ANGUS M'LEOD, Crofter, Aird (70)—examined.
16148. The Chairman.
—How many families are there in Aird?
—There are sixteen who have lots and eighteen who have not.
16149. How many families are there paying any rents ?
—Sixteen on the rent roll.
16150. Do you represent the crofters or the whole of the thirty-four families ?
—The township. I was born there.
16151. Where you freely elected by the township?
16152. How many were present at the election?
—Most of those in the township who pay rent.
16153. Have you any statement to make on behalf of these?
—I remember that sixty years ago the township was occupied by eight crofters. The rent then for the township was about £37. When Sir James Matheson came into the estate the township was divided into sixteen lots and a piece was cut off it, that of right belonged to the township of old. The rent was then fixed at £48 or £49. A dyke to the extent of a few hundred yards was erected round the township by Sir James. Six shillings of addition was then added to the rent of each of the sixteen lots on account of the dyke, and it was promised to us, but not in writing, that when the cost of the dyke would be settled that money would be lifted off, and the payment would cease. For about thirty-two years now that dyke has been maintained entirely at the expense of the crofters. We were paying 5s. for road improvements, and an Act of Parliament was passed, I believe, for laying on an assessment for roads so much in the pound. The 5s. that we formerly paid for road repair was converted into hill pasture money, and for a few years we paid it under that name. It was then included in the rent without being specified. When I knew the township, under eight crofts, I have seen my mother selling grain to the distillery here, and paying the rent with it, and selling butter at 6d. the lb., and cheese at 2½d the lb., and paying part of the rent with it. And now, since the population has become increased, what I see is that much of the food of the people has to be brought from other countries, and their kitchen also. Undoubtedly, much money comes into the country now that did not when I was young. The herring fishery, which did not exist then, brings money in to us, and the Royal Naval Reserve brings money into the country. But there is none of the money that is in these ways brought into the country but must be expended upon food brought into it from other places, instead of the food that was produced in the country before. The people are kept crowded together on the worst part of the land, and the best part of it is under sheep and tacksmen, who have no families to speak of to support. I believe that is the cause of much of the poverty of our country. I have seen but I don't say that the blame was to be laid to the door of Sir James or Lady Matheson. A neighbour of mine put out of his own house, and a member of that family on his death-bed, and the fire of the family extinguished, and threats uttered against any person who took that man in, that they would be deprived of their lands. I believe that one way of redressing the poverty of the people is to give them the lands legitimately and orderly for a proper rent, a reasonable rent. That will be the means of relieving the poverty of the people. Another thing is, that I have seen some losing their lives because they had no places of refuge in which to keep their sea property, that is their boats and their gear. I believe the second means of improving the condition of the people, would be to provide them with places of safety for their boats and their boat gear. I believe if things go on as they are, if the Government of the kingdom does not look to our condition so as to improve the condition of the people when we have to be getting our food from other countries, these countries would deprive this kingdom of the money that should be expended at home. If the people go on descending into poverty at the same rate at which they have done within the last thirty years, I believe the great proportion of the inhabitants of the Highlands will be on the poors roll, and that their maintenance will be for the gentry to look to—that the gentry will have to provide for their maintenance.
16154. Professor Mackinnon.
—Sixty years ago, when your own township was under eight people, and paying £37 of rent, what stock was it that each of these eight kept ?
—Five or six milk cows, two or three younger beasts, of sheep also from half a dozen or a dozen to perhaps thirty or even forty. I have seen my grandfather have forty. They had no horses. Our land is not suited for horses. They can do nothing there.
16155. And how were they able to cultivate a big croft sixty years ago without horses ?
—They tilled it with spades as they do still.
16156. Was it these eight crofts that were afterwards made into sixteen ?
—Not altogether. Both ends of the township where the cattle pasture was were partially divided into new lots.
16157. Now, you consider that these sixteen crofts are too small?
16158. How many suitably-sized crofts could be made out of these sixteen ?
—I should say about ten.
16159. You say the rent of these sixteen crofts is now £49. Do you say that that rent is too high?
—I say it is for the land such as it is.
