§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Commander Byres Monsell.]
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I only desire to occupy a few moments in asking the Secretary of State for Scotland some questions regarding the release and future prospects of the Scaristaveg raiders, as I know that, after the Secretary of State has answered me, my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) desires to put a further point. On the last occasion on which this question was raised in the House, the 13th April, the Lord Advocate made some remarkable statements, to which, unfortunately, we were unable to reply in the time. Since that date these five raiders who were in Inverness Gaol have been surreptitiously released. I say "surreptitiously" because the law agent was not informed until after they had been released, and, as I understand it, is not yet informed on what conditions, if any, they were released. But from what information we can get we learn that these men received a conditional promise of some kind, that if they would behave themselves and cease land raiding for the next six months, steps would be taken to provide grazing for their stock, 1586 and some other promises were made to them. I am not surprised at the release of these men.
§ Mr. MacKENZIE LIVINGSTONE
I am quite sure that my hon. Friend would not desire to mislead the House. I went to Inverness last Friday. I reasoned with these men. I disabused their minds of the teachings which had been put into them by wild and irresponsible men. I asked them to give an unconditional undertaking that they would obey the law as other law-abiding Highlanders, and they said "Yes." That is why they were let out.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I think we might have the statement of the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am going upon information supplied to me by the legal representatives of these men, and if it be the case that these men gave an unconditional promise that they would go back to Scaristaveg and starve, if they gave an unconditional promise that they would go back to the other conditions under which they have been existing for the past few years, then I am much surprised. I, too, have seen these men in gaol, and the statements they made to me are definite and emphatic, that under no circumstances could they go back to starvation unless they got promises of land to cultivate. I am not surprised that they were released in view of the difficulty the Government must have in defending the statements made by the Lord Advocate on 13th April. Those statements simply cannot be justified. Let me give one or two by way of illustration. I think the Secretary of State himself informed me, in answer to a question, that these men's relatives, 34 dependants, were being given Poor Law relief. My information is that the Poor Law relief they were getting amounted to 2 lbs. of oatmeal and free drinking water. If that statement is inaccurate I think the Secretary of State should have the earliest possible opportunity of denying it. Then we were told by the Lord Advocate that one of the men, a shepherd named MacDonald, was, as a matter of fact, already a smallholder that he sublet a smallholding to another individual. I made inquiries about that and the facts are these. The man left this other holding, on the other side of the island, five years ago. Eighteen months ago he surrendered his title to this holding—he gets not a penny for it—to his uncle.
1587 Then, we were told that this same man, this alleged profiteer in land, was a shepherd in the employment of the man whose farm was raided. My information is that he left the employment of that man four years ago, that he worked two months without pay, that during the War he got the magnificent salary of £20 per annum, three bolls of meal, and the right to graze a cow The Secretary of State declared that these five men were scored off the list for all time, that so long as he had anything to do with it these men would never get holdings, that these raiders were not only to be punished by the ordinary processes of law, they had not only to thole their assizes, as we say in Scotland, or to do their two months in Inverness Goal, but they had, in other words, to suffer the perpetual punishment of starvation, that the Secretary of State of his own hand was to import a new punishment, the punishment of perpetual starvation for these men. I do not believe that he had any legal title whatever to do that.
What is the situation now? Are these men to get land? The Secretary of State pays their expenses, presumably, back to Scaristaveg; he lands them back where they were. Are they to get land? Are they to get an opportunity of earning their bread by the sweat of their brow, or are they to be condemned to perpetual starvation because they raided these lands at Scaristaveg? I hope we shall have a complete explanation from the Secretary of State. At the same time, I congratulate him on having seen fit, even at this belated period, after one month, to release these men from prison. They are not criminals—no criminal charge of any kind has been laid against them. I trust also, he will be able to assure the House that there will be no further penalisation of these men, and that they will get an opportunity of doing what they want to do, namely, to earn their bread in an honest way.
