§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £11,016, be granted to His Majesty to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1910, 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. T. H. COCHRANE
Scotch Members are less fortunate in getting opportunities of calling the attention of the House to matters very largely affecting Scotland than the Members for Ireland in obtaining facilities for discussing Irish questions. They generally get two days in which to raise questions of interest to Ireland, whereas we very rarely succeed in extracting from the Government more than one day in which to state our case. I desire to take this opportunity of calling atten- 1424 tion to the deplorable state of things which exists in some of the remote parts of Scotland, in some of those western islands situated up in the Atlantic, which are apt to escape the attention of Members from other parts of the United Kingdom, and I do so in the hope that by some administrative action the Secretary for Scotland (Lord Pentland) may effect some amelioration. If the same state of affairs which exists in those western islands prevailed in one of our Colonies we should have the whole country ringing from one end to the other. The position of some of the inhabitants of these islands is far worse than was the position of those Chinese labourers in compounds in South Africa, which excited such extravagant sympathy from hon. Gentlemen opposite. You have in these islands industrious people to whom the wages paid to the Chinese labourers would be a fortune, and I wish to ask the indulgence of the Committee while I draw some slight attention to the conditions under which they subsist. We find in these islands a wretched condition of poverty; we find uneconomic holdings; I am sorry to say that in some particulars we find a condition of lawlessness, and we find, above all, a supineness on the part of the Government which is most deplorable and unfortunate. The position is one of such unexampled a character and of such extraordinary a nature that I think even Scotch Members hardly realise the position. Probably the only Member in this House who does is the hon. Member for Ross and Cromartie (Mr. Weir), who is constantly brought in touch with the islands. Rates are heavy here, it is true; everyone feels them to be so, but they are negligible compared with the rates which fall upon the unfortunate people in these islands. Let me take three parishes, Barvas, Uig, and Lochs. Whereas in 1885 there was in Barvas a poor rate of 2s. 11d. in the £, at the present time the poor rate is 25s. 3d. in the £, and the total rates laid in that parish amount to 28s. 10d. in the £. In the case of Uig, whereas in 1885 the poor rate was 2s. 3d., in 1908 it had risen to 14s. 6½d., and in 1908 the total rates were 19s. 2½d. In Lochs it has risen in the same way from 4s. 2d. in 1885 to a total now of 25s. 1½d. in the £. I ask the House to consider a state of affairs such as that, rates rising to more than 20s. in the £, to 25s. and falling to the extent of 80 per cent upon one particular proprietor. That proprietor finds himself in this position. He 1425 cannot get his rents paid, and he has arrears of £19,000. In one particular parish, Lochs, where he has to pay this enormous rate of over 25s. in the £, his gross rental is £2,899, and he only collects £2,600. He pays parish rates £950, county rates £218, stipend £129, and the total of his occupiers' and county rates amount to £2,196. He has burdens on his estate, interest on mortgage, jointures, and cost of management. All that comes to about £750 a year, so that he is only able to gather in in rents £2,600, and in rates and taxes and burdens he pays out £2,946, or nearly £3,000. He is running his property at a loss. He pays rates, taxes, and burdens, amounting to £2,900, and he only collects rents of £2,600, so that he is £300 to the bad. I think here we get very nearly to the realisation of Mr. Henry George, for by taxing the land you are taking away the whole value of it. The proprietor finds himself absolutely unable to continue to pay these rates; he cannot find the money. He therefore applies to the Government for assistance. If he came from Ireland, or if he belonged to a particular party he would get it; but what is the reply this man who is paying out more than he gets receives? They say, "You must take every possible step by means of legal proceedings or otherwise against Major Mathieson for the recovery of the rates." You cannot get blood out of a stone, and when you have rated a man to the extent that there is more going out than is coming in, what is the use of an attitude such as that taken up by the Government? It is grossly unfair and harsh, and it does not in any sense meet the necessities of the case or relieve the poverty and distress which exist in those islands. How has this come about? It is largely the result of the policy forced on the land-owners in that part of the country. You have broken up farms and divided them amongst crofters. So long as a farm is an ordinary tenancy the rates are levied upon the buildings as well as the land, but the moment you break it up into crofts the crofters' buildings do not bear any rates at all. There is also a fall in the land. You, therefore, by breaking up the farms, reduce the rateable value of the parish. That is the first reason. Another is that the cottars and squatters are unable to find occupation elsewhere. They do not know what else to do or where to go. They are very often tied to the parish by the fact that they speak Gaelic only: being unable to speak any other language, they do not care to 1426 go away in search of occupation. The result is that the cottars and squatters themselves come upon the poor rate, and require medical assistance without contributing one penny to the burden of rates that falls upon the other members of the community. Here is a direction in which we may hope for some assistance from the Government. The various grants-in-aid have been falling off in amount of late years. The Lunacy Grant for Scotland is a fixed amount—£115,000—and accordingly, as the number of these unfortunately afflicted persons increases, the individual grant diminishes. Where it used to be 10s. 8½d. it is now 8s. The medical relief grant has fallen from 8s. to 6s., and a reduction has also come about in the police grant. Yet with the diminution of the grants it is required in every parish in Scotland that all children— whether they live in a wealthy and populous part of the country or whether they live in poor and scattered districts—shall be educated up to the same standard. It is impossible to expect some of the poor parishes to bear the burden. Compare the valuations. In one parish it is £44 per head of the population; in another it is only 8s.; yet in both these parishes it is equally obligatory to carry out all the requirements of civilisation to the same extent. In the matter of education the cost is greater in the poor parish than in the rich one, because there are necessarily more schools and more teachers are required. A strong case can be made out for special assistance to be given by the Government to these districts. I may take one special case—the farm of Mingulay. There the crofters, who should pay a rent of £51 per year, got into arrears to the amount of £590. Under the aegis of the present Government they came to the conclusion that the payment of rent was very irksome. They went on to Vatersay and settled there without paying any rent at all. The gentleman appointed to investigate this matter, according to a special Report from the Scotch Local Government Board in 1906, said:—I am satisfied that the collection of these arrears has not been gone about with sufficient firmness.The island of Mingulay, where neither rent nor rates has been paid for some years, gets the same benefit from the rates to which it has not contributed one farthing as other parishes which have paid—it gets the same benefit in such matters as education, school buildings, poor relief, and vaccination. The sheriff who made the inquiry thought that an example, even 1427 at considerable cost, might be made of the recalcitrant ratepayers there with benefit. But the Secretary for Scotland writes and threatens the utmost rigours of the law against the landlord who has paid his rates up to date. It amounts to this—that the man who has paid the rates for years is to be proceeded against to recover the utmost farthing, while no steps are to be taken to exact anything from the crofters, who pay neither rent nor rates. True, it is the landlord has got only one vote, whereas each crofter has a vote, and almost the only inference possible arises on that fact. I hope, and believe, however, that the House of Commons still has the same sense of justice remaining to it, and will not recognise a right on the part of right hon. gentlemen opposite, while they are in authority, to treat with harshness and injustice one individual because he happens to be a landlord, and with undue leniency other individuals whose support at the polls they may hope to receive. Take the case of Dalbeg. Here you have a landlord paying rates on one hand, and the crofters paying none on the other. Surely the landlord has some right to claim protection from the right hon. Gentleman in the exercise of his undoubted rights as a citizen. But what happened in the case of the Dalbeg Farm, let by Major Mathieson to a respectable tenant who was paying his rent regularly? There took place a raid. Six raiders invaded the farm, built houses, dug up the ground, planted potatoes, and took forage from the farm. The Secretary for Scotland sent a telegram to Major Mathieson in these terms:—Regret to learn from chief constable that six men have seized land and are planting potatoes at Dalbeg. Presume you will take necessary action to protect your interests. Have wired urging immediate withdrawal.Could a weaker or more cruel telegram have been sent to a man who pays his rates, and who was entitled to protection from the right hon. Gentleman? My friend, Major Mathieson, acted on the advice of the Secretary for Scotland; he took out cases of interdict, and a young barrister of only six years' standing was sent down to inquire into those cases—a very difficult and delicate mission. He heard the case. He asked these men, "Do you intend to desist from this illegal action?" The answer was, "We do not; we mean to stay here," and thereupon this representative of the law imposed upon the offenders a penalty of 10s. or seven days' imprisonment! Last year the 1428 right hon. Gentleman passed the Crofters Grazing Act, and one of the clauses of that provides that if a crofter puts on the common grazing one heifer or pony in excess of the number to which he is entitled, he shall be liable to a penalty of 40s., and 5s. in addition for every day the animal remains on the common grazing. Here those raiders come down to a farm, take possession, dig up the ground, build houses, and rob the farmer of his undoubted rights, and the only punishment inflicted upon them is a 10s. fine or seven days' imprisonment. I think I have made it clear that in the interests of the crofters themselves such a state of things should not be allowed to continue, because, after all, this lawlessness is spreading from day to day. The inaction of the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary for Scotland is encouraging them, as the right hon. Gentleman must be aware—no one better —to bring about this threatening state of affairs, which is partly due to poverty and inability to pay the rates, but is chiefly because they are not taught to struggle for themselves and to make their way, and are encouraged by the Secretary of Scotland and the right hon. Gentleman to believe that if they only persist in their practices a nice croft will be found for them in another part of Scotland. This question must, however, be faced. It is not as if, in the case of this particular landlord, anything could be said against him, and the Secretary for Scotland, speaking quite recently on this subject, said that this particular gentleman to whom I refer is a considerate and kindly landlord, who lived among his people and was deservedly popular. In the case of the prosecution, threatened by the right hon. Gentleman against the landlord, who was unable to pay his rates, it could not be of any value; you cannot get blood out of a stone, and if you sold him up to-morrow what better position would you be in? You would not have solved this difficulty, and you would put yourselves in a greater one. The bankruptcy of the landlord would be no cure, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if it is possible for him to use his influence to see that some assistance is given in regard to these burdensome rates until legislation is effective to produce a permanent remedy.
I venture to deal with one further branch of this subject. I pointed out how the lawlessness had been regarded at Dalbeg, and it is the growth of the same lawlessness which is encouraged by the Government at Vatersay. It is exactly the same 1429 question. Last year's Debates went fully into this question, and it is almost the only time in my recollection that these discussions had an immediate and surprising result. After the Vote it was perhaps better for the Secretary for Scotland frankly to acknowledge that he was in the wrong, and to entirely reverse the policy which he had previously laid down. It would have been well if in the publication of some of the correspondence the Secretary for Scotland had published the whole of it; but there were one or two letters which were suppressed in the correspondence which was laid before this House. Perhaps it is unnecessary for me to allude to that on this occasion beyond saying that it was clearly shown that the remonstrance of hon. Members on this side of the House had not been without effect, when the Secretary of Scotland completely reverses that non possumus policy, which he had pursued before. The right hon. Gentleman before that Debate did not consider it necessary to have any inquiry as to the suitability of Vatersay for crofters. After that he sent and had a special Re-port made as to the suitability of Vatersay. Why has that report not been placed upon the Table of the House? I venture to say that by not doing that the right hon. Gentleman is committing an illegality. The Crofters Commission were called upon to make a special Report, and they made an exhaustive one as to the condition of Vatersay, which was sent to the Secretary for Scotland. Both the Crofters Act and the Congested Districts Act distinctly provide for Reports. In the Act of 1897 it is laid down: "The Congested Districts Board shall once in every year make a Report to the Secretary for Scotland on their proceedings under this Act, and every such Report shall be forthwith presented to Parliament," while under the Crofters Act of 1886 it is provided: "The Crofters Commission shall once in every year after the year 1886 make a Report to the Secretary for Scotland as to their proceedings under the Act, and every such Report shall be presented to Parliament." I asked the right hon. Gentleman, under the terms of the statute, to present that Report to Parliament, but he declined to do so, and he has given me no reason. I am obliged to draw my own inferences, and I am obliged to think that this special Report as to the condition of Vatersay was of such a damaging character that the right hon. Gentleman has not ventured to lay it. I am obliged to fall 1430 back upon other independent information. There have been two most important reports prepared for the Inverness-shire County Council, and one of those paints a picture of Vatersay in the clearest of colours, and I would ask the Committee to bear with me so far as to let me read what was said in his annual report for 1908 by an impartial person, Dr. Macdonald, county medical officer of health for Inverness-shire. He said:—Vatersay.—Having been informed that it was proposed to settle sixty crofters in Vatersay, I visited the island on two occasions during the year, with regard to the available water supply. Assuming that there are five on an average to each family, this would mean a population of 800 people. The island, like others in the Hebrides, is composed of gneiss, an Archaen rock, which rises in two or three ranges, with low-lying areas between. Those ranges are completely bare on the top and are smooth and rounded, due to glacial action. The lower part of their slopes and the low-lying ground are covered, generally speaking, with a very thin layer of soil. Near the farm house, where there are at present about twenty houses, there is a considerable extent of sand covered with grass. Twenty-eight possible sources of water supply were pointed out to me. Seventeen of those were so-called 'wells.' One was a loch (Loch Uidh), and eight were streams. Of the remainder, one arose in the sandy ground not far from the present new settlement, and the other arose over the ridge from this. I examined all these supplies in the month of August after a period of dry weather. Of the 'wells' of which one or two were in use, only about ten were worth considering for a moment. They were simply holes in the ground, open for the most part to pollution, and were used as dip wells. The total overflow from them was very small. Some had no overflow, and contained stagnant water. The loch, which is on the top of a hill contained water which was very small in amount, very dirty in appearance, and seemed quite unfit for domestic use. The streams were on the whole mere trickles, but I was informed that one or two are permanent. The nature of the geological formation of the island does not lend itself to the retention of water for any length of time. The soil is of little depth, forming a thin covering over the underlying rock, and its porosity allows water to drain away from it very readily. At the time of inspection it. looked as if other ten days or so of dry weather would have dried up most of these supplies. As regards the wells, even although the supply were plentiful the water was in practically all instances so obviously of purely surface origin and open to contamination that protection of the well holes would be of little avail owing to the water being polluted before entering them. If sixty families are placed on this island it is quite clear that all those wells will be further polluted by the drainage from cultivated land, and probably also from houses and manure heaps, There was nothing of the nature of springs on the island so far as could be ascertained.That is a picture of what the right hon. Gentleman has done. He was warned by Lady Gordon Cathcart that there was not a sufficient water supply, and that the soil of this island was barren, and he sent 60 crofter families there, received a Report which ought to have been published in this House, and was afraid to lay it. I venture to say that if he had a case to submit to this House, to show that the report of the medical officer of health which I have quoted, supported by another report from a civil engineer, also sent by the county council, was incorrect, he would have 1431 produced it. It rests with the right hon. Gentleman, in defence of his policy, to clear up these doubts and show that this medical officer of health and this civil engineer who supported him are wrong. Otherwise we are spending money like water upon a useless project. £10,000 has been taken from the Congested Districts Board and expended in this island, and the right hon. Gentleman had no more right to take that sum of money from the Board than I have. It was always held that the Congested Districts Board had never permission to purchase land except for the purpose of immediate resale. There is no power or authority under their Act to purchase land and let it out to tenants, such as is contemplated here, and, in addition to that, if the right hon. Gentleman wishes for confirmation, let him look at the Small Land-holders Bill, and he will see a clause inserted giving the power to the Congested Districts Board to let out for tenancy purchased land. If the Congested Districts Board had the power to purchase land and let it, it would be unnecessary to insert such a clause in that Act, which we discussed at such length.
