§ Motion made, and question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Commander Eyres Monsell.]
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I rise, on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House, to raise the question of the treatment of certain land raiders. There are five crofters from Scaristaveg who have been thrown into gaol because they refused to starve. Instead of starving, they went to work the land. The only crime that they committed was to go and work the land—to cultivate the soil. This is a very serious question as far as Scotland is concerned—in fact, as far as the whole of Britain is concerned—because it appears to us that this is part and parcel of a cut-and-dried scheme of this despicable Government. Here we have five as good men as this country ever produced, in every sense of the term—good-living, Christian, well-meaning men, undaunted and true; men who are the very embodiment of what are supposed to be the characteristics of our Scottish race—hardy, intelligent and independent. And what happens to them? They are thrown into gaol—by this Government—by the policy of this Government that is trying to do away with its promise made to these men—not a general promise, but a definite promise that those men would get land after the War, that they would get their own land, their native land, the land in defence of which their fathers' blood bedewed the heather.
136 I am astonished to think that, when we are dealing with such a terrible question as far as the Highlands of Scotland are concerned,. there is only one Liberal present. So much for the Liberal land campaign—a land policy in theory, but, in practice, where are they? "Ower the Border and awa'." We are sent down here from Scotland for the express purpose of defending our people. That is what we are sent here for—not to make friends with the other side; and those who make friends with the other side are the enemies of the working class, no matter who or where they are, because the Tory Government, the Tories in general, are the enemies of the working class. To think that they would play such a game on such a type of man! No wonder it makes our Scottish blood boil! This is not just begun; our Highlands of Scotland are depleted—the Highland glens and straths of my native land, that for centuries maintained a hardy intelligent population, that produced the race whom the Romans could not subdue, who have played a conspicuous part in the building up of this mighty British Empire; and here are five men who took part in the late War, but are now in the real war, the only war that matters—the working-class war against the ruling class of every country, never mind this country.
How can this Government expect that the Chinese can have any respect for your Foreign Minister, who is the representative of this Government? When they treat our own folk at home in this fashion, how would they not treat Chinese who are 10,000 miles away from these shores? They throw our own kith and kin into gaol, not because they have stolen anything, not because they have broken the law, but because they are not like me—they have a veneration for the law. I would break the law to-morrow if it were going to suit my class. I should have no compunction about it. I have broken it before and I would do it again, but these men still have regard for your law. They had an interdict issued against them because they had taken this land. They had gone back to Lochmaddy, which meant a journey of from two to four days for these men who are landless and penniless, for years unemployed, with no Employment Exchange and no parish council. Where is the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. 137 Macquisten) to-day, who stood over there only a month or two ago witting us from the West of Scotland because the people in the Highlands were independent and would not accept parish relief like our own people in the Valley of the Clyde. Where is he now to stand by the Highland men? Highland men do not want parish relief. They do not want relief front anyone. They want their native land and they are prepared to fight for it. There were no means to convey them across the wild and angry sea. That is the reason they did not appear at Court. It was not contempt of Court for them, but certainly it was contempt of landlordism. This has gone on for years—quite a century of oppression, robbery and murder of the Highlanders by the ruling class of this country. Right away back to the Jacobite rebellion in 1745 what do we find? The same part being played by the Government as is being played by the present Government. There you have the power behind the Throne in those days bringing over the Prince of Orange, introducing the House of Hanover into this country. They crushed the Jacobite rebellion and crushed Prince Charlie, and the ruling class of this country brought in the foreigner, William, Prince of Orange. What happened? The same as happened to these men, because they have not the facilities to reach Inverness, which is the capital of the Highlands. The Clan Macdonald, with the other clans, had to sign the Oath of Allegiance to the Prince of Orange or they would be massacred. The Macdonald's were delayed. They were six days late. When they got in they had to sign before the Earl of Breadalbane and Stair.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
The Lord Advocate and the Secretary for Scotland are hardly responsible for that.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
No, but I submit that I am quite within my rights in using as an illustration these facts which have taken place leading up to the present moment. These things happened in the days gone by and we are going to do whatever we possibly can, lawful or otherwise, to stop them. You can put that in your pipe and smoke it if you like. The Macdonalds were six days late in arriving. They signed nevertheless, and the Earls of Breadalbane and Stair took 138 it in good faith. But they kept that back from the authorities, so that William, Prince of Orange, sent the Duke of Argyll's forces into Glencoe, the land of the Macdonalds, where they fraternised with them and murdered them to a man.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I am aware of that unhappy event but is it suggested that they bear any analogy to the proceedings of the Lord Advocate?
