§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £10,802, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1911, 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." [NOTE.—£25,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Sir JOHN DEWAR
I beg to move to reduce the Vote for the salary for the Secretary for Scotland by £100.
It is not a very pleasant thing to have to move an Amendment of this kind, but I must say that unless some cases of gross injustice which have arisen in Scotland are remedied I shall have to insist on this Amendment, and vote for it in the Division Lobby. It is idle for us to deny that there is a great deal of irritation and dissatisfaction prevailing in Scotland owing to the present administration of the Scottish Office. It is felt that there is a great deal of dilatoriness and delay, and that a policy of letting things slide in connection with the management of the Scottish Office and Scottish affairs is adopted. The time has come when we ought to have some assurance upon these matters, and unless 876 a new policy is adopted a very serious condition of things will be found to exist in Scotland.
The two questions to which I shall have to draw the attention of the Government involve more or less matters of detail, but they illustrate pretty well what I said when I pointed out that things were allowed to drift, and there is a want of courage and of willingness to adequately tackle matters in a broad and fair way. First of all, I wish to direct attention to affairs in the Island of Skye, where for a very small matter some thirty-five crofters are threatened to be put in gaol. The Congested Districts Board own a property and a farm there which became available for the enlargement of small holdings. Thirty-five crofters applied for this farm to be divided up amongst them for the purposes of the extension of their holdings, and the Congested Districts Board agreed to this course. There was some dispute and controversy between the parties as to whether the Congested Districts Board said the farm was to be divided up or not. It came to this, the Congested Districts Board gave 398 acres of the farm to the crofters, and they kept in their own hands sixty-three acres. These sixty-three acres are all arable land which the crofters really wanted, and they gave the crofters the lowland and the hillside which the crofters were willing enough to use but which was not of nearly as much value as the sixty-three acres. Thirty-five crofters were summoned and convicted and sent to prison because of this small difference of opinion between the two bodies. Of course, the Crofters Commission must be obeyed, its decision is final and from it there is no appeal. I want to draw attention to the special circumstances in connection with this case. The Crofters Commission is the body that has to settle all disputes between landlords and tenants and it has the confidence and the support of the landlords and the tenants alike. Most 877 unfortunately the Congested Districts Board which owns this property has two members upon the Crofters Commission so that the crofters appeal from this Board came before a tribunal which had for its members two of the crofters' landlords and consequently the crofters have not the confidence in the decision of that tribunal that they ought to have. I do not believe that the situation has had any effect whatever upon the two gentlemen who are members of the Congested Districts Board and who belong to the Crofters Commission, or that they were in any way influenced, but it is a matter which needs remedying, and it is not fair to ask these crofters in a dispute with the Congested Districts Board to take as their court of appeal, and the only court to which they can appeal, a body which has among its members two of their landlords.
The crofters made a most reasonable request to have the matter referred to arbitration and they mentioned three men in whom they have confidence. Their request was refused and the Congested Districts Board proceeded to the utmost extremity of the law. It is a great pity that the Congested Districts Board did not adopt a more reasonable attitude. It is not possible to say whether the Crofters Commission was right or wrong, but I think it is a pity that the Congested Districts Board should refuse the request to have an independent tribunal appointed to deal with the matter. I am strongly of opinion that the Congested Districts Board and the Crofters Commission should not be as it were the same body. In this case they are the same body. Such an arrangement may perhaps save a little money, but it would be the greatest misfortune if operations like these were to taint the opinion of the Crofters Commission in the Highlands.
The other question to which I desire to draw special attention is the burden of rates in the Western Hebrides. What I have said about the present management of the Scottish Office applies to this case also. It stands on one side with folded arms and does nothing. The condition of affairs has been brought to the attention of the Scottish Office for years and years, but things have only got worse. They refuse to tackle the question. The present burden of rates in the Western Hebrides is such as to paralyse and to render impossible any progress or reform which is so earnestly desired. The Scottish Office has refused to face this state of things. I have only to mention the 878 speech made by the Secretary for Scotland in the last election to show the hopeless and helpless character of affairs which exists in the Western Hebrides, and I may say incidentally that that speech did not add to the popularity of the Liberal candidates. The Scottish Office is apparently without resource, and unless we can get assurances that something is to be done, and that these questions shall be seriously tackled, I shall be prepared to go into the Division Lobby against the Government to-night.
What is the special case to which I draw attention? It is the condition of affairs in South Uist. I have only to mention one or two details to show how extraordinary that state of affairs is. The rate proposed to be imposed there for education alone was 11s. 4d. Last year the rate was 2s. 4½d., and that is 1s. above the average for Scotland. The rates here are 23s. 4d. in the £, and over and above that there is a Land Tax and a Heritor's Tax of 2s., which brings the tax up to something like 25s. 4d. in the £ in that parish. A rate of this amount for education was never contemplated by anybody. One shilling and sixpence in the pound is supposed to be the extreme limit in places where the necessitous parish begins. In this parish 11s. 4d. in the £ is the rate proposed, and the Scottish Office is going to impose that sum and carry it through.
In reply to a question which I put in regard to this rate of 11s. 4d. in the £, the Lord Advocate said that this figure gave a very unfair idea as to what the real rate was, because, first of all, there was to be taken into account a reduction of 40 per cent. I have looked up the local taxation fund and I find the reduction is 35 per cent. May I point out with regard to this point that there is a reduction in every parish in Scotland varying from 20 to 30 per cent. The difference between the rate in this particular parish and the other parishes of Scotland is not the difference between the gross rate and the rental of 60 per cent., but a difference between a reduction of 25 per cent. and 35 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman also points out that five-eights of the local rate are deducted under the Agricultural Rating Act. May I remind the Committee that every agricultural parish in Scotland gets that advantage, and the net rates are reduced in this way in every other parish whether they be rich or poor, so that these poor ratepayers in the Western Hebrides are 879 not in any better position. It is said that the rents are very small, but that fact indicates very strongly the poverty of the district. The rent amounts to something like £1 per head, and I think that is an indication of extreme poverty and inability to pay any rate approaching 11s. or 12s. in the £. What I complain of is that the Government is the cause of this high rate. What has caused a great increase this year is that the Government and the Congested Districts Board have been carrying out a system of land settlement, and the policy adopted has involved the building of additional schools and the provision of additional school teachers. Why did the Government not foresee that the carrying out of their scheme of land settlement would involve the ratepayers in this unfair and cruel impost? The attention of the Government was drawn to this matter, and what has been done amounts almost to a breach of faith. In a letter in the Press, from Lady Gordon Cathcart, there appeared the following passage:—When negotiations for breaking up farms and creating new crofter holdings were in progress, I pointed out to the representatives of the Government that it would be necessary to provide new schools, and I stipulated that the Congested Districts Board should give a grant in aid of the exceptional expenditure. The representatives of the Congested Districts Board were sympathetic, and a Clause was introduced in the agreement that the Board would favourably consider a request for a grant, but the solicitor of the Board being doubtful as to the legal powers of the Board, introduced a saving Clause to the effect that the Board were in doubt as to their power to make such a grant, and in no way bound themselves to do so.The Public Accounts Committee decided that the Congested Districts Board had no power to assist in the erection of the schools, but surely the resources of the Government are not exhausted, and if the Congested Districts Board were willing to spend money for this object it ought to have been found. Up till last year every necessitous school district received through the School Board a special grant, and such a grant would have supplied the money required in this case. In the parish I have alluded to there are two boards struggling to do their best. The Congested Districts Board make small holdings, and the Education Department make demands upon the ratepayers, and the result is a crushing and most unjust rate. What I complain of is that the Government in this matter sit with folded arms and leave these two public bodies to fight this matter out. I hear that they are to spend hundreds of pounds in a Court of Session case. The Scotch Office ought to have stepped in in order to prevent this dispute 880 being taken into Court. I will read what the parish council say on this point:—The parish council, who are intimately acquainted with the circumstances of the ratepayers, believe and aver that even if they were to comply with the demands of the school board, it would be useless to impose a rate of 11s. 4d. in the £ for education purposes, in addition to the other rates above set forth. Experience has shown that when high rates are imposed in South Uist the ratepayers, many of whom are small crofters and fishermen, are quite unable to pay.These defenders are satisfied that if they were to impose an assessment on the parish calculated to raise the sum of £1,600 for educational purposes, not only would it be impossible to collect that assessment, but an attempt to do so would imperil the collection of the other parish rates which would fall to be included in the same demand note. These defenders have seriously taken into their consideration the situation brought about by the pursuers, and they are convinced from their intimate knowledge of local affairs that an assessment for the purpose of raising the sum of £500 for educational purposes, in addition to other local assessments, is the largest amount that can possibly be collected during the current financial year, and that even such an assessment will be a very heavy burden for the parish to bear.If the demand of the pursuers is persisted in, the result will be that the whole machinery for collecting assessments in the parish will break down without accomplishing the object of the pursuers.The Scotch Office ought not to have allowed this question to get into such a position. The parish council has resigned because they are not willing to levy a rate of £1 3s. 4d. in the £. I hope it is not true that the Scotch Office have adopted the stupid, cruel, and oppressive course which has been mentioned, because it will only result in disaster. No doubt the rate may be collected from the proprietors, but it can only be done at the sacrifice of all sense of justice and of effectually stopping any increase of small holdings, not only in the Hebrides, but in any part of the Highlands. It is not to be expected that a proprietor will voluntarily arrange for an increase of small holdings if he knows the result is almost certain to be such an unreasonable increase in his rates. I do not know how much of this rate the Government officials will be able to collect from the smaller ratepayer, but I should think it would be very little. I am sure the moral effect of Government officials collecting an education rate of 11s. 4d. in the £ at the point of the bayonet will be most disastrous. Such a course is opposed to the policy of land reform which was laid down by Sir Henry Campbell - Bannerman, who assured the House that none of the cost of the creation of small holdings would be allowed to fall upon the landowners, but would be borne by the Imperial Exchequer. Notwithstanding this pledge, the Government, by the course they are adopting, are putting a charge of hundreds of pounds on the owner of this 881 estate as well as on other ratepayers. I have brought to the notice of the Committee a concrete case for which, so far as I can see, the Scotch Office can have no defence. The Government itself by its own act forces upon these people an expenditure which, if it is to be met out of the rates, will entail a rate for education alone of 11s. 4d. per £, a charge on the local resources never contemplated by any Government and a charge which I am certain could not be exacted anywhere else in the Kingdom. The Education Department, too, I think is to blame. Last year it passed an Act removing from the necessitous districts the relief which would have met the case. If the Scotch Office is without resource and sees no way of meeting this difficulty except by inflicting a rate of 11s. 4d. upon, perhaps, the poorest parish in the country, then the feeling of irritation and injustice to which I have referred has been amply justified.
MARQUESS of TULLIBARDINE
I beg to second the Amendment, and the fact that I do so shows there is a good deal of uniformity of opinion among Scotch Members on both sides of the House with regard to the question. We are all agreed that this question of the West Coast should be settled once and for all. We may have different ideas as to how it is to be done, but all Scotch Members are sincerely anxious to see this land question settled, and we are certainly getting very tired of the muddling which has been going on. There are one or two questions I should like to ask with regard to the Congested Districts Board. In 1905–6 the total rates in Barra, exclusive of the Landed Property Tax, came to 20s. in the £, and everybody thought the limit had been reached, but apparently that was not the case. The crofters have been relieved of their rates so far as their houses are concerned, but still their burden is considerable; and, inasmuch as they have been given this relief, the burdens falling on others—shopkeepers, hotel-keepers, and tradesmen—have been increased. Quite lately, as the hon. Member who has just sat down has pointed out, in South Uist the education authorities made a demand for 11s. 4d. in the £, bringing the total parish rates up to the ridiculous sum of £1 3s. 4d. for every £ of assessable value. Of course, the result has been an absolute deadlock. It will be remembered that a short time ago, when the rates in East Ham reached 2s. in 882 the £, there was immediately a commotion in this country, and a measure was passed by which they were reduced. Hon. Members who are not aware what has been happening in Scotland will reasonably ask why we do not do the same thing there. We do not for a very good reason. The Secretary of State for Scotland, in his wisdom, has seen fit to do away with this provision so far as it applies to Scotland, and because of his patriotic action, and his action alone, we are debarred from getting any relief of this sort in the matter of education such as is given to far richer districts in England. I should like to ask the Lord Advocate if he approves of this, and, if not, why he has not done something to try to get it remedied? Of course, all the Education Department is responsible for is the education of the people. You cannot blame them, and in this case I think they have the greatest sympathy with the ratepayers.
It is all right when there is a gradual development in any district such, for instance, as you have in England on economic lines, and where there is plenty of money behind the people, but up in that part of the country there is a perfectly different state of things. There you have a certain migration of people from one part the country to another part. It is usually engineered by the Government for the purpose of making settlements, and it is only right they should be prepared to pay the initial cost. The real trouble began when the present Secretary of State for Scotland took up the matter. Confusion then immediately became worse confounded. The surplus population was removed from one district to another, and people of another species of surplus population moved themselves and took the land themselves. The Secretary of State for Scotland is afraid to turn them out, although he has got decrees against them. You cannot expect the Education Department to take account of what the people are who are there. All they have got to do is to educate them. The hon. Member opposite quoted a case in South Uist where the proprietor, in return for certain facilities, was promised help by the Congested Districts Board with regard to the school rates, though I should add, in all honour to them, that they said there would perhaps be a legal quibble, but no doubt it could be adjusted. We see now in this particular district an education rate of 11s. 4d. and total rates of 23s. 4d., and no help whatever from the Government. They 883 have ordered new schools to be built and they are going to enlarge others at a total cost of over £3,000, and this district, one of the poorest districts in Scotland, has to find £1,502 this year. It is quite unfair, if they are going to have surplus schemes of this sort, that the Government should expect the ratepayers, already overburdened, to pay, especially as it is very doubtful whether the schemes are going to be a success. The result, of course, is an absolute deadlock. The parish council were ordered to raise this ridiculous rate of 23s. 4d. They tried to explain that our sovereigns are only worth 20s. and that it was impossible to do it. The Board of Education had to insist, and the parish council were brought up before the sheriff and prosecuted. He said he was very sorry, and he quite agreed the case was scandalous, but at the same time he had to convict. They appealed to the court of sessions. The judge was sympathetic, but he proceeded, metaphorically, to hang them. Hon. Members can be quite certain he was not sympathetic from a political point of view, because not long ago the same gentleman occupied the position now so ably filled by my hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Ure).
