HL Deb 23 April 1913 vol 14 cc256-80

THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN rose to call attention to the Final Report of the Congested Districts Board for Scotland for the year to March 31,1912, and to the present condition of the Outer Hebrides; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, before I address myself to the terms of my Motion I regret that I am obliged to make a formal complaint as to the manner in which official information with regard to the Highlands and Western Islands and the crofter counties of Scotland has been withheld or delayed during the last year or two by the Scottish Office. Our only means of obtaining any official information with regard to what goes on in the crofter counties, which is a subject of considerable interest at the present time, are the Reports of the Congested Districts Board and of the Crofters Commission. Those Reports always used to be circulated about three months or so after they were received and we used to have them in the month of June, but during the last two years, when they certainly have not been more favourable to the policy which has been pursued, we have had difficulty in obtaining them. I asked for them myself in the year 1911, and after sonic difficulty got them in August of that year, when it was impossible for any one to bring them to the notice of the House owing to important business of other kinds. Last year I asked for them more than once, and in October Lord Herschell was instructed to tell me that they were in process of signature and would be delivered immediately. The Final Report of the Congested Districts Board we have received, but up to the present time the Report of the Crofters Commission has not been issued. Do not le,; it be said to me that this Final Report of the Crofters Commission is going to be given to us at a later period in connection with the new Board of Agriculture or the Land Court. The Crofters Commission was an independent body just as much as the Congested Districts Board was. They both came to a termination at the same time, and therefore it was quite clear that the Crofters Commission ought to issue a Final Report just as much as the Congested Districts Board.

Let me turn to my Motion. The policy of the Government has been of late years in the Western Islands and Highlands to sub-divide farms, to persuade owners as far as possible to acquiesce and co-operate in this sub-division, and to acquire land to be re-let and sold to small holders as they are now called but who used to be called crofters. The consequence and the object of this has been, of course, to increase the population. I venture to think that that policy has been followed out without much reference to the capability of the soil to support an increased population, for with the exception of fishing, which is a somewhat precarious occupation, there is no other industry in the islands. The congestion has, of course, become worse as the population has increased, and simultaneously with the increase in the population there also has been necessarily a large increase in the rates. I venture to say that this policy has proved to be a mistake, and by way of showing to your Lordships that, that is so I shall content myself by quoting from the Report of the Congested Districts Board as to how this policy has worked out ill operation.

The Board say that on the completion of over fourteen years service they think it may be useful briefly to summarise what they have been able to do in the various branches of their work. I entirely agree with them, and it is to that summary that I am now going to call your Lordships' attention. By far the largest case is that of the Lews. In the Lews there is a population of somewhere about 28,000, of whom no fewer than 7,000 are cottars—that is to say, men who are not rated, and who, while they increase the burden of the rates do not in any way contribute to the revenue. What have the Board to say with regard to the Lews. They say— The condition of Lewis has for a length of time engaged the serious attention of the Board, and we have expended considerable sums on roads, piers, and the like, as well as on other useful objects in that Island. … The Report of the Crofters Commission upon the condition of Lewis [Cd. 13271, shows the difficulties of a satisfactory and complete settlement of the acute and widespread congestion in the Island by any schemes of land settlement within Lewis itself. The area of land in Lewis held under crofter tenure greatly exceeds that held otherwise, so that even if it were possible to assign the whole of the farms or deer forest lands in. Lewis for relief of congestion, it would not provide a remedy of a permanent nature; besides, a great portion of the lands presently under deer is unsuitable for crofter occupation. It ought to be added that the congestion in Lewis is on the increase from the frequent erection of dwellings by cottars and squatters, both on the common pasture and on individual holdings. We expressed our readiness to endeavour effectually to deal with any application made to us for the voluntary migration from the island of collars and others unable to find a decent livelihood in their present condition, as, in our opinion, some such migration on a considerable scale was necessary it material relief were to be secured. We asked the Landward Committee of the Parish Council of Stornoway whether in the event of our acquiring lands on the mainland of Scotland suitable for occupation by crofters or fishermen, the Committee would undertake to supply a list of, say, 50 families in Lewis—crofters or cottars or squatters—fairly well skilled and otherwise suitable, who would come under a binding promise and agreement to transfer themselves permanently, with reasonable aid from us, to such a new settlement or settle-ments. The reply we received showed that the members of Committee had made due inquiry in their respective districts, but that none of the cottars, squatters, or crofters was found to be in favour of migration to the mainland or other parts of Scotland. The Board leave that question there. But on looking back I observe that exactly the same paragraph formed part of the Report of the Board in the year 1906.