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I am trying to show that it is only a matter of degree. This happened away back in what are called the killing times. No doubt the present Government is as ready for butchery as their forefathers were. I do not expect anything else. I have no doubt about it in my own case and I am ready for it. I do not say that the Labour party are prepared for it, but my colleagues from the Clyde and I are doing all we can to make my class understand what they are really up against. These men deny that their action has been a contempt of the authority of the Court, for whose orders they have every respect, but the circumstances in which they were placed and the fact that they had been in occupation of the farm at Scaristaveg long before the interdict was granted by the Court rendered it impossible for them to comply. That is the statement bearing out what I have already explained to the House. These men have all the honours of war. They fought for their native land. They risked their lives for the duration of the War. Practically the entire male population in this part of the country volunteered for the War. They were not like some who were in favour of the War but left others to go and stayed at home themselves. This Island of Lewis—because Harris is the Southern part of the Island of Lewis—alone lost 1,200 men. They gave their all for the ruling class of this country and this is the thanks they are getting. They were promised all manner of things. They were going to get land. When they came back their fishing smacks were battered to smithereens, and their tackle was all destroyed. That has been proved beyond a shadow of a doubt time and time again on the Floor of the House. They could not follow their usual occupation. We have appealed time and time again on their behalf. This is where the Liberal party came in and did not play the game 139 by those men. Lord Leverhulme, when he bought the Island of Lewis and was going to make Stornoway a great centre for canning fish, made an agreement with the Liberal Government—with Lloyd George.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member must give the right hon. Gentleman his usual Parliamentary title.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
He was never my boss, and never will be. They made an arrangement with the Government. We have it in black and white—we dare not make statements like that unless we are able to prove them—that if these men would not press for land, if they would not hold them to their promise, Lord Leverhulme would guarantee them work for 10 years. He would not guarantee them a comfortable life. No fear. That is what the ruling class demand, but all that my class have had up to now is the right to work. That was even denied them. The covenant was broken. It was another scrap of paper, but you never heard anything about it. It was like a great many more scraps of paper that were signed by the now leader of the Liberals which he never kept and never could, for it is not in his composition. Owing to the trawlers trawling all the fish from the seas around the Outer Hebrides, and Lord Leverhulme failing in his great project, these men were left absolutely stranded. I am appealing for these men and women and their little children whom we have visited. I am not appealing for the rag-tag and bobtail. I am appealing on behalf of men for whom any intelligent Government would be delighted to do all they could because they are the best asset that this country has had in the time of need. There can be no doubt that the Island 140 of Lewis and the Islands and Highlands of Scotland in general do produce beautiful, comely women, and do produce strong, vigorous, mental and physical giants of men. That is the type of manhood and womanhood for whom I am appealing to the Scottish Office.
What did we find when we went up to Lewis? My comrades the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) and myself had pointed out to us by the schoolmaster children who were dying before his eyes. Not in China, not in Russia, not in the Ruhr but in my native land, dying of starvation. Their father served during the Great War. They subsist on nothing but potatoes, three times a day, and not very good at that. Do you think that that is going to continue? Do you think that our voices will not reach to the uttermost parts of the earth to let the peoples of the world know what we think of the ruling class in this country, where we cannot get justice for our own people? This House is practically empty. No interest is being taken in the subject of the treatment of these men, whose only crime was going to work their native land.
One of the men implicated, has 12 of a family, living in what is designated a black house. You would have to see it to believe that Britons in Britain still have to live under such hellish conditions. Shanghai! Shanghai is not in it. We are going to blow the whole world to smithereens as far as this Government is concerned because of Shanghai, because it is said that there are 16,000 Englishmen in peril—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I would ask the hon. Member to connect the argument with something within the discretion of the Lord Advocate, or something that the Scottish Office can do.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
There are thousands of our own kith and kin in greater peril than any Englishmen in Shanghai. What are the housing conditions?
§ The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. William Watson)
Perhaps I ought to make it clear at once that the hon. Member only gave me notice at seven o'clock that he was going to raise this question. It was then too late for me to inform my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for 141 Scotland, who is responsible for the topic to which the hon. Member is now referring, or to enable me to get any assistance or any information from the Scottish Office on the point. All I can do is to decline to discuss to-night, because I am not in a position to do so, anything for which the Secretary of State for Scotland is responsible. I am always ready to do that when I have had an opportunity of familiarising myself with the subject. I am prepared to-night to deal with any Court procedure for which I am responsible, as far as I have the information to a very limited extent. I am sorry, because of the late hour at which I was given notice that this point was to be raised by the hon. Member, that I cannot deal with any points for which I am not responsible.