We want to know what the Lord Advocate is going to do with regard to the parish council. Is he going to put the parish council in prison, or is he going to sit and hold his hands? It is a difficult position and we all sympathise with him, but we want to know what he is going to do. Meanwhile they have not dared to take further proceedings against the parish council, although they have been found wrong. The only thing they are doing is to supersede the parish council and to send down two officials to run South Uist and to collect these rates. May I ask whether these officials are insured or whether they come under the Employers' Liability Act? We hear a great deal, especially from hon. Members below the Gangway, of "the land for the people." I sometimes think their knowledge of that question begins and ends there; but how are you possibly going to settle people on the land if you saddle them with rates of 23s. 4d. in the £? It is perfectly absurd. You want to do away with the present landlords and to get the people on the land, and yet you are going to make them pay rates of 23s. 4d. If you insist upon a certain standard of education in these outer islands, you must be prepared to pay for your schemes and raise the money in some 884 way or other. I do not mind how it is, or whether it is done by the Congested Districts Board. That Board is at present allowed to pay away money under all sorts of heads—poultry, fish, piers, and so on. If the scheme is good, surely the initial expenditure will be justified; and, if the scheme is not a good one, then the Government have no right to make the ratepayers pay.
There are a few points in this Report of the Congested Districts Board on which I should like to ask the Lord Advocate for a little explanation. On page 7 the Kilmuir estate is mentioned. There you see the area stated to be so many thousand acres. If you turn over to the next page you again see under the reference to Magnersta Farm, Uig, Mr. Macintyre, of the Crofters Commission, was informed that the area of arable land was 1,920 acres, although the Royal Commission had stated it was 2,692 acres. Again, a little further down on the same page you find it is stated the farm of Reef is said to contain about 600 acres. It was urged by the applicants, and they were strengthened in their position by the fact that the Reef was scheduled by the Highlands and Islands Commission as suitable for new holdings, but the present Congested Districts Board say:—It is no doubt the fact that this Commission did schedule the greater part of this farm as suitable for the formation of crofts, but the report we obtained from an expert after an inspection of the farm, confirmed by a visit to the farm of two of our members satisfied us that Reef is not suitable for crofters' holdings.That is a rather curious commentary on a Commission upon whose Report hon. Members opposite very often lay the foundation of many of the remarks they make with reference to deer forests. I would like to ask if there are any more inaccuracies behind? This is a matter which affects only a few square miles. Are there similar cases to be found in the rest of Scotland? On page 8 of the same Report there is a reference to an experimental farm proposed to be established at Scuddaburgh. You find the Commissioners in this case granting three-quarters or more of the farm for the settlement of crofters, but sixty-three acres were left, which apparently they were unable to let or to do anything else with. The Commissioners point out that this remainder of sixty-three acres, together with the farm buildings, which no doubt were in proportion to the size of the original farm, would constitute a desirable croft, as it contained excellent arable land, and might be 885 used "as an experimental or model croft in order to demonstrate how improved methods of agriculture, carried out under skilful management, would add to the productiveness of the soil in Skye." I really do suggest there has been enough money already wasted without making an experimental farm of that sixty-three acres in order to instruct the inhabitants of Skye how to plant the very few things they can plant in that part. Why has this sixty-three acres not been leased as a croft? What rent has been got for this land during the last year, and to what purposes has it been put? We do not so much care to know what is going to happen in the future; we are more anxious to learn what has been done with it in the past, and to what purpose it is being applied at present.
On page 9 of the Appendix in the reference to the Kilmuir estate, there is the most extraordinary sum I have ever come across. It is almost impossible to make head or tail of it, because the amount put down as capital expenditure includes, among other things, the rates paid on the farm, and the general total of what has been spent ever since the farm was taken over amounts to £147,578 2s. 1d. I want to know exactly what return there was for this last year, and what rent was received? We are told it is being worked on economic lines. If so, there ought at least to be some return to the Government for the money which they have spent on it. On page 8 of the Appendix, under the heading Vatersay Potato Ground, we find this potato ground costs £734 7s. 7d. The cost of the purchase of the island was £11,820, giving a total cost of £12,554 for this El Dorado in the Atlantic. The land is divided amongst fifty-eight crofters, and the total rent fixed by the Commissioners was £180, being at the rate of £3 2s. 9d. per holding. I want to ask, is this all the expenditure that is to be made on this productive spot? Have satisfactory houses been built, or are there any other loans which the Government will have to make in that respect? I want further to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, having settled fifty-eight crofters of this new estate of Lord Pentland, they will not have to build a school there? My information is that the crofters settled here have come from a district, less desirable, perhaps, where there was a school which was put up by the Board of Education, and now that they have migrated to Vatersay, that school is practically empty. I want 886 to know whether the Government will not find it necessary to build a school at Vatersay? If there is to be a school there who is going to pay for it. In this case the Government is one of the principal landlords. Where is the money for the school coming from? Will it be supplied from the rates, or are the Government going to make a Grant straight away? We have heard whispers about the grant of £300 from somewhere. Is the right hon. Gentleman proposing to give £300, or any other sum to Vatersay? If so—if they mean thus to override the Act—why cannot they do the same thing in South Uist? The rent of the Island of Vatersay before it was purchased by the Government was £320, and that rent was accepted as fair value by the Secretary for Scotland when he agreed to pay £12,000 for the island. He has now reduced the rents from £350 to £180, which is the present rental value of the island I suppose the Lord Advocate will urge in extenuation that fifty-eight families have been put on this land. I want to ask, are these families happy and contented? Are they paying their rents? If so, I have nothing more to say. May I suggest, in regard to this question of rents, that it should not be very difficult for the crofters to pay £3 2s. 9d. annually by doing decent work on the holding. If they do pay all right, the Government may claim success for their scheme perhaps, but if they are not paying, and if, on the contrary, they are grumbling and almost in a state of mutiny, as has been suggested in some quarters, how can the Government claim that the scheme has been successful?
In former Reports of the Congested Districts Board we used to see such stereotyped phrases as "We regret to see," or "Serious attention has been drawn." In this Report we find the same sort of thing. On page 12 we are told, "We have had to take proceedings against certain selected defaulters for arrears." Surely the success of this scheme must depend on whether the people are contented or not, and a scheme under which it is necessary to take such proceedings cannot be successful. The arrears from March, 1909, to March, 1910, have increased from £3,941 to £4,710, or 29 per cent.; therefore, although the rent has been enormously reduced, it is clear the tenants are not paying, and the arrears are growing every year. You may let a man off his rent for a special year, but to do it systematically is not good for the individuals themselves 887 or for the place. When the tenants find that they can go on defying the law, that they can avoid paying rent, and that they can get everything for nothing, the result is to hang a millstone around the neck of the scheme and to deprive the Government of its interest. As a result of the action of the right hon. Gentleman in taking over the sheep stock and turning the ground from an economic purpose into an uneconomic purpose, the right hon. Gentleman has incurred a cost of over £10,000. I certainly do not see any equivalent in the return, neither do I see any equivalent in the happiness of the tenants, and I must say I think the people up there will prove to be not very far wrong in their contention that in a mental photograph the Secretary for Scotland ought to be placed in juxtaposition to the nine of diamonds.
§ Mr. AINSWORTH
I observations of the last two speakers, and I feel confident that all the Members from Scotland here to-day will be prepared to accept what has fallen from them as coming from men who thoroughly understand the question now before the Committee. It is a matter which I should like to have seriously considered, and I particularly wish to impress upon hon. Members who have no special connection with Scotland the fact that the circumstances under which people live in Scotland differ so materially from those which obtain in other parts of the United Kingdom as to intensify the difficulty of carrying out the machinery of local government. The fact is the districts are so poor and so sparsely populated in many parts that there are no funds by means of which that machinery can be worked. The rateable value per head of population for the whole of Scotland works out at £6 per head, but there are parishes in the Highlands where it is under 20s. per head. Hon. Members will be able to see for themselves that in cases where you have to deal with a rateable value per head of under 20s. you cannot possibly carry on those forms of local government in the same way and to the same extent as they are carried on in other parts of the country, where the rateable value rises to £6 per head. It is clear that under these circumstances to carry on local government matters such as education and water supply is out of the question. More funds are necessarily wanted, and must be obtained. Where are they to be got from? You cannot get 888 them from the inhabitants; you cannot get blood out of a stone; and therefore it has been proposed that the local areas should be enlarged. Instead of collecting the rates from the parish you might collect them from the district or from the county, or, if you like, some other area; and if you do that you will at once, to a very considerable extent, get out of the difficulty. On the other hand, if you cannot do that, the only resource is to keep on as at present; but the point you have to consider is that somehow or other the Government must be prepared to face the fact that the money to carry on the local government of these districts which are so unfortunately placed must be provided by them. There are only two sources of employment in the locality, and a man must either rely upon the land or the sea; and if the Government is to step in and find money to run the local government in these unfortunate parishes, I think it is quite entitled to go to the proprietors, whom I would like to remind the House have continued as proprietors to pay rates which they are not called upon to do in any other part of the United Kingdom, and ask them to help them in aiding these districts. They are entitled to ask the proprietors to help them in every possible way, whether in the way of active employment of the people on the land or on the sea; and I am sure the proprietors would be willing to do all that they could.
The only authority we have at present is the Congested Districts Board, and I certainly agree with hon. Members who have spoken in thinking that the Government might do something to bring the machinery of that Board in some way or another up to date. At present the Congested Districts Board has certain funds, and if they have not got enough it is very easy to give them more. They have also certain powers, and if those powers are not sufficient to enable them to deal with these cases it is very easy for Parliament to increase them, and I would certainly make an appeal to the Government and to the Lord Advocate to say that they will do that. If the Government are not able—and we all understand that at the present moment it is not easy to deal with any large and important scheme—they would certainly have time to deal to a certain extent with the problems which are before them at the present moment by increasing the powers of the Congested Districts Board and the funds at their disposal. I would just like to say that in the 889 constitution of the Board the Government might also make very decided improvements. We know that it is only what is called an honorary Board. No one on the Board is paid, and therefore it stands in complete disagreement with other bodies of this sort, and it is not the interest of anybody who is a member of it to give himself a great deal of trouble. The meetings of the Board, we are told, take place occasionally. A great many people have to be consulted, and it is not easy to get a quorum. I would implore the Government to realise that this is not a question which can be allowed to stand over. Every day the necessity for action increases, and every day a portion of the most valuable resources which we have, namely, the population of these parts, leaves our shores and our country. Whatever may be the difficulties of the problem of securing the land for the people, it should not be an insuperable task. I would beseech the Government to take the Congested Districts Board severely in hand, and give them money and give them power, which can easily be done by a short Act of Parliament, which can be run through both Houses in a few hours. If the right hon. Gentleman will further undertake to be responsible for the actions of the Board, we will undertake to keep him and his Board up to the mark in every way.
§ Mr. GEORGE YOUNGER
I am sure there is no Member of the Committee who would not be inclined to agree that the Report which we are now dealing with, that of the Congested Districts Board, is an extremely depressing document. For a good many years now the Congested Districts Board have been making experiments of one kind or another, and they are this year, as in previous years, obliged to confess that in a very great many of those cases the experiments have not been by any means successful. I agree with the hon. Baronet opposite that the situation generally in the West of Scotland, particularly with regard to the excessive rating in many of the parishes, has become so acute and is getting so much more widely spread that it is really time that the Scottish Office and the Government adumbrated some kind of scheme to deal with the appalling state of things which now exists. I put a question on the Paper the other day asking for the total rating in the case of the three parishes of Barvas, Uig, and Lochs, in the Island of Lewis, in which I took some interest two or three 890 years ago, and I have just this moment had sent to me an answer to the question. The Department had not the information in time to put it on the Paper, and they have been kind enough to send it to me, and I find that the increase is very, very great in these parishes. At the time that I last spoke of them, in 1907, the totals were very large, but in these parishes we have now got the rates up to considerably over 20s. in the £. I notice that they are 28s. 9d. in one case and 25s. in another, and that is on a reduction of the gross rental. The state of the case is so bad that the proprietor of the Island of Lewis has been practically starved out of his property, and he is now living in a very quiet way elsewhere, because every shilling of his rental is swallowed up by rates, and he has an additional heavy burden in the shape of arrears of £15,000 or £16,000 of judicial rents which have not been paid. He has, however, to pay the additional entire local rating, although he has not received the money. The matter has been brought forward on two or three occasions in this year, and we appealed to the Secretary for Scotland to do something, but there has been that masterly inactivity exhibited since then which distinguishes the Scottish Office in most things. And we are not only in the same position that we occupied, but we have had the addition of one or two very serious cases.
The situation, I suppose, is one in which the Treasury plays a large part, but it is one in which the Scottish Members themselves ought to play a large part. I do not know why it is that Scottish Members on both sides of the House in a matter of this kind cannot meet together and force the hands of the Government. I am quite sure there would be no indisposition on the part of my hon. Friends on this side to do anything they could, along with their Friends opposite, to enforce our views upon the Government. Is it to be said that if we did act in that way and tell the Government that we are determined to all vote against them, that we should not get something? I think the time has come when we should do that. It is not a long time ago that a Member of the Government said to me that if we only acted all together as the Irish Members did, we should be able to drain the Treasury in the same scientific manner that Ireland is doing. Until we do so we shall have the same masterly inactivity which the right hon. Gentleman with his great ability will expound, but of which I know in his 891 inmost heart he must disapprove. I wish to ask a few questions about one or two other points. First of all about the question of arrears, which show a very steady increase. The Noble Lord the Member for West Perth has already read out the figure, and there is an increase of some £800 in this year in the arrears in one place. One of the most unsatisfactory features in this particular part of the Report is this, that the Board itself, in calling serious attention to the backward state of the payments, use this very significant phrase:—We have reason to believe that these people could have met their obligations in a much more satisfactory manner than they have done.That is a very serious thing to say in an official report of this kind. Does it mean that these people are deliberately refusing to pay obligations which they are perfectly able to pay, if a certain amount of pressure is put upon them? It must mean that, and I should like to ask why that pressure has not been put upon them, and also whether it is that the Congested Districts Board does not get any backing from the Secretary for Scotland in putting that pressure on. Because if they deliberately say that in a report, it is apparent that these people are being allowed to shirk obligations which they are perfectly able to meet. Then I want to ask a question or two on the subject of Vatersay, which, however, is a subject I do not suppose it is necessary to discuss at length. But if there ever was condemnation of the action of a Government Department in connection with any schemes of this sort, it is to be found at the very beginning of the Report, which is signed by the Secretary for Scotland, and which we are now discussing. At page 6 the Report says:—It is, of course, much cheaper for the Board to get the landlords to subdivide the farms than themselves to buy the land and subdivide it5.0 P.M.
