The principal matter of dissatisfaction in connection with the occupancy of land urged on our notice in almost every district with the utmost vehemence, and with the greatest consensus of authority, is the restriction in the area of holdings. The fact is familiar. It is notorious by common observation, and by the abundant discussion to which this question has been subjected; yet we think it desirable to submit a statistical statement exhibiting in a simple form the distribution of the occupancy of land in certain parishes selected as examples in Sutherland and the Western Islands, parishes in which the subdivision of land on the one side and its consolidation on the other has been carried to a great, but not to an unexampled extent. The parishes chosen for this purpose are Farr in Sutherland, Uig in Lewis, Duirinish in Skye, and South Uist in the Long Island.
In order to obtain a clear impression of the rental derived from the land alone, and of the repartition of tenancy within the purely agricultural class, it is necessary to deduct from the gross rental certain items representing real property of other kinds, such as sporting and fishing rents, and lands appropriated to classes and individuals not identified with agriculture.
Gross Rental, £10,337 8 7
For 5 Manses and glebes: £106
1 School, . . . . £500
3 Inns with land, . . . £129 6s
1 House with land,. . . £10
4 Shooting tenants,. . . £2,500
6 Fishing tenants, . . . £1,095
TOTAL deducted £3,845 6s
Rent of land proper, £6,492 2s 7d
Of which 7 tenants pay 5,810 8s 11d
Leaving for 293 Crofters and Cottars (as per Valuation Roll), £681 13s 8d
Of these 293 there pay over £10 and under £30: 0
Between £6 and £10: 5
Between £2 and £6: 160
Under £2: 128
Total: £ 293
While the highest croft pays £7, 16s. the lowest farm stands for £290; and while 293 small occupiers represent an aggregate rental of £681, a single pastoral farmer who is not resident holds lands of the aggregate annual value of £1688, in addition to which he has a shooting tenancy of £200 per annum and an angling tenancy of £100. The repartition of occupancy thus represents the extremes of subdivision and consolidation; there is a striking absence of intermediate positions; the small farmer and substantial crofter disappear entirely; there is not one single holding which can afford a competent occupation' and support to a small tenant labouring his land and living by it; there is a complete extinction of those graduated stations which offer an encouragement to the development of individual intelligence and industry.
Gross Rental: £5,229 15s
For 2 Manses and glebes: £106
7 Schools: £42
1 Inn and land: £124
3 Houses and land: £69 15s
1 Mill and land: £40
TOTAL deducted £381 15s
For 3 Shooting and Fishing tenants: £1,150
TOTAL £1,537 15s
Rent of land proper: £3,698
Of which 2 Deer Forests pay: £1,120
4 Tenants over £100 pay: £887
2 do. between £30 and £100: £170
Leaving for 420 Crofters and Cottars (as per Valuation Roll): £1,521
Of these 420 'there pay over £10 and under £30: 5
Between £6 and £10: 22
Under £6, 393
In this case the extremes do not stand so widely apart, and there is some indication of intermediate positions, but 2 small farms below £100 in annual rental, and 5 crofters' holdings between £10 and £30, out of an aggregate number of 426 agricultural tenancies, is a miserable representation of that system of substantial and graduated tenancy so desirable in a community of which the vast numerical majority are associated with the cultivation of the land.
Duirinish (including Waternish), Skye.
Gross Rental, £7,706 14s 8d
For 3 Manses and glebes: £91
9 Schools: £156
1 Hospital: £15
3 Inns with land: £129 10s
1 Mill: £12
1 Pier: £40
40 Residences, shops, &c: £651 13s 11d
SUB TOTAL £1,095 3s 11d
For 2 Shooting tenancies: £606
TOTAL £1,701 3s 11d
Rent of land proper, £6,005 10s 5d
Of which 7 tenants over £100 pay :£3,565 12s 2d
1 do., from £30 to £100: £30 14s
TOTAL £3,596 6s 2d
Leaving for 590 Crofters (as per Factors' returns, the number paying under £4 of rent not being entered in Valuation Roll): £2,409 4s 3d
Of these 590 there pay over £10 and under £30: 21
Between £6 and £10: 75
In this parish the small farming class has only one place, but there is a limited basis of more substantial crofts, which gives some hope that people are not altogether wanting who might be capable of occupying larger areas, of conducting improvements, and of practising a superior kind of agriculture, if opportunities were afforded.
South Uist (including Benbecula), Long Island.
Gross Rental, £6,680 3 4
For 3 Clergymen: £40 5s
1 Doctor: £28 10s
4 Inns with land: £126
9 Schools: £95
4 Mills: £95
2 Piers: £60
2 Lighthouses: £35
1 Bank: £25
18 Residences, shops, &c: £191 10s
Subtotal: £696 5s
Rent of land proper, £5,983 18s 4d
Of which 10 tenants over £100 pay: £2,619 2s 6d
3 do. from £30 to £100: £144
TOTAL £2,763 2s 6d
Leaving for 787 Crofters (as per Factor's return, the number paying under £4 of rent not being entered in Valuation Roll), £3,220 15s 10d
Of these 787 there pay over £10 and under £30: 30
Between £6 and £10: 154
Under £6: 603
In this case no land is appropriated to forest, and the element of sporting rent is wanting. The grazing areas are relatively to other places not exorbitant, and the small farming class has some
feeble representation; substantial and medium crofts appear in some degree; but the deplorable preponderance of holdings below £ 6 in annual value points to the existence of a cottar and squatter population in a depressed and precarious condition, for the fishing industry in this district is not practised with much success.
The following abstract presents the results in the four parishes taken together, as far as regards the distribution of the occupancy of land:—
Farr £10,337 8s 7d
Uig £5,229 15s
Duirinish, £7,706 14s 4d
South Uist: £6,680 3s 4d
Deduct from Gross Rental—
For mansions, manses, glebes, schools, houses, shops, &c £2,423 9s 11d
For 15 separate shooting and fishing tenancies, £5,351
Subtotal £7,774 9s 11d
Leaving for rent of land proper: £22,179 11s 4d
Of which 30 tenants over £100 pay : £13,982 3s 7d
And 6 tenants between £30 and £100 pay £344 14s
Making together: £14,326 17s 7d
Leaving for 2090 Crofters and Cottars, £7,852 13s 9d
Of these 2090 there pay over £10 and under £30: 56
Between £6 and £10: 256
Under £60: 1778
The statistics of occupancy do not, however, offer a complete picture of the social aspect of the whole community in a Highland parish, as they take no account of that element in the population who have no recognised share in the soil, though they are more or less dependent on it for support. We shall, therefore, confront the statistics of occupancy more directly with those of population in the following summary. The aggregate population of the four parishes, according to the census of 1881, consists of 3226 families and 15,816 souls, distributed as follows:—
Population in 1881.
Farr, 432 families 1930 individuals
Uig, 663 families 3489 individuals
Duirinish, 897 families 4319 individuals
South Uist, 1234 families 6078 individuals
Total, . . . 3226 families 15,816 individuals
Of these 3226 families:—
120 represent families of proprietors, clergymen, schoolmasters, doctors, innkeepers, shopkeepers, &c , making 3.7% of the population.
15 separate shooting and fishing tenants: 5%
30 tenants paying over £100 rent (including 2 tenants of deer forests): 9%
140 shepherds, farm servants, and other dependants of the above 30 tenants, allowing 1 family for every £100 of annual rent: 4.4%
6 tenants paying from £30 to £100 of annual rent; 0.2%
56 substantial crofters paying from £10 to £30 annual rent: 1.7%
256 medium crofters paying from £6 to £10 annual rent: 8.0%
1778 poor crofters and superior cottars paying less than £6 annual rent: 55.0%
825 unaccounted for, but who must be placed among the landless cottars and squatters: 25.6% „
From the preceding classification of the population, it appears that out of 3226 families, 3091 depend upon the cultivation of the soil, or fishing, or on casual employment connected with either pursuit, with some assistance, no doubt, from members of the family serving in temporary or permanent employments in other places. As fishing is, however, not usually practised in the western districts methodically, or as a separate and exclusive branch of industry, but rather as an auxiliary to land labour, we must regard the mass of the people as small agricultural tenants. Under these circumstances, it is deplorable that out of 3091 families there are only 6 who are occupiers of that class of small farms which are the prizes to which an industrious or fortunate crofter might naturally aspire; while only 312, or little more than one-tenth of the whole number, are provided with holdings which can in some measure afford substantial occupation and sustenance to a labouring family. Below these, 1778 are in possession of tenancies which imply a divided and desultory form of occupation unfavourable to the development of settled and progressive exertion; and at the bottom of the social scale 825 families, comprising more than one-fourth of the population, are without land and without regular access to local wages, most of them, it may be assumed, scattered among the poorest sort of occupiers, to w h o m they are a heavy burden. Side by side with this mingled multitude, so slenderly furnished with the means of life, we find 30 occupiers, forming less than 1 per cent, of the whole community, in the occupancy of nearly two-thirds of the land. These 30 include a factor, a few proprietors, and some non-resident tenants.
Taking the four parishes together, we believe that the conditions of tenancy which they reveal may be regarded as fairly representative of the state of the seaboard on the mainland, and of all the islands, from Ardnamurchan in Argyllshire, on the south, to the borders of Caithness on the north. A similar repartition of tenancy exists in some districts of the central Highlands, in Ross, and Inverness, and it prevails over nearly the whole of Sutherland. The evils attached to excessive subdivision and consolidation are less felt in the Southern Hebrides, in certain parts of Argyllshire, on the eastern seaboard generally, and in Orkney, in all of which the small holdings are, as a rule, of greater dimensions, are more graduated, and are associated in some degree with small farms not inaccessible to the crofting class. The examples which we have selected for analysis above are cases in which clearance and congestion may be observed in close proximity, where the local population has been transferred and crowded, but not removed to a distance, in consequence of the formation of large grazing areas; they are cases in which consolidation has not been, in any material degree, attended by depopulation. There are other places in which the large farms have absorbed the whole area, in which any small farms which may previously have existed have been extinguished, and in which the poorer order of people, occupying land as sub-tenants, have been exceedingly reduced in numbers without being benefited in condition. Examples of the consolidation of pastoral areas, accompanied by the removal and dispersion of the humblest class connected with the land, might be found in various parts of the central Highlands of rather ancient date, and on the western coast belonging to a more recent period, notable examples of which were submitted to us in connection with the districts of Morvern in Argyllshire, and Glenelg in Invernessshire. We have, however, selected the parish of Bracadale in Skye as a typical instance, and in regard to the reduction of numbers not of an extreme character.