§ Mr. MAXTON
While it is true that, as a matter of courtesy, the Lord Advocate was informed that this matter was to be raised, and I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) will not expect more from the Lord Advocate than to answer the point that comes within his province, I would ask if it is not quite in order for an hon. Member on the Adjournment of the House to raise any matter which he feels inclined to raise?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
Yes, but it must be some matter for which some Member of the Government is responsible or in connection with which the Government or some Member of the Government can take some action within their powers. It may be that the hon. Member is leading up to something which the Secretary of State could do within his powers, in the course of administration. So fax, he would be in order.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
On a point of Order, May I remind the Lord Advocate that within the past three or four days we raised this question in the House. The Lord Advocate was then requested to make himself familiar with the details of the case. The complaint which he made then, that he had not had sufficient notice, is not strong enough to-day. The House is entitled to expect that he has learned from the Scottish Office all that was to be known of the case and, therefore, he should be prepared to give us a reply to-night.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
Whether the Secretary of State for Scotland is here or 142 not make no difference to the point of Order. Any hon. Member on the Adjournment is entitled to raise any subject or to put forward any grievance with which it is within the power of seine Member of the Government to deal. The absence of a Minister raises a question of Parliamentary custom and courtesy, but it is not a point of Order.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
On that point of Order. May I submit that this is primarily a legal case? These men are in prison now for an alleged breach of the law. The allegation is that they have broken the interdict which was granted by the Court, and I submit that it is primarily a legal question, and that the Lord Advocate is responsible and not the Secretary of State for Scotland.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
It makes no difference to the point of Order whether it is the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Lord Advocate. There must be a Member of the Government against whom a prima facie case is to be made; that he may have prevented this or that. It must be connected with some officer of the Government who has to administer the law.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I understand quite well why the Lord Advocate rose. He is trying to put on an air of injured innocence; that I have not given him notice. But I am not going to let him off again. I let him get away four days ago. He cannot always play that game. I was speaking about the housing conditions of these people, and if we had present to-night those great defenders on paper of the British Empire, the generals and the admirals, they would have to bear me out when I say that there is no finer type of man in the British Army or in the British Navy than the men who come from the district of which I am speaking. Listen to the housing conditions under which they have to live! You talk about China and about Japan and about the East End of London and of Glasgow! One of these defenders of the Empire has a family of 12, and his dwelling is a rude hut, six feet high, built of dry stones and earth, the floor is of clay, there are no drains and the rain comes through the roof in wet weather. It is impossible to have any comfort in such a dwelling. This hut is divided into two compartments. I am talking about one of the defenders of the Empire. This is what he gets for 143 fighting for his country, his kin and his King. Both these compartments are 14 feet by 10, and there is no lum—no chimney. Seven people sleep in one compartment and six in the other. These defenders of the Empire—I like the word "defenders"—were told during the War that they had to fight in order to keep the Germans out of this country. Their only enemies are not the Germans, but the ruling classes of this country. The Germans are coining here now; the rich and the aristocratic Germans. They are being welcomed here while my fellow countrymen, who fought and bled and died to defend their country, are treated in this fashion. They are living in hovels.
It was the intention of these defenders of the Empire to build houses for themselves and their families, but everything has been done by the Government to frustrate this intention.