The troubles at Vatersay are not yet at an end. These crofters, some of them raiders, have an undoubted claim to consideration, political or otherwise, at the hands of His Majesty's Government; but how are they to be considered and how are the others to be satisfied. What did the right hon. Gentleman do? He went into a gambling transaction of the grossest character—he had a raffle with these crofters. Heavens! I wonder what the Nonconformists on his side would think! Crofts were to be distributed to every man by chance or lot drawn by the Secretary for Scotland. And what happened? Some of the crofters have not been benefited by the raffle, and they refuse to leave, and they write a letter to the Secretary for Scotland refusing to go. Here is a letter of 19th June, 1909:—We beg to say that we will retain possession of the holdings which rightfully belong to us, and we beg your Lordship kindly to direct the Congested Districts Board to immediately withdraw their policy of fixing tenants on Vatersay, otherwise we will be obliged to lay violent hands on the intruders. It is self-defence, and we cannot be so cowardly as to let our children starve, without doing our best to stand up for our rights.Should your Lordship fail to restrain the despotic ruling of the Board we shall be compelled to call into question your Lordship's right to interfere between Lady Gordon Cathcart and us. The Vatersay question is not yet settled, my Lord.Here is Lady Gordon Cathcart who was held up to execration by the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman in office as a 1432 land-owner who was unfortunate in her relations with her tenants, and these raiders say they shall question his lordship's right to interfere between Lady Gordon Cathcart and themselves, and they regard her as their friend, who has every right to be considered.
I think I have drawn to the Committee a quite fair and unbiassed picture of the unfortunate condition in which the Western Highlands exist owing to the condition of the land and the neglect of the Government. They have been guilty of extreme harshness towards one class of the community, and of want of forethought and extraordinary vacillation, and a policy of plunder which in the words of their own friends, the raiders, will prevent the question of Vatersay from being settled for many years to come.
Mr. CATHCART WASON
The right hon. Gentleman has given us a most distressing account of the affairs of the Lewis. He has not been quite fair to the predecessors of the present Government in certain respects, especially with regard to the purchase of land for these persons. Prior to the present Government coming into office large estates were purchased and let out to the crofters on the very best terms. They were not sold as suggested by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. COCHRANE
They were purchased with the object of being sold, and they sold them as far as they could go. The rest of the properties were held, I believe, illegally.
Mr. CATHCART WASON
As far as I recollect there was only one case of purchase by the Congested Districts Board in Sutherland shire, which was sold, and the other and much larger estate was not even attempted to be sold, but was simply divided up among the crofters. It was a most unfair thing of the right hon. Gentleman to lay the whole blame for the present transactions, and the congestion of the Lewis on the present Government. This is no new thing. It has been in existence now for far longer than many of us like to think, and it is only since public light and opinion has been thrown upon the condition of the people in these islands that we are brought face to face with the difficulties of dealing with them. The Crofters Act was passed very largely at the instigation of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and very greatly to their credit, to deal with the most terrible condition of affairs which existed in the Western 1433 Highlands and other parts of Scotland at that time. Those who know the districts have always given to the party opposite every credit possible for the passing of the Act. Speech after speech has been made by right hon. Gentlemen and their friends praising the effect of the Crofters Act, and now we have districts, which were formerly more or less depopulated, in which the people are well-housed, and spend their money in building and improving their homes, and generally the Act has been one of great benefit to the people. But the position in the Lewis is one which it is almost impossible for us with the information at our disposal and without legislation to deal with properly. The right hon. Gentleman blames the Government for having adopted a certain course with regard to the squatters on Vatersay, and for having gone in for a large gambling transaction. Surely that is a very unfair remark. What would be a better way of distributing this land among the large number of men who want it? In New Zealand, where we have advanced land legislation, exactly the same procedure is adopted where there are more applicants for certain parts of land than for others. It is taken by lot, and no one has ever called that a gambling transaction.
The right hon. Gentleman has not given the Government credit for what they have done. No doubt in the Lewis rates are very high and also in some districts in Shetland and the Orkneys, but a great deal of good has been done in the last few years. On the other hand, an enormous sum has come into the island in the way of old age pensions, and I do not believe at this moment the islanders are in anything like so bad a state as they were before the passing of the Act. In the district which I represent it has made all the difference in the world. The Crofters are poor, and the circumstances under which they live are squalid and miserable, but that is nothing like the misery and poverty and degradation that there is within a stone's throw of the House of Commons. Almost every night going home within a stone's throw of this Chamber one comes upon long strings of men waiting to get a little temporary shelter from charitable institutions. But London Members do not come and make complaints to the Government of neglecting these people and doing nothing for them, and acting in a manner subversive of all society and all Christianity. They do what they can, and I have no doubt 1434 that the present Government are doing their be3t. We never made any attack on the late Government, except that they did not try to pass necessary legislation, and we have been equally condemnatory of the present Government for not having passed legislation. Both parties are alike to blame, possibly because both saw the difficulties of the situation. It is an exceedingly difficult question, and the landlord may be everything that he has been described as being, but here is the case of a poor island, only numbering some 46 families, and a small pier is almost the necessity of their life. They have been agitating for it for longer years back than I care to think. After the greatest difficulty, they got Lord Dunedin, the then Scotch Secretary, to take an interest in the matter, and he sent the Assistant-Secretary to report upon it. Ho saw how the people lived, and saw the difficulties they had in getting their little produce from the island, and the necessities of life into it, and he reported in a very favourable sense to the Congested Districts Board. The islanders raised subscriptions and obtained the necessary quota that the Congested Districts Boad required to enable them to construct the pier, and the county council, to their great honour, agreed to undertake the work. Everything was settled, but at the very last moment, when the works were ready to be gone on with, the landlord refused to grant a site. Could any act be more despicable?
I think in the interests of my Constituents I am fully justified in bringing before the Secretary for Scotland the position of the Order for restoring and developing the oyster fishery at Finstown. Orkney. The Secretary for Scotland is fully aware that the Scotch Fishery Board have for years past used every endeavour to get the local authorities to take the matter in hand, and without success. The first proposal I made to the Scotch Fishery Board was that the control of the fishery should be granted to an association to develop and work solely for the public good. That proposal was not received with favour, and I then obtained the best expert advice procurable on the prospects of the fishery, which fully bore out the opinion I had formed myself, and I then suggested to a few gentlemen of position in the county that they should apply for an Order, and, if successful, that a public company should be formed. I was always willing to support the proposal financially as far as I could afford, 1435 and did not desire anything further; but it was urged on me that in the public interests, and having no personal interests in the matter, I should remain in the association until a public company would be formed, and the strongest pledges were given that the members of the association, in the formation of a company, would not stand in any better position than any of the public of Orkney who wished to participate in a scheme which was only promoted for the good of the community. Opposition was roused by one person, who apparently thought he had some special claim to undertake the work, and made proposals to the Fishery Board, I understand, offering to be responsible for a large sum of money should his proposal be accepted. The Fishery Board having held an exhaustive inquiry, decided that the association of which I was a member should be granted a lease of the Fishery, and a Provisional Order was introduced by the Secretary for Scotland to give effect to the recommendation of the Scottish Fishery Board. Immediately the wildest statements were set on foot, and every effort made to prejudice the mind of the Secretary for Scotland against proceeding with the Order. It was alleged that 3,000 fishermen would be deprived of their living if the Order was passed, and there was not a shadow of foundation for the statement. It was alleged that the town council of Kirkwall had petitioned against the Order, and I never was more surprised than when the Secretary for Scotland told me they had done so. Petitions, I understand, have since been sent to the Secretary for Scotland, urging that the Order should be passed. The Secretary for Scotland must know that in such a constituency as I have the honour to represent, the land and sea are practically all we have to look to, and I am sure the House will agree that I am fully justified in asking him to send a special Commissioner to report to him on the whole matter, and whether it is or is not advisable that in some form or other the Fishery should be placed under control, protected and restricted. I believe if this were done not only would it gain by securing an oyster free from all possibility of disease, but that during the next few years employment would be afforded in a district where there is now practically none.
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
I am not going to fellow the hon. Member (Mr. Cathcart Wason) into the interesting discussion of 1436 the Oyster Fishery question. I hope success will attend the efforts which are being made in that matter by himself and others for the benefit of the world at large. I cannot congratulate the Government upon the ardency and enthusiasm of the defence the hon. Member offered when dealing with the charge brought against them by my hon. Friend (Mr. Cochrane). It appeared to me that the basis on which he rested his defence was rather contradictory, for at one moment he spoke as if he recognised the burden of the heavy rates which fall on the small crofters, though not to any extent at all on proprietors, but when I listened a little longer I found him telling us that the state of things in the Lews was not so bad after all, that we could find far greater distress close at hand, and that if we considered everything the people of the Lews were really as well as they possibly could be in the best of all possible worlds.
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
I am only giving what appeared to me to be the effect of the words used by the hon. Member. His argument was that there was some excuse for the Government doing nothing in view of the circumstances of the people. I think there is a great deal requiring to be done for these Highlanders, and I only wish that the attention of a larger number of the constituents whom we represent was directed to the problem that is now being worked out in the Lews, and to the consequences that are certain to follow the present methods of dealing with that problem—consequences which will extend far beyond the borders of the Lews. I think we are justified in drawing certain inferences from the action of the Government and some of their extreme followers. In a tone of apology, the hon. Member said that the present Government were really not so bad after all, for if they have not done very much they were only following the example of their predecessors, who had not done much. He suggested that the Unionist Government were no better than those whom we have been abusing for their inertia all these years. I deny that that is true. The previous Government did a great deal for the Lews. I know that from personal knowledge, for I was an agent in the transactions from 1884 onwards. Immense help was given to the rates in the Lews by money which was absolutely handed out from the Treasury where absolute necessity for 1437 assistance was proved. I should like the Committee to remember the theory on which the late Lord Goschen proceeded when he made the grant. He said to me: "I am not going to lay down rules which can be made the foundation of serious encroachments on the Treasury. It is your business to find out where the shoe pinches in regard to the Education Grant, what are the difficulties, and how much is wanted in each case, and then you can come to me and ask money, and we will see whether it can be granted." Every case was separately examined, and Lord Goschen himself took a most unusual personal interest in the investigation of all these cases and in the application of the remedies fitted to meet them. In 1886 or 1887 the school boards actually placed their resignations in our hands and gave notice to the school masters that they must close the schools. Out of that situation we had to find our way, and we did find a way out in 1887 and 1888. It has been said by the hon. Member that there has been no amendment of the Crofters Act. I was surprised to hear that from the hon. Member, for I remember, in the Committee upstairs on the Land Tenure Bill, there was no one more urgent in pressing on the present Secretary for Scotland the necessity for dealing with the peculiar problem of the Highland and Islands. We gladly supported and followed him in urging the Secretary for Scotland to deal with that special problem separately, and not to tack it on to the far larger problem of the whole agricultural legislation for the Lowlands of Scotland. No one took a more prominent part in urging that course, the adoption of which was prevented only by the impenetrable obstinacy of the Secretary for Scotland. We have been told that certain things have been done to improve the position of the people. It has been said that we are now paying them old age pensions. We are not dealing with old age pensions now. Is the fact that old age pension are being given any reason why lawlessness should be encouraged on the part of those who are receiving pensions, or who expect to receive them? Is it any answer to a landlord who finds himself forced to pay a large amount in rates to say, "Oh, really, things are not so bad. The tenants have been given old age pensions." Really that is to reduce Parliamentary argument to an absurdity.
I come to the question on which we arraign the Secretary for Scotland. We 1438 assert without fear of contradiction that his action will lead, and, indeed, it has already led, to serious consequences elsse-where. These consequences will spread still wider before we see the end of them unless he reconsiders his action. First of all, Vatersay was seized absolutely lawlessly by a certain number of people.
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
The Secretary for Scotland admitted that the land had been illegally seized, but he refused any help. He told Lady Gordon Cathcart and her advisers that it was their business to protect their farms. The situation became worse and worse. It should be remembered that it was not Lady Cathcart alone who was injured. The tenant who had stocked the land was also injured through his ground being occupied by those illegal invaders. Neither he nor Lady Cathcart got any assistance whatever. The hon. Member for South Donegal (Mr. Swift MacNeill) has stated that Lady Gordon Cathcart had not been in the island for 30 years. It is not 30 years since I paid my first visit to the island, and I know she was there then. I know she has been looked upon as an ideal landlady in many respects. Those who have come in contact with her esteem her as a kind and considerate landlady. Lady Gordon Cathcart proceeded with other proposals. The only suggestion made by the Secretary for Scotland to her was "break up your farmers' holding and allot it in small holdings among these crofters who have seized it, and that will perhaps appease them. It will be satisfactory to those who broke the law, and on these terms perhaps peace will come." Peace did not come on these terms. Lady Cathcart refused to take the responsibility of planting 60 small holders, with their families, on an island that was incapable of supporting them in healthy, human conditions. The suggestion was made. "Purchase the island if you like," and the answer was, "We cannot purchase; it is impossible for the Congested Districts Board to purchase the island and hire it out to the tenants." That was the firm conviction of the Secretary for Scotland, presumably based on the advice of his legal advisers. Yet immediately this is done, the Secretary for Scotland makes a complete volte face. He purchases the island, and in spite of the warning addressed to him, at a price—£6,700.