Gross Rental: £7284 12s 8d
For 2 Manses and glebes: £65
5 Schools: £57
1 Distillery and 5 houses: £155 10s
3 Inns with land: £218 12s
2 Houses with land: £30
1 Mill: £5
Subtotal: £531 2s 8d
For 3 Shootings and Fishings: £795
TOTAL: £1320 2s 8d
Leaving for land rent proper: £5958 10s
Entered in the valuation roll as follows:
Farm of Tallisker: £1575
Ebost and Ullinish: £585
Ose, &c. £595
Small crofts: £3 10s
Subtotal: £5958 10s
Population of Bracadale:
In 1841: 1824
In 1851: 1597
In 1861: 1335
In 1871: 1113
In 1881: 929
Here we have an example of a parish in which the system of small tenancy under the proprietor has had no existence, where the whole area has been appropriated to six tenancies, where the inhabitants, still of no insignificant number, have had no permanent footing in their country, no avenue open to a better condition in connection with the land. We have reason to believe, however, that the proprietor at this moment contemplates the appropriation of one of the farms to four tenants, w h o would thus be supplied with separate arable holdings and a common grazing for a joint sheep-stock, an experiment of which we shall be interested to learn the result. The limitation in the extent of tenancies belonging to the crofting class may be traced to several causes, some of which have ceased to operate, while one, at least, is still working in
certain localities with destructive power. The chief incentives to multiplication of small tenancies in past times were the desire of the proprietor to unite large tracts in sheep farms, and to settle the mass of the population along the coast, either for the lucrative industry of making kelp or the prosecution of fishing, it being rashly deemed that a ready and reliable source of local prosperity and national wealth and strength would thus be opened. The processes by which the comminution of crofters' holdings and the displacement of the people were effected are too familiar to require detailed description. The reduction or withdrawal of common pasture, the diminution of arable ground, the obliteration of townships, and the transfer of the inhabitants to the moor, the shore, or the cultivated area of other communities, were the methods by which a revolution in the rural economy of the country was effected. Very different are now the definitive results from those which were expected. Foreign competition and scientific discovery have long since extinguished the returns from kelp which afforded for a season to the proprietor a dangerous opulence, and to the labourer a ready subsistence. The intended fisherman has remained an indigent cultivator with an exhausted croft, while the sheep farm, which long supplied a respectable rental, is passing in many cases from the condition of farm to the condition of forest. Eviction and repartition have done their lamented work and passed away for ever; the interests, the prudence, and the sentiments of the proprietor are alike enlisted for other views and purposes; but the dangers of subdivision are perpetuated by the tenacity of the tenant, who too often settles his offspring on the impoverished holding, in defiance of estate regulations and the dictates of self preservation. In the Western Highlands and Islands something resembling an economical crisis has occurred in consequence of the surrender of large sheep farms, the failure of crops in recent seasons, and the prevalence of agitation in connection with the tenure of land. It may be that an occasion is approaching for a partial redistribution of occupancy, in which the extension of the crofting area will find a place. To us it seems that the moment is favourable for the intervention of legislation, by which an impulse may be given towards the consolidation and enlargement of small holdings. In assisting a movement in the direction indicated, it is apparent that a useful result can best be obtained by a temperate course of action, moving in harmony with the wishes of the people, and using them as willing and conscious instruments for their own good. With these views it is in our opinion desirable to seek a basis of operation in the customs of the country; and we believe that such a basis may be found in the recognition of the Highland township as a distinct agricultural area or unit, endowing it at the same time with certain immunities and powers by which it may attain stability, improvement, and expansion. But before entering further upon this project, it is necessary to dwell for a moment on the nature and definition of the village community in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
The Highland ' township,' of which much has recently been said and written, has never possessed any corporate existence in the law of Scotland. It has been, as far as the law is concerned, simply a farm or part of a farm, occupied in common or in division by several tenants. In former times, in almost every case, it comprised both arable and pasture lands used in common; the arable area was redistributed at stated periods among the tenants, in virtue of regulations indigenous to the country, the mountain pasture being grazed indiscriminately by the live stock of the tenants, with or without a limitation of the number allotted to each. The separate appropriation of the arable lands was, however, only effective between seed time and harvest, for in winter the fugitive features of individual occupancy were effaced, and the promiscuous herd ranged at large over the naked area of arable and pasture, blended in a common desolation. The occupiers in these primitive communities in some cases held directly from the landlord, and in others were sub-tenants paying rent in money, labour, and kind to the tacksman, who held from the proprietor of the soil. Toward the close of the last and in the earlier part of the present century, the arable lands of the township have, except in very rare cases, been ' lotted,' or permanently defined and attached to separate tenancies. Some cases of the same change at an earlier period may be cited, while in a few isolated instances the alteration is not yet effected. The pasture lands, where they have not been absorbed by the adjacent sheep farm, are still used in common as of old, under different methods of management, varying from the licence of a Shetland scathald to the systematic economy of a well-managed club farm. The occupiers have been brought into direct relations with the landlord, and almost all services and obligations have been commuted in the acceptable shape
of a single money rent. The Highland township, which asserts no lawful status, and exercises no functions analogous to those of the Continental commune, does nevertheless possess a distinct existence in the sentiments and traditions of its component members, and by the customs of estate management. The township is in many cases represented by its own officer, nominated by the proprietor, or elected by the tenants; sometimes by two such officers of either derivation, who are entitled constables, and are employed in the regulation of matters of common concern. Where rent is separately paid for common pasture, the whole rent is in some cases taken in a lump sum from the representative of the township. In cases of an increase of rent being imposed on the whole township, the repartition of the burden is occasionally left to be adjusted by the several tenants. Obligations to labour are prescribed by injunctions of the proprietor or the resolutions of the people, not in the interest of the individual only, but in the interest of the community. Privileges respecting fuel and sea-ware are granted in a similar form and adjusted by similar agencies. The possession and administration of common pasture rights is, however, the most conspicuous and important feature in the constitution of the Highland township. In this way a form of rural life, which from a legal standpoint is a popular fiction, and only exists by the acquiescence of the proprietor, is yet a reality in the habits of the people, and could not now be set at nought without arousing public resentment and opposition. We entertain the belief that the organisation of the Highland township, however rudimentary, contains latent capacities which are worthy of being studied and developed, and that by this instrumentality some evils may be prevented and some benefits conferred, which, at the present stage of economic progress in the districts concerned, could not be prevented or conferred with the same efficacy by dealing with individual interests apart. If the proposal which we here submit be admitted in principle, the step towards carrying it into effect must be to designate a record the localities to be recognised as townships. This might be done in the following manner. 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, and generally all places containing three or more agricultural holdings known as townships by the custom of the country and estate management, should be registered in the Sheriff-Court books of the county as crofters' townships. We do not anticipate that there would be any serious practical difficulty in compiling such a list. The townships thus registered would thenceforward be endowed with all the rights belonging to the status of a crofters' township. The rights of the township should be settled with a view to conservation, improvement, and extension.
With a view to conservation, the following provisions might wit h advantage be adopted:—
A plan of every township should be deposited in the office of the sheriff clerk, showing the boundaries of the township, the dwellinghouses upon it, the divisions between the holdings, and other features of occupancy, and such plans should be corrected and completed from time to time as changes of boundary or occupancy occur. The township thus constituted and recorded should not be liable to be reduced in area or dissolved without the consent of the occupiers, expressed by a resolution adopted by not less than two-thirds of their whole number. For such purposes as exchange of lands, the division of the area into two or more townships, or for consolidation with another township, the assent of a majority of the occupiers should be sufficient.
In the recognition of townships adjacent to the sea, reservation should be made for a right on the part of the proprietor to take township lands and shores for the formation of dwellings and small allotments for fishermen, and for harbours, boatshelters, and buildings connected with the Fishing industry; compensation being awarded, where possible, to the township by the grant of lands of equivalent value elsewhere, or by reduction of rent to individual occupiers who may be prejudiced by the transaction.
In every township the heads of families occupying holdings, and paying rent directly to the proprietor, should annually elect an officer, to be named the constable of the township, whose duty would be to convoke meetings of the occupiers for the consideration and adjustment of matters of common interest, to act as representative of the township in dealings with the proprietor and factor in matters of general concern, to act as arbitrator for occupiers in cases of valuation, and to co-operate with the sanitary inspector of the parish in matters regarding the improvement of dwellings and public health.
By these simple provisions the stability of the township would be firmly founded, and the crofting class would be maintained in the possession of the arable area still left to them, and protected against the further alienation of common pasture. Looking to the existing temper of the people in some districts, such securities could hardly fail to diffuse a feeling of contentment. The rights conferred on the township with a view to local improvement, the convenience of habitation, and the cultivation of the soil, might properly embrace provisions for the erection of township fences, the formation of township roads and paths, and for the acquisition of fuel, materials for thatching, and sea-ware for township consumption. It is desirable that such rights should be exercised as far as possible with the co-operation and goodwill of the proprietor, and without unnecessary prejudice to his interests.
The first condition for the improvement of township areas is the erection of a substantial and durable fence between the arable grounds of the township and the contiguous hill pasture. Such
boundary fences exist in many places, but are wanting or defective in others. The importance of these fences is such that we consider it desirable that the execution of this work shall be promoted alike at the instigation of the proprietor and the occupier. We would recommend that the proprietor should be empowered to summon the occupiers in a township to co-operate with him in the erection of a boundary fence between the arable and pasture lands, either in the form of a substantial dry stone dike built in the best fashion of the country, where such is practicable, or in that of the most substantial wire fence where there are no facilities for the erection of a wall; the proprietor, in the case of a dike, undertaking the expense of building, and the tenants the duty of quarrying, transporting, and laying down the materials on the ground; in the case of a wire fence, the proprietor supplying the materials and the skilled labour, the tenants performing the carriage and affording unskilled assistance. The township occupiers, in virtue of a resolution adopted by more than one-half of their number, should have the power of summoning the proprietor to co-operate with them for the same object on the same terms. The occupiers in a township, in virtue of a resolution adopted by not less than two-thirds of their whole number, should have a right to claim the erection of a sufficient wire fence between the common pasture of the township and adjacent lands occupied by the proprietor or his tenant, the proprietor being bound to supply materials and skilled labour for the work, the township to transport the materials from the port or station to the ground, and provide unskilled labour. Should the occupiers, however, prefer to have the work executed by paying half the expense to the proprietor, they should be at liberty to do so. The occupiers in a township, under the same conditions, should have the right to claim the erection of a sufficient dry-stone fence between the arable ground of the township and adjacent lands held by the proprietor or his tenant, the township collecting, quarrying, and laying down the stones, and the proprietor defraying the cost of building, with, however, the alternative of sharing the outlay equally. In situations where a stone fence is not appropriate, a wire fence of the most substantial kind might be substituted on the terms mentioned above. The occupiers in a township should have the right to claim the erection of a wire fence between the hill pasture of their township and the hill pasture of an adjacent township belonging to the same proprietor, the cost being shared equally between the townships concerned.
The occupiers in a township should have the right to claim the erection of a substantial stone or wire fence between the arable lands of their township and the lands of an adjacent township, the expense being borne by the townships concerned equally.
Where the lands of a township border upon lands belonging to a proprietor not the owner of the township, the township should be empowered to exercise in regard to the adjacent proprietor all the existing statutory rights concerning the erection of fences which the owner of the township would be able to exercise, with corresponding rights on the part of the adjacent proprietor as against the township.
All township fences thus formed should be maintained at the joint expense of the parties concerned in the erection of the same.
The question of deer fences is reserved for another portion of this report.
By the general creation of township fences on a system of cooperation between the proprietors and the people, or between the various popular communities concerned, several advantages would be attained; controversies respecting the trespassing of live stock on the marches would be laid at rest, the stock on either side would pasture in peace, undisturbed by hostile shepherds and their dogs; the township arable would be secured against the incursions of cattle and sheep belonging to other farms or townships, and a basis would be laid for the division of the holdings from one another by interior fences, without which the use of a complete rotation of crops, and the introduction of artificial grasses, is scarcely practicable.
Next to the erection of township fences, the formation of township roads demands attention and encouragement. The inadequacy of local communication has frequently been brought to our notice in the course of our examinations. Many populous localities are still remote from roads maintained at the public expense, and are burdened by assessments of which they do not places with the outer world is often by sea, a perilous and precarious highway for a great portion of the year. Impediments and delay in the transport of commodities, whether for sale or domestic consumption, difficulty of access to church, to school, to medical assistance, to the moss and to the shore, and a painful increase of human, especially of female labour, are some of the hardships incidental to a want of facilities for interior traffic. In this matter, again, the co-operation of the proprietor and the township might be justly and profitably invoked. The following provisions might probably be found useful in supplying the deficiency complained of. In places where there is no immediate prospect of a public road being made to a township, the occupiers in a township, in virtue of a resolution adopted by two-thirds of their number, should be entitled to claim the formation of a practicable cart road or bridle path from the township to the nearest convenient point on a public road, the occupiers and the proprietor sharing the expense equally on the lands belonging to the owner of the township. The occupiers in a township should have the power, under the same conditions, of claiming the formation of a sufficient road or path, where possible and expedient, from the township to a convenient point on the shore, for the transport of sea-ware and the convenience of fishing, and also from the township to the peat moss used by the same, provided that the shore and the moss belong to the owner of the township, the proprietor and occupiers sharing the cost equally. Where there are intervening lands belonging to other proprietors, and occupied by other townships, such proprietors and townships should be held liable to grant a right of way gratuitously : and in cases in which parties benefit by the road, they should be held liable to co-operate by labour or payment, in some prescribed proportion, on their respective lands.
In all cases of the formation of township roads and paths from the township to a public road, the road surveyor of the county should be held liable to give his services gratuitously for the purposes of survey and estimate, keeping in view particularly the contingency that such roads or paths might eventually be improved and converted into public roads.