The Committee will bear in mind that Lady Gordon Cathcart offered the Secretary of State to herself subdivide this island, and the only condition she laid down was that while he was getting all these rents he should pay the compensation to the sitting tenants. Surely it is very obvious to the Committee that if you want a condemnation of the movement you have it in page 6 of this Report, signed by Lord Pentland himself. I should not have mentioned this but for the fact that it seems to me that a little wisdom has at last been taught by bitter experience to the Scottish Office. 892 I want to ask one or two questions which were put to Lord Pentland the other day in the House of Lords in regard to certain information which, I think, he was unable to give in connection with the loss on sheep stock of £3,450. So far as I can make out he said the actual loss was £1,625, which, however did not include a half-year's rent of £175, so that the loss was really something like £1,800. If that is so, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell us what the balance of £3,400 represents. It must represent something. It is a very large sum, and we ought to know. Of course, one knows perfectly well that there must be a loss in reselling sheep stock. That is an outlay in connection with the development of properties of this kind, which neither the Scottish Office nor anyone else can avoid; and it must be regarded as part of the cost of developing this or any other property, and settling a good many people on it. But these figures are presented in such a form and lumped together in such a peculiar way that it is almost impossible to make head or tail of them, and it would be very interesting if the right hon. Gentleman could give some definite information about them. There also is not a single word in the Report about the present position and prospects of the settlers on the island. We do not know whether they are satisfied or otherwise. We are not told whether the rumours one heard some time ago about considerable difficulty and danger having arisen from sand-drift has any foundation in fact, and we have not been told a word about the educational position, what money is to be found for schools, how it is to be found, and what the cost generally is going to be. There are all sorts of rumours about Vatersay. We know that Lady Gordon Cathcart originally did not consider the island suitable for holdings of this class. It is said it is not proving suitable, and it would be satisfactory if the right hon. Gentleman were able to contradict those statements, which are certainly very prolific.
Then on the question of Kilmuir, it is impossible to get at the bottom of anything. These accounts are presented in the most extraordinary fashion. The capital charges in connection with the estate are shown to amount to £147,578. They involve a very large figure, sheep stock and one thing and another, and in the general expenses apparently arrears are included which, I presume, will be arrears of rent which were standing over 893 at the time the Government bought the property. If that is so I think the amount is £1,700. But the astounding entry is made of rates. Actually all the rates which the Government seem to have paid are lumped into one sum, and included in this £31,123 appears a part of the capital cost required to carry on the property. That is a most ridiculous way to present an account. No one can tell what the position is. There is no money here to show what the rental of the property is, there is nothing to show what we get for our £147,578, and there are no figures to show how the rents are being paid, what the amount of arrears is, or anything else. You have a total sum amounting to £46,000 extending over a period, I suppose, of seven or eight years, since the Government got the property, and that leaves a balance of £101,390.
I think the time has surely come, although it is perfectly true that the accounts have been presented for many years in this fashion, when the country and the House ought to know something about the real position of these various experiments and of these accounts. No man could ever find it out from this muddled up and astounding document which is presented annually by the Congested Districts Board. You include not only rent, but repayments of capital, as if they were rents, and you add in on the other side rates and everything of that kind, and you bring out a net balance at the end which represents nothing in creation, and you are left with an impossible task if you endeavour in any kind of way to find out how these experiments are succeeding or what is the cost of carrying on an uneconomic experiment of this kind in that particular district in order to ascertain whether the game is worth the candle or not. Until the accounts are presented in a proper and reasonable form no one will be able to tell. I do not at all wish to be captious in the matter. I recognise that the whole situation is one of great perplexity and difficulty, and I believe the Scottish Office have an extremely difficult task before them, even if they had the pluck to tackle it to-morrow. I should have great sympathy with them in doing it. I should not be at all critical. They have inherited a legacy of difficulty from their predecessors, and they have to deal with it now. It is becoming more acute, and it is no use to sit down and look at it. You have to deal with it somehow, and the right hon. Gentleman, with all his ability, 894 will find it an extremely difficult thing to justify the inactivity, the helplessness, and the nervousness of the administration, which we all regret so much, of the past year or two, and which I think is doing so much to aggravate the present difficulty. At the same time, the Secretary for Scotland may be assured of our sympathetic consideration in doing his best to tackle this difficulty, and if they require—as I think they will—to go to the Treasury for funds, they will have all the backing the Scottish Members can give them, and I earnestly press the right hon. Gentleman that he will, in conjunction with the Secretary for Scotland, do what he can to tackle the grave difficulty which has been brought before the House, and which, unless something is done, threatens to become a very serious and a very acute problem.
Mr. CATHCART WASON
I will not deal with the unfortunate position of these islands. The hon. Member (Mr. Ainsworth) struck the keynote of what should be the policy of the Government in regard to the Congested Districts Board when he said he thought their great duty was to try and keep these people on the land. I am sure anyone reading this Report of the Congested Districts Board must see that the whole of their trouble arises over the purchases of different estates from time to time, and this legacy was handed over to them by their predecessors. That will show Scottish Members, present and future, how extremely careful we ought to be in dealing with these questions of land purchase and land settlement. In many cases the Congested Districts Board can without difficulty cope with this question and confer a signal blessing to many communities by keeping the people upon the land. If, without going into these points of the purchases of estates, which are very poor reading indeed, seeing the enormous amounts of money which are overdue, hon. Members will consider what the Congested Districts Board has done, they will find that it has had a most beneficial effect. It has assisted in many cases in telegraph extensions, which have made life much more endurable and comfortable for the people in paths, piers, and various works.
I am specially desirous of calling my right hon. Friend's attention to a matter about which I have put a number of questions during the last twelve or eighteen months, and to which it is no reflection on him to say he has not been able to give me any satisfactory answer. I am sure 895 that is not his fault, but is due to the circumstances of the case. In one of the farthest spots in my Constituency there is an island of the name of Foula. It does not contain many families—I think only about forty—but they live under extremely difficult conditions. The only means of getting to the island is over twelve miles of very stormy ocean, and there is practically no pier or landing place of any sort. The late Secretary for Scotland, Lord Dunedin, sent a fishery cruiser there a few years ago, and was good enough to give me a passage on her. The sympathy of the Scottish Office and of the Congested Districts Board was enlisted. The Congested Districts Board, of course, cannot do work entirely of their own motion, and they have to be assisted by the local council. A certain amount of money had to be found locally. The people found all they could, and they then appealed to the outside world to get more. After much difficulty they succeeded in getting the statutory amount which was required to fulfil the conditions laid down by the Congested Districts Board, and the money was duly deposited in the bank. The landlord, as far as we know, up to that moment, had been extremely anxious to get the pier built, but after the Congested Districts Board had voted their subsidy, and after the public had subscribed, the landlord refused point-blank to give them their site. He claimed that he could not afford to do it. It is not a rich island, but still there was a moral obligation on his part to undertake the work. Seeing that this gentleman cannot afford to give the site unless he is guaranteed against any future loss, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to provide the very small sum of money which would enable the county council to give the proprietor the necessary indemnity which he must have before he will get the site. I am told it will only be about £100. In that way we shall get over the difficulty and the people in the island will enjoy the benefit of some little accommodation. If hon. Members had been out in an open boat on a rough ocean, seeing the land quite near but not being able to get to it because of the want of a pier, they would feel exceedingly sympathetic towards the islanders.
I wish to say a few words, again on the question of keeping the people on the land, in respect of the item under which the Congested Districts Board can aid and 896 develop the fishing industry. Some few years ago, at the solicitation of myself and others, Lord Dunedin instituted an experiment and purchased for the Congested Districts Board a motor boat. It was not, however, a success. Perhaps it was too heavy for the engines, so that we did not get the results we desired from this purchase. Things have changed since then, and the motor boats are very much more likely to be used in the future than they are being used now. What I think the Congested Districts Board might very well do in this matter would be to develop some scheme by which the fishermen who have now got boats of their own, instead of selling the boats for a mere song, should have some means provided by which motor engines could be fitted into them. There is one island in the Pentland Firth where the inhabitants were very desirous of getting a small motor into their boat. They appealed to the Congested Districts Board without success. Then an appeal was made to other people, and with some difficulty we got a motor to put into the boat. It cost £120, but if the boat had been sold it would hardly have brought the price of firewood. Once you put a motor into a boat, you have an exceedingly useful implement for fishing, carrying, or anything else. If the right hon. Gentleman could induce the Secretary for Scotland to formulate some scheme by which assistance could be given to men desirous of getting motors a great service would be rendered. In the case I have alluded to what happened was this. The fishermen agreed themselves to hand over their boat, motor, and whole equipment to trustees and they subscribed themselves as well, so that the public who subscribed could see that they were getting something for their money. That is one way in which assistance could be rendered by the Government to help people on the land.
There is one more point on which I wish to express an opinion, namely, in regard to the way in which the Congested Districts Board deal with stallions. I find that last year there was absolutely no Grant to either Orkney or Shetland in respect of this very important subject. Large Grants have been made to North Uist, Barra, Harris, Skye, and many other places in the Highlands, but to Shetland, where, above all places, we do want a special Grant from the Government, none was given. Hon. Members know that the crofters there are very poor and struggling 897 people, and they also know that the Shetland pony is a very valuable source of revenue to them. I think the Government might perfectly well continue in some form or another the grants which have been made in previous years for Shetland stallions. I am quite aware that the Congested Districts Board have been extremely considerate in many parts of Shetland in the past as regards this matter. They provided stallions for several districts at considerable cost, and they expected in time that the people would be able to secure the necessary animals for themselves. The people are poor, and when they are offered good prices for the ponies they are almost forced to sell. The position is this: in many places, I regret to say, it is almost impossible for a small crofter to get the use of a stallion without practically hypothecating his produce. That is an extremely objectionable state of affairs. If the Government would establish some local means in Shetland whereby services could be obtained, they would do immense good to the whole of the districts. The Secretary for Scotland appointed a committee of agricultural experts to inquire and report into this whole question. I interviewed one or two members of the Board on this subject, and if I did not get anything else I got their sympathy. Perhaps when their report is issued they will show that something may be done towards assisting the very poor districts of Shetland, and also that something may be done to maintain our breed of Shetland ponies, which is very valuable to the country.
§ Mr. A. F. WHYTE
I wish to join in the appeal made to the Lord Advocate for exceptional treatment of what is undoubtedly a highly exceptional case. The financial trouble in the outer islands is, after all, not a new thing, but by degrees it has grown worse and worse during the past three or four years, until now it is of such a nature as to demand that both sides of the House will not allow the time to slip away, and that it will be properly dealt with. The problem to be solved, of course, goes much deeper than any administrative action we can discuss to-day. It is a problem which has its roots both in the nature of the land and in the nature of the population that lives on the land. In the first place, as to the nature of the land, those who know it know quite well how difficult it would be even for the most sturdy and independent population 898 to extract a complete livelihood from it. There is an old story which runs that the outer islands were created late on a Saturday night, when the materials were running low, and when the Creator himself was tired. I think that admirably describes part of the problem which we ask the Scottish Office to deal with now. In discussing local burdens, speaking generally, I think we are entitled to take population as a fair index, not only of the burdens which have to be imposed, but also of the capacity of the people to bear those burdens. That is a perfectly just rule for an ordinary normal community, but it is a rule which does not apply in the case of the Highlands and Islands, for various reasons, the chief among them being that it is the people themselves who create the burdens, while they are absolutely unable to bear them, and should not be called upon to bear them. The question can be put in a clearer light if I point out that in the case of the richest parishes in Scotland the valuation is £40 per inhabitant, while in the poorest parishes it is rather less than 10s. It simply means that a rate of a penny in the £ in the richest parishes produces something like a hundred times as much as the same rate in the poorest parishes. I shall take the case of three parishes in the Lews, outside and excluding the parish of Stornoway. There are 15,900 people in the parishes of Barvas, Uig, and Lochs. Out of that number something like 6,000 or 7,000 are people who pay nothing whatever for their maintenance, and do nothing whatever to support the burden imposed on the community in which they live, though they are creators of the burden. I will recall a case which the Lord Advocate must have heard quoted many times before, in which two-thirds of the gross rental received by the landlord went in a particular year to meet the local burden. Out of the other third he had to pay the ordinary expenses of maintenance of the estate, Income Tax, and other calls upon his income.
