be that the communications with it were few, that the community of Barra were more primitive and backward, and that the allurements and inducements to flock to the city and the influence of education, which was having some effect on the population of the other islands, had not had the same effect on this island. There was, however, another factor which should not be lost sight of. Barra had a valuable fishery in the neighbourhood; it had many curing stations, and there was a good deal of traffic there at certain seasons of the year. The proprietress as well as the people shared in the benefits of this state of things. This lady drew rents for the curing places and water rents, and therefore there was a direct connection between this considerable population and the rents and profits of the owner of the land. It was held reasonable to take the view that landowners in large cities had some responsibility for the dense population upon their land. Parliament had recognised the responsibility of landlords if they neglected sanitary conditions and had slum property. It would be just as reasonable to call upon the Government to relieve those landlords of slum property in the cities as to call upon them to relieve the landlord of property 166 in islands such as that now under discussion. The Government must not be saddled with the whole responsibility. He believed that the offer of the Government had the approval of the Committee.
§ MR. SINCLAIR
said the transaction was perfectly simple. Acting for the Government, he had, in the first place, suggested to the proprietor that settlers should be placed on the land under the Crofters Act. She replied declining to do so, and offering to sell the land. The Government replied that they could not accept, and that their offer stood. The proprietress then offered a scheme of her own, which was not identical with that of the Government, which would put the rofter tenants on her land, and which was detailed in her letter of 12th October, in the Parliamentary papers. The Government then endeavoured to adjust terms with the estate management. The contention of the estate was that the negotiations broke down on the question of compensation to tenants, and he had been endeavouring to show that that was not the real explanation of the difficulty. The compensation to the tenants was a mere bagatelle. The real effort of the estate had been to throw the whole island into the hands of the Government, who knew nothing about its capacities except on general information. The Government were willing to aid the proprietress in any scheme for settling the crofter tenants that she might formulate, but were not prepared to have the island thrown at them. The Government took the position which the correspondence disclosed, and on that he asked the support of the House. The right hon. Gentleman had uttered a general denunciation of the Government policy; but the proprietress would be as much at a loss as the Government to know what solution he proposed. The Government were anxious to see a way out of this difficulty. The situation was serious from every point of view, and its gravity had been intensified by the proceedings which had taken place in the Court of Session only last week. In the interests of all concerned in this matter, in the 167 interests of public order in Scotland, it was highly desirable that this controversy should be brought to an end. He hoped that would be brought home to all parties concerned by the debate, and that a way out of the difficulty would be found.
§ SIR HENRY CRAIK (Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities)
contended that the Secretary for Scotland had in his speech absolutely avoided dealing with the kernel of the case, and had dealt only with details which did not touch even the fringe of the question. The hon. and learned Member for South Edinburgh had made an apology for these law-breakers for whom he had acted as counsel before the Court, and although he did not make a direct personal attack on Lady Gordon Cathcart by name, yet as she was responsible more or less for the management of the estate it was impossible to settle this question without attacking her. He had known for many years the result of the management of her estates, and from his own personal knowledge of Lady Gordon Cathcart he could say that no one could be more careful of the welfare of tenants or more generous where generosity was called for. When responsible for the administration of the education of Scotland every appeal he made to her was readily answered. He was certain, and he spoke with the ordinary knowledge of those acquainted with these Western Highlands, that in many respects Lady Gordon Cathcart was a model landlord. For an illustration of that he need not go beyond certain expressions used by the Scottish Secretary himself. Over and over again he appealed to her to step in and help him, and said that the popularity of her name and the high esteem in which she was held by her tenants would be of inestimable advantage to him in carrying out his scheme. What were the real facts with regard tothismatter? These had been referred to by the hon. and learned Member. In the case which he referred to of the sale of a certain farm he fell into a considerable error; £15,000 was the price offered by the tenant of that farm, but he was induced to take a part for £9,500 and the rest was purchased by the Congested Districts Board for £5,500.