All township roads and paths formed under these provisions should be maintained at the joint expense of the parties concerned in making them, or under arrangements contracted between them. Proprietors and townships should be held jointly liable to construct and maintain foot-bridges over brooks and rivers, for the use of children repairing from townships to public elementary schools. In case of non-performance of this duty, the School Board should have the power of ordering the construction of such bridges, and of charging the cost of the same to the proprietors and occupiers of the township concerned; providing always that the cost of a footbridge for the purpose referred to is not more than a moderate specified sum; the obligation incumbent on the township being limited to the contribution of unskilled labour.In recommending the preceding provisions, by which power would be bestowed on the township to enforce the execution of Improvement certain, improvements for the common good by the proprietor in part and in part by the occupier, we have not proposed that the occupiers shall have the power of calling on the proprietor to apply funds borrowed from Government or from loan societies to the execution of the whole work, charging the tenants interest on the outlay. If the proprietor and the occupiers prefer to make such improvements, or any others by this agency, they remain at liberty to do so; but the object which we have warmly in view is to stimulate the people to shake off the torpor which besets them, and use their own labour for their own benefit, obliging at the same time the proprietor to make those pecuniary outlays and sacrifices for the township which he is practically compelled to do for the large farm, especially where the tenant is resident. We are the more induced to recommend the execution of improvements out of hand by a practical combination between landlord and tenant, because we have everywhere witnessed the irritation created by lingering charges for the interest of money expended in improvements, which the crofters confound with simple increases of rent, losing sight of the improvement, which is indeed often allowed by Evidence their carelessness to fall into neglect, and which, in some cases, may not have been efficiently done at first.
Among the minor subjects of complaint which seem to rankle the minds of the small tenants, and to exasperate their relations with the proprietor or neighbouring tenant in some exceptional localities, are payments for peats, sea-ware, and heather or grass for thatching. We think it desirable that all specific charges for privileges such as these should cease. They cause some irritation, they yield little profit, and as they involve payments for commodities indispensable to the poor, but which cost the landlord nothing, and have scarcely any general marketable value, they seem peculiarly oppressive. Besides, such payments are not commonly exacted, and the crofter on an estate where the custom obtains will probably compare his position resentfully with the condition of his exonerated neighbour. It would be preferable that all claims of this sort should be satisfied under the single head of rent, the amount of which would, no doubt, be affected by the facilities or advantages which townships enjoy in regard to the objects referred to. The views which we entertain on this subject are embodied in the following provisions:—
In cases where a township does not possess a sufficient supply of peat within its own boundaries, the township should have the right to cut peat on lands adjacent to the township occupied by the proprietor or his tenant, or on other lands conveniently situated for the purpose belonging to the same proprietor, without payment, full provision being first made for the service of the lands on which the privilege is to be exercised, and proper regulations being enforced for the preservation of the surface. In the case of existing leases this privilege should not be enforced, but all future leases should be contracted subject to such a claim on the part of townships. The township should possess a preferential right in all cases of cutting and gathering sea-ware without payment on the shore of lands belonging to the township for use on the lands of the township, except where the sea-ware on the township shore is used for the manufacture of kelp under existing leases.
The township should possess the right, in case of necessity, of cutting and gathering sea-ware without payment on the shores of lands belonging to the proprietor and occupied by him or his tenant adjacent to the township, or conveniently situated, for use of the township, full provision having been first made for the service of the lands on which the privilege is to be exercised. In the case of existing leases this privilege should not be enforced, but all future leases should be contracted subject to such a claim on the part of townships.
The township should have the right of cutting grass and heather thatching, for thatching purposes on lands belonging to the township, without hindrance on the part of the proprietor or the shooting tenant, within certain fixed dates, to be settled between the proprietor or factor and the constable of the township, or failing their agreement, by the Sheriff-Substitute. In case of necessity the township should have the right of cutting grass and heather on lands adjacent to the township occupied by the proprietor or his tenant, or on other lands conveniently situated for the purpose, belonging to the same proprietor, for thatching on the township without payment, within a stated period, as above, full provision having been first made for the service of the lands on which the privilege is to be exercised. In the case of existing leases compensation should be awarded to the tenant by arbitration for any substantial inconvenience or injury inflicted, the township using the privilege being held liable for the same. In granting to the occupiers in a township rights of fuel and seaware on lands or shores belonging to the same proprietor, but not attached to the township, the contingency is to be considered that such lands or shores might be inherited by or sold to another proprietor, in which case the right of the township occupiers would lapse, and the value of their holdings would be impaired to that extent. In such a case the prejudice might be adjusted by some diminution of rental, when compensation could not be awarded by the concession of similar rights elsewhere on the estate. The same prejudice might arise in regard to fuel by the exhaustion of the peat-moss allotted to the township. A similar contingency would be incurred by the purchaser of a holding in a township, who acquired the proprietary right with a privilege of this nature attached to it. In the case of a purchaser he must purchase under a liability to undergo the prejudice contemplated. The same redress could not be afforded to him which could be afforded to an occupier. The case would probably not often arise, as estates in the Highlands are usually disposed of in considerable areas. The repartition of the moss in cutting peat, the division of seaware among the parties concerned, the exercise of the right of cutting grass and heather, should be all regulated and settled by the representative of the proprietor or tenant, and the township constable, with power of electing an arbitrator in case of difference. In connection with the right of cutting peat and materials for thatching, careful provision should be made for restricting the practice of cutting sods for roofing, and for preventing the eradication of grass on sandy soils.
The preceding provisions are designed to protect the crofter's domain against further arbitrary diminution, and to provide the township with means of improving the general area and the condition of the occupiers. We have now to state that in our judgment these provisions should be supplemented by others pointing to the expansion of townships. It is hoped that such extensions may be spontaneously granted in most instances by the proprietor, and in every case the option should be carefully offered to him of doing so by amicable adjustment with his tenants. We are, however, of opinion that the condition of the crofting population in some quarters is such, that it would be justifiable in the public interest to introduce the alternative of a compulsory process, in the absence of voluntary concession. It stands to reason that such an interference with the rights of property ought only to be exercised in exceptional cases, under the sanction of an impartial authority, and within prescribed limitations. With a view to the enlargement of township lands with the assent of the owner, or, failing that, by compulsion, the following method of proceeding is suggested:—
The occupiers in an existing township should have the right to claim from the proprietor an enlargement of the existing township; in regard to arable land and common pasture, in virtue of a resolution adopted by not less than two-thirds of the occupiers, and to record their claim with the sheriff-clerk of the county in which the township is situated.
In case the proprietor should not, within the period of one year from the presentation of the claim, come to a voluntary settlement with the occupiers claiming enlargement, the Sheriff-Substitute should investigate the grounds of the claim, and if he finds it to be well founded, he should record the township as an ' overcrowded township’ and the claim as a reasonable claim.
In this case the proprietor should be held liable to grant to the existing township an increase of arable ground, or hill pasture, or both, subject to the following conditions :—
The enlargement should only be claimed from lands contiguous to the existing township, or contiguous to another township or other townships contiguous to the first, which shall combine to make the claim for the benefit of all.
The land claimed should be in the occupancy either of the proprietor or of his tenant. No claim should lie against land belonging to another township, except by way of exchange, the other township in that ease obtaining a corresponding enlargement from other lands in the occupancy of the proprietor or his tenant. No holding should be subject to diminution for the enlargement of a township unless it exceeds a certain stipulated amount in annual agricultural value, say £100, without the voluntary assent of the proprietor.
The aggregate value of the land assigned for the enlargement of a township or townships should not amount to more than one-third of the annual agricultural value of the holding from which it is taken, when the annual value of the diminished holding is below £150; to more than one-half when the annual value is above £150 and below £300; and to more than two-thirds when the annual value of the holding is above £300, without the voluntary assent of the proprietor.
The division of the diminished holding should be effected in such a manner as to leave the remainder of the holding in possession of the same relative advantages of high and low ground for summer and winter pasture respectively, and of arable and pasture, which the entire holding possessed previous to diminution. When reductions from the value of a holding have been made in the interest of one township, or more than one, to the full extent mentioned above, no further reduction should be exacted. The enlargement awarded to an existing township should not be used for the creation of a greater number of holdings than existed in the township previously, but only for the development, improvement, or transfer of existing holdings/subject always to a provision that cottar families existing in the township should have a claim to be included in the number of holdings contemplated. The claim of a township to an enlargement of area should not extend to improved pasture or arable land in the immediate vicinity of the residence or farm-steading, or to land generally which could not be so appropriated without substantially impairing the amenity of the residence.
In no case should the claim of the existing township to enlargement extend to the acquisition of more land than would be sufficient to raise the average annual value of holdings in the township to a specified sum, say £15, without the voluntary assent of the proprietor.
The claims of an existing township to an enlargement of area should not be allowed unless satisfactory proof be adduced before the Sheriff that the occupiers of the township concerned are able to use the additional area of arable ground profitably, and can stock the additional area of hill pasture.
The rent of arable ground and of common pasture assigned to an existing township by way of enlargement should be paid by valuation, one valuer being nominated by the proprietor and the other by the township, reserving to the Sheriff the power to nominate an oversman when the valuers fail to agree. In assigning land for the enlargement of an existing township, there should be no infraction of an existing contract or lease without the free assent of the parties concerned, but in future such contracts or leases should be framed subject to the statutory claims of townships.
When an existing township has been enlarged by the assignment of additional land, such land should become an integral part of the township, and be subject to all the regulations affecting the same. The provisions in regard to the rental of lands held available for the purpose of affording enlargement to townships, and the proportion in which such lands should be appropriated for this purpose, might have to be specially modified in connection with Orkney and Shetland, where the area of the larger holdings is much more circumscribed than in the Western Islands or on the mainland.
Under regulations such as those submitted above, it seems probable that, as leases expire, considerable areas of ground, especially of hill pasture, might be gradually recovered from farms and forests for the use of the crofting class, by which both the size of the township ground and of individual holdings would be augmented. Nor need this process involve either the ruin of the farm or forest or the serious reduction of the revenue of the proprietor. The division of the farm, if prudently conducted under the limitations prescribed, would still leave it a holding of respectable dimensions and useful character, while the difference between the rent paid by the large tenant and the rent paid by the township for the same lands, would, under the present conditions of agricultural depression, be comparatively insignificant. In most cases our proposal, translated into practice, would simply mean a moderate restoration of the hill pasture which the grandfathers of the existing hamlet enjoyed sixty years ago. It must be admitted, however, that in some parts of the country the plan would not work, or would work with insufficient rapidity. There may be, especially in Skye, the Long Island, and on the coasts of Sutherland, overpeopled tracts contiguous to which lands might not be found in sufficient extent adapted for the useful enlargement of the township, whether on account of the nature of the soil or the size of the farms, or the duration of existing leases. In cases such as these, if the overcrowded township is to be relieved of its redundant numbers, the people would have to be absolutely transported from their present seats and planted in new places, perhaps in the heart of districts long since given up to large farms, where everything would have to be recreated from the very beginning. Such a measure would involve a far larger expenditure and a much greater aggression on the present distribution of land than a mere shifting of the confines of existing townships. It would not be extension but migration, and the compulsory system, exceptionally admitted in the former case, might not be deemed equally applicable to the latter. In the case of the greater innovation it would be wiser to proceed hand in hand with the proprietor in all cases, supplying him with facilities and inducements to undertake a task which neither he nor the people concerned could accomplish alone. Such encouragements might, we think, be granted to the proprietor in the form and to the extent now submitted.
In cases in which the Sheriff-Substitute, after due investigation, has decided that a township is an overcrowded township, and has a reasonable claim to enlargement, but in which no contiguous ground is available for such enlargement or likely to be available within a reasonable period, the Sheriff-Substitute should make the same known by advertisement or otherwise.
After such advertisement has been made, the occupiers in the overcrowded township should be entitled to record their names as applicants to be occupiers in a new township or in new crofters
holdings should such be constituted, and when such application has been made, it should be notified in like manner.
Every proprietor in a county in which the above mentioned aid to notifications have taken place, who desires to form a new township with Government aid, including three or more arable lots and common pasture, and to constitute the same exclusively in connection with overcrowded townships, should be entitled to demand an advance from Government of a sum not exceeding £100 for £10 of annual value in each new holding, and of £5 for each additional pound of annual value in the same holding, at 3 per cent per annum, with provisions for the repayment of capital subject to the following conditions :—
The money thus advanced by Government should be exclusively applied to the construction of dwelling-house and farm offices and a substantial boundary fence of stone to enclose the arable land of the township in each holding, in a manner suitable to the habits and wants of the class of occupiers concerned, the expenditure being inspected and certified by the Commissioners, or by some other agency appointed by Government for this purpose. Each of the parties applying for the formation of a new township in connection with Government aid, and accepted by the proprietor as an occupier in the same, should show an intention to become and remain a resident occupier in his holding, to labour it in person or by a member of his family, and to aid in
the collection and transport of materials for the construction of his habitation and its dependencies in combination with the proprietor.