These are statements that have been sworn to by five good men and true, who believe that they had a country to fight for, who believed that they had a King who would stand by them in their hour of peril. Where are they all now? Oh! where, tell me where? They are lying to-night in prison. Only a few of the hardy and intelligent race are left. Others have been driven from house and home by the servants of the Crown, by the bringing out of beagles. Do you know what beagles are, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? They are hounds, certainly hounds of hell. The ruling, classes of this country are hounds of hell to treat my fellow-countrymen in that fashion. I have had experience. I know what it is for them to have you by the neck chained to your cell. That is what is going on. Five men and their families, who have no greater desire than to spend their lives amid nature's wildest grandeur, are suffering. There are no better defenders of their country than they are. Had they been like me and some of my colleagues, I could have forgiven the present Government. We have done everything we could to upset the present social system, and we shall continue to do so. But these men are not as we. They do not see, they do not understand, they do not believe that the ruling classes of this country will suck the blood of the workers. We do; we do believe that they live on the flesh and blood of the 144 working class, not only of our own country but of every other country that they can get into subjection. There these men are lying in gaol. When I raised the question the last time the Lord Advocate said he had not had time to ascertain the facts, and I let him go. He had not got the goods to deliver. I took him for an houourable man, and I believe he is an honourable man. But he should have the goods now. He should be able to bless my efforts, to-night. I did not want to hold him like Jacob of old at the brook Jabbok and to say, "I will not let you go." Now I say, "I will not let him go if he should break my thighbone," until he has finished and called me Israel, a prince amongst men.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I am afraid it would be outside the right hon. Gentleman's authority to make any such assault.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Yes, but you hear one Scotsman speaking to another who understands a certain Book which is foreign to the average Englishman. The Lord Advocate's complaint against me about a week ago was that he had not had time to go into the matter. I appealed to him then on behalf of the women and children of these men, because they will not get parish relief and there is nothing coming in. He knows as well as I do that this is a poverty stricken island, and that in cases such as these it is only the poor who help the poor. I appeal to him from a humanitarian point of view—never mind as one Scotsman to another—on behalf of these helpless women and children. The ruling classes of this country promised these men that they would; get land, and this land. As I have said Lord Leverhulme came to an arrangement with the then Government, headed by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), the great authority on land policy at the moment—his land policy is back to the land, lying with his back on the land. That arrangement was never carried out. He came to an arrangement with Lord Leverhulme and that arrangement was never carried out. The present Government are doing what they can to discourage people going on to the land. What do we find in proof of my statement? Between six and seven months 145 ago a great ball was given in Inverness and all the nobility of the Highlands were there. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the junior Member for Dundee (Mr. T. Johnston) calls them "the robility" and I wish hon. Members would only read the junior Member for Dundee on "Noble Families" and they would know the robbers and murderers that the ruling class in our country have been. At this ball there was an Indian Rajah who made a speech and said he was delighted with the magnificent scenery of the Highlands.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The Lord Advocate is not responsible for the sayings of the Rajah. Really the hon. Member must deal with something which the Lord Advocate or the Secretary of State for Scotland can do. I do not think they can control Rajahs in any way.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I agree, but I want to call attention to what this Rajah said and to point out that he did not get the gaol. The Lord Advocae did not step in, in the Rajah's case; but if the Lord Advocate had been the Advocate for the people of Scotland he would have arrested the Rajah. What did he say? He said the only thing that was now required to make the Highlands of Scotland the complete pleasure ground for the rich was the introduction of a few Bengal tigers so that they would run the natives out of the Highlands of Scotland. [Laughter.] You Tories may laugh; you may smile and smile and smile and play the villain all the while, but the working class of Scotland took note of that, as they will take note of the complacent smile with which it is received here. This was an Indian Rajah but these people of the ruling class if Old Nick were a rich man would accommodate themselves to him. That applies to the ruling class of this country and every other country. Those who boast of the British Empire as the greatest Empire on which the sun ever shone, should think that the men who are being treated in this way, are the same as the men who made that great Empire possible; men who left the shores of Scotland and went to the uttermost parts of the earth. Here are the men who stood on the field of Waterloo. [Laughter.] Read your history. They are the descendants of the men who 146 stood on the field of Waterloo as the historian said "like rocks that encircle their Highland home."
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member must come to something which he wishes the Lord Advocate or the Secretary of State for Scotland to do. He has not arrived at that yet.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I have arrived at that. I want, in the first place, the Lord Advocate to see that the women and children of these men are attended to, as soon as humanly possible. I am perfectly satisfied that if the Lord Advocate's own wife and family were in these dire straits he would see to them. It is as much his duty in this case because he is here representing the people of Scotland and not himself and he should be all-powerful in this matter. No matter how bad or vile you may make out these men to be, you have no right to starve the women and children. That is what you are doing, and I want the Lord Advocate to stop it at once. I am not asking an impossibility, nor am I asking for a favour. We are not here to sue for peace, but to fight for the liberty of these men. I want the Lord Advocate, therefore, to liberate these men, and at the next opportunity on the Adjournment I am going to move a vote of censure on the Sheriff of Inverness who sent these five men to gaol.