§ Mr. A. F. WHYTE
As the hon. Member reminds me, he will now have to pay the Super-tax. Although that case is bad enough, it is really stated in its best light, because it was a prosperous year, when the owner succeeded in letting all the fishings and shootings, but if a comparatively small percentage of the lettable 899 shootings are not let, then the case practically represents absolute bankruptcy. As to the question whether there has been any substantial increase in the burdens, I would remind the Committee that on 14th July last year Major Anstruther Gray asked the Lord Advocate:—Whether he is aware that the rates in the parish of Barvas, in the island of Lewis, stand at 28s. in the £; and if so, whether he can see his way to take any steps to remedy this state of affairs.In reply, the Lord Advocate said:—The burden of the rates in Barvas and the other Lews parishes while undoubtedly great, has not substantially increased during the last three years, and has not increased beyond the average proportional increase of rates in Scotland during the last ten years. I cannot, on behalf of the Government, hold out the prospect of any special grant"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1909, col. 2,032.]The hon. and learned Gentleman said that it "has not substantially increased during the last three years." The hon. Member for Ayr Burghs (Mr. Younger) and the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Dewar) have both given figures showing how considerable has been the increase. I will take the increase in one particular direction, namely, the poor rate as it falls on occupiers. In the parish of Barvas in 1907–8 the poor rate was 8s. 8d., in 1909 it was 14s. 3d., an increase of 5s. 7d.; in Lochs, in 1907–8, it was 7s., in 1909 it was 10s. 7d., an increase of 3s. 7d.; in Uig in 1907–8 it was 7s. 1d., and in 1909 it was 8s. 1d., an increase of 1s. The same thing happened in the case of owners, except in Uig, where it was l¾d. lower. If I turn to the average poor rate for Scotland I find that it was 8½d. in 1900, 10¾d. in 1907, ll¼d. in 1908, and ll¼d. in 1909.
§ Mr. G. YOUNGER
I have here the most recently published figures. The poor rate in the parish of Barvas in 1907–8 was 14s., in 1908–9 £1 3s. 9d., and in 1909–10 £1 4s. 1¼d. That is the last three years.
§ Mr. A. F. WHYTE
I am indebted to the hon. Member for completing my figures. I was taking the burden as it falls on one class of the community only. According to the Lord Advocate's answer to Major Anstruther Gray last year it is very great. I imagine he explains it by the proportion, but I do not think the question of proportion can come in here when you have arrived at a burden of such magnitude. The Secretary for Scotland, in discussing this burden on occupiers, said that it really falls on occupiers who are sporting tenants and merchants. It not only falls on sporting tenants and merchants, but on all 900 other independent members of the community, and they are largely composed of teachers, ministers, and other people who are doing the best work in a parish. When the Secretary for Scotland referred to merchants he conveyed the idea of people of ease and capacity to bear the burden, whereas these unfortunate people are shopkeepers, and everyone who has been in those parts of Scotland knows what kind of stores they keep. The shopkeepers in the outer islands are very often people who are only able to make ends meet by combining shopkeeping with some other occupation. Then, again, the occupiers are very often those who are engaged in the administration of the law and in maintaining the local administration of the poor rate, education, and so on. They are the people who have to impose these rates upon themselves, and I was not in the least surprised to hear that in one parish a councillor resigned because he refused to levy the burden.
That was the crux, that the central office is insisting upon the imposition of the burdens of civilisation upon a very poor community, and is not prepared to stretch out a helping hand in order to help them to bear those burdens. Those burdens represent services, of which the community on which they are imposed stand in crying need. Therefore there can be no question of effecting any stringent economy by reducing these services. Over and over again we have been told that these burdens cannot be reduced even by the strictest economy, because a stricter economy than is now secured under the existing administration would mean bad and inefficient administration. Finally, in regard to the whole problem the Secretary for Scotland told Lord Balfour of Burleigh, in the House of Lords, last year, that the problem was neither large enough is scope nor typical enough in character to entitle the Government to commit themselves in respect of it to any general line of policy with regard to the main recommendations of the Royal Commission on Local Taxation. We are not considering here a normal case of relations between Imperial and local expenditure. We are considering a highly exceptional case, which does not trench upon the general subject discussed by the Royal Commission on Local Taxation. But the Secretary of Scotland takes up that attitude, and our answer to it is that that is not the kind of statesmanship which these islands need. I think we are entitled to a promise 901 from the Scottish Office and those who represent it on the Front Bench, that they will adopt a different attitude from that which has been adopted up to the present. This question, we are told, is not large enough in scope. Is the right hon. Gentleman going to wait until absolute bankruptcy settles down, and makes all administration impossible, and makes the lives of the independent members of the community so burdensome that they would throw up their places altogether, and leave the island? Then it is said that the problem is not typical enough in character. Why, that is our whole case. We demand highly exceptional treatment, because it is a highly exceptional case, and in pressing our plea with the Government I would ask the Lord Advocate to consider the question in this light: Suppose his own native city fell into some paralysing emergency of any kind which called loudly for Government intervention and Government support from Imperial funds, the Government would immediately stretch out a helping hand to the City of Glasgow simply because the City of Glasgow can make itself felt in the councils of this country.
§ Mr. A. F. WHYTE
Yes, towards the end of last year when Glasgow was making an appeal the Government going out of office met the needs of Glasgow out of Imperial funds. That was simply because the needs of Glasgow are vocal in this House, while these outer isles if their councils had not been disorganised would have received the kind of attention which they pleaded for long ago. What we plead for with the Government is that they would relieve the independent inhabitants of those islands of some part of the grievous burden which they have borne in times past and are still bearing, and which they would be content to bear if there were any prospect of relief in the future.
§ Mr. CLYDE
The serious character of the situation which has been brought before the Committee by the hon. Baronet who represents the county of Inverness and so pointedly enforced by the speech to which the Committee has just listened certainly is worthy of the present Debate, and worthy of that Debate in this sense, that public attention ought to be called to this state of affairs, and, if possible, the attention of the Government also. But it is still more so because the situation 902 with which we are confronted at the present moment is one which will most certainly repeat itself in the near future, and the only point about which I want to say a word or two is not deeply in the direction of remedy, but is in the direction of remedy with reference to the conduct of the actual business out of which this difficulty has arisen. The difficulty is nothing short of the breakdown of local government in the particular district in question, and the breakdown of local government in that district is attributable to what is barely short of the actual bankruptcy of the district as a rate-producing area. When the scheme of transmigration of this crofting population is proposed on whose shoulders is then the responsibility of taking some thought for to-morrow? It is impossible to transmigrate a considerable body of population like this from one place to another and plant it artificially in a place that is strange to them without making some kind of provision for the equipment of local government which it is going to leave behind, and which does not come of itself in the new localities in which the population is placed. The difficulty at the present moment is in South Uist, and it is acute enough; but I gather from what has been said this afternoon that that difficulty is going to repeat itself before long in Barra. I understand that Vatersay itself has been populated by people who came from a neighbouring island, and I am told that all the educational machinery of the island which they have left is now in a state of abandonment and disrepair. I am told that there is a school standing in Mingulay now which cost some £3,000 to build, and its doors are shut because there is nobody left in Mingulay except a few old men, and I understand that in Vatersay that school will have to be replaced; and precisely the same difficulty that has made South Uist bankrupt in its local government is liable before very long to make Vatersay bankrupt in its local government.
I do think that the Committee is entitled not merely to have some light thrown on what it is that is proposed to be done in South Uist, where the difficulty is immediately pressing, but I think that we are entitled to have some light on this question, namely, that when a transmigration is proposed who is it that is responsible for seeing that the scheme is properly equipped in the new locality in which it is going to be planted. If a new country is being settled, I understand, the first things 903 that the local schemes provide for are a church, a school, and a post office. Who is responsible with reference to one of these transmigration schemes for thinking either of a church or a school or a post office? Is it the business of the Congested Districts Board to give some thought to these essential necessities of the population in the place to which they are going to be artificially planted in the new locality? If it is not their business, is it the business of the Secretary for Scotland? Does the Secretary for Scotland ever discuss one of these schemes with the Congested Districts Board before the scheme is made? If there is not any one individual whose business it is to take thought for to-morrow, is there no public or conjunction of individuals upon whose shoulders this business rests as a matter of government? Why should I say as a matter of government? As a matter of plain business how can this thing be done unless there is some kind of co-ordination among the various parties concerned? I am not speaking under the impression that the difficulty is due to the present Government, nor am I at all speaking under the impression that that difficulty is not very great; but what I do submit is this, that the difficulty is essentially one which a little business consideration of the problem before the work is undertaken ought to be capable of reasonably overcoming, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman in his speech this afternoon will be able not merely to throw some light on where the money is to come from to prevent the actual occurrence of bankruptcy in South Uist—because come from somewhere it must—but I hope also that he will be able to throw some light on the future with regard to this matter and give the Committee some sort of assurance that when schemes of this kind are proposed in future the necessary equipment of local government, without which these schemes cannot come to fruition, will be adequately provided for before the scheme is put into operation. One question more and I am done. I understand that all that has hitherto been done in South Uist, in view of the resignation of its duties by the members of the parish council who have been ordered by the court to raise this impossible revenue, is to send two representatives of the Local Government Board to South Uist. What I would like to know is what are these two gentlemen supposed to do when they get there? Are they going to be armed with powers to enforce this 904 rate, and, if so, who is going to arm them with them? If they are only going there to look round, then is the position that we do not know what the next step is going to be? The question I press is, are these two men sent down there for the purpose. of enforcing this rate, and, if so, on what authority is that done?
§ Mr. MUNRO FERGUSON
I shall be very brief in what I have to say in referring to the rating question and the working of the Congested Districts Board, because on more than one occasion during the last few years I have raised the question of rating, and for many years I have been one of those who thought the Congested Districts Board should disappear, although I admit with regard to that, that what has fallen this evening from the hon. Baronet the Member for Inverness-shire (Sir J. A. Dewar) deserves very serious consideration, because from one point of view, as alluded to by the hon. Member for Perth, in his very able contribution to this Debate, the districts concerned are not vocal. I wish that the hon. Member for Ross-shire (Mr. J. G. Weir) were here. But I have in my time represented the island of Lewis, so I must do what I can to take his place. In supporting the hon. Baronet the Member for Inverness-shire, I think he will agree with me that if the case for Inverness-shire is hard, the case of Ross-shire is even harder, because in the island of Skye, while you have a large amount of land which is in process of operation by crofters, in the island of Lewis you have the problem of the resettlement of a very large population—a far more difficult problem really than in the island of Skye, and one of the most difficult problems, if not the most difficult, which have to be faced in Scotland, and one which is rendered all the more interesting by this fact that the population of Lewis, as a whole, is one of the finest populations in Scotland. The finest men I have ever seen were the Naval Reserve men from some of the parishes in North Lewis. Therefore the matter is one which has interest as well as difficulty. The rates in the island of Lewis are absolutely impossible. I went into the details some two or three years ago, and matters have not improved since then. We are still waiting. It is a consolation to have heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that next year, if he is in office—as I hope he will be—the question of readjustment of local taxation will at length be dealt with. 905 The present trouble arises from the fact that Lord Balfour of Burleigh's Report has been pigeon-holed by one Government after another. If the principles of that Report, which I believe in the main are sound principles, and especially of the Report signed by two distinguished members of the Commission—Sir George Murray and Sir Edward Hamilton—as well as the principles of the Minority Report, could find expression in the readjustment of local taxation, such a state of things as now exists in the Western seaports of Scotland could not be found. The mistake that has been made for some time past is that some special provision has not been made for the requirements of the districts which have been referred to, and in which there are tremendously heavy rates. This matter of heavy rating in a limited number of parishes and the question of the Congested Districts Board may be minor matters, but they are amongst the most urgent requiring to be dealt with; and I hope the Lord Advocate will treat them in a somewhat different spirit from that with which he has shown in past years. I am not quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman understands what the state of matters really is. It is all very well to say that the crofters are comparatively lightly rated; the fixtures are not rated in their case, but how can any industry thrive or anything be undertaken with a view to the promotion of its prosperity, where the rates are so tremendously heavy as in the case of the crofters. It is impossible that any industry can prosper under such conditions, and the burden complained of falls upon the poorest parishes. There are various reasons for these heavy rates. For example, extravagant school buildings, which cost an enormous amount of money, constitute a part of the excessive burden in these poor parishes.
As regards the Congested Districts Board, I have always been in favour of abolishing that body. An inquiry into it is being held at the present time, but it is not an inquiry which will carry much weight. The Congested Districts Board is represented upon it. It ought to have been an independent and a strong inquiry, which would have reviewed the position of other Boards besides the Congested Districts Board. I have appealed to my right hon. Friends opposite, as well as to my right hon. Friends on this side of the House, to institute an inquiry into the working of these Boards in Scotland, but I have not yet met with the slightest 906 success. In regard to the inquiry which is taking place, it is insufficient and weak, and will not carry very much weight or influence, whatever the result may be. The Crofters Commission has been extraordinarily successful in inspiring confidence during all the land troubles in the Highlands, and I certainly should not risk losing the prestige which the Crofters Commission now enjoys. At the same time the Congested Districts Board might, I think, have managed to work with the Crofters Commission, but if that be found impossible then it must be remodelled, lock, stock and barrel. If it is to be an independent authority it needs a practical head knowing the conditions, and it wants also a staff who might have to be paid, though I think it would be better if it could get them unpaid. It needs men who will give their time to the work. The Crofters Commission commands confidence, but the Congested Districts Board does not, and that is the difference between the two bodies. Then there has been a conspicuous misfortune in the case of the bridge which fell the other day in West Ross-shire. I have had the information which I possess confirmed by an authority in whom I have every confidence. A bridge was urgently needed over the River Apple-cross. The proprietor of the land offered to pay a quarter and the district committee offered to pay another quarter. The Congested Districts Board undertook, after considerable negotiation, to find half the money. The finance committee of the county council took considerable interest in the transaction, and suggested that an engineer should be employed. His remuneration, however, would have amounted to £82, while the cost of the bridge was to be £650. The Congested Districts Board indicated their willingness to make a grant towards the cost of the construction, but they objected to the inclusion of £82 for the engineer. They were of opinion that the road surveyor could carry out the work.
