MEMORANDUM BY DONALD CAMERON OF LOCHIEL, M.P.
I HAVE signed the above Report; and in expressing dissent from two of the recommendations contained in it, I wish it to be understood that my object is, not to weaken the joint conclusions at which the Commissioners have arrived, but, on the contrary, to add strength to the Report by pointing out certain imperfections which in my judgment are attached to it.
I consider that branch of the Report which deals with Justice Report could only be held to come under the terms of our reference if evidence had been adduced on the part of crofters or their friends of a considerable failure in the administration of the law. This not being so, I hold that we are hardly competent to recommend off-hand any large changes in the department of local justice, and that our incompetency has not been removed by the examination of any person qualified by position, technical knowledge or experience, to afford us the materials by which to judge of the efficiency of the present system, or of its adaptation to the requirements of the people.
It must be remembered that no longer ago than 1868 a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the Courts of Law in Scotland, with the late Lord Colonsay as chairman; and among its members were found such eminent authorities as the Lord President Inglis, Lord Selborne, Lord Young, Lord Moncreiff, the late Lord Hatherley, the late Lord Gordon, and Lord Rutherford
This Commission, which was an exceptionally strong one, sat apparently for three years, and reported finally in 1871. It certainly appears to me somewhat presumptuous that, in the face of their Report, and without taking any special evidence on the subject, we should make recommendations at variance with the conclusions then arrived at. The first two paragraphs of this branch of our Report refer to certain complaints and anomalies in respect to the administration of justice, but with one trifling exception does not recommend any alteration of law or procedure with a view to their removal. The exception is to be found in a suggestion that petty debt summonses should be intimated by means of registered letters, instead of through the present expensive process of serving; and this I think is a valuable alteration. The next paragraph appears, though in the mildest possible form, to cast reflections, or at any rate doubts, upon the independence of the resident Sheriff, and recommends that ' he shall be relieved as far as possible of all embarrassments and obligations in his social relations, and be provided with an official dwelling by Government.' I do not, for my own part, share these misgivings; nor is it quite clear to me in what way, supposing they were justified, is the Sheriff to be relieved of all embarrassment and obligations in his social relations, by merely providing him with an official dwelling. This would no doubt be agreeable to the Sheriff, but it would undoubtedly swell the civil service estimates, and I cannot believe that it would commensurately benefit the crofter.
The last paragraph contains the principal alteration, and it is to this that my objections, subject to a previous admission of want of competency to deal with the matter, are directed. It is here proposed that Procurators-Fiscal and Sheriff-Clerks should be prohibited from doing any work other than their proper business, either themselves or by their partners, and in counties other than those wherein their official duties lie. This involves a serious dislocation of the existing practice; it is directly opposed to the recommendations of a majority of the Royal Commission above referred to; and if carried out, it would admittedly involve a very considerable additional expense to the country.
With regard to the Procurator-Fiscal, I am ready to admit that it might be desirable to confine him to his duties as public prosecutor, were it not for two important considerations. The first
is the necessity which would arise, in a country district where his work is light, to increase his salary very considerably, and also to make provision for a pension after a certain number of years' service.
The second is, that in such a district the Procurator-Fiscal would probably be an idle man, and thus gradually deteriorate in efficiency, or he would expend his energies in making work for himself, to the great annoyance of his neighbours. It would be difficult to imagine a greater nuisance, especially to a crofter population, than a public procurator perpetually in search of employment, owing to his being debarred from all those occupations which are congenial to his tastes and habits, and which were previously accessible to him.
But the arguments against depriving Sheriff-Clerks of other occupation appear to be much stronger. He is at any rate not a public prosecutor, nor does he take the initiative in putting the law in motion, or act as judge. He is precluded from practising as a solicitor in his own court, and even from acting in it officially when any matter in which he is personally interested forms the subject of litigation, though where the interest is remote, such as being a shareholder in a joint-stock company which is one of the litigants, the tendency of recent years has, I believe, been to disregard such interest. In fact, his duties are purely ministerial. He sits as clerk of court, has charge of the processes —that is, the papers forming the record and productions in the cases depending before the Sheriff—extracts the decrees or judgments pronounced, and is keeper of the court books. It is difficult to see how, in counties where the duties of the Sheriff-Clerk are not such as to occupy the whole of his time, and having in view their nature, any objection can be raised to his accepting a factorship, or a bank agency, or some similar employment, and still more difficult to comprehend the reason for his being debarred from occupying himself in some congenial way in counties with which he has no official connection.
I cannot altogether forget that there are to be found, in the main Report, recommendations which, if adopted by Parliament, will involve a very considerable expenditure. To some of these demands upon the liberality, perhaps I should say the generosity of the British taxpayer, I have given m y adhesion only after much hesitation, and because I believe that no legislative interference, however drastic, is likely to prove effectual which does not involve some pecuniary outlay; but I cannot conscientiously be a party to making an unnecessary or extravagant demand upon the public exchequer; and this proposal, which I think would not really be of any substantial benefit to the crofter, appears to me largely to partake of that character.
I would conclude m y observations on this branch of the Report by a strong recommendation, that in all future appointments to the office of Procurator-Fiscal in the Highlands, a knowledge of the Gaelic language should be held to be essential.
I also feel it necessary to record m y objection to that portion of the Report which deals with the constitution and reorganization of townships, and in which it is proposed to confer certain powers and privileges on the occupiers of such townships in their corporate capacity.