What I want to know is, What have the Government been about and what have the Board been about between the year 1906 and the year 1913? The Board might, merely by taking a pair of scissors, have snipped out the paragraph from the Report of 1906 and inserted it in this place. The only thing that I can see that the Board pretend to have done is this. They say— As regards land settlement, Major Matheson has, with our help, subdivided his farms of Aignish and of Mangursta into 45 crofts, while 29 fishermen's dwellings have been erected on feus at the Battery Park in Stornoway Harbour. Your Lordships will find in Appendix V of this Report what has happened in these three places. The farm of Aignish was divided in 1906. I have it on the authority of Major Matheson himself that he felt considerable hesitation as to the wisdom of doing this, but that he was persuaded by the Board and agreed to allow them to sub-divide this farm on the understanding that his rent of £96 was to stand. Let us see what has happened since 1906, in the first place with regard to the Government. The Government lent £3,625 on building loans to the crofters; of that sum they have been repaid £86. The annuity which was yearly repayable was £142, and for the year to March 31, 1912, £24 was paid. In six years on this sub-divided farm the result is to the Government £534 of arrears. Then what has happened to Major Matheson, the owner of the estate? His rent on January 1, 1913, was £96; the arrears due to him were £172. But that is not all so far as he is concerned, because he has just received a notice from the Land Court that it is proposed, in violation of their agreement with him, to reduce his rent from £96 to £60. That is the case of Aignish. I now come to Battery Park, which was started in the same year—namely, 1906. There the Government lent for buildings £3,173, of which £317 has been repaid. The annuity is £113, and last year there was paid £71, the total arrears being £307.


From which page is the noble Earl quoting?


The case of Aignish is on page 11 of the Appendix, and Battery Park is on page 10. Then what about Major Matheson, who has feu duty paid to him or ought to have it? His feu duty is £27 16s. 0d., and the arrears up to January 1 of this year were £92. With regard to the other case, that of Mangursta, the crofters have only had one half year's rent due from them because the Board paid the rent up to that time. Therefore there bas not been any opportunity for arrears, but Major Matheson told me that upon that settlement, which had failed on a previous occasion, he looked with very great doubt as to its success. Major Matheson is, in my humble opinion, and I believe in the opinion of all those who have looked into the case, a man who has met with very unfortunate treatment. He, like many other proprietors, endeavoured to co-operate with the Board as far as he possibly could, but lately, owing to the disastrous result of what has been done in this direction, he has been obliged to leave the Island of Lewis, to which be is passionately attached, because he is almost unable to pay the rates. That is his position.

From the year 1905 to the year 1910 or 1911 Major Matheson entered into a correspondence with the former Secretary for Scotland, Lord Pentland. The noble Lord avoided him as much as possible; he never went to see him when he visited the Lews and never spoke to him, or, indeed, to anybody who was likely to be able to inform him of the real state of things in the Lews. When the present Secretary for Scotland acceded to office, Major Matheson went and saw him, and the tight hon. gentleman naturally said that he had only just come into office and did not know anything about the case. Thereupon Major Matheson wrote to him a letter, on July 29 last, stating all the facts with regard to the rates, and so on, and giving him other information in detail. He received an official intimation of the receipt of that letter, but heard nothing more. He wrote again in September pointing out that be had received no answer, and to that letter he did not even get the official letter acknowledging its receipt. So in January he went to see Mr. McKinnon Wood, who told him very civilly that he had his sympathy and that he felt very much for him, but that he was unable to do anything or to interfere in the matter at all. That is the position of the unfortunate Major -Matheson. lie sees, of course, quite clearly now that to endeavour to co-operate with the Board is not in any way to obtain any assistance or co-operation from them, and that, on the contrary, all these changes he has made, including these recent changes which have been mentioned by the Board as if they were really great improvements which had been made by them—that all these changes have worked out very much to his disadvantage. So much for the Lews.

I am only taking two or three of the large eases. If your Lordships will read this Report you will see that there are plenty more of the same sort. Moreover, if I could get a Committee to inquire into the working of the Board in these Islands and the real result, I believe that a good deal more would come out than appears in this Report. The. Board say— In South Uist Lady Cathcart has subdivided in a similar manner, with our aid, lands at Kilbride, Peninerine, Gerinish, Kilaulay, and Locheynort, which are now in the occupation of 81 crofters. Lady Cathcart, too, endeavoured to cooperate with the Board as long as she possibly could, until by bitter experience, having tried every means of assisting these people and having spent and wasted a great deal of money, she satisfied herself finally that this experiment was absolutely impossible, and therefore she has declined to take any further part in it. The four places first mentioned in the quotation from the Report which I have just read were started in 1907, and Lady Cathcart undertook to collect for the Board their annuities because in those places they made some building loans, and so on. I will merely mention to your Lordships how much in arrear they are with regard to their annuities to the Board. Kilbride has total arrears of £47; Peninerine, has arrears of £31; Gerinish has arrears of £33; and with regard to Kilaulay, where the annuity is £8 10s. 0d., they paid nothing at all last year, and their arrears are £21.

Many owners assisted and did all they could to co-operate with the Board in times past, but many of those who have made these settlements and cut up farms are in very serious doubt with regard to their success in the future. The longer the settlements last the less favourable do the prospects become. With regard to the question of local rates, on that the whole of the Western Islands and Highlands are unanimous. In fact, I do not think it is necessary to detain your Lordships at any length on that subject, because it will be generally admitted. The Scottish Office is full of reports and complaints with regard to the rates, and the reason, of course, is this. In proportion as you increase the population, when you are not increasing but rather diminishing the rateable value, the result is that the pressure of the local rates must necessarily become greater, because a great many of these people are cottars. They are not even rated; they contribute to charges on the rates but to the rates themselves they contribute nothing whatever, and the longer this policy goes on and the more it is extended your Lordships will see that the burden must necessarily become heavier.