Anyone who knows the neighbourhood is aware that the suggestion was not practicable. The surveyor would have had to go thirty miles to the nearest railway station, and then, having travelled by rail for some distance, would have to take another road before he could get to the site of the bridge. The Congested Districts Board's supervisor, without consulting the district road surveyor, authorised the construction of the bridge, and it fell shortly after it was built. The county 907 council then appointed an engineer to report, and his report was that the concrete work was four and a half feet short of the requisite depth in the case of one pier, and that, in short, the bridge was bound to fall from the way in which it was constructed; and even if it had been constructed according to scale it was not likely to have lasted very long. All the piers were short in their foundations, which were not according to the specifications. This is a matter which I leave between the county council and the Congested Districts Board. All I wanted to prove is that the manner in which works of this kind are carried out by the Congested Districts Board is one which does not command public confidence in the Highlands. I think it is urgent that both the problem of rating and the problem of having an effective Congested Districts Board should be faced without delay. I do not think we can expect any body such as the Congested Districts Board to be able to find markets and to transport the produce to them—in short, to enable the people to produce to the greatest advantage, and to sell to the best advantage in the markets. I believe that would best be accomplished by such a body acting in co-operation with voluntary associations on the lines of the Agricultural Organisation Society. In the island of Orkney we have a whole network of co-operative societies, and we find that they increase the self-reliance of the people, stimulate production, and bring prices to a level, which is of great advantage to the small producer. In no part of Scotland have such efforts met with greater success than in the Highlands and in the West of Scotland. I think a large part of the work which the Congested Districts Board has attempted to undertake could be run in conjunction with these societies on voluntary lines. I do not desire to criticise too harshly the work of the Board, because I think a good part of their work was such as was impossible for them to overtake and overcome. The whole matter requires practical consideration, and, both in respect of the rates and the Congested Districts Board, I trust that the Debate we have had to-day in regard to the present most unsatisfactory state of affairs will have a good result, and that it will not be necessary to repeat the arguments which we have advanced on so many previous occasions in urging the Government of the day to come to a practical settlement in regard to the constitution of the 908 Congested Districts Board as well as in reference to the levying of a rate on a fair scale in the poor parishes.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Captain GILMOUR
I think it is eminently satisfactory that there is so much agreement between Scottish Members on both sides of the House on the matter we are discussing. As to the urgency of the problem that is before us there is not the least doubt. The question of rates has been so fully dealt with that I do not touch on it, but I should like to refer to those parts of the Report which deal more particularly with the agricultural interests as administered by the Congested Districts Board. I venture to say that the administration of the Scottish Office with regard to local affairs and the rates has been conducive to a want of confidence on the part of the people of all ranks and parties in Scotland, and that that want of confidence is also most distinctly felt with regard to their administration of the agricultural side. I find in this Report that the Committee, which has already been referred to, is sitting and will, I suppose, in due course make their Report. As the right hon. Member for Leith Burghs (Mr. Munro Ferguson) has pointed out, that inquiry is being carried on not altogether by those who are apart from the administration of the present Congested Districts Board. There are certain people interested in it, and they may or may not be without bias in considering these matters. I would wish to impress upon the Committee the necessity of a reorganisation of the body which deals with these matters. It is, I think, perfectly patent to anyone who has a knowledge of the facts that those who have in the past bought stock for the Congested Districts Board, and for the use of the various communities to which they are apportioned, have not been successful in the conduct of their purchases. I think that has been owing to the want of co-operation between those who have administered the work of the Congested Districts Board and those who are specially qualified to deal with agricultural matters in the districts which they are working. I am perfectly certain that there are plenty of eminent men in agriculture who may safely buy for the Congested Districts Board.
I notice in the Report in dealing particularly with the purchase of bulls for the Congested Districts Board, that those are bought on condition that proper arrangements are made for the care of the 909 animals. I should like to ask whether it is the fact that at the end of the season a large portion of those bulls are sold in poor condition, and at very considerable loss, to the Congested Districts Board. It may be that that policy is altered, but I am informed, and I believe my information is correct, that after those bulls have been in the district which they have been sent to they are sold at a very considerable loss to the Board. I believe they could very properly be kept over, as is indicated in this Report, and be reallotted either to the same district or another district afterwards. There was one other point which I think would show very clearly to the Committee that there is great need for some reorganisation. There was a question asked in this House about a year ago with regard to an accident which took place with one of those Congested District bulls. The Congested Districts Board gives a bull to a district on the understanding that they will not be responsible for any accident which may happen. That may be a perfectly proper arrangement to make, but I submit that in the case brought to my notice the mismanagement was almost beyond belief. An accident happened and a man died of his injuries. When the matter came to be dealt with by the Congested Districts Board orders were given for the destruction of the bull. The bull was destroyed and buried. There is no business man who has any dealings with stock who would have done anything of the sort. Even if it had been deemed necessary to destroy it, at least the carcass and the hide might have been sold. As it turned out, there were people ready to take over the hide. The unfortunate dependents of the man who was killed were denied any assistance from the Board and did not even get the benefit of the hide. That is an instance of what is going on.
I should like, also, to refer to a point mentioned by the hon. Member for Leith Burghs with regard to the work which has been done in the Highlands in the development of the agricultural interests by agricultural co-operation. I do wish to express the hope that the Congested Districts Board and the Scottish Office will be perhaps a little more conciliatory, and will endeavour to take with them in the work of the Congested Districts Board that advice and assistance which will be very readily given by the officials of the Agricultural Organisation Society in Scotland. They are composed of a body of men drawn from all agricultural classes, 910 who are giving their experience and their knowledge very willingly in order to assist not only agriculture in the Highlands, but also all over Scotland. I think that we have reason to fear that their advice is not always very kindly received by the Scottish Office, and particularly by those who are in authority. I hope that a little more care and a little more attention may be given to the work which they are doing. I am of the opinion, which was expressed by the hon. Member for Leigh Burghs, that a great part of the work cannot properly be undertaken by the Congested Districts Board, but may properly be, and is already, even to a limited extent, being carried out most successfully by the agricultural co-operative societies which have been formed. There is nothing which can be of greater benefit to the small crofter than encouragement in the marketing of his produce. That is part of the Congested Districts Board's most important work which may properly, I suggest, be done by such bodies. I do hope that in these matters, and in the selection of breeding stock, that there will be a little more practical care taken in the selection and in the distribution of them in Scotland.
§ Mr. C. E. PRICE
I am sure the House always listens sympathetically to anything affecting the Highlands, but at the same time there are other matters worthy of consideration on the Estimates, and I think there is a tendency to let the Debate fall too much into one channel. I have advocated for a number of years that we should have two days for the Scottish Estimates, one of the days to be wholly taken up with what might be termed the Congested Districts Board and Agriculture and Fisheries, whilst the other day could be devoted to Education and other interests. The point to which I should like to call the attention of the Lord Advocate is a matter on which, on 21st March, the Scottish Members received a deputation from Scotland. That deputation was as to why adequate representation was not made in the various committees or commissions of inquiry appointed into various subjects in which Scotland had a very keen interest.
§ Mr. G. YOUNGER
On a point of Order. Is it not in accordance with the Rules of Order to take and dispose of one class of Vote before we enter upon another, and therefore should not this particular question of the Congested Districts Board be finished first?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Whitley)
I do not think so. The hon. Member has so little developed his argument that it is difficult for me to say.
§ Mr. C. E. PRICE
As this is the Secretary for Scotland's Vote, and the only Vote on which I can raise anything, that is the reason I took the opportunity. If the Committee wishes to divide solely on the Amendment as to the Congested Districts Board, and if I can raise my subject afterwards, I am willing to speak later.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I think, strictly speaking, that is so, but it is desirable in these cases to keep the Debate to one point as far as possible. In this Debate the hon. Member would be wise to take the opportunity afterwards.
§ Mr. C. E. PRICE
May I ask whether in the event of giving way now, and that a Vote is taken to reduce the Secretary of Scotland's salary by £100, I should be ruled out of order if I referred to the other matters at a later stage? I have a Motion myself on the Paper to reduce the salary of the Secretary for Scotland, and therefore I presume I should be in order in making a similar Motion as that made on this Vote.
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
I desire to refer to one subject which has been referred to by several previous speakers, and that is the difficulties that arise in regard to the administration of the Education Act. In all these matters of the administration of Statutes the pressure that is caused thereby on the rates is becoming a more and more urgent question. It is a question that has to be dealt with as a whole, and not in regard to any particular Statute, such as the Education Act. It does no good to any of us, or to those poverty-stricken districts which are suffering from the pressure, to be annually, or more frequently, told by the occupants of the Treasury Bench that they recognise the urgency of this question, that it must be dealt with as a large question, and that it must be dealt with without delay. Year after year passes, and yet we have nothing done in amelioration of that position. While the Statutes that you pass may be good for an immense part of the country, on their financial 912 side they are absolutely unworkable in those poverty - stricken districts. The sooner the Government leave off making vague and unsatisfactory promises and give us something like clear action in dealing with this question the better, not only for the good of the district, but for the administration of the Acts themselves. The Acts must not be dealt with separately as Education Acts, or Poor Law Acts; the financial question must be dealt with as a whole. It is with regard to the Education Acts, however, that the pressure of the rates does most harm. It injures the very name of education in the ears of many of those concerned. What we wish is that there should be a free expansion of educational improvement without every step in advance being accompanied by an enormous increase of the rates of these poor districts. It is impossible for education to be advanced as it ought to be if every improvement of the schools has, as a necessary consequence, an enormous increase of the rates, which are already so high.
I wish to quote a parallel which arose under a Unionist Government in 1888. At that time precisely the same state of affairs arose, the only difference being that the difficulty was not largely caused by the Government of the day, as it has been in the present instance, because it was from the actual steps taken by the present Government with regard to the small holdings that the pressure upon the education rate was made so heavy in South Uist. But so far as the breakdown of the education administration which then arose is concerned, it was on a far larger scale, and required far bolder measures than anything that has arisen on the present occasion. Instead of being confined to one small parish, the difficulty arose in every Hebridean parish, and included school boards in Lewis, in Harris, and in the Island of Skye. The Unionist Government did not permit any money to be wasted in the first place upon legal proceedings, and, above all, upon fatuous legal proceedings, between two local boards in the same area. That is one way in which money was saved. Nor did the Government of 1888 think that they could deal with the difficulty by sending down a Government servant to collect the rates. Of all the proposals that could have been made, it seems to me that the most foolish was to send down a Government servant to collect on his own authority rates which the local board assert they cannot possibly raise. I doubt whether Govern- 913 ment delegates have any business whatever to demand rates from these people. Under what Statute can they do it? Is there any Statute whatever enabling the central authority to impose this duty upon a delegate or to arm a delegate with any such authority as is necessary to collect rates? Even if it is possible, is that the way to help the locality? Will it relieve the people of single burden? These delegates will have to be paid, and the legal expenses will have to be defrayed. What is worse, it will not help the locality to do its educational work one bit the better. You propose to help it in its work by sending down Government servants to say, "We will sweep away your furniture and all your belongings; we will put them up to auction, as though you were passive resisters; and perhaps by this means we may extract from you some small pittance."
Surely the plan followed by the Unionist Government in 1888 was far better. There was no money spent on litigation, on fights in the Court of Session between parochial boards and school boards, or on attempting to levy rates which you are told the people are too poor to pay. The Government on that occasion brought financial assistance from the Treasury in their own way. The late Lord Goschen, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, threw himself heartily into the work. He placed at our disposal—I was then head of the Education Department—a certain sum of money, to be distributed on condition that we were permitted to advise the authorities in the discharge of their duty, that they allowed us to help them in making their work more efficient and to point out where extravagance was occurring, and that they acted upon the advice of our inspector, who insisted upon greater efficiency, by which a larger grant would be earned. The difficulty in 1888 was so great that all these school boards, thirteen or fourteen in number, informed us that they had given every teacher notice of dismissal, and that on a certain day every school in the district would be closed. Immediate help had to be and was given. An arrangement was made by which our inspector should be present and act as a temporary adjunct of the managers in the management of each school, assisting by his advice and co-operation as long as the managers were pleased to have that assistance, and not for one moment longer. As a consequence, the notices to the teachers were withdrawn, the schools 914 remained open, a careful distribution of that very limited sum, amounting to only £4,000 or £5,000 a year, enabled us to set these school boards on their feet again, and gradually we were able to withdraw the whole of this assistance owing to the economies which were practised and the increased Grants earned by the schools by their increased efficiency. Surely by ransacking the archives of the Department the Secretary for Scotland might have found some more satisfactory method of dealing with these poverty-stricken localities, and of carrying on the vigorous and efficient administration of the Education Acts, than that of permitting these two unfortunate boards to spend money on litigation and of sending down delegates from the Local Government Board to act as tax gatherers. By what authority will they so act? No doubt tax gatherers are appointed by the Government. We have ample experience of that. But to use Government officials to extract rates is surely a new, and, I should have thought, an unconstitutional proceeding. It certainly will not bring any help to the locality. Far greater assistance would have been given, and in the long run it would not have been one whit more extravagant, by providing out of the central funds, as an act of grace and of necessity, such assistance as Lord Goschen gave when a similar difficulty on a far larger scale arose in 1888. That example, however, has not been followed, and I cannot think that the representatives of the Government can congratulate themselves on the methods they have adopted, or on the prospects with reference to the administration of the Education Acts.
§ Mr. G. N. BARNES
I do not know a great deal about the matter which has been raised, but, prompted by the speech to which we have just listened, I am constrained to offer a few observations upon it. We have heard an interesting, and in some respects, instructive dissertation upon grants in aid as compared with the method of collecting what I suppose are legal charges in these particular areas. We have also heard something of the good old-fashioned Tory doctrine of relieving the landlords. As I say, I do not know anything about the case in question, and I am not going to prejudge it. In certain districts where the population has shifted, and consequently only a small number of people remain to bear the charges, there may possibly be a case for sending relief or for consideration being 915 given. But I should like the Minister when he replies to bear in mind that, generally speaking, moneys of this sort when coming from the Imperial Exchequer simply go to the relief of landlords, a process for which I have no great love.
MARQUESS of TULLIBARDINE
Does the hon. Member know that in this case the Government is the landlord?
§ Mr. BARNES
I know nothing about the case, but I am entitled to speak on the general principle. It does not matter a fig about the particular case. I have heard a great deal to-day about the amount of the rates in South Uist and in the island of Lewis. I understand that both these districts are under the Congested Districts Board, and, consequently, I suppose the tenants are, to some extent, safeguarded. Still, the owners of the land have a large amount of the rates to pay, and I want to guard the Imperial taxpayer against these particular landlords. I understand that there is one lady, who has been very much discussed in this House, largely interested in one of these places. What will he the effect of spending £4,000 or £5,000 a year in this particular district in reference to the relief of rates? Will it go into the pocket of this lady? To my mind there seems a danger of that taking place.