The principle of a special statutory recognition of townships as a species of ' commune ' is dealt with in a separate Memorandum by one of m y colleagues, and to his criticisms I give a general adherence. It appears, however, to m e desirable to indicate, somewhat more fully than he has done, the practical objections to the scheme, and the many obstacles which stand in the way of its adoption.
The first difficulty which presents itself is one which is not noticed in the Report. What is to be the geographical area over which the proposed legislative changes are to extend? Are they to prevail over the whole of Scotland, or is it intended to limit them to districts known as ' the Highlands,' or to certain districts in the Highlands where we consider they are most required ? If the proposals are to affect the whole of Scotland, I would submit that we are exceeding the terms of our reference, which limits our inquiry, and consequently our Report, to 'The Highlands and Islands.' If, on the other hand, they are intended to apply to the Highlands and Islands only, it would be necessary to define what are the Highlands and Islands, and this might prove a very difficult task. The definition could hardly he made by enumerating certain counties, as some of the most Highland of Scottish counties—such as Sutherland, Ross, and Inverness—contain considerable tracts of arable ground, and in respect to the tenure of land, and the variety of the size of holdings, resemble any purely Lowland county. Nor could the separation of area be fixed by the boundaries of parishes. To have relations between landlords and tenants, and among tenants themselves, established in one parish on a footing widely differing from the adjoining one, would produce inseparable difficulties, and it is hardly likely that Parliament weuld consent to the necessary legislation if based on these limits. It may be rejoined that the above difficulty would apply equally in the case of the recommendations to which I have given m y adhesion. On examination, I do not think this would prove to be so. Most of the proposals contained in the main Report provide in themselves the elements of limitation, and no special designation of area would be necessary in order to embody them in an Act of Parliament. Such are those which refer to Emigration, Deer Forests, and Education; while that which relates to improving leases might perhaps be extended to the six counties embraced in our inquiry. Supposing the geographical difficulty be surmounted, the next that arises is the definition of a township. That which is contained in the main Report appears to be open to objection in two particulars at any rate. It is suggested that' all inhabited places containing three or more agricultural holdings, possessing the use of common pasture land, or which have within a certain period, say of forty years, enjoyed such use,' are to be registered as townships. This definition might have the effect of constituting townships, with all the peculiar conditions and privileges to be attached to them, in many parts of Scotland where their existence is least suspected, and where the very expression is unknown, A totally distinct tenure of land, affecting not only proprietors and their tenants, but also adjacent landowners and occupiers, would perhaps be introduced in isolated localities, where pasture land was still held in common, or where a tradition existed that such a practice prevailed forty years ago.
The alternative definition, “all places containing three or more agricultural holdings known as townships by the custom of the country or estate management” appears equally objectionable.
Such a description is surely too vague and unsubstantial to form a basis for legislative changes of such importance between landlord and tenant, and is hardly likely to find its way into an Act of Parliament. Again, several townships may be united as regards common pasture, but by no other tie. These may go by different names given to groups of houses; each of these groups may constitute a kind of township, recognised as such throughout the district, but they might collectively enjoy the use of a common grazing, while in all other respects their interests might be at variance. In the case of every matter, down to the minutest detail of crofter life, being settled by a popular vote, it is clear that the interests of the least populous part of a township would be liable to be overlooked. Hitherto the controlling authority of the proprietor has prevented any great injustice being done in those cases where crofters elect constables and manage their own affairs; but jealousy and confusion would certainly follow an uncontrolled popular management.
The powers proposed to be given to the township in its corporate capacity are so extensive that they practically amount to almost absolute ownership, with the advantage, which ordinary ownership does not possess, of carrying out works of improvement on the property of the owner at the expense of another person, to the extent of one-half of the cost.
Before touching on the most important portion of the scheme, viz., the enlargement of old and formation of new townships, it might be well to consider the nature and effect of the powers which are to be given to crofters to effect improvements on their holdings.
