My Lords, I rise to ask the Secretary for Scotland—
It will be in your Lordships' recollection that Vatersay Farm paid at one time a rent in one sum of £350 per annum. The tenant was well satisfied, and was paying his way. The farm was then 277 bought by the Secretary for Scotland last year for a sum of £6,250, and it is now divided amongst fifty-eight crofters at a total rental of £180. I do not know whether the Secretary for Scotland is intending to carry out this as a paying business transaction or as an entirely philanthropic one, but, if it is a business transaction, on the face of it I am sure your Lord-shins will agree with me it is utterly bad estate management. If, on the contrary, it is a philanthropic object, it fails entirely or to a very great extent in its intention, because with a rent reduced from £350 to £180 the rates which were levied upon that must fall upon other people, and be a great burden to them. I do not wish to go further into that question. As far as the second Question is concerned, it is a perfectly plain one and can be easily answered. With regard to the third Question, I would call your Lordships' attention to the Report, which says—
- 1. In view of the fact that Vatersay Farm paid a rent of £350, and was purchased on that basis, whereas now let in 58 crofts it only pays a rental of £180, how does the Secretary for Scotland account for the diminution in the productive power of the Island as shown by the diminished rental?
- 2. How many of the 58 crofters to whom crofts have been allotted have houses and permanently reside in Vatersay?
- 3. With regard to the proceedings against certain squatters for removal stated to have been decided in the Board's favour (page vii)—
- (i)Were any steps taken to enforce the decision of the Court; and
- (ii)Are all such squatters, or any of them, in occupation of crofts under the Board?
- 4. Are any of the 58 crofters, and, if so, how many, persons who left their crofts in Mingulay Island? If so, what steps were taken by the Board to satisfy themselves, according to their Circular (Appendix VII., page 6), that these men were possessed of cash and stock sufficient to enable them profitably to occupy a holding?
- 5. Whether it is a fact that the school on Mingulay Island, the building of which cost the ratepayers over £700, has been closed owing to the exodus of the population?
- 6. Whether it is a fact that in order to accommodate the crofters in Vatersay the erection of a school has been sanctioned at a cost to the ratepayers of about £1,200?The proceedings we had to take against certain squatters for removal were decided in our favour both by the sheriff's substitute, and, on appeal, by the sheriff.And further on it says—Payment of loans and rents. We thought it our duty to intimate that if there was an immediate improvement in this respect steps would not be taken to enforce payment or to foreclose.I should like to ask the Secretary for Scotland if he would be good enough to answer the first three Questions before I allude to the fourth.
§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (LORD PENTLAND)
My Lords, may I suggest, with great respect to the House of which I am a very new member, that it is not a convenient process to put down a series of Questions of this kind, and then invite a sort of running debate upon them. I shall be glad at all times to give the noble Lord and any other noble Lord all the information that is at my disposal on any questions of administration upon which the Government no longer wishes to reserve any discretion; but I do suggest that it might be better if the noble Lord would allow me on a future occasion of this kind to give him by letter, or otherwise, the information which he desires, and then, if there was still any point on which he wished to raise a discussion on details involving a long series of questions and figures, I should be very glad to place myself at his disposal.
278 I will now give him such information as I have on the points he has mentioned. May I say, as a preliminary, that this question was discussed fully in your. Lordships' House last year, and I was then able to give a good deal of information upon it. Your Lordships will not expect me at this hour of the night to go into any very controversial matter. I will only say this, that the purchase of Vatersay by the Government was not undertaken as a voluntary undertaking initiated by them. The noble Lord will remember the circumstances, and I need not go into them. It was never meant to be a business undertaking. In regard to the other alternative which the noble Lord has put, it has certainly benefited those who are there, but it is altogether too early to judge of it as having afforded permanent relief or permanent benefit to them or to others. I will also make this one further observation, that, as the noble Lord himself knows, the relief of congestion and the purchase of property of this kind has many indirect effect s which can hardly be measured without a more detailed discussion of the matter titan I am able to give.