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I wish to add a few comments upon this case. These five men, namely, Neil MacDonald, Ewen MacLennan, Kanneth MacLennan, Roderick MacLeod and Charles MacLennan who are now in gaol for two months. What is their offence? There is no dispute about the facts. They were promised land; promised an opportunity of raising food for the sustenance of their families, and that was all they asked. For years they waited while the Government of the day came to a privy arrangement with the late Lord Leverhulme whereby the small holdings legislation passed by this House was not to be operated for 10 years. Before the 10 years expired Lord Leverhulme died. His schemes had to be given up, his work stopped and there was no employment for these men. They could turn their hand to nothing except raising food. They had been promised land by the Scottish Board of 147 Agriculture. The land adjacent was not being cultivated. They cultivated it and grew crops. They offered rent. They are offering rent now and the Lord Advocate's Department or the Department of the Secretary of State for Scotland—which of the two I do not know—incited the proprietor of these lands to apply for an interdict against the men who were tilling the soil. The Board of Agriculture had been in negotiation with this gentleman to take over his land for small holdings. This gentleman was allowing these people to till the soil and the Board of Agriculture said to him, "There is no deal unless you get an interdict against these raiders. We will give no land to raiders. We will countenance them in no way whatsoever." This man, this Mr. Roderick Macleay, this farmer of Scaristaveg, who got this farm from Lord Leverhulme, thereupon sued for breach of interdict. There is one fact which the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) did not disclose, and this brings the Lord Advocate definitely into it. Here is the allegation that is made, that the first order to these men, who are Gælic speakers, who do not know English, who are far away from a law court—[An HON. MEMBER: "Do they know Russian?"] We are dealing with the lives and liberties of men who fought to defend better men than the hon. Member who interrupts me.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Not in that state anyway. I do not mind interruptions from men who are compos mentis. Five ex-service men are lying in gaol, and what for? They are in gaol because they sought the right to go to work to preserve their lives and those of their families. There is no insurance benefit for them when they come out. There is nothing for them but blank starvation. The Lord Advocate's Department incites this farmer to apply for breach of interdict. The first notice to these men to appear in the Court was on the 10th March. The order, I am told, was vague, and it was impossible to say whether personal appearance or notice of appearance was intended. At any rate, the 148 men wrote to the sheriff clerk that they intended to defend. They were going to raise the money to appear in Court. A few days afterwards, the sheriff clerk having got this notice, they sent the sheriff clerk a written defence signed by all of these men, and he replied that he had no authority to receive written defences. I believe that is legally accurate. When the men did not appear personally on the 10th March, the Court pronounced another order, dated 10th March, requiring these five men to appear personally on Thursday, 31st March. The defenders were arrested, however, and brought to the Court before the expiry of that notice.
They were arrested by minions of the Government, and the Lord Advocate is surely responsible for that. They were given two months' imprisonment for alleged contempt of Court. The men could not plead. The hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten), whom I see in his place, will be able to assure the House that there are hundreds of these cases of men who are mystified in a law court and who cannot put up a reasonable defence at all. These particular men were simply sent away for two months' imprisonment, and here is the point, that while they are in prison their families are starving. When they come out of prison at the end of two months, there is nothing else for them to look forward to but to go back on these lands again. Before God and man, they can do nothing but go back and raid these lands again, and His Majesty's Government have no policy whatever but simply one of persecution, persecution, persecution of men to whom they gave a definite promise of an opportunity to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow. I have here the comment of His Majesty's Judges in the Land Court of 1916, after the War began. They said:There is every reason to fear that, unless the Acts intended to preserve and extend small holdings are effectively reformed, at least to the extent of urgent necessary amendment, and as soon as practicable, and unless the system of law and policy which places the preservation of deer and other game above the production of food, and which permits or encourages the depopulation of the country for the pleasure of the rich of this and foreign nations, is completely reversed, the decline of population will rapidly accelerate, and the younger men will in increasing 149 numbers emigrate to the Colonies, which offer land on just and generous conditions, rather than continue to bear the evils and ab[...]s which the beneficent intentions of the Legislature have mitigated but as yet have failed to suppress, or they will, as happened before the Crofters' Act passed, refuse to obey land and game laws which they feel to be unjust, and often cruel, and which are clearly inconsistent with the spirit of modern legislation.The point we put to the Lord Advocate and to the Government to-night is this: They have made criminals of five honest men, whose sole crime is an attempt to produce food for themselves, to keep their families from starvation. They do not want the land for nothing; they were paying rent, they were building houses for themselves, with their own labour, and the proprietor was not interfering with them, but His Majesty's Government step in and incite this proprietor to have these men thrown into gaol, for that is what it amounts to. When they come out of gaol at the end of two months, will the Lord Advocate or any hon. Member opposite tell me what these men are to do? Are they to go back to Scaristaveg? There is no land for them. There are policemen, gaolers, emissaries of the Lord Advocate and of the Secretary of State for Scotland ready to run them back to gaol again, ready to incarcerate them again, if they seek to raise potatoes or food for their wives or their families. That is the indictment we lay against His Majesty's Government. There is land suitable and available, and the men are willing to work the land and maintain themselves as decent citizens. They are willing to obey the Scriptural injunction to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow, and His Majesty's Government, instead of being defenders of law and order, are defenders of neither law nor order, but mere defenders of vested interests, hanging on to an obsolete, rotten, corrupt and anti-national land system. They say to these poor men, who are my nationals, men with my blood, bone and sinew: "Off to gaol with you, if you dare to cultivate the land of Scotland for the sustenance of your families!"