The parties applying to be occupiers in a new township thus created by the aid of Government should show their collective ability to stock the common pasture.
In the event of a new township being formed in connection with Government aid on the application of parties in an overcrowded township, the lands and houses thus vacated should be employed for the relief of occupiers in the overcrowded township, and should not be appropriated to the use of new occupiers. The holdings created in a new township in connection with Government aid should in no case be less than £10 in annual value nor more than £30, and they should not be subject to subletting or subdivision in any form.
The new township should have all the rights and obligations attached to existing townships as far as is consistent with the preceding stipulations. In case the proprietor desiring to open a new hold for crofting cultivation prefers to offer his land not in the form of a new township with common pasture, but in the form of separate holdings, he should have the same facilities from Government for the creation of such holdings, subject to the condition that the tenant is selected from an overcrowded township. It should, however, be provided that in case all recorded claims on the part of occupiers in overcrowded townships have been satisfied, the proprietor should be entitled to Government aid, in the same form, on behalf of other parties who may desire to form new holdings on vacant grounds, of not less than £15 annual value. It has been frequently asked whether Government aid could or Government could not be safely and advantageously afforded to small tenants for the purchase of live stock requisite to replenish increased areas of hill pasture, or areas granted to crofters in connection with new holdings; for it is recognised on all hands that the resources at the disposal of the people are incommensurate for this purpose. Conflicting opinions on the subject have been expressed, some advocating authoritative intervention on behalf of the people as the only effectual means of supplementing their inadequate means, others deprecating it as destructive of their self-reliance. The wish and hope for such assistance are widely entertained, without any definite conception of the form in which it should be supplied, and only in one instance has a matured plan for this purpose been submitted. The author of this plan, a gentleman with much experience of industrial interests both at home and abroad, himself a practical farmer and improver of land, contemplates the advance of funds by Government, at a low rate of interest, to a society or company which should furnish loans to small tenants for the purchase of live stock, retaining a lien or mortgage on the stock as security, a practice it seems, as far as the mortgage is concerned, familiar to the settlers in our colonies, where the law is favourable to such a transaction. A memorandum on the subject will be found in the Appendix, and deserves the consideration of Government. With some reluctance we are constrained to state, that we have not been able to come to a harmonious conclusion with reference to a proposal of this nature. Setting aside the project of Government or commercial aid embodied in the particular scheme referred to above, or in any other form, we are not without hope that in many cases occupiers in townships, partly from their o w n resources, partly with the assistance of friends outside, partly by making great efforts and sacrifices pending the natural multiplication of an insufficient live stock, would eventually contrive to fill up the augmented areas placed at their disposal. The question of the preservation of township privileges in common pasture acquires a peculiar character in the Shetland Islands, in consequence of the fact that a considerable area of pasture lands in those islands, locally designated as scathald, is still in a state of commonty, that is, these lands are held in common property by the proprietors possessing an interest in them, while they are used promiscuously by proprietors, farmers, crofters, and cottars, often without any limitation of the number of stock belonging to each. This confusion is from time to time corrected by the division of commonty, a transaction conducted under the provisions of the law of Scotland on this subject. As the result of legal division, the commonty is partitioned between the proprietors, and their several portions, having been marked or fenced off, are, for the most part, disposed of without reference to the traditional use of the pasture by the occupiers. This withdrawal of the scathald or common pasture, in connection with the legal division of commonty, is regarded as a grievous injustice by the small occupiers in Shetland, and is associated in the popular mind with the supersession of the primitive udal tenures of the country by the feudal institutions of the southern kingdom. The same sentiments prevail in Orkney, but there the process of division is almost completed, and commonty only exists in connection with a class of small freeholders who farm their own land in the parishes of Harray and Birsay, who were originally udallers. The people of the Islands entertain a notion that they have been abusively deprived of certain rights and privileges which were secured to them under the conventions by which their country was ceded to the Crown of Scotland, and that if the institutions of their Norse ancestors had been preserved, the claims of the people to the use of common pasture would not have been lost sight of in the partition of commonty, if such partition, indeed, had ever been allowed. It seems probable that these impressions are altogether visionary. In the instruments by which Orkney and Shetland were ceded in pledge to the Scottish Crown, and in consequence of which the Islands were eventually incorporated with Scotland, no security whatever was taken for the preservation of local laws or franchises. It may
indeed be contended, that as the original acts of cession were of a temporary and conditional nature, it was not necessary to insert stipulations for that purpose. It is at least equally apparent, that as the cession proved to be a durable one, the Islands must, as a matter of policy, have sooner or later, been brought under the general authority of the Scottish Legislature. The resolutions of the Scottish Parliament in the 16th century on this subject were conflicting, but in the 17th century the Islands were definitively treated as a part of the national dominion, though an assembly was suffered to remain a little longer for the regulation of some local interests. In regard to the division of commonty, the Act of 1695 has been held by the Court of Session to be applicable to these Islands exactly in the same manner as to the rest of Scotland, and, under the provisions of this Act, the partition of commonty has proceeded, mainly during the last fifty years.
The unreflecting application of a general law to an exceptional case which was undoubtedly not distinctly contemplated when that law was framed is to be lamented, but the wrong committed is now irrevocable; it may be tempered, but it cannot be recalled. It is almost idle to inquire what course the Legislature of Norway or a local legislature in the Islands themselves would have taken on this question. The laws of Norway would probably have been favourable to the preservation of peasant freeholds, for such has been the result in the Scandinavian kingdom; but the question now under consideration is not the preservation of the rights of peasant proprietors in commonty, which are undisputed and unassailed where they exist, but the rights of occupiers or tenants. We have no means of forming a judgment as to what might have been the determination of Norwegian legislation on such a subject. The question is too hypothetical for discussion. What we do know is that Orkney and Shetland passed under the power of Scotland without any reservation of the laws affecting land belonging to the Islands; that commonty, previous to division, has been used indiscriminately by proprietor and tenant, that when divided it has been awarded exclusively to proprietors, and that the withdrawal of ancient pasture privileges is felt by the small tenants to be a serious hardship, and would be so felt even if accompanied by a corresponding reduction of rent, which has not been usually the case. The proper remedy for this evil is now to be sought in the application of the same system to Orkney and Shetland as to the Contract of Marriage, James III. with Princess of Denmark, quoted from Western Islands, viz., the recognition of the township, with an appropriate area of common pasture. This system recognises the exclusive proprietary right of the owner, and is thus in harmony with the existing law, while it regulates the exercise of that right in a manner consistent with the wishes and interests of the small tenant. With a view to the settlement here recommended, and in general for the purposes of agricultural improvement, it is expedient that the division of commonty should be carried to a conclusion with all reasonable expedition. It should be rendered imperative on the proprietors, and should be facilitated and cheapened by an alteration of the legal process employed. In all instances, as the law now stands, in which the commonty to be dealt with is above £1000 in capital value, or £ 50 in annual rental, the case is brought before the Court of Session. Cases below those values are adjusted in the Sheriff Court without appeal. We would recommend a modification of the law to the following effect:—
In all casus of undivided property in which the parties interested concur unanimously to adjust their respective interests by arbitration or any other form of independent agreement, they should have the power to signify their intention to the Sheriff, and the period of one year should be allowed them to effect a settlement. If the settlement be effected it should be recorded in the Sheriff-Court books, and have all the validity of a judicial settlement. All cases should be reported to the Sheriff of the county, with full particulars of each case, within the period of one year, and the Sheriff should thereupon, in conjunction with the Sheriff-Substitute and with other subordinate officers nominated by him for this purpose, proceed personally to divide such lands among those having interest in them, and appoint boundaries for the same, and the decision of the Sheriff should be final. All expenses incurred in the division of commonty should be borne by the proprietors in proportion to their several interests as awarded. When the repartition of commonty has taken place, the lands awarded to each proprietor should be his separate property subject to certain conditions. In case any of the lands previously held in common property has been used as common pasture by any township or townships, such township or townships should retain a use of common pasture in the separate portions of land awarded to their respective proprietors, but such claims should not extend in the aggregate to more than one half of the whole area awarded to each proprietor, without his free consent.
The division of the occupancy of the land between the proprietor and the township should be effected by the parties appointed to divide the commonty, and in making the apportionment of the land between the proprietor and the township, due regard should be had to the equitable repartition of high and low ground, or summer and winter grazing, between the parties concerned, and to the configuration of the land retained by the proprietor for his separate use, to its quality and accessibility, as well as to its area.
When an equitable proportion of common pasture has been appropriated to each township concerned, the pasture available for each holding, and the amount of stock allotted to each, should be settled by the proprietor and the constable of the township, and the rights of pasturage awarded to each holding should be united to the holding, and no separate rent should be charged for the same. In some parts of the Long Island, and perhaps elsewhere, there are tracts of waste or wild ground not appropriated to any particular township or holding, nor systematically used by the proprietor, but employed for the purposes of summer pasture by several townships, without limitation of rights, by cottars, and by all and sundry. The promiscuous use of pasture lands in this way is certainly to be deprecated, inasmuch as it often bears hardly on the poorer tenants, and affords facilities for squatting. We accordingly propose that the right to grazing on the lands referred to should be limited to the tenants in townships and other parties having, by the custom of the estate, the right to use the same; and that the amount of stock which each of the parties concerned should be entitled to pasture should be equitably settled by the proprietor and the constables of the several townships.
To the project which has been submitted above for the recognition, preservation, and extension of the Highland township, it may be objected by some that it is of a retrogressive character, inasmuch as it proposes to sanction by law a system of common occupation, a form of land tenure which has almost everywhere given way before the gradual introduction of individualised industry and occupancy. To this it is replied that pasture is indispensable to the small tenant in most parts of the Highlands and Islands, the soil and climate being such that he can never depend on cereal cultivation alone, either for rent or sustenance, while the areas requisite for the grazing of cattle, and especially of sheep, are so vast, and the surface so rugged, that numerous enclosures are impracticable. The choice is thus not between separate pasture and common pasture, but between common pasture and none. It is not intended, moreover, that the township, with its communal constitution and its common grazing rights, is to be immutable, when altered circumstances render it inexpedient. The scheme thus framed would give security to the better class of small tenants, while such security is necessary to their existence, welfare, and contentment; but should the process of consolidation by spontaneous and gentle methods prevail, and holdings be eventually enlarged to such an extent that division and fencing of pasture become practicable, the communal tie could easily be dissolved by general assent, and the township holdings, reduced in number and expanded in dimension, would naturally assume the form of small independent farms.
In connection with the same question, it was contended by a gentleman of large experience in Inverness-shire, that the concession of hill grazing to the small tenant operates as a discouragement to individual effort and the spread of cultivation; and that the crofter, secure in the idle possession of his miserable herd, neglects the tillage of the soil, and hopes to satisfy the demands of the proprietor and the meal merchant by the sale of a stirk and a few lambs. It may be admitted that the denial of hill pasture to the crofting class is convenient and beneficial to the landlord in a twofold sense, for it leaves the mountain areas unshared and undisturbed for the sportsman and the sheep farmer; while the crofter, confined to some limited spot of reclaimable moor, under the stipulations of an improving lease, delves and divides his holding with assiduity for the eventual benefit of the owner of the soil. Nor can it be denied that the habits and results of methodical and cumulative labour are often permanently beneficial to the fortunes of the occupier himself. The system apparently works well in the more favoured portions of the Eastern Highlands, where the climate and ground are comparatively dry, and where the crop comes early to maturity. But, taking the Highlands and Islands as a whole, we are of opinion that the results of cultivation are so scanty at the best, and so precarious, that it is the wiser way to provide the crofter with alternative resources, blending the arable and pastoral elements of labour and of gain as far as possible, and trusting to other helps and inducements to inspire him with powers of sustained industry. Consolidation In the case of a holding in a township of less than £3 annual of holdings, not under lease falling vacant by the removal or death of the occupier, without representatives, who might naturally expect, under the custom of the estate, to succeed him in the holding, the holding thus fallen vacant should not be continued as a separate holding, but should be appropriated to the enlargement of other existing holdings, the smaller, where it is possible, being preferred, at the discretion of the proprietor, who should, however, have the power to retain the whole or part of the vacated holding for planting, or for purposes of public utility.