16160. What would be a proper rent for the township?
—I would say, looking to the quality of the land, that between £30 and £35 would be sufficient rent—that is, with the old boundaries of the arable and pasture land of the township.
16161. Then you consider that the rent which was paid sixty years ago was too high ?
—It was high enough for this rocky ground.
16162. What is the rule just now with regard to the stock that each man is allowed to keep ? Is there a summing ?
—Generally there is not any summing; but thirty-three years ago we were told that the rent would be at the rate of £ 1 for each cow and five sheep.
16163. For every cow and five sheep a man had to pay £1 rent; but I suppose now that if he has one cow or five sheep more than his share, he does not pay £ 1 more ?
16164. And if he has a cow or five sheep less than his proper share he does not pay £ 1 less ?
—No, he gets no reduction of his rent if he had no beasts at all.
16165. Are there many in the place that are short of stock?
—The majority of them are so. The ground cannot maintain their proper stock.
16166. Are there any who have more than they should have?
—I don't know that there are any who have more than they have a right to.
16167. Are there any who have a full stock?
—I don't think there are, unless there are one or two.
16168. And how is the ground able to keep these?
—The great part of the stock is kept up with bought food. The man who has cattle sells the fodder to the man who has none.
16169. I understand that about the winter feeding, but what about the summer feeding ? Does the man who has more stock pay something to the men who has less? —No, unless he has more stock than he should have.
16170. And then he will pay to some one who has less than his summing ?
16171. Would it not be better that there should be a strict regulation that would limit the amount of stock kept by each to the amount the croft would support?
—The land ought to be able to keep up stock that would pay for it.
16172. Would it not be better that no man should be allowed to keep more stock than the croft could support ?
—It would, certainly.
16173. You say that ten families could live in comfort in your township, and there are just now thirty-four families. How would you provide for the other twenty-four ?
—I would give them a share of the good waste lands that bring forth no crops, and that are to be found in the island.
16174. Do you mean to say there is a sufficient amount in your own parish for the population of the parish ?
—I cannot say exactly, but I believe there nearly is.
16175. What are the names of the vacant tacks in your parish that you could apportion among crofters ?
—Aignish, Gormacleite, Holm.
16176. And you think that if these places were opened up to the people of the parish they would get crofts as large as the crofts you would apportion among the ten in your own township ?
—I am not sure that these three farms would, but I believe the whole surrounding country would.
16177. You think that if the whole of the island of Lewis were taken into account, there is a sufficient amount of land within it to provide suitable crofts for the whole of its present population ?
—I believe so.
16178. You complain that the poverty of the people is such that the money that is received for herring and the wages the people get in the Reserve are not expended in the country. Do you think more of this money would be expended in the country if the people had such crofts as you speak of?
—There would be no occasion to send so much money out of the country.
16179. Will you explain how that could be?
—A man who had sufficient land to produce crops on which his family could live, would not need to expend money in buying food that grew elsewhere.
16180. But then such a man would not require to go and make money. How would you expect the people who make their money by the herring fishing to spend their money in the country ? I suppose you mean that they would buy with the money they get at the fishing what they require within the country, and would not require to send the money out of the country to get food and necessaries ?
—I believe they would, and that if those who make money at the herring fishing, and expend it buying food from other countries, had land producing food for themselves and their families at home, they would not need to expend their money outside the island.
1618116181. When you spoke of getting the land legitimately and orderly, did you mean a reasonable rent ?
16182. Did you mean anything else than that?
—I meant that the land laws for the poor people should be regulated by the Queen and Parliament and by the country under an Act of Parliament.
16183. When you spoke about a reasonable rent, whom did you expect to fix that rent,—the proprietor, or the tenant, or both between them, or somebody else ?—I think if the landlord would appoint a person to value the land, no person could settle the value of it so well as those who had been labouring upon it.
16184. Do you really think the tenant alone should be left to fix the rent of the land ?
—I think he ought.
16185. The big tenant as well as the small tenant ?
—Well, I cannot say as to the tacksman. He does not look to what he can produce out of the land. His eye is to what is on the surface of the land, and not to
what comes out of it.