That is the indictment we bring against this Government, and so far as I and my friends here are concerned, there will be no peace in this House as long as that policy is continued. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs. We can get 150 up debates here about China, about Timbuctoo, about any place in the far-flung world, but you are depopulating our own native land, you are spending money to hunt our people away to Canada, to South Africa, and to Australia to grow food, and you deny them the privilege of growing food in their native land. You have made our land a happy hunting ground for sportsmen—deer forests for the rich. We are going to demand—and we are going to see we get it—that the land of our people shall be used, not as a sporting ground for the idle rich, but as a treasure house in which people of our kith and kin may labour and bring up their families in decency and comfort, and if His Majesty's present Government or any other Government stand in the way of that being done, then, sooner or later, there will be turmoil and there will be trouble. I am glad that these five men from Scaristaveg have had the courage to go to gaol as a flaming protest against this accursed system for which His Majesty's present Government stands.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
As I indicated when I ventured to intervene at an earlier stage of the Debate—and it has become more obvious as the Debate has gone on—it is not only unfair to my right hon. Friend and myself, but very unfair to the House, that at such short notice a question of this type should be raised. As I mentioned, it was not until seven o'clock that I was told anything at all about it, and it was then too late to get even the few papers that I have over from the office, and I have been unable to get hold of my right hon. Friend. Therefore, I am afraid I must take up the position that I can only answer for anything with which my Department is concerned. Hon. Members know well that I am always ready to assist my right hon. Friend especially when the information is available and ready at my hand, but I cannot, and it would not be fair to my right hon. Friend, undertake to answer anything in regard to the history of these holdings and the surrounding holdings, of which I know precious little at the present moment. I do not propose, and I am not in a position, to discuss that at all or the smallholdings' policy of the Government, for it is not part of my Departmental work. Furthermore, the question of the liberation of these men 151 is entirely beyond my control. If it is a question of dealing with their liberation, that is a matter for the Secretary of State and not for me. Therefore I cannot deal with either question.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) is a little short or incorrect in his memory, because what I said when the Private Notice question was asked by the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), was that I would at once communicate through my Department with that of the Secretary of State. I did so, but the shortness of this notice was the very thing which prevented me from finding out what was known about it and so I cannot deal with that part of the question now. As far as the question of proceedings is concerned, the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) interjected a supplementary on that occasion and I can answer the point he put then, although I have not even got the newspaper account in front of me at the present time. The Lord Advocate had nothing to do with this prosecution at all. On the occasion referred to, the hon. Member for Bridgeton suggested that the Lord Advocate ought to know whether he had anything to do with it. I had nothing to do with it at all. As hon. Members may be aware, where, as in this case, a breach of interdict is raised at the instance of the proprietor in the Sheriff Court, the concurrence which is given there is the concurrence of the Procurator-Fiscal, without reference to the Lord Advocate, and that concurrence is in a sense merely a formal concurrence, that is to say all that the Lord Advocate in the Court of Session or the Procurator-Fiscal in the Sheriff Court has to see is if a prima facie case exists for an interdict. Everyone is agreed, as far as I understand the facts, that undoubtedly there was a breach of interdict and what hon. Members are concerned with now, as I understand from the hon. Member's question, is the interdict itself and not the question of the breach. If the newspaper accounts are correct—
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
I had no responsibility for that and know nothing about it. It is not part of my Departmental work.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
That just shows the advisability of giving a little more reasonable notice so that we might have been in a position to give information in the usual way. My right hon. Friend and I are quite willing to give the House such information as we can, but we have separate Departments and separate responsibilities. This really is all that I can say with regard to the point put, except one other point which the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) referred to. Certainly—and I assume that my right hon. Friend would give the same answer as regards his Department—but certainly as regards my Department, it never incited any action for interdict at all.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The Lord Advocate has made a mistake. Is it or is it not the case that these men were peacefully cultivating the land on this farm at Scaristaveg until the Board of Agriculture informed the proprietors that they could not deal with them and could not take over the land for small holdings unless they first of all got rid of these raiders who were squatting.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
That is the very point I cannot go into as far as my Department is concerned. I do not know what answer the Secretary of State would give to that accusation, but as far as I was concerned the Lord Advocate's Department never incited the interdict. It might be that the facts to which the hon. Member for Dundee refers might lead to a different answer from my right hon. Friend, but that just shows the force of what I have said about notice. I am not blaming the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs, but am rather explaining the reasons I am not in a position to answer him as fully as I should desire. If the hon. Member had given further notice and had waited until to-morrow we might have been in a position to have the papers here. As it is I really have nothing to add to what I have said already.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
May I put one question regarding the legal point? I understand from the report of the proceedings that these men were charged not with going on the land at all, but with contempt of Court, that is, that they refused 153 to obey the first summons to appear at Court and refused to obey the interdict. That I understand was the charge.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
No, I think I am right in saying that, as is usual in such cases, an interdict was granted against their remaining on the land. They went on remaining on the land and for that they were cited for a breach of interdict.