By way of illustration let me state what occurred with regard to the Island of Vatersay. There is really something almost humorous in it. When this scheme was started only a little more than half of the crofts were filled up, but on three Islands which were near by—Mingulay, Berneray, and Pabbay—there were about thirty crofts. Their rent was £90; they owed Lady Cathcart £900 in arrears. It suddenly occurred to them to sail away from the Islands, leaving their arrears and their property, and transplant themselves to Vatersay, where they now are; but with regard to the amount of stock they had, your Lordships can easily imagine what that was. Let me show you what the effect of that was on the rates of the parish of Barra. I may say, first, that the rateable value of the parish of Barra is about £2,000. There was a school on the Island of Mingulay which had cost £700; that is derelict. There was a Roman Catholic church and priest's house, which had cost the Roman Catholics £600; that is derelict. But on Vatersay they have just erected a school at a cost of £1,200. That shows your Lordships how, with this change of population, the Education Act is working in that particular parish. I may mention further with regard to the Lows that Major Matheson has pointed out to the Scottish Office in his correspondence with them that whereas the assessable value in a mainland parish to the population is £6 18s. 0d. per head, in the Lews it is 8s. 11d. I think I have now said enough with regard to these oases where the proprietors have cooperated with the Board.

Now let us take the cases where the Board have purchased land for resale or letting. On page 8 of the Report the Board say— We purchased in 1899, from the Duke of Sutherland, the northern portion of the farm of Syre in Strathnaver, Sutherlandshire, containing about 12,116 acres, for £10,546 10s.. … In 1900 the Board bought about 3,000 acres of farm land in Barra from Lady Gordon Cathcart for £7,500. In both cases the land was resold. The Board go on to say— In the case of both Syre and Barra the Board received during the present year a written request in which the settlers expressed their unanimous desire to become tenants of the Board under the Crofters Acts instead of purchasing tenants. The Board after carefully reviewing all the circumstances in each case decided to grant the request of the settlers, and an agreement was entered into giving effect to the change. It is quite evident that the people of Syre and Barra found that it was not convenient to pay their annuities, so they decided that they would recede from their purchase and become tenants, with, of course, the prospect hereafter of their possibly behaving with regard to the rent in the same way as they had behaved with regard to the annuities. If you look on page 12, about which I shall have to say a word in a moment, you will find that that was the case.

If your Lordships will look at the bottom of page 8 you will see that the sums expended between April 1; 1908, and March 1, 1912, in connection with these land schemes —there are others besides the particular eases I have mentioned—are: For purchase of land, £129,000; for loans to settlers for buildings, £21,000; and for various outlays, £230,000. The greater portion of this £230,000, apart from what may have been received for the sheep stock, was given to the settlers in order to start this system. It has been furnished by the taxpayers of Great Britain in order to start this system in the Western Islands. Now I go to page 12, with regard to the question of the repayment of loans and the payment of rent. This is the Board's report of what has happened— We regret to say that in the case of the several estates, the settlers, with some exceptions, are considerably in arrear. We recognise that there are cases of temporary misfortune, in which tome consideration may reasonably be shown, but it is necessary that the position in regard to payment generally should be improved; and by the exercise of pressure at collections, by the issue of warnings, and by taking legal proceedings in selected cases, we have endeavoured to enforce a better observance of obligations. We believe that these measures are likely to have a salutary effect. I should very much like to know what is their reason for believing that these measures are likely to have a salutary effect, because this paragraph, with scarcely the alteration of a word, has been repeated every year since the year 1907. It is almost verbatim the same in every single Report issued since then, whereas the arrears have gone on considerably increasing.

This is the abstract. The arrears in Syre, Barra, Glendale, and Kilmuir were—In 1909, £3,940; in 1910, £4,712; in 1911, £5,597; and in 1912, £5,507. Your Lordships would naturally suppose from the last-named amount that they had paid off some of the money, but that is not so. What happened was that the Board, in despair, struck off £800 as being irrecoverable. In Syre the total arrears are £871, or 1,1, years; in Barra £650, or over two years; in Glendale, £844, or a year and a-quarter; and in Kilmuir £3,142, or one year. Then comes poor little Vatersay. Vatersay only started two years ago, and therefore its arrears at present are more moderate. When it was a farm the rent was £350. The late Secretary for Scotland reduced that to £180. In the first year there were about £20 arrears, and in the second year £40. With regard to the way in which Vatersay is stocked I cannot help saying a word to your Lordships, and this information is to be found in the last Report of the Crofters Commission, not the Report for the last year because we have not got that, but I go back to the Report of the year before, which is the last we have. This is what happened. The people, who were supposed to be suitable tenants for Vatersay, at once appealed to the Board stating that they had not got any stock, and asked the Board to allow them to take in stock from the mainland. That is contrary to the whole spirit, and I believe to the wording, of the Act, but the Board said that as a temporary measure they would allow it. I strongly suspect that that temporary measure is still in existence, for I do not know from what other source any stock was to be derived.

I have already given the expenditure of the Board in connection with their land schemes. The total is £380,000. I submit to your Lordships that this Report simply condemns the proceedings of the Board during the last fourteen years. And by whom is this Report signed? It is signed by the Secretary for Scotland. That is more or less an official signature, a form, although the Secretary for Scotland was a member of the Board. But it is also signed by Neil, now Lord, Kennedy, who is Chairman of the present Land Court and is occupied at the present time in administering the recent law. How any one who signed these Reports can gravely continue to advocate this experiment, and still more to carry it out, is more than I can understand. This experiment has been tried, and I submit to your Lordships that it has failed. There has been a great expenditure of the British taxpayers' money, and what has been the result? You have succeeded in erecting an edifice which is so top-heavy that it begins to tumble down almost as soon as you have begun to put it up. That is the state of things as far as I can see with regard to the Western Islands at the present time. If this policy is persevered in, if with your eyes open, if in spite of all the facts which stare you in the face you persist in this policy, then I am afraid you are doing your best to create, and you will succeed in a very short time in creating, a state of things in the Western Islands only equalled by the state of things which prevailed in Ireland at the time of the potato famine.