No holding in a township of less than .f 20 annual rent should be hereafter susceptible of subdivision, and in the case of the subdivision of a holding above f 20 in annual rent no new holding of less than .f 10 annual rent should be constituted. These conditions being observed, small portions of land available in connection with such subdivision might be appropriated as garden allotments for householders belonging to the labouring and fishing class. All permissions to divide or redistribute holdings, or to erect dwelling-houses, except in substitution for others, should be given in writing by the proprietor himself, his trustees, or curators, and all changes in the area boundaries and repartition of the township, and all alterations in the number and distribution of dwellings, should be entered in the official plan and register of the township deposited in the Sheriff-Clerk's office.
In cases in which occupiers in a township, exercising their common rights of pasture in the usual way by sending their respective quotas of live stock to the hill, including sheep, desire to consolidate their sheep in a common flock, or club stock held in shares, aud bearing one ear-mark, they should be entitled to do so in virtue of a resolution adopted by not less than two-thirds of their whole number.
We now pass on from the township to the occupier, from the community to the individual.
The rights awarded to the township in the preceding section would, no doubt, in practice offer considerable benefits to the occupier, accompanied by a salutary claim on his own exertion; for we are not to assume that there would be any inclination on the part of the proprietor to disturb the small tenant as long as he fulfilled his obligations with even tolerable punctuality. The occupier would, however, remain subject to arbitrary removal in the absence of a lease, and his claim to compensation would rest on the provisions of the general Act of 1883, which, for reasons stated further on, may not be considered applicable to the peculiar conditions, or
commensurate to the peculiar claims, of the crofting class. It would obviously be idle to set apart particular areas of land as an asylum for a particular class of cultivators, and to deny to the individual cultivator those securities which are necessary to the safe and profitable exercise of his industry. In view of the sufferings endured in times past by the people through inconsiderate removals, of which they retain a lasting impression, and to the dread which they express of similar treatment hereafter, though that may be in some degree unreal, as well as for the purpose of giving an impulse to ameliorations, we are of opinion that special provisions would here be justifiable which would not be requisite on behalf of other orders of men more independent, better informed, and more capable of governing their own destinies.
In contriving protective provisions for the individual occupier in improving the township, two things are especially expedient—first, that these provisions should not be indiscriminately accorded without consideration of the ability of the recipient to use them for his own and the general good; and secondly, that they should not be unnecessarily onerous to the proprietor. We have no hesitation in affirming that to grant at this moment to the whole mass of poor tenants in the Highlands and Islands fixity of tenure in their holdings, uncontrolled management of those holdings, and free sale of their tenant-right, good-will, and improvements, would be to perpetuate social evils of a dangerous character. It would in some districts simply accelerate the subdivision and exhaustion of the soil, promote the reckless increase of the people, aggravate the indigence, squalor, and lethargy which too much abound already, and multiply the contingencies of destitution and famine which even now recur from time to time, and are ever impending. The proper basis for agricultural improvement in the crofting districts we deem to lie in the right of a respectable and competent occupier to claim from the owner an improving lease. It is under covenants of this nature, either expressed in writing or embodied in estate regulations, that large portions of the northern and eastern counties have been reclaimed from sterility, and it is probably to a similar agency that we must chiefly look for an enlargement of the productive area in future. We would not indeed question the use of capital and steam-power employed either by the proprietor or tenant, or by both in combination, as agencies in developing the productive power of the soil. Notwithstanding the disheartening examples of unremunerative though generous expenditure of which Sutherland has been recently the scene, it may be hoped that, with the experience thus gained, those means may yet be advantageously applied for the improvement of the larger agricultural farms; but more is to be expected on small tenancies from manual efforts and familiar mechanical methods. It is by the patient application of the crofter's strength, under judicious regulation, that much of the arable area in the northern parts of the kingdom may be brought under better cultivation, that portions which have lapsed to wildness may be reclaimed to fruitfulness, and that moorland may be rendered arable. The conditions of improving leases are dictated by many varying considerations contingent on the state of the soil, the customs of the country, and the views of the proprietor. In some the ground, wholly or partly in a natural state, is granted at a mere nominal rent, to a tenant for a stated term, on the understanding or expressed condition that when the period of gratuitous occupancy is exhausted, the improved area is to be valued at the discretion of the proprietor, and regranted to the improving tenant or his successor, or another, as the case may be, at a rental thus assessed. In other instances, the period of gratuitous occupancy is abridged, and a gradually ascending scale of rental is prescribed, culminating in the last stage of the lease, at a rate more or less approximating to a valuation amount. On one great estate the term of the beneficial tenure is not defined by years, but by life; and the increase of rent is taken, as a rule, in connection with the death of the occupier and the admission of a successor. In most cases, it is believed, stipulations for compensation at the conclusion of the lease are not inserted, the tenant being held to be indemnified for his outlay by the free or favourable occupancy which he has enjoyed. Provisions, however, are made of a graduated character for the indemnification of the tenant where the holding is surrendered during the holding of the lease. In some improving leases connected with the Conon estate, in Ross-shire, the principle of compensation for improvements at the end of a lease is liberally conceded,—a fact not unnoticed or unappreciated in the memory of the crofters of the district concerned. The same principle was embodied in leases granted on the estate of Airdins, in Sutherland, and the need of popular approval is warmly bestowed on the leases granted by Mr Dempster of Skibo in the last century. It is interesting to find that so far back as 1752 the value of the improving lease was recognised by Act of Parliament, in the case of the Forfeited Estates, a measure which was ardently supported by the Lord Advocate of the time—Grant of Prestongrange. This Act is referred to as an indication of the intelligent intentions of the leading statesmen of the time, but we are not enabled to affirm that their views were rendered effective for the good of the tenantry. In this Act it was contemplated that compensation for improvements should be awarded to the tenant, not by payment at the conclusion of the lease, but by a reduction of rent below the market valuefduring the whole of its currency, viz., forty-one years. On the whole, the terms of improving leases in the Highlands in regard to compensation seem rather hard to the tenant, tested by the opinions now in vogue among land reformers on this subject; but it is incontestable that the leases to which we refer have been eagerly sought, intelligently accepted, and punctually fulfilled by many honest and hard-working tenants on the eastern side of the country, w ho have under these covenants bettered their own condition, enriched their landlords, and augmented the productive capital value of their country. While pointing out the dangers which would be attached to profuse unearned distribution of rights to the occupiers in townships, and suggesting the limits and the form within which such rights should be bestowed, it is equally necessary to indicate the detriment to the country which would be incurred by an unjust and unnecessary limitation of the rights of property. In the provisions recommended above, both for the protection of the township and the protection of the tenant, there is undoubtedly some abridgment of the landlord's power. In regard to the township, the owner is compelled to restrict a portion of his estate to a specific purpose, to restore in some cases a part of it otherwise appropriated to that object, it may be with some diminution of its return, and to co-operate in certain works of no small charge for the benefit of the township. He is held to concession, and he is held to expenditure. In connection with the occupiers of the better class, he is subjected to the obligation to grant leases, and in connection with those of an inferior status we propose some other limitations to his authority, which will be mentioned hereafter. In all this there is a sacrifice of the prerogatives and freedom of proprietary management, as well as a sacrifice of money. It is also to be noted, that the obligations imposed on the landlord in the interest of the crofter fall with peculiar severity on those families which have in past times, from motives of conscience and humanity, preserved their small tenants, while the estates on which eviction has been practised in the most unsparing spirit remain untouched. A wise proprietor may, we trust, still find compensation for these proprietary burdens in the contentment of his people and the improvement of his estate. But we do not consider it expedient to carry innovation further. It is of importance to the welfare of the Highlands and Islands not to impair the attractions of property. Those attractions are perhaps at the present time more powerful than at any previous period. They depend on the beauty of scenery, the pleasures of sport, repose, and exercise; on historical and poetical associations; with some on the fondness of long hereditary connection, with others on the charm of new acquisition. The purchase of Highland estates by capitalists from the south, whether of English or Scottish origin, is in some cases accompanied by an immense outlay in buildings, improvements, plantations, and embellishments of every kind. Nor would it be just to deny the claims and services of old proprietary families. Not a few of these families in former years, pressed by necessity, or guided by the prevailing economical theories and projects prevalent at the time, dealt with their tenantry in a manner which is now contemplated with reprobation; but there are also conspicuous examples in this class both of indulgence and beneficence carried on to the present day, which it would be alike ungrateful and impolitic to overlook. In few quarters has expenditure been primarily addressed to the advantage of the crofting class, but that class has been indirectly and in some instances studiously benefited, and they will probably obtain a larger share of attention in future. We do not say that the stream of southern wealth which is poured out upon the Highlands is more profitable to the people than the wealth which might be won by their own liberated and trained energies, but the former ought not to be arrested, and both may be possessed together. The mere exercise of proprietary power and duty holds perhaps a smaller share in the aggregate of proprietary enjoyment in the Highlands than elsewhere, for in the Highlands so many sources of interest are combined, but still the rights of property could not be indefinitely reduced without impairing its value. This reflection applies with peculiar force to the present cases when, in connection with the changes in the laws of entail and settlement, and the crisis which has occurred in the occupancy and rental of large farms, even a greater amount of land in the Highlands and Islands may be thrown on the market than has hitherto been the case. This is indeed a conjuncture in which the attractions of property should be preserved, and every legitimate inducement offered to the purchaser to become a resident on his estate. It may also be remarked that the sentiments and the condition of the Highland population admit with great advantage of a large intervention of regulating authority on the part of the landlord. There is no severance here between proprietor and tenant; on the contrary, there is as yet on the side of the poor much reverence for the owner of the soil, a feeling which is sometimes transferred from the ancient chief to the new comer, and which may attach, in some minds, to the idea of possession as well as to the idea of descent. Indeed the simpler kind of people, by a double delusion, are inclined to credit the absent lord with every merit, as they do the factor with every defect; they think and speak of the proprietor as of some distant, careless, but kindly Power, who, if he would only come in person, and see with his own eyes, and hear with his own ears, would do justice and banish Evidence, suffering from the land. Certain it is that an active, benevolent proprietor in the Highlands, be he old or new, will find his authority respected and welcomed. It will now be our duty to indicate the method by which the benefit of an improving lease should be secured to the crofter, and in outline the character of the lease to which he should be entitled. Every occupier in a township not in arrear of rent, and paying £6 or more annual rent [The sum of £6 has been inserted as a compromise between the opinions of those in the Commission who favoured a higher and those who favoured a lower figure.] , should have the right to make application to the proprietor for an improving lease of his holding, and to record such application in the Sheriff-Court books. If, during the period of six months from the date of such application, the proprietor and the applicant have not adjusted the terms of an improving lease, the occupier should have the right to signify the fact to the Sheriff-Substitute, and claim the benefit of an official improving lease.
The proprietor should have the power of taking exception to the applicant, on the ground of incapacity or bad character, and the Sheriff should be the judge of the validity of such objection. No applicant for an improving lease should be subject to removal after he has made application to the proprietor until his claim has been decided by the Sheriff. When the claim before the Sheriff-Substitute is allowed, the fair rent of the holding should be ascertained by valuation, conducted by the representative of the owner and the constable of the township, the Sheriff having the power to nominate an oversman in case of dissent; and if the fair rent is fixed at not less than £6, the occupier should be entitled to an official improving lease for thirty years, embodying the following conditions :—The holding should be inspected by valuers, and any buildings in serviceable condition and suitable for the working of the holding existing on the holding which can be shown to have been executed by the occupier or by his predecessors of the same family within thirty years, or paid for by him or them, and for which the occupier or his predecessors have received no assistance or consideration, or regarding which there has been no express understanding embodied in estate regulations or other writings, should be valued by arbitration, and the value awarded should constitute a debt on the part of the proprietor to the occupier. It should, however, be provided that in no case should the compensation thus awarded exceed three years' rental of the holding. The occupier should engage to expend during the first seven years of his lease, in money or labour, an amount equal to not less than ten years' rental in permanent improvements on the holding. If, at the end of three years, the occupier has not so expended an amount equal to four years' rental on his improvements, and if t the end of seven the full stipulated outlay has not been made, the lease should be held to have lapsed, and the occupier should thereafter continue in the holding on the footing of an ordinary occupier, without the right of claiming an official improving lease. If either of the contracting parties desires to terminate the occupancy at the end of the improving lease, he should have power to do so by giving warning to the other party one full year before the conclusion of the term.
At the conclusion of the lease, whether the occupier continues in the holding or not, an inquiry and valuation should take place, so that the relations of the proprietor and occupier might be cleared up and mutual liabilities adjusted.