It is suggested that two-thirds of the occupiers in a township shall have the right to claim the erection of fences between their common pasture and that of adjacent lands, whether belonging to the same or another proprietor, and also between the respective arable lands. This proposal means practically that the proprietor has to erect a fence, whether he thinks it necessary or not, for the benefit of his tenants, he paying the whole cost, except the trifling one of conveying materials from the port or road. It would be undoubtedly held that a wire fencer is a * skilled labourer,' and thus the crofter's share of the work would be almost nil. In the case of a stone dyke the relative share of the cost would not be so disproportionate, but it is clear that the crofters would always ask for that which cost them least; and we have evidence besides that they attach little value to a stone dyke over a wire fence. In the case of roads, a heavy expense without any return might, under these proposals, be thrown on the proprietor, especially where the land borders on the sea-coast, he alone having no voice in the matter. There are some further provisions, such as the right to cut peat, heather, and sea-ware on lands not belonging to the township, which would add to the difficulty of working such a scheme. I now come to the proposals which relate to the extension import of existing townships and the formation of new ones, and which are intended to give effect to the widely expressed desire on the part of the crofters to have their holdings enlarged. In many cases this may no doubt be desirable. But the principle of giving tenants absolute power to occupy land held by the proprietor or by other tenants, on the expressed will of a majority of the number, is so novel, and so inconsistent with the rights of property as hitherto understood, that its effect upon owners of land, upon the crofters themselves, and on the whole community, ought to be narrowly and closely examined. Under these proposals,' two-thirds of the occupiers of an existing township shall have the right to claim from the proprietor an enlargement of the existing township in regard to arable land and common pasture,' and then follow the conditions and limitations under which such enlargement is to be claimed. It will be generally admitted that if the township avails itself of these powers to any extent, the result would be injurious to the interests of the proprietor, and to the interests of existing tenants who do not belong to the crofter class, even after paying due regard to the many limitations which qualify the recommendations. If, on the other hand, these powers are not made use of to a considerable extent, such a measure would in that case fail to benefit crofters in those parts of the Highlands where poverty arising from overcrowding chiefly prevails. That this would probably prove to be the case will be shown presently. On the supposition that occupiers in townships will generally take advantage of such opportunities for enlarging their holdings, and that their doing so will affect all Highland proprietors, some more, some less, according to the populousness of their estates, we are led to the following curious conclusions. Those proprietors who in times past have been proud of their tenantry, and have desired to keep them on their estates—those who, while well aware of the grave economical error involved in continuing the system of small crofts, have yet yielded to the passionate desire of the people (now for the first time fully made known to the public) to be allowed to remain on their native soil—those who have spent large fortunes, not wisely perhaps, in giving employment to the thickly populated districts on their estates, or helped them in times of famine with unremunerative work, or more directly with meal or seed potatoes —those who have not thinned the people by arbitrarily raising their rents,—these are the men who will now be punished for what they may bitterly repent ever having done; and more than this, the best proprietors, in the true sense, will fare the worst. On those estates where crofters have been allowed to remain indeed, but where no symptom of judicious management is apparent—where holdings have been allowed to become subdivided again and again,—where small crofts have not as a rule been joined together as opportunity offered,—where squatters have been allowed to become cottars, and cottars a species of semi-crofter, with no defined right of pasturage, or peat, or sea-ware, and where, in spite of the best intentions, the whole township is in a state of social chaos, —in these cases the extension of holdings, as proposed, will be almost a dead letter. But where a proprietor, actuated by an equally benevolent but far more intelligent and methodical spirit, has so managed his estate as to raise the condition of his small tenantry while still retaining them where their forefathers have been for generations, by a process exactly the opposite of that described above—where, by encouraging the industrious, discouraging the idle and thriftless, establishing sound regulations acceptable to the minds and intelligence of the people, and adhering firmly to them, adding small crofts together as opportunity offers, so as to diminish the pressure of population upon the means of employment, and above all, by not raising their rents periodically,—where he has done all this, and thereby placed his crofters in a position of comparative comfort and independence,—there it will be found that he has, through and in consequence of this very policy of benevolence, combined with judgment, created the only class among the small tenantry of the West Highlands who will be in a position to take advantage of the powers to be conferred on all townships under the required conditions, and thereby to inflict on him and in many places on his larger tenants grave if not irreparable injury.
To come now to another class of proprietors—those who have managed their estates on strictly economical principles, without any regard to the wishes of the inhabitants; in other words, those who many years ago cleared the lands and converted them into sheep-walks. These are the men against whom the indignation of the crofters and the crofters' friends have been mainly directed, and they will get off scot free. Their people have already gone. There are no townships to enlarge—no population by which to form new townships. The proposal now under consideration will not affect them in any way.
To sum up the results of the experiment upon proprietors. It will affect them injuriously by the exact measure of their having acted in past times in accordance with the wishes of the people, as expressed in the voluminous evidence now before the Royal Commission.
In discussing the effect of these proposals upon proprietors, allusion has been made to the class of crofters who would, under the limitations suggested, be most likely to avail themselves of the opportunities offered for extending their holdings. It should, in my opinion, be always borne in mind that the origin and object of the appointment of a Royal Commission lay in the pauperised and lamentable condition of the population in certain parts of the Western Highlands and Islands. It is an obvious truism, that where the population is congested, there it requires the means of expansion, either by emigration or enlargement of holdings; and it is also clear that where the people are comparatively well off, either on account of their agricultural prosperity or from abundance of employment or fishing, there special legislation is less needed than where the holdings are too small and work scarce. It is now suggested that the claims of an existing township for an enlargement of area shall not be enforced unless satisfactory proof be advanced that the township as a whole is able to stock the additional area of hill pasture, and each individual is able to work and pay rent for his additional arable ground. It follows from this that the poorer and more hopelessly insolvent a community may be, the less will it be in their power to take advantage of the privileges which it is proposed to confer on them; while the richer and more prosperous the township, the better will it be able to occupy and stock more land. If this is true, and I cannot see how it can be otherwise, the result will be that these recommendations of the Royal Commission will not only fail to meet the alleged evils to find a remedy for which formed the ground of their appointment, but that this particular remedy which they have invented can only apply where the disease does not exist, as it has been shown that the richer the township the more will it enlarge itself under the proposed compulsory powers, and the poorer it is, the less will it be able to do so.