§ Mr. BARNES
I do not know, but I have heard a great deal said about this particular person having already made a very good thing of the tenants in that and other areas. I only desire, so far as my imperfect knowledge of the subject goes, to draw to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman that particular aspect of the question so that he may have it in his mind when replying to the requests which have been made. I go further, and say that I am always suspicious when I hear this unanimity on both sides on behalf of the landlords.
MARQUESS of TULLIBARDINE
What about shopkeepers, hotel-keepers, and other people of that sort who also have to pay rates?
§ Mr. BARNES
I am now speaking of normal districts. We will keep off these two particular districts which have been mentioned a good deal. So far as I can understand the question, it all depends upon the rent. It sounds a terrible thing 916 for a 25s. rate to be imposed upon a particular district, but after all, if the rent is low, it does not make that difference that would otherwise be the case. In so far as relief is given under normal conditions from the Imperial Exchequer, the result is that the landlord, in consequence of the tenant's rates being low, is in a position in many cases to put up his rent. It is only that aspect I got up to bring to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman, so that he might have it in his mind—although doubtless he has it in his mind already.
§ Mr. MORTON
It is very seldom that time is found for the consideration of Scottish affairs, which shows that Scotland is neglected by a Liberal Government. Whether it is because Scotland sends nearly all Liberal Members to this Parliament or not I do not know, but, as my hon. Friend says, it is the reward of Scotland for so sending Liberal Members. I should like to ask where is the Secretary for Scotland?
§ Mr. MORTON
I understand that this Vote is for the salary of the Secretary for Scotland. What I would like to ask, Sir, is whether I cannot ask why the Secretary for Scotland does not appear in this House?
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
On a point of Order. May I ask you, Sir, whether your ruling goes the length of saying that we cannot complain that the Secretary for Scotland has not a seat in this House, having regard to the fact that an important Division took place on the same point a few years ago?
§ The CHAIRMAN
It did not take place in Committee of Supply. When the Scottish Vote is before us we cannot possibly complain that the Secretary for Scotland is in another place.
§ Mr. MORTON
I am sorry it does not arise, because this is about, the only opportunity of the Session of asking why the Secretary for Scotland has not a seat in this House, as he ought to have. I should like to ask two or three questions in connection with the Congested Districts Board. Although their funds, I admit, are very limited, and they ought to have more, I complain that practically nearly all that money for some years past has been given to one county. I want to know why Inverness gets nearly all that money, and Sutherlandshire gets but little? I tried last year to get an explanation. I hope we shall get some to-day, although we have not got the Secretary for Scotland in this House. The money is too limited. More money ought to be voted; but no matter what the amount may be, it ought to be fairly divided amongst the counties which come under the jurisdiction of the Congested Districts Board. I do not know why Inverness-shire should be so lucky. So far as I can understand the district that is voted upon here to-day, the Island of Lewes, is perhaps the worst of all and the most needing assistance from an Imperial Grant, because the population is congested in that island. The whole difficulty is the land question. But for that in the Island of Lewes both the cottars and the crofters would be able to get on better than they do now. Some time ago we were given a legal opinion that the Congested Districts Board could not buy land and let it out to the crofters. Legal or non-legal, that has been done. In other counties as well as Inverness-shire these cottars and crofters do not want to purchase land. They want to rent it at a fair rent with fixity of tenure. If the Congested Districts Board has not got enough money and cannot loan, borrow, or otherwise get it to do something to settle these difficulties in Lewes and elsewhere, they ought to come to Parliament and ask for more money.
I should like to get some official information with regard to Strathnaver, Sutherlandshire. Some ten years ago the Congested Districts Board bought from the Duke of Sutherland land in this neighbourhood, but the difficulty that has constantly arisen is that they paid too much for it. Therefore the settlers are not able to repay the money for the land. Over and over again we have asked the Congested Districts Board through the Secretary for Scotland to do something to relieve these. I want to know from the Lord Advocate—who, I admit, very ably 918 represents the Secretary for Scotland, but who, of course, has his own business to attend to, including old age pensions, and therefore has not got much time to spare for the poor crofter—whether he could not tell us of some way to relieve these settlers in Strathnaver. I suggested some years ago that they might be allowed to repay the money in one hundred years instead of fifty years which would make a considerable difference. I do not see why they should not do that, and so be relieved of their present troubles. I should like to know from the Lord Advocate what he thinks of that, and whether he will compel the Secretary for Scotland, wherever he may find him, and whatever he may be doing elsewhere, to look after these settlers in Strathnaver, and show them some way of getting out of their difficulties.
Some months ago I asked the Lord Advocate—then acting Secretary for Scotland—a question in regard to changing some sheep farming and arable land into a deer forest at Gordonbush farm, known as Knockan herding, near Kinbrace, Sutherland. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to offer to inquire into the matter and report to me. I have heard nothing of it from him yet. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to give me some explanation to-day of this matter, because, among all these troubles and the difficulty of finding a living for these people, it does seem extraordinary that land which is fitted for sheep farming and arable purposes should be turned into a deer forest, and for other sporting purposes. I have no objection to sporting, but men ought to be considered before deer and deer forests! As now it is held that land can be purchased and let to the crofters and others, I should like to see the Board purchase this land that it is proposed to turn into a deer forest, and let it to the cottars or crofters. I am aware that I cannot deal with any subject to-day that requires legislation, but the Congested Districts Board has power to deal with this question. Whether they have got money enough or not is not my business. If they have not got money enough to carry out the purposes for which they were appointed they ought to come to Parliament. I do trust that this Liberal Government, which is largely supported by the Scottish people, and always is, will take some means to assist the Scottish people out of these various difficulties. Scotland should be treated fairly. It is the most 919 law-abiding part of the United Kingdom. Its people have had more to do with the birth of events all over the world than any other country. I do trust, therefore, that the Government will consider it worth their attention and notice to do something, through this Board or otherwise to prevent depopulation, and the driving out of the country of a number of able-bodied people, fine men and so on, as they have been spoken of to-day—when if they were dealt fairly with they would make a good living. There may be other means of dealing with these questions that I do not know of, but certainly Parliament and the Government that happens to be in power is responsible for doing something to settle this question and to carry out what the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman said should be the work of a Liberal Government, namely, to colonise our own country. This Congested Districts Board is appointed for the purpose of carrying out the colonisation, especially of some of the Highland counties, where there are all these troubles about land and other things. I do hope we may see some attempt made to deal with this question. England has already received a good deal. Ireland has received a good deal more. Scotland has received nothing at all. Even we humble private Members who have attempted to do anything have been insulted rather than otherwise for our pains. It does seem extraordinary that Scotland should be treated in that way.
I hope to hear from the Lord Advocate that, however much he may be interested in another good work, such as old age pensions, he will do something to settle this question where old age pensions do not apply. The people in Scotland concerned are young people who may be driven out of the country because they are not allowed to make a living at home. If I could only get the Government to do their duty in Sutherlandshire, instead of having a population of 30,000 people, it could find accommodation for 60,000 or 100,000 people. It is only a question of colonising. It ought not to be impossible to carry out such reforms as would settle all these questions and prevent some of the best of our population from being driven into the big towns or from being forced to emigrate to foreign countries or the Colonies. With a proper Government and proper management employment could be found for them in their own country. I hope, therefore, 920 that we will hear something from the Lord Advocate to-night in the interests of Scotland.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. Ure)
I make no complaint whatever of the vigorous and robust phrases which have been used by my colleagues from Scotland in the course of the Debate. I daresay I myself, if I were in their position, would have used similar language, and if I do not emulate their example I hope it may not be thought that I feel less strongly upon the important and grave topic which occupied our attention this afternoon. Upon the question of rating in the West Highlands I shall say little, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Perth, in his very admirable speech, showed, it was a question that lay much deeper than mere administration. Neither this Government nor any other will ever deal with that question piecemeal. It is obvious it must be treated as part of one whole. I do not for a moment deny the urgency of the question; it is deeply urgent in parts of the United Kingdom; it is exceptionally so in the West Highlands. It is a problem not quite easily settled—on the contrary, it is one very difficult to solve.
Parliament, in its wisdom, has decreed, not in our time, but in the time of some of our predecessors, that the same standard of sanitation, education, and the like, shall be maintained and insisted upon in these outlying parts of His Majesty's dominions as in other parts of the country. These are expensive, and while Parliament decreed they should be maintained, Parliament at the same time did not think it necessary to revise a system by which the money was raised to meet these requirements, and accordingly you have the increased expenditure necessarily incurred in districts which for the most part—or, at all events, to a considerable extent—are barren and unprofitable, where there are few industries, and where the income of the people is derived exclusively from the sea and the land. And, therefore, our present system of rates of shillings in the £ will be very high, because the assessable figures are very low. The problem is not as easy of solution as it at first sight appears. It must be faced, and whether or not a solution will be found in the direction pointed out by Lord Balfour of Burleigh and Lord Kinross, in their very interesting and instructive Memorandum, which they appended to the Report of the Commission, to regulate taxes, or whether the consummation will be found in the 921 direction pointed out by the majority of the Commission, it is impossible to say, and it would be premature for anyone at the present moment to predict. Possibly neither in its entriety will be accepted; but it is obvious you cannot throw upon these localities unaided the burden of maintaining these high standards which we all insist shall be maintained. Again, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Perth, and I admit that there may be exceptional cases—cases which require exceptional treatment under the present conditions, and to which exceptional treatment must be applied, and the concrete question before the Committee this afternoon is whether or not the parish of South Uist is one of these exceptional cases to which exceptional treatment must be applied.
I rather think that the question has been already determined by the fact that an agreement was made between that parish and the Congested Districts Board by which a contribution was to come from the funds in the hands of the Board. Then it was found that it was not possible to do that. That, I most frankly say, was an admission that you had an exceptional case to deal with, and a case that required exceptional treatment. I agree with what is said by the hon. Member for Blackfriars Division (Mr. Barnes) that if exceptional treatment is given to the parish of Uist the result may be that you make a payment out of the pockets of the general taxpayer, largely for the benefit of the largest ratepayer in this parish, the landed proprietor. It was found, as we all know, that the Public Accounts Committee would not pass the payment, and frankly I am not surprised at it, for I have carefully examined the Act of Parliament under which the Congested Districts Board was called into existence, and I cannot find any statutory authority for such a payment being made out of the Congested Districts Board funds. Therefore I think the Committee may take it that payment out of the funds at the Board's disposal is not a practical solution of the difficulty at the present time. That does not in the least degree preclude us from going on to consider whether other means may not be found by which this crisis may not be dealt with. From the language used by some of my colleagues this afternoon, one would incline to suppose that the Island of South Uist has been a sort of derelict so far as the Government is concerned. Nothing could be further from the truth.
922 The total sum which the parish council levied for poor rates was £1,800—the last available figures—and of that 42 per cent. came from the Government Grant. But in that very year there came from the pockets of the taxpayer, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ayr Burghs (Mr. George Younger) said, no less than £4,844 in the shape of old age pensions. So it is a mistake to suppose that this parish, which has received from the central fund £4,800 odd, and which collects £1,800 for Poor Law administration, has not received any attention.
It is said furthermore that the rates are high, and frankly they do look astonishingly high if you simply regard the number of shillings in the £, but do not let it be forgotten that that does not represent the gross revenues of the parish. As we all know, before you strike a rate on the revenue certain reductions have to be made, and they are very material in this particular parish. Under the section of the Poor Law, which nearly all of us have off by heart, because we receive petitions every year in connection with it, there is a provision that you must deduct a number of things before you strike the assessable valuation. Every ratepayer is entitled to deduct as much as he can show as applicable for repairs and maintenance and so on. On striking the valuation in Scotland the parish council takes a percentage and so obviates the necessity for fully inquiring into the exact amount and the percentage in this parish of Uist is something like forty-five. I am taking the figure of the very latest information given us from time to time, and if the hon. Member (Sir John Dewar) will look at the Report from which he read a passage this afternoon he will find that the parish council has this year deducted 45 per cent. This probably accounts for the very striking and remarkable rise which has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Ayr Burghs in the case of the parish of Barvas and Lochs and Uig. According to my information, which is for 1907–8, you will find that 5 per cent. was deducted for maintenance and repairs. In 1908–9 it was raised in the parish of Uist to 45 per cent., so that, as the Committee will see at once, when you raise your deduction and reduce your assessable area the amount of shillings in the £ mounts up like wildfire.
§ Sir JOHN DEWAR
Will the right hon. Gentleman say what difference that makes as compared with Aberdeen where you take off 25 per cent.?
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. URE
I am not instituting any comparisons—I am merely stating facts. Comparisons with any other parish would be misleading because of the remarkable and striking rise in the parish. There is hardly any comparison between this parish in early years and in later years. You could not go on any such comparison. In the parish of Uig the deduction was for shops and dwelling houses 30 per cent., and in relation to agricultural matters 5 per cent. In the year 1889, in that same parish of Uig, the rate for shops and dwellings was 45 per cent., and for agricultural matters 40 per cent. You are apt to be misled when you regard simply the number of shillings and pence in the £. I do not say that the rate is light in those parishes, on the contrary, I think it is heavy. All I say is that we should not have our sense of perspective distorted by unfair comparisons, and we should see exactly where we stand by comparing the gross rent with the assessable rent.
§ Mr. GEORGE YOUNGER
If the right hon. Gentleman has gone into the calculations, can he say whether or not, allowing for the deductions, there has been a considerable rise?