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
At a price which cannot possibly be returned in any rent which these crofters can fairly pay. I would be glad of old age pensions or any other help you think necessary to these people if they are in a state of poverty, but I do think, and a great many people will agree with me, that the worst economic way possible to help these people is to give into their hands something that has been purchased at this large expenditure of public money for which no return of any considerable amount at all can ever be expected, to set them up in what are uneconomic holdings, that even, if they paid no rent for it at all, can never return a decent livelihood for themselves and their families, and to expend upon them in this way far more than you expended upon any of your paupers under old age pensions elsewhere And behind all this to hold out the bait to them, "Break the law, and you will perhaps get something more." That is the real danger of the action of the Secretary for Scotland. Hitherto, surely all parties in the State or Government have been at one in this, that the law first must be made to be respected and obeyed, and only after that is done shall we try to help you in the best way we can. That is the principle and the vital maxim of all Government, which has now been deserted by the Secretary for Scotland and his advisers, who have wobbled in a bewildering maze of varying action, in which no consistent principle whatever can be found except this: "We must be tender to the law-breaker; we must endeavour to carry the full extent of public opinion with us in punishment"— public opinion in the Island of Vatersay! Is it the public opinion of this estate of law-breakers who constitute the inhabitants who are to support their own punishment? If you wait until you find public opinion among the community of those who have broken the law in favour of themselves being punished, you will wait a long time until you put the law into operation at all. It is on this ground of condoning a breach of the law, of want of true principle and consistent action, that I blame and arraign the Secretary for Scotland; and we believe that this is an indication of a spirit which would spread much wider than the isolated and distant island in which it has appeared. There is one thing more for which I blame the Secretary for Scotland. I blame him for 1440 setting these people on that island without an adequate provision for their healthy life. We have been told by thoroughly competent professional advisers that the water supply cannot be obtained in that island without being brought two miles across the sea from another island at enormous expense, and that to rely upon any other source of supply would be extremely dangerous and probably lead to an epidemic. The Noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland has had a Report which we have not seen. We know he has not acted on the advice of those legal advisers whose reports have been published, and whose warnings are known. We want to know whether that Report which he has contradicts those professional reports which we have before us, which is—that the supply is inadequate and cannot be made adequate without being brought from the large island? What inference can we draw from his refusal to produce the Report except this: that the Report, to a certain extent, supports, or at least does not contradict, the reports of the experts which we have already got? If it does contradict it, we have a right to know that and to see it; if it does not contradict it, then the Secretary for Scotland and his advisers are taking very serious responsibility upon themselves in encouraging the planting of these 60 families upon a spot where adequate provision cannot be made for the healthy wants of life. And if an epidemic ensues and lives are lost the responsibility resting upon the Secretary for Scotland and his advisers will be heavier than I dare to contemplate. For these reasons I join thoroughly in the indictment made by my hon. Friend below me (Mr. Cochrane), and I trust that we may have some more stirring and thorough vindication of the Government than we have had from the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Cathcart Wason).
§ Mr. SWIFT MacNEILL
I think I am justified in directing the attention of this House to the condition of this island of Barra and Vatersay, and in doing so I will refer to those things which I have seen myself. The history of these islands looks extremely like the history of the West of Ireland in some of its most disastrous periods. This island of Vatersay and Barra, which you call the Barra estate was for many generations until 1838 under a really paternal government. They kept up the old Highland government in Barra until 1838, when the last laird of Barra sold it to a gentleman named Gordon. Imme- 1441 diately the old kindly feudal relationship between the chief of the island and his people ceased, and it became a matter of very strong contract, and then there resulted a state of things which reminds one of the worst period of the great Irish disturbances in 1848. I was brought myself when I was there to a place where we were told that bulldogs had actually tracked the people in order to put them on the emigrant ships when Colonel Gordon was clearing the island in 1858. The population of that island was reduced to something like half what it had been. The island of Vatersay, where now the illegal people are, was at that time actually cleared. It was altogether swept of inhabitants by the Crowbar Brigade. Some of these who were not deported to American emigrant ships took refuge on the extreme end of the West of Barra, where they remained not as crofters, but as squatters, and I was informed it was the descendants of these very people whose grandfathers were expelled from Vatersay who, having no land, had been obliged to subsist on the precarious harvest of the sea. They then, driven to desperation by the failure of the fishing crop and by the disease and destruction to which they were subject, did go on to Vatersay and break the law by taking back the old homes of their fathers. The circumstances of that are very interesting, because it shows exactly the condition of affairs in Scotland. "Mackenzie's Clearances" is a book that ought to be read by everyone, and especially by every Scotsman The stories of the atrocities therein related baffle description and could not be believed even by Irishmen if the writer did not give chapter and authority for them all.
But these people in Barra live in what is undoubtedly a congested place. It is congested in the same way as the West of Ireland. There are too many people in it to support the population, and the holdings, even the crofters' holdings, are uneconomic. But side by side with them, until the raid took place in Vatersay, it was all in possession of a single tenant. Side by side with them and in Barra you saw large tracts of land in the possession of one person. These poor people, after 25 years, agitated and agitated to get economic holdings and to get some small patch of land where they could subsist in decent comfort with their earnings from the sea. It is interesting perhaps to me as an Irishman, and it is an incident in his life which has not yet been recorded, that it was Michael Davitt who, in 1882, at a 1442 great meeting at Inverness, drew attention to the question of the crofters, and it is to that great and good man, under the blessing of God, that these poor men owe the first Crofters Act, which laid the foundation at all events of future movements. Although I am a Protestant myself, perhaps it lends additional interest to what I say as an Irishman to state that these people are mainly Catholics. They speak the Gaelic language and there is in this far-away district in Scotland, 90 miles from the mainland, a purely paternal government, so far as the priest is concerned There is no drunkenness; there is only one public-house; there is only one policeman, except in the fishing season, when the police force is augmented by two. There are only three policemen in this large island and likewise on the estate, because the estate of Barra consists of Barra itself and five or six other small islands. The moment the District Council Bill came in, or rather, before that when there was the Deer Forest Commission, the Deer Forest Commissioners went to this island of Vatersay and said it would be a perfect island for small economic holdings. Lady Cathcart refused to give it. She absolutely refused, until next there came the establishment of the county council and the urban councils.
The urban council petitioned the county council that there should be a re-distribution of holdings in the island, and the county council sent a deputation to the Commissioners, who investigated the whole of the circumstances, and said the island, so far as they could see, was very suitable for the distribution of small holdings. Nothing was done for ten years, and these people took possession of the land. They may not have been justified in doing that, but they were morally justified at the bar of public opinion and in the judgment of every just court in seeking to save themselves and their children from destruction. Let us consider the rights of the landlord in this case as compared with the rights of the people. The last heir to Barra sold the whole estate for £24,000 in 1838. General Gordon bought it, and he then literally devastated the country, burning the people's homes. What occurred? He had a son, who married Lady Gordon Cathcart. He died, and Lady Gordon Cathcart came into possession of the property, and for 30 years that lady has never been there; her whole occupation has been that of taking rent. Hon. Members talk about the difficulties of obtaining water in Vatersay. The difficulty 1443 has been experienced in reference to Barra. Out of 10 tenants no fewer than seven had typhoid fever in the miserable dens of houses which they occupied, and of these seven, five died. There is one water supply paid for by Lady Cathcart, and every cottar has to pay 10s., and in some cases 15s., per year for the water. Under these circumstances we say that, right or wrong in point of law, these people had the duty to themselves and to their children to endeavour to preserve their lives, and when they saw this land, which once belonged to their forefathers, simply given to others, they said they would take it and leave the consequences to God. Their doing so made a profound impression. They acted against the law, and they went to prison. Their cause was taken up by others, and undoubtedly an effort was then made to purchase the land. One of the most ungenerous attacks made on the Government is that with reference to the extreme cost of the purchase to the public. The cost is very great, but it is very interesting to learn that for 600 acres of this land in Vatersay Lady Cathcart got 100 years' purchase. The island has been obtained at 30½ years' purchase; and now the complaint is that the inhabitants have not water. How much Lady Cathcart cares about the accommodation or comfort, or even the health of these people, in Barra. This is altogether a pretence. These people had justice and right on their side in seizing the land. It is an absurd pretence to think of any equity in reference to landlords who never spent one farthing there, who are there through accidental circumstances, and who, having got. a large sum of public money, say, "Oh, the poor tenants!" The thing is a pretence. Having gone so far with the Government, here I draw the line. The Solicitor-General for Scotland, so far back as the 25th June last year, made a speech with every word of which I agree. I will only quote a few words of it. He said—In 1857 these men were evicted and sent from Barra. These men still consider they were morally right to go back to what they thought was their home. Hon. Members opposite will admit there is a law of dual ownership in these parts.I think that is the pith of his speech, and I am sure that he will not in the slightest degree depart from it. These families having settled there, the question was about the redistribution of the land. They made a very strong representation to the Congested Districts Board. They said that the men who had squatted 1444 on the land and who had borne the burden and heat of the day were in many cases not to be confirmed in their holdings, while, on the contrary, the Commissioners had given those holdings to young men in an equitable way, and, as regarded the best and most cultivated part of the land, they had given undue preference to well-to-do people who would be certain to pay the rent. We have paid an enormous sum for the island to the absentee landlord, Lady Cathcart, and therefore an endeavour is being made to try to recoup the public out of revenue. That should not be done. This purchase was made in order to increase the number of economic holdings. The aim of the Congested Districts Board in Scotland is not that of a mercantile transaction. The policy is aimed at rooting the people in the soil. The very persons who seized the land and went to prison are now to be ousted from these holdings altogether, and the whole of those holdings are to be redistributed among other people—a course which arouses friction and jealousy. I have a statement which was sent to me only a few days ago, and, as it bears upon the present discussion, I may be allowed to read it. It is dated Vatersay, Barra, 24th June:—We beg to draw your attention to the state to which the Congested Districts Board have reduced Vatersay, by their attempt to dispossess several of us who have been in possession of holdings for over two years, and introducing single men and others from the mainland, who are not a whit more suitable as tenants, to take their places.As far as can be seen the Board have no other reason for pursuing this course than a hostile spirit towards the poor souls whose extreme poverty compelled them to settle here at first.It may be noted that the Board showed the same vindictiveness towards the most notable agitators everywhere in the Highlands where they acquired and and made a special display of this spirit in Barra in 1901, but nowhere was this policy so shockingly revealed as in the case of Vatersay, where evictions from their holdings are to be the preliminary blessings of the very people for whose benefit the public believe the island was acquired. Any fair-minded person can easily imagine the despair to which these poor souls are driven by the Board's policy, after building houses, cultivating, fencing, and otherwise improving the land.We have sent a petition to Lord Pentland, signed by all the accepted squatters, praying the Government to send a competent, impartial tribunal to Vatersay to compare the qualifications of those rejected against the qualifications of those imported from the mainland by the Board. Also to go over the ground, with the members of the Board and a committee selected from the people, to submit to the judge or judges the plan of holdings desired by the Board and that desired by the people.If this were done there would be no trouble whatever, for the men will certainly accept the decision of the judge as final.We would suggest Sheriff Wilson, whose uprightness we have seen before, or the Solicitor-General, to whom we owe everlasting indebtedness.I hope I have effectively put the case of these poor people who sought to get back 1445 to the land of their forefathers, and to save their children and themselves from destruction; and in bringing forward their case and intervening in a Scotch Debate I have been actuated not merely by a sense of justice, but one of sentiment in regard to a people with whom in past generations my forbears were intimately associated.
§ Major ANSTRUTHER-GRAY
I understood the hon. Member to assert that Lady Cathcart had never spent anything for the good of her people in the island, particularly in Barra. I do not know whether the hon. Member is aware of all the facts. I think if he was he would never have made a statement of that kind. It is a thousand pities that statements of such a nature should be made in this House, because they go throughout the country and create feelings of bitterness and discontent, and breed bad blood between landlord and tenant and between rich and poor. The pity is all the greater when such statements are contrary to the actual facts, and I think it was not only a great pity but very wrong to make such statements. Having said that, I leave the hon. Gentleman alone. The Member for Orkney and Shetland said that the Secretary of State for Scotland was made to look after Scotch interests, and that we have a right to see that he does so. There are various Members here who, I am sure, have a bone to pick with the right hon. Gentleman, and I am one of them. The right hon. Gentleman is an old comrade of mine, and I hope we will always remain good friends. I do not think that the recent legislations and arrangements which have been gone into in Vatersay reflect much credit on the Scotch Office. There was a volte face in the middle of the arrangement. First nothing on earth would persuade the Government to buy the island, and then when it got into such a state that it was absolutely impossible to go either forward or backward they had to produce the money to buy it, and try to put things right. The result of the whole of these arrangements is that the state of Vatersay at this moment is, if possible, worse than it was before. We have been promised that the people of the Vatersay should have good water, good education, sanitation, and so on. What have they got now? They have got a population too large for the island. The raiders, who took the island, refused to leave it. The water supply was proved insufficient. That fact is known to the Government, and certainly Lady Gordon Cath- 1446 cart's agents informed the Government that the water was insufficient and insanitary, and now the Government are in a dilemma that it will take them all their time to get out of. Whatever the result may be, I am afraid we will see a good deal of money badly spent, and a great deal of bad blood, discontent, and trouble arising simply because the Government was not bold enough to grasp the nettle two years ago, when they might have put things in far better order than they can do now.