§ Mr. MAXTON
In answer to the Lord Advocate I want to say that he rather stressed the discourtesy of hon. Members on this side in raising this matter with such very short notice.
§ Mr. MAXTON
It will be quite obvious to the Lord Advocate that an opportunity such as this only arises very rarely, and it was not, until seven o'clock that it, became obvious that the opportunity would be available at eight o'clock.
§ The Lord ADVOCATE
I am not blaming anybody; far from it. All I wanted to explain was why unfortunately I am not in a position to deal with this more fully as I would have been very ready to do if I had the information at my disposal.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I find it difficult to accept the view that this matter was regarded as merely a piece of routine work to be put through by the local Procurator Fiscal. This matter had been one of very great public controversy through the whole of the Highlands, not merely for a week or a month, but for years. It was known all about these men, and I am not satisfied that the prosecution of these men was not more than a mere matter of the action of the local proprietor or the local Procurator Fiscal or the local Sheriff, but is a matter of high policy on the part of the Scottish Office. I do not believe the Secretary of State ordered these steps without first consulting the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General, and I am making the suggestion quite definitely here that every single Scottish officer of the Crown knew about the whole business and that this would arouse trouble throughout the whole of the Highlands.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Then that is a most shocking admission, and if it never came definitely before the Lord Advocate's personal notice, I am perfectly satisfied that his responsible permanent officials in Edinburgh knew absolutely everything about it, even if they did not think It worth while to bring it to his notice, because this is a matter of very great importance to the whole of the land population in the Highlands. Every man who is working on the land from one end of the Highlands to the other has watched the progress of this land-raiding by these men, has watched anxiously to see one Government or another coming forward with some definite scheme to provide land legally for the number of people in the Highlands who are anxious to get land to work. Instead of meeting the wishes of these men by providing land for them and for hundreds of others waiting for a similar opportunity to cultivate the land, instead of making some attempt to satisfy the land hunger in the Highlands—and, after all, the Procurator Fiscal, whether he acts outside the knowledge of the Lord Advocate or not is responsible to the Lord Advocate, and the Lord Advocate is responsible for his actions whether he knows about them or not—these people, instead of satisfying the land hunger, throw those men into prison.
I want to support most strongly the two points put by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr Kirkwood), first of all, that the dependants of these people shall be relieved of their present necessities at once. As an administrative act, that does not require any delay whatever. It would be done if there were distress among British citizens somewhere at the far end of the Globe. Relief would be wirelessed, and every step would be taken if those people were thousands of miles away from their homes. I put it to the Lord Advocate that if it can be done for people thousands of miles away, it can be done for citizens in our own land. Secondly, I want the Lord Advocate and the Secretary of State for Scotland to consider whether justice is not best served by the immediate release of these men. The mere upholding of an interdict is a trivial matter compared with the recognition of the right of a Scotsman to live in Scotland by the exercise of his labours on Scottish soil. That is the principle 155 of justice which is at stake, and I appeal to the Lord Advocate to use all the influence of his own Department, and to use his own personal influence with the Scottish Secretary to see that the men are released at once.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
It is a very shocking thing that these men should be in prison. I am sorry I was not present to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), but I gathered from the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) that what happened was that these men had taken possession of some land, and the proprietor turned them off. [HON. MEMBERS: "With pressure from the Department!"] I do not know whether that is so or not, but I expect that the Department's point of view is that they were considering taking over the land. No doubt there was a great number of applicants for land in the Highlands.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
They have all been promised. The problem of the settlement of the people on the land has not been adequately dealt with, which shows how the best intentions of Government Departments never seem to operate very successfully. As a Highlander, and representing the Highlands, I think all the cries made for assistance for development in the Highlands over a long series of years has only resulted in a large army of officials. These men had taken possession of this land, and it is probable that the Board of Agriculture take the view that there are a lot of applicants, and those men might not have been selected. I think it is a most unfortunate proceeding that decent crofters, although they have undoubtedly broken an interdict, should be landed in this unfortunate position, and their families left to struggle in want in their absence. Some attempt