It may be assumed, moreover, that the aim of a good proprietor in managing his estate is not merely to increase his rental, but to add to the prosperity of his tenantry, to augment their means, and raise their social status. The question thus arises—Will these proposals serve as a stimulus to the proprietor in the above direction or the reverse ? For my own part I cannot see, so long as human nature remains as it is, how any proprietor will, under such restrictions, be able to look with satisfaction on the improving condition of his crofters. He will feel that as their circumstances become better, they will be more able to avail themselves of the powers which are to be conferred upon them, and to make demands upon him to have their crofts enlarged without his consent out of adjacent lands in his own occupation or in that of farmers paying more than £100 rent. Moreover, such a system would tend to discourage all agricultural improvements on other classes of farms, because these, however suitable for the larger holding, may be comparatively useless when it is cut up and divided. If, on the other hand, his crofters continue in poor circumstances, they will be unable to satisfy the conditions which will put it in their power to acquire more land, and he will be left to administer his property in accordance with what he considers best for all concerned. With regard to the method of ascertaining the wishes of a township, the proposal is that in the case of augmentation a demand by two-thirds of the occupiers shall be sufficient to bring the compulsory powers of the sheriff to bear upon the proprietor. This is so novel an arrangement that some consideration ought to be devoted to its working. How is this decision of the occupiers to be obtained ? Clearly by a direct vote taken in some shape or form. Regulations for voting would therefore have to be framed differing from those in use at political or school board elections, as the subject of the vote would be essentially different. Still a complete apparatus would be required, and a number of questions must arise. Should the voting be secret or open ? There would be obvious drawbacks to each system,—if open, influences might be used to a greater extent than if by ballot. On the other hand, ought votes affecting the interests of a comparatively small community and no one else, to be given in secret, and should the decision not be rather taken at a meeting of all the members of the township, and by show of hands, with the right of demanding a poll ? In the case of a very small township, of which there are numerous instances in every parish, the use of ballot-boxes would make the whole proceeding ludicrous. If three or four crofters, having to decide on whether they should ask for more land, were to go through the form of dropping papers into a ballot-box, it would be absurd. Then, how is it proposed to avoid the exercise of influence by landlords or others ? What is called intimidation or bribery in political elections can hardly be made penal in such cases as are here contemplated. The vote in question would not be given by way of a public trust for a public object; it would affect directly and pecuniarily the individuals who give the vote. If the proprietor gives a member of the township a quid quo pro in respect of what the community is about to ask, this proceeding could in no way be called bribery. He would say to the crofter, ' You want to compel m e to give you land worth £50 a year. By doing this I shall probably lose another £50 by deterioration of the holding, out of which the addition to your crofts is carved. But you won't gain any part of this other £50, It will be a dead loss to every one. So I will give value in some shape or form to the extent of £55 a year to ten of your number; or if the number is large, £2 a year to 25” always remembering that he has only got to secure one-third plus one of the whole number in the township, in order to avoid the application to the sheriff. To this it will probably be replied, ' That is so. The crofters will get an equivalent—it will be a pecuniary advantage which takes another shape, and if it comes, as is most likely, in the shape of reduced rent, why all the better. But on this two important points arise. First, only two-thirds of the crofters will reap an advantage, and the position among their neighbours of those crofters who have sacrificed the township to their own gain may be easily imagined; friendly feelings will certainly not be promoted among the dwellers in a village where the above takes place. Secondly, is not the principle of passing a law such a result is rendered possible rather a strange one ? Put in plain language, it is proposed to do something which places a compulsitor on proprietors in certain cases to let to a certain number of the occupiers on their estates land below what may be assumed to be its market value, or to give them some other equivalent. The proposal intended to promote the formation of new townships calls for little remark. I do not myself think the interference of the sheriff in making public by advertisement the fact that a certain township is overcrowded, or the recording of names of intending applicants for a share of some as yet undiscovered available land, will produce any appreciable effect. It is in my opinion more than doubtful whether any proprietor in the Highlands is likely, either with or without an advertisement, to establish a new crofting community on his own property, except under the influence of very different inducements from those which are here held out to him; while to entertain the hope that anyone will knowingly add to the crofting population on his estate, emigrants from other districts, is to assume that m e n are governed by benevolent considerations, to the total exclusion of all motives of self interest—a theory in which I am unable to concur.
A further difficulty arises in regard to the authority on which should rest the decision as to the augmentation of a township, or the multifarious matters respecting which claims may be made against the proprietor. The sheriff-substitute is suggested as affording a fitting and competent judge. But would an ordinary sheriff-substitute in a Highland district be equal to the task which is to be imposed upon him ? I have already elsewhere borne testimony to the ability and independence of these officials; but I cannot admit that the previous training, the position, or the salary of an ordinary sheriff-substitute is such as to justify his being intrusted with such novel, vast, and irresponsible powers as are now for the first time, and probably in opposition to his own wish, to be thrust upon him. The decisions given by various sheriffs on the claims brought before them would probably be so divergent in character as to be valueless as precedents; nor indeed is it suggested on what grounds or in accordance with what principles the decisions are to be given. Thus the demand for the enlargement of an existing township, which forms one of the most important of the sheriffs new duties, is to be decided in the affirmative' if he finds it well founded.' Report N o guidance is afforded as to what should be the nature of the foundation, nor is he bound to give any reason for his decision. If the enlargement of townships formed the only subject of intervention on the part of the sheriff, some reasonable limit might be expected to the period during which his new powers are to be exercised. But it must be remembered that statutory rights cannot be conferred upon any class among the community without a corresponding provision for enforcing those rights by law; and if arrangements which have hitherto been allowed to remain subjects of private agreement between parties are now defined and made obligatory, it seems certain that the law will be constantly appealed to in case of a difference of opinion by one or other of the parties concerned. The sheriffs public duties, in this view of the future, will be enlarged to such an extent that it may well be questioned whether he will be competent to perform them in the wide district over which his authority extends. If besides those labours which are involved in giving decisions on claims for enlargement of townships, he is liable to be called on to name arbiters to fix the rent of these new holdings as well as of land in the occupation of crofters under improving leases, to determine the various claims and disputes which are likely to arise in connection with valuation of improvements, fulfilment of statutory contracts, deterioration of land or houses, and other relative matters, as well as to see that no restriction is placed on the privileges granted to townships in their corporate capacity, and that these privileges are not abused, it must be admitted that he might be somewhat overweighted. Within the range of his jurisdiction would be gathered affairs of the highest importance, requiring judgment, impartiality, and technical knowledge; while he would be equally responsible for such comparatively trilling matters as the ' proper cutting of sods for roofing, and preventing the eradication of grass on sandy soils’ He would, in short, in respect of these duties, be a kind of Government factor, with the disadvantage of having to look after the most important as well as the minutest incidents of crofter life on perhaps twenty estates instead of on one, and it is difficult to see how, under the existing conditions of his office, its various new duties could be efficiently performed.