With regard to Lewis, I think it is very hard on the landlord that he has to face a rate of 25s. in the £. It has been hard enough in the past for Highland landlords to face their rates, but with the effects of the new Budget I do not know how any of them will do so. If the proprietor of Lewis is obliged to pay those rates, and if he is proceeded against with the utmost rigour of the law, I think that a great hardship will be dealt out to a man, who, through no fault of his own, is charged with a burden that he cannot carry. He has really done his best for the people in the island. Anyone who has been to Lewis will acknowledge, that although much remains to be done, the family who are at present proprietors of Lewis have done a great deal for the island. I believe if it were not for the fact that the grandfather of the present proprietor had done so much for the island and had got so many people to come there, workmen and artificers, whose families have increased that there never would have been the trouble there is now.
I do not think it ought to lie with the private Member of this House to have to see justice done with regard to the fishermen of our coasts. When His Majesty's fleet is ordered to ride upon the waters of our firths and inlets the Fleet is welcome wherever it wants to go, and it is quite right that it should go wherever it is sent. I do think, though, that when the Fleet rides through fishermen's nets and destroys fishing, fires guns when the herring are there, and spoils the trade of our poor fishermen, that it lies with the Secretary for Scotland and his deputy to apply to the Admiralty and have such measures taken as would prevent the trouble complained of. It would not be a very difficult thing, and there is no doubt that if the Secretary for Scotland went to the Admiralty and saw the First Lord he could put the matter right a great deal better than I could, or than any of the private Members who work so hard to get 1447 justice done. I am bound to say that the Admiralty have met us in a generous and fair spirit. They pay compensation for harm done, and I should be the last to be ungrateful for what they have done. I think, however, if the Secretary for Scotland would take up and champion some of these matters it would be of great advantage, and that it is his business to do so, more than it is that of the private Members to see justice done with regard to harbour and lights and all maritime matters such as affect the constituencies of those Members who have to do with the sea.
I trust what has been said will be taken into consideration, and that the affairs of Scotland will not be neglected, as I fear they have been neglected heretofore. Here we have to-day, after three days of very strenuous work, with all the Members almost tired out, only about a dozen or so of Scottish Members on the Government side. We have only one day to discuss Scottish matters, and the English Members are too tired to come and hear what is being said. They know very little about Scotland, and they do not come to learn because they have to go away and sleep after all the hard work. I think more consideration might be paid to Scottish matters and Scottish Members, and I think we should all unite in seeing that that is done.
§ Sir JOHN DEWAR
I do not think the present condition of Vatersay Island is satisfactory, and to some extent in this matter I have a complaint against the Government. I cannot see, however, that hon. Members on the opposite side can have the same complaint. My complaint is that they have bought this island, and the other side constantly said, If you want to deal with this island, why do you not buy it Now that they have done so I do not think that it lies in the mouths of the Opposition to complain of what the Government have done. The hon. Member opposite has given a clear and succinct description of the men on the island, who are the direct descendants of the crofters of 50 years ago. They were evicted legally, no doubt, but at the same time it was a monstrous injustice. Anything that was done then was a greater injustice than anything done by the descendants of those men, who were again seeking to get an opportunity of making a living for themselves. I believe those parts of Scotland need special treatment.
1448 I am quite convinced that every acre of land in those districts should be in the hands of small holders. They used to be occupied by small holders, but the people were cleared off so that the landlord might have a sheep farm, and so improve his farm. He had the right to do so then, but nowadays he would not have the same right to do so. Many of the settlers were cleared off the holdings, driven to the coast, and turned into cottars. These men now are thus the descendants of crofters who were deliberately made cottars. Kelp making was their only industry, and is soon as that failed they became miserably poor. Their condition from the point of view of sanitation and from the economic point of view was deplorable. They nave been struggling for twenty or thirty years to get back to those holdings which their forefathers occupied. They have exhausted all constitutional means. They petitioned the landlords, the county and parish councils, and they even sent a land reformer to the House of Commons. It was only when Parliament deliberately neglected and refused to pass an Act of Parliament, which would rectify this injustice, that they took the law into their own hands. I am sorry that they did so. The present condition of those islands is an extremely critical one, and I would earnestly ask the Government to give special attention to this case, and to deal specially with these islands. The hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. Swift MacNeill) mentioned that the Government having bought those islands, there is accommodation for a certain number of settlers, but that there are more settlers than there are holdings for. The Government sent the Congested Districts Board to regulate the settlement. Rightly or wrongly, the Congested Districts Board has lost the confidence of the people, not only there but in other places. It would be more desirable that the people should have confidence in those with whom they have to deal. The people of the islands petitioned that someone should be sent to consider their case. I do not suggest that the Solicitor-General or anybody in particular should be sent, but I do say that a little consideration ought to be given to these people's complaints.
The reason of the complaint is rather remarkable. It arises from this. There were a certain number of raiders who suffered for their indiscretion in taking possession of the land, and they were imprisoned in Calton Gaol. Some of those men who suffered have not got holdings. 1449 To the ordinary outsider it does seem hard lines that the men who drew attention to the grievances under which these people suffered should not have got some consideration. I am bound to say, as an impartial observer, I think it is a matter which the Government ought to consider, and whether they would not ask the Congested Districts Board to give the reasons which compelled them to take the action they did. It may be possible that these men were not suitable tenants. I do not know, but I think it would be only reasonable that they should be satisfied of the reasons which actuated the Congested Districts Board in selecting other tenants. The applications of those raiders who have been refused holdings is supported by every one of those who suffered with them in Galton Gaol. I would plead that this case should be considered favourably by the Government again.
Something was said about the present proprietor. I join with the hon. and gallant Member (Major Anstruther-Gray) in stating that it is an entire misapprehension to say that Lady Gordon Cathcart has not been a most kind, considerate, and a benevolent proprietress, who has done a great deal. That does not excuse or justify the management of the estate. The grievance is really this: That while a great deal has been done by the estate to make a fishing centre, they at the same time refused to give land for fishermen's huts in the neighbourhood. The estate gave some 40 grazing lands on the hills, but they refused to give sites for houses. The people under those circumstances were compelled to live under conditions which incurred the censure of the Scottish authorities. It was on that occasion that the county council, having been pressed to take those holdings compulsorily, sent a deputation to inquire into the condition of affairs. That deputation reported unanimously that land should be taken for those fishermen's allotments. We heard the condemnation of Vatersay as a site for crofters, but that deputation recommended it, and it was recommended by a Commission subsequently. I think before we condemn these crofters we should keep these facts in view. It is a remarkable thing that there seems to be no difficulty in getting holdings by agreement in other parts of these islands, while in Vatersay there is the greatest difficulty in the world. Now that the Government have bought the island, they should be helped to make as good a job of it as possible. We should help the Government to make as 1450 good a job of this as possible, and I believe a satisfactory solution will be found. The Government may possibly drop a great deal of money on the transaction, but it will provide 50 or 60 happy homes, where contented and prosperous families will be raised for the good of the State.
I have already said that the Congested Districts Board have lost the confidence of the people. My complaint against the Government is that they ought to have dealt with this matter long ago. It is true they had a proposal which was not carried into effect through the action of another place. I have often described the operations of the Board as ludicrous. They very seldom have a meeting, but send round Minutes to each other for approval. I think a very much better Board would be a small body, paid a sufficient salary, to go about and take an active interest in the business. I think that is more necessary now than ever. The Congested Districts Board ought to be reformed upon the lines I have suggested; it would then be of enormous benefit to Scotland. I had a case the other day of an estate in North Harris, where certain crofters applied for a grant for fencing materials, which would have been an enormous advantage to the settlement. The crofters understood that the grant was to be made on condition that they themselves erected the fences. I was astounded to hear that the Congested Districts Board had refused the grant because the rents of the crofters were so small that the demand for fencing materials amounted to five years' rent. That I consider was all the more reason why the grant should have been made, as it would be absurd to expect tenants to pay the equivalent of five years' rent to fence their farms. But that is merely a small incident, showing how very ineffective the Congested Districts Board is for carrying out the work with which it has been entrusted. I strongly urge the Government to undertake the reform of this Board on such lines that it will not be an unpaid body or have a secretary who can devote only a small part of his time to the work. It ought to be composed of men who know the district, are accustomed to the work, and are in sympathy with the aspirations of the people.
I agree entirely with the remark of the hon. Member or Inverness (Sir John Dewar) that not much good is to be gained by going back into 1451 the history of the island we are now considering. What we are more concerned with is the present state of things, and what can be done in the immediate future to remedy it. It is not for me to enter upon any defence of Lady Gordon Cathcart; but, in view of some of the things which have been said to-day, it is very curious to note that in the course of last year, when the Government had taken up the position that they did not believe in the policy of purchasing Vatersay, one of the main reasons they gave was that if the Government were to purchase they would relieve Lady Gordon Cathcart of all interest in and responsibility for the island, and the welfare of the persons who have come from the Barra Estate thereto. That does not seem in the least consistent with the view that Lady Gordon Cathcart was other than a landlord who desired to do her best for those on her land, and whose desire to do that was thoroughly well recognised by the Government of the day—the same Government as is now in office. But that is not the matter before the Committee at present. I do not desire to be as hard on the Congested Districts Board as the hon. Member for Inverness has been. He spoke of it more than once as having lost the confidence of the people, as conducting its business in a ludicrous fashion, and as being guilty of inequity. All that may be quite true, but so far as I am concerned I think there has been a want of consistency in the policy, I do not say of the Congested Districts Board, but of the Secretary for Scotland. Even in the discussion to-day we have had references made to the fact that, as regards Vatersay, first of all, they would not buy and then they would buy. I think the hon. Member for Inverness has hardly done justice to those of us on this side of the House. We have not complained of the Government for having bousrht; what we have complained about the Government is for not knowing their own mind. I could understand their course if by negotiation they had reduced the price; but the price went up.
The first point I make is that we want some consistency in the policy followed in the administration of this island. So far as the papers I have seen go, I do not think the Congested Districts Board are to blame, but the Minister, the Vote for whose salary we are now considering. As another instance of the vacillation which has been shown in the administration of these parts, I may remind the Committee that down 1452 to this year it was understood, and consistently acted upon, that the Congested Districts Board had no power to purchase and hold land, but that they must purchase and give the land out. But now, I do not know for what reason—I trust the Lord Advocate will explain—that view has been given up, although so recently as last year several crofters expressed their desire to the Board to become tenants instead of purchasers, and the only reply they could get was that it was not competent for the Board, under the powers of the Act, to adopt such a course. Now we find, without any reason given, except that a change of view has taken place, that that policy has been adopted. That shows a want of consistency, which has a very serious effect so far as the proper management of this island is concerned. I do not find that the present administration of the Congested Districts Board is regarded as being any better by those immediately concerned than that of Lady Gordon Cathcart. I hesitate to make myself responsible for it, but reference has been made to a petition printed in the newspapers from certain of the "raiders" who took possession of Vatersay, and the language there used with regard to the Congested Districts Board is much more homely, and a great deal more severe than the language used by the hon. Member for Inverness. Lady Gordon Cathcart was never condemned more strongly than the Congested Districts Board is by these people. I do not understand the ground of their complaint altogether, because, as I understood an answer given by the Lord Advocate, there had been a principle adopted for selecting those who were to get possession of the crofts in Vatersay, and the Board were considering the merits of the different cases. But these men say—I do not know whether it is true or not—in documents which have appeared in the public papers, with their names appended, that there was no such principle adopted, but that the matter was decided by ballot.
§ Sir JOHN DEWAR
I think the crofters were selected, and then they balloted for the allocation of the crofts.
The procedure adopted seems to be not only illegal, but, if I may borrow a term used by the hon. Member for Inverness, a "ludicrous" way of administering an estate which really requires careful consideration. I can quite understand, if that is the mode in which this estate is administered under its new proprietors, that those who have not been 1453 successful in getting crofts consider themselves grievously ill-treated, and that they do not get their cases considered on their merits. To submit such questions to the fortune of the ballot does not appear to me to be a wise method of administering an estate, or one calculated to inspire confidence in any of the people concerned— either in the general taxpayer who has to find the money or in those who are resident on the estates.
As to the question of the sanitary condition of Vatersay, there is a great deal to be said for the view that the island at present has more familites upon it than it can under any circumstances support. Personally, I do not know whether that is so or not, but there is a great deal to lend countenance to that view. The Government have been well warned all along that one of the necessities of this island was a good water supply. According to the report of the medical officer for Inverness, who is well entitled to give an opinion on such a matter, it is not possible upon the island to get a sufficiency of water for those who are there. The Government, as I understand, propose that this important question of water supply shall be dealt with by taking advantage of the natural springs on the island. But those are the very sources of supply which the medical officer of health condemns as in-sanitary. If the place is to be properly administered, not only must the crofters or the people who are there get suitable holdings, but they must get what is necessary to enable them to have sanitary possession of them; and one of the first needs in that respect is a proper water supply. There has never been any satisfactory answer given on this point. The condition of things is stated by a responsible official of the county to be such that, without getting water from outside, you cannot get proper sanitary conditions. The Government say that they have a Report to the contrary, but we have never seen it, and at present, so far as public knowledge goes, the state of things in the matter of water supply is exceedingly unsatisfactory, and goes a long way to justify the view that there is no complete confidence in the Congested Districts Board. There is one other matter I should like to say a word about, that is the question of the enormous burden of the rates. I am not here as an advocate for the landlord, but anyone who looks at the figures must see that the burden of the rates upon these islands is out of question. The community cannot possibly stand it. I 1454 am not making the matter a complaint against the present Government, because the same difficulty arose when the party in Opposition were in office. But the reason for the heavy burden is that the Government require the same amount of education, of public health, and of general administration from these outlying districts as from the bigger districts. They cannot bear it; they have not got the rental to make it possible. As has been pointed out, not only do you exact the same conditions, but in exacting the same conditions you are bearing far more harshly upon these poor, sparsely populated districts than upon larger centres. The result is that the burden of the rate is unquestionably such that the district cannot possibly stand it. It is all very well for the Government to say, "We will give some temporary assistance," but at the same time they insist upon the exact rates being received in full front the landlord, and I say it is not fair to the landlord not to the tenant. May I remind the Committee that this matter was dealt with in a Memorandum by Mr. Maxwell, a very capable official of the Local Government Board of Scotland. In that Memorandum which he prepared, and which was signed so lately as April, 1906—so that there has been plenty of time to consider it—he said:—In all the Lews parishes, owing to an irregular method of levying the rates, the owners have paid more than their due share of the assessments, and the occupiers have paid a correspondingly smaller amount. Accordingly the owner's rate per £ in I905 should have been less and the occupier's rate per £ greater than that imposed. But on account of the smaller assessable rental of occupiers the addition to the occupier's rate per £ would have been considerably greater than the reduction in the owner's rate.These observations are equally applicable to the whole of the area we are considering. Mr. Maxwell proceeds:—That for the purpose of equalising local burdens of a national or onerous nature, the scheme contained in the separate recommendations of Lord Balfour of Burleigh and Lord Blair Balfour to the Final Report for Scotland of the Royal Commission on Local Taxation is the best hitherto suggested for Scotland. A less effective measure, but one capable of being more immediately applied to the Lews parishes, is the relief of the burden of pauper lunacy and possibly also, of the capital outlay on the new poor-house.I am not referring to these Reports at all in order to make capital out of the matter, but for the purpose of showing that the question ought to have been taken up and dealt with in view of the Reports having been submitted in 1006. I feel that is a difficult question, but these Reports were pot on a Commission made by the late Government, though the Reports 1455 themselves were not obtained until a change of Government took place. I do press as strongly as any Member who is more immediately concerned than I am that the time has come when the Government ought to take up this question of these excessive rates and deal with it. The amount of money involved would be very small, and it would mean an enormous difference to the comfort and happiness of the people. It is really more with that view than with a view of criticism that I have risen. I think the question is ripe for consideration, and I think it ought to be considered and dealt with. The sympathetic consideration—which I am certain the right hon. Gentleman will give the matter—and a very little expenditure of money would ameliorate the condition in this matter of these people.
