MURDO MACLEOD, Agent of the British Linen Company's Bank (38)—examined.
17211. The Chairman.
—Do you wish to make any short statement to us?
—I did not expect to be called upon to give evidence, but I shall be glad to answer any questions that may be put to me. I would merely say that I am inclined to confirm very generally the statements made by Dr Macrae. I think they embody pretty fully the ideas I entertain on the general question which has occupied the attention of the Commission, and I am also very much of opinion that the grievances which exist in the Lewis cannot be reached by any single means. I think any improvement that takes place must be the result of two or three lines,—that is to say improvement upon the land, and yet further development of the fishing, and also the extension of education, leading many of the people to turn their attention away from the Lewis to the cities, and also to our colonies. I concur very fully in the opinion expressed, that a good deal of improvement might be effected in the proper allotment of the lands in the island. I am of opinion that the most is not made of the island—even what is now assigned for cropping purposes—and also that a good deal of the waste land could be profitably utilised to give fresh crofts to men who are now without them.
17212. Have you been long on this island?
—I was born in Stornoway, and have lived here all my life.
17213. With regard to the waste lands that could be utilised, on what portion of the island do these waste lands exist ?
—I consider in all parts of the island.
17214. Do you refer to land which is presently waste and may be cultivated, or do you refer to land which witnesses called waste, and which is under sheep?
—I refer to land that is really not under cultivation at present—under peat moss, and also under townships.
17215. Do you consider that peat moss is capable of improvement?
—Yes, when it is not very deep, and where it has been partially cut off for fuel purposes.
17216. You think it is quite, as good as much of the land that has been already cultivated and made remunerative ?
17217. Do you attribute the same importance to fencing that Dr Macrae did ?
—Yes, I do; and it has always been very much neglected, to my mind.
17218. Do you agree with the evidence which has been given by Mr Smith and Mr M'Combie as to the development of the fishings ?
17219. And as to the improvement of the postal and telegraphic communication?
—Yes, I am very much in sympathy with them.
17220. Probably you feel the want of that in your business?
—Yes ; but I feel it more as to how it affects the general population, because I consider that whatever is directly beneficial to the trade of Stornoway reaches in an indirect way the general population.
17221. What is your opinion as to the condition of the people in regard to material prosperity at the present moment, compared with what it was a few years back ?
—I am of opinion that there is a far greater amount of general comfort among the people, taken as a whole, than there used to be in former times. At the same time, I qualify that by saying that I think there is a greater number of paupers and poor people than there used to be, and that is very much the result of the subdividing of the land and the general impoverishment of those who look to the land alone for their living.
17222. Do you think the people are more heavily in debt now to merchants than they were at a former period?
—Well, on an average, I do not think they are. The population is greater, and perhaps the aggregate of debt may be greater; but on an average, I do not think it is.
17223. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Are you aware that most of the people here are in favour of larger crofts ?
—Yes, that is the feeling of the people.
17224. Do you think it, in their circumstances, not an unreasonable wish ?
—I think it quite reasonable.
17225. Do you believe, from your own knowledge of your countrymen, that if they had what they want they would set vigorously to work, and take in a great deal more land than there is at present?
—Most emphatically I do. In my inquiries among them the feeling seems to be ' How little land we have,' and also those who have no land at all are discouraged to ask for it.
17226. Could a crofter reclaim land near his own place at a very much cheaper rate than a proprietor or outsider could do it?
—Yes: a great part of the land of the Lewis has been so reclaimed just by the labour of the people. During a great part of the year their time is not of very great value, and if they had these waste lands to work upon they would have an inducement to work which they have not at present.
17227. The Chairman.
—We are told they are employed during most of the year, and have practically no waste time ?
—That is not the case. As regards those who are connected with the fashing, there is always a good deal of unsuitable weather, and when the ground is near them they can give a few hours to it, when it might be unsuitable to go to sea.
17228. But are they not looking after their boats, and unsettled, and not disposed to go and trench the land ?
—Well, on account of the absence of harbours, they have their boats hauled up, and they just put them out when they need to go out to sea.
17229. Sheriff Nicolson.
—In one part of the Isle of Skye we found that for some years there had been a great deal of business in the way of bills, which it was said has to a large extent brought the country into a state of poverty. Is there anything of that sort going on here among the crofter class ? Do they do anything in the way of bills ?
—Very little, according to my experience. They do not seem to experience very great difficulty in providing the rent at all. They appear to me to pay the rent wonderfully well, because they will pinch themselves in every way, and perhaps neglect their debt, for the purpose of paying the rent. I think that, taken upon the whole, and considering the number of years the estate has been under management, the amount of outstanding bad debts must form a very small percentage. I question if any other trading in the Lewis could show such a favourable result.
17230. Generally, do you think there is a larger amount of debt to merchants for provisions and other things than there was a few years ago, apart from this particular year ?
—No, I think it is less. I think the relations between fishermen and curers are on a more favourable basis than they used to be.