§ should be made to get this question settled, not only in this district, but in many districts of the Highlands, and to get men, who are willing to settle down in these remote parts in one of the best occupations open to mankind, settled as soon as possible, and not to allow any technicalities to stand in the way. The British Empire owes the Highlands a very deep debt of gratitude, and although it is going to cost the Southern parts of this land large sums of money in the way of providing roads for transport and other requirements to enable them to dispose of their produce, they could not make a better investment than do something of this kind, and help to increase the numbers on the land. If they do so, they will obtain for the British Empire, perhaps, the staunchest, the most patriotic and bravest type of citizen it is possible to have. I do beseech the Lord Advocate and the Secretary of State for Scotland to apply their minds so that this grave scandal of the imprisonment of these men may be put an end to at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
I do not want to prolong discussion if there is any other way of expressing my dissatisfaction with the statement we have had from the Lord Advocate. I am not very clear what the procedure is on these occasions, but I would like to ask whether my friends and I have the option of dividing the House to express our protest against the manner in which this question has been handled?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The Question has been put from the Chair, "That this House do now adjourn." The right hon. Member could, of course, vote against that, and, in the event of the Motion being defeated, the Debate could be resumed.
§ Question put, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 96; Noes, 47.157
|Division No. 83.]||AYES.||[9.47 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Charterls, Brigadier-General J.|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Bowater, Colonel Sir T. Vansittart||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Clarry, Reginald George|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Brittain, Sir Harry||Cochrane, Commander Hon A. D.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Cockerill, Brig,-General Sir G. K.|
|Benn, Sir A. S, (Plymouth, Drake)||Buckingham, Sir H.||Couper, J. B.|
|Bethel, A.||Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Curzon, Captain viscount|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||Cassels, J. D.||Davidson, J.(Hertf'd, Hemel Hempst'd)|
|Blundell, F. N.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Ellis, R. G.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Chapman, Sir S.||England, Colonel A.|
|Ford, Sir P. J.||Loder, J. de V.||Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby)|
|Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Lougher, Lewis||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Lynn, Sir R. J.||Slaney, Major P. Kenyon|
|Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John||Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.|
|Greene, W. P. Crawford||Macquisten, F. A.||Styles, Captain H. Walter|
|Grenfell, Edward C (City of London)||MacRobert, Alexander M.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel-||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)||Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)|
|Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-|
|Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd. Henley)||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.||Tinne, J. A.|
|Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Moore, Lieut.-Col. T. C. R. (Ayr)||Turton, Sir Edmund Russborough|
|Hills, Major John Waller||Nail, Colonel Sir Joseph||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Hilton, Cecil||Newman, Sir R. H. S D. L. (Exeter)||Watts, Dr. T.|
|Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Hugh||Williams, C. P. (Denbigh. Wrexham)|
|Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.||Penny, Frederick George||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Hudson, R. S. (Cumberl'nd, Whiteh'n)||Radford, E. A.||Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'dge & Hyde)|
|Huntingfield, Lord||Raine, W.||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)|
|Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Reid, D. D. (County Down)||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Jacob, A. E.||Remer, J. R.||Wragg, Herbert|
|Jephcott, A. R.||Robinson, Sir T, (Lancs., Stretford)||Young, Rt. Hon. Hilton (Norwich)|
|Kidd, J. (Linlithgow)||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|King, Captain Henry Douglas||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Lister, Cunliffe, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Sanderson, Sir Frank||Mr. F. C. Thomson and Captain|
|Barr, J.||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvll)||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Batey, Joseph||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Sullivan, Joseph|
|Bromfield, William||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Sutton, J. E.|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Thomas, Sir Robert John (Anglesey)|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Buchanan, G.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Townend, A. E.|
|Clowes, S.||Lee, F.||Viant, S. P.|
|Compton, Joseph||March, S.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Maxton, James||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Crawfurd, H. E.||Mitchell, E. Rosslyn (Paisley)||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Dalton, Hugh||Mosley, Oswald||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Day, Colonel Harry||Naylor, T. E.||Wiggins, William Martin|
|Dunnico, H.||Potts, John S.||Windsor, Walter|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Robinson, W. C. (Yorks. W. R., Elland)|
|Fenby, T. D.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||Smillie, Robert||Mr. T. Johnston and Mr. Kirkwood.|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Stephen, Campbell|
|Adjourned accordingly at Eight Minutes before Ten o'clock.|