§ Mr. J. G. WEIR
I would like to express my thanks to the hon. Member for Inverness (Sir John Dewar), and also to the hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. Swift MacNeill) for their contributions to this Debate. I am also very thankful to the hon. Member for Ayrshire (Mr. Cochrane) for his references. He complained of the Government, and I have risen to complain of the Government too. I could only wish that more Scottish Members would take an interest in Highland questions. Now, Sir, the landlords have been battening on the poor crofter tenants for several generations. The crofters have been cleared off. The hon. Member inquired what is the cause of their poverty. It is because the landlords have cleared the people out for the purpose of enlarging the farms or creating deer forests. And the Government, I regret to say, have taken no steps at all against the creation of these deer forests or the clearing out of the people for the benefit of a few sportsmen. In the island of Lewis referred to there is one farm six square miles in extent. Many parts of that farm in days gone by were occupied by crofters, and I am not at all surprised that to-day the descendants of those crofters take up the position that they do in regard to the land; and I again say I regret it very much that the Government has taken no action. It is not that the attention of the Secretary for Scotland has not been called to the matter, for during his four years of office the matter has again and again been brought under his notice. The reply has been that the matter was "being considered" or "will be considered." He 1456 has been considering the question now for four years. We want to know the result of that consideration. I am intensely disappointed that he is not here to-day, and that he has escaped to another place—fled from this House! That sort of thing is not to be accepted from a Liberal Government. The last Government had the Secretary for Scotland always in the House of Lords, but it should be different with a Liberal Government. The Liberal Government ought to have its Chief officers in this House, especially the Secretary for Scotland. Lord Balfour of Burleigh, a previous Secretary for Scotland, said that the Secretary for Scotland was responsible to Parliament directly or indirectly for the administration of the Congested Districts Board, the Local Government Board, the Fisheries Board, the Scottish Education Department, and other Scottish Boards.
§ Mr. WEIR
No; the date of the extract I am referring to is December, 1902. I repeat that I think that the Liberal Government should see that the Secretary for Scotland is in this House. I am only sorry the Prime Minister is not here, or I would have made the complaint to him. We have to take our information through the Lord Advocate. No doubt the Lord Advocate is anxious to do his best in every way, but he speaks as through a conduit pipe. However anxious the right hon. Gentleman may be to deal with Highland questions, he does not know the points. It is not very long since the Secretary for Scotland and the Lord Advocate were at variance, one holding one opinion that the matter in question should be referred to the Congested Districts Board, and the other the converse. I should like to know whether that difference of opinion as to holding land by the Congested Districts Board has been settled, and whether the Secretary for Scotland has accepted the view of the Lord Advocate or the Lord Advocate accepted the view of the Secretary for Scotland. Reference has been made by the hon. Member for Ayrshire to the Report of the medical officer for Inverness-shire. I cannot understand why the Government refrain from giving that Report to this House. I hope hon. Gentleman opposite, and also hon. Members on this side of the House, will insist upon that docu- 1457 ment being produced. It is becoming a practice to withhold Reports which ought to be put before the Members of this House, and so before the public. If everything is straightforward, and if the water in the island is good, let us have it. If it is bad, also let us have it. The taxpayer pays for the Report, and we are entitled to have it. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will inform the Secretary for Scotland that the document ought to be forthcoming and not held back. I join most heartily with other hon. Members for Scotland in the complaints which they have made. I consider that the Secretary for Scotland has grossly neglected the affairs of the Highlands, and especially the Western Highlands In this matter I take no side, and I know no party politics. What we want is to ameliorate the condition of the people; and I am very glad that hon. Members opposite are making themselves acquainted with the facts. I hope that in future the people will be considered as well as the landlords. The landlords for generations past have driven out the poor crofters, and have inflicted upon those of them that remained poverty, wretchedness and misery. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland speaks of Members, and of a particular Member, by whom he means, I suppose, myself, coming here and making complaints about the poverty in their constituencies. For my part, I say that that is simply my duty. If reform is needed, if better administration is called for, it is the duty of every Member of Parliament to bring these grievances before the House. I feel it to be my duty, and so long as I remain a Member of this House I shall continue to do so; and I only regret that the Member for the Orkney and Shetland Islands has so far forgotten that this is the first duty of a Member of Parliament.
The hon. Member also referred to legislation. We cannot talk about legislation in a Debate like this, and I do not intend to deal with that subject. The hon. Member said legislation is wanted. We have been trying to get legislation for years past. I say now that it is better to secure proper administration by the Congested Districts Board. The administration by that Board is a disgrace to any country. An hon. Member stated that it is not a paid Board. Years ago I called attention to that fact. The Congested Districts Board should consist of paid members. You can only get efficient service in this, as in everything else, if you are ready to pay 1458 for it. There ought to be a secretary to the Board who would give the whole of his attention to the work. The work is growing, and the secretary to the Board, who is a clerk of the Exchequer Office in Edinburgh at a salary of £600 a year, has to divide his attention between the Congested Districts Board and the work of the Exchequer Office. I believe his allowances are £250 a year.
§ Mr. WEIR
I understand that he spends that sum out of his salary for the purpose of getting some assistance. I wonder does he get assistance, or is there some sweating system going on? I called attention to this matter years ago, and I call attention to it again to-day. I say it would be far better that we have a Secretary to do the work of the Board, and that work only, and not to hand the work over to be carried on by a clerk and part of it by an official. That is not a proper business system to adopt. I want to have the administration of the Board properly carried out. It is extremely unsatisfactory at the present time. A year ago Lord Pent-land said he was in communication with the Board in reference to matters of administration. There are 20,000 acres of farm land not under lease in the island of Lewis, and in November, 1908, the proprietor declined to break up farms into crofter holdings on the ground of increasing the rates. This matter was brought under the notice of the Secretary for Scotland, and time and again we nave got the same reply, "The matter is under consideration." Why are we not told the result? If these 20,000 acres had been made part of a land scheme there would have been no compensation to pay, as there were in Vatersay, where the farms were held under a lease, and where the Congested Districts Board had to pay compensation according. There would have been no compensation to pay in this instance, because the land is not held under a lease; and the condition of the landless people in the island of Lewis might have been vastly improved.
On June 6th last year Lord Pentland said he would be glad to co-operate with the proprietor. I ask: has Lord Pentland submitted any practical scheme—such as obtaining land for new holdings? I can never get any accurate or definite information. The right hon. Gentleman the Lord Advocate is a great adept in giving replies, but they are always of a most 1459 unsatisfactory and evasive character. I can only suppose that they are replies written out for him, not by Lord Pentland, but by some office boy or junior who knows nothing about the matter. It is not fair to the House, or to the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Advocate, that answers of an evasive character should be given to straightforward and honest questions. I ask, Has any practical scheme yet been brought forward? I know the problem is a difficult one. But what is the Secretary for Scotland paid for? It is part of his work, and if he is not capable of doing it let him clear out and let someone else do the work. I do not object to his £2,000 a year or £5,000 a year, but let us have the work done. Four years have passed since he took up office, and yet he has practically no scheme; he says he can do nothing.
When I found that was the case I approached the Prime Minister. In October, 1904, he made a speech in Inverness, and he stated in that speech that the Highland people required special attention. Five years have gone by; the Prime Minister has slid out; he has forgotten his first love; he says he has full confidence in the Scottish Office. I am sorry for the Highlanders, and I am sorry for the candidates who have to come before Scottish constituencies. If Ministers have forgotten their promises, do they expect that the people are to stand idly by and forget all about these promises having been made? There are in the island of Lewis 1,500 landless cottars, and these, with their wives and children, make up something like 7,500 souls—25 per cent. of the population of the island. The Secretary for Scotland is the head and the chief of the Congested Districts Board. He appears to me to have confined his attention specially to one county—namely, Inverness-shire. In reply to a question of 27th April this year I was informed that a certain large sum had been spent upon the land scheme. How much was spent in Ross-shire? The amount spent there was £10,800, but £159,829 fell to Inverness-shire. That is not fair administration; it is most unfair administration, especially in view of the urgent demands for Ross-shire.
What has the Congested Districts Board done for Ross-shire? While 41,963 acres of land were provided for the people of Inverness-shire, for new holdings, only 239 acres were provided for Ross-shire. 1460 Both counties are about the same size. But the congestion and the difficulty is more serious in Ross than in the other, yet Ross only received 239 acres, while Inverness-shire got over 41,000 acres. The Secretary for Scotland, in a letter which he sent me on 27th May this year, said the great merit of the Crofters Act is that it has placed the Highlanders in a position which will encourage the people to help themselves. Hence, he said, the prosperity and well-being of the people depended primarily and mainly upon the exertions they put forward in developing the resources of the island and cultivating the land. What a mockery to tell the people of the island of Lewis to cultivate the land. They have no land. That is exactly what they want. The Congested Districts Board only provides 239 acres. The Secretary for Scotland tells the people to cultivate the land. He practically tells them to break the law, and to break up the farms and to dig up the land. It is the Secretary, and not these misguided people, who breaks the law by telling the people to cultivate land which they have not got. I urge the Lord Advocate to impress that upon the Secretary for Scotland. I was told yesterday that there was no application by the cottars for relief. Do you want to make paupers of them? I am most anxious that they should not be made paupers of. The Secretary for Scotland has been in office for the last four years, and, although we expected that when the Liberal Government came into power something would be done, nothing has been done up to now in Ross-shire. They practically pour all the money into one county. The state of things is even worse in the island of Lewis, and yet not a single acre has been provided there by the present Secretary for Scotland. No wonder there are complaints. Let us have the administration as perfect as possible, but it cannot be said that the administration of Lord Pentland is either fair or just when 50,000 acres are provided for one particular county, whilst in the adjoining county not a single acre is provided. There ought to be a fairer administration of the funds, and the poor districts in every county where there is congestion ought to be considered. Why are they not considered? It is not because they have been disloyal. I have done everything I can to induce them to observe the law and adopt constitutional means, and they have sent numerous memorials to the Scottish 1461 Office and to Members of the Government. No wonder, when they are ignored, these men get exasperated. Who are these men? They are not the riff-raff, but they are men who have been in the Army and Naval Reserve men, and I cannot, for the life of me, see why the Government are so blind as to shut their eyes to the advisability of keeping these men on the land. Where can you find a finer set of men than these Highlanders. I regret to say that in this matter, from the Prime Minister downwards, you shun them, and you can do nothing for them. The Secretary for Scotland says he cannot solve this problem. I know this is a troublesome question, but what are the Secretary for Scotland and his colleagues there for? Every year the position of these men is getting worse. The Government find time to discuss the Budget and all sorts of matters, and why cannot they see to this question as well? This is the one thing they should see to, and if the Secretary for Scotland is not capable of dealing with this problem then the Prime Minister had better find some one else who will do the work. Let the work be done, and if the Secretary for Scotland has not enough money let him ask the Prime Minister for more.
Some years ago a scheme of migration from Lewis to the mainland was brought forward, and Lord Pentland promised that he would consider it. A correspondent wrote to me stating that he could furnish 120 names of cottars, fine sterling fellows who would make good citizens, and all they wanted was access to the land. Under this scheme they were prepared to go to any part of the island of Lewis, or on the mainland. I asked questions upon this matter, and I was continually put off by the Secretary for Scotland. After nearly four years delay I was told by the Secretary for Scotland that he did not think the scheme was workable. Is the right hon. Gentleman waiting for a general election to come along? I think it is very unfair to treat the Highlanders in that way. The Scottish office at first were favourable to this scheme of migration, but after the lapse of four years they suddenly abandoned the scheme. This is very discouraging and it is no wonder I am compelled to adopt the only means I can of calling the attention of the Government to this matter. On the 21st of last month, in reply to a question dealing with the problem in the island of Lewis, he said he could not expound a policy within the limits of a Parliamentary question and answer across 1462 the floor of the House. Can he expound that policy now? I hope the Solicitor-General for Scotland or his colleague will give me a reply to that question, because it is an urgent matter, and a very serious one for the people living in the island of Lewis. I want to stay the spread of disaffection which exists there and stop these men breaking the law, and I hope the Prime Minister, who has such confidence in the Scottish Office, will give this matter some attention. What has the Government done during the four years they have been in office? Why have the crofters not been put upon the land? In the case of one estate there is nearly £80,000 lying dead and unproductive. Is that good management? I think the men responsible ought to be bundled out of office neck and crop, and it is high time the Board was reconstituted. The petitions which have been sent to the Prime Minister and other Ministers ought to receive more attention. These poor Dalbeg cottars are homeless, and they ought not to be dependent upon the charity of newspapers, such as the "People's Journal," which came forward not long ago and sent a supply of meal to the starving families of these men and got a fund together to help them. Probably these men will be sent back to prison, and surely it is time this kind of thing was stopped? I remember in the year 1884 and 1885, when gunboats were sent to one part of Scotland by Sir William Harcourt. A great show of force was made upon that occasion, and the result of it all was that the people got the Crofters Act. These landless people have a real grievance, and I hope the Lord Advocate will give it his attention, and that we shall have done with this everlasting considering of the question. The sands of the present Government are running out, and I do not want to have to go on the platform and say the Liberal Government have grossly neglected, as they have during the time they have been in office, the affairs of the Highlands. If we cannot get legislation, let us at any rate have better administration by the Congested Districts Board and a fairer and more equitable distribution of the money of that Board.
