HL Deb 29 July 1914 vol 17 cc268-82

My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships many minutes with regard to this matter, but I think your Lordships will see that a somewhat important point of principle is raised. The Questions which I ask are three—namely, whether the Secretary for Scotland has been informed of the proposal of the Board of Agriculture for Scotland to settle by compulsion about 150 families from the Islands of Lewis and Harris on the Macleod estate in the Island of Skye without purchase of the land; whether His Majesty's Government think the proposal is a reasonable one in the form in which it has been made; and whether copies of the correspondence on the subject can be laid on the Table of the House.

I may possibly have overstated the number of families at present to be moved, but I believe it is actually between 130 and 140. There is no assurance, of course, that that will be the end of the proposal. I do not for a moment deny that extensions of existing holdings are often required, not only in the interest of the holder, but in the public interest so as to make them what are called economic holdings. I do not for a moment question the necessity of providing new holdings when for some reason or other, through subdivision, or squatting, or whatever it is, that course is desirable. I frankly admit in both cases that public policy requires the change; the interests of the individuals require it; and I do not believe that in the long run to that extent it is to the disadvantage of the State. Nor do I for a moment controvert the idea, which I am sure will be put forward, that the circumstances of the Lews and of Harris at the present time require consideration and possibly the migration of some of the population in excess of the possible living means provided in those islands. But having made all those admissions, I do press strongly the point that when this has to be taken up as a matter of public policy the requirements of public policy Should not be carried out at the expense of any individual or to his injury, but should be paid for by the public authority frankly and fairly and on proper terms. Of course, the position of the individual is an important one. The position of the community into which these large numbers of persons are to be migrated also requires a certain amount of consideration. The expense will be greatly increased in the new locality for roads, for sanitary provisions, for education, for, to a moderate extent, policing, and in many other matters of that kind. Probably to a certain extent the community must take its chance. That is not so much an injury to the individual. But I do put forward the suggestion that, even in the interest of the community into which these people are migrated, this should be taken into account, because obviously if it is done to excess you are going to reproduce in the new district the very conditions you are seeking to remedy in the old one.

I believe that this proposal which I know has been made is one which is absolutely without precedent. The proprietor of the estate in question, Macleod of Macleod, is a man who has not shrunk in the past from assisting, in the public policy of the extension of holding and of making new holdings. I venture to say it is more than fifty years since I first saw the place of which I am speaking. I have seen it at intervals since, and have been on terms of personal friendship with the successive proprietors of the estate. I am therefore speaking of matters of which I have a certain knowledge. The position of the proprietor is that he is perfectly prepared to accept the co-operation of the Board in carrying out schemes of this kind for the benefit of people round his own home. He has, as a matter of fact, in quite recent years provided accommodation for thirty-six new families and for six extensions of holdings upon two small farms of his estate, but, of course, with a preference to those who are in his immediate district.

As I understand the matter, as long ago as last November the Board o Agriculture intimated to Macleod their desire to secure a large part of the farm of Talisker for the formation of sixty-two new holdings, fifty-three of which were to be allotted to migrants from the Islands of Lewis and Harris. And on January 29 of the present year the Board further proposed to settle on other farms seventy-five new holders who were also to consist largely of migrants from the Island of Harris. On January 8 Macleod wrote to say that he sympathised with the general aim of the Board of Agriculture in regard to the formation of smallholdings under suitable conditions, but he intimated to them— and I am sure it was a reasonable intimations—that he would offer his resolute opposition so long as the estates remained in his possession to the migration of this large number of people of another island of whom he had in, knowledge, with whom he had no connection, and who were in no way related to those amongst whom they were to be placed. He went on to say that— If the Departmerts of Government concerned deem it expedient, as a matter of national police, to transport a population from the Lews or elsewhere and to settle them in Skye, the process should be by purchase. I have quoted the text out of the letter, because it seems to me so reasonable that I want to know what is the answer to the position taken up. Macleod said in January that to enable the Board to effect their purpose on a large scale he was willing to sell the farm of Talisker, comprising 15,000 acres, as a whole; and that if more land were wanted he would sell the farm of Drynoch, about 7,000 acres; and Gesto, about 8,000 acres; and a still larger one, Glen Brittle, about 45,000 acres; but that in no case would he be prepared to part with a portion only of any farm. That is a reasonable safeguard, because for smallholdings you must have as good land as you can get, but if you take all the good land out of a farm you deteriorate the rest to such an extent as to make it useless. Macleod went on to say that while he— would deeply regret that the necessity should have arisen for parting either with the possession or with the control of lands which have been in his family for many hundreds of years, yet if required by the Government for a development which they believe to be in the public interest, he would consent to sell, and would ask only that the price should be fixed by arbitration. There is no question of anything being given for compulsory taking. That is not asked for by Macleod, and, as a matter of fact, it is forbidden by the Act under which the Board is working. Macleod received a reply from the Board of Agriculture, dated February 11, in which no allusion whatever was made to this firm, frank, and, I consider, fair offer. It said that the case would be dealt with in the terms of the Small Landholders Act. I have looked at that Act. Your Lordships will recollect the general purport of it. The section in question is a very long and complicated one, and it occupies five pages.