In settling the compensation due to the tenant for improvements, no compensation should be awarded to the tenant for buildings or works done in the first ten years of the lease, except for substantial stone and lime buildings adapted to the use of the holding, which should be valued by arbitration to the tenant; provided that compensation for buildings shall in no case exceed an amount equal to five years' rental of the holding. Compensation for improvements during a second term of ten years should not exceed one-third of the cost, and compensation for improvements done during the third term of ten years should not exceed two-thirds of the cost.
If at the conclusion of the improving lease, the tenant removes, his claim to compensation would be satisfied by the proprietor; if the tenant ramains, his claim would either be satisfied at once, or constitute a debt on the part of the proprietor, to be adjusted as the parties see fit.
If at the conclusion of the improving lease, the occupier should remain, he should have the right to claim a new improving lease, and failinf an arrangement with the proprietor, he would have, a right to a new official improving lease under the same conditions as the first.
In case it should be proved at the conclusion of the improving lease that the holding has deteriorated in value, by neglect of good husbandry, or by the neglect of the buildings existing at the commencement of the lease, or of those erected by the occupier in the first seven years of the lease, the proprietor should have a claim against the occupier, which should be decided by arbitration. Occupiers possessing an improving lease should have the power of relinquishing their holdings at any term of Whitsunday during the currency of the lease, and of surrendering the holding and the improvements thereon to the proprietor and the proprietor only, the proprietor being under the obligation to accept the substantial buildings erected by the tenant as far as they are appropriate to the use of the holding; but under these circumstances the compensation should not exceed an amount equivalent to three years' rental of the holding. With a view to the paramount interest of the voluntary and gradual consolidation of small holdings, the power of assigning the improving lease is not given to the occupier. Compensation for other improvements should be awarded on an estimate graduated with reference to the period at which such improvements were executed.
Permanent improvements should be held to comprise the erection of a dwelling-house, with chimneys and windows, the walls of which are built of stone and lime throughout, the erection of farmhouses, substantially built with stone, subsoil drains with stones or tiles effectually operating to dry the soil, dry-stone dykes, substantially built in a tradesmanlike manner, deep trenching and clearing of the ground, and no other improvements but these cases in which controversies might arise as to whether permanent improvements executed by the tenant were really valid improvements, required for the benefit of the holding, and executed in good faith for that purpose by the occupier, the decision on this point should be left to arbitration between the proprietor and the tenant.
The foregoing provisions regarding compensation for improvements in favour of small tenants possessing improving leases have been recommended in preference to the provisions embodied in the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1883 for the same purpose, for the following reasons:—
With a view to encourage occupiers to avail themselves of the improving lease, and in order to give them a fair start on clear and favourable terms on a new course of industry, it has been considered expedient to grant the occupier a claim to reimbursement for serviceable buildings on the holding under certain restrictions, a claim which he would not enjoy under the general Act.
It is apprehended that under the general Act the occupiers might not be sufficiently compensated for buildings of a substantial character erected on the holding during the lease. The principle of the Act is that compensation is to be awarded in connection with the increase of letting value, buildings being included as improvements. Now, on a small Highland holding the addition to letting value conferred by the erection of a substantial dwelling-house and offices might be incommensurate with the outlay of the occupier; indeed, the letting value of the holding might be as great without a house as with one as an addition to a neighbouring holding. But one of the principal objects of the improving lease is to encourage the erection of better dwellings. It is therefore thought desirable to found the claim to compensation rather on the basis of work done and money expended than on the basis of increased letting value, occupier. It is, moreover, doubted on the whole whether compensation for improvements based on increased letting value is a system which would commend itself to the feelings and understanding of the Highland crofter. Compensation for work done, either by gratuitous tenancy or by favourable tenancy, or by direct pecuniary reimbursement, is more consonant to the usage of the country, and perhaps more congenial to his interests and views. The principle of letting value as the measure of rent in lieu of the custom of the estate, might in the Western Highlands and Islands, and especially in Skye and the Long Island, be of questionable benefit to the small tenant. It would be the substitution of a commercial test for the tolerant relation which on most estates still prevails. Compensation under the general Act does not extend to the improvement of cultivated land by deep trenching. ' Reclamation of Waste Land' is specified in the schedule, and those terms would include the reduction of wild moorland to an arable condition by the pick and spade, but they would not apply to the amelioration and renovation of the old ill-tilled and exhausted arable lands within the township fence ; yet this form of improvement is one of the most advantageous on the restricted areas of the township infield, and it is one for which crofting labour is peculiarly adapted. In pointing out the principles on which compensation should be awarded to the small tenant in the Highlands, and certain objects which should be particularly contemplated, it is not intended that the crofter should be deprived of the other benefits conferred by the Act.
It may be objected to the scheme which has been proposed, Smaller that the protection and encouragements afforded to the higher class of crofters above the level of the £6 line are withheld from those of an inferior condition, forming in most localities, we regret to say, the vast majority, and who may need such safeguards equally or more. This must be admitted. The poorer sort are here endowed with no formal security against eviction or excessive rents. The inequality of treatment is manifest and may appear unjust. If we allow it we do so not from a want of sympathy for the class excluded we accept an evil to avoid a greater evil still. To invest the most humble and helpless class of agricultural tenants with immunities and rights which ought to go hand in hand with the expansive improvement of the dwelling and the soil, would tend to fix them in a condition from which they ought to be resolutely though gently withdrawn. These people ought either to pass as crofters to new holdings of a higher value, or take their position among the cottars as labourers, mechanics, or fishermen, with a cottage and an allotment, or migrate to other seats of labour here, or emigrate to other countries. Their case is contemplated by the provisions for improved fishing and voluntary emigration which will be embodied in other parts of this report. Meanwhile, we trust that they will not be subjected either to arbitrary eviction or rack renting. From the former they will be defended by the hummity of landlords and public opinion, while their rents can not fail to be determined in some measure by the values fixed by arbitration on the holdings of their better endowed neighbours.
Provisions may, however, he suggested on behalf of crofters and cottars not in the possession of leases, and not in arrear of rent, who being in actual occupancy are summoned to remove by the proprietor for his own purposes; such as a full year's warning, compensation for buildings and improvements on the holding executed by the occupier or his predecessors of the same family within thirty years, and, in the case of emigration, an obligation on the part of the proprietor to purchase the occupier's stock by valuation. The question of removal on account of arrears of rent is one which ought perhaps to obtain special consideration in connection with the crofting class. On some estates the existing law in this respect is punctually enforced, and arrears are not allowed to accumulate; on others there is a great indulgence ; arrears grow up and are retained on the books for a long term of years—a questionable kindness. We have heard of holdings on which a sum equal to nine years' rental was due, on which the occupiers were retained, paying, we may presume, something from time to time. When we regard the poverty of the crofting class, the uncertain and fitful nature of their harvest by land and sea, their general rectitude of character, and the custom of the country, which is somewhat irregular and lax, we consider that removal on account of arrears should not be hastily exercised, nor do we think that arrears should be suffered to hang over the head of the occupier for an excessive period. The occupier, whether a leaseholder or a tenant at will, should not be summoned to remove on account of arrear of rent for less than one full year's rental, and he should receive six months' warning, during which he should be at liberty to pay up his arrear and retain his holding. Arrears of rent in excess of two full years' rental should not be allowed to count against the occupier. One of the principal objects which we have at heart in framing these recommendations being to promote the enlargement of holdings, it becomes necessary at this point to submit provisions by which further subdivision may be absolutely prevented, and an impulse given to consolidation within the limits of the township. In the event of any occupier of land or houses in a township transferring, sub-letting (except for grazing), or dividing his holding or house, or of erecting dwelling-houses on his holding, except in substitution of an existing dwelling-house, without the consent of the proprietor, he should forfeit all advantages in regard to lease or otherwise proposed to be conferred upon him by the foregoing suggestions.
Subordinate to the provisions for consolidation, but still not without significance to the welfare of the occupiers, are the following suggestions, which are recommended for consideration :—
It should not be lawful for an incoming occupier to bind himself to the proprietor to pay up the arrears due by an outgoing occupier, and no engagement to that effect should be entertained in a court of law in estimating the amount of arrears due by an occupier, or in any other way.
In cases in which an incoming occupier is required to pay to an outgoing occupier or to the proprietor any sum for buildings or improvements left on the holding by the outgoing occupier, the amount should in every case be fixed by arbitration, and no payment should be received by the outgoing occupier or by the proprietor for the goodwill of the holding irrespective of the buildings or improvements transferred.
Every occupier holding an improving lease (subject to the approval of the proprietor and the constable of the township) should have a right to claim from the occupier in a contiguous holding, also with an improving lease, the erection of a substantial dry-stone fence between the two holdings, or a wire fence where the materials for a stone fence are not readily accessible, or where the ground is not convenient, the cost of the fence being shared between the two occupiers in proportion to the amount of rent payable by them for the holdings concerned.
All occupiers of land or houses holding directly from the proprietor, who are subject to obligations rendered to the proprietor in connection with the tenure of land or houses, in the shape money, of labour service, or the sale or supply of commodities, should be at liberty to commute such obligations for money payments, the amount to be settled by arbitration in the absence of voluntary agreement. But this stipulation should not apply to labour or service prescribed for the common benefit of the township, within the limits of the township.
We shall conclude these remarks on the claims and interests of of the occupier by recording our opinion that facilities should be afforded to the crofter for the purchase of his holding, and to the cottar fisherman for the purchase of his dwelling. It may at first sight appear strange to recommend the acquisition of small parcels of poor land at a high price by industrious and intelligent men who would be able to invest their savings or the surplus product of their daily toil with far greater advantage in the vacant tracts of America and Australia. Yet habit and local affection bear so great a sway in the actions of mankind, that Highlanders will be found who would rather be proprietors in the mountains of Skye or the wastes of Lewis than in the fertile plains of Manitoba, and for no other purpose would they be more likely to receive assistance from without. In the mainland of Orkney a living example of small landowners is still extant in the Lairds of Harray who practise good husbandry, who rarely admit subdivision of the soil among their issue, and who buy and sell their miniature estates at from thirty to forty years' purchase. The possession of real property ought to be a powerful agent in forming habits of industry and self-respect, and in supplying sources of rational enjoyment. An opportunity of embracing this alternative condition of life and labour should be offered to the Highland people, and Government might lend its co-operation with manifest advantage and little risk. The earnings of the fishermen are precarious and intermittent, but they are often considerable. The purchase of holdings might offer a safe investment for money suddenly won and easily spent. The practice of purchasing the dwelling already prevails in the villages of the east coast and in Loch Fyne, and might be extended among the same' class in the Western Highlands and Islands.
Every occupier in a township paying £6 or more of annual rent to the proprietor should have the right to enter his name with the Sheriff-Clerk of the county as a claimant to purchase the fee-simple of his holding for a price not exceeding twentyfive years' gross rental of the holding, having first obtained the consent of the proprietor in writing. The claimant, on depositing one-third of the purchase money, should have a right to claim an advance of the remaining two-thirds by Government, and the whole price having been paid to the proprietor, the occupier would become owner of the holding, subject to such conditions of interest and reimbursement to Government as the law may appoint. The purchase of holdings by occupiers in townships would introduce some complication into the relations between the parties purchasing, the parties remaining occupiers, and the proprietor of the township. The purchaser, in his new character of owner of a holding in the township, could not equitably exercise all the claims in regard to the proprietor which would be by the previous provisions conceded to the township occupiers, especially the claim to an extension of the area of the township. It is proposed, in the absence of any voluntary adjustment on the subject between the party purchasing and the original proprietor, that some such settlement as this should be adopted. The purchaser should become owner of his holding, subject to all the obligations in regard to township labour and works which are incumbent on occupiers, and with all the claims to township privileges regarding common pasture, fuel, sea-weed, &c, enjoyed by the occupiers. He would be debarred from taking any part in township proceedings for an extension of area, and from all benefits and obligations attached to such extension, except in so far as he might participate in them by voluntary arrangement with the occupiers. In regard to the payment of local and imperial rates and taxes, he would be, of course, on the footing of an owner and not of an occupier. In the case of a township in which a number of occupiers became purchasers, it should be provided that when more than one half of the occupiers have become owners of their holdings, and more than one half of the aggregate annual value of the township has been vested in the hands of owners, the township, as a crofter's township recognised by law, should be dissolved, and the remaining occupiers would become separate crofters, subject to the conditions applicable to that class of small tenants. It stands to reason that the purchaser of a holding in an overcrowded township could not appear as a claimant for a holding in a new township, or for a separate crofter's holding formed by a proprietor in connection with Government aid.
