HC Deb 13 April 1927 vol 205 cc517-24

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Commander Eyres Monsell.]


I rise to raise again the question of the five land raiders of Scaristaveg, and I hope the Lord Advocate, who is to reply in the unavoidable absence of the Secretary of State for Scotland, will not suggest that he has not had reasonable time to make inquiries into this tragedy that has occurred in the Highlands, because it cannot be described as anything short of a tragedy. Here are men who served their country during the Great War in case the Germans came over to take it from them. Instead of the Germans taking their country from them the Secretary of State for Scotland has taken it. These men have gone to cultivate the soil—gone on to the farm that was promised them. They are not the only people who are afflicted in this manner. There are thousands of men of the same type in the Highlands who are anxious, willing, and capable of working on the land, and they cannot get on to it—cannot get work in cultivating the soil of their native land. It must be remembered that there are no other means of livelihood for these men in that district. When they are divorced from the land, they are divorced from everything. They are dependent on the land for their very existence. There is no parish council relief for them, although I understand that the Lord Advocate to-night will inform the House that that statement of mine is not exactly correct. He has other information, but I want him to tell the House to-night the extent of the parish relief which they receive because I know the type of individuals who are on the county councils or the parish councils in that part of the world, and they are as hard as nails. They are just typical of the present Secretary of State for Scotland when they are dealing with such cases as these.

The Secretary of State for Scotland is a very fine man to deal with personally, but, when he is dealing with a question like this, there never was a Herod reigned on earth who was more unmerciful than the present Secretary of State for Scotland always is when he is dealing with my fellow-countrymen. I wish the Prime Minister were here, so that I might inform him of the type of man he has put in charge of Scotland.

This is a very serious matter so far as my fellow-countrymen are concerned. What did the Secretary of State for Scotland tell me last night? He told me that those men would never get land. But when it suits him he says that black is white. He says that these men in his estimation, and in his reading of what he calls the law, will never get the land, but the House knows perfectly well that there is something higher than the law. The part that the Secretary of State for Scotland is playing here is a crime before high Heaven. Governments of this country have been overthrown for less, and this great, powerful Government will have to weigh well in the balance what they are doing in this case, because the people of this country are beginning to realise that there is something wrong. We are not raising this question here, night after night, just for the fun of the thing. But the Secretary of State for Scotland, when he came to soothe my savage breast and tame my heart o' fire, said: "I will not treat with those men because they have broken the law. I never treat with men who break the law." And I told him: "The truth is not in you, Sir John, because you are treating now with a man who broke the law. You are treating with me, and I broke the law and I will break it again if necessary." So that the right hon. Gentleman is not always right, even if he is the Secretary of State for Scotland.

They went to cultivate the soil. Five ex-service men, five as fine-looking men as ever trod mother earth, went to peg off ground. They ploughed the land and ran it for a year and paid rent to the landlord, who took the rent. The landlord is only a bogus landlord, as I could explain if I had the time. These men had appealed for years to the Herods who are in charge of Scotland; who have-hearts of stone as far as these people are concerned, to get work on the land. They did not appeal to be put on the Employment Exchange, but for their inalienable right to work the soil of their native land. These decent Christian men, elders of the kirk in Scotland, made that appeal, but their appeal was of no avail, and the result was that they were driven in sheer desperation to take the land which was promised to them. It was arranged between Lord Leverhulme and the Coalition Government, between Lord Leverhulme and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George)—I wish the light hon. Member were here, as he is the chief of the land campaigners, on paper—that Lord Leverhulme would give them employment, because they wanted to drive the men off the land into the factory system. Lord Leverhulme would give them work for 10 years, and it was agreed that the Coalition Government would not press putting them on the land.

That bargain was never kept. The Almighty stepped in and called Lord Leverhulme to his account. Here are these men, who served their country and served it well. They went on the land and took the farm, which the Government, had they been honest, had they been anxious for the welfare of my native land, could have bought for an old song at the time that Lord Leverhulme's trustees sold the property. Did they buy the land? No. Lord Leverhulme's gamekeeper took the land, knowing quite well that these men had nothing else to do but to work on the land. Nowhere to go for work but on the land. Roderick MacLeay, Lord Leverhulme's gamekeeper, bought the land, knowing that the men would require it, and then, because he could not come to terms with the Government, the men went on to it while the negotiations were going on between the Government and Roderick.