§ Mr. J. S. AINSWORTH
Before we have the Lord Advocate's reply I should like the House to appreciate that the land question in the Highlands is not confined to Vatersay. The whole question resolves itself into the enlargement of holdings to, 1463 make them economic and the creation of new holdings. It arises in the Highlands every day and affects absolutely the future welfare of the population, and in the best interests of the Empire it should be dealt with. There is at present no machinery by which these questions can be dealt with, and what you want is someone with authority who can go down and make reasonable terms with the landlord. If you want him to co-operate with the people locally, he must have authority, and he must have funds at his back to give compensation if compensation should be wanted. We have in Scotland the germs of the machinery to do the great part of what we want in the Crofter Commission, but it has no power to spend money and no power to deal with the proprietor. The Congested Districts Board is the only Board which has power, and their power is strictly confined. What we have got to do is to make the Congested Districts Board a paid Board, and give them efficient machinery and more money. I should have thought it would have been an extremely simple thing to bring the existing machinery and power up to date, so that they could deal with cases as they arise. You have only got to make the Congested Districts Board the proprietor of the land they purchase and they can then raise money on that. I took the opportunity the other day of putting a question to the Lord Advocate on another subject. I asked him whether the Government would consider the advisability of establishing a Board of Agriculture and Fishery for Scotland with a Vice-President sitting in Parliament. That would enable you to deal with an enormous number of these Scotch questions which are practically outside the scope of the Secretary for Scotland, whose time in the nature of things is largely taken up with other matters. If we had either a Board of Agriculture of our own, with a Vice-President in the House or a Vice-President under the existing Board of Agriculture, we should then have someone to whom we could refer on questions of this kind. It is said the matter is under consideration, but I should be extremely glad if the Lord Advocate could give us some information on the matter, which so vitally affects the crofters. I think it is rather hard that Ireland should have a much larger number of representatives in the Government than Scotland. Ireland have five representatives in Parliament, and we have only the 1464 Secretary and the Law Officers. Everyone knows the splendid work the Board of Agriculture is doing in Ireland, and must agree that it is a hardship that there is not some Board of the same kind acting for Scotland. I hope when the right hon. Gentleman replies he will be able to give us some hope on these matters, so that when land questions in the Highland counties arise they may be conveniently dealt with in this House. I am extremely pleased, and I think we may congratulate ourselves to-day, that the gravity and importance of these questions are acknowledged on both sides of the House. We have had a most sympathetic speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Glasgow (Mr. Scott-Dickson), and I am perfectly sure if the Government take up the question they will have the assistance and support of all the Members for Scotland in all parts of the House.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Alexander Ure)
Anyone listening to the perorations of the two hon. Gentlemen opposite, the Member for North Ayrshire (Mr. Cochrane) and the Member for the Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities (Sir Henry Craik), would think that the Outer Hebrides were seething with lawless violence, stimulated and excited by a wicked Government, whose only desire was to harass and oppress benevolent landlords. Nothing is further from the truth. The Outer Hebrides are not seething with lawless violence at present, and they have not been at any time during the past year. Difficulties exist there, but they are not the creation of this Government or of any Government. They are necessarily incident to the conditions under which the people live—a congested population and a poverty-stricken land. There you have the whole problem in a nutshell. These difficulties, however, which confront us are rendered none the easier by speeches such as we have listened to by the two hon. Members. They seem positively to gloat over the embarrassment which the Government may feel in the administration of Vatersay. How entirely different was the tone and temper of the speech of the hon. Member for the Central Division of Glasgow (Mr. Scott-Dickson). He understands the difficulty of the situation. He has himself been concerned in the administration of the Outer Hebrides. I say without hesitation that I entirely share the view which he has expressed with regard to the rating system. What is the remedy? I do not think any 1465 remedy was suggested, but we all know that in the year 1901, after a very prolonged and patient inquiry, the late Secretary for Scotland, backed by one or two men of great skill and knowledge, put forward as a remedy for the undoubtedly heavy pressure of the rate in the Outer Hebrides a system of subventions, which I, for my part, so far as I have been able to study it, approve. I see at the present moment no other method by which a reform can be achieved than that made out in the Memorandum signed by Lord Balfour of Burleigh. I gather that that view is shared by the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Scott-Dickson), and that it will be the duty of any Government at a very early date to take seriously in hand the question of a radical reform in the rating system in the Outer Hebrides. One would suppose, from the speeches which have been delivered to-night, that it was the business of the Central Government to recover rates from the landlord and tenant, and that we were pressing with undue hardship on the great landlords, and at the same time encouraging the small tenants to refuse to pay their rates altogether. We have no duty upon us to recover rates. That is a duty which lies entirely in the hands of the local authority, and the Central Government can only bid the local authority to carry out their duties to the best of their ability and with impartiality. When the hon. Member for North Ayrshire (Mr. Cochrane) speaks of the harshness and injustice of the Government towards the proprietors, what proof does he offer to show that the Government in any way acted arbitrarily or harshly towards the proprietors in the Hebrides? All the hon. Member could say was when the Secretary for Scotland was informed there was to be an incursion on Dalbeg farm, my Noble Friend at once telegraphed his deep regret at hearing such a thing was about to take place, and his hope that Major Mathieson would exercise his undoubted right to protect himself. The hon. Member further complained that when the trespass did take place an inexperienced judge was sent to try the men, and that a very modest and almost contemptible punishment was inflicted. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire must know very well that the local judge was unable to act in this case. But he exercised great care in the selection of a gentleman of experience and training in the law?
§ Mr. URE
Surely five years' experience is adequate to enable a man to administer justice in these local courts. At any rate the selection was made with my approval, and I see no reason to doubt that the punishment inflicted was appropriate. In the case of Vatersay, the Government is charged with refusing to assist the landed proprietor there who wanted that the cases should be presented to the court in a form which would have enabled the infliction of a heavier punishment. I wonder how the hon. Member for North Ayrshire reconciles the charge he makes to-day with the charge he made a year ago. It seems to me hon. Members are very eager to have these people punished as criminals, and they are consequently very reckless in the statements they make.
§ Mr. COCHRANE
May I call attention to the particular circumstances to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has paid no attention. When the substitute of the sheriff was giving judgment he asked the raiders whether they intended to persist in their contumacy, or whether they would leave the island! One and all returned the answer that they intended to remain there, in spite of the court, and, after that, I cannot help considering that a fine of 10s. was an inadequate penalty.
§ Mr. URE
The hon. Member knows quite well that the punishment might be repeated as often as the offence was committed. Does he say that since the trial and since the punishment was inflicted these men are still on the farm? As far as I am aware they have left the farm, and the punishment has been quite effective. I now turn to Vatersay, around which most of the storm rages. My noble Friend has been accused of performing a volte face in the second Debate which took place in this House on 25th June last year. I do not think that charge is well founded. I desire to use language of strict moderation. I desire to say nothing to intensify the difficulty which surrounds the matter. I desire to say nothing to excite any ill-feeling which it is absolutely necessary we should avoid, if we are to have a satisfactory settlement of this dispute. It was by chance that I played a very humble and subordinate part in this matter at a very critical moment, and my relations with the proprietor of the island were friendly. Our communications with one another were frank and open, and, so far as I am concerned, the proprietor dis- 1467 played deep anxiety for the welfare of the tenants. I do not seek to challenge too strongly the construction put upon certain words and phrases. I do not seek to attribute any sort of bad faith to anybody. I believe in the good faith and honesty of both sides, and I believe, too, that the misunderstanding which arose was due to no fault on the part of either one or the other. What was it induced these men to go to Barra in 1906–7? The Sheriff said that they were respectable, reasonable and intelligent, and it may be equally true that they believed they had some proper claim there, because their ancestors had lived on the island for many generations and they had never abandoned their claim to the land. The fact was they took possession of the very site on which their ancestors had lived. That may be all perfectly true, but none the less the men were lawbreakers. These facts afford no answer whatever to the charge that they unlawfully occupied the island. The question arose, what is the proper remedy? The hon. Member for Glasgow University (Sir Henry Craik) complained with great vigour that the Government refused to give the smallest assistance to the proprietor. What assistance does he think the Government ought to have given under these circumstances? Does he say we ought to have sent a gunboat, or the military, or a large force of police? What does he think we ought to have done? What was it the proprietor asked of the Government? The only assistance he asked at the time was that we should institute criminal proceedings against these people, and that we should be them before a local court where they might be committed for 14 days. My predecessor refused to sanction criminal proceedings, because these men were not criminals, and I concur in that view. In taking that course he was following strictly the example set by his predecessors in office under both Liberal and Conservative Administrations, who had always refused absolutely to sanction criminal proceedings in cases such as this. In only one instance, as far as I am aware, was there an exception made to the rule, invariably followed, never to treat a mere act of trespass, unaccompanied by violence, as more than a civil offence, for which the proprietor has a civil remedy. I ask the Committee if it was desirable to read the men a lesson; was it not far better to adopt a civil procedure with all the deliberate magisterial solemnity that charac- 1468 terises proceedings in a High Court, than to bring them up as criminals in a local court?
§ Mr. URE
Does the hon. Member really think it would have been better to have taken these men before the local court when the Civil Courts of Scotland are open to every proprietor? Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Anstruther-Gray) think the law would have been better vindicated by proceedings in the local court?
§ Mr. URE
Well, I do not, Lady Cathcart was not vindictive; she did not desire to press her rights to the extreme, and my Noble Friend saw, as well as his predecessor, that if we were to find a remedy we must find some means of settling these people down upon the land. They were living in the Congested Districts, and you may agree or disagree as to whether there was room which would enable them to live under moderately comfortable conditions, but it was perfectly certain that a remedy must be found. Lady Cathcart was fully alive to that, in common with the Government of the day. The Sheriff pointed out that if you went on prosecuting them for breach of the interdict, to have these people punished for contempt of court, and punishment was inflicted, you would be exactly where you were at the commencement. Hon. Members opposite forget that no Government and no proprietor has a right to deport grown-up men and women from one part of the country to another unless as criminals. We were dealing with people who had a right to live there. That is the difficulty, and Lady Cathcart was as alive to it as we were. The second course was that she should break up Vatersay into small holdings, and let the people become her tenants; and the third course was that the Government should buy the island and settle the people as purchasers or tenants. Negotiations were opened up between the Government and Lady Cathcart, who had no desire to press her legal rights in the matter, and those negotiations broke down, for reasons which it would be idle now for me to repeat, as they would serve no good purpose and only cause anger and recrimination if I went into the details. Suffice to say that they broke down, and Lady 1469 Cathcart sent in her application for breach of the interdict, and the men were sent to prison for two months.
During the period that they were enjoying imprisonment, and before the term of imprisonment expired, negotiations were once more opened, and a very important interview took place between myself on the one hand and Lady Cathcart and her agent on the other hand on the 17th June; that was about three weeks or more after the Debate in this House. As the result of that interview both parties understood that they had come to a settlement. Very reluctantly and very unwillingly Lady Cathcart agreed that the island should be broken up into small holdings, and that there should exist between her and the tenants the relation of landlord and tenant, as defined by the Crofters Act. Both parties thought they had come to a settlement on those lines. Neither had the least reason to believe that the other misunderstood what was agreed, and each of us trusted the other, with the result that everybody knows. It is said that Lady Cathcart believed that the Government had agreed to guarantee the rents for these people for all time and under all circumstances. The Government, on the other hand, believed they had come to no such arrangement, but that they had only agreed to pay to Lady Cathcart the loss which she should incur, that was directly attributable to the change from a single tenancy with one man to a number of tenancies with a large number of people. Let the Committee understand exactly what that suggestion of Lady Cathcart means. It means neither more nor less than this, that the Government, without any of the rights of ownership, were asked to assume the responsibilities and obligations and all the risks of ownership. Of course that is an impossible position. It is plain that a Government could not consent to a condition of that kind. It is plain that we never could consent to be the guarantors for rent for all time and under all conditions. See what the effect would be. If one of these tenants was unwilling to pay his rent, or could not pay his Tent, then Lady Cathcart would come to the Government and ask them to pay. She had rights under the Crofters Act, which she could have exercised, but she was under no obligation to exercise her rights, and she could come to the Government and say, "That man has not paid his rent, and you must do so"; and on the other hand there would be very little 1470 stimulus to the tenants to perform their obligations if they knew that the Government were going to fulfil their obligations for them. The position of the Government would be an impossible one; we should be deprived of all the rights but have all the risks.
Complaints have been made that we have no written note of the terms of our bargain. I agree that it would have been well to have had a written note of it, but I cannot agree with hon. Members opposite who ask why. In the first place, neither of us had any reason but to think that we thoroughly understood, and we had no reason to suppose that any dispute would arise, and if there had been a written record it would have contained nothing more than that the Government agreed to relieve Lady Cathcart of the direct risk of loss due to the change of responsibility from one tenant—a grazing tenant—to a number of small holders. Those were the very terms of the answer given in this House to the hon. Member for Inverness, who a few days after asked the Secretary for Scot-land what were the terms of the bargain? Those were the words which my Noble Friend used, and are the words which would have been found in any written record. If we had kept a written record in those terms it would not have prevented misunderstanding, because the question arose as to pecuniary loss, which we understood to mean that, if there was any reduction of rent, then the Government should take the burden; and if the holdings were thrown back upon the landowner then the Government should bear the loss. A very different construction was put upon it by Lady Cathcart, who said we were bound to pay every penny of the rent. Do hon. Members think that would be a reasonable or serious bargain that we should deprive ourselves of all rights of an owner and undertake to take all the risks?