My Lords, owing to the very late dates at which these Reports came before us there has been no discussion upon them, I think, since the year 1910, in this House. At that time we put forward a considerable number of criticisms, not only as to the scheme and the work which the Board were carrying out, but also with regard to the methods in which the accounts were presented to us. I am glad to see that the Secretary for Scotland paid some attention to that criticism, and the accounts are now before us presented in a way which is very much more easy to understand. It is, in fact, possible to find one's way about them and to realise the condition of affairs on many of these estates. I do not think the accounts are free from criticism now, but they are certainly a great deal better than they were.

I should, however, like to bring before the notice of the noble Lord who will answer on behalf of the Scottish Office what appear to me to be certain details of inaccuracy appearing in this Report. I would refer him to page 7, dealing with the estate of Kilmuir. If he has before him the accounts of the previous year he will find that the arrears on March 31, 1911, were £4,024, but in this account the arrears are carried forward at a less figure—namely, £3,710. That is obviously a wrong figure. These accounts have no doubt been audited by the Treasury, and I submit that that figure should not have been allowed to appear without some explanation. I presume that what has happened is that some of the arrears have been cancelled. Then on the same page of the Report and in connection with the same estate it is stated that a sum of £4,474 has been paid on this estate this year. That also is incorrect, because, as my noble friend Lord Camperdown pointed out, a considerable part of that sum has been cancelled, and I contend that it is incorrect to put it down as having been paid. It is also a very misleading statement, because it would make it appear that the tenants of Kilmuir have paid up a year's rental and something more, while as a matter of fact they have done nothing of the kind; they have paid something like £500 or £600 less than the actual rental due. Lord Camperdown has dealt so fully with the question of arrears that I will not trouble your Lordships further upon that point, except to say that I think the position is a serious one and is growing more so.

In the earlier part of the Report there is a summary of the arrears due, but that does not include anything like the whole of the arrears on all the estates, but only the arrears on four or five selected estates. I should like the noble Lord to ascertain why the other estates are not also included in the summary. We see that the Board have spent something like £500,000 on their schemes in the congested area, and more than half of that has been spent upon colonisation schemes in the Western Islands. The system has been to cut up large sheep farms and present them in small lots to crofters. I think I am correct in saying that in those districts of the Western Islands the only profitable use for the land is sheep grazing, and the result of the schemes is that crofters have been encouraged to arable farming in small quantities, and in no single instance that can be shown have they been able to earn a living. Moreover, the system generally has very largely lowered the capital value of the land, which I presume is a loss to the sum total value of the whole country. There are very good instances of that which I could show in the Report. I think the lowering of the capital value is an absolutely natural result of diverting land from its proper purpose and utilising it for a purpose which is an artificial one, and for which in this instance the soil is unsuitable.

The result of the fourteen years working is a dead loss to the Board. We must recognise that the position is an uneconomic one, and I do not know that we could complain of the loss if it could be shown that the scheme had justified its existence in being of benefit to those people on whose behalf it was started, but I do not think there is anything in this Report which shows that benefit has ensued. I do not complain of a good deal of the work of the Board. Very likely that part of their expenditure which has gone in public works, road making, and in constructing bridges, piers, and such like, may have been of considerable benefit to the community, but we do criticise the fact that the Board continue to go on with experiments which have during the last few years proved to he an absolute failure. At the very beginning they were face to face with almost an impossible position. There was widespread distress which had to be treated in some way or another. They selected a method which, according to the best advice given to them no doubt at that moment, showed some prospect of success. That was the method of splitting up these farms. But after that experiment has been tried for these, years and has not carried out the hopes expected of it, it seems to me it is time that some other alternative should be tried.

The general result we see now is that it is impossible for these people who have been planted on this land to earn a living. They can only exist by the generosity of the State, and by in almost every case receiving Poor-law relief. I do not think that is an existence which should be continued. It must he bad for their independence and bad for their character generally. I hope that the Board are grasping the situation and the very serious nature of it. There is very little indication in the Report that they are doing so. But I fear very much that if things go on as they are the problem which exists now, which is largely the creation of the Board, will become a far more serious problem than that which they were appointed to remedy. I hope that in the next Report we may see that this has been taken into consideration, and that there may be some suggested alternative instead of those which have done duty for the last thirteen or fourteen years.


My Lords, this is not a new subject in your Lordships' House. It has been discussed from time to time here and in another place in various forms. Sometimes the discussion has turned on incidents in the history of this land question in the Western Islands and Highlands of Scotland, incidents which have lent themselves to acute party controversy, and sometimes the broader aspects of the case have been dealt with as they have been to-day. The root problem here is an economic problem. I venture to say that it is not in essence a party problem at all, and it can only be solved, as I hope it will be solved, by well directed and patient effort, not in one direction but in several directions.