§ Mr. LIVINGSTONE
I think the whole House will admit that the position of these unfortunate men reflects no credit on this Government or any Government which has been in office since 1918. The case of these men has been callously ignored by Government after Government and by Scottish Minister after Scottish Minister. I hope the right hon. Gentle- 1588 man the Member for West Fife (Mr. W. Adamson), when he goes north, will explain to these men why he himself did so little to expedite their settlement on the land. [Interruption.] Someone once said that if you would know the merit of a Government you need only observe the condition of the people. Who are to blame for these men going to prison? Not the men who have been misled and misguided and led into prison against their own will. I saw those poor fellows last week. They did not know what they had been doing. Many irresponsible statements have been made about them. It is ridiculous to say they know only Gaelic and do not know English. They speak English as well as any Member here.
§ Mr. LIVINGSTONE
It is in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I do not want to refer to my hon. Friend, but he made some very wild and irresponsible statements.
§ Mr. LIVINGSTONE
The responsibility for these men being in prison rests upon those people who encouraged and instigated them to break the law. [HOX. MEMBERS: "Who are they?"] They are unknown to me. I have an idea who they are, but I have no proof and I will give no names. [Interruption.] The men did not break the law on their own initiative. Those men were not given advice till I saw them. When I reasoned with them after they had been in prison for a month they at once said, unconditionally, "Of course we had no intention of breaking the law." Those men are not only loyal, but law abiding. They have no sympathy with law breaking or law breakers. They have no sympathy with their own action. They are sorry for it. I would appeal to the Secretary of State not to harden his heart on account of the wild and irresponsible statements which have been made regarding them, but to ensure that their names will be restored to the list of applicants for small holdings, and to ensure that no official action will be taken by his Department to prevent them from reaping the crops they have sown.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir John Gilmour)
The hon. 1589 Member who raised this question congratulated me upon the release of these men from prison. I wish to make it perfectly clear to this House and to all concerned that the release of these men is a matter for the Court and has nothing to do with myself or the Scottish Office. These men were convicted of an illegal act.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
There is nothing new about it. They were convicted of an illegal act. They were asked to give an undertaking to behave themselves, which they refused to give on the advice of those whom the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Livingstone) said had gravely misled them. This is quite clear. These men, having been convicted of an illegal act, could only be released on satisfying the Court that they would give a definite undertaking to behave themselves. That undertaking was given before the governor of the prison, and was subsequently conveyed to the sheriff who was responsible in this matter. It has only been because the sheriff was satisfied that that guarantee was given and because he is satisfied that they have been released. Let me make it perfectly clear that they have been released on giving an undertaking which has satisfied the sheriff and the Court, and it will remain perforce for them to keep that undertaking as I have no doubt they will.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Was that undertaking given on condition that they would have grazing for their stock for six months?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
The only individual who could give them that undertaking for the future is the Scottish Office, and no undertaking has been given on behalf of the Scottish Office. The release of these men has been to the satisfaction of the Court and the Court alone. As to the five individuals, I want to make it perfectly clear that they were warned before they raided, that, if they raided, they would not only prejudice their case but that their names would be struck off the list of the Board of Agriculture for land settlement. They were warned and told that.