The Government should be empowered, in connection with any works undertaken wholly or partly with public funds for the formation or improvement of harbours, to take up lands adjacent to such places and conveniently situated for the seafaring people, proprietors and tenants being indemnified for any prejudice which they might sustain by arbitration. The lands thus taken up should be feued out as building plots on favourable terms to the class referred to, under proper regulations regarding the character of the buildings to be erected. All titles connected with the purchase of holdings, and the tenure of buildings and lands contemplated by the preceding suggestions, should be rendered as simple and cheap as possible in the interest of the purchaser.
The crofting population in the Western and Northern Highlands and in the Islands generally, are still settled in townships for the most part, and they are, except in Orkney and Shetland, the poorest and least informed people of the class, and most in want of legislative protection and encouragement. There are, however, in the eastern districts, and here and there throughout the country, small occupiers without any communal privileges or attachments, sometimes holding under improving leases, sometimes under ordinary leases, sometimes as tenants at will, a hard-working race who have been the pioneers of cultivation on the moors and hills. These people are chiefly the descendants of disintegrated townships who have been planted out on the waste, or who have drifted here and there and taken root, while others are mechanics and labourers of superior means and enterprise from all quarters who have pushed their way upwards. They are the most advanced sort of crofters, possessing, on the eastern side of Scotland, a better climate, and in their surroundings better examples. The isolated crofter deserves our solicitude as well as his associated brethren, though it may be more difficult to meet his necessities and satisfy his demands. Many of these crofters hold under leases of the common kind, and their most urgent complaint is of excessive rents. It is unfortunately in this particular that we cannot come to their relief. That these covenanted rents are in many cases high when contracted for in past years of comparative prosperity and eager competition we can well believe; such has been the case with other orders of occupiers, and over all Scotland, but we are not able to recommend the annulment of existing contracts by Act of Parliament. We must in such cases trust to the discretion and indulgence of proprietors, which have been extensively exercised in regard to large farms by remission and reduction of rent. In the case of separate crofters occupying as tenants at will, we would recommend that they should obtain the same rights to an proving lease improving lease as crofters in a township. These rights would be open to the present leaseholder at the end of his contract. To the whole class, whether provided with leases or not, we would extend the privilege of purchasing the fee-simple of the holding with Government aid, subject to the consent of the proprietor. The social problem in the Highlands and Islands is complicated by the prevalence of subtenancy and squatting. Where this practice is least injurious it takes the form of cottars' holdings, in which the occupiers pay a stipulated rent to the farmer in money or service, and may be regarded as occasional farm servants. A more unhappy case is where the offspring of the recognised occupiers of township holdings remain and multiply on the ground, either sharing the narrow dwelling of the head of the family, or putting up habitations in defiance of estate regulations. But the evil assumes its darkest complexion in the Long Island, where in some places, in the waste, there are crowds of squatters who construct hovels, appropriate land, and possess and pasture stock, but pay no rent, obey no control, and scarcely recognise any allegiance or authority. These poor people support them-selves by casual labour in the country, by the simpler kinds of fishing, and by wandering else-where in quest of work. It is needless to say that they are a burden to the crofter and the proprietor, and that they are in a chronic state of poverty, degenerating in bad seasons to absolute destitution.
Pending the operation of remedies which, it is hoped, may gradually transfer and disperse this class of people, in so far as they cannot find a useful employment in their present abodes, it is desirable that they should be all recorded on the books of the estate, and as far as possible brought into direct relations with the landlord. Subtenants, cottars, and squatters, occupying dwellings or lands on holdings of whatever kind under lease, and rendering rent or service to occupiers, should remain, if the parties concerned desire it, in the same relations during the currency of the lease, but the subtenant should have the power of commuting any obligation to labour for money payment under arbitration. At the termination of the lease, the subtenant should be held bound to transfer his tenure to the proprietor. Subtenants, cottars, and squatters, on lands under lease should not be subject to removal without the consent of the landlord, except for non-payment of rent or refusal to render covenanted services, and in connection with arbitrary removal they should have all rights belonging to occupiers holding direct from the landlord. These provisions would not, however, apply to farm servants permanently engaged for the service of the holding, or to dwellings appropriated to the use of habitual farm labourers.
All persons, of whatever condition, living on lands occupied by the proprietor, and rendering him any covenanted service, or labour, or payment in kind, should have the right to commute such obligations for money payment by arbitration. Among the arguments which have been presented to us in support of a recurrence to crofting cultivation, a prominent place has been assigned to the alleged deterioration of hill pasture in the Highlands under an exclusive use of sheep. This deterioration is said to be manifested in two ways—first, in the increasing prevalence of mosses and rushes on the green lands formerly tilled as infield or outfield by the crofting communities, when these lands have been suffered to fall out of cultivation ; secondly, over the general surface of the mountain grazings, which lie, and have always lain, in a state of nature.
In regard to the first class of lands, it may be admitted that the definitive abandonment of tillage and removal of cattle will after a time cause the gradual impoverishment of the surface, for on the poor soils in the rough climate and at the high elevations presented by the Highlands, the heather and coarse vegetation will eventually gain the upper hand, and this result may be attributed justly to the pastoral tenant, whose method of farming demands a less proportion of tillage and cattle than would be used by a moderate number of small occupiers on the same space. It appears consistent with reason and evidence that the substitution of the large sheep farm for township cultivation and common grazing has, over limited areas, contributed to render the pasture worse. The question whether there is a progressive deterioration of the natural mountain pasture of the Highlands, is one which opens a wide held for discussion, and on which a conflict of opinion exists. The great preponderance of evidence adduced before the Commission falls on the affirmative side, but the negative has been maintained by one competent witness of long experience. The argument for deterioration is founded on the fact, which we do not dispute, that the ground in certain places does not carry so numerous a stock of sheep as it did some thirty or forty years ago, and, moreover, that it does not afford the same amount of wintering as before. It is also affirmed that the change in the quality of the pasture is apparent to those who remember it in former times, who can inspect it now, and who are competent to make an intelligent comparison. In explanation of this change for the worse, it is stated that the ground being entirely or almost entirely abandoned to sheep, the soil receives no compensation in the form of manure for the withdrawal of its valuable constituents comprised in the bone, flesh, and wool carried off, that the droppings of the sheep have no fertilising value on the rugged surface, while the close and inquisitive bite of the animal searches out and removes the finer grasses. It is contended that a larger admixture of cattle on the hills, such as the crofter formerly used, not only supplied a restorative element by the superior value of the excreta deposited on the surface, but that the higher and less discriminating grazing habit of the cattle kept down the coarser grasses, and gave the choicer varieties liberty to flourish and extend. While we recognise that there is some force in these arguments, we cannot concede them without reservation. It can hardly be that the productive qualities of the soil on the mountain pastures of the Highlands were ever in any great measure nourished by the superficial dressing bestowed b y the droppings of live stock of any description. When we regard, on the one hand, the nature of the surface, occupied in part by heath, in part by a covering of coarse vegetation, and on the other the small proportion of sheep and cattle to the area, and the poor quality of the sustenance they obtain, the amount of manurial contribution imparted to the earth must be meagre indeed. It is probable that some of the properties withdrawn from the soil by the formation and removal of the animal have been and are principally replenished by the decay of unconsumed vegetation and by atmospheric influences, except on spots where, for one reason or another, the live stock is habitually congregated. We believe, however, that with reference to deterioration, more importance is to be ascribed to the grazing habits of the two varieties of stock respectively, and that a judicious addition of black cattle to the sheep would effect an amelioration; an addition which, in the Lowland hills, is not found to involve a serious reduction of the sheep, when the cattle can be confined to the localities most benefited by their particular action in feeding. In regard to the diminution of the number of sheep maintained on certain specific areas, admitting the fact, it is to be observed that this may depend as much on the character of the animal as on the quality of the grass. Both the Cheviot and blackfaced races have been, by the course of breeding followed in the last fifty years, considerably modified in size and constitution. A slight admission of Leicester blood in the former, and the incessant selection in both of large, high bred, and artificially fed sires, has given the breeds more weight, and a greater delicacy in regard to food and weather This fact is universally recognised and regretted by the store farms of the Border districts, where a reaction in favour of the smaller and hardier types of an earlier period has set in. The lowland farmers carried the same system to the North which they practised in the South, and many of them are known to have suffered by this imprudence, especially when the new Cheviot stock was introduced into the Western Highlands. We are not competent to speak authoritatively on the various subjects suggested by the alleged degeneration of the mountain pastures of the Highlands. The question will, no doubt, continue to attract the attention of agriculturists in all parts of the country, for the same points have recently been mooted in the Lowlands, and the same diversities of opinion are expressed. If the alleged deterioration does exist, if it can be corrected by the expansion of arable cultivation and the introduction of cattle, and if the crofting system is most conducive to these results, then we have an additional reason for recommending the extension of township areas and the creation of new holdings ; but the crofter possesses no monopoly of the remedy, and the large farmer might also find his advantage in keeping an increased number of cattle and breaking up additional ground. In instituting a comparison between the effects of the system of small holdings and of pastoral farms on the natural pastures of the country, we must not omit to notice some particular kinds of damage inflicted on grazing lands by numerous communities of small tenants, which are very obvious to the passing observer. This prejudice is caused in three ways: by removing the soil for fuel without due attention to replacing the sod, by cutting the surface for the purposes of roofing and of bedding cattle, and by the transfer of the virgin earth from the mountain to the enclosed areas, with the view of enriching and filling up the arable ground exhausted by overcropping.
Several matters have come under our consideration regarding the economical relation of the people with the employers of labour and local shopkeepers and traders, which may be conveniently grouped under the heads of obligatory service or sale, and truck or barter.
Certain services are rendered in agricultural or pastoral labour either to the proprietor or farmer by tenants or sub-tenants, sometimes paid, sometimes unpaid, the tenant or sub-tenant being held to render such services in connection with the tenure of his dwelling or holding. We have elsewhere stated our opinion that all such services should be commutable for money payments at the option of the party under the obligations referred to, except in two cases.
1. Where the services rendered are rendered in connection with existing leases, in which case the free assent of the holder of the lease should be requisite to the adjustment of the obligation in a pecuniary form.
2. In the case in which the labour is rendered for the service of the township.
Labour service may possibly also be still rendered in connection with the tenure of land, or the use of buildings or warehouses, in the form of an obligation to fish for the proprietor or farmer, or to dispose of the fish caught to such parties at stated prices. We have not met in the course of our inquiry with any distinct example of this nature, but such cases were no doubt common at no distant date, and the practice may still survive. We are of opinion that any such obligation as may still exist in connection with fishing should be rendered commutable for money payments at the option of the party subjected to the obligation, whether in connection with an existing lease or contract or not, the adjustment being settled by arbitration.
In the case of fishing, however, the obligation usually takes another form, and one consonant to the interests of the parties concerned. The boats and sometimes fishing-gear are supplied by a fish-cure. The crew associated in the use of the boat come under an obligation to share the catch with the curer and to dispose of their own share to him at a price agreed upon. The gradual purchase of the boat by the crew frequently forms part of the arrangement. With contracts of this nature, which are beneficial to the crofter class engaged in fishing, we do not propose interference. The adjustment of such contracts may be safely left to the intelligence of the people, who understand their own interests, and who enjoy in this branch of their industry and earnings an increasing independence. The obligatory payment of wages in the form of commodities is a practice which is to be deprecated. The price and quality of the article supplied become an object of suspicion to the recipient, and the employer falls under the imputation of reaping a double profit, — a profit on the article which the labour produces, and a profit on the commodity disposed of. The only instance in which this practice was distinctly alleged before our Commission occurred in the case of the British Seaweed Company, in the island of Tiree. Inconsistent statements were submitted to us even by witnesses concerned in the establishment. It is difficult for us to judge definitively how far the acceptance of wages in kind has been heretofore strictly prescribed, in what motives the practice originated, for what reasons it has been continued, and in what degree it has been beneficial or prejudicial to the people. The managing partner of the works distinctly disavowed to us any desire to impose his goods upon his work-people, or to make any distinction between wages disbursed in money or in commodities. We can only express a hope that this assurance may be unequivocally conveyed to the persons employed, and that they may hereafter feel themselves at perfect liberty to ask for money wages and be able to obtain them.