Section 7.


Yes, Section 7. It is a very long and complicated section, and I venture to say that any one fairly reading it will see that most of its provisions, if not all of them, are clearly intended to be put into operation for the compulsory taking of land bit by bit, here and there, and it is not a fair reading of it to suggest that numbers of population may be migrated from other parts of the country and put down in this way. It is obviously necessary to have a certain power of compulsion for the extension of holdings or for even making new holdings in the same district, but I venture to say it is not reasonable to do this large operation at the expense of one individual, even supposing that it be granted that public policy requires it. I believe—it is only a conjecture on my part—but I believe that up to the present time no similar proposal has been made anywhere else in Scotland, that nobody has been made the object of such a suggestion, and that nobody else's property has been proposed to be taken without purchase for a large experiment in migration.

I venture to make an appeal to the Government that they should consider very carefully the position they are going to occupy in this matter. If expense is incurred, then it may be very much more difficult for the Departments concerned or for the Government themselves to say that it shall not go on. The whole object of my Question is, first, to make sure whether the Board of Agriculture is carrying along with them the Secretary for Scotland, because the section to which I have referred, if it applies to a case of this kind, gives such absolutely supreme power to the Board of Agriculture and to the Land Court that I do not believe, except on any technical point, there is an appeal to a higher tribunal. Every one knows the case mentioned in the House the other night in the South of Scotland which was the subject of appeal to the Court of Session, and in which the Land Court and Board of Agriculture were found to have acted very wrongfully. I want to be sure, first, that the Secretary for Scotland has been made aware of what is proposed; secondly, that the Government as a whole approve of what is being done; and, thirdly, if possible, by means of the publication of the correspondence, that we may appeal to even a larger tribunal than the Government itself.


My Lords, I am quite sure it was not necessary for the noble Lord to tell the House that he was no enemy to the policy of finding new holdings where possible for men who needed them, or to the policy of enlarging holdings. The commencement of this legislation was, I think, largely due to him, and he was interested in the early steps in regard to it. And the noble Lord also frankly acknowledged that the condition of the Lews was such that some remedy was required. What he says is that if an experiment in migration is to be made it should not be made at the expense of any individual, but that the Government should buy the property instead of applying for a scheme under the Small Landholders Act. He says that no similar plan has been carried out before, and he complains of what is now proposed.

The noble Lord asks three definite Questions, to which I will reply. He asks, in the first place, whether the Secretary for Scotland has been informed of the proposal of the Board of Agriculture for Scotland to settle by compulsion about 150 families from the Islands of Lewis and Harris on the Macleod estate in the Island of Skye without purchase of the land. The answer to that Question is that the Secretary for Scotland has been informed of the proposal, and that the statements made in it are correct with this exception, that the number of migrants to be settled is less than stated. It is now known that in Skye alone there are 270 applicants for new holdings, and 253 applicants for enlargements. What happened in regard to this matter was this. It must be remembered, of course, that a duty is laid upon the Board of Agriculture in regard to this matter, and Section 7 or the Small Landholders Act of 1911 authorises the Board to apply to the Land Court, failing agreement with the landlord, for a compulsory order for the constitution of new holdings and enlargements.