§ Mr. URE
I do not think there has been a rise. I am speaking of Barvas, Lochs and Uig. I cannot say definitely, because I only received the figures this afternoon. I have admitted that the situation is exceptional in South Uist. It is not correct to say that Lady Cathcart was forced to break up the farms into small holdings. I admit that it was pointed out by the Congested Districts Board that it would be to the advantage of the people if those farms were broken up, and Lady Cathcart acquiesced in a view which probably she would not otherwise have taken. The result of breaking up the farms into small holdings was that there was a change in the distribution of the population inside the parish with the result that it was necessary, in order to provide education for the children, to erect two new schools in South Uist, and to enlarge a third school. There was another cause of expense which has no relation whatever to the breaking up of the farms into small holdings, and it was the necessity of providing a new school in another district because some voluntary schools were given up. It is the fact, however, that the whole expenditure attributable to the breaking up of the farms was the construc- 924 tion of two schools and the enlargement of another school. That expenditure cost the parish £1,600, in which is included £394 arrears from a previous year. It was the statutory duty of the parish council to impose the rate, and they had no right whatever to question the action of the school board. It was their duty to collect the money, and they had neither a right nor a duty imposed upon them to consider the policy. The expenditure was rendered necessary by the change of population, but the council considered it to be their duty to criticise the amount of expenditure upon the schools, and they refused absolutely to perform their statutory duty. What was to be done? It has been said that the Scotch Office drove them into the courts, and the hon. Member for Glasgow University said they allowed them to go on with the litigation. I condemn as strongly as any hon. Member the litigation which has taken place between these two bodies, and I think it is disgraceful. The Government, however, have no power to stop it, and it was not our duty to do so. We have no power to compel the parish council to perform its statutory duty, and we have no power to restrain the school board from carrying out its statutory duty, however much we may lament the disgraceful exhibition of a suit at law between two public bodies throwing money away on litigation. Our hands are clean in this matter. I have no option and no right to intervene, and the Government could not have intervened, however much we disapproved of the action of these two bodies. The parish council refused to perform their statutory duty, and the members of the council resigned. May I say, in reply to what some hon. Members have stated, that I do not propose, even if I had the power, to imprison the members of this council for refusing to carry out the order of the court. I only regret that they did not resign before the litigation took place, and then all this expense might have been saved. If the council did not mean to perform their statutory duties they ought to have said so without putting another public body to the expense of an action at law.
In the circumstances there was only one possible course open to the Local Government Board of Scotland, and that was to take advantage of the power they possessed under the 18th Section of the Parish Councils Act of 1894, and appoint men temporarily to discharge the duties and perform the functions of a parish council. What we did in this respect has been done 925 before in the case of Barra. That is not only a precedent, but it is a very good one, because under it the affairs of the parish council of Barra never before were so well administered as they were by the officials of the Local Government Board. The officials who were sent down knew the whole locality, and they reviewed the financial position and put affairs in a very much better state than they had ever been before. The Local Government Board for Scotland have acted under statutory powers in appointing these well-informed men, familiar with the locality and its needs, to administer temporarily the affairs of this parish council. They are clothed temporarily with all the powers the parish council possessed, and they are empowered to do everything that the parish council itself could have done, and their first duty will be to ascertain exactly what is the financial position in this particular parish. When they have done this we shall then be in a position to see what our duty as a Government will be.
The hon. Member for Ayr Burghs (Mr. G. Younger) called attention to the fact that in the Congested Districts Board's Report they point out that there were some places at all events where the rates were being withheld where they could very easily be paid. I am not assuming that that is the situation in South Uist, but I think we ought to know exactly what the financial position is, and when we have done this, then will be the time for the Government to act. We cannot give further powers to the Congested Districts Board without an alteration in the Statute, and that, of course, at the present time, is out of the question. I may point out, however, that there is a clause in the Education Act of 1908 under which, I think, the Department is empowered to give a grant in relief of the rates in this case if they are satisfied that under the circumstances it is desirable. I am sure the Committee will not expect me beforehand, without the Department or myself knowing the true financial position, to give any definite undertaking. I think, however, that that is the way out of the difficulty, and after we have ascertained exactly how matters stand, that will be the time for the Education Department to consider whether they cannot take advantage of the provision to which I have referred, and make such a grant as may be thought desirable in order to tide this particular parish council and the school board over the difficulty. It may be desirable, in the interests of the 926 parish council and the school board, and in the interests of Scotland generally, that the rates for last year should be collected. Without prejudging the question at this moment, what I have suggested seems to me to be a way out of the difficulty. Before I leave this subject I wish to repeat that I consider this case is an exceptional one, otherwise the Congested Districts Board would never have made the agreement they did with Lady Cathcart. The hon. Baronet the Member for Inverness (Sir John Dewar) may rest assured that the Government have considered the best way out of the difficulty. We agree that an impasse has arisen and the case is highly exceptional. I hope we shall find a satisfactory way out of the difficulty, and I may say that we shall keep in view all those things which the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division has told us and no relief will be given unless a very clear and exceptional case is made out. I turn to the Island of Vatersay. I am not going to review the circumstances under which the negotiations with the Government fell through. The hon. Member for Ayr Burghs seems to be under a misapprehension that the negotiations were broken off because the Government refused to relieve Lady Cathcart of any loss she might sustain by breaking up the island into small holdings. But that was not the case. The negotiations were broken off on totally different grounds. The point was whether the Government would agree to guarantee the rents of the small holdings, and no Government Department could do that.
§ Mr. G. YOUNGER
Is the right hon. Gentleman quite correct in saying that? I do not think any guarantee was asked for beyond the compensation to the outgoing tenant.
§ Mr. URE
The hon. Member is perfectly correct. Primarily we were asked to guarantee the rents. But I do not wish to enter upon this old story, because I reviewed the whole history of these transactions last year and hon. Members will find a complete account of them in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I turn now to the situation as it at present exists in Vatersay. The Congested Districts Board made up their mind, after carefully examining the ground and hearing everybody who had anything to say on the subject, that the best course would be to create small holdings upon the island of Vatersay itself, and they determined that fifty-eight was the correct number. They had 927 eighty-three applicants, and they chose the best fifty-eight, and fixed the total rent at £180. They determined, for common grazing and the like, that they would assign other islands which along with that formed part of the same purchase. The whole area was something like 3,455 acres, and of that only a portion was on the island of Vatersay, the remainder being on other islands round about. I do not say it was a profitable transaction from a business or a money point of view, but if any Member of the Committee really believes a Government Department would buy an estate in the West Highlands as an economic investment, he is suffering under a very grave delusion. The Noble Lord the Member for West Perth (Marquess of Tullibardine) offered me the assurance, if I would assure him that the people were contented and happy and were not in a grumbling or discontented frame of mind, that he would be contented and happy, too. I think I am able to offer him that assurance. The only difficulty which exists at present is that they have not begun to build their houses. We strongly urged them to do so, and we have fixed the term within which if they do not, others will be found to occupy the whole, but we hope before that time arrives, at all events, a beginning will be made with the erection of houses. The excuse they give is they are so busily occupied with their fishing that they cannot leave that occupation to undertake house-building. That excuse may be well or ill founded, but it is what they say. Whether they intend really to build and occupy is a different question, and we shall see when the time arrives. We have successors ready to take their places readily enough.
The Noble Lord asked what we had done about education, and the hon. Member for West Edinburgh (Mr. Clyde) asked if there was no authority to see the educational needs of a newly created community were met. Yes, the Department and the School Board of Barra at once entered upon communications, and a grant of money was made to Barra and devoted to that purpose, and the educational needs of the island are completely met to the full satisfaction of both the school board and the department. It has been found unnecessary to erect a new school. A building already on the island has been utilised. The Education Department has never encouraged extravagance in these outlying parts of the 928 country. We have always desired to restrain expenditure towards extravagance. We did so in Uist and Barra, and we have relaxed the building regulations which are in force in other parts of the country wherever it is desirable in the interests of the pockets of the people and where the education of the people does not suffer. It is perfectly true that the school at Mingulay has been closed, closed for the very reason that the men living in Mingulay have left. They were a poor, wretched lot, living on a barren rock, and the first thing they did when they had the opportunity was to leave Mingulay. There is not, however, such an enormous financial loss as the Noble Lord indicated. He said it is something about £2,000 or £3,000, but I am told the school only cost some £700 to build when new.
§ Mr. URE
I beg the Noble Lord's pardon. Some other Member of the Committee mentioned £2,000 or £3,000. I am not finding fault with anyone; probably they are misinformed. Surely no one would say we must keep a school open when there are no children to attend it. What were we to do when these people left this barren rock where they could not get a living? We have had to spend considerable sums in Vatersay itself. Will any Member of the Committee say we should have stinted expenditure on water? We have spent £476 on water, £300 on paths and roads, £30 on drainage, £200 on fencing and other purposes; and, in all, I see from the accounts we have spent £1,074. I say all that was necessary expenditure. Nobody can say we spent too much, and I hope no one will say we spent too little. At present we believe the crofters who are settled will be able to pay the modest rent fixed. I am not aware any of them are in arrears. At all events, we have had no complaints, and we believe we have a happy and contented population on that island, and our experiment, if not a financial success, is, at all events, socially a success.
I pass from that to the main topic which the hon. Baronet who moved to reduce this Vote raised. I mean the difficulties which have arisen at Idrigill. The hon. Baronet used very strong language about the conduct of the Department, but I think I shall be able to satisfy him that in every stage of the history of the transaction the 929 Congested Districts Board and the Department have been right and the applicants wrong. In the Island of Skye there is a township called Idrigill, where there were some thirty-seven crofters, whose crofts were very small, and whose common grazing land extended only to 271 acres. An enlargement was certainly desirable, and an enlargement naturally and appropriately took place on the farm immediately adjoining Scuddaburgh Farm. That farm extended to 450 acres. It had some old dilapidated buildings upon it, which were out of repair. It had a rental of £65, and, accordingly, if the Crofters Act had been rigidly adhered to, the farm of Scuddaburgh was not available, because, under the Crofters Act, the rent must be fixed at £100 before you can take the farm for enlargement and for division for common grazing. It so happened, however, that Scuddaburgh Farm formed part of the estate of Kilmuir, bought in the time of our predecessors, in 1904, by the Congested Districts Board. The Board raised no objection to Scuddaburgh Farm being taken, and on 23rd October, 1908, the Idrigill crofters presented a petition to the Congested Districts Board for the enlargement of their holdings by taking in the whole farm. The Board answered that they were perfectly willing to divide the whole farm among the Idrigill crofters if the men were in a position to pay a fair rent, to cultivate the ground, to stock it so far as it was grazing land, and to keep the buildings in tenantable repair. These are all laid down by the Crofters Act as conditions on which alone enlargement can be given. Does any Member of the Committee say the Congested Districts Board were wrong in requiring the fulfilment of the ordinary conditions laid down under the Crofters Act when these poor people presented their application for the enlargement of their holdings. I think they were not. Immediately they heard the Congested Districts Board were willing to give the whole farm up on these conditions the Idrigill crofters presented a petition to the Crofters Commission in February, 1909, asking the Crofters Commission to say whether or no they were able, as they expressed themselves able, to pay a fair rent, to cultivate and stock the ground, and to keep the buildings in repair. Does any Member of the Committee say it was wrong to submit that question to the Crofters Commission? Surely it was the proper tribunal to decide that question. The Crofters Commission considered the statement made by 930 them, indeed they heard their evidence upon oath, and after a full and careful inquiry they came to the conclusion that twenty-four out of twenty-five applicants were quite capable of stocking the grazing ground and of paying a fair rent for the grazing ground, but that they were not in a position to cultivate the arable ground or to keep the buildings in tenantable repair. The Crofters Commission went further, and said it would be a positive disadvantage to these poor men to give them sixty-three acres of arable ground, because it was a mile and a half to two miles away from their present holdings. The buildings were old, but valued at £200. These men were not permitted to sublet to somebody else, and accordingly it would have been a positive disadvantage to have given them these sixty-three acres and to have burdened them with the payment of a fair rent of ground of which they could make no good use. Their decision was communicated to the Idrigill crofters on 25th February, 1910. Some weeks intervened, during which I am afraid these men got into the hands of others who were less scrupulous and cleverer than themselves, with the result that on 9th April they held a meeting at which they resolved they would take the whole farm, and nothing but the whole farm, that they would defy the decision of the tribunal to which they themselves had referred the question whether they were fitted to properly stock and pay a rent for the whole farm, and furthermore that if within ten days from 11th April the Congested Districts Board did not make over the whole farm they would take possession of it and commence to till it. What were the Congested Districts Board to do under these circumstances? There was really no course open to them except to ascertain whether these men thoroughly understood what they were doing and the serious character of the step they proposed to take. Accordingly, on 18th April, after thoroughly explaining to the men what the situation was, the Congested Districts Board presented their application for an interdict against their taking possession of the whole of the farm, which they threatened to do. On 23rd April the men fulfilled their threat, and took possession of the holding. On 25th April the Secretary for Scotland caused the factor for the Congested Districts Board to see the men and once more explain the situation. Even after that they felt it their duty to make one more effort to come to an understanding, and 931 on 22nd May the Secretary for Scotland directed that the Assistant Under-Secretary, a man of calm judgment, who fully understood all the facts should point out to these men the lawlessness of their action, and discuss the whole matter with them once more. On 5th June the Assistant Under-Secretary met the men on the ground and explained the situation to them, and informed them that these sixty-three acres would be dealt with in the interests of the whole crofting community in that neighbourhood, that the ground was taken for that express purpose, and that the crofter's interests pecuniarily and materially alone were the considerations which guided the action of the Board. In spite of that the crofters insisted that they must have the whole farm, and they decided to put at defiance the decision of the Crofters Commission. What was to be done then? Had we up to that stage acted hastily or in a way likely to embitter feelings already highly excited; had we acted in a manner calculated to encourage lawlessness? I believe that when Members of the Committee calmly review the situation they will admit that there was no undue haste, that everything was fully explained to the men, that every effort was made to point out the seriousness of the situation, and to tell them the reasons why the Congested Districts Board must adhere to the decision given by the Crofters Commission. After that no other course was open to them than to apply for an interim interdict. That was heard in court on 1st July. The men did not appear. It was continued till 7th July, and on that date the Sheriff's Substitute appointed proof to take evidence. The men then appeared and made, I think, a very incompetent appeal. The question is now in the hands of the proper tribunal, and I decline to say anything more about it. All I need say further on the subject is that on the 12th of the present month the local judge made the interim interdict perpetual, and he accompanied his decision with a most careful, thoughtful, and closely-reasoned judgment, in which he reviewed the whole history of the case. He held that the Congested Districts Board was right, and that the crofters were wrong. Furthermore, he dealt specially with the point raised by the hon. Baronet the Member for Inverness-shire (Sir John Dewar), whether or not these men had been promised the whole farm. The Sheriff pointed out that on their own statements, and upon 932 the statement made in the Petitions, they themselves had sent to the Congested Districts Board, and to the Crofters Commission, they were condemned, because they showed clearly, both in writing and verbally, that no such promise had ever been made, and when they were put to it they were wholly unable to say when, where, or by whom any agreement had been made to give them the whole farm. There was also the point raised as to the Members of the Crofters Commission being also Members of the Congested Districts Board. It is true that two of the three Crofter Commissioners who considered and decided the case, were members of the Congested Districts Board, but then that was perfectly legitimate; there was no objection to it on the ground of legality, and it was perfectly well known to the crofters themselves when they submitted the question to the Crofters Commission who were the individuals to consider and decide the case. Let me ask the Committee to bear this in mind—that the Congested Districts Board are not in the position of private proprietors who have private interests alone to serve. They have no interest to serve but the public interest. Their duty and functions are to consider what will be for the advantage and benefit of these people, and they have no personal aims of their own.
