§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, this Bill was before your Lordships last year, and it has been reprinted in exactly the same form in which it went down to another place. The Bill claims to be an attempt to tackle the main difficulties which exist in questions of Highland land at the present day. It attempts to face and redress the disabilities and anomalies under which crofters in the crofting parishes are labouring to-day. It attempts to give the possibility of increasing existing holdings, and also, which is more important, to make possible the formation of new holdings. The Bill also attempts to simplify the existing administration, and to give a possibility for the inauguration of new enterprises which might be done under what is now the Congested Districts Board.
I may say that this Bill has been constructed with the advice of both those who own the land and those who occupy it, and that it takes into full consideration those points of importance which act as natural limitations to any scheme for increasing small holdings in the Highland area. I refer to the question of wintering, the question of employment, and the question of rates. It is very easy for anyone to tilt at deer forests as they exist to-day, to tilt at those questions of sporting interests which are only the pleasures of the rich, and fail to recognise the benefits these bring to the people who dwell in the Highlands, and how absolutely and vitally they are mixed up in the life of the majority of the small holders there.
The question of employment, one must admit, is the first question one has to look to in facing the crofter problem. We have in the Highlands practically no industries which go on the year through, and the crofter holdings are so small that they do not of themselves support the inhabitants. Therefore for the men to live they have to make their work outside what they raise on the croft. I take directly out of the Bill of the Secretary for Scotland the proposed money grant for the encouragement of afforestation and for development on the lines of co-operation. I believe that 530 afforestation, whether it is undertaken by a central board or under the Scottish Office, will be in the future the only line on which we can ever hope to bring more men into the valleys, and under this Bill it is suggested that the grant indicated in Lord Pentland's Bill should be spent in the crofting parish areas.
The next matter of importance in regarding the crofter question is that of wintering. The majority of your Lordships, no doubt, see the Highlands in the summer time when the grass grows to the tops of the hills, when the cattle are turned out day and night, and when the whole country looks prosperous. I do not expect the majority of your Lordships have seen those upland districts in the winter time, when the whole of the villages are shut off for days and even weeks from the railways and low ground, when the whole of the cattle stock has to be housed, and when the old ewe stock is all that is able to brave the elements, and that only on the lower slopes of the hills. I suppose fewer of you have seen those conditions in the springtime—in April—when in England or in the south country the grass has already made its appearance. In this part of Scotland they have to wait sometimes three and even four weeks before a head of cattle can win a scanty living outside. It is in relation to this question of wintering, and, therefore, the amount of arable ground taken in connection with hinterland, that the crofter question must be studied. It is impossible to break up farms where the amount of arable land is small if you have no keep to offer for beasts during the winter months. The big sheep farmers require a great deal of capital in order that the sheep may be removed from these mountain lands for wintering, sometimes a distance of 200 miles. If you turn some of these farms into crofter holdings, it cannot be expected that the crofters who would take the place of the large farmers would have the necessary capital either to purchase suitable sheep stock or winter it when bought.
The third point we have to consider in looking at any extension of small holdings in the Highland area is the question of rates. This is no doubt a vexed question throughout the country, but in the Highlands it strikes with particular force. Where the owners' and occupiers' rates run, as they do in some of the poorer parishes, from 17s. 6d. up to 19s. in the £—14s. being, comparatively speaking, a common 531 occurrence—the question of what rates have to be paid and the narrow margin between absolutely being able to carry on at all or not comes out with striking force. Any increase of poor population must increase the rates. Not only are there the questions of schools and poor rates, but there is the further consideration, that as the crofter does not pay any rates on his dwelling-house but only on his land he is only rated on a portion of the holding, and therefore the more farms split up the greater the contraction of revenue-producing subjects.
We see in this country considerable anxiety expressed when the Budget proposes an increase of 6d. in the £. I can assure you that any hasty legislation in Scotland which might reduce the number of paying interests, such as sheep farms and sporting values, might lead in certain parishes to an increase in the rates, calculated by shillings not sixpences in the pound. It must not be forgotten that in many parishes in the Highland area sixty per cent. of the rates are paid by sporting interests and sheep farmers. I bring these points forward to show that the crofter question can be only approached with care, foresight, and considerable local knowledge. I do not for a moment pretend that we alone have got in this Bill this knowledge, but I do contend that these facts have been carefully kept before us in framing the Bill, and we have gone as far as anyone can reasonably expect in an endeavour to face the difficulties which exist and the grievances which the crofters have, which we certainly wish to reduce if we possibly can.
The Bill does not require much description. The points which have been already mentioned here I need hardly go over again. In the Bill certain disabilities under which the crofters labour have been removed. We have practically permitted the whole of leaseholders to come under the scope of the Crofters Act, 1886. We have given them power to hire their houses out for summer lodgings or practically any other work they wish, and we have given them clauses by which they should come under the provisions regarding compensation for game. We have put no further duties upon these crofters except that where they hire their houses out for summer visitors they can be rated on their houses, and that they should be bound to make 532 the necessary sanitary arrangements, provided the landlord gets no payment for such houses.
Then we have given facilities for an increase of existing holdings. The only real difference that lies between our proposals and the Government's proposals is this, that we make it a perfectly fair Bill and that proper compensation is paid, not only for the part of the holding taken but also for the surplus land. As to the question of new holdings, the main idea in this Bill is taken from Lord Camperdown's Bill which he has already introduced in your Lordships' House, the only difference being that the executive authority instead of being the county council is in this Bill the Crofters Commission. The Crofters Commission has for a number of years administered affairs in the Highlands. It is a well-known executive body, and we consider it is a body which ought to be able to take up this work satisfactorily. The Crofters Commission, in readjusting rents, have really ludicrously little work to do at the present time. I have not the figures for this year, but in previous years I do not think the difference of rents adjusted amounted to more than £100 in the whole year's work.
We further take up the question of amalgamating the Congested Districts Board and the Crofters Commission in one board. At the present time in another place there is considerable criticism of the action of the Congested Districts Board. I do not wish to enter into that here, but I do desire to point out that anyone who has wished to divide land among crofters has had his difficulty considerably increased by having to deal with two boards rather than with one authority; and I feel certain that putting these two boards together would mean more effective work. Then the Congested Districts Board being handed over, there would be one member added for the purpose of taking up forestal matters. I think that all of us who have read the Report of the Forestry Commission lately published would be satisfied that it is, at all events, a question which is well worthy of study in the Highlands. I do not for a moment wish to subscribe to the whole of the findings of that Committee; but even if only a very small fraction of the figures they have given is correct as regards area of ground that can be planted, and if the 533 return from forest land is only half what they say it might eventually be, you will see there are great prospects for forestry work on the low-value land of which the majority of the crofter parishes consist.
As I say, this is a Bill which does not very much differ, except in form, from what the wishes of the Government appear to be on the subject of crofter reform. I think we can claim that if we have not a certain number of the representatives of the crofters in another place entirely on our side, at all events by the legislation which they have put forward they wish to work on parallel, if not very similar, lines. The question of removing the anomalies of the existing 1886 Act, the question of creating economic holdings, and the question of expansion of the areas at present held by crofters—these are the three essential ideas we wish to get forward, and these, I submit, are brought out in this Bill. Whether the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland will see his way to support the Bill I have not the least idea. I can only say that if he does not support this measure the only reason can be that he is so wedded to proposals which have been twice refused by this House that he still puts forward his own scheme, which, from what we have seen, is not likely to pass, and refuses a scheme which, having passed this House once, I think we may confidently expect may pass this House again.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Lovat.)
§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (LORD PENTLAND)
My Lords, I am in a little difficulty this afternoon, and I daresay some of your Lordships are in the same difficulty, for there are upon the business Paper of the House two Bills, one in the name of Lord Camperdown and the other in the name of the noble Lord who has just sat down, both dealing with the problem of amending crofter legislation for Scotland.
§ LORD PENTLAND
I will endeavour to deal with that distinction afterwards; but they both propose to increase the number of small holdings or crofts in the Highlands 534 of Scotland. I am at a loss to know, therefore, to use what is a colloquial phrase, on which leg those who are opposed to the Government policy mean to stand on this matter. I should like, if I may, to be allowed to make a few observations on the general subject before I deal with the provisions of the Bill which the noble Lord has laid before your Lordships. I am grateful to him for this opportunity of making such observations, and I am grateful to your Lordships for being willing again to consider what is, in the opinion of the Government, not only an important but a pressing question.
We all know the high esteem in which Lord Lovat is held in the Highlands, and it is a profound regret to me—I say so perfectly sincerely—that I find myself in opposition to him on this occasion; for I am in no doubt whatever as to his public-spirited intentions in this matter, and I would greatly have preferred finding myself in agreement with him. Your Lordships, too, many of you, have great knowledge and practical experience of the management of land to which I can lay no claim whatever. But it has been my duty, holding the office which I have the honour to hold, to study and endeavour to master this question, and having lived in Scotland all my life, I am not altogether unacquainted, though I do not pretend to dogmatise about it, with the conditions of the subject.
I cannot help believing that we start from different sets of facts in this matter, or there could not be such great differences. I should like, with your Lordships' permission, to endeavour to try and remove some of these differences in order to place your Lordships in possession of the standpoint or the view of the Government in this matter. There are several what I may without offence term misconceptions. I do not attribute all or any of them to your Lordships or to any particular persons. They are possibly not shared by your Lordships, but, unhappily, they have been emphasised and deepened during this controversy, which has lasted something like three years, and they do obscure a true understanding of this question. I remember last year that when Lord Lovat introduced this Bill in your Lordships' House—and he has alluded to that consideration again to day—he expressed the view that the work of the Crofters Commission had 535 practically come to an end. He said that it cost £5,000 a year, that the amount of fair rents fixed by it was very small, and that it was evident that its work was approaching an end. Last year, of course, there were special causes for the small output of work of the Crofters Commission; and when I speak of last year I mean the work which was reported last year—namely, the work of the previous year. The Chairman of the Commission, who has since died, was then suffering from an illness which had continued a longtime, and the work of the Commission was hindered by the fact that his presence was required for hearing appeals. I think the results will be somewhat different this year. I do not, however, pretend to say that there is not some force in the criticism of the noble Lord. In time the work of the Commission in fixing rents must be limited, especially if no new holdings are being created; but if the powers of the Crofters Act were extended, as we deem they should be and as we have endeavoured to extend them, the work in respect of fixing rents for new holdings and in respect of fixing rents for enlargement of existing holdings would develop and continue.
I must remind your Lordships of a still more important consideration, and it is this. The Crofters Commission is an integral part of the crofter system, and I am sure no one who knows the Highlands will deny consideration to the view that the crofter system is a guarantee, which we could not lightly dispense with, for the peace, the well-being, and the prosperity of the Highlands. The first observation then which I would venture to make is that the Crofters Commission and the crofter system are established facts in Scotland, and it is impossible to discuss this question of crofters, and of crofts or small holdings, call them what you will, without recognising that fact. Another misconception—I believe it to be a misconception—is the identification of the crofter system with the system of the Irish Land Act, 1881, and such legislation. I am not sure that that criticism is, even if it were admitted, so powerful as it might seem at first sight. That Irish legislation, after all, recognised and applied throughout Ireland the conditions of tenure which characterised the most prosperous, the most energetic, and the most enterprising portion of the farming community 536 in Ireland; but there are wide differences, my Lords, between the crofter system and the system to which I have alluded in Ireland. There are differences in the form of the tribunal, in the procedure, in the cost, in the absence of an appeal from the decision of the tribunal, and also, on the other hand, in the form of tenure, notably by the absence from the Scottish tenure of all free sale. I would make this further observation, whatever your opinion may be of the comparison to which I have alluded, that it is quite undeniable that the Scottish system has not led to the same results as have been apparent in Ireland.
If I may briefly recognise another misconception, Lewis and Barra are not typical of the whole of the Highlands of Scotland. The noble Lord alluded to them last year and said that squatting was going on and that affairs were going from bad to worse. It is the case there. There is the further characteristic that in Barra and Lewis, alone of all the rural parishes in Scotland almost, the population is increasing. Lewis and Barra are not typical even of the Outer Islands, far less of the Highlands of Scotland or of the crofting counties in the Highlands.
I come now, if I may, to two proposals upon which the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition in this House based last year his fatal opposition to the Government Bill. He described the crofter system as a failure. He used these words—We have denied from the first that the crofter legislation has been on the whole of a successful nature even in those areas where it has been applied.And he repeated that statement in even stronger terms on the 6th of this month in the discussion on Lord Camperdown's Bill, when he stated that the crofter system had actually led to a most disastrous state of things in Scotland. The noble Marquess said—We have it in the evidence from numerous sources that the crofter system has led to agriculture more miserable and to conditions of existence more squalid and wretched than any other system with which we are familiar in these islands,thus actually attributing to the existence of the crofter system the worsening, the further degradation, of Highland conditions now as compared with the year 1886 when the crofter system was established. 537 Now I am quite willing, and I am sure anybody who knows the conditions must be quite willing, to admit that in the farm stock of the crofters, in the methods of cultivation, in the marketing, in the system of farming generally, there is much room for improvement in the crofter area. But I should be grateful to be enlightened as to what foundation there is for the statement—and I take the more moderate of the two statements—that the crofter legislation has not been a success.
This Bill is founded on the Crofters Act, and therefore the question whether the crofter legislation is a success or not is beside the point.
§ LORD PENTLAND
I am quite aware that it is the intention of the noble Lord to develop and extend the crofter system, but my belief—and I think I shall be able to make it good to your Lordships—is that this Bill has precisely the reverse effect, and I am anxious, therefore, to give your Lordships some testimony to rebut the very powerful authority of the noble Marquess who has expressed an opinion condemnatory of the crofter system. I am very loath to detain your Lordships or to speak at greater length than you would wish, and I will make my observations as brief as possible; but I would remind your Lordships that this condemnation of the crofter system was based very largely—I do not presume to say wholly—on the Report of what the noble Marquess called the Douglas Commission. The Douglas Commission was a party of gentlemen who early last year or the year before, I forget which, travelled through the Highlands for, I think, something like a fortnight or three weeks. Most of the members of that party were already committed—publicly committed—as opposed to the Government Bill dealing with this question. We are all well aware in Scotland of the circumstances under which they travelled through the Highlands, and I cannot believe that if the noble Marquess were fully acquainted with those circumstances he would attach such overwhelming importance to their evidence, bearing in mind that the time which they devoted to the purpose could not possibly avail them to make a real examination of the circumstances. I cannot believe that their evidence should be so overwhelming as to negative all the documents that have been laid before 538 Parliament since the year 1886, when the Crofters Commission was established.
If the Crofters Commission is thought to be interested in praising its own work, let me refer your Lordships to the Deer Forest Commission, which reported on the whole of the Highlands of Scotland, after two years work, in the year 1895. Their words are—We deem it right to place on record the result of our observations as to the effect of the Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1886. Our inspection of land throughout the counties mentioned brought us into intimate proximity with many crofting townships, as well as with the individual holdings of many crofters, and, accordingly, we derived materials for judgment from a very large portion of the crofting area—I may interpolate that this was a unanimously signed Report and that the Commission contained members representing all political parties—Our opinion is that, speaking generally, the Act has had a beneficial effect, and particularly in the following directions. In the first place, the fixing of a fair rent has to a large extent removed from the minds of crofters the sense of hardship arising from the belief that they were made to pay rent on their own improvements, or otherwise made to pay at an excessive rate for soil of a poor quality. In the second place, the combination of a fair rent with statutory security of tenure has not only taken away or allayed causes of discontent, but has imparted a new spirit to crofters, and imbued them with fresh energy. The abiding sense produced that the permanent improvements which a crofter makes upon his holding will, if he complies with certain reasonable statutory conditions, accrue either to himself or to his family successor, will not be taxable by the landlord in the form of increased rent, and, moreover, will have a money value under a claim for compensation or renunciation of tenancy or removal from his holding, has led to vigorous efforts towards improvement by crofters in many quarters. For instance, we found that more attention is being paid to cultivation, to rotation of crops, to reclamation of outruns, to fencing, and to the formation or repair of township roads; but most conspicuous of all effects perceptible is that upon buildings, including both dwelling-houses and steadings.And so the Report goes on. The real truth is—at any rate, it is the view of the Government founded on a fairly careful examination of the facts—that not only is the Crofters Commission and the Crofters Act largely responsible for the peace and order which now reign throughout the Highlands, but the security for rents thereby given has been an advantage to proprietors. We know that great improvements have been made in the housing of the crofters, something like £160,000—that is a moderate 539 estimate —having been expended on the improvement of their houses. Many of them have risen from crofters to be farmers of large farms, and many of their sons have entered the various professions. Two men were pointed out to me recently when I visited a well known University as of the most promising of their class, and they came from small crofts. The noble Lord smiles. I quite agree that it is a domestic feature, but it bears out what the Report says, that there has been instilled in the crofter population a desire for self-improvement and an ambition which is worthy of all praise.
Let me, if I may, say a word on the distinction which the noble Earl is frequently fond of drawing between a crofter and a small holder. The noble Marquess expressed great surprise the other day when I ventured to say in this House that when they are working under the same conditions there is no essential difference between a crofter and a small holder. I will endeavour to explain what I meant. The noble Marquess takes a different view. Speaking in your Lordships' House on March 11, 1908, the noble Marquess said—We conceive that there is au essential distinction between crofters and farmers who are not crofters…What was essential in a crofter was that he should have a hereditary and prescriptive tenure, and that he, and not his landlord, should have been in the habit of making the improvements on his holdings.… The crofter is the man who de facto has already established a proprietary right upon the farm.I am not concerned to question the historical ground upon which the advocacy of the Crofters Act was based by the late Lord Kinross in the House of Commons. That consideration was emphasised by the late Lord Salisbury in your Lordships' House. But I wish to point out, and to emphasise, some further facts which I think are incontestable.
In the first place, may I remind your Lordships that there is not one word in the Crofters Act itself about hereditary tenure—not one word. The definition of a crofter in that Act runs—Any person who at the passing of this Act is tenant of a holding from year to year, who resides on a holding, the annual rent of which is under £30, situated in a crofting parish.The early words are "any person," so that as the Act came into force in June, 1886, any person who at that time was the 540 tenant of a holding in a crofting parish became admitted to the benefits of that Act. There were numerous cases of men admitted to the benefits of the Act who had no hereditary claim whatever. Then let me instance another class of persons who have been admitted to the Act. There are numerous instances of persons who have secured entry to holdings since 1886 and who have been accepted by Highland proprietors as crofters. I admit that if the proprietors had taken objection these crofters could never have acquired statutory rights, but by the goodwill of the proprietors there have been numerous cases of crofters who have obtained statutory rights, particularly, I believe, on the Sutherland estates and other estates. Further, there are numerous tenants who have been established as crofters and given the statutory crofter tenure by the operations of the Congested Districts Board co-operating with proprietors. All these classes are statutory crofters whatever may have been the ground upon which this legislation was advocated. Both in 1886 and since that year there have been numerous classes of men admitted to this crofter tenure who, so far as hereditary claim is concerned, are indistinguishable from any other farmers in Scotland.
A share in common pasture is often considered as the indispensable characteristic of a crofter holding, but that is not the case. There are many districts, especially on the West Coast, in which common pasture is the rule, but there are numbers of places, especially on the East Coast, where there is no share whatever in common pasture, and, therefore, in that respect also, there is no difference between the crofter in individual occupancy of a small arable farm and the man over the fence who has no statutory rights, who is also in individual occupancy of his farm, and who is called a farmer. The arable land in the Highlands, as the noble Lord knows, is of small extent in proportion to the grazing, and it would not be practicable, owing to the quality and character of the land, to assign a share in common grazing to crofters. All up the East Coast common grazings are exceedingly rare.
If your Lordships will allow me, I would like to give the facts which will bear out the statements I have ventured to make. In 1888 the Commissioners held sittings at Beauly and heard applications from 541 the parishes of Kirkhill, Kiltarlity, and Kilmorack, and fixed fair rents for 148 holdings there. They extended to 1,522 acres arable and 1,358 acres outrun, and the fair rents were fixed at £830 5s. 6d. One of the tenants was interested to the extent of one-half in a common pasture of ninety-one acres. All the rest were tenants of crofts held in individual occupancy, and without any common pasture. Taking next the county of Ross and Cromarty, the Commissioners held sittings in Dingwall in 1888 and heard applications from fifteen estates in the neighbourhood and in the district commonly known as the Black Isle. Fair rents were fixed for 139 holdings. Twelve of these, along with four others, included an interest in a common pasture of 227 acres; all the rest were holdings possessed in individual occupancy and without common pasture. I have figures here of five out of the seven crofting counties, which show that in numerous cases these crofters have no common pasture but are the owners and occupiers of individual farms just as ordinary farmers.
These holdings are numerous. The hereditary theory did not enter into the matter, and there are these classes of tenants to be found in every one of the crofter counties. At any rate in five I have the evidence before me at this moment. The importance of it is not that it is known to the Government, but that it is known throughout the length and breadth of Scotland. It has helped to mould public opinion on this question there, and it is unquestionably the fact that the system has a firm hold on public opinion in Scotland. It not only has a firm hold, but it is regarded there as a Scottish development, the fruit of Scottish circumstances and Scottish experience, and in that as having brought great benefits to Scotland and especially to the Highlands. In hundreds and hundreds of cases—and this is the statement which I should like to submit to the noble Marquess—at least in five of the crofting counties, the conditions under which the statutory crofter works and farms his holding are indistinguishable from those of the ordinary farmer, large or small, except in two particulars—the statutory crofter makes his own improvements and has fixity of tenure. Obviously this has two bearings. It has a bearing on the subject matter of the noble Lord's Bill, and has a wider bearing on legislation for the whole of Scotland. If I may be 542 allowed, I will make some observations in this light on the noble Lord's Bill. This Bill—I say so simply as a fact, and not to give any offence—is the second edition of the noble Lord's proposals. He proposed certain Amendments last year which transformed the character of his Bill, the object of these Amendments being, if I mistake him not, to set up machinery to provide new holdings.
§ LORD PENTLAND
And I thank the noble Lord for doing us the courtesy of adopting I think about twelve clauses of the Government Bill. To those clauses, therefore, I need make no allusion. The original proposal of this House in Lord Camperdown's Bill was that new holdings should be created all over Scotland, including the crofter area, through the county councils. The Bill now before us proposes that the powers provided in Lord Camperdown's Bill for the county councils should be given in the crofting districts to the Crofters Commission.
§ LORD PENTLAND
That is the practical effect of the proposal. The authority has been changed, but the scheme remains the same, and I note there is no provision in the Bill for giving to these new holdings the crofting tenure. It offers instead a system for which I venture to say there is no evidence whatever of a demand, and, so far as purchase goes, they are not likely, I think, to take advantage of it on any terms. On the other hand, the crofter tenure which is proposed by the Government is simple, easily worked, cheap, well-known, and popular.
The next observation I would make upon the noble Lord's Bill is this. He alluded to the Bill as strengthening the position of the Crofters Commission. He adopts the Crofters Commission for certain purposes, but he really deprives it of the character which it has hitherto borne. He described it to-day as an administrative body. It has certain very small and limited administrative functions, but I believe that if the antithesis is to be raised it is far more correct to describe the Crofters Commission as a judicial body than an administrative body. It is in that respect 543 that the noble Lord's proposals damage the Crofters Commission because he seeks to impose upon that Commission, which hitherto has been regarded as a judicial body, and which, as a judicial body, is subject to no appeal to a higher Court, duties of an administrative character which would greatly prejudice its position as a judicial authority.
The noble Lord introduces the system of an individual valuer to take the place of the Crofters Commission in valuing these new holdings. I am not going to argue that question. It has been argued before in your Lordships' House. The comparative advantages of an individual private valuer and valuation by a statutory body have been argued here by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack; but I would ask whether it is a wise proposal to take from the Highlands the services of a tribunal in which they have confidence, whose decisions I do not think have ever been the subject of any pronounced or general attack, which has done its work to the satisfaction generally of both tenants and proprietors—is it, I ask, a practical and wise proposal to take from the Highlands that tried and experienced, and, I would say, impartial, tribunal, and substitute for it the services of individual valuers?
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
Is the noble Lord talking of the Congested Districts Board or of the Commission?
§ LORD PENTLAND
I understand they are amalgamated in Lord Lovat's Bill. That is precisely the operation to which I take great exception, and I cannot see where the advantages of the single valuer come in. Has the practice of employing valuers to value the interests in sheep farms been so very successful that we should abandon a tried system in order to adopt it? I am, therefore, by the facts obliged to take exception also to this proposal. There are two other clauses in the Bill to which I take objection. Clause 2 is one of the clauses adopted from the Government Bill in regard to auxiliary occupation. The noble Lord alluded to it in his opening remarks, but subsection (4), which was not in the Government Bill and is meant to provide that all crofters in future shall pay a rate on all improvements other than agricultural improvements, I cannot consider an improvement in this Bill. The 544 rating system of the country may be good or bad. It may or it may not deserve amendment. It is not likely to make a Bill of this kind acceptable to the crofters when they are aware that by this provision the Bill imposes a new liability and a new burden upon them. Clause 3 does the same thing in regard to all existing crofters as well as new holders—imposes a rate for sanitary improvements.
§ LORD PENTLAND
But the noble Lord will find that in the Government Bill it is limited to new holdings. It is not a new burden placed upon those with whom the State has already made its bargain. Then I would like to say a word in regard to the compulsory powers of this Bill. Your Lordships are aware that, rightly or wrongly, one of the great difficulties in the opinion of the crofting counties is that there is no power in the Crofters Act for the creation of new holdings. It is that which has checked the development of population in these counties. The noble Lord provides compulsory powers, but there are no compulsory powers in this Bill to provide crofters with the tenure of the Crofters Act; and so far as I understand the Bill—I hope I am not misunderstanding it—the adoption of the Lands Clauses Acts as the machinery for carrying out the compulsory provisions of the Act completely nullifies the benefit which no doubt it is intended to confer. That procedure would be an absolute bar to any such extensions as are contemplated.
The demands of the crofting population are very well known. They have asked for new holdings, they have asked for a raising of the limit to £50, they have asked for the extension of the Crofters Act to leaseholders, and they have asked for the extension of the Crofters Act to new areas. All these are to be found, not in the noble Lord's Bill, but in the proposals of the Government. And I hope it is not out of place for me to say that these reforms are not newly proposed by the present Government; many of them were proposed by the Government of the year 1894 and 1895, and it is not likely, in my opinion, after the publicity which has been given, after the official support which has been given, to such proposals, that the crofter community will consider the proposals of the noble Lord sufficient to meet their needs. In regard to 545 leaseholders, I quite believe that the noble Lord is under the impression that leaseholders will be freely admitted to the benefits of the Crofters Act. Will he allow me just to make this observation on that point? His first clause enacts that all those at present in the crofting area and having a holding the annual rent of which does not, and did not, at the passing of the Act of 1886, exceed £30, are to receive the benefits of the Crofters Act. Observe how this boon is limited. In the first place, the benefits of the Crofters Act are only extended to persons who or whose predecessors in the same family have continuously resided on the holdings as tenants since the passing of the Act of 1886. Secondly, only such crofter is admitted who or whose predecessor in the same family shall have at his own cost erected, constructed, or made the buildings and permanent improvements, without receiving compensation from the landlord. Again, every crofter to be admitted must apply to be registered under the Act, and a further exclusion is made to the effect that no person will be entitled to the benefits of the Act who or whose predecessor was before 1886 but has since then ceased to be a statutory crofter under the Act of 1886. I can assure the noble Lord that his exclusions go very far indeed to reduce the benefits which his clause if it were less limited would confer on those concerned. Therefore, I am obliged, with regret, to take objection on these grounds to the noble Lord's Bill.
The Bill does not admit any substantial number of leaseholders, and it increases the rates of existing crofters in two directions. Nowhere are compulsory powers given for the establishment of new holdings with the tenure of the Crofters Act, and I do not believe that crofters side by side with statutory crofters will accept any tenure less favourable than that. The Bill also destroys the judicial character of the Crofters Commission. I trust your Lordships may not be under the impression that there is any considerable body of support, or any support whatever, in my humble judgment, among the supporters of the Government for any such proposal as this. Those who think that really only deceive themselves. There has been intense disappointment at the rejection by your Lordships' House of the Government's proposals, and the absence of, and the blank negative given to, legislation on this subject must affect different minds in different ways. Some men seek 546 other outlets of hope that reform might be obtained. But it is quite contrary to the fact that there has been any desire to substitute so partial a Bill as this for the proposals of the Government, and I feel quite sure that if the real effect of the provisions of this Bill were known it would be summarily rejected as a solution of the problem which is before us.
I do not attempt on this occasion—though I would gladly do so—to discuss the bearing of what I have ventured to say about the definition of crofter and the absence of distinction, except those I have mentioned, between a crofter and small farmer, and the bearing that has on the question as it affects the whole of Scotland. Setting that branch of the subject altogether aside, I will only say again that I regret profoundly to differ from the noble Lord, but I feel sure that this is a wholly inadequate proposal. It is hopeless to consider it as meeting the problem. It strikes a blow—I have no doubt unintentionally—which would be profoundly resented throughout Scotland.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, the noble Lord commenced his observations by saying he was grateful to Lord Lovat for having given him this opportunity of dealing with this matter. I hope that my noble friend did not expect very much in the way of gratitude, because exactly the same remark was made to me two or three days ago on a similar Bill, and the conclusion to which the noble Lord finally came was that he was obliged to differ from me totally, as he has been obliged to-day to differ from my noble friend behind me.
Having commenced his speech in this manner, the noble Lord went on to give us a long disquisition upon a variety of phases and interests in the crofter question. He spoke without very great respect of the Douglas Commission, for one thing. The noble Lord probably knows that Mr. Douglas was a Member sitting on the same side as himself, and that he and Mr. Munro Ferguson, who is also a friend of the noble Lord, were the moving persons in the Commission. He went on to speak of the Deer Forest Commission, and then got into the generalities of the crofter question. All that part of his speech was rendered quite unnecessary by a remark of Lord Lovat's to the effect that this Bill is founded, not on any part of the crofter 547 question, but on the Crofters Act, and was intended as an attempt to deal with difficulties under which the crofters consider they labour in the present state of the law.
I will not imitate the noble Lord, but will go at once to the Bill. With regard to some of the details of it, I think that probably Lord Lovat himself will be the best person to reply to the points raised. In the first place, the noble Lord said that the Crofters Commission was necessary for the Highlands. Of course it is; nobody questions it. The proposal of the noble Lord is to amalgamate the Congested Districts Board with the Crofters Commission. The other way would have produced the same result. The intention of the Bill is that instead of two Boards, which at the present time confessedly have not sufficient business to occupy them, there should be one Board which should discharge in the Highlands the functions now discharged by both. The noble Lord said that the Crofters Commission is a judicial body. But does not the Crofters Commission fix rents? Does not the Commission say what land is to be taken, and so on? If those are not administrative functions, I do not know what administrative functions are; and at the present time there is no reason, so far as I can see, why the Crofters Commission, especially if enlarged as my noble friend proposes, should not be able to discharge the duties of both.
Then the noble Lord fell foul of the single valuer. I was particularly surprised to hear him do that. I must say the differences between the noble Lord and the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture always do excite my admiration. I will tell your Lordships why I think those differences exist. I believe the noble Lord is very jealous of Lord Carrington, and that he has a great desire to set up an agricultural snuggery of his own in Scotland, and for that reason when the Agricultural Holdings Bill was before this House I observed that not one single bit of assistance was given to Lord Carrington from the Scottish Office. I more than once asked Lord Carrington why he had got no information from the Scottish Office, and he was able to give me no answer. The reason clearly was that the Scottish Office was not particularly anxious to give him any assistance. The noble Lord sneered at Lord Carrington for having 548 got into a mess about the valuation of sheep. Yes, he did. I told him at the time that he would get into a mess and he accepted an Amendment from me which would have prevented it; but when the Bill went back to the House of Commons the English Solicitor-General said my Amendment was unnecessary, and for that reason Lord Carrington gave it up, and the Scottish Law Officers in the other House appear never to have taken the matter into their consideration. I do not think it is very wise of my noble friend to bring before us these domestic differences which appear to exist between his Office and the Board of Agriculture. And let me say that I feel quite certain I am expressing the opinion of every Scotsman present when I say that I hope the Board of Agriculture will continue to have authority in Scotland, and that we shall not have any half-equipped Department with the noble Lord as the head of it. What is the objection to the single valuer? The Government are always saying, Let us do what is cheapest; it may possibly be not the best, but it is the cheapest, and cheapness is what you have to look to. From this point of view I do not understand why the single valuer is objected to in this case.
Then the noble Lord says the crofting tenure is not given by this Bill. I know that it is the intention of my noble friend to give the crofting tenure, and no doubt if he has not done so, he will do it. Clause 37 of this Bill provides that—This Act may be cited as the Crofting Parishes (Scotland) Act 1909 and so far as it relates to crofters holdings shall be construed with the Crofters Acts and may be cited with those Acts as the Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Acts 1880 to 1909.I should have thought that that would have meant that those Acts were incorporated; but, if not, I am sure that my noble friend at a later stage of the Bill will take the opportunity of doing so.
I have not yet heard any reasons given for objecting to the creation of new holdings. I suppose the noble Lord will not say that Lord Lovat is not making a new and a very great change in the law by proposing to create new crofts. Up to the present time the law has been that you could not make new crofts. The noble Lord by this Bill proposes to give that power. It is really useless to argue with the noble Lord 549 the Secretary for Scotland, because he never can get one thing out of his mind—that a croft is a small holding and a small holding is a croft. We have tried to impart to him at all events that amount of agricultural information, and it seems to me quite useless to say it over again. Does the noble Lord mean to tell me that he and those Members who represent the crofting districts are agreed about this matter? He may possibly remember that eighteen crofter Members in May of last year presented a memorial to the Prime Minister protesting against the noble Lord—
§ LORD PENTLAND
The noble Earl is entirely mistaken in his reading of these events. No Government could possibly have had a more loyal body of supporters than the Government had for, I think, a period of more than two sessions, and there is not one of those Members to whom the noble Earl alludes who would not far greater prefer the Government Bill to any other Bill, or to any portion of any other Bill, that has yet been proposed for dealing with this matter. If it were possible to save any portion of our proposals on right lines an offer should have been made; but your Lordships made it clear to us that that was impossible.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
The noble Lord is the first Minister I ever knew who seemed to take a pleasure in having a memorial presented advising a course different from that which he was proposing. It is quite true that they say they agree with the Government Bill, but they add that the Government Bill is impossible. Let me read an extract from the memorial—The rejection by the House of Lords of the Government Bill has convinced us that until grave constitutional issues have been decided land legislation cannot be secured upon these lines. While there is general agreement as to the end to be attained, there is profound divergence of opinion as to method. Conservative Peers, though rejecting the Government Bill, have introduced measures, inadequate, indeed, but admitting the necessity for action, and admitting willingness to go some way to meet us. The moment, then, is opportune for a serious attempt to find common ground and by judicial compromise to pass a really satisfactory measure.
§ LORD PENTLAND
If the noble Earl has any proposals for a compromise or wishes to give, any indication how far he is willing to go to meet the Government, I can say for the Government that we shall be perfectly willing to consider those proposals.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
We are not now considering a compromise but Lord Lovat's Bill, and what I was reading to your Lordships was a statement made by the crofter Members who the noble Lord considers are in agreement with him. Finally, they advised that there should be a compromise. They said—The Government should, at any rate, consent to a conference consisting of Members of both Parties in both Houses.I presume that that was put before the noble Lord, and that, as usual, he was obdurate, and declined to make the slightest change in his proposals. I am quite convinced of this, that if we had only the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to deal with we should very soon come to an arrangement; but, judging from my previous experience of the Secretary for Scotland, I do not think it is likely that any compromise will be arrived at with him. This House is very desirous of settling this question, and by the Bill which was called my Bill and by this Bill we have put forward very serious proposals going a long way in the direction of the Government.
The noble Lord is always having correspondence with someone, and the last letter he seems to have written appears to have been to Mr. Weir. In an endeavour to smooth Mr. Weir down, the Secretary for Scotland wrote a letter to the hon. Member in which, after mentioning the Government Bill, he said—The House of Lords rejected this measure, and the Opposition in that House have further plainly indicated that they will not sanction any extension of the Crofters Holdings Act which will satisfy the needs of the country.Now, my Lords, is that a fair statement? Your Lordships heard what the Lord Chancellor said of my Bill the other day. The noble Lord's Bill to-night, for the first time, creates new holdings and makes it possible to create new crofts, and he says he is perfectly prepared to give crofter tenure if it is not already given in the Bill. The noble Lord, in his letter to Mr. Weir, proceeded to say—The Government mean to persist in their endeavour to obtain small holdings legislation for Scotland.Well, how do they propose to persist? The noble Lord, when taking leave of his constituents, wrote them a very affecting letter, in which he stated the grief it gave him to leave the House of Commons, 551 and he added that the only thing which could have induced him to do so was to further administrative legislation in this House. Well, we have been waiting all these months. Last year I brought in a Bill, and I was attacked for not waiting for the Government. This year I waited for the Government until I was tired of waiting and was driven at last to bring in my Bill. I wish the noble Lord would bring in the Government Bill. If he would do so, I can promise him that we would endeavour to extract a great deal of information about its origin. But do not let him write in letters that this House has declared that it will do nothing. It has done nothing of the kind.
I have observed that when the noble Lord is in a difficulty he endeavours to put it off on to somebody else. All the trouble in Vatersay was occasioned by Lady Cathcart, you know. And now that he cannot provide legislation to satisfy his crofter friends, that is the fault of the House of Lords. In his letter to his late constituents the noble Lord asked for a continuance of the staunch support he had hitherto received—in order that the forces of Liberalism and progress may overcome obstacles presented to reform in this and other directions by the predominance of the Opposition in the House of Lords.That is all very well on the platform, but it does not produce any effect in this House, and I do not think it has produced any effect on Mr. Weir judging from the reply he has made; nor do I think it has produced much effect on any of the crofter Members. I am glad to hear that the noble Lord is on such excellent terms with them. I hope it may long continue.
The great difference between this Bill and the Government Bill is this, that this Bill says that when land is required it may be hired compulsorily, but it must be hired by the Commission, and, therefore, the Commission will intervene between the crofter and the unwilling owner. Of course, where the owner is willing the arrangement will be made privately. But the plan of the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland is this, that the central body —in his case a land Court—is to fix the rent for an unwilling individual who believes the scheme is wrong and not likely to succeed, and then the noble Lord pursues the general practice of leaving that individual 552 to look after himself. That is the radical difference between these two proposals, and I cannot help thinking that the proposal which my noble friend Lord Lovat has put in, and which has succeeded so well in England, is the right course for us to take in Scotland.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the Secretary for Scotland has treated the House this evening to a somewhat remarkable and unusual performance. He rose to reply to my noble friend Lord Lovat, who had moved the Second Reading of his Bill in a speech of moderate length and full of appropriate arguments; but the noble Lord opposite, before he began to address himself to the case made by Lord Lovat, spoke for something like three-quarters of an hour by the clock, not in reply to Lord Lovat, but in reply to a speech I had made in this House twelve months ago. I am almost inclined to demand reciprocity of treatment, and to say that if the noble Lord will allow me an interval of twelve months, I shall be perfectly ready to deal with his arguments. But I am going to try and say a word in reply on the spur of the moment.
The noble Lord took great exception to certain observations I had made as to the condition of the Scottish crofters. I am not convinced by what the noble Lord has said that my description was an inaccurate one, although it is quite possible that it does not apply to all crofters. I quoted the observations of the Douglas Commission. The noble Lord said that the Douglas Commission only spent a fortnight in its voyage of discovery, but I think in a fortnight you can manage to see a good deal of the condition of the people through whose districts you are travelling. Why, in Ireland we are used to having farms valued by gentlemen who spend a couple of hours upon the land and are then prepared to fix the rent which it is to pay during the next fifteen years with mathematical precision.
Then the noble Lord stated that the condition of affairs in Barra was not typical of the whole of the crofting areas. Very likely not; but we have heard a great many details in this House as to the kind of agriculture to be found in those areas, and the kind of conduct to which, no doubt under the pressure of dire necessity, the dwellers in those areas occasionally 553 resort. But I am inclined to oppose to the roseate description of the Secretary for Scotland a description given of the crofting areas by another and not less distinguished Scotsman. When in 1907 we were debating the Scottish Small Holdings Bill my noble friend Lord Rosebery, a Scotsman whom all Scotsmen will claim as a very distinguished and competent representative of that country, gave to your Lordships a sketch of the crofting system as he was aware of it. May I read an extract from his speech? Lord Rosebery said—What is the crofting system? Is it the survival of the fittest? Is it the highest form of agriculture known to Scotland that we are asked to adopt? Some of your Lordships travelling in the Highlands may have seen thin, sparsely cultivated strips of land, sometimes with a cottage built by the savings of children abroad, by lonely lakes, or by the shores of the sea, or on barren moors. There live men who would rather die than leave their native land, struggling against nature, and trying to secure a precarious crop in a climate totally unsuitable for it, on soil wholly unadapted for it. Rather than leave or migrate they persevere in cultivating that ungrateful soil. All honour to them for it; I respect them for it. But I do not think that is a condition of things that we ought to work and legislate to transfer to the magnificent and fertile fields of the Lothians and the Lowlands of Scotland. I cannot imagine any responsible Minister who knows what a crofter is and what a croft is coining down deliberately to this House and proposing to apply that system to the Lowlands of Scotland. I should have been less surprised had the Secretary for War, in producing his Bill for the Territorial Forces, decided that his new Army should be provided with bows and arrows for defensive purposes. What you are attempting to do by introducing the crofting system is to supersede the highest farming known to great Britain, and perhaps to the world, by the most backward system in these Islands.That is a pretty strong piece of Scottish testimony as to the results of the crofting system.
