§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (The Marquess of LOTHIAN)
, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that the Crofter Commission was appointed under the Act of 1886 to decide upon fair rents and to deal with arrears. It was hoped, when the Act was passed, that a great many cases would be decided out of Court between landlords and crofters. The expectation, however, had not been realized, and in no case had an arrangement been come to out of Court. Throughout the crofter counties specified under the Act the number of applications made to the Commissioners, and still unheard, was very large indeed, and this state of affairs had given rise to great dissatisfaction in all quarters. The matter had been very strongly brought under his notice by proprietors and crofters alike, and also on behalf of the Judicial Authorities in various places, and he had received urgent communications asking that the Commissioners should hurry, as far as possible, with their work. After consulting with the Commissioners, he had, as far as he could, met the views of those who had desired to have their applications heard; but it was impossible that applications could be heard in very many instances, because the Crofter Commissioners could not be in more places than one. The dissatisfaction was so great that it was clear that the work of the Commission must be expedited, and that could not be done except by Act of Parliament. The Act of 1886 appointed three Crofter Commissioners, and it was enacted that two should form a quorum. Under these circumstances, it was impossible for the 856 Commissioners to divide their labours, and only one Court could be held at a time. The object of the Bill which he now asked their Lordships to read a second time was to enable the three Commissioners to sit in separate Courts with the assistance of Assessors. By this means three Courts would be held instead of one, and the work would be greatly expedited. So many cases had already been heard that it was absolutely essential in the future that the decisions of the Commissioners as to rent and arrears should be carried out upon the same principle. All must be agreed that the principle upon which those decisions had been founded in the past must be acted upon in the future, and they might rest satisfied that the Commissioners were fully acquainted with that principle. Under the arrangement proposed in the Bill there was no occasion to alter the principle upon which decisions had hitherto been made. He should like to bear testimony to the enormous amount of labour which the Commissioners had given to the work which they had had to perform; but they could not possibly, without assistance, get through the business which was still before them. He might add that the request for additional assistance had not come from one section only, but from all parties who were interested in the matter. Under the circumstances, he had no hesitation in asking their Lordships to read the Bill a second time.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Marquess of Lothian.)
§ Motion agreed to; Committee negatived; Then (Standing Order No. XXXV. having been dispensed with) Bill read 3a, and passed.