The problem is extremely difficult. In the worst cases it is a problem, as Lord Camperdown has pointed out, of a congested population living on an area of land insufficient for their support, in great poverty, and in conditions in which there is naturally a very low rateable value per head, for, as the noble Earl has pointed out, the cottars do not pay rates at all, and the crofters do not pay on their buildings. But the children of these cottars who do not pay rates must be educated, and that, of course, adds to the cost of the education rate. So that on account of the poverty you have a high poor rate, and on account of the circumstances I have described you have a high education rate. The landlord has to pay his share of these rates, and when the rates are very high, as they are in some of these Islands, it is often a very serious matter for him.

The difficulty is, What is the remedy? Of course, migration and emigration naturally suggest themselves. The view of the average Englishman is that the canny Scot is not unwilling to migrate to fresh fields and pastures new if it seems to be to his advantage, and that is the ease through a large part of Scotland. In fact, the extent of emigration in some parts of Scotland is, I believe, rather serious. But in these particular parts of Scotland there has been no tendency up to the present time, except almost under compulsion, either to migrate or to emigrate. I am glad to say I am informed that of late there is a greater tendency shown both to migrate and to emigrate from some of the most congested of these districts. I have spent such scant leisure as I have enjoyed during the last two or three days in studying this problem. I confess that at the end of it I feel a good deal of pity for the landlord, for the crofter, for the costar, and for the Government which has to try and find some remedy for this state of affairs. I would like to plead also for a little sympathy for myself in having to reply to-day to noble Lords who are admitted authorities in regard to all Scottish questions, and who have for years made a study of this particular question. I will reply as far as I can in some detail to some of the criticisms that have been offered, and I will try to answer some of the questions that have been asked.

The criticism of both the noble Earl opposite and of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton, has really been an attack on the whole system which has been carried out by the Congested Districts Board. His Majesty's Government cannot claim credit for the initiation of that system. I believe the credit for it belongs to the noble Lord opposite, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and he made a very determined, and I think I may also add a much more successful, effort to start experiments in regard to congestion than some noble Lords opposite are willing to allow. The noble Earl, Lord Camperdown, complained of information having been withheld in regard to this matter. I am informed that the delay in the issue of the Final Report of the Congested Districts Board was due to the fact that summaries had to be prepared for the full period of its existence. That delayed matters to some extent, and also the Report had to be revised by officials of the new Board of Agriculture for Scotland, who were at that time very heavily pressed with work in taking up their new duties. I have no information about the Report of the Crofters Commission, which the noble 14:arl mentioned, but I am authorised to say that the First Report of the new Board of Agriculture is likely to be published within a very few weeks, so that there will not be the unusual delay this year that occurred last year. A good many incidental points have been mentioned. I do not suppose I shall be able to remember all of them, but there are two or three to which I should like to reply at once. The noble Earl asked why the passage in the 1906 Report was repeated almost verbatim in the Report of 1912.


And nothing done between.


I will deal with the noble Earl's interruption presently by giving information about some of the estates. But the reason that the passage was repeated was that this is really a summary of fourteen years work. I think the particular passage to which the noble Earl referred was the passage stating that stronger measures were being taken in order to recover arrears.


What I said was that the paragraph relating to the Lews might have been cut with a pair of scissors out of the Report for the year which ended on March 31, 1906.


Then I am mistaken. In reference to the extract as to exercising pressure on those who were in arrears with their rents, I may say that the passage is not a verbatim repetition of the one which appeared in the Report of 1906, and it is a fact that in 1911 the Board did take vigorous action against selected defaulters. The noble Earl mentioned the rates of Vatersay. The total rate there has been greatly reduced, I am told—reduced by about one-third—since 1905. With regard to the point raised by Lord Clinton, I cannot off-hand explain the discrepancies in the accounts to which he drew attention. I have not got the Report of last year with me, but they are probably due to some of the arrears having been cancelled, as mentioned by Lord Camperdown. I am, however, not sure about that, but I know there were some irrecoverable arrears cancelled and that may explain it. Then the noble Lord asked why on page 12 only five estates are mentioned. Those are the five estates that have been bought by the Board. That is the reason why they are mentioned separately. I admit, in regard to the figures given in this Report, that some of them are by no means satisfactory. It would be perfectly absurd to attempt to deny that. I cannot, however, agree to there being any wholesale failure in regard to this matter and I shall be able, I think, to put a little different complexion on some of the figures given here by later information which I have obtained. After all, experiments in regard to a question like this problem of congestion in the Western Islands and Highlands must be tried. There is no royal road to set everything right in a moment; and it is quite possible that in carrying out these experiments some mistakes may have been made.

Now let me deal with some of the particular estates that are mentioned. I take, in the first place, Syre. The Syre experiment is a pretty old one. The land and the shootings were bought from the Duke of Sutherland for £10,546 in 1901, and from 1901 to 1910 the settlers were fairly prosperous, though some did not meet fully their obligations to the Board. Between 1909 and 1911 there was an agitation by the peasant owners, who asked to be made into crofting tenants. They made that request, not, I think, to get rid of their arrears, as the noble Earl has suggested, but for other reasons. I can only say what I am informed, of course, but in Scotland, I gather, there is not a burning desire to be an owner, such as exists in Ireland, and on the whole the Scotsman has no objection to being a tenant instead of a purchasing owner. However, leaving that point, I may say that they have a direct financial reason for desiring the change, inasmuch as by becoming crofting tenants they obtain relief from the landlord's share of the rates. In regard to Syre, in particular, there were also difficulties in managing the shooting and other joint property. Those were the reasons why they asked for the change, and the change was consented to by the late Congested Districts Board. The new valuation has been made in regard to it, and it wipes off most of the arrears. There are some few who may still be in arrears, but there are others who will actually have certain amounts to their credit.