In the foregoing remarks reference has been made to the improbability of crofters in poor and overcrowded localities being able to take advantage of the facilities which it is proposed to offer them for extending their holdings. As it appears to me that the success of the whole scheme which is here contemplated must in a great measure, if not entirely, depend upon the capability of the occupiers in a township to fulfil the required condition, that they shall be able to use the additional area of arable ground profitably, and stock the hill pasture’ it becomes necessary to inquire how far it is likely that crofters in the West Highlands will be in a position to do so. In the absence of any information on this head from local bankers, reference must necessarily be made to the evidence of the crofters themselves taken during the progress of our investigations in those districts where poverty arising from overcrowding is most apparent. The conclusion to which a consideration of this evidence has forced us, is rendered apparent by reference to the questions addressed to witnesses and delegates at every place where the Commission held a meeting in the Islands, beginning with' The Braes' in Skye, and ending at Tarbert in Harris. Almost all these cases the reply to our inquiry whether the crofters would be able to stock additional land was in the negative. Some gave a distinct and hopeless answer in this sense; others asked for Government or outside aid, or timidly suggested that the stock which is at present carried on their scanty and impoverished holdings might through course of time so increase and multiply as to fill up the additional area which they would like to obtain. One or two witnesses told us their stock was already mortgaged, while at one place (Isle Ornsay) the attempt to stock additional land had been made and had failed. Of unqualified assertions of competency to provide stock there are but three examples, and of one occurs at a place (S. Uist,) where the preponderating evidence is the other way ; another (Skeabost) on an estate where the management is exceptionally liberal; while the third occurs in a district which has all the appearance of being one of the poorest in the Highlands (Barvas). This assertion however, comes from a minister, and due credit must, of course, be given to his statement. It may be worth while to quote in full the question addressed to John Macpherson (Glendale), and his reply, as affording substantial proof of the opinion of one of the leaders in the present movement on the resources of the particular district which was last year brought a good deal under public notice. How many of your own people would be able, putting yourself out of the question, to pay for their own stock ? I don't know if there are any who could pay for their own share without help. If this be the state of matters, what prospect is there of any good resulting from the scheme now put forward for augmenting the area of townships? Another obstacle presents itself to the effectual working of such a scheme. What if one overcrowded crofting township, with the sea in front, is situated between two others in an equally hopeless condition? Where is the expansion in that case to take place ? Or if there is no land adjacent suitable to be added to the township, how is it to be enlarged ? With all these difficulties in the way of increasing the size of holdings according to the proposals contained in the main Report, I have come to the conclusion that it is practically impossible to afford any substantial relief, if based on these recommendations, and I must therefore discard them as attractive and well-meant, but at the same time visionary and illusory, attempts to improve the condition of the Highland crofter. In the preceding remarks I have confined myself to pointing out the many and serious objections to which the proposals for augmenting the area of townships are open. But it would neither be right in itself nor consistent with m y duty to confine my observations to mere sterile criticism. Among the various grievances and complaints which have been brought under our notice, that arising from want of sufficient arable and pasture land for the small occupiers in the Highlands is pre-eminent and almost universal. If this demand could be in any degree satisfied, there is good reason to hope that the crofters' minds would be set at rest, and the present disinclination on their part to assist in the process of consolidation of holdings by voluntary emigration would to a great extent vanish. I venture, therefore, to offer an alternative suggestion as to the mode by which a gradual redistribution of land may be effected without doing violence to proprietary rights, and which is at the same time consonant with the ideas and wishes of the crofters themselves. The principle adopted in the proposals which have been hitherto dealt with is that of compulsion towards the landlord. The essence of my recommendation is to be found in his co-operation. I would submit that not only is the proprietor likely to be a better judge than any other authority as to whether a township is overcrowded, but he is in a far better position to form an opinion as to the chances of success in an attempt to increase the area of the township, or to relieve the congestion of the population by the removal of individual tenants to other suitable places on his property. No one can have the same opportunities of ascertaining the inclinations of his crofters, their means or character. No one is better able to judge which of the crofters would be most capable of profitably occupying land which he might be in a position to offer them, while he alone possesses the requisite information to enable him to dispose satisfactorily of the crofts thus vacated. He would not be restricted, as is proposed in the Report, to the allotment of land contiguous to the overcrowded township. He might transplant half a dozen carefully selected industrious families to some vacant sheep farm, perhaps ten miles distant from their former homes, and redistribute their crofts among the most deserving of those that remain, thus giving encouragement and hope to all on his estate, that by industry and perseverance they may in their turn rise from the lamentable condition in which many of them now are to that of small but independent land-holding families. In this way alone, so far as I can see, would the danger of perpetuating very small holdings with common grazing rights, described in the Memorandum by one of my colleagues, be removed, and a new system introduced, alike pleasing to the people and founded on true economical principles. It is hardly necessary to point out that such a result can never be obtained through any compulsory Act of Parliament which the ingenuity of legislators can devise. The majority of m y colleagues have clearly though tacitly admitted this by advocating the appropriation of additional land, not to the individual crofter, but to the township in its corporate capacity, and by restricting the application of this scheme, as they were of necessity bound to do, to lands in the immediate vicinity. No relief outside the bounds of his own croft is thus given to the industrious thriving tenant who possesses means to enable him to stock a small farm. A hard and fast law could never be so enacted as to distinguish between the idle and the industrious crofter; it could give no indication as to what are suitable lands for profitable cultivation by small tenants; it could not provide for a redistribution of the vacated crofts; it could not find capital where no capital exists. Such a law could only be made effective by the State acquiring through purchase land sufficient to be available for division among small occupiers; and as this has not yet been suggested, it need not be here discussed.