The answer to the noble Lord's first Question is that. the farm does not at present command so high a price for its present uses as it did for its former uses. To the second Question the answer is that the later information which I have is to the effect that about thirty-five of the new tenants have taken up residence on Vatersay. The Board understand that the remainder will do so without undue delay. With regard to the third Question, the noble Lord will, I hope, allow me to say, with reference to the first heading, that it is not advisable to discuss matters of administration which are not yet determined, but I may inform him that the Board have not yet proceeded to evict by force. Under the second head, I am able to say that one is in the occupation of a crofter. It fell vacant and was allotted to him. The noble Lord does not wish me to go any further, I understand, at present.
With regard to Mingulay Island, this is the first time we have heard about it, but it is an island about six miles south of Vatersay, and I understand that a considerable number of persons have left the Island of Mingulay and gone to the Island of Vatersay. If 279 your Lordships will turn to Appendix VII., page 6. to the notice inviting applications for holdings on Vatersay, you will see that one of the regulations is that applications for the proposed holdings are invited from landless crofters and squatters; and in the next Appendix applicants for holdings in Vatersay are asked their occupation, and. further down, what capital they have at their command (a) in cash, (b) in stock, (c) fishing boats, etc.; and further down still they have to show what their ability is to manage a. holding. I should like to ask the Secretary for Scotland what steps he has taken to possess himself of this information, and, if possible, what information he has on the subject, because I have a statement here of rent in arrears in Mingulay Island and Barra, which shows that twenty men have left the Island of Mingulay and gone to the Island of Vatersay. They were all tenants of the owner, Lady Gordon Cathcart, and were nearly all of them some ten to fifteen years in arrears of rent to her. The total amount of rents was £51 8s. 6d. for the year's rent to Martinmas, 1909, and the arrears due on December 31, 1909, amount altogether to £612 19s. This is really a very important question, and I hope that the noble Lord will not try to put us off in the way in which he has done I think a little bit in regard to the former Questions.
§ LORD PENTLAND
In reply to the last remark of the noble Lord, if he will kindly make his observation a little more definite I shall be glad to do my best to give him any information which he seeks. In reply to the Question he has now asked, two of the selected applicants are crofters in Mingulay; others, I understand, are cotters and fishermen there. They complied with the Form in Appendix VII. with regard to particulars, and the steps taken by the Board are described on pages 6 and 7 of the Report.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
According to the return which Lord Saltoun produces, either fourteen or sixteen of these crofters who were in great arrears with their rent have simply left Mingulay and gone to Vatersay where they have been accepted as responsible tenants. This is a statement from the estate which the noble Lord can see if he likes, and this is the sort of arrears they are in: Mary Campbell, one year's rent £2, arrears £26; 280 John Gillies, rent £3 5s., arrears £47; and so on all the way down; and it comes out that the total rent was £51 a year and the arrears £612. There are about sixteen of them now at Vatersay, and they are accepted as responsible tenants. I think it is a very important question. If the Congested Districts Board say they have satisfied themselves beforehand that the persons whom they take as crofters are responsible tenants, I do not know what means they have taken of ascertaining what the antecedents of these people were, but it certainly does appear to require more explanation.
§ LORD PENTLAND
So far as I am aware, this is the first time that the information which the noble Lord has been good enough to give has been made public.
§ LORD PENTLAND
I do not know whether the return of that estate is made public as a rule. I can only say that this is the first time that the information which the noble Lord has kindly furnished to your Lordships has reached me. The proceedings of the Congested Districts Board in seeking and selecting tenants are described in their Report. They point out that applicants were invited for fifty-eight holdings, and that eighty or ninety applications were received; and they selected from these eighty or ninety applicants those whom they considered best fitted to take up the holdings which they offered. As I am informed, out of sixteen or eighteen individuals whom the noble Lords have mentioned two were crofters on Mingulay. I do not know what was the position of the others, but I am informed that two were crofters and the others cotters or fishermen. What steps have been taken in the past to collect rents at Mingulay I am not aware of. The Government were not responsible for the administration or the collection of rent in that island. But I do know this, that Mingulay is a rocky island on the northwest coast of Scotland bound by stormy seas. It is quite impossible for a boat to land there if there are not a certain number of young and active men on the island, and I have no doubt what has happened has been this, that the young men having seen an opportunity or having sought an opportunity of leaving the 281 island have done so, and that has really led to an exodus of the population from this small island. That is, I believe, what has happened. I will now answer the further Questions if the noble Lord so wishes.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
Might I, by permission of the House, say before the noble Lord leaves that matter that what, he has said is no answer whatever to the Question addressed to him—namely, what steps did the Congested Districts Board take to satisfy themselves that these were responsible tenants.