In regard to Northbay, Barra, the case is very much the same. The property was bought from Lady Cathcart for £7,500 and it was written down by the Board to £5,500. The old occupying owners have been made on that estate also into crofting tenants, and I am told that almost all their arrears are wiped out by the change. It is useless for me, standing here and not knowing the circumstances or what the future will bring forth, to attempt to say what is going to happen there. All I can say is that if they are able to pay in the future what they have paid for a good many years they will not fall any further into arrears.

Then I come to Kilmuir. Kilmuir was bought by the late Unionist Government, but most of the details of the change fell into the hands of the present Government. In this case the new and old crofting tenants did not desire to become purchasing owners, and therefore they have remained tenants. Some of the old arrears—£8,812—have been cancelled as irrecoverable, and the arrears as stated on page 12 of this Report and in the Appendix at page 7 were £3,142 on March 31, 1912. I regret to say there has been no diminution but a slight increase in those arrears in regard to the year ended March 31, 1913; and I believe the arrears stood on. that date at something like £3,500—that is, almost one year's rent.

Then I come to Glendale, and here an explanation must be made. The Glendale occupying owners also desired to become crofting tenants, but the Board having looked into the matter came to the conclusion that it would not be to their interests to do so. They have written them to that effect, and no further communication has been made by the tenants to the Board; but I am happy to say that the rather heavy amount of arrears that accumulated during the year, of which particulars are given in this Report, have been very much reduced, and that now the arrears, instead of being £844, are very little over £200. That is to say, they really were expecting to become crofting tenants, and I suppose that now they are satisfied to remain peasant purchasers and so they have paid up a lot of the old arrears of annuities. I really must apologise for going at such length into these matters, but nearly all of them have been mentioned by the noble Earl, and I am merely trying to give what information I can about them.

With regard to Aignish, this was a case in which the Board may, I hope, be said to have bought some experience. In this case, instead of advancing money on loan to the tenants to build their own houses, they built the houses for them at a rather high cost, and some of these houses are stated to have been not very satisfactory. I do not think that the Board are likely to follow the same course again, and I am sorry that the experiment which was tried was not more successful. With regard to various farms in South Fist — this again is an experiment for which the present Government are not responsible. The change was arranged when Lord Dunedin, then Mr. Graham Murray, was Secretary for Scotland. The noble Lord brought the social condition of the people in certain parts of South Uist to the notice of Lady Cathcart and induced her to break up four farms. Lady Cathcart did this somewhat unwillingly, neither she nor her agents, I think, believing in the system at all. May I say, incidentally, that I wish there were more faith in the system, as it might then be more easy to work it. When people do a thing like this unwillingly they naturally do not put their backs into it and help it on as much as if they were enthusiastically in favour of it. Lady Cathcart did this unwillingly, and I regret that that particular case has not been so successful as could be desired.

But may I just draw the attention of your Lordships to one or two other cases-1 will not go into details—which to all appearances are very much more successful. I allude particularly to Skirinish, which is mentioned on page 10 of the Appendix, and Dunbeath. So far as one can see—and the appearance of the figures is confirmed by the information given to me by the Board of Agriculture—these cases seem to be very successful. And may I point out another thing. A great many of these experiments have been made in the very worst places—I mean that the worst places were taken first; and it does not follow that because complete success has not occurred up to now in all places that is an argument against the whole system. I put the success of some and the moderate success of others against the cases which the noble Earl mentioned, in which, I admit, the figures are unsatisfactory. The figures of arrears of rent in the case of some of the farms which have been broken up are new to me, and I have no information about them. They are not contained in this Report, and I do not think they are in the possession of the Board of Agriculture. I regret very much to hear that the rents as well as the loan instalments of some of those farms are in arrear.

Before I leave that question I want to mention two other points. The success of these new holdings, if they are ever going to he a success, will depend to a large extent upon improvement of methods of agriculture and of stock. Although a good deal was done by the old Congested Districts Board, they were not able to do all that they desired, and I am authorised to say that the Board of Agriculture are paying great attention to this matter and are most anxious to do all that can he done in this regard. If improved methods of agriculture are adopted and if the stock is improved, then it is quite conceivable that some cases which now do not appear very hopeful may present a much more favourable aspect in years to come. Another point is that in recent years the Aberdeen and Glasgow Agricultural Colleges have begun their educational campaign in the congested districts. It is carried on by itinerant lecturers, and the Board have welcomed their help and co-operation in every way they can. This education, I am informed, is beginning to bear fruit.

I want now to say a few words about the Lews. The condition of that Island was correctly described by Lord Cam per-down. I should like to point out in regard to the question of necessitous school areas that in three out of four parishes in that Island considerable sums have been given by the Education Department —namely, in Barvas, £684; Lochs, £573, and in Uig, £698. The recent and, I must say, rather painful report of the Highlands and Islands Medical Service, which must have been read by many of your Lordships, points out a good many difficulties in regard to medical service in those districts, and also raises the question of pauper lunatics and other matters. It is acknowledged in the Report, in a passage which the noble Earl opposite quoted, that there is not sufficient land in the Lews for the very large population which exists there at the present time. The noble Earl mentioned migration and emigration, and he spoke as if we had power to make these people migrate and emigrate. We have not the power, but I hope that the congested part of the population may take a different view from what they have in the past. I am informed that they are really doing so, and are beginning both to migrate and emigrate more freely than they have hitherto.