§ Mr. MEYSEY-THOMPSON
This partition was made not for the convenience of Lady Cathcart, but because the Government wished to establish these small holdings on the islands, and therefore Lady Cathcart asked that she should be guaranteed against any pecuniary loss, and that is what she understood.
§ Mr. URE
The hon. Member is quite wrong—absolutely wrong—for the most obvious reason that the Government would, of course, have taken rather the 1471 course which Lady Cathcart, to do her justice, most honestly pressed upon them, that they should become the purchaser. If they were to become guarantors of the rent it is plain to any ignorant man that the Government could not step in and play the part of owner, and at the same time guarantee the rent, but let me say in my own justification that no man who reads the letters which preceded this, and no man who reads the answers of the Secretary for Scotland given to the hon. Member for Inverness, can doubt that it was the intention of the Government, at all events, merely to become responsible for the loss which was directly attributable to the change of occupiers. Will the Committee allow me to read what was put forward at the time the negotiations were entered upon in 1907—that is to say, the negotiations which were unfortunately broken off? The agent for the proprietor wrote that the letting of the holding shall be fixed under the Crofters Actand the Board shall compensate Lady Cathcart for any loss in rent that may be sustained by the change, whether through the rent being reduced or the new holdings not being occupied.That was, I understood, to be the bargain on 17th June, and I have no reason to think that there was any change on 4th November, 1907, when the Secretary for Scotland set out with great care what he believed to be the arrangement then come to. He states in distinct terms:—Upon the extent of land to be newly occupied will depend the loss of letting value of the farm for which compensation will be paid by the Congested Districts Board.And again:—On the question of compensation for loss of letting value. Mr. Sinclair thinks the terms of his letter of the 4th instant are clear.Again, on 14th November:—Mr. Sinclair desires me to remind you that having regard to any loss of letting value an undertaking has already been given.Finally, on 8th July, 1908, nine days before the interview, the Under-Secretary for Scotland writes to Lady Cathcart:—As has been the intention throughout, the compensation to be paid for loss of letting value will be in respect of the full estate and not merely of that part of it which is actually occupied by new settlers.That makes it perfectly plain that what we were thinking about and what Lady Cathcart was thinking about when she spoke of pecuniary compensation for loss, was loss directly attributable to change of occupancy from one large holder to a number of small holders. There is no passage that anyone can point to in the whole of that correspondence which will suggest the smallest change of view on the part of 1472 Lady Cathcart and her agents in regard to the extent of the pecuniary responsibility the Government is willing to under take. A misunderstanding subsequently arose, and Lady Cathcart and her agent subsequently said the understanding was that we were to guarantee the rent of all these people. The Government could not consent to any such unlimited liability, whilst all the time it was deprived of the lights of a landlord, and, accordingly, very unwillingly, they agreed to purchase the island, but only as a last resort. From the first Lady Cathcart's view was that the Government should purchase the island. The view of the Government on the other hand was that it was much better that Lady Cathcart should remain proprietress of the island, and to that we adhered up to the last. I do not in the least regret that an attempt was made to effect a settlement on the terms proposed by my Noble Friend, and, as I believed at the time, finally arranged by myself. I bitterly regret that that settlement broke down, for I believe, with the authority and influence which Lady Cathcart had with her tenants, and with the respect with which I know she was regarded by her tenants, and with the feeling which they, no doubt, entertained at that time that she had acted magnanimously towards them, it was much more likely that we should have a permanent, enduring, and peaceful settlement of the difficulties if she had remained in the position of proprietress. But that was not to be, and we reluctantly purchased this island and five adjoining islands, to the extent of about 3.500 acres, for £6,200. The price was adjusted by the agents for the Congested Districts Board on the one hand and the agents for Lady Cathcart on the other, each no doubt doing their best to effect a good bargain for their principals. Sixty holdings have been carved out, and the Congested Districts Board have not only marked out the whole of it but have selected those who are to occupy the holdings, and their selection of those occupants was made entirely with regard to their fitness to cultivate and their capacity to equip the holdings. They discharged their duty with very great impartiality. The fact that men had been in illegal occupancy of the island beforehand wars neither regarded as a qualification nor a disqualification for receiving holdings.
It was stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Scott-Dickson) that resort had been had to a raffle or ballot. That 1473 may be so, but just observe for what purpose. The holdings having been marked out, and the occupants selected, it was reasonable and fair that the holdings which each man was to have should be decided by raffle or ballot. It would have been outrageous to select your men by ballot, or to have resorted to a raffle for the purpose of fixing the holdings upon the island, but once you had selected your holding's and your men on a sound principle, there is nothing one could find fault with in resorting to a raffle for the purpose of enabling each man to be placed upon his holding.
An HON. MEMBER
Is it not a fact that certain squatters were refused because they had taken an active part in seizing the land?
§ Mr. URE
No, that is not so. I inquired very carefully into that. Hon. Members on this side have challenged the action of the Congested Districts Board in planting men there because they had not been in illegal occupancy, and hon. Members opposite have challenged it, alleging that the reason was that they were in illegal occupancy. I think the Congested Districts Board did right in disregarding the question altogether and deciding entirely on the merits of each man.
Then, say hon. Members opposite, when you come to settle down you will find that you have not an adequate water supply. The water supply at present is not ideal. I agree that the sanitary inspector has condemned it in certain particulars, but the Congested Districts Board are advised by skilled experts of their own, who tell them that by a judicious expenditure of £400 you will be able to give an adequate and suitable water supply.
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
Does the Report laid before the Congested Districts Board contradict the Report of the two experts?
§ Mr. COCHRANE
May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the Report of the Crofters Commission? It says:—In August, at the request of the Secretary for Scotland, we visited the Island of Vatersay, in the parish of Barra, in the county of Inverness, for the purpose of making a report on the same for the information of the Scottish Office and the Congested Districts Commissioners… The results of our inquiries have been embodied in an exhaustive report which we forwarded to the proper quarter at the time.1474 We want to see that Report, to which we consider we are absolutely entitled under the Act setting up the Congested Districts Board and the Crofters Commission. Clause 9 says: "All Reports to the Secretary for Scotland must be laid on the Table of the House." I ask why this is not laid?
§ Mr. URE
The hon. Member is under a total misapprehension. Section 9 reads: "The Commissioners shall once in every year make a Report to the Secretary for Scotland on the proceedings under this Act, and every such Report shall be forthwith presented to Parliament." There is no statutory foundation whatever for asking for the production of this Report.
§ Mr. COCHRANE
All precedent is against the right hon. Gentleman. In the Congested Districts Board Report of 31st March, 1903, Lord Balfour of Burleigh asked the Crofter Commission in the autumn of 1902 to make a Report on the Lews. This was done, and the Report was circulated in the Blue Book. I can quote various other precedents of the same character, and I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to produce this Report to which the House is entitled.
§ Mr. COCHRANE
I think my precedent establishes that it is a breach. As I read the statute the right hon. Gentleman is compelled to present a Report. I then quoted an exact precedent to show that in similar cases reports have been produced, and it lies with him to show his reason for not producing this Report. the has to make out his case why he refuses to issue the Report when I have challenged him with the facts, and have given him a statement made by the medical officer of health, and asked him to state plainly whether that Report, voluminous as it is, agrees or disagrees with the medical officer's Report, and whether he will now place it before the House.
§ Mr. URE
Because the hon. Member will not allow me to proceed. He insists that 1475 I have committed a breach of a statutory duty, and I am showing him that I have not. An interim Report was made by the Crofters' Commission to the Secretary for Scotland with reference to a piece of property which belongs to the Congested Districts Board, and it is entirely a matter in the discretion of my Noble Friend to Table that Report or not, as he thinks fit. I think he wisely exercises his discretion in not Tabling it until he has the complete Report on the whole subject. My hon. Friend surely knows that an expert of the Board had advised that a certain expenditure of some £400 should be made, and when it is made we have absolute assurance that the supply of water on Vatersay will be as good, if not better, than on any one of the other islands. Surely the Committee may trust the expert advisers of the Board not to lead them astray on a question of this kind, and surely the Committee will believe that when the Congested Districts Board have taken the responsibility of settling 60 people on the island they will not be blind to the obligation of obtaining adequate sanitary conditions. It is very extraordinary that the hon. Member for North Ayrshire upbraids us for exacting full payment of the rates from landed proprietors in the outer Hebrides, when he knows that the reason for these rates being so high is that we insist, rightly as he and his colleagues admit, upon the standards of sanitation, education, and the rest, being maintained there which are maintained in other parts of Scotland. At the same time he now seeks to accuse us of failing to come up to those high standards in this particular item, whereas the result of embarking upon such an expenditure as is suggested by him, namely, for bringing water from the adjoining island would be——
§ Mr. COCHRANE
My contention was that Lady Cathcart was right when she warned the Secretary for Scotland that it was not suitable for a settlement. In spite of that the Government purchased the island, and the responsibility must rest with them to see that a suitable water 1476 supply is provided, and that the inhabitants live under suitable sanitary conditions.
§ Mr. URE
I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that they will live under proper sanitary conditions, and that they will receive a proper water supply. Lady Cathcart was satisfied at the time we made the purchase that a proper water supply could be secured. At any rate, we shall see that the inhabitants of the island are provided with a proper water supply. That is the situation as it at present exists. I hope the Committee will not entertain extreme views on one side or the other with respect to the prospect of the settlement. It is very easy to exaggerate the gloominess of the prospect, and it is easy also to exaggerate the possible success of the prospect. Let us neither take one extreme nor the other. Let the Committee await the development of results which time and experience alone can reveal, and which will be good or evil according as we address ourselves with industry, ability, and skill, to the cultivation of the island.
I have a letter from the hon. Member for Inverness stating that the Congested Districts Board does not enjoy the full confidence of his constituents. I think the same view was expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty. We do not say that the Congested Districts Board is an ideal form of administration. If we had thought so we should never have brought forward the project which was foreshadowed in the Land Tenure Bill. The changes we proposed to effect in the law applied to the whole of Scotland, including the Hebrides. That measure expressed the considered opinion of the Government on the subject. Do not let us be unjust to the Congested Districts Board. If hon. Members will take the trouble to look through the Report which has been presented of the work of the Board during the past year, they will find that many useful enterprises have been undertaken, that many new settlements have been effected, that large sums of money have been expended in road making in the Outer Hebrides, and that large sums have been promised to various districts not only for the making of roads but for the making of piers and harbours. The Board has done its best to encourage the apprenticeship of youths to trades. I am sorry that its efforts to induce lads to go into the mercantile marine have not been very successful, but 1477 its effort to apprentice lads to useful trades —youths who would otherwise have grown up idle—have met with considerable success. In view of the difficulties confronting the Board on every side in the Western Islands, my Noble Friend the Secretary for Scotland thought that the best means of dealing with the situation was to appoint a strong Commission to inquire into the whole question. That Commission, which is at present sitting, is presided over by one who knows as well as any man the conditions of the Outer Hebrides. I mean my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness. In other respects the Board has not been idle. It has done its best to promote education in agricultural methods, the breeding and keeping of poultry, and education in small culture. These seem small and humble matters, but upon the attention which is given to these matters depends to a larger extent than we can possibly conceive the prosperity of the islands. I have been asked for a certain assurance by the hon. Member for Argyllshire with regard to the reconstitution of the Land Board. I can only say, as I think the Prime Minister has said, that the policy of the Government in that regard is embodied in a Bill, and that we hope by means of the measure introduced not long ago in another place to effect a very considerable change in the administration of agriculture in Scotland.
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
With regard to the question as to whether there has been an exaggeration of the number of years' purchase in connection with the acquisition of the Island of Vatersay, may I point out that the agent who acted for the Congested Districts Board puts the price at 20 years' purchase of the net rental of the farm, 10 years' purchase of the net rental of the shooting, and one year's purchase added, making in all 31 years?
§ Mr. URE
I think my hon. Friend is quite correct in the figures he has given. My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland has asked whether the Government can do anything to further the scheme which he has so much at heart in regard to the oyster industry at Kirkwall. All I can say is that we shall inquire into the feasibility of that scheme. The hon. Member knows that there is a great deal of difference of opinion prevailing on these subjects. This is the information, at all events, that has reached me. He knows that the first Order passed has been withdrawn, and that a second Order was suggested; but in order that 1478 the second Order may be successfully promoted, I am afraid that evidence will require to be given again, and that will involve large expense. I would suggest that I should give instructions to the Fishery Board to send a competent officer to Kirkwall to inquire into the whole circumstances of the case, and to report whether the scheme is feasible, and whether or not it can be carried out at a reasonable cost.
§ Mr. A. C. MORTON
I confess that I am exceedingly disappointed with the Lord Advocate's views, for we fully expected that he would tell us why the Government said one day that they could not buy the Island of Vatersay, and next day bought it. We may be desirous to apply the system of purchase to other parts of the crofting districts, and, therefore, I should have been glad if the Lord Advocate had given us some information as to what the Congested Districts Board will do in future. We have a very bad case in Sutherland in connection with some land which was purchased by the late Government. They paid too much for the land, and the consequence is that the small holders have been in trouble ever since. A great many of them have already been ruined. They have applied to the Scottish Office to have their case taken into consideration. They wish to be made tenants of the Government instead of purchasers of the land. They have been told that nothing can be done, and I want to know why, if it could be done in the case of Vatersay, it cannot be done in Strath-naver. I hope that either the Lord Advocate or the Solicitor-General will tell us how the law of the matter stands, and how we can apply it in future so that all parts of the crofting district shall be treated alike, and that there shall be no favouritism to one district, landlady, or landlord. I want to know why the report of some officers in regard to the sanitary state of Vatersay cannot be produced. That Report is paid for by public money, and it is obtained for public purposes. Why should it be concealed? What the Government have to bear in mind is that it is always thought, when they conceal a Re-port of this sort, it is against themselves, or that there is something in it which they want to conceal from the public. They can put themselves right by producing what is really a public Report, which should be available for the use of the public generally. I hope we shall have some explanation with regard to that, and that the Report will in due course be produced.