The practice of exchanging goods for goods at shops, the main tenance of long running accounts between the trader or employer of labour on the one hand and the worker or producer on the other, are matters of discussion and complaint both in the Western Islands and in Shetland. The grievance, if such it be, was not placed in a strong light by the people themselves in the Western Districts. It was particularly indicated to us by Sir William Collins, who gave evidence in Edinburgh, and whose position and philanthropy entitle him to our respect. In Shetland, the custom of truck and barter, and of continuous and perplexing relations of traffic between the people and the shopkeeper, have been for many years a subject of discontent and inquiry. It was not, however, in any great degree spantaneously or prominently urged on our attention by the alleged sufferers, on the occasion of our recent visit.
In reference to all these questions, we remain under an impression that abuses incidental to the isolation of the country, the ignorance and poverty of the people, and the power of monopoly or combination among employers, are gradually melting away, and have to a large extent disappeared before the forces of increasing intelligence, public opinion, and commercial competition; that the interests of employers and employed are being harmonized by natural causes; and that legislative interference ought not to be hastily attempted, except in so far as may be necessary for the specific purposes indicated above. Among the various inconveniences which the people of the Highlands and Islands suffer in connection with their position as occupiers of land, the one which strikes the stranger as the most deplorable, and which affects the native with the least impatience, is the nature of their dwellings. It is difficult to say how far the crofter or cottar is sensible of the disadvantages attached to the darkness and deprivations of his primitive habitation, or or how far this feature in his life is actually prejudicial to his happiness and welfare. In the main his house does not make him unhappy, for he does not complain ; it does not make him immoral, for he is above the average standard of morality in his country; it does not make him unhealthy, for he enjoys an uncommon share of vigour and longevity. Yet no one concerned for the elevation of the Highland people can fail to desire an improvement in this particular; no one can doubt that if they are well-conducted and robust, it is in spite of their lodging and in consequence of counteracting causes, and that if they enjoyed the benefit of purer and brighter homes they would prosper more. The Highland houses of the poorer sort are divided broadly into two classes—the black houses and the white houses. The black houses present the original type of the country, and they are built by the people themselves; the white houses are lowland cottages of the plainest character, and they are built by the people aided by the proprietors. The black house still predominates in the Western Islands, on the northern and western coasts of the mainland, and perhaps in the central Highlands. These humble dwellings are by no means uniform in character; in the lowest stage there is the sordid hovel, in which horses, cows, and pigs occupy one end of the undivided tenement, while the human inhabitants, accompanied by dogs and poultry, are immersed in obscurity and dirt at the other. When seen in a superior form the Highland cottage, though thatched with grass or heath, floored with clay and built with untempered stones, may yet possess a chimney and a window in the wall, a door unshared by the cattle, a partition between the stall and the lodging, and when kept clean does not offer an unpleasant aspect, mated as it often is by the loom or spinning-wheel, by a hospitable welcome, and by kindly faces. The ancient model of Highland habitation may indeed be contemplated with too much indulgence by those whose minds are not duly possessed by considerations of utility and sanitation, for it is associated in fancy with all that is most pleasing and romantic in the manners and history of the people, while in form and colour it is in perfect harmony with the landscape and the shore. The white house may be seen everywhere, but it is most common on the eastern side of the country, and in Orkney and Shetland. It consists of two rooms on the ground, often with a bed closet between them, and sometimes with garrets in the roof. It has two chimneys in the gables, and windows designed to open and shut; the walls are built with mortar, one end is floored with boards the other with earth or flags, the partitions and ceilings are of wood and clay roughly put together, the roofing is of boards covered with thatch, or felt daubed with tar, or exceptionally with slates. The white house is not attractive and not picturesque, but it is usually built apart from the byre, and it is tolerably dry, light, and free from smoke. It stands halfway between the original hovel of the Celtic peasant and the comfortable and comely dwelling which the substantial crofter of the future may, we trust, possess. Where this description of house is the joint production of the occupier and the landlord, the stones, the carriage of materials, and all the labour, skilled and unskilled, are usually supplied by the tenant; the lime and wood, sometimes fashioned, sometimes in the rough, are furnished gratuitously by the landlord; slates when required are obtained from the same source, but for these repayment by instalments is in some cases expected. The system of co-operation in house-building varies so much on different estates, and is perhaps modified so much in particular instances, that any attempt to define a general rule must be in some degree deceptive. The same remark applies to compensation awarded to the occupier for his share in the erection of buildings. In the case of the black house, the occupier is permitted to carry away or sell the timbers of the roof, or receives some allowance for them from the proprietor; in the case of the improved dwelling, we have not heard of any liberal system of compensation, the occupier in a great measure labours and spends at his own risk, each case will be dealt with apart, and the amount awarded will depend more on the means and the generosity of the landlord than on the equity of the claim. There is even in the remoter and least advanced parts of the country an unmistakable movement in the direction of improved accommodation, stimulated partly by the encouragements afforded by liberal proprietors, partly owing to increasing intelligence and emulation among the people. To this movement a considerable impetus would, we believe, be imparted by the provisions for improving leases suggested in this report. It would not be possible in this matter to attain definitive results by precipitate and imperative legislation. Proprietors could not possibly undertake the erection of model dwellings and farm-offices on small holdings. The occupiers are equally incompetent for the purpose. The cost of a house and steading on a £10 croft, which
would satisfy the educated expectations of a Government inspector would exceed the capital value of the holding, and the smaller the holding the greater would be the proportionate outlay for the improvement. Under these circumstances, it is evident that the process of amelioration must be prosecuted with deliberation and by mutual assistance, keeping in view the resources at the disposal of the proprietor, and the means, the habits, and the desires of the tenant. Public authority, which is powerless to create by any peremptory proceeding a higher order of dwellings for the Highland poor, is competent to correct abuses which are offensive to the first
principles of decency and health. We feel ourselves debarred from making specific recommendations on this subject, in view of the recent appointment of a Special Commission by your Majesty to inquire into the dwellings of the poor. It is assumed that the Commission will, in one form or another, carry its investigations into the Highland districts.
The rent paid by crofters and cottars in the Highlands is determined by the custom of the estate and the discretion of the proprietor, who occasionally readjusts the amount by valuation conducted by the factor, or by a special agent appointed for the purpose. Rents are commonly found to be most moderate on the larger estates transmitted in the old families of the country, and on those which have been purchased by great capitalists more, it may be, with a view to pleasure, local association, or social position, than to profit. They may probably be higher on smaller properties acquired with a distinct purpose of advantageous pecuniary investment. In most cases a considerable degree of indulgence, often amounting to benevolence, may be discovered in the rent of small holdings ; they are rarely disposed of, when vacant, on a purely commercial principle, or by public competition in any form, and are almost invariably held on easier terms than might be obtained in the open market by the inconsiderate rivalry of people aspiring to the occupancy of land. The grievance of increased rent has been submitted to our notice in many instances but in most, we think, with much less force and earnestness than the complaint respecting restricted areas. A reference to the evidence, however, wi!l show that in particular cases the question of rent assumes a more prominent position, as in the instances of the Ross of Mull, Tiree and Iona, in the south-west, on the estate of Kilmuir in Skye, on the Island of Rousay, and at Clyth, the eastern shore of Caithness. We do not think it right to express an opinion respecting the conduct of individual proprietors in the management of their estates; and in most of the cases urged upon our attention the augmentation of rental was explained by reference to outlay, to the increase in the price of stock and other commodities produced, by improved access to markets, or other considerations; nor has the increase, in the case of small holdings equalled the advance which has taken place in the same respect on larger agricultural areas in the same or in other parts of Scotland. The views embodied in this statement are, of course, subject to exception. Cases might probably be found of the inconsiderate imposition of increased rent, or of rent being raised with a view to advantageous sale. On a comprehensive view of the rents paid by small tenants in the Highlands and Islands, we have not found in the conduct of proprietors ground for proposing a general revision by official authority; nor would such a revision, even if attended with diminution, be of any substantial benefit to tenants unless it were accompanied by the concession, in some form, of permanent tenure,—a measure which we have not been able to recommend, under the peculiar circumstances of the population, except in the case of occupiers with improving leases. The adjustment of rents by arbitration has been suggested in connection with the latter class; and we believe that such valuations, aided by the indulgence of proprietors, would have no small effect in regulating rents paid by other occupiers where these may require reconsideration. W h e n we consider the poverty of the people in the Highlands Military and Islands, their excessive numbers in some localities, the deficiency of local labour, and the military recollections which still survive in the country, it is surprising that these districts do not contribute more largely to the regular army. The humbler class of witnesses who appeared before us had a ready explanation of this state of affairs. They alleged the resentment engendered in the minds of the people by the hard treatment they have endured in connection with the land, and the insecure condition in which the young men would leave their parents if they ventured for a length of time from home. These statements do obtain some countenance from the reflection of an old writer in the last century, who remarks, “that it is only with humane proprietors and under whom they live easily that they are disposed to enlist”. We are nevertheless of opinion that the decline in the inclination of the people for a military life, if such is the case, must be sought for in other considerations of a social and economical character. Regiments are no longer raised by chiefs and gentlemen of great estate, with the constraints and encouragements which belonged to former times. Commissions are no longer bestowed on the cadets of good houses on account of the number of recruits they bring in. The common people have higher wages at home and easier access to well-paid employment in the low country. Fishing is more lucrative; emigration is easier. The Militia and Volunteers offer a competitive attraction, and the Royal Naval Reserve affords substantial inducements. The military authorities might, however, be asked to consider whether greater efforts might not be made to attract the youth of the crofter class towards the army by appeals both to the imagination and reason. The occasional visits of non-commissioned officers of respectable character and varied experience to the remoter places, the circulation of tracts in Gaelic and English relating to the history and achievements of the Highland regiments, the dissemination of explanatory statements respecting the numerous advantages now extended to the soldier in regard to pay, food, clothing, accommodation, and advancement, at home, in India, and in the colonies and foreign stations, might have some effect.
The Highlanders have never been much inclined to volunteer for the royal navy, and the navy is no longer recruited from adult volunteers. The whole force is supplied from the ranks of boys entered by their parents or guardians on board training ships, and bound to serve for a stipulated period, in return for which they receive a good general education and are thoroughly taught a craft, by which they can either rise to respectable positions in the service of the Crown or gain an honest subsistence on board the merchant shipping of their country. This system seems well adapted to give relief to a people who have large families and precarious earnings; but we are under the impression that it is very imperfectly known to the population of the Highlands and Islands, and that it never can be fully appreciated by them unless the Government vessels devoted to this service are brought to their very doors, and submitted to their actual inspection. We would strongly recommend that a training ship should be appropriated to the Highlands and Islands, and that it should move from place to place, visiting successively Shetland, Orkney, the coasts of Sutherland and Ross, the Long Island, and Skye, leaving the Southern Hebrides to be dealt with by the ship now stationed on the Clyde, which might also be set in motion for a portion of the year. If the training ships were empowered to pass from one port to another, lying for a convenient period at each during the fine season, not only would the people learn to know and value the advantages which they present, but the families of the boys engaged would be enabled to see their sons from time to time during the first stage of their service, which would mitigate the regrets and the difficulties of separation.
We regret that in one instance during our inquiry a proprietor declined to make us a promise of immunity to residents on his estate for evidence given before us, and that in this case, as well as in two others, the removal of persons who appeared as delegates seems to have followed our visit.
Another instance of refusal of protection is mentioned in the evidence, our knowledge of which is confined to the facts there stated. Correspondence relating to these incidents will be found in the Appendix.
We are unable to express any definitive opinion as to the extent to which the motives which have prompted the course taken by proprietors in the cases referred to have been affected by depositions submitted to the Commission. If any person has suffered any prejudice on this account, we deeply regret the circumstance, as well as our inability to redress the wrong.
In reflecting upon the provisions which we have sketched out in the preceding pages in relation to the tenure of land, it would be sanguine to expect that they will be regarded with unqualified satisfaction by the class which they are designed to benefit. The recognition, improvement, and enlargement of the township, the concession of improving leases, the introduction of valuation rents for a limited class of occupiers, compensation for improvements, and the mitigation of arbitrary removal, may appear inadequate to those whose imaginations have been familiarised with projects of an exaggerated or visionary character, such as a general redistribution of the land. We have endeavoured to take an impartial view of the actual necessities of the people studied on the spot, to adapt local remedies strictly to local ills, and to exclude no interest in the community from our sympathy and consideration. We hope that Government may find in our proposals a basis for useful legislation, and that when the prevailing agitation has been stilled by reflection and the lapse of time, the crofter and cottar may recognise in our action and advice an earnest desire for their welfare.