§ MR. SINCLAIR
said the hon. Gentleman had made a mistake. What 168 he said as to the price was correct, but one portion of land was purchased from Mr. McGillioray by the Congested Districts Board for £2,000, which brought up the whole price to £7500.
§ SIR HENRY CRAIK
said the right hon. Gentleman was wrong in his correction. Mr. McGillioray made an offer, and £2,000 was paid for another part of the estate, and apart from that £5,500 was the sum paid. Besides, did the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that the advantage of making a bargain of that sort with a single, certain, solvent tenant, a man of capital, whose rent would always be paid, was to be lost, and that the estate was to be filled with small crofters or cottars, whose rents were small and for the most part in arrear? Did the right hon. Gentleman remember also what a burden was imposed upon the landlord? The right hon. Gentleman knew quite well that the expense of providing education fell upon the rates, which wore paid almost entirely by the landlord and not by the crofters. The large education rate was not chargeable to any tenant whose holding was under the value of £4. If the value was below £4, the landlord was responsible for the rate, and might seek it from the crofter, if he could get it; as a matter of fact he never did. The hon. and learned Member had quoted another case in which he said there was thirtyeight years' purchase, but the hon. and learned Gentleman had only to look at the facts to see how totally baseless was his assertion. £600 was the price given for a farm of 60 acres, which, it seemed to him, was not an extravagant price where the annual rental was £50. That could hardly be called a purchase on "hard business principles." the phrase used by the hon. and learned Member, which he employed as a synonym for "ungenerous." What, he had to ask, and this was far more important, was the real object they had in view? What was for the good of the people, and whether the action of the right hon. Gentleman would promote that good or be detrimental to it. Everyone who had studied the position of these outlying islands knew that the great and central difficulty was the congestion of the population, 169 which, as had been pointed out by his right hon. friend, was in Barra growing at a rate almost unexampled, there having been an increase of 40 per cent, in a few years. Was it kindness to encourage these poor people to squat upon the land, to raise these insanitary and unwholesome dwellings at their own cost, under no supervision of any sanitary officer, and with which no sanitary officer could interfere without raising discontent? The real fact was that they could only bring content to those islands by encouraging the people to leave a soil which was too poor to yield sustenance to an increasing population. They could not make those districts fertile and suitable for economical small holdings. The migration of the population was the only way in which an economic condition could be brought about. But what course had the right hon. Gentleman taken with regard to the state where the disorder had arisen? Certain cattle were placed upon the land against the wish of the tenants and against the wish of the landlords. There was a refusal to remove them. The people proceeded from that a step further; they built huts upon the land and established themselves as squatters. Such an attempt was certain to be uneconomic and a failure; how uneconomic was shown by the pamphlet which had been quoted, and most of the statements in which had been impugned by the hon. and learned Member. But those statements were founded upon plain facts, for which chapter and verse could be given. In regard to the extension of the squatting system in the Island of Vatersay, the right hon. Gentleman had been asked by Lady Gordon Cathcart to suggest a remedy. "Have you," she asked. "inquired whether there is a water supply on this island." No answer was given. The right hon. Gentleman prepared to institute an inquiry, but from that day to this he had never published the result of that inquiry. Lady Gordon Cathcart's own men of business had made the distinct statement that, according to their own surveyor, there was no water supply such as was necessary for a large population. That statement was not contravened by the Secretary for Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman was asked to 170 make further inquiries, but he had declined, or, at all events, had failed to do so. Lady Gordon Cathcart said to the right hon. Gentleman: "If you desire to make this experiment, which I think entirely wrong, injurious to the people, against their best interests, likely to prove economically a failure, take the land yourself, or else pay compensation to my tenant, and divide it as you like; I will submit to your arrangement." But the tenant was not to be compensated adequately, and there was a refusal to purchase. Why a refusal to purchase? If the Secretary for Scotland thought he could manage this estate better than Lady Gordon Cathcart and her advisors, and if he thought that he would force her to establish an uneconomic, unthrifty, insalubrious, wasteful system in the island, was it fair on any ground or principle to say to her: "No; I shall not purchase. Take the