Assuming, then, that some relief ought to be given to crofters in overcrowded districts, and that it should be based on the co-operation of the landlord, it appears to me that the difficulty already referred to in regard to the stocking of the lands must be resolutely faced. In the first place, I would observe that although the evidence leaves no doubt in my mind of inability, almost without exception, on the part of the occupiers in a township, as a body, to fulfil the conditions necessary to entitle them to augmentation of area as proposed in the Report, I am equally confident that there are throughout the Western Highlands, even in the poorest districts, a few individual crofters possessed of means sufficient to enable them to stock a small arable and grazing farm, say of £30 rent. I have reason to believe that within the last few months a sheep farm on the estate of a large proprietor in Skye has been in part taken by three or four crofters who were tenants on another portion of the estate; but I should hesitate to affirm that the township or townships from which these crofters came are as a whole capable of profitably occupying this additional land. There are indeed, it is to be feared, not many in a position to occupy larger holdings without assistance, and it must be remembered, that the division of large farms among small tenants can only be effected on a considerable scale, and that as each farm falls out of lease a sufficient number of future occupiers must be ready to take up the whole or a certain proportion of the land, as may be required. It would be very rarely found possible to establish one or two crofters on a sheep farm without greatly reducing or altogether extinguishing the value of what is left, consisting probably of the highest and worst land. There would also be difficulties in apportioning the stock unless a sufficient area of the hill ground were taken up, so as to render less onerous the liability appertaining to the proprietor or incoming tenant to purchase the sheep by valuation, nor would any one care to become tenant of a reduced farm unless the relative proportion of hill grazing to arable land were preserved.
To enable sheep farms as they fall vacant to be allocated either wholly or in part to a suitable number of carefully-selected crofters (and it must be remembered that the most industrious are not always the richest), one course alone appears to be open, and that is to advance loans to the proprietor so as to enable him to assist intending occupants to stock their new holdings, as well as to erect the necessary buildings and perform other operations incident to the reclamation and enclosure of land. There would be no difficulty in respect of improvements. Loans for such purposes have been made before by Government, and they might be made again. But the idea of furnishing individuals with the means of stocking their farms is novel, somewhat startling, and will doubtless be considered by many as objectionable. One gentleman, to whom reference is made in the main Report, has submitted a plan by which live stock shall be made a legal security, and capable of being mortgaged in the same way as land. I fear that even if this were done it would not result in inducing bankers or others to advance money upon the above security without requiring such a high rate of interest, to cover risk or insurance, as would render it impossible for any tenant, large or small, to avail himself of the loan. Nor, under these circumstances, could Government be expected to accept risks which would not be in any way diminished from the fact of their being incurred by the State instead of a private individual.
Again, if the necessary funds were advanced by Government or through a company, or any other agency than that of the landlord,the crofter to whom it was advanced would find himself in a somewhat unfavourable position. He would be the owner of a mortgaged flock, paying two rents to two separate and jealous parties, the money-lender and the proprietor, the former of w h o m would be necessarily inexorable, while the latter would be apt to become more vigilant and punctual in his demands than if he stood alone. It certainly appears undesirable for poor men to enter upon the occupancy of land under inflexible pecuniary obligations to a public agency.