§ LORD PENTLAND
The members of the Congested Districts Board carried out the duties which I have described. Their officers examined the tenants personally, and allotted the holdings to the best tenants available. It is well known to the noble Lords who have put these Questions that this whole transaction has been accompanied by the greatest difficulty, and. that must be taken into consideration when criticism is made upon the action of the Government in regard to it.
The noble Lord appears to think that if he writes us a letter and gives us this information it is sufficient, but we have given him a considerable amount of notice regarding these Questions and he has all the machinery of his Office to get answers to them. As the noble Earl, Lord Camperdown, has pointed out on former occasions, we are anxious to get the true facts of the case with regard to these things. The Questions are not put with a mischievous view, or with any intention of harrying the Secretary for Scotland or his Office, but with a real desire for information which will enable us at sonic future period to have a debate upon this subject. The information we are anxious to get is most important in order to enable us to carry out, our purpose.
With regard to the first of the two remaining Questions which I have put down—"Whether it is a fact that the school on Mingulay Island, the building of which cost the ratepayers over £700, has been closed owing to the exodus of the population"—I would point out that this is a good school, but that owing to this exodus to a very considerable extent it has been closed, and owing to the number of crofters who have gone to Vatersay it is now necessary 282 to build a school there at a cost of about £1,200, which will also fall on the ratepayers. I am assured that the rate in Barra, which includes Vatersay and Mingulay and. all these islands, has gone up from 6d. to 5s. in the £ and that the total rates will be something like 12s. 6d, as against 7s. 2d. These people are only just able to keep themselves on their crofts, and the putting of a great number of people on the Island of Vatersay will bring up the rates to such an extent that the condition of the crofters and cotters on Barra as well as on Vatersay will be most serious. I ask the other two Questions that stand in my name.
§ LORD PENTLAND
My Lords, I am afraid it will take more argument than we can give to-night to this subject to secure any measure of agreement between the two sides of the House on this question, but I do wish most respectfully to remind the noble Lord again that the view he takes of this transaction is not the view of the Government. He referred to the action of the Government in putting a great number of people on this island. That is not how these people originally got on to the island. They raided the island when it was in the possession of the proprietor, and the proprietor for many months did nothing. There was a controversy between the proprietor and the Government as to what steps should be taken. I do not wish to revive old debates, but I must rebut the implication which the words of the noble Lord contained. The Government were forced by the circumstances to come to the rescue and the relief of these people, and it is not upon the Government that the responsibility rests for all this expenditure which the noble Lord points out must be incurred. The fact is that the Mingulay school is closed. I am not able to confirm the statement that it cost £700, or that the whole of this was borne by the ratepayers. These statements may be true, but I have not got any information at the moment which confirms them. The answer to the sixth Question is Yes; but the sanctioned cost is £1,000 for the school and the teacher's house.
I would like to explain that I am perfectly aware that the Government did not put these people on to the island. It was raided, as the noble Lord says, and as we all know. It was a slip of the tongue on my part; 283 but the noble Lord caused action to be taken against these raiders. He got a decree against them, and on taking it further that was confirmed; and after that be allowed these people still to remain. I utterly fail to see the wisdom or the kindness of his action, because he put these men to great expense in defending themselves and then failed to carry out his own policy. It seems to me extraordinary weakness as much as anything else.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
My Lords, I must deprecate the continuance of this discussion. It is quite irregular.