Shortly after the commencement of their operations the Board had received more applications from the Lews and Harris than it would be possible to provide for in the Long Island even if all the land were sub-divided. And in August, 1912, they wrote to Macleod of Macleod asking if he would be willing to negotiate and co-operate with the Board in a scheme for the migration of fishermen and crofters from the Lews to the shores of Loch Bracadale. Macleod's reply was in the affirmative, provided the Board paid all outlays, including the taking over of sheep stock upon valuation terms. In consequence of this the Board sent its inspectors, and several farms were inspected. The schemes provided for the migration of men from the Lews and Harris. Lists of applicants for the Macleod's estate were drawn up and placed before the proprietor, who then withdrew his promised co-operation and stated that if the Government considered migration was essential they should purchase the land. I do not think I need go into the actual schemes which were mentioned by the noble Lord; that would be taking up your Lordships' time unnecessarily; but I have given an account of what happened, and I Lave corrected the only point in the Question of the noble Lord which required correction, and that is that it is uncertain how many of the men from the Lews and Harris will be migrated if this scheme obtains the sanction of the Land Court.

I pass to the second Question—whether His Majesty's Government think the proposal is a reasonable one in the form in which it has been made. His Majesty's Government do consider the proposal a reasonable one in view of the impossibility of meeting the demand for holdings from suitable applicants in the Lews and Harris. Your Lordships are perfectly well aware that the conditions in the Lews and Harris cannot be dealt with except by migration or emigration. Even in the short time in which I have represented the Scottish Office in your Lordships' House the Government has been reproached several times for not dealing with the conditions in the Lews. Now the only way in which the Board of Agriculture can deal with those conditions is by migrating some of the congested population. In order to do so they must find somewhere to which to migrate them. These people desire to remain in the islands if possible because they want to retain their boats and to continue fishing. I am informed that after diligent search nowhere more suitable than these farms of the Macleod's could be found. Therefore I put this to you as a question of necessity. The Scottish Board of Agriculture has no desire to interfere with proprietors and is sorry to have to do so, but it is bound to do so to meet a great public need.


Why do they not purchase?


I am coining to that. In the exercise of a public duty seine one must be interfered with. I desire to say in regard to the Macleod that he is well known to be an excellent landlord and to have the interests of his tenants at heart. But I defend this action of the Board of Agriculture as a necessary measure to help to remove the congestion. In regard to the question of any loss sustained by the landlord, the Macleod will obtain compensation under subsection (11) of Section 7 for everything directly attributable to the constitution of new holdings. I was dealing with a similar question the other day, and I stated then what is the fact, that there is an appeal on a point of law as regards the compensation awarded by the arbiter in some of these cases. But the arbiters so far seem to have taken everything into account and to have allowed very liberal compensation. I further desire to say that if the Court sanctions the schemes which are being put before it the landlord will be consulted about fire selection of tenants.

The noble Lord asked, very naturally, why the Board of Agriculture do not purchase instead of applying for a scheme before the Land Court. The reason is that their resources are very limited, and that it would lock up far too much money to buy a large property of this kind. Another reason they have is that the purchase schemes, some of which were due to the action of the noble Lord himself and some of which were due to Lord Pentland, have not turned out such great successes that His Majesty's Government is very much enamoured of them or is desirous to proceed further in that direction. After all, the noble Earl opposite (Lord Camperdown) often complains, and I dare say will complain again, of the old purchase scheme for which the various Boards have been responsible in the past. I say frankly that His Majesty's Government do not feel at the present moment at all inclined to increase the number of those schemes.