I want to put the point that I am the Minister responsible for land settlement, and my job is to find the land upon 1590 which to settle people. This House gives me certain legal powers to carry out land settlement. This particular farm is not included in those legal powers, and if any settlement is made upon this land it must be made with the consent and by arrangement with the proprietor of the farm. The Board of Agriculture had an opportunity of approaching the proprietors of three separate properties falling into the market on the death of Lord Leverhulme, and on two of them smallholders have been settled. In this particular case the proprietor put up the price and, I am informed, attempted to hold the State to ransom on this question. Does the House blame me for re fusing to be a party to that? It was well known that the Board were willing and prepared to enter into negotiations and to settle people upon this particular property. What happened? This farm was raided. Is that kind of action likely to conduce to the settlement of people upon the land?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
The hon. Gentleman may some day have the opportunity of carrying these things into operation, but I wish to make it quite clear that, as far as the State is concerned, it was willing, and is willing, to come to an arrangement with the proprietor of this land on terms which were, and which remain, the terms upon which the settlement can be made to-day. Those terms are that there shall be a reasonable price and that the Government, when they come to settle people upon that land, shall have clear and free access to the land. Any other terms would be impossible. A great deal has been said about ex-service men. Two of these men may claim to be ex-service men. There is Ewan McLennan, an ex-service man, who resides in a house of his own on glebe lands, and who gets land for cultivation and grazing from the parish church minister. The second ex-service man is Kenneth McLennan, who resides in a house of his own, on glebe lands, and who gets land for cultivation and grazing from the parish church minister. The third man is Charles McLennan, who re- 1591 sides in a house of his own. The fourth is Neil MacDonald, a shepherd on Scaristaveg. He is employed as a shepherd on this farm, at wages of £60, with grazing and keep for a calf. Until quite recently he was tenant of another holding at a rent of £2 14s., and he is in arrear with his rent to the amount of £13 10s.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me what is the date of the report which says that this man is the tenant of that small holding?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
This is a report which comes to me, and is dated the 10th March, 1926, and he is in arrear with his rent to the amount of £13 10s. The last man on this list in John McLeod, who is employed as a chauffeur by the trustees of Lord Leverhulme at wages of 30s. a week and board. All of these men cannot be described as ex-service men, and if the Board of Agriculture are going to settle people upon the land, they must be free to select those who have the best claims for that position.
I want to make it perfectly clear that by their action, contrary to all the advice which was given to them, they ceased to be on the list of the Board of Agriculture for land settlement. Let there be no mistake about it; that is final and settled, and so far as I am concerned, I must hold the ring between these men who have a right and proper claim to consideration, and who will be taken on their merits. This kind of action, however, has been supported and stimulated by law agents. The hon. Member says that these men have not had an opportunity of consulting their law agents. I do not know the rights and wrongs of it, but I think it would be infinitely better for these men that they should be free of the advice of the kind of law agents they have had interfering in this problem. If there is to be a reasonable settlement either in these Islands or elsewhere, the full claims of all men will be taken into consideration and a settlement will be made, but we are not going to have our hands forced either by raiders or by a combination of raiders and proprietors to hold the State to ransom. 1592 And I wish to made that abundantly clear to the House. It is an unfortunate thing that the result of the action of these men should be that they are struck off this list, but when the proprietor comes to his senses it will not prevent the settlement of men upon this farm, men who have as good and probably better service than these men we have been discussing to-night. Let the House understand that there is only a limited amount of land available; and let them realise that it is not by disorderly action that people are likely to benefit. I would advise those hon. Members opposite who have a real interest in the question of land settlement in Scotland to believe that. I am prepared to see that settlement extended and carried out, but I am not going to have my hands forced by those who break the law; and, under the circumstances, I think the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) and his friends are ill-advised, in the interests of the people, to take this line of action.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
As the result of a letter I have had from the men in gaol, dated 30th April this year—not 1926—I should like to ask a few questions. Did the Secretary of State for Scotland know that the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Livingstone) was to approach the men in prison in order to obtain an undertaking from them, either that they would not interfere with Scaristaveg for a period of at least six months or that they would comply with the whole of the interdict? Were the men promised that they would get some money on their release and what money, if any, was promised to them? What terms were promised to them if they gave the undertaking desired? Was it intimated to them that they would get holdings at Scaristaveg? Was it fair for their Member of Parliament to bargain with these men, who were virtually in chains, and who had no opportunity of taking independent advice on the subject of the proposals or offers made to them? What is to become of the men now on their release, on your statement that they are not going to get any land, and what provision is to be made for them and their families? Are they to continue landless and occupy the horrible hovels 1593 they are now taking shelter in, or are they to get land at once on which they can produce food for themselves and their families and erect decent dwellings? You say you are going to see that these men and men like them get a fair do. Here we have the "Morning Post" of 1594 the 29th ultimo advertising a huge estate in Sutherlandshire with 43,820 acres for sale.
§ It being half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.