The question of the rates is very serious in tale Lews. The proprietor, Major Matheson has asked the Scottish Office to render some assistance. He has, indeed, pressed the Department very strongly, and I would like to' say- a few words about the matter. The local administration is stated to be good and economical. The heavy burden is clue essentially to the causes to which the noble Earl alluded, and of which I have already spoken—to the presence of a numerous population of which the great majority is very poor. It is aggravated in particular by a large cottar class, who contribute to pauperism and education charges but under the present valuation and rating system contribute nothing to the cost. A few years ago to meet an immediate emergency—the refusal of overdrafts by the banks—the Local Government Board for Scotland and the Treasury gave a guarantee of the overdrafts. In one parish—Trig—the overdraft has been wholly paid off in another—Lochs—-it has been considerably reduced. About the year 1908 Major Matheson and the parish councils engaged in litigation, and Major Matheson succeeded in getting his deduction between gross and rateable value raised from 5 per cent. to 45 per cent., making the assessable rental 55 per cent. instead of 95 per cent., of the gross rental. The cost of the Poor rates, of course, remained unaltered, and as half of the total is borne by owners and Major Matheson is practically the only owner in the Lews his aggregate payment in cash was not substantially affected. But the nominal rate was enormously increased, and the law costs and the shortage due to the relief gained by Major Matheson owing to this litigation were very considerable and have had to be wiped out.

Major 'Matheson states that ever since the percentage of deduction was altered the rates have gone up. That is true to some extent, particularly of Barvas, but the expenses of the litigation have been felt for several years and are partly accountable. I should like to give the total rates for 1904–5 and 1911–12, and also the portion of those rates that Major Matheson paid. In 1904–5 the total rates were £5,351, and of that amount Major Matheson paid,£4,331. In 1911–12 the total was £5,553, and of that he paid £4,185. In each case about £1,400 of the amount he paid was due to the shooting rents. This shows that in spite of a nominal increase in the rate Major Matheson's actual payment in cash has not increased during those years, but has rather decreased.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I should like to know whether he can give us the rateable value of the Lews?


I am very sorry that I cannot. These are the rates in the three parishes. The solution of these questions pointed to by Lord Balfour of Burleigh in the Report which he issued as Chairman of the Royal Commission on Local Taxation was a redistribution of grants so as specially to relieve those parishes where the rates are high and the rateable value is low per capita. A strong Committee is now sitting to consider generally the relations of the Imperial Exchequer to local taxation, and their Report must have an important bearing on this question. The Government recognise the burden of rating in the Lews—in fact, nobody can fail to recognise it—and in some other districts. They recognise also the position of difficulty in which the proprietor and others are placed. But they are not prepared to make a special grant to the Lews, as they have been requested to do. Any solution of this question—and I hope a solution will not be long in coming—must be on wider lines. With relief from the cost of litigation, which, as I have shown, has added to the rates, and with some economies in administration, it is hoped that the immediate outlook may be a little brighter. Also possibly migration, assisted by the Board of Agriculture, and emigration may tend further to mitigate the situation. As soon as the recommendations of the Committee dealing with the question of the relations between the Imperial Exchequer and local authorities are available the Government will lose no time in considering them in reference to the Lews and any other places in generally similar circumstances. And meantime, they will consider whether anything can be clone in anticipation of these recommendations. Once again I apologise to your Lordships for the length of time I have taken. My excuse is that I desired to give as complete a reply on this question as I possibly could.


My Lords, we all recognise the candour and sincerity with which the noble Lord has replied to my two noble friends. We recognise also the pains be has taken to familiarise himself with the very detailed questions which necessarily arise in the course of these discussions, and, of course, we are not the least surprised that on some points which present themselves with regard to it the noble Lord should not be able to give an answer at this moment. I am particularly glad to gather that we may look forward in the future to a more punctual presentation of these Reports, because it is a great disadvantage to us to discuss them so long after the date of the events to which they have reference. With regard to the points that my noble friend Lord Clinton Mentioned, I hope the noble Lord will make it his business to ascertain how these extraordinary inconsistencies have arisen. It really looks a little bit as if the person who had put these figures together had not been quite able to distinguish between an abandoned arrear and a cash payment. They are not quite the same thing.

I think the noble Lord was mistaken when he suggested that my two noble friends desired, as he put it, to attack the whole system upon which the Congested Districts Board has administered its affairs. We are all of us more or less committed to the system, for it has been the work not of one Party but of both Parties. But I do think that we are entitled to examine with a somewhat critical eye experiments of the kind of those which are now in progress in these Highlands and Islands. I certainly should not look at those experiments with a grudging eye merely upon the ground that they had necessitated a good deal of what we sometimes call uneconomic expenditure. You have to deal with very backward districts and a very poor population, and we all feel that in many ways it is possible to improve their prospects, and that a certain amount of expenditure may well be incurred without the prospect of arty immediate return—for example, in enlarging their holdings, in teaching them improved methods of agriculture, in improving the breeds of the animals necessary for their farms, in better distributing the population, and in improving the means of communication. Upon all these objects I think most of us would be prepared to see public money spent, but upon this condition, that there is some prospect of the expenditure leading to a permanent melioration in the lot of the people concerned. That idea is, I hope, not absent from the minds of the Commissioners them- selves, because I see that on page 9 of this Report they say that it is their desire to provide a fair number of self-sustaining holdings upon which a man with a knowledge of farming could find comfortable living. That is the whole point. Are you creating holdings which are now self-sustaining, or which. hold out the slightest prospect of ever becoming self sustaining? What I am afraid of is that these Boards have been muddling along in these remote regions trying experiments and persisting in those experiments long after it has, become evident that they are not in the least likely to succeed.