1479 The Lord Advocate said he thought that he had answered everything that had been brought forward to date. I take it that the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General are here to-day as representing the Government. At any rate, there is nobody else here if they do not represent the Government. He did not reply at all to the question with regard to the Secretary for Scotland sitting in this House. We are certainly entitled to know why the Secretary for Scotland does not sit here to look after Scotland's business. And if the Lord Advocate or the Solicitor-General cannot reply to that question, then we should have the Prime Minister here, and let him reply to it. Nothing is more dangerous for a Government than to shirk answering questions of that sort. It is well understood now that a gentleman in the position of the Secretary for Scotland ought to be where we could put questions to him and get replies, or bring influence to bear on him with regard to the local government of Scotland. This ought not to be a mere party question, for it is a question of administration. What we want in Scotland is what we have not got now— that is, good administration. It is not enough to have good laws unless you get good administration. I remember a saying of the late Mr. Gladstone, with regard to Ireland especially, that good administration is quite as necessary as good laws. We cannot blame the Government for not giving legislation, but we can blame them for not administering what laws we have got in the best interest of the people. I hope, therefore, we shall have some explanation of why the Secretary for Scotland is not here. We were told in the papers—we do not get much information anywhere else—that he was trying to strengthen Scottish business in the House of Lords. I hope he will do it. but we want him here all the same.
We have got about 60 out of the 72 Scottish Members in this House who are supposed to be Liberals. They are all very liberal, I admit. Some of them voted against our Land Bills. Those are the men who, as a rule, get rewarded. I suppose they know their book pretty well. But we have got 60 Liberals out of the 72, and I have no recollection up to the present of the Secretary for Scotland ever consulting the Liberal Members as to what they would like in representing their constituents with regard to the government of Scotland. I may say that it does not appear to me to be fair or proper, or that 1480 you are likely thereby to get the best possible government you can in the country out of existing laws. I am not blaming the Government for not passing a Land Bill, although I have no doubt it is their business as administrators to introduce it. We have rather to complain that they have refused to accept land reform in regard to the Highlands when it was offered in the House of Lords, and therefore it makes the case rather weak to charge the Tory party with having done all the misdeeds. I heard the Member for Inverness-shire (Sir J. A. Dewar) complain very strongly about the Congested Districts Board. I have a right to complain about that Board, but I doubt whether he has any such right, because, according to the statement we have had here to-day, and in answer to questions before this House, Inverness-shire has got very nearly the entire of the money that the Congested Districts Board had to spend; and we, both in Sutherlandshire and other counties, complained strongly of the attitude of the Government as representing that Board in allowing nearly all their money to go to one county, and in refusing to help in other places, and I would like to have some explanation of it. The Lord Advocate never touched that question at all, though it was strongly and categorically brought before the Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. J. Weir). I hope that the Solicitor-General will show a little more liberality in the matter, and tell us something about it. This money is voted by Parliament to be distributed fairly over the congested districts. I want to know why it nearly all goes into one particular district, and why the others are entirely neglected?
We have been asking in Sutherland shire for some improvements in piers and lights for the benefit of the fishing trade, and above all for the safety of life and limb, and we get nothing. So far as Sutherland is concerned, we get less now than we got under the Tory Government. The Tory Government just before the election gave us some steamboats. Some people said they were election steamboats. But if the Liberal Government had done their duty they would have completed the work and equipped the steamboats which we had got. But when the Liberal Government came into power it took these boats away. It refused to do anything whatever in the matter. As far as I know, up to the present we have not got a pennyworth from this Congested Districts Board during the whole time that the present Government 1481 has been in power. I am glad to admit that we have got something from a Department which is not under the Scottish Office. The Postmaster-General, I am only anxious to admit, has done something for us. He has improved the postal arrangements and the telegraph arrangements, and we meet from him sympathy and goodwill in carrying out improvements for the benefit of the people. I should like to see the Scottish Office follow the example of the Postmaster-General, and instead of merely looking after their own official affairs do something for the people, and, above all, see that in the expenditure of this public money there is no favouritism. No doubt something has been done in regard to education for the benefit of the people. It is very unfortunate that we have not got the Secretary for Scotland here. We do not want to blame the Lord Advocate or Solicitor-General for Scotland, because we know that it is not their business. All they can possibly do is to come here and tell us what somebody had told them outside. They take no responsibility, and know nothing about the matter. But it is exceedingly unfortunate for us that we have not got the people who are responsible for this work. Now I want to know why we cannot have from this Congested Districts Board or from some other Boards some grants to improve the piers to enable fishermen to carry on their dangerous business with the best safety that it is possible to give?
Up to the present we have got nothing, and I suppose we are not likely to get anything. All we are told is that we have got old age pensions. I do not see what that has got to do with the matter. We want other improvements besides old age pensions, and you must not forget that if we have got old age pensions it is the people who are giving that to the old people, and it is the people who are to pay for it. As far as that is concerned, I hold one side about as guilty as the other with regard to old age pensions; and, at any rate, both sides to a very large extent voted for that law, and I hope, of course, that it will be very useful to the old people and prevent many of them being driven to the workhouse. But we have heard a great deal to-day about rates, and there is no doubt, with the School Board rate added, which becomes higher and higher every year, that the rates are excessively high, and that when you come to the districts where the population is scattered and where they have so many 1482 miles of main roads to attend to, it is practically impossible to meet them out of the rates. In the county of Sutherland we have about 160 miles of main roads, besides other roads, and out of the rates it is practically impossible to keep them in order, and especially to make them fit for the use of motors such as we have at the present moment. We have applied over and over again to the Government to do something to help us. Up to the present they have refused to do anything. They have said that something is going to be done by and by—something in the Budget. What I am afraid of is that very little of that money will get as far as my Constituents 700 miles away; therefore I want to ask the Congested Districts Board to do what they are doing in some districts, that is, to give money for main roads. I heard the Lord Advocate a few minutes ago boasting that the Congested Districts Board had given money for main roads or other roads. It has not given it in Sutherland shire, which has as much right to it as any other county, and I want to know why we do not get a share of the money for these roads.
It is suggested by some people to-day that the only possible way of getting justice here is to rise up and break the law just like the people of Vatersay, and that the Government will then do something, but that until then the Government will not do anything. That is a very unfortunate state of affairs that law-abiding people, especially like the Highland population, because no part of the United Kingdom is so law abiding as the Highland counties— in fact, practically, we do without police altogether—and in those law-abiding counties it is a very shocking state of things if it is to be suggested to us by the Government themselves that the only possible way to get justice in this country is by breaking the law in some way or other. I should like to do justice without that. I do not know that I am quite prepared to do justice to the landlords in all cases, because that might mean hanging them or guillotining them as we do with Bills in this House, but I should like to see in a country like this that we should be able to get all necessary reforms carried out without it being necessary before they could be obtained that the law should be broken by somebody. I was very sorry to see in the papers the other day a correspondence between my hon. Friend the Member for Boss and Cromarty and various other parties, including the Prime Minister, with regard to the Government of Scotland. 1483 The Prime Minister, who ought to represent the Government, does not interfere as a Scotch Member with regard to the Scotch Office. He leaves it to its discretion. It is that discretion I want to upset, for it has done us no good whatever, and we certainly have the right to ask the Prime Minister, as a Scottish Member, and also the Scottish Members of the Government, that they will see that Scotland, which after all is to some extent the very best part of the United Kingdom, is not neglected as it has been in respect of administration. The Lord Advocate has not attempted to answer the various questions put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Weir) and by myself, but I suppose he knows that he could vote us down and that he need not take any notice of us. I am sure that is wrong, morally and in every other way. I am not sure, however, that it is wise; I am not at all certain that the Government are not losing their popularity in Scotland, compared with what it was in 1906, because of the way in which they are neglecting Scottish administration. I could mention a dozen cases where the people are neglected, and where the Government apparently trust too much to their two or three hundred majority.
This is the Vote for the salary of the Secretary for Scotland, and he is not responsible for the Government generally.
§ Mr. MORTON
I do not want to make it so, but I should like to make the Government responsible for Scotland. I should like to ask, under these circumstances, whether the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General for Scotland do not represent the Government here to-day I suppose I am right.
They do represent the Government, but they represent it with reference to the office of the Secretary for Scotland; they do not represent the Government generally outside of this Vote.
§ Mr. MORTON
I do not want to go outside the Vote, nor outside the administration coming under the Secretary for Scotland. I do say that we should get the very best we can for our money. I do 1484 not wish to overstrain the matter, but it is unfortunate that the Government, as they will find out to their cost, should neglect Scotland in the matter of administration. We know what they do in such a case as that of Vatersay, but we should like to see them do the same thing elsewhere, without finding it necessary to do it under compulsion. I hope the Lord Advocate will be induced before we get rid of this Vote to reply to some of the matters which he has not yet answered. I hope at any rate he will tell us why we have not got the Secretary for Scotland here, because that is a very special matter. Before we vote his salary it is very desirable that we should know where he is himself, and what he is doing. Everybody knows all over the world the loyal way in which the Liberal Members from Scotland have supported the Government, and if we ask now for some little consideration in regard to local government in Scotland, I think we ought to receive it. I am sure if the Government will turn their attention to these matters to which I and others have alluded it will not only be for the good of the country, but it will be good for themselves as a Government, and obviate the necessity of our complaining as we have to do. I hope in future that those who represent the Government will give us more time to discuss the local affairs of Scotland than we have had in the past. One of the complaints I should like to make to the Secretary for Scotland and to the Prime Minister, if they were here, is that during the four years of this Parliament we have never had the Law Officers Vote before us at all. I myself have desired to make a series of complaints against the department of the Law Officers, but we are guillotined out of existence, and we have no opportunity to bring these matters forward. I appeal to the Secretary for Scotland, wherever he is, to see that in future we get an adequate opportunity of discussing these Votes.
§ Mr. J. P. BOLAND
We have had a discussion purely on the Congested Districts Board, under the Vote for the Secretary for Scotland's salary. I wash to touch upon another question.
I understand the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise the question of education. That subject arises on the third Vote.
§ Mr. MORTON
Are we to get no reply at all from the Lord Advocate or from the 1485 Solicitor-General for Scotland? It is exceedingly unusual that they should not reply to these questions. I hope they will reply.
§ Mr. MORTON
He has made no reply to my observations, nor has he made any reply to the questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty. If the right hon. Gentleman wanted to make only one reply he should have given us an opportunity of putting to him the various points we desired to raise before making his reply.
I did not observe any of the hon Member's questions that were not referred to in the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
§ Mr. WEIR
My hon. Friend is entitled to some reply on the points he has made. I happened to be out for a few minutes when the right hon. Gentleman made his reply, and I am now informed that he made no answer to the question I put. I should be glad to have some reply on those points. I wish to know whether the views of the Secretary of Scotland and the Lord Advocate with regard to the purchase of the island are antagonistic, or has the Lord Advocate changed his views? Another point on which I ask for information was that relating to the 20,000 acres of land in Lewis which is not under lease. I want to know what is to become of it. Has the right hon. Gentleman had any communication with the proprietor about it. I also call attention to the fact that on 6th July Lord Pentland went over the island and suggested a practical scheme of leasing land for new holdings. I further pointed out that the Secretary of the Congested Districts Board was too much in Edinburgh, and that the Board should have a secretary who would devote the whole of his time to the work. I have noticed before that to abstain from replying does not eventually pay the Government. After four years' consideration Lord Pentland, who was in favour of a scheme of migration, has suddenly changed his mind.
Order, order! The hon. Member is now referring to points on which the Lord Advocate has already given a reply.
§ Mr. WEIR
I am very glad to hear it. I understood from my hon. Friend the 1486 Member for Sutherlandshire that no reply was given. I am very glad to hear from you, Sir, that those points have been answered. No notice, however, has been taken of the points put forward by the hon. Member for Sutherland shire. I do not think it is fair treatment of any Member of this House for a Minister to remain silent and take no notice whatever, as if you were speaking to a piece of wood.
§ Mr. URE
I did not observe the hon. Member for Sutherland shire rise at the time, or I should not have replied then. With regard to the question of the hon. Member for Ross raised, there was, as he knows, a change of policy on the part of the Congested Districts Board. Up till last year the Congested Districts Board proceeded on the assumption that they were not entitled to purchase and hold land and let it to crofters. That difficulty arose with regard to Vatersay when the Secretary for Scotland found that there was no other means of settling that difficulty except by purchasing the island. He asked the opinion of the Law Officers with regard to the power of the Congested Districts Board to hold land and to let it out to the crofters. My predecessor in office considered the question carefully, examined the Act of Parliament, and came to the conclusion that the Congested Districts Board had the power under the Statute of 1897 to purchase land, hold land, and let it out in small holdings. Until he gave that opinion, that question, so far as I am aware, had never been considered by the Law Officers. I hope that is a complete answer to the question. With regard to Lewis: The Congested Districts Board have no powers of compulsory purchase, and unless the proprietors are willing to break up their land into small holdings, it is impossible for the Congested Districts Board to force that operation on them. They have done their best, but unless proprietors meet them it is impossible for them to divide up the land to the extent which it has been done in other parts.
§ Mr. URE
I did not say it was. I said the Congested Districts Board had done their best to get land split up, and it is owing to no unwillingness on their part that they have not been able to do so. The hon. Member for Sutherland asked why it was the Secretary for Scotland was not here. He has gone to another place.
§ Mr. MORTON
I thank the Lord Advocate for his courtesy in replying. There is one question that he has not answered: I asked whether he would not see that this money was fairly divided amongst the other counties, which were as much entitled to it as Inverness.
§ Mr. MORTON
I would ask the Lord Advocate whether he would use his influence with the Secretary for Scotland to see that Inverness does not get all the money, but that other counties have a fair share. I know the money is limited, but that is no reason why it should all go to one county.
§ Question put, and agreed to.