The only other Question is as to the publication of the correspondence. The correspondence in this case was all in regard to the negotiation stage, and the Board of Agriculture has an immense correspondence not only with the Macleod but with other landlords in regard to these matters. Correspondence of that kind is carried on as a rule, and is understood to be carried on, in a confidential way and not with a view to publication; and although I do not think there is any reason why the Board of Agriculture should be afraid of publishing this particular correspondence—in fact, I am pretty sure there is not—they feel, on the broad public ground that this correspondence is not meant for publication, that they cannot assent to its publication. They feel that if either House were able to ask for the publication of negotiations of this kind relating to a very preliminary stage of dealings in land in Scotland it would be against the public interest. Therefore, with the greatest possible regret, I must ask the noble Lord not to press for the publication of this correspondence.


My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the speech which has just been made. The noble Lord does not in any way contradict Lord Balfour's assertion that this is the largest scheme of the kind that has been proposed. But while the Board are perfectly prepared to undertake a scheme of this magnitude, are they certain that if that scheme is approved by the Court the men will migrate from the Lews? I say this for this reason, that in 1906 the Congested Districts Board had inquiries made by the parish council of Stornoway in their district, and that that parish council, knowing all the difficulties of the case and having inquired, reported that none of the cottars, squatters, or crofters were found to be in favour of migration to the mainland or to other parts of Scotland. That is six years ago. Then a year or two ago a farm was purchased in Ross, and it was said—I do not know whether it was true or not —that it was intended for migrants from the Lews. Well, whether the migrants from the Lews were or were not prepared to go I cannot say, but the rumour was received in the most unsympathetic manner in the district to which these migrants, whoever they were, were to be transported, and that was dropped. Therefore the Board at that time found themselves—I refer to the farm to which I have alluded in your Lordships' House before, called Seafield—the Board found themselves with this land which they had purchased and for which they had no tenants. They had to look for tenants where they could, and there has been a great deal of difficulty there ever since. Therefore in the, first place is it quite certain that these 150 families will be prepared to go? I am by no means certain that it is so. In the next place, suppose they go to Skye, will they be welcome among the people who are in Skye? That is a most important question, because it by no meat's follows that because there are smallholders in Syke—and, as the noble Lord knows, there are a great many smallholders there because Macleod has done a great deal in that way and has to the utmost of his power assisted the establishment of smallholdings—the persons who are already in that district will be altogether satisfied to have these 150 families dumped down in their midst.

Then we come to what is to be the result financially. I think if I were so disposed I could make a very safe prophecy as to what would be the result financially. But how is it proposed to deal with this matter in the first instance? Lord Balfour has said, "If you wish to make a large experiment of this kind, you ought to buy Macleod's property"; but the noble Lord opposite says, "No, we are not prepared to buy the property, and the reason is that we do not think it would be a lucrative transaction." But is that a reason for imposing this loss upon Macleod? Then there is this further point. These tenants who are to be put on Macleod's estate are tenants who are imposed upon him whether he will or whether he will not. What security has for the receipt of their rents hereafter? If he is not paid he will have the very unpleasant alternative of going to Court to make these men pay their rents; and probably those rents will most of them not exceed £5.

Then with regard to the general question, by multiplying the number of these small crofters—because they are crofters and nothing else; you cannot call them anything else—by multiplying these crofters indefinitely and populating all that portion of the West of Scotland with small crofters, where is the additional labour to come from and how are they to be employed? Do you think t hey earn live on a croft the rent of which does not exceed £5? The thing is too absurd. And remember what Lord Balfour said about rates. The other day complained in this House of two schemes. One was at Strathnevar, a property which had been bought from the Duke of Sutherland, and that land had been resold to the settlers. In each case the settlers did not pay their annuities, and then they applied to be allowed to revert to the position of tenants. The Government agreed. They said, "Yes, you can go back from your bargain, and in place of being owners you will become tenants." What has the result of that been? I will tell you in two or three figures with regard to those two places what the result is. I am doing this as an illustration of what I think is likely, in fact is sure, to happen in other cases. Syre cost in one way and another £13,480. The annuities for land proper, not including the shooting rent of £250, which, after all, is the chief asset on the place, was £140. Well, they would not pay it, so they went to arbitration, and the result was that the fair rent that was fixed came out at £109 9s. But then the Board, by way of receiving this £109 9s. rent, became liable for owner's rates, and that was the point on which Lord Balfour laid so much stress. And what do your Lordships suppose the amount of those rates was? This arrangement has been in existence for two years, and the first year the rates were £88 and the second year they were £90. Now the total rent was £109 9s. and the rates £88 or £90: so the result of the outlay of that £13,480 is this. There is a shooting rent, much despised, but it is the only asset of this part of the district, of £250; but in addition to that there is only £20 from the land. Net receipts, £20 ! Outlay, £13,000 !