responsibility, which will rest with you. I shall not compensate your tenant, but I shall leave you to try it." The right hon. Gentleman said: "Why should I relieve Lady Gordon Cathcart any more than I should relieve the landlord of a slum district in a town?" Yes; but the right hon. Gentleman, had turned the district into a slum, or into something analogous. Lady Gordon Cathcart was not like some landlord in the slum area of a town who gathered his rents from an impecunious population. She had attempted to arrange matters on what she thought was an economic basis, which, in the long-run, would be the most healthful and beneficial for the inhabitants. It was the right hon. Gentleman, who was turning this district into a slum, who was creating conditions which would be insalubrious, with an insufficient quantity of water, with crowded dwellings, and with a soil from which no ingenuity or possible device could extort a living for the number planted upon it. Could anything be more unfair, more unequal, more unjust? After all, was not the landlord like any fellow being, entitled to something like justice? Was he to be compelled to establish what he was advised, from long experience, would be an uneconomic, wrongful, hurtful state of things, was he to be forced to bear the responsibility of it; was he not at least to be relieved of his land, of 171 which they who pressed this arrangement upon him should take the responsibility themselves? But worse still. The right hon. Gentleman had avoided what was, after all, the strongest central point of this matter. Whatever they had done, he thought they had done wrong to the landlord, and on no moral ground could they support or defend their position. But they had done a far greater wrong. They had broken in the minds of these people any respect for the law upon which their good, as well as the good of the landlords, depended. He quite agreed that the islanders were a law-abiding and law-loving people. There was a singular absence of crime amongst them. For twenty miles they would see law and order preserved by the blue coat, of the single policeman, who seldom had to interfere. What did that depend upon? It depended upon the fact that the policeman in his uniform was a symbol, no more than a symbol, but behind which was the power of the whole realm, which, however slowly it might move, the breaker of the law knew would eventually and relentlessly overtake him in protection of the society to which he belonged. The right hon. Gentleman had brought contempt for the law in place of respect for the law. He had, not only by his inaction, but by the positive encouragement that had been given by himself and his supporters and the law officers, shown these poor people that if they defied the law they would have sympathy in high places, and would ultimately find themselves, not only protected and free from any consequences which followed the infringement of property in other places, but that they would find that they were actually defended in asserting the right that they had lawlessly put in force, and that pressure of the most severe kind was brought to bear upon those who had been wronged by their action.
§ SIR. J. DEWAR (Inverness)
said the Leader of the Opposition had stated that he suspected this was engineered by agitators. As he was the only politician who visited the island he must be the culprit. The advice he had all along given these men was that they should not break the law, and should not take possession of the land, but should continue constitutional agitation. But these men apparently 172 knew better than he did. They knew that this was the only sort of argument that seemed to appeal to the management of this estate. There had been several instances mentioned where the management of the estate had given new holdings, but in every case it was preceded by an outbreak of what was called lawlessness. In 1900 they seized some land. Shortly afterwards the Secretary for Scotland in the Conservative Government bought land and divided it into small holdings. Afterwards the same thing took place in South Uist, and there an extension of the holdings took place. Could they blame the men when they saw that line taken by the management of the estate? He did not approve of their action or apologise for them, but he thought there was a great deal of excuse and explanation. He had nothing in the world to say against Lady Cathcart. She was in every respect a benevolent, kind, and considerate lady, who had done a great deal for these islands, and had done a great deal that they did not see or read about in the newspapers. He knew of his own knowledge that she had done a great deal for the people of the islands, but the management of the estate was very bad. As far as his experience went it was the only badly managed estate in he Highlands, and the only estate where here was any trouble, except, perhaps, on the Congested Districts own estate, and that was a proof that the State was always a bad landlord. He wished to draw attention to, not a misstatement but a half statement, made first by the Leader of the Opposition, and, secondly, by the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken. They seemed to suppose that the squatter cottars were all the younger sons of crofters. That was not the