FRANCIS MACBEAN, Commission Agent, Grantown (43)—examined.
43663. The Chairman.
—You have a statement to make?
43664. Will you kindly read it?
—'The short statement that I have now the honour of laying before you is drawn out in the belief that it contains the opinions of the great majority of the people on whose behalf I have the honour of appearing as a delegate from Strathspey. Our chief wants are—
(1) fair rents;
(2) security of tenure;
(3) compensation for improvements;
(4) the addition of pasture to our arable lands; and
(5) Government or mutual valuators for land.
With regard to the first want, viz., fair rents, we most willingly grant that, so far as the proprietors of
Strathspey, past and present, are personally concerned, their wish has always been to work on the principle of " live and let live; " but we are compelled to say that in practice this policy has not in many cases been adopted. The present system of land valuation by incompetent men has been and will be, unless an alteration is made, the cause of grievances and losses to all concerned, and proprietors will do well to seriously consider whether it is not to their own advantage to adopt the system of mutual valuators. As an illustration of what we mean, we have only to go down the length of Aviemore —go over the various crofts in that and the adjoining districts of Avonlochan, Granish, and Kinveachy, and we ask if any sane man will tell you that these places are fairly valued. It's only the other day that George Anderson sent me word to state his grievances. We state what we know to be notorious facts. The same remarks apply to other districts. For this state of matters we lay the blame at the door of the valuator, who, on account of his ignorance of the disadvantages of Strathspey, works in the belief that the Strathspey farmer and crofter is sure to reap what he sows. How different is the state of matters: will five thousand pounds pay for next year's seed oats. It is very doubtful, and this is a state of matters by no means uncommon in our beautiful summer residence. To be a competent valuator for a district of country either like Strathspey or Badenoch, requires a man who has resided in one or either for seven or ten years at least. The want of the knowledge which would be acquired by a land valuator during these years has had its effect on many in the district from which I am sent. So warm is the attachment felt for the late estate valuator, that I would not much care to walk in the dark with him. For these and many other reasons, with which I will not trouble you, we respectfully recommend that in any Bill drawn out for the management of land, special provision ought to be made for the introduction of a clause making it compulsory to have Government or mutual valuators. If allowed, whilst treating under this head, we would take special exception to an admission made by Dean of Guild Mackenzie when examined by Lochiel, in which the dean is said to have hinted that, providing Highland proprietors came to an understanding with their crofters, the present agitation would terminate. Seeing that we are always sure of having good landlords and other landlords amongst us, we would, for the sake of the others and ourselves, advocate the statute book as the only place of reference.
Our second want—" security of tenure "—is one of the greatest blessings that our country's laws could bestow on us. As at present, many of us are at the mercy of those inheritors of the soil who can only have one motive in withholding the security asked. Besides the many small crofters up and down Speyside, we have about thirty around Grantown, —all holders from year to year. The consequences of so short-lived a tenure is not far to seek. No man knows who is to go next. To illustrate this text, I submit for your inspection the copy of a correspondence which passed between Lord Seafield's factor and myself with reference to a croft which has been attached to a house property which I purchased in Grantown, for about thirty-five years. I gave nearly one hundred pounds more for the house in question, on the faith that the croft would be left as formerly. The arrangement was homologated at the proper quarter, and I paid the money. The law as it now stands says I must clear out next month without a cent, of compensation, and my house property reduced about one hundred pