THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
rose to call attention to the Vatersay correspondence recently presented and to the present condition of the Island of Vatersay. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I much regret for every reason that I am obliged to call your Lordships' attention once more to the affairs of the Island of Vatersay. Recent occurrences in that island, however, and the consequences which have flowed from the action and from the inaction of the Government, and also the present condition of that island, are so grave and so prejudicial, in my opinion, to law and order that I must again ask your Lordships to give me your indulgence for a short time.
Your Lordships will remember that early in the year 1907 the Island of Vatersay was raided, and it has been occupied from then to the present time. The noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland laid down this proposition, that when property is seized, even though it be without any claim, it is no part of the duty of the Government to do anything in support of law and order. He went further, for he told the proprietor that she must defend herself and that she must incur all the loss of time and expense and trouble necessitated by a civil action. Not only did he do that, but he told her that in his opinion the proper course for her to pursue was to take the raiders as her tenants; and not merely that, but he told her that the Government had no responsibility or part in the matter, and that it was for her to compensate her tenant and to incur all the expense which that entailed. Lady Cathcart, as your Lordships may remember, adopted quite a different view. She apprehended—she has always apprehended—that this course was not only rather wanting in courage, but that it was bound to fail.
After a time, however, Lady Cathcart was so unwilling to act in contradiction to the wishes of the Government that she said that under certain conditions she would fall in with the wishes of the noble Lord. But she made this condition, that the noble Lord should pay to the tenant all the expenses which were due on account of his giving up his lease. The noble Lord entirely declined to do that, and the consequence was that the negotiations broke off on that point. That takes us up to the end of the year 1907, and brings us to the period em 1056 braced in the present correspondence. In April, 1907, Lady Cathcart had obtained an interdict against the raiders, taking the course in pursuance of the advice given to her from the Scottish Office. In June the interdict was disobeyed, and in the spring of 1908 she applied to the Court to enforce their interdict. About the 2nd or 3rd of June, I think it was, the raiders appeared in Court and were sentenced to two months imprisonment in respect of their disobedience of the interdict of the Court.
The attitude of the Scottish Office now entirely changed. They had been unwilling to do anything in support of the law, but as soon as the raiders were imprisoned the noble Lord developed a keen anxiety on their behalf to get them out of prison. A long debate took place in the House of Commons in which the conduct of the noble Lord was severely attacked and criticised, and at the end of that debate the noble Lord went back to his room and a letter was written to Lady Cathcart which ought to have been the first letter in the printed correspondence. The noble Lord told us the other night that this letter was a private one—a mere note asking Lady Cathcart to receive Sir Reginald MacLeod. I ventured to take exception to that statement at the time, and I think when your Lordships have heard the letter you will be of opinion that it was a great deal more than a mere request to Lady Cathcart to see the Under-Secretary for Scotland. The letter runs thus:My DEAR LADY CATHCART, A seven hours debate has just concluded on Vatersay. Mr. Sinclair definitely invited negotiations on the basis of arranging compensation to the tenant, and I think from private conversations as well, the Government are prepared to meet you some distance with a view to getting the settlement of Vatersay arranged on fair terms, with release, on your motion, of the prisoners. Could I see you? I would come down early Saturday. The matter is urgent. Please send me a wire to Dover House. Yours very sincerely, REGINALD MACLEOD.I do not understand how the noble Lord could say that that was a simple request to Lady Cathcart to see Sir Reginald MacLeod. In the first place a long debate had just concluded, and Mr. Sinclair, as he was at that time, had agreed to pay compensation to the tenant, the very thing on which he had broken off the negotiations only a few months before. This letter indicated that, for whatever reason, a complete change had come over 1057 Mr. Sinclair, and the reason is stated in the letter—with release, on your motion, of the prisoners.The noble Lord told us the other day that that letter, of which he did not keep a copy, was written in his own Private room, and therefore presumably it was read to him at the time. But at all events, if it were not, how could Sir Reginald MacLeod have become aware of this change in the mind of the noble Lord if it had not been told to him at the time? The correspondence continued, and on July 8 Lady Cathcart was asked to accept these raiders as her tenants, She was told—Your interests will In safeguarded in every practicable way.Lady Cathcart declined. She said that she would only sell; that those were the only terms on which she would deal.
But on July 14 the Secretary for Scotland pressed his views on Lady Cathcart, and the result was that she consented to her agent coming to London and seeing the noble Lord. The agent came up on July 17, and two meetings took place on that day. The first was a meeting between the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland, Mr. Ure, who was at that time Solicitor-General, and Lady Cathcart and her agent. The second was a meeting between Mr. Ure and Lady Cathcart and her agent. The result was that in return for promises which were made to her Lady Cathcart agreed to apply for the release of the prisoners. Lady Cathcart herself has a private note of what occurred, but there was no time to make a formal note, Mr. Garson, her agent, being compelled to return to Edinburgh that night because the following day was the last day on which application could be made to the Court, the Court being just about to adjourn for the recess. On July 20 Mr. Garson sent to the Scottish Office a summary of the agreement as he conceived it. In that letter he stated—It will be convenient that we should summarise the arrangement: come to at the meetings on the 17th instant as follows.Then follow three paragraphs which I will not read, but paragraph 4 of this letter was as follows:—The Government, through the Congested Districts Board, will make good to Lady Cathcart any loss of rent that may be sustained by the 1058 change. The Government will also make good to Lady Cathcart any subsequent reductions of rent and will assume responsibility for the rents of any crofts that may be given up or abandoned, rents being valued at the same number of years purchase as in Kilbride.And later, in the same letter, he says—The basis of the whole arrangement was that the whole pecuniary responsibility was to be borne by the Government.
That letter was answered on July 27. The reply began in this way—I am desired by Mr. Sinclair to refer to your letter of the 20th instant and to say that it will probably be a sufficient reply thereto if he states his understanding of the arrangements made;and then, with regard to paragraph 4, the letter proceeds—Mr. Sinclair agrees generally to this, but he is not prepared to agree to a proposal to lay down any rigid rule ab ante as to the manner in which compensation shall be assessed for loss of rent due to the occupation of the farm by small holders.That is a mere matter of terms; but the Secretary for Scotland agreed generally to paragraph 4. Towards the end of the letter from the Scottish Office occur these words—A copy of a reply given by Mr. Sinclair to Sir John Dewar, M.P., in the House of Commons to-day is enclosed herewith.What was that reply? It ran as followsThe Government have made additional proposals on the lines generally of the procedure laid down in the Small Landholders (Scotland) Bill, which safeguard the proprietor from possible loss. These proposals which have been accepted by Lady Cathcart provide for compensation to the tenant for surrender of his lease, and to the proprietor for loss directly attributable to the occupation of the farm by small holders.Lady Cathcart had maintained that she thought it unlikely that rent would be paid by these small holders, and it seems to me, at all events, that a guarantee of her rent naturally included any loss directly attributable to the occupation of the farm by the small holders. But that was not all, because Mr. Garson, in order that there should be no mistake, wrote to the Under-Secretary for Scotland on July 30 as follows—Lady Cathcart desires us to say that her understanding of the arrangement come to at the meeting with Mr. Ure on the 17th instant was that the Government were to undertake the whole pecuniary responsibilities arising out of the 1059 scheme for settling Vatersay with small holders, and that this would cover any loss through non-payment of rent by the settlers. From the terms of your letter in which you accept the principle that compensation is to be assessed for loss of rent due to the occupation of the farm by small holders, and from Mr. Sinclair's reply to Sir John Dewar's question which bears that the proposals made to Lady Cathcart safeguard her from possible loss, and that these proposals provide for compensation to the proprietor for loss directly attributable to the occupation of the farm by small holders, Lady Cathcart is satisfied that her understanding of the effect of the arrangement is shared by the Government.That letter remained unanswered for five weeks, and then it seems to have occurred to the noble Lord that he had said something definite, something which was hardly capable of being misunderstood; for at the end of five weeks the Under-Secretary wrote, with reference to this matter, that—In order to prevent any possible misunderstanding, Mr. Sinclair desires me to offer the following observations. . . . In your letter of July 30, you assume that the Government will undertake 'the whole pecuniary responsibilities arising out of the scheme, and that this would cover any loss through the non-payment of rent by the settlers' (i.e.,guarantee to the landlord the rents of the settlers), and you hold the Government to have agreed at this stage to be bound to the number of years purchase paid at Kilbride. It occurs to Mr. Sinclair that some misunderstanding may have arisen from the general language of his reply to Sir John Dewar's question in the House of Commons, and from the general character of the assent expressed in the Scottish Office letter of July 27. At the same time he wishes me to remind you he is at a loss to know how this can be the case, for the reason that what you propose upon these points, excepting as to the responsibilities to be undertaken by the Government, would change the whole basis of the scheme, the foundation of which is and has been throughout that Lady Cathcart is not to cease to be proprietor of her land; while the tenants are to be her tenants under the Crofters Act, and bound by the statutory conditions inserted in it for the protection of the landlord.What in the world had any possible state of relations which might exist between Lady Cathcart and her tenants to do with an undertaking which had been given by the Secretary for Scotland? He had given undertakings not only in general language, but, as I say, on two or three ocasions it had been explained to him what the meaning of the arrangement was, and, as I have said. it took him five weeks to consider the matter and to discover at the end that he must write and question what had occurred.
Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that four days later Lady Cathcart's 1060 agent wrote a rather indignant letter. He said—Your letter, although the language is somewhat veiled, amounts to a proposal on the part of the Secretary for Scotland to repudiate arrangements definitely and specifically come to and obligations expressly agreed to on behalf of the Government on the faith of which Lady Cathcart applied to the Court for and obtained the liberation of the raiders under sentence for breach of interdict. Lady Cathcart has since the arrangements were come to acted throughout on the faith of these constituting a concluded agreement, and she is not prepared now to discuss the entirely different proposals made by you, to which if the matter had been still open for discussion, she never would have agreed.The noble Lord had attained his object. He wished to obtain the liberation of the raiders.
§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (LORD PENTLAND) : I do not wish to interrupt the noble Earl, but he has repeatedly said
that my sole and single object throughout was to obtain the release of the raiders. I must ask him to substantiate that from the public Papers.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
I can only refer the noble Lord to the first letter. I will read it again:—I think from private conversations as well, the Government are prepared to meet you some distance with a view to getting the settlement of Vatersay arranged on fair terms, with release, on your motion, of the prisoners.
§ LORD PENTLAND
I regret having to interrupt the noble Earl, but I was obliged to call attention to the point because it distorts his whole view of the case. As regards what he has quoted, in the first place it was not an official letter; and, in the second place, its text does not bear the interpretation that a condition of compensation of the tenant was to be the release of these prisoners. Nor in the debate which took place on the day on the evening of which the letter was written was any mention made of the release of the prisoners as a condition of any further advance towards agreement on the part of the Government with Lady Cathcart.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
I must leave this matter to the judgment of the House. Your Lordships have heard the letter, and I can add. nothing more. But this I can say, that when the noble Lord states that the letter was not an official letter but a private letter he is saying what 1061 is contrary to the fact—I do not use the term in any offensive sense. He seems to have forgotten that his own Under-Secretary wrote to Lady Cathcart and said that he proposed to make the correspondence official, and that Lady Cathcart replied to him that she had no objection provided he printed this letter.
§ LORD PENTLAND
I do not in the least wish to disavow full responsibility for the letter—not in the least.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
May I point this out, that it is impossible to write a private letter on a public matter from a public office and signed by a public official. This letter was written, as the noble Lord admits, in his own room, and I have no doubt in his own presence.
§ LORD PENTLAND
I can only give the noble Earl my assurance, which I had thought he would accept, that at no time, either in this letter or in any other letter, was the release of the prisoners made a condition of compensation to the tenant.
§ LORD PENTLAND
If the noble Earl wishes, I can give the full explanation in one sentence. Under the scheme of the Government the tenants of Vatersay were to be the tenants of Lady Cathcart as the proprietor. It was thought that it would greatly facilitate and mollify the relations between those tenants and the proprietor if, through Lady Cathcart's own agency and on her own initiative, for she was the only person who could apply to the Court to do so, the prisoners were released from serving the remainder of their sentence. The Courts would adjourn for the summer vacation on the following day, and it was in order to make way for this proceeding on the initiative of Lady Cathcart, of her own free will and in her own interests as proprietor, that the suggestion was made that she might, if she chose, take that step. Only she 1062 could take it, and it was, therefore, on the part of the Government only an act of goodwill to make it possible for her to take that step.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
Does the noble Lord mean to tell us that the anxiety to release the prisoners arose with Lady Cathcart? The noble Lord pressed her to bring her agent up to see him with special reference to this question of the liberation of the prisoners. But I will leave that point. The noble Lord, when he received the indignant letter from Mr. Garson, said on September 17 that there was a misapprehension, and that he hoped it might be removed by an explanation, and he added that he had referred the matter to Sir Henry Cook. Now Sir Henry Cook is at the present time a sort of whipping boy of the Scottish Office. Whenever there is anything disagreeable it seems to me he is always called in to do it. Sir Henry Cook had had no part in these negotiations whatever. He was not present on July 17, and the instructions which he received fettered him and bound him to act solely according to the interpretation which was given of this agreement in Mr. Sinclair's letter of September 5. I would ask your Lordships to listen to the instructions, which are given in the correspondence though they do not form part of it—Mr. Sinclair desires that the terms of compensation in respect of loss of letting value, of surrender of the lease, and of the sheep stock, shall be submitted to him before they are finally agreed upon—He does not leave it to Sir Henry Cook—I am to add for Sir Henry Cook's guidance that the limits of the responsibilities, financial and other, already undertaken by the Government, and of their policy as now defined, are not to be exceeded, and that if any situation arises in which it is difficult to carry out this instruction the matter should be referred to the Secretary for Scotland.Acting on this, Sir Henry Cook, when he came to arrange a draft agreement with Mr. Garson, pointed out that he was limited to the terms of Mr. Sinclair's letter of September 5. Mr. Garson replied that Lady Cathcart entirely disputed the accuracy of that letter, and that she would only deal on the terms of her letters of July 20 and 30. The consequence was that they could come to no arrangement and separated, and Mr. Garson, after re- 1063 capitulating in another letter his statement of the whole case, said this at the end—Unless Mr. Sinclair is to carry out his part of the agreement made, Lady Cathcart must appeal to Parliament and to the public, and she may also find it necessary to appeal to the Court. In the meantime the tenant of the farm is being deprived of the use of his holding, the persons who were liberated from prison by Mr. Sinclair's request, or some of them, are back on Vatersay in breach of the interdicts,—for the raiders, the moment they were released, went back to Vatersay and there they are now, raiders still—"the scheme of settlement, which if it was to be entered upon at all ought to have been carried through at once, is in abeyance, and the position locally is rendered infinitely more difficult. For all these things Mr. Sinclair is responsible. and we must ask you to say finally whether he is to carry out his undertakings or not.In answer to that letter Sir Henry Cook said—The Government cannot agree to the conditions which you now seek to import into the arrangements.He said that both Mr. Sinclair and the Solicitor-General disagreed in their recollections with Mr. Garson; and he added—If you are not prepared to agree to what was proposed in my letter to you of the 13th instant, it is plainly impossible to continue negotiations on the lines of the arrangement. The Government can accept no responsibility for this unhappy result. At the same time they recognise their obligation, after what has taken place—at last they begin to see that they have some responsibility in the matter—and in the interests of the people concerned, to secure a settlement if possible. If that object is to be attained the only alternative seems to be for the Congested District Board to—to do what?—to purchase the farm of Vatersay at its fair market price.This they had said over and over again to be absolutely impossible. But now they were prepared to purchase the farm of Vatersay at its fair market price. Sir Henry Cook concluded—I shall be glad to receive from you a formal offer containing the terms upon which Lady Cathcart is prepared to sell, so that I may submit it to the Secretary for Scotland for his consideration.The noble Lord turned round again. Whether it was the threat of this action 1064 I do not know, but he now discovered for the first time that it was perfectly possible to purchase—the very thing he ought to have done at the first. I need not trouble your Lordships any further with the correspondence, and I do not think I need comment upon it. I must confess that in reading this correspondence it occurred to me, and I daresay it will occur to some of your Lordships, that from the style of the correspondence, from the position which is taken up by each of the two parties, from the arguments with which the position of each of the two parties is supported, I certainly should have said that the Minister of the Crown was the lady and that the lady was the Minister of the Crown. So much for the correspondence. I now leave it and come to the present state of the island.
Ever since these raiders seized the island it had begun to go back and it has gone from bad to worse. They have cultivated little patches here and there, and the wind has already blown over the pasture the sand stirred up by their cultivation. I will read to your Lordships an extract from an official letter showing what the agent of the tenant saw. He visited the island on October 28 last year in connection with the valuation of the stock for the tenant, and this is what he says in a letter addressed to Sir Henry Cook—In consequence of the serious position of matters one of the members of our firm, accompanied by practical men went to Vatersay last week and looked into matters on the spot. The state of matters which we found to exist is startling and surprising, and we do not think that any parallel exists even in the worst parts of Ireland. There are on the farm a large number of squatters. We did not ascertain the exact number, but there must be somewhere between 150 and 200 souls. The squatters have on the farm about 200 cattle and fifty horses and a number of native sheep. The grazing on the farm is just sufficient to maintain the ordinary stock of the farm, and is altogether inadequate to maintain the tenant's stock and the stock put on by the squatters. The farm consists partly of links and partly of hilly ground, with a few fields on which Mr. Macdonald has been in the habit of growing hay and potatoes. In the management of the farm the hilly ground is grazing in summer, and the grazing on the links and the green ground is reserved for winter keep for the stock. The squatters have kept their stock on the links during the summer, with the result that the grass is all eaten down, and when the writer was in Vatersay the links were as bare as a tennis lawn. There is no winter keep for the tenant's stock, or, for that matter, for the squatters' stock, and unless the tenant's sheep are at once removed to some place where they can get proper wintering a great many of them will die.1065 This gentleman states that most of the squatters had put up trumpery and insanitary wooden shanties in front of Mr. Macdonald's house, and he proceeds—These shanties are erected without any regard to water supply or sanitation, and it seems to us that there is a great danger of an outbreak of an epidemic owing to the insanitary conditions. When the writer was in Vatersay the squatters were cutting and appropriating Mr. Macdonald's hay, and we noted that they had planted potatoes in one of the fields where he ought to have crop next season. They had boldly and openly siezed his land and his crop, and neither the Government nor the police have lifted a finger to protect him.The writer continues—The squatters have turned their ill-bred weedy native sheep, including tups, among Mr. Macdonald's well-bred black-laced stock, and unless the tups are at once removed the quality of the stock will be ruined. Mr. Macdonald is powerless to protect himself; indeed, he would incur serious personal risk if he were to meddle with the squatters' stock. It is essential that the links, which consist of sandy soil, should be carefully looked after, and that every opening that appears should be closed up as otherwise the sand gets blown very quickly and the pasture would soon be destroyed. We noticed while going over the land that the surface had been broken in many parts by the squatters' cattle and horses, and that sand-drifting had begun. If that is not dealt with at once the injury to the pasture will soon be very serious.That was the state of things at the end on October. What has happened since? If the first place with regard to the stock, that has been taken over by the noble Lord. For the first time I think in his life, at least so far as I know, he will have some practical acquaintance with land.
Let me tell the noble Lord what has occurred. He took those sheep over as from May 15, 1908. As I read to your Lordships just now, during the summer of 1908 the whole pasture was eaten up. Therefore for the winter grazing there was nothing—not a blade of grass for the squatters' stock, and not a blade of grass for the noble Lord's sheep; and there is not a blade of grass now. What has been the consequence? The sheep have died in large numbers, and when the noble Lord sent to take them over and to have them valued, many of them were so weak that they had to be carried, and, moreover, many of them were either dying or dead. There are, I may say, in addition to other not very valuable stock in the island, some fifty dogs belonging to the squatters. These dogs are unfed, and they occupy themselves eating up the dead sheep, and 1066 I am not quite certain that they will have much more respect for the noble Lord's sheep than their masters have for him. Fifteen hundred sheep were taken over, and I learn from the ex-tenant that no fewer than eighty of these sheep have died since March 1 this year on one side of the island. The noble Lord says he is going to sell them next November. I think he will find that his pockets will not be very full when be returns home. I regret to say that this is one of those good bargains which are made for the taxpayer. We all know that the noble Lord intended that it should be Lady Cathcart or the ex-tenant; but I am thankful to say that the Scottish Office have at last been obliged to discharge their obligations, with which I do not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be pleased.
Now a word with regard to the settlement of Vatersay. The noble Lord acquired this island at the end of the year, and I think the money was paid on February 1. What has been done with regard to the settlement of the island? It is known that this was urgent. For two years these raiders had been on the place, and the noble Lord on several occasions pointed out that the matter was very urgent. What did the noble Lord do? He did nothing until April 5, and on that day the Congested Districts Board issued a Circular in which they said that, having purchased the farm at Vatersay, they proposed to form about fifty-eight or sixty holdings, but that as the sheep were on the ground and could not be disposed of until October—I am not quite so certain about that—possession of the new holdings could not be given until Martinmas next, but in the meantime applications for the new holdings were invited. It was added—The Congested Districts Board desire to make it clear that none of the squatters presently on the farm are to he held as having thereby acquired a preferable claim to holdings.What do you suppose occurred next? The squatters on the island had something to say here. They immediately replied to the noble Lord through their solicitor, the same man who defended them in Edinburgh, who wrote—I am instructed also to direct your attention to the terms of the enclosed circular, dated seventh instant, copies of which, my clients inform me, have been distributed by the Congested Districts Board throughout Castlebay and other parts of the mainland of Barra, inviting applications from land- 1067 less cottars for the fifty-eight or sixty holdings into which the Board propose to divide the island. The circular sets forth that 'the Congested Districts Board desire to make it clear that none of the squatters presently on the farm are to be held as having thereby acquired a preferable claim to holdings.' My clients inform me that there are some hundreds of people on the mainland of Barra and its neighbourhood who will probably make application in response to this invitation. As my clients have been in possession of a number of these holdings for the past two years or more, and have built their homes upon them, they do not consider that after the sufferings they have undergone they ought to be called upon to take their chance of allotment with such an overwhelming number of newcomers. The holdings they are in possession of are none too large for their requirements, and they instruct me to say that, so far as these are concerned, it is needless for the Board to invite applications from outsiders unless it is proposed to remove some or all of the present occupants, and to repeat the painful judicial proceedings which have already entailed so much hardship upon them. They are willing, as they have all along been, to pay a fair rent for the land possessed—Not one farthing, by the way, have they paid—In these circumstances, they instruct me to say that they must not be held responsible for any breach of the law which may result from an attempt by the Board to place newcomers upon these holdings.So that the squatters have thrown down the gauntlet to the noble Lord. The noble Lord has become the owner. Now we shall see what he will do. I wonder whether he will content himself with another application to the Court and the reimprisonment of the raiders; and, if the raiders are imprisoned, will he help them out? We must wait and see what happens.
What I said to your Lordships just now is all the more amusing when you contrast it with the noble Lord's prophecies. The noble Lord has all along looked on these raiders as a set of most innocent men, and he was never tired of telling Lady Cathcart that if she would only divide up the land among them, those for whom there was not room would go peacefully away. Let me read an extract from his letter of July 27—The Secretary of Scotland would again express his belief that when the farm is divided up so far as possible into small holdings, those who have illegally occupied the lands of the farm will not persist in their illegal action.After what I have read your Lordships will see what the noble Lord's prophecies, in this respect at all events, are worth. 1068 I do not think I need trouble your Lordships further.
These events which have happened in the Island of Vatersay have a consequence and an importance far greater than could attach to the island itself. They are only a single instance which shows what may result from the policy of the Government, who are either unable or unwilling to enforce the law. Evil communications spread apace, and they spread far. Since I spoke to your Lordships some weeks ago the farm of Dalbeg has been. raided in the Lews, and also the farm of Milton which I mentioned to the noble Lord, and which at that time I think he thought was not raided. On the last-named farm a public meeting was held and a resolution passed declaring that at the expiry of the lease of the farm next year, they would not allow it to be let again, but would divide it among themselves. There are several noble Lords present who know these islands better than I do. One of them, Lord Lovat, told me yesterday that he had been informed that the contagion had spread to the mainland. I venture to hope that, the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland will summon up a little courage. I hope he will take some steps to enforce the law, because if he continues his present hopeless and helpless policy of merely endeavouring to persuade landowners to give out uneconomic £3 holdings to persons who cannot possibly get a living out of them, he will bring upon Scotland very great evils, and much greater evils than he can at present imagine.
§ THE EARL OF DUNMORE
My Lords, there is one point I should like to emphasise which Lord Camperdown has touched upon—namely, the unfortunate position now resulting from the action or rather the inaction of the Government in regard to this matter. Last year the noble Lord expressed his firm conviction that as soon as it came to dividing up the land these people who had illegally occupied it would no doubt be willing to quit—an optimistic view of the situation which I am afraid is not going to be realised. But there is something, I think, to be said from the point of view of the people who are occupying this land. Some noble Lords will no doubt remember the injudicious remarks made by the Lord Advocate in the House of Commons in 1907 on this subject—remarks which I have every reason to 1069 believe were widely circulated amongst these people. I am afraid also that the policy adopted by the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland has helped to confirm these people in their belief that the Government sympathised in their illegal action. If the Government had acted with firmness and enforced law and order in the first instance, I think they would have been in a better position to deal with any grievances which may exist among these people. I do not know why it is so difficult to maintain law and order in this country. We see the Secretary of State for India introducing his reforms in that country and at the same time not afraid to deal with a firm hand with, and, if necessary, to frame new laws to put down, anarchy and crime. I would recommend this statesmanlike policy to the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland, and I think it might with some advantage be adopted in Scotland and perhaps in Ireland also. As it is, I am afraid the noble Lord is now reduced to the unfortunate choice of either punishing the offenders, who I think have some cause to think they have been encouraged to commit the offence, or of establishing a precedent for the future policy of these islands in which raiding farms would become the favourite occupation of the cottar population.
§ LORD REDESDALE
My Lords, I should like to call attention to one remark which fell from the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland. He alluded to a letter written by Sir Reginald MacLeod, and stated that it was a private letter. I submit that there can be no private letter passing between an Under-Secretary and a member of the general public upon the business of his Office. Letters are occasionally marked "Private," but, as I understand it, having had a tolerably long experience—something like half-a century's—of public official life in this country, the marking of letters with the word " Private" simply means that they are not to be published. It does not mean that they are at all private in the sense that we use the word when we talk of letters between two private individuals. If the Under-Secretary for Scotland were a private individual, no such letter could have been written at all. It is written because he is a public official, the official representative of the Secretary for Scotland. There can be no controversy in the matter, and this is the first time I have ever known 1070 a Minister get up in Parliament and screen himself behind the word private and say that he is not responsible because a letter written by his subordinate was so marked. Moreover, Sir Reginald MacLeod when he addressed Lady Cathcart addressed her distinctly upon the business aspect of the transaction, and dated his letter from his office. Indeed, we are told by my noble friend Lord Camperdown that the letter was written in the noble Lord's own room, presumably in his presence, and presumably, also, having been seen by him. Sir Reginald MacLeod wrote to Lady Cathcart saying—"I propose, with your permission, to treat your letter of June 30—the letter in answer to this letter of June 25—"and this reply, though unofficial in form, as forming part of the correspondence available for official reference.It was, therefore, in the highest sense of the word official. Again, Lady Cathcart, in her letter of July 7, says—"You say that you propose to treat my letter of June 30 and yours of July 4, though unofficial in form, as forming part of the correspondence available for official reference, and I presume you intend your note of June 25 also to be included.The thing is as distinct as it can be. The whole correspondence was official, and it is perfectly idle and futile for any Minister of State to screen himself behind the mere fact that one letter in a correspondence of that kind was marked private. It is not for me to interpose in the general subject of this debate—I am not a Scotsman—but I do venture to protest most strongly against an innovation which is dangerous to the public service and certainly not for the good of the kingdom at large.
§ LORD PENTLAND
My Lords, in regard to the remarks which have just fallen from Lord Redesdale, I do not think he was present the other day when we discussed this matter, and when Lord Camperdown drew attention to this correspondence. I do not think the noble Lord can fairly charge me with wishing to screen myself and my responsibility behind this particular letter. I can assure him that was not the case. It has never been my desire to screen myself or to reserve the publication of this letter. What I wished to make clear to the House and to the noble 1071 Earl by my interruption was that the inference which the noble Earl drew from the letter was an erroneous inference, and to that statement I adhere. I entirely agree with the noble Lord as to what he says regarding the undesirability—
§ LORD PENTLAND
On the contrary, this letter would have been published had it been in my possession and could I have found it. I would have kept the undertaking to include it in the Correspondence ; but, as I explained to the House the other day, I could not find the letter. It was not in my possession, and it was not, therefore, in my power to publish it. This question of Vatersay has been laid before your Lordships by Lord Camperdown in full detail. In one part of his speech his sympathies seemed to be with the late proprietor of the island, and in the other part his sympathies seemed to be with the Government. But I should like to be allowed to say that this discussion, which I have not invited and which takes place at the instance of the noble Earl, comes at a time when the Government are engaged in a carrying out matters of very great difficulty and delicacy in regard to the settlement of this island, and I should greatly have preferred if the noble Lord could have restrained himself from raising this question at all, because, after all, it is in the interests of the whole country that this matter should be carried through having proceeded so far; and I cannot help believing that a debate in this House, however guarded and reserved the language which may be used, will greatly increase the difficulties of administration in that island.
§ THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN: I may observe that the noble Lord did not ask me to defer the matter, and the Notice had been on the Paper a long time.
§ LORD PENTLAND
That is true, but I think I suggested, in reply to a question to me by the noble Earl for Papers on this subject, that I thought no Papers ought to be published with regard to the settling of the people on this island until the settling was complete. This debate takes place on the published Papers. Looking at that part of the transaction, it is very easy, of course, to make fun of this business. It is very easy to ignore the misery and 1072 wretchedness of the whole transaction, and the sufferings of the people concerned. It is very easy to show that what the noble Earl is pleased to call my prophecies, though I do not know where he finds them, have not come true.
§ LORD PENTLAND
I doubt if the noble Earl can show any prophecies there which have yet been falsified by events. It is very easy also to point out the difficulties of the Government. They are very real difficulties, and they are difficulties not of the Government's own creation in large part. In the first place, the Government are charged with not enforcing the law. I ask, what law? What law have the Government not enforced? The noble Earl at the beginning of his remarks said that I had once stated—I do not know when or where—that when land is seized it is no part of the duty of the Government to do anything to protect the proprietor. I do not know that I ever used that language. What I said was this, that in the case of trespass the only remedy at law, in Scotland at any rate, is the purely civil preventative process of interdict.
§ LORD PENTLAND
Perhaps the noble Earl will allow me to explain. I am not a lawyer, and, therefore, must explain the matter in the best way I can. The only remedy at law in Scotland for trespass is, as I say, the civil process of applying to the Courts for interdict. The whole mischief of this controversy began by an attempt on the part of Lady Cathcart's agents to insist upon the Government applying the criminal procedure of the Trespass Act. That Act was devised for a purely different purpose, and for that reason the Government could not comply with the request of Lady Cathcart to put in force that special mode of pro- 1073 cedure. Lady Cathcart was informed of that within three weeks of her application for information on the subject, and knowing the view of the Government, she allowed nine months to elapse, during which time more cattle were ferried over to the island, more people went there, houses were built, and potato patches planted. The Government had no authority and no power to intervene; and the proprietor chose to ignore her responsibilities and her obligations to her tenants and to leave the island to the mercy of these raiders. Those are the facts—they can be verified from the Papers—and that was the beginning of the whole mischief. It was in accordance with the consistent policy of Lady Cathcart—a policy founded, I have no doubt with the best of intentions, on the theory that the people of Barra should prosecute the fishing industry for their livelihood and not cultivate the land. It was her policy not to give land for crofters—
Does the noble Lord blame Lady Cathcart for not having put these people in prison at once? Her hesitation to enforce the law was due to her kindness of heart.
I think I heard the noble Lord say that Lady Cathcart had not divided up land for small tenants. May I ask how many thousands of acres she divided up in Barra?
§ LORD PENTLAND
Lady Cathcart had divided up something like 4,400 acres, and she divided up that land for the purpose of establishing Barra and Castlebay as a fishing centre. It was an elaborate scheme. Lady Cathcart's view. expressed over and over again, is that it is hopeless for the people of Barra to look to the land for their livelihood, and that it is to the fishing industry that they must look. Guided very largely by her experience on the shores of the Moray Firth, where fishermen have a simple house and garden and where they had given up plots of land they had previously cultivated, Lady Cathcart endeavoured to apply that system to Barra when she succeeded to the estates. I make no question of her motives and her desire to benefit the people, but with those East-coast ideas she endeavoured to establish 1074 Barra as a fishing centre. She improved the pier; there is an excellent natural harbour, and excellent herring fishing there; and with fishing near she thought this the place where a large fishing industry could be established. The fishermen were to live at Castlebay, and the farmers around were to supply them with milky vegetables, etc. In pursuance of this policy a large acreage of land was divided up, some in small lots, and some in considerable farms which were let on lease; but, as Lady Cathcart herself says in her printed publications, the scheme failed because the circumstances of the Barra fishermen were different from those of the fishermen of the East coast. These men still sought to get their livelihood from the land. Lady Cathcart believes they acted wrongly in their own interests. But that was what happened, and since then, as she says herself, applications have been repeatedly sent to her for land, and she has, as she believes in the interests of the people themselves, refused them; and amongst other applications which were sent to her so far back as 1883 was an application for the land of this very Island of Vatersay. I do not know that I need trouble your Lordships with that. In fact, I had not intended to weary your Lordships with these details until I was challenged upon the point, but I shall be glad to place at at the disposal of the noble Earl the whole of the correspondence which I have here, and the whole of the facts on which I founded the statement that I have just made to your Lordships.
The difficulty in regard to Vatersay grew as the months went on. No action was taken by the proprietor to stop it, and the Government had no authority to act. In September of 1907 I laid before the proprietor the suggestion that in this case, as in other cases throughout the islands, it was for her to consider the breaking up of the farm of Vatersay into crofter tenancies, and that if she so acted the financial assistance of the Congested Districts Board would be at her disposal as it had been at the disposal of other proprietors in Scotland for a similar purpose. Then came a long correspondence, which was published in the first Paper laid before Parliament and which the noble Earl has criticised, and which, unless your Lordships express a desire for me to enter into it, I propose to pass by. It has already been discussed in 1075 both Houses of Parliament, and I am perfectly ready to answer any question or challenge in regard to it. That correspondence terminated, I think, last summer.
Then came the second chapter of the controversy, which opens with the semiprivate letter to which attention has been drawn this evening; and the whole of that correspondence is published in the second White Paper which has been laid before Parliament. I do not propose to enter into any detailed defence of that correspondence. It is there for those interested to read, and I do not know that I can add anything to your Lordships' information in regard to it. I had thought that negotiations had been successfully brought to a point when Lady Cathcart would have consented to remain proprietor of the island. Highland people have great loyalty to their lairds. The difficulties of the Government in becoming a landlord are very great; the cost to the taxpayer is greatly in excess, I think, of the advantage gained; and, therefore, on all these grounds I had hoped to induce the proprietor to make this land available for occupation by crofter tenants. That was the policy of the Government from beginning to end. There could have been no mistake about it, that the Government intended that their assistance should be given to a scheme and only to a scheme for placing tenants on that island under the crofter tenure.
Lady Cathcart took another view. First of all we very nearly came to a point of agreement. Interviews took place, as are recounted in the Papers. Unfortunately, a precise note of what took place at those interviews was not made at the time. It was a grave omission. I regret, perhaps more than anybody else, that no note was made and no agreement definitely come to on those occasions; but it was not come to. There were reasons, as the noble Earl has mentioned for haste, but, whatever the reasons were, there was no formal note of the agreement come to. When a difference of opinion was disclosed, Lady Cathcart's agents did not hesitate to charge myself and those who acted with me and advised me in the matter with a breach of faith. I preferred to regard the whole matter as a misunderstanding, and there I leave it to your Lordships to judge.
The position of the Government has been practically consistent throughout. 1076 The position of the proprietor has been perfectly clear throughout. But when matters came to a deadlock in this way I was obliged to consider, not only the position of the Government, but the position of the Island of Vatersay. The population there had increased to something like 150 people, stock had been sent over by various people, and the island was eaten bare. The hands of the Government were forced by these circumstances, and I caused the letter to be written which proposed to Lady Cathcart that the island should be purchased by the Government, as only in that way did I see any possible means of endeavouring to put this wretched business in order. That is the whole story, and I can only say to your Lordships that I have nothing to aid to it. I have nothing to withdraw, and have nothing to apologise for. I do not wish in any way to do more than defend the position I have taken up, because it has been attacked.
It is a very difficult business, this. The present Secretary for Scotland is not in an absolutely novel position in having been obliged to buy land in the parish of Barra, in which Vatersay lies. Eight years ago Lord Balfour of Burleigh was obliged, by the multiplication of population on the island, to do an exactly similar thing—to buy from Lady Cathcart land, for which the Government then paid £7,500, in order to place upon it the surplus population of cottars on that island. The Government have, in purchasing the Island of Vatersay, endeavoured to meet the difficulty which has presented itself by precisely the method used by their predecessors. The difficulty is not yet over. Those of your Lordships who know the circumstances of the islands, and those of you especially who know the circumstances of these outer islands, will know that they present conditions of peculiar difficulty. This parish of Barra alone among the parishes of the outer islands, if we disregard Lewis, shows an increase of population in recent years, and we are still faced with the difficulty which is presented by the fact that these people are increasing faster than the means of subsistence.
Even now, after purchasing the island of Vatersay, the Government have received applications for more land to satisfy the demand of the cottars and crofters who are at present without land in the parish of Barra. If all the available land of the 1077 estate were applied to these purposes, there would not be enough land to go round. There would be still a considerable number of these men and their families for whom there would be no land. The Government have no land of their own for this purpose, and the present proprietors are not willing to devote any more lard to it. Therefore the difficulty, which, is I have said, is a growing one, is extremely serious. Barra is an exceptional place. There is rich herring fishing near it and considerable revenue is brought to the island by that herring fishing, but it is quite impossible for this island to bear any greater increase of population and the Government have declined to make any more land available or to take any steps to make more land available for the purpose of settling the remaining cottars who are without land in that island. The Barra people are a pleasant Highland people, and they do as well as other Highland people when they go afield and abroad to seek a livelihood and a career; but they must realise that the capacity of the island for maintaining a population is at present taxed to its utmost. Herring fishing is a productive industry, but the herring is a capricious fish, and to base the prosperity of a large population on herring fishing is attended by very serious risks. The capacity of the island is, as I say, taxed to its utmost, and therefore it is not possible to make more land available for this purpose.
On the other hand, I must again remind the House that the Government cannot accept the view that it is their duty to step in, in advance of the action of proprietors themselves, to protect them from what have been described as these raids. I have already mentioned that the true remedy is the civil remedy of interdict, and it is not until a breach of interdict has taken place and a complaint of that breach has been lodged and until there is actual violence or disorder or the officer serving the interdict has been deforced—it is not until then that the Government have the authority of interfering actively in the matter. That, as I am advised, is the law, and that is the law as the Government intend to interpret it. I do not know whether I can add more to what I have said.
The Government are doing their best to mitigate the difficulties of the people on these islands by administrative means—in 1078 the first case by increasing the facilities for education and training, so that the people may have equal opportunities with those elsewhere of seeking and pursuing a successful career in other parts of the country and of the British Empire. They are doing their best, by administrative means, to improve the farm stock of the people, to develop the fisheries, and to cultivate the resources of the country so that the earnings of the people may increase and their obligations may be discharged; and I would remind your Lordships that the Government have by other means, by introducing legislation which your Lordships have vetoed, endeavoured to obtain powers the exercise of which, when advisable and under approved circumstances, would greatly have mitigated the difficulties of the situation. I thank your Lordships for your indulgence in hearing me on this matter, and if I have omitted to give information on any points in which your Lordships take an interest I shall be glad to endeavour to supply that omission.
My Lords, I should like to take advantage of the noble Lord's concluding sentence by asking him if he is absolutely certain on the point that Lady Cathcart was against the principle of breaking up land for small holdings. It is definitely stated in the letter of July 20 to the Scottish Office that Lady Cathcart broke up 4,500 acres in Barra in the year 1883 and settled 115 families of cottars and fishermen upon it. A person who does that voluntarily can hardly be said to be opposed to the policy of small holdings. Furthermore, although opposed to the policy, this lady had sold to the Government a further 3,000 acres which were also divided. I hardly think that a proprietrix who gives up 7,500 acres in a few years to be divided among small holders is a person who has fixed East-coast ideas which she wishes to apply to the West.
This policy of misrepresentation against Lady Cathcart, both in this House and in another place, has been most marked. When the Vatersay question first came up Lady Cathcart was described by Lord Shaw, who I am sorry is not in his place to-night, as a lady who was most unfortunate in her dealings with her tenants. Of all proprietors, that could with the least justice be said of Lady Cathcart. She has constructed piers, built houses. and divided 1079 land for her tenants and has lost money over every single one of these undertakings; and now to be held up by His Majesty's Government as opposed to small holdings is nothing less than scandalous. The noble Lord stated that Lady Cathcart would not give the land of Vatersay. She was perfectly prepared to do so provided that compensation was paid. She was certainly opposed to giving the land of Vatersay for division. Why? Because it was reported that the land was not sufficiently watered; and in the report of the medical officer for the County of Inverness for last month is a further statement to that effect.
In these circumstances I do not see how it can be said that a lady who has divided three-quarters of the whole of her farm land in Barra amongst the crofters has not played her part in wishing to meet the undoubted overcrowding. As to the astounding claim which the noble Lord now brings forward of consistency of action on the part of the Government, I must say I can trace no consistency whatever. In the correspondence they first declined to give compensation, and then they give compensation. They first declined to buy the farm, and then they buy it. Personally, I cannot trace consistency in one single act of the Scottish Office in this matter.
My Lords, the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland endeavoured to explain the course of action to be taken by a proprietor in the event of land being raided. I do not know whether the noble Lord remembers that about the year 1890 a raid took place in the Lews, and on that occasion the sheriff was applied to and a strong force of police sent over, with the result that order was quickly restored in that island. I note the noble Lord's statement that that is not the way in which the law is interpreted by His Majesty's present Government. There is not much more to be said in this discussion, but we can hardly close it without your Lordships joining with me in congratulating the Secretary for Scotland on the glorious state of chaos to which he has reduced the island of Vatersay. I have the honour to know Lady Cathcart well, and can testify to the fact that she is one of the kindest and most generous of landlords. I do not believe there is one landlord in Scotland, or, indeed, in the whole of the United Kingdom, more beloved than she is by tenants or who has 1080 done more for them. The accusations against Lady Cathcart contained in this correspondence are absolutely uncalled for and in discordance with the real facts. The whole of the details of the case regarding Vatersay have been amply and fully explained by my noble friend Lord Camperdown, and it would be superfluous for me to enter into them. The whole policy of the Secretary for Scotland from the commencement of the matter was that he would not purchase the island. I am glad to say that that policy has been defeated, and that the island has been purchased. I wish the noble Lord joy of it, and I think it is a matter for congratulation to Lady Cathcart that she is now free of the island. It is now the work of the Government to do what they can with it, and to see if they can make it a success. I cannot resume my seat without saying that I, and, I believe, many noble Lords, condemn most emphatically the whole policy and correspondence of the Secretary for Scotland in this connection during the last two years. What has occurred is absolutely, entirely, and solely due to him and to his policy.