What I would propose is as follows:—
That the proprietor, when he is desirous of forming a new township, or adding arable or
pasture to an existing township, and has selected a certain number of crofters, not less than four, from his own estate who are willing to settle on the lands proposed to be dealt with, should make application to the Public Loan Commissioners for a loan of money, repayable with interest at 3 per cent [It is believed that omitting fractions, £5, 2s. paid yearly will pay off £100 over thirty years at 3 per cent., while, at the same rate of interest, £4 19s 11d, will pay off the same sum in thirty-one years. The latter term would therefore be probably found most convenient for the proposed lease], by instalments, extending over a period of thirty years, to provide houses, enclose and drain land, and purchase stock, under the following conditions: That the new tenants shall be taken from the estate belonging to the proprietor, and that their holdings, if vacated, shall be partitioned among or allotted to the remaining crofters in the same township—that leases of thirty years be granted to the tenants in a new township, and that their holdings shall be of not less value than £30 yearly rent—that the amount borrowed for the purpose be not in excess of £20 for each pound of yearly rent, and that of this £20, one-sixth shall be provided by the tenant. Thus, in the case of a new holding of the annual value of £30, the sum required to establish him and stock the land might amount to £600, of which £100 would have to be provided by the tenant. But I would propose that even this £100 need not be provided in money or all at once. It might take the form of labour on the farm, such as the reclamation of land, or that expended on the erection of the dwelling-house or offices, or the completion of the full stock of cattle which it is intended to maintain, by natural increase instead of by simultaneous purchase. All these processes, whether of labour or providing bestial for the farm, should, however, be considered as completed before the expiry of the third year of the tenancy. The intention is to provide some additional security to the landlord against the failure of the tenant through mismanagement or any other cause to fulfil his contract, in which case, and in spite of all precautions, the latter might become bankrupt, the lease abandoned, and the farm deprived of its proper stock, while the liability of the landlord to the Government for instalments and interest on advances would continue till the termination of the lease. With the above precaution, however, accompanied by the exercise of free choice of his tenants on the part of the landlord, and by the insertion of suitable provisions in the lease, any risk to the landlord arising from the possibility of the stock on the farm being unduly diminished or altogether disposed of would be reduced to a minimum.
The kind of holding which is here contemplated would consist of twelve acres of arable land and grazing to carry six cows and their followers, together with 200 sheep. Assuming that the arable land requires little or no draining, and that the dwelling-house and offices are not built on an ambitious scale, £600 would not appear too little to equip the farm.
The instalments and interest during thirty years on the money borrowed would, at say 5 per cent, amount to £25, which together with the rent would form a first charge annually due to the landlord of £ 55. It may be interesting to endeavour to ascertain in a compendious form the result which the tenant may reasonably expect to realise. The following sketch, which I submit with some hesitation, is framed on the understanding that the sheep management is conducted with the same skill as is shown by an ordinary sheep farmer, and in a very different manner from that prevalent on hill ground at present occupied by crofters; and it may be it marked that it should be made a special subject of agreement that the shepherd should be approved of, if not appointed, by the landlord, and furnished by him with a house and garden, the tenants allowing him the grazing of a cow and sharing her winter keep. This would not only secure proper management of the sheep, but would also give confidence to the landlord that the Hock could not without his knowledge be purposely reduced in numbers. The values in the subjoined table are based on the present approximate prices of cattle, sheep, and wool; and I believe that if an average of years had been taken when cattle and sheep were lower but wool higher, the difference would not be very great.
TABLE OF RECEIPTS AND EXPENDITURE.
Slack ewes, 20 at £1 = £20
Wedder lambs, 50 at 12s. = £30
Ewe lambs, 12 at 14s. = £8 8s
Wool, at 2s. per sheep = £20
Three stirks = £18
One cow = £9
Total, £105 8s
Interest, 5 per cent, on £500 = £25
Rates at 2s. in the £ = £3
Dipping, at 3d. per sheep = £2 10s
Share of shepherd's wages and allowances = £8
Other expenses of sheep farm, say £5
Total £73 10s
Leaving the tenant f 32 and the produce of his arable land to maintain himself and his family, to winter his horse and cattle, to pay his share of the bull, and to purchase seeds. It must also be remembered that with only twelve acres of arable land and a shepherd to look after his Hock, he will not unlikely find himself free to work for wages during a certain number of days in the year, should there be any suitable opportunity for so doing.
The above balance-sheet does not, certainly, present any great attractions in the way of profit, and may, indeed, even as it stands, be made out, in a sense, too flattering to the tenant; but if at all correct, it represents affluence compared with the state of things whirl, in some places exists at present; and it must be remembered that in no form and under no system of agriculture can great profits be obtained at the present day. At any rate, I am convinced that there is hardly a crofter of energy and ambition who is either possessed of f 100, or who hopes by labour to make up that sum within three years, who would not gladly accept a farm and take his chance of success on the terms above indicated. In suggesting the above scheme, it would not be right if I were to avoid all allusion to objections which occur to me as likely to be raised against it. The first is contained in the question, Why should the State interfere at all, by artificially assisting one class of the community to raise itself to a higher position; and why not leave crofters, like other persons, to trust for advancement in life to their own resources and their own energy would however point out that, according to the project above suggested, the State can in no way be said to find the crofter the means of raising himself to a higher social condition. The State is only asked to advance money to responsible persons, on such security as it may see fit to take, in order to effect certain improvements in the Highlands. The same process has been, and is still, at work in large towns, whose governing bodies have, by means of loans, been enabled to carry out, for the benefit of their poorer classes, many useful improvements. The crofter is to be raised, not by State aid, but with the co-operation of his landlord, assisted by the stimulus of his own energy and ambition. This brings m e to another objection which will probably be made, but which, I believe, can be easily met. It may be said that, if proprietors are so inclined, there is nothing to prevent them at present from lending their own money to enable crofters to settle on existing sheep farms as these fall out of lease. In answer to this objection, I would observe, in the first place, that it is not quite certain whether, since the abolition of the Scotch law of hypothec, a preferential claim over other creditors would devolve on the landlord in respect of stock, even though the stock, to all intents and purposes, belonged to him. In other words, it seems more than doubtful whether stock can, without a special Act of Parliament, be mortgaged. In the next place, it may be assumed that very few Highland proprietors can afford to advance such comparatively large sums without borrowing on the security of their estates; and in the case of entailed estates, they cannot, as the law now stands, effect any mans, either directly or through the agency of companies, for the purpose of supplying their tenants with the means of stocking their farms. Thirdly, even if the law permitted such a destination for money so borrowed, the rate of interest would necessarily be higher than that under which public loans are made; and small though it might be, the difference would be sensibly felt in the narrow margin of profit left to the tenant after paying rent, interest, and other expenses of the farm. Lastly, if the project intended to benefit the crofters were in any way assisted by the State, it would be the duty of the Government to exercise some control over the conditions under which the land is let to the tenant, and this might prove to be, to some extent, advantageous to the latter.