My noble friend referred to the case of the Lews, and I observed that on that point the noble Lord who spoke for the Government did not really attempt to contradict what my noble friend said. It is established by this document that in the case of the Lews you have acute and widespread congestion; that if the whole of the land, of which a great part is entirely unfitted for agriculture, were taken for crofting purposes there would not be sufficient to supply the needs of the crofter population; and it is further established that the congestion is in great measure due to the presence of numbers of cottars and squatters who have established themselves both on the common pasture and. on individual holdings, and, as the noble Lord pointed out a moment ago, these good people enjoy the privilege, sonic of them of complete, and others of partial, immunity from the payment of rates. Then you find this most depressing feature, common to the case of the Lews and to other cases of the same type —that these are the very people who, when they are offered the chance of greatly improved conditions of existence elsewhere, refuse to leave their present homes. The noble Lord said with great truth. that it is not very easy to dislodge cottars and squatters when yon find them in these numbers, but at any rate I would humbly suggest that it is not desirable in the circumstances to do too much to encourage them to remain where they are at present; and I am very glad to learn from the noble Lord that sounder views upon the subject of migration are beginning to prevail amongst them.

The noble Lord referred, and I think very rightly, to an extraordinarily interesting document—I mean the report of the Medical Commission which has lately been inspecting the Highlands and Islands. The picture drawn in that Report confirms the impression which one derives from the Report which my noble friend has quoted. Does it not, then, come to this, that in cases of this kind you are really persisting in an arrangement which is grossly unfair to all concerned? It is unfair to the landowners; it is unfair to the crofters themselves; it is unfair last, but not least, to the taxpayers of this country. The landowners have, I must say, been used very hardly indeed in some of these cases, for I think it is a great hardship that a man should be compelled to give up a farm which is let to a solvent and suitable tenant, and to cut up that farm into a number of these uneconomic crofts. I think too much credit cannot be given to those landowners who, as we learn from this Report, have given their co-operation in carrying out these changes.

In regard to the crofters themselves—I do not wish to say it of the whole of the crofters concerned, but of the crofters in Lewis and in places where like conditions prevail—it seems to me that you are face to face with a population which is very poor and miserable, very insolvent, and which, so far as one can judge, is not the least likely to improve its lot if it remains where it is now. But the greatest hardship of all, I venture to think, is the hardship occasioned to the taxpayer, and I ask your attention to the account given of the financial results of these transactions upon page 12 of the Report. I gather that on March 31, 1912, out of an amount due of nearly £11,000, very little over £5,000 was paid, and that in spite of the fact that, as is shown on page 7 of the Appendix, the total expenditure upon this little group of districts must have amounted to something like a quarter of a million of public money. That is really a very serious condition of things indeed, and one can scarcely be surprised that the Commissioners should have admitted the necessity of doing something to improve the prospect of more punctual payment. The noble Lord, I think, held out some hopes that that improvement was likely to take place, and we all trust that his anticipations will be realised.

I will venture to say one thing more before I sit down, and it is this. Considering what has already happened in the areas which are dealt with in this Report, I do trust that His Majesty's Government will be a little careful how they press this policy any further when they are dealing with regions as unpromising as these West Highland regions. There is, it seems to me, a serious danger of our creating in this part of Scotland, deliberately creating, a number of uneconomic holdings such as we are at this moment trying at great expense to get rid of in another part of the United Kingdom. I believe that no greater mistake can be made than that of forcing upon any part of the country a system of agriculture for which that country is altogether unfitted. The only result will be that you will have an increase in the number of people situated as these inhabitants of Lewis are situated, who are themselves in a very pitiable condition, are a great source of expense to the public, and are in a sense also a danger to the peace and stability of the surrounding community.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I will withdraw my Motion for Papers, and I must thank the noble Lord opposite for the speech which he has made, because I know the difficult position in which he was placed by finding himself suddenly introduced to the cottars and squatters of the Western Highlands. While the noble Lord was speaking I am bound to say that I felt in my own mind a slight regret that he had not been Secretary for Scotland for the last six or seven years, because the whole tone of his remarks was entirely different from that to which we have been accustomed in this House during that period. The noble Lord recognises facts and deals with them accordingly. But if I was grateful to him for that, I was still more grateful to him for another thing, which was that for the first time in this. House for some years we have heard the word "emigration" pronounced from the Government Bench without its being condemned. The real truth is that the only way the condition of affairs in a congested island like the Lews can be dealt with is for some of the people to emigrate, and if the new Board would only spend on emigration a very small proportion of the money which has been spent in converting land not very suitable for the purpose into arable land, I believe the Land Court and the Board of Agriculture would confer a very considerable benefit on that part of Scotland with which we have been dealing this evening.