HL Deb 02 August 1897 vol 52 cc53-6

, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said that he need not labour the principle that it was for the good of the whole country that special assistance should be given to the people of those parts of the country which were poorer and in a more backward condition than the general body of the population. That principle was admitted, and had often been acted upon, and he did not think there would be any reluctance on the part of the House to give assent to the Bill on that ground at any rate. The Bill dealt with a sum of £35,000 a year. Of that sum £15,000 was set apart specially for the Highlands and Islands of Scotland under the Agricultural Rating Act of last year. The balance of £20,000 was in lieu of the sum which had appeared from year to year upon the Estimates presented by the Treasury to Parliament for the special benefit of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. It had been thought better to consolidate those two sums and to include within the purview of the Bill most of the objects which had been dealt with, in the expenditure of the £20,000, and some others besides which were new. The object of the Bill would be found in the 4th Clause. They varied very considerably in importance. From some of them a good deal might be hoped; and he believed none of them were useless. It had been thought better to take somewhat wide powers, even though they might not be exorcised at first to the full, rather than, after having passed the Bill, to find that some special object which was wanted in some particular place was not within the power of the Commission to deal with. The area over which the Bill extended was comprised in the Crofter Counties of the North and North-west of Scotland. It was, of course, obvious to anyone who knew those districts that not all of them were equally necessitous. In fact there were large tracts in those counties in which it would be an abuse to spend public money in the way in which it was proposed under this Bill, for they could not fairly be described as congested districts. They had thought it better not to attempt a hard and fast definition of a congested district, and had accordingly provided that a congested district should mean any crofting parish or crofting parishes, or any area in a crofting parish or crofting parishes, which the Commissioners, having regard to the population and valuation, should determine to be a congested district. They had found that, to adopt the definition in the Irish Act would, owing to the disturbing element brought in by the large amount of sporting rents, have excluded some districts which stood most in need of assistance. They proposed to set up a mixed body to administer the fund so that they might draw on the experience of several departments which existed in Scotland at present. The Commission would contain the Secretary for Scotland, the Under Secretary, the Chairman of the Local Government Board for the time being, the Chairman of the Fishery Board, and the Chairman of the Crofters' Commission, and there would also be power to appoint three other members from time to time. By its constitution the Commission would command valuable knowledge and experience and at the same time undue expense would be avoided, and the body would be sufficiently amenable to Parliamentary control in the expenditure of this sum of money.


said he ventured to re-echo the congratulations with which this Bill had been received in the other House. Its objects had been universally approved by Scotchmen of all sections. He believed the policy adopted would lead to the greatest possible advantage in the congested districts, but he was sorry that power had not been taken to acquire land compulsorily for the purposes of the Bill. He thought there had been an exaggerated estimate of the amount of land available in the Highlands to which crofters and cottars might be transported, and while, no doubt, great advantage might accrue to the congested districts by removing some of the population, it was by no means certain that the step would be equally welcomed in the places to which these people were removed. He was afraid the Commission would have some difficulty in discriminating between the various claims which would be made. The Commission was a very official one and practically amounted to the ipse dixit of the Secretary for Scotland, but as he had great faith in the judgment and discrimination of the Secretaries for Scotland of both Parties, he was not prepared to press that objection. He was sure that Highland proprietors would endeavour to assist the Scotch Office in making these proposals a success.


said he could not re-echo the view taken by his noble Friend, but his object was simply to ask what would be the cost of this scheme? The cost, he imagined, was to come out if the Consolidated Fund, not out of ates.


Not out of rates; out of the fund of £35 provided in the Bill.


said it would come practically out of the Exchequer, and he thought it desirable, therefore, that they should know the exact sum that would be required.


said the exact sum that it would be open to the Commission to spend was £35,000, out of which sum the expenses of management and administration must be paid. While £20,000 came undoubtedly from the Exchequer, £15,000 was, so to speak, Scotch money, taken out of the sum which was devoted to Scotland in respect of the grant which was given to England last year for the relief of local rates. He was not prepared to say what the expenses of administration would be; there would be the salary of the secretary which probably would not be a very large one, the travelling expenses, and such expenditure as might be necessary for professional assistance, engineering, and so on. A Report would be presented to Parliament each year.


said he had expressed his very great pleasure at this proposal when it was made. He only wished that when he had the honour to represent Scotland he had had such a fund to deal with. He thought the present proposal was partly based on what was done at that time. He thought the fund was sufficient for the purposes contemplated at present, although he would be glad of course if it were possible to make it a little larger. He was afraid the work of removing crofters to less congested districts would give rise to a great deal of friction. If they were to deal with the Island of Lewis, for example, they would have to remove 15,000 to 20,000 people, and where these people could be placed passed his comprehension, and supposing that they could do it, it would hardly satisfy the people living in the place to which they were removed. He should have liked to have seen the Board which was to be constituted rather less official, but it would be very difficult to find a Board in Scotland which would do the work equally well. He would prefer that the Secretary for Scotland had not been Chairman of the Board. He might exercise all his powers as Secretary for Scotland if someone else were Chairman of the Board in Edinburgh, and his position as a Minister would be less implicated in the Commission by separation from it. He himself was glad the Bill had been introduced, and he hoped it would be read a Second time.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.