It will be observed that in the matter of rent I do not propose to depart from the principle of free contract between the proprietor and tenant, but I contend also that under m y scheme the nearest practicable approach to fair rent under free contract is obtained. The proprietor will receive two separate annual payments, one in the name of rent, the other as interest on the Government loan, and repayment of instalments. It is obvious that since the amount of the latter is fixed once for all, and as the total must depend on the produce which the tenant can extract out of the soil, the amount of the other remaining contributory element, viz, the rent, must be adjusted to the capability of the holding. Should the proprietor fix the rent at a higher figure than the land will afford, the only result will be that the tenant may become bankrupt or quit the farm by mutual arrangement; and it will be thrown on the owner's hands, with the liability (which would of course be secured by covenant) to refund to the tenant the instalments of the loan already paid, with very little chance of finding a successor. Thus if a tenant was compelled to quit a holding, after struggling for ten out of the thirty years' lease to pay too high a rent, he would be entitled to receive from his landlord one-third of the whole cost of improving and stocking the farm, provided, of course, that the stock left was equal in number and value to that originally purchased. Thus, one great advantage which I claim for this scheme is, that it would unconsciously and by a natural process introduce a principle of fair rents under free contract. To these considerations may be added one to which former reference has been made; and I would ask, Can any one suggest a better plan which does not involve the acquisition by the State of land on which to settle crofters from overcrowded townships ? If none other is forthcoming, I would humbly point to that now suggested as possessing some elements of success, as one likely to commend itself to the crofters in the Highlands, and as an experiment to which it is at any rate worth while giving a trial. If such a system, sanctioned and rendered operative by legislation, were to any extent adopted throughout the Highlands, it seems impossible to doubt that the results would be beneficial to all concerned. The proprietor, indeed would be probably compelled to sacrifice some share of the rents which he has lately been receiving for his sheep farms or his deer forests; but the latter forms at best a precarious source of income, dependent on the fashion of the day; while as regards the larger class of sheep farms natural economic causes are already lowering their value, and the old ' wool rents' are gone, probably never to return. The proprietor of such a farm is thus already prepared to see that by establishing on it a class of small tenants, passionately attached to the land of their birth, he will be, as far as human foresight can predict, for ever relieved from the incubus of farms unlet, and the nightmare of unjust valuations, which threaten, and never more so than at the present time, to involve him and his estate in a common ruin. Nor could it fail to afford him the luxury of a well justified satisfaction, when he sees the poverty and lethargy of the present race of crofters gradually transformed by his own action, and not by that of the sheriff-substitute on the vote of two-thirds of a township, into a condition of independence, hopefulness, and comparative comfort. Circumstances would no doubt tend to make the transition to the new state of things slow, but while it lasted the interest of the proprietor in the management of his estate would surely be increased tenfold. He would see rising up around him a new class of tenantry, whose industry and patient labour gave promise of not only improving greatly their own condition and adding strength and stability to the country, but of rousing their neighbours from the torpor into which the absence of all encouragement to improvement, fostered by the inherent peculiarities of the Celtic race, has during many generations plunged them.
The attractions offered to the crofter by such a scheme must prove even stronger. Placed in a position where a new field is offered for the exercise of skill and industry and stimulated to exertion by the knowledge that so long as he can meet his rent and other engagements, every passing year brings him nearer to the time when, either in his o w n person or in that of his successor, the complete possession of the stock on his farm and of the full value of all improvements, will be secured to him, he will be furnished with every motive which experience shows is calculated to make men cheerful and contented, as well as laborious and enterprising. The annual repayments of the loan to enable him to improve and stock his holding will form a kind of sinking fund by means of which, without further effort on his part than a continuous and patient devotion to his business, the process of a progressive accumulation of capital silently but steadily goes on from year to year, until at last he finds himself secure in the possession of a valuable property; while the closing years of his life are sweetened by the knowledge that it has been acquired through his own industry, and cheered by the thought that those who come after him will never know the want and privation which on his entrance to manhood he himself possibly experienced.
Should the Legislature see fit to give effect to the above and to the other joint recommendations of this Commission, I myself entertain the sanguine hope that the present depression and discontent among the inhabitants of the Western Highlands and Islands will pass away, and that the future which is in store for them may be replete with the elements of independence, contentment, and prosperity.