16186. Supposing you got your good croft at a reasonable rent, what means would you take to prevent that croft being split up again ?
—Well, I cannot say about that. The population will undoubtedly go on increasing, and the surplus of them will be in want of land, as they are to-day.
16187. You remember a time when your own place, if properly worked, could keep you comfortable, and you think if the whole land were given just now to the present population it would do so still, but what means would you take to prevent the present state of things occurring again ?
—I believe there is a good part of our township now that is yielding crop which did not do so when there were only eight tenants.
16188. You said the people were quite comfortably off sixty years ago, but you also stated that as compared with thirty years ago they were much better off then than now. Are you prepared to abide by the statement ?
16189. Thirty years ago was just a few years after the great potato disease and after a succession of very bad years. Were the people better off during these years ?
16190. Leaving out this year, were they better off then than they have been of late years?
—There was on each croft at that time, only one family, but now there are two or three.
16191. So that the main cause of the present distress is the sub-division of the crofts?
—That is one great cause.
16192. And you would remedy it by spreading them over tho vacant places ?
16193. The Chairman.
—You have stated that the tenant should fix what is a reasonable rent, and I am going to inquire in what mode you would fix a reasonable rent. In your father's time butter sold for 6d. and cheese 2½d. per lb., and so on, and yet you propose to reduce the rent of your farm below what it then paid. On what ground do you propose to reduce it from what it was at a time when the price of produce was so low ?
—Butter and cheese are dearer now than they were then, but cheese and butter are not made by the peasantry of Lewis as they were then.
16194. But if the number of tenants were reduced to what it was, then would not butter and cheese be made as before ?
—Yes, but I don't believe the butter and cheese would be so good as they were formerly, because the land is run out and exhausted since then.
16195. How do you propose then to fix what you call a reasonable rent?
—I should say that the way woidd be to choose in each township three or four men who had come to years, who would fix the total rent for the township. These elders shoidd apportion that rent among the crofts according to their respective value.
16196. Do you consider yourself old enough to be one of these elders?
—There is no saying whether I shall ever see anything of what I speak of.
16197. But if you did see it, on what ground would you fix the rent of any particular croft ?
—I would fix it on this ground, to put a higher rent upon the best land, and a lower rent upon the worst land.
16198. Do you think that the value of produce should have any connection with the value of land ?
—I would say that the rate of the rent should be fixed according to the produce the land could bring forth.
16199. And that if the prices rise in the course of years land might be revalued at higher rents according to the rise in prices ?
—I don't think it would be suitable to alter the rent, for the markets might change with the different years.
16200. I was referring to averages of years and not to single years ?
—I think that should be left to those who had the Government of the land.
16201. Do you mean the Government of the country?
16202. But your idea is that if the land were once valued it should remain at that rent for ever?
—It is my opinion that the rent should not be altered for a certain time at any rate.
16203. You think it might be altered after a certain time?
16204. Supposing you were to value it now as against twenty years ago, would you take into account the state of the markets at both dates, and the price of corn and grain at each date, and of all the produce of the land ?
—Yes, that certainly would be a main cause of fixing the rent anew. At the same time, the valuator would also have to take into account whether the tenant had also expended any labour on the farm, the value of which at this date has not become exhausted.
16205. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You have been asked upon what grounds you would fix the rent. Do you know upon what grounds the factor or proprietor fixes the rent ?
—I don't know on what ground they make up their estimate.
16206. Is it not likely that the only ground is to get as much as they can for it?
—We can see that undoubtedly. It is clear to us that they ask as much as they can—that they ask what is not lawful.
16207. When there is a rise put upon the crofters and others—a rise of £1 or a few shillings—do you know what possibly enters into the proprietor's or factor's minds when he takes upon himself to fix that rise ?
—I don't know, except to bring in more money to themselves.
16208. Mr Cameron.
—Does it not occasionally happen that the proprietor or factor tells them the cause of the rise ?
—We get no account of the reason why such increases are made, except that we are told what taxes are added.
16209. But have there been any increases on your croft of recent years ?
—Nothing, since the time I mention when the crofts were lotted out, except the 5s. of road money which was changed into pasture money.