Barra is even worse. This happened in Barra? Barra cost the taxpayers of this country £12,140; that is when it was bought. The annuities in repayment of the land came to £204. That they would not pay any longer, so their arrangement was altered and instead of being owners they became tenants. The fair rent that was fixed in this ease was £02 17s. instead of £204; but your Lordships must, of course, remember that in that £201 there was a certain amount; in regard to the fact that it was a purchase and not a mere annual rent. But, then the Board, out of this £92 17s., became liable for owner's rates, and in 1912–13 those were £78 and in the next year they were £68. Therefore the net result to the taxpayers in that case is this. They expended £12,440, and they received in net rent £19 or £20 ! It would be cheap in both those cases to give the land to the people and to beg them to be satisfied with paying nothing to anybody; reserving, of course, the only valuable asset, which is the £250 shooting rent on Syre. Those are the two cases that I mentioned the other day, and I am bound to say that I have obtained these figures by inquiry at the Board of Agriculture, so therefore I know that they are all correct. You will have exactly that same sort of thing here if you enlarge the number and the acreage of these smallholdings, all these being small people who have no outside means of employment. I really do not know what will result to this part of Scotland. One would suppose that Scotland is going mad. The loss to the taxpayer will be beyond anything your Lordships can conceive. In this case the Government say, "We are not prepared to purchase." I have no doubt they are not. But what do they do? They put it on Macleod.


He gets compensation. The noble Earl must be familiar with the arbitrations that have beers made in regard to these matters. As I showed only a few days ago in regard to two estates, the compensation allowed in some cases for the diminution in shooting and fishing rent values, etc., amounted to twelve years purchase or thereabouts to the landlords besides in some cases six or seven years to the tenants.


Yes, but you are allowed compensation only where you can prove that you have sustained actual loss whether in the selling value of your estate or otherwise. I will point out to your Lordships how it is worked by the Board of Agriculture. It immediately becomes to the interest of the Board of Agriculture to make the rent from the new holders as nearly as possible the same figure as the old rent, because then there is no compensation to pay. That is one of the objections to this system. Observe how it works. Seven years hence round comes your Land Court and cuts down that rent by fifty per cent., if we are to judge of their future by their past. I will only say in conclusion that everything Lord Balfour has said appears to me quite reasonable. If this country is determined to perpetuate and to increase a system of smallholdings which are uneconomic, this country ought to be sufficiently liberal to pay for it and not throw the cost of it on to the unfortunate proprietors.


My Lords, the noble Lord opposite who represents the Scottish Office informs us that His Majesty's Government consider the proposal which has been made to the Macleod a reasonable proposal. Now I venture to say that that is a view which would not be accepted by any audience, I do not care where you seek it, to whom the facts of the case were fully explained. How did the noble Lord proceed to establish his case? He told us that it was necessary to do something to relieve the congestion which exists in the Lews. We are all agreed as to that. He said that migration was desirable and that it was necessary to find some place to which the people might be migrated. Again we do not differ from him. Then he said that the people desired very much to remain in the neighbouring islands. That we quite understand. And, finally, he said that these farms, the property of the Macleod, were suitable for the experiment. I am quite ready to make a present to the noble Lord of all those propositions; I will take them as established.