Then the noble Lord took great exception to my attempting to establish a distinction between a croft and a farm and a crofter and a small tenant. The noble Lord told us that all crofters were not hereditary crofters. Very likely not. But I still maintain, and I shall continue to maintain, that the origin of the crofter system is hereditary and customary as distinguished from contractual tenure. No doubt other small occupiers have been admitted to crofts who were not hereditary crofters, but that was because they were found in the crofting areas where it was the custom of the country, and very naturally their tenure was made to assimilate to the tenure of those who lived in that neighbourhood. 554 The noble Lord was, I think, possessed with an idea that I had some desire to undermine and demolish the crofting system where it already exists. I do not think I have ever said anything suggestive of that idea. What I have said is that although I am entirely in favour of recognising the crofting system where you have it already, and of making the position of these poor people as tolerable as you can make it, I am entirely opposed to attempts to extend that system to other parts of Scotland in supersession of the system to which we are accustomed, and under which Scottish agriculture has so greatly prospered. The noble Lord told us that the system which he contemplated was not the same as the Irish system. It is true there is a difference. I think the system which finds favour with the noble Lord does not admit free sale. The other two F's do find a place in the plan.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I object altogether to give the three F's, or any of the F's, in parts of the country where they do not exist already. That is my point; and I say that for this reason, that I believe that agriculture in the United Kingdom has upon the whole succeeded as well as it has, and that agriculturists have been able to overcome the immense difficulties with which they had to contend during the period we refer to as the bad times, because we had a system under which landlord and tenant were able to combine their forces and show a firm front against the trials which both then had to undergo. What is it we want in order that agriculture in these islands shall be successful? We want the application of capital to the land, and under the present system as we know it in Great Britain the landlord has every inducement to put his captial into the land. It is very often computed that of the joint capital contributed by owner and occupier something like four-fifths is contributed by the owner. If you introduce fixity of tenure and fair rents fixed by a Court, do you believe for a moment that landlords will go on pouring capital into the land? Of course they will not. Then, who, is going to find the capital? Does the noble Lord think that these miserably small tenants are in a position to find large sums of capital to put into their holdings? Of course they are not. You are in this dilemma—either the capital will not be 555 forthcoming at all, or—and this is what I expect is at the back of these proposals—you will have to extract it out of the pockets of the taxpayers or the ratepayers of this country. Therefore, I say again, by all means let us deal as tenderly as possible with these crofters wherever they exist; let us, if you like, enlarge their holdings; let us create new crofts if they are necessary within the crofting areas; but do not let us —it seems tome it would be madness to do it —gratuitously substitute that system for the system which we know in those parts of Scotland which are outside the limits of the crofting areas.
The Bill of my noble friend, Lord Lovat, is the complement of the Bill proposed by my noble friend, Lord Camperdown. Lord Camperdown deals with holdings outside the crofting areas, and my noble friend, Lord Lovat, like my noble friend Lord Camperdown, recognises that distinction which, to the end of my days, I shall believe does exist between the man who is a crofter and the man who is not a crofter. Lord Lovat's proposals seem to me, so far as I am able to follow them, to be conceived in a very liberal spirit. So far from undermining the position of the Crofters Commission, he preserves its powers and adds to its numbers. I am quite prepared to vote for his Bill, although I do not pretend to a knowledge of its minute details. But when the noble Lord twits us with trying to stand upon two legs, and not knowing upon which leg to stand, I say we shall stand firmly on the two legs and be well supported by them. I believe, on the other hand, that the noble Lord, with his one-legged proposal, is in a rickety position, and I therefore prefer the two-legged proposal of my noble friends to the one-legged proposal of the noble Lord opposite.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD LOREBURN)
My Lords, I have on several occasions taken part in debates on this subject, and when the Government's Bill was thrown out by your Lordships I anticipated that it would reappear over and over again in other forms, and the present Bill and that of Lord Camperdown are the fulfilment of that anticipation. I anticipated that because your Lordships, I am certain, are aware that there is a real necessity for some system by which small holdings or crofts, or whatever you please to call them, shall be increased in 556 number. I believe every Scotsman would say that. We all deplore the increase of emigration and the depletion of the country districts at the present time. Scotland is suffering from the want of the equivalent of that which this House and the other House have already in this Parliament done for England.
The two subjects dealt with in the crofting Bill of Lord Lovat and in the other Bill relating to the Lowlands which has been introduced by Lord Camperdown are inextricably mixed up one with the other. They cannot be separated, and you cannot separate them in debate. Witness, for example, the speech we have just heard from the noble Marquess. It was completely relevant, but it did largely deal with the Lowland aspect of the question. May I say a word or two in reference to that? As to the crofter part of this Bill, my noble friend Lord Pentland has already dealt with that, and has pointed out the difficulties the Government entertain on the subject; but as to the other side, we have had quoted again the speech of Lord Rosebery, which was the commencement of the opposition with regard to this policy. We are told that what we mean to do is to extend the crofter system to the Lowlands. What do we mean by the crofting system? Do we mean that we want to extend to the Lowlands the lonely shores and the barren moors? Of course not.
What they want in the Lowlands—I do not care what you call it—is fixity of tenure, and what they want also is fair rent. I was rather surprised to hear the noble Marquess object to fixity of tenure and fair rent, since those two principles are embodied in Lord Camperdown's Bill applying to the Lowlands, which was heartily supported by the noble Marquess. I do not know whether he has realised that the noble Earl has brought in, and that your Lordships have, on the invitation of Lord Camperdown, twice carried the Second Reading of, a Bill containing fixity of tenure and fair rent to be established by a single valuer in the Lowlands of Scotland. If the noble Marquess really thinks that the result of such a thing as that is to prevent landlords putting their money into land, then I am afraid he has unconsciously been an aider and abettor in a disastrous step.
What is the difference between us in regard to the Lowland aspect of the 557 question? Really and truly if your Lordships will give the matter your impartial consideration you will see that the difference lies in a nutshell. It is this. According to the English Bill the rates and taxes are to be drawn upon, the rates primarily, whereas according to the Scottish Bill the rates were not to be called upon at all. There is a general if not a universal feeling in Scotland that that part of our revenues which consists of grants from the Exchequer should be applied to this purpose. The employment or non-employment of the county council one way or the other follows as a corollary when once you have determined that fact. That is the whole difference between us. The Scottish people do not want the rates to be involved, and therefore they say, "Give us part on our taxes." The county councils, therefore, do not come in. Why should they? Your Lordships will excuse me, I know, for speaking quite plainly and frankly. If a proposal had been brought in for Scotland by a Conservative Government dealing with the Lowlands, and the amount of difference between us was what I have indicated, would your Lordships have thrown out the Bill? I feel it is a great pity it was done.