That is my case. That is the present situation; 397 acres have been added to these men's holdings at a very small cost which will enable them to stock their holdings and pay the rental; sixty-three acres and the buildings have been withheld, not with the purpose of being occupied by the Congested Districts Board, but in order that they may be used for the benefit of the crofters in this district—not of the crofters alone on this farm, but also of other crofters in the district. The Congested Districts Board, in due course, will decide to what use this land shall be put. It may be used as a sort of model farm to let the people see what can be done by scientific methods, or, it may be split up into one, two, or three separate holdings, accordingly, as the Crofters Commission determines. But on the whole facts the Board will decide what will be best for the district. It has no reason whatever to consider anything but what will secure the benefit and advantage of these people. It will act with fairness and justice, and will give consideration to the feelings of the people. It has acted so 933 far as I can judge, from the beginning, with dispassionate tact, and with an enlightened regard to the public interests of the crofters, but it feels very strongly that the law, meantime, must be obeyed. Lawless action cannot be tolerated. Conduct which would not be permitted in any other part of His Majesty's dominions cannot be permitted in the island of Skye. The Commissioners feel also very deeply that no action should be permitted on the part of these simple, ignorant, and I am afraid, misguided men which would bring the law into disrespect. Lawless action must be promptly restrained, and nothing must be done to engender bitterness, and I believe complete success will attend their efforts if only they are pertinacious in their defence of the law.
§ Mr. SCOTT DICKSON
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether a new election has been ordered, and whether the parties have been appointed to collect the rate?
§ Mr. G. YOUNGER
I think it might be interesting to the Committee if the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what is the real position in regard to the selected defaulters.
§ Mr. URE
I have no figures here. I should have said, with regard to the criticisms of my hon. Friend as to the form in which the accounts were presented, I believe that form has been challenged for the first time in the hon. Member's speech, and I will certainly draw the attention of the Congested Districts Board to his criticism. If he desires any information with regard to any specific item, I shall be pleased to give it to him.
§ Mr. G. YOUNGER
What I want is information as to the selected crofters to be proceeded against for arrears of rent.
§ Mr. HARRY HOPE
When one sees the districts which are under the jurisdiction of the Congested Districts Board one cannot help feeling that here are districts where there is great opportunity for work being carried on of a really practical and 934 effective character. Is the Congested Districts Board doing all that it can possibly do in assisting the people in these districts and in increasing their prosperity? I certainly think not. It may be said that they are hampered with want of money. It may be said that even with the £35,000 at their disposal they have not enough funds to do all that they might do if they had more money. But without entering into the question whether more money ought to be given to them to spend or not, does it not seem perfectly absurd, and contrary to the best ideas of what is good business, that those members of the Congested Districts Board who are carrying on this important work should be unpaid? We all know that if men are unpaid the probable result will be that their work is not of the very best that they can give, and I think much of the supineness which has characterised the action of the Congested Districts Board in the past is due to the fact that the members of the Board have been unpaid officials. In these districts the produce which these men are selling consists largely of eggs and butter. What do we see if we examine what is taking place in foreign countries with which we deal largely for similar products? We see immense strides made in those countries in the industry. We see in those foreign countries how by a system of technical instruction brought to the door of every small holder and by organisation being effectively carried on, the quality and quantity of the products is enormously increased. I think that this mistake has been brought home to the Congested Districts Board, because when I was a Member of a Departmental Committee which inquired into it, I saw a deplorable state of affairs. We saw that the produce was marketed in a most inferior manner, and that goods were not graded and packed properly, which resulted in a worse price being obtained for the produce than that which was given for that of other competitors. As regards the organisation of this industry I quite agree with the hon. Member for Leith Burghs (Mr. Munro Ferguson) that that organisation can best be carried on by voluntary societies. We are fortunate at the present time that we have an Agricultural Association in Scotland, which is able to carry on work of this nature, and to encourage these people to come into the co-operative system of business under which they get a much better price for their produce. I do hold, however, that the Congested Districts 935 Board will never do any really practical work unless they bring technical instruction within the reach of every small holder in the locality, and after that when these men are instructed as to the best methods of carrying on their work, as to the best breeds to keep, as to the best manner in which their produce can be graded and marketed, then you will find that by that and the good work done by the Organisation Society you will have prosperity brought into these districts. We see how much benefit has resulted in Ireland from money being spent there, and we in Scotland are entitled to treatment of the same kind. Personally, I would like to see this work being taken up by the Congested Districts Board in a whole hearted manner, and far more than that, I should like to see this good work carried on in all the other districts throughout Scotland. I am quite sure that the small holders, if they are to make the most of their holdings, will never do so unless we have the work carried out as is being done by the Department of Agriculture in Ireland. I do hope that the result of this Debate will be that energy will be put into the work of the Congested Districts Board that more work will be done by them, and that in time such work will be carried out in the other districts throughout Scotland.
§ Mr. MUNRO FERGUSON
I am disappointed with the Lord Advocate's speech in this respect. He led us to believe that the South Uist rating case was wholly exceptional, and I do not agree with that. I say that there are cases in the county of Ross which are also wholly exceptional, and that cases of these very heavy rates apply in more places than in South Uist, and do not apply to that place alone. Therefore the Lord Advocate's remarks were unsatisfactory. Then the Lord Advocate alluded to the good intentions and the disinterestedness of the Congested Districts Board. I have never disputed their good intentions. What I have thrown doubt upon is their competence. I do not believe in their competence, whereas the Lord Advocate seems disposed to think that they can do no wrong. I do not agree with that.
§ Mr. URE
I used the word "exceptional" with regard to South Uist because of the change of policy there which necessitated the opening of two new schools. That was the change of policy directly 936 resulting from the urgent pressure brought to bear upon the proprietors by the Congested Districts Board to divide their land into small holdings. The other cases referred to by my hon. Friend may be exceptional in other senses, but they are totally different to this case.
§ Sir J. DEWAR
I should be very glad to withdraw this Amendment if we had had a satisfactory reply, but I do not think it is satisfactory. The Lord Advocate has said that the Education Department have discovered rather tardily a method under which they can contribute to these schools, but they still bear a rate which is odious. They bear rates amounting to 9s., and so long as the Government propose to exact such a sum I am sorry to say I am not satisfied.
§ Mr. PIRIE
I hope we may see a little more backbone on this side of the House in pressing some Amendments than we have hitherto had. We have devoted four hours to the criticism of conduct which well deserves criticism, and the only way of driving home that criticism is to move these Amendments and press them to Divisions. There has been up to now too much talk and too little action, and I am delighted that the hon. Baronet is going to press this to a Division. The reason why I say so is this. The Lord Advocate said the case was urgent and extreme, and yet in spite of that he comes to this House, knowing that it was to be brought before the Committee, and he said that when the exact facts are looked into certain results might follow. I say he ought to have come down with the exact facts and that we are bound to vote for this Amendment in condemnation of the general apathy of the Scottish Office. I say of the Scottish Office ordinarily that it knows nothing, it does nothing, and in very many cases, and this is the worst of all, it cares nothing. We have only one opportunity of criticism in the year during these few hours up to eleven o'clock, part of which time will be taken for another purpose—we have only this one opportunity in the whole year of calling attention to these matters, and after this evening the Scottish Office will calmly go ahead, confident that it cannot be criticised for another year. I am delighted that we are going to a Division, and I hope hon. Members, especially the younger men in this new Parliament, will take their courage in their hands, and I am sure they will be backed up by Scottish public opinion in voting against the apathy and indifference of the Scottish Office.
§ Mr. MORTON
I understand that the Lord Advocate has not replied to my question at all, and I hope we shall have the courage, as my hon. Friend says, to go to a Division to show the Liberal Government, as far as we are concerned, that we object to the treatment of Scotland and are no longer able to support it.
§ Mr. AINSWORTH
I hope the Lord Advocate will be able, on behalf of the Government, to say something more as to the future. We are all perfectly satisfied with the explanation of what has happened in the past, but what we want to know is what is going to happen in the future. We cannot bring before the Committee too strongly the fact that the population is gradually and steadily leaving the islands, and the only means of keeping them there is to increase their access to the land and increase their holdings, but the position of things is just where it has been for the last few years. We are all aware that as the rent value has decreased the poundage has increased, but what I wanted to point out was this: 45 per cent. has been taken off the rental on which the rate was first asked for, and assuming rents of £1,000 a year, 45 per cent. being knocked off, £550 is all that the proprietor has to receive on the basis of the net rental. The poundage comes to 90 per cent. of that, and the fact remains that the proprietor or occupier, whoever he may be, has to pay a larger sum into the local treasury than he has got to take. I only ask the Committee how can this bad state of things possibly go on, and how is the Government to keep going on when there is not enough money in the local treasury to pay the expenditure? What I should like
§ to know before the case goes further is, if the Scottish Office are not going to deal with those two extremely important points: First, that in many parts of these districts the local treasury does not receive, and cannot receive, enough money to meet its own expenditure, and, secondly, is the land question to remain in abeyance while the powers of the Congested Districts Board are insufficient for the purpose of preventing the population leaving the country every day by means of which the United Kingdom is losing one of the finest populations it ever possessed?
§ Sir W. MENZIES
If the hon. Baronet the Member for Inverness-shire goes to a Division, I shall accompany him into the Division Lobby, and I will give the reason in one moment. The only education which can be given in these islands and distressed districts in Scotland is afforded from the Education Fund, and there are already a sufficient number of districts in Scotland which are starved. There has been a previous manipulation of this balance of the Education Fund, and it has resulted in a diminution of the amount which is given to distressed districts of Scotland, and I presume that another manipulation would still further diminish the amount which this part of Scotland gets. If the hon. Baronet goes to a Division I shall vote with him.
§ Question put, "That Item A (Salaries, Wages, and Allowances) be reduced by £100, in respect of the Salary of the Secretary for Scotland."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 64; Noes, 128.939
§ Mr. C. E. PRICE
I should like to ask whether the Lord Advocate, on behelf of the Secretary for Scotland, can give any explanation with regard to the composition of Committees which have been appointed to inquire into affairs in Scotland. I understand that many of these Commissions are appointed upon the decision of the Cabinet, and in view of the fact that the Secretary for Scotland is in the Cabinet he will be acquainted with the appointment of these Commissions?
§ The CHAIRMAN
Unless these are Committees specially appointed by the Secretary for Scotland the question does not arise. The only thing which we can take here is the official acts of the Secretary for Scotland as Secretary for Scotland.
§ The CHAIRMAN
If these are Committees appointed by the Secretary for Scotland as Secretary for Scotland this is the proper time, but if they are Committees appointed by heads of other Departments this is not the time. The time is when the salaries of the heads of those other Departments are under consideration.
Mr. FLEMING WILSON
It is a question here, in the opinion of some of the Scottish Members, of the failure of the Scottish Office to properly represent the interests of Scotland in matters which are being dealt with by the Cabinet. It is a failure to take action in a matter deeply affecting the interests and well-being of Scotland. Surely that subject ought to be capable of being raised when the salary of the Secretary for Scotland is being dealt with. I wish to bring before the notice of the Committee the failure of the Secretary for Scotland to appoint women on Commissions specially appointed to deal with home work.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It is not a question of a hypothetical Commission. We can only concern ourselves with what the Secretary for Scotland has done. If the hon. Member has a complaint to make of the Secretary for Scotland appointing a Committee as Secretary for Scotland, and the composition of the Committee is in his opinion unsatisfactory, he can bring that case forward, but if the Committee is otherwise appointed, he cannot bring the case forward on this Vote because the Secretary for Scotland is not responsible for the appointment of the Committee. Hon. Members are talking as if these matters were settled in the Cabinet, but we do not know what goes on in the Cabinet.
Mr. FLEMING WILSON
I was not speaking of any hypothetical Commission. I was speaking of the Commission which has been appointed to deal with home work.
§ Mr. ROBERT HARCOURT
I think the point which my hon. Friends wish to make 942 is that the Secretary for Scotland should make representations as to the membership of these committees. There are numerous instances besides that of the Home Work Committee where Scottish ladies of great knowledge would possibly desire to serve on the committees and would be most useful. My hon. Friends desire to raise the point that in general cases, as well as on specific cases, such as the Home Work Committee, the Secretary for Scotland should have taken some cognisance of it and made representations to his colleague in the Cabinet.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I perfectly understand what hon. Members mean. The Home Secretary is responsible to Parliament, and if hon. Members desire to raise the point they must raise it on the salary of the Home Secretary.
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
I want to ask whether it is not competent for a Scottish Member to complain that the Secretary for Scotland has appointed a Scottish Committee to inquire into the important question of home work?
§ Mr. WILKIE
I wish to ask the Lord Advocate that when Committees are appointed in which the workers of Scotland are specially interested, as well as those in other parts of the country, he will see that we are not ignored as in the past, and that we have representation on these committees as well as other parts of the Kingdom.
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
The number of points of Order which have been raised is largely due to the fact that there is grave dissatisfaction with the administration of the Scottish Office.
And it being a Quarter past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.