But when the noble Lord tells us that the proper way of giving effect to this policy is to collect 150 families from these islands and to dump them down on this unfortunate gentleman's property, to make him really responsible for them in the future, then I part company with him altogether. Surely the reasonable thing in a case of that kind is to do what I believe is always done in Ireland. When the Congested Districts Board require land they purchase it from the owner and try the experiment themselves and at their own risk. When it was suggested by my noble friend that this was a case in which purchase might have been resorted to, the noble Lord opposite said, "Oh, but the proprietor receives compensation." My Lords, no compensation will really be an adequate solatium to a man who finds his estate still left upon his hands and left upon his hands under these deplorable conditions. But the noble Lord went further. He gave us with great frankness—he always talks frankly to us—the reasons why the Board did not desire to resort to purchase in this particular case. He said the Board would not purchase because their funds were limited and the lock up was too large. I dare say their funds may be limited, and it may be a considerable lock up; but that is not a sufficient reason for doing what is, after all, a very grave injustice to the Macleod who, by the noble Lord's own admission, is a very good landlord and has shown himself throughout these transactions ready to meet the Government Department in a reasonable spirit.

But the noble Lord added another reason. He said that the Board were reluctant to purchase because their purchase schemes had not been a success. What an admission ! It is an admission that purchase would have been a thoroughly unsound proposition, and that therefore because the Department did not desire to involve themselves in it they imposed the risk and the trouble upon this unfortunate gentleman. I never heard a more inadequate explanation of what seems to me to be an act of great injustice. The noble Lord said that the experience of the Board rendered them not inclined to increase the number of their purchase schemes. Exactly. Therefore they propose to try an experiment upon the corpus vile of the Macleod instead of with funds of their own production. I am not very much surprised that His Majesty's Government decline to produce the correspondence which led to that denouement; but I think we have elicited enough this evening to form a pretty clear opinion as to what the purport of that correspondence was. And I must say that my noble friend has elicited the fact of what I can only describe as a very great wrong that has been done to a perfectly innocent individual.


My Lords, I do not want to continue the discussion, but I desire to touch on one or two points. The noble Lord opposite was using the argumentum ad hominem to me because I was as partly responsible for the purchase of Syre and Strathnevar. That is true. I was, as Secretary for Scotland, responsible for the purchase of those two places. But if the figures are looked into it will be found that we made a satisfactory bargain so far as the value to the then landlord was considered. I ventured to hope that the stimulus of ownership would get these smallholders to exert themselves, and, as has been the case in Ireland, be the means of turning them into a satisfactory community. That experiment has, I am afraid, to a large extent, failed. But if I say it has failed it should be regarded rather as an object lesson than as an example; and I am not at all sure that even if it is repeated under more favourable circumstances it carries a guarantee of success. The important point about it is this, that if you are going to undertake this pokey I believe it to be worth while to undertake it in the general interest; it should be undertaken, as I ventured to do it, at the public expense and not to the detriment of the individual landowner.

The noble Lord said that Macleod would get compensation for anything directly due to the scheme. So he will. But the Board of Agriculture and the Land Court together, while they will give compensation for disturbance to the tenant for sheep and certain compensation to the landlord for things which now happen, I do not suppose that the noble Lord and the Secretary for Scotland will contend that future reductions of rent will be regarded as directly due to this scheme and that for that the landlords will get any compensation. Look what the position is. At the present time this land is let at fair rents to a certain number of substantial tenants, who are making their money and who have made their money and paid their rents for years, and the landlord runs, comparatively speaking, no risks, He pays his rates, he pays his repairs, and be executes all the obligations of a landlord. But look at what is going to happen if these families are put on the estate and do not thrive. They will either go bankrupt and not be able to pay their rents, and it will be a difficult thing to remove them; or, as the noble Earl said, the Land Court will go round and reduce the rents. Now all these things are wholly beyond the control of the landlord. He has a self-contained reasonable possession at the present time with only the ordinary risk between landlord and tenant of the rise and fall in prices and so on, and he exercises a discretion whether he will continue a tenancy. But here a number of men are put on him over whom he will have no control. They may be bad in their habits, they may be unthrifty, and they may not know how to farm, and he will have to stand the loss. If it is the case that the experiment on Syre has failed and the State has been put to loss and expense in regard to it, of course we all regret it; but that at the same time is no excuse for deliberately, in the light of that example, putting this unfortunate landlord into the, I think, unfair position into which apparently he is going to be put.