case. The proprietors of these estates in many cases had made the cottars. All these lands were peopled by crofters not so very long ago, and they were cleared off by the proprietors of the estates. They were turned from crofters into cottars, and their crofts were given to great farmers with sheep farms, and many of the crofters were compulsorily emigrated to Canada, and many of them were forced down to the sea shore and told, as they were to-day that they ought to make their living out 173 of the sea, because the land could not give them a living. Lady Cathcart's predecessors cleared off in the year 1851 between 1,000 and 2,000 people. That was not a case in the dark ages. It was within the recollection of many people living in the island. One old man on a neighbouring island had told him that he remembered his father being taken away from his croft on the west side of the island in handcuffs and put down in a bog on the east side and made into a cottar, and that man's son was a cottar to-day. There were a great many cottars of that kind for whom the estate was directly responsible. These people since 1851 had constantly desired to get back to their holdings. A man had told him that as a young man he had expected to get a croft, and now that he had grey hair it seemed as far off as ever. That man was not the younger son of a crofter. The management of the estate had all along said if was a mistake to give them land. He did not think it was economically unsound, and the people themselves did not think so, and it could be proved that it was not. If they were compelled to buy land at 25 per cent, more than it was worth it was, of course, uneconomic, and the rents were uneconomic, and they could not afford to live on it. He had no doubt on the subject at all, and any unprejudiced witness would say the same thing. But where there had been settlements on economic grounds, and with some consideration both to the landlord and the tenant, they had been successful, and the people who were now occupying them were in a better position than before they got possession. The poor rate was high and the proportion of paupers was very large. But 90 per cent, of the paupers came from the cottar and the landless class, and only 10 per cent, from the class of men who had got land. He did not want to go into the record of the dealings of the estate with the Government, but a succession of Secretaries for Scotland had had dealings with these estates, and in every case had been more or less the victims of circumstances. In 1902 the estate which had been mentioned was purchased, one part by a tenant and the other by the Congested Districts Board. All along there had 174 been an agitation for cottars to get a living as crofters, and this land was the best and most fertile in the district. But just before negotiations reached a head a long lease was granted to a tenant who said he would not give it up unless he was allowed to purchase his part of the estate, and he made his offer. The Secretary for Scotland was helpless and had to agree to the conditions, and the result was that the best part of the land was bought by the farmer and was consequently unavailable to relieve the congestion, and the crofters were sent to the moors and the bogs as usual, and they had there again the spectacle that they had in so many parts of the Highlands, of the crofter being on the poor soil and the farmer on the rich and fertile soil. Under all these circumstances he thought the Secretary for Scotland was justified in taking a stand on behalf of the taxpayer, and in refusing to do more than he did. But what was to be done to meet the present difficulty? They could lot go on sending these men to prison, and keeping them there. It was a perfectly hopeless plan. It was impossible, and he was sure it would be repugnant to Lady Gordon Cathcart. He hoped most sincerely that the Government or the proprietors would again open negotiations. He did not think the Government should buy the land. All the power the Board had was to buy land and sell it over again in small holdings. It had been proved that the tenants did not want to buy. They had already refused to buy. He hoped negotiations would proceed and that they might get a settlement in the interests of the cottars. He agreed entirely that even if all the land was put in the hands of the crofters they would not have done all that ought to be done. No doubt there was a very large population there—larger perhaps than ought to be there—but he had carried belief in the work that had been carried on by the Congested Districts Board in the matter of technical education, and he believed more ought to be done in that direction. The life of a West Highland crofter, was something likethis: he went to school until the age of fourteen, then went home to his 175 mother, and forgot all his English and a good deal of his learning in school. About eighteen he went south to find work, and being only fit for labouring work, the result usually was that in the end he found himself in the West Highlands, an old man with no trade and no money saved, and became a charge on the over-burdened ratepayer.
And, it being a quarter-past Eight of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further proceeding was postponed without Question put.