The Secretary of State for Scotland sent word, he now denies that he did it himself, but there is no doubt that his Office did—and he is responsible for his Office; he must take the responsibility as well as the honour of his office, because, although he is a rich man, he is quite prepared to take the bawbees—sent word to this landowner that they would treat with him no more until these men were driven off the land. He was to take out an interdict against them; they were to be taken to Court and chased off. That is exactly what has happened. What a trick to play on these men, your own kith and kin? And it is done by this Government, your own Government, and you want people beyond the seas to believe that this Government will deal fairly and justly with anybody! How can foreigners have any respect for a Government that treats its own kith and kin in this fashion? They were taken before Sheriff Menzies and they got two months. I want to tell the House this, and I will finish in a moment or two, because I want to give the Lord Advocate time to reply. The Sheriff knew that these men had never been in gaol. They had had no experience of anything like that. They had a holy horror of anything of that description. He knew, by looking at these men, that they were not the rag-tail and bob-tail of the city; that they were not criminals. He knew that these men, standing before him, were men of which any country might be proud, and he said to them "If you will agree to clear off the land, I know how to deal with you quite differently." But the men, true to the characteristics of their race, said "No." They stood like their forbears stood on the field of Waterloo, like rocks that encircle their island home. And he gave them two months. They are here to-night appealing to the House of Commons for justice. We are asking that the Lord Advocate shall send word for these men to be liberated at once, and in the meantime that their wives and families shall be looked after. No matter how bad the fathers may be, you have no right to penalise the women and children.

The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. William Watson)

I will do my best to answer as well as I can the various points that have been raised, though the time is very limited. First with regard to the question of the wives and dependants. The information to hand is to the effect that four of the raiders' families have applied for and are receiving relief.


How much?


I have not got the information. The distance is great and one can only get it by means of the wires. The details were not asked. As regards the fifth man, I think Roderic McLeod is his name, relief was refused because the dependants are not dependent on him. He is in fact a boy of about 17 years of age. I want to let the House know one or two of the facts about this matter. In the first place, according to my information, at least three out of the five men are not ex-service men in any sense of the term at all. As regards the other two, one certainly is an ex-service man, and I rather think the other also. We may take it that two are ex-service men. They are Ewan McLennan and Kenneth McLennan. The others are not ex-service men at all; they are civilians.

This farm belonged originally, before the late Lord Leverhulme came, to Mr. McLeay, the gamekeeper referred to. He sold it to Lord Leverhulme, and, after Lord Leverhulme's death, he bought it back again. This farm is a farm of about 1,600 acres, with a rental of about £75. It is, therefore, under the limit which Parliament, in 1911, settled as the limit for the Board compulsorily taking land for the purpose of settlements. It can only be taken voluntarily. The House will recognise that that being the size of the farm, it could not readily be touched. Here is Mr. McLeay in possession of this small farm, working it himself, and working it with the leading raider as its shepherd, with wages of about £60 a year, and a house and cow, and so on. In January, 1926, these men—they have always been quite frank, and I will give them credit for that—talked about raiding the farm of Scaristaveg, and they saw the Sub-Commissioner, the representative of the Board there. He warned them that if they did any such thing, it would imperil their chances of being considered as applicants for small holdings.

That as I say was January, 1926. On 9th February they wrote and signed what I cannot characterise otherwise than as a threat or warning, to the effect that if they were not given holdings by 1st March they intended to raid Scaristaveg. They again got warning before 1st March to the effect that if they did so they would imperil their chance of being considered as applicants for small holdings. They did raid on 1st March, and according to the policy which has been laid down by my right hon. Friend in this House and accepted on more than one occasion, they were struck off the list of applicants for small holdings.


How long had they been on the list?


: That I cannot tell you. The amount of land there is very limited, and an answer was given to-day in regard to it. But here is the proprietor of a small farm, with his shepherd, his own shepherd, leading a raid—a man to whom he is paying a salary—and that shepherd has a small holding in addition which he is letting to somebody else. That is the situation. This proprietor naturally comes to the Board and asks them to get him out of the trouble. They say, "This can only be done voluntarily. What is the use of offering for purposes of settlement land that is covered by raiders." The Board say, "We are prepared to go into an arrangement with you if you will hand over the land free of such raiders." He proceeds very naturally with his interdict to get his own land free of his own shepherd and these other raiders, and that interdict is granted. The men stay there, and eventually they are brought up for breach of interdict, and those are the proceedings which happened just the other day. They were cited in the ordinary course to appear personally. As the House will realise, breach of interdict is—

It being half-past Eleven o'clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.