An appeal was made to me by my noble friend Lord Camperdown, and I must disclaim virtues which I do not possess. I certainly disclaim the comparison he made, which would be overjust to me and unjust to my noble friend. But let me say that I am not the person to appeal to in these circumstances. The noble Marquess himself has Scottish blood, to which we, of course, attribute his success and his great talents. Would he think me impertinent if I appealed from Lord Lansdowne to Lord Nairne, the last of his dignities, and asked him to consider whether there ought not to be a real effort on his part—on the part of the noble Marquess, who will not deny that he is responsible for having thrown out the Government's Bill—to deal with this question, because although rapier thrusts in debate are very entertaining, is there not something rather sad in the fact that in Scotland no progress has been made?
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I should certainly not have intervened in this debate had it not been for one or two remarks made by the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken. It does seem to me that the cardinal objections we 558 have always held to the Government's proposals, as we know them, have not yet been driven home to his mind. What we have always objected to was the extension of the crofter tenure outside the crofter districts. It was clearly understood in 1886, when crofter legislation was first initiated, that it was on account of the hereditary nature of that tenure.
The Report of Lord Napier's Commission was distinctly confined to recommending certain legislation for crofters who were hereditary crofters. Unfortunately, the Government of that day, instead of taking that as the distinction whether a man was a crofter or not a crofter, took a financial limit—£30 of rent—and if a man in certain crofting counties was a holder under £30 he was treated as a crofter, and from time to time there has been agitation to get that extension put beyond the crofting areas. The border line is difficult to draw. I will take the county of Forfarshire. The noble Lord will find that in the hill districts there are those who are absolutely indistinguishable from the crofters in the Highlands. But even in the same parishes there are people who are small holders, and it is the cardinal point with us on this side of the House that the crofter tenure as such shall not be extended to those who are not crofters in the strict sense of the term.
I only wish there was a chance of accepting the suggestion made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack just now, to enter into discussion as to whether we cannot invent a system of small holdings with fixity of tenure and fair rents. None of us have ever objected to that, but what we have objected to is that, as distinguished from the English system, there is no buffer between the landlord and the small holder to make sure that if the man, not selected by the landlord, should fail, the loss of that failure should not fall on the landlord. I do not think it is fair that the landlord's capital should be risked by the failure of a tenant whom he has not had the responsibility of choosing. So far as I am concerned, if you give us anything like the English terms, whether you do it by means of the county council or a body responsible to the Treasury, we shall be satisfied. If you are going to take compulsorily from the landlord land which is not now under crofter tenure, you are bound to give him that amount of security which is given under the English Act.
559 It is idle to attempt to blur the difference between what is strictly crofting tenure and what is small holding tenure. The vice of the original proposals which were put before Parliament was this, that that distinction was not sufficiently borne in mind. That has been the root of all the evil. I do not wish to discuss the matter further, because, after all, it is more germane to Lord Camperdown's Bill than to the Bill now before the House; but if we could get rid of the idea that it is reasonable to extend crofting tenure outside the crofting area, we should have made a great advance towards the settlement of this question.
My Lords, I wish to say one or two words in reply. I think the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland attacked details rather than any question of principle in the Bill. The points he raised were eminently Committee points rather than Second Reading points, and I fail to see, from anything he said, where the great divergence between us arises. He referred, first of all, to what he described as the disadvantage of turning the Crofter Commission and the Congested Districts Board into one body. The judicial work of the Crofters Commission has practically ceased. There may be a slight revival under the new chairman, but during the past ten years there have been no great number of applications. In some years the actual reductions of rent amounted to £20 or £30 over the whole of Scotland. I believe I am correct in stating that in one year, about three or four years ago, with the exception of the cases of a Radical Peer and an American millionaire, the reductions on revalued rents were under a £10 note. Therefore, if the judicial work of the Crofters Commission has been very much reduced and they are now doing executive work, why not amalgamate the two boards? The crofter Members in their Bill bring in this very suggestion. As to the objection to the single valuer, I think the noble Lord based that on the idea that sheep valuation was always done by a single valuer.
§ LORD PENTLAND
I alluded to sheep valuation as an instance where there was no statutory valuation afforded.
But in the case of sheep valuation there is always an arbitrator appointed by both sides, and they appoint an oversman. The question of the rating 560 of crofter houses that are used for letting purposes in the summer is one which I do not consider of any great importance. Then one of the noble Lord's objections was that we retained the limitation of £30 instead of £50, as in his Bill. That is really a trifling matter. If you look at the Board of Agriculture returns, you will find that in the crofting parishes there are a very small number of holdings indeed between £30 and £50. Is it contended that any sensible Scotsman would wish to come under the Crofters Act in order to get a few pounds reduction in his rent when he would lose the right to have his improvements done for him? Crofters do their own improvements, but the £30 to £50 holder in Scotland, as a rule, has his improvements done for him. Therefore, there is not much in this point.
The noble Lord went on to say that there is in the crofting parishes a unanimous wish that the area should be extended. All I can say is that I have no personal knowledge of it. What the crofters want is legislation for themselves. Then on the question of leases. The clauses to which the noble Lord objected were put forward by the landed interest, and they were put forward because certain crofters voluntarily contracted out of the Crofters Act in order to get the whole of their buildings done for them. I hold that it was unfair that men who contracted out of the Act should be allowed to go back, and it was for that reason that this lease clause was framed. Then there was the attempt to charge this side of the House with definite opposition to the Crofters Act. I protest against that. This Bill is based entirely on the Crofters Act. My object is to make it an extension of the Crofters Act, and not to undermine that Act. The noble Lord said that under my Bill these persons would not hold under the Crofters Act. I think Clause 37, which was read by my noble friend Lord Camperdown, will cover that point. The noble Lord insists on his contention that there is a great desire on the part of crofters to remain under the Act. Now, what the crofter wants is fixity of tenure. He does not care anything about the Act. The majority of applications now are not to hold under the fixed rent of the Crofters Commission. They would sooner hold direct from the landlord, because they know that they have then a much better chance of having their buildings and improvements made for them. If it is desired that this should be brought out more fully 561 I shall be glad to have that point, with adequate safeguards, introduced into the Bill.
In conclusion, I honestly believe there is a great demand for this legislation in the Highlands. I believe that the situation there is in many respects more serious than is generally supposed. The people who remain on the crofts are not the young men. The young men are emigrating to America and Australia at a quicker pace than has been the case during the last twenty years. I believe this is owing to the fact that there is not a living on the crofts already in existence, and I am of opinion that further development should be made, not so much in the creation of new holdings, but in the creation of economic holdings, at the same time taking advantage of legislation on the subject of a grant for the development of forestal work and the development of co-operation. I would gladly welcome the assistance of the Lord Chancellor, in coming to an agreement for legislative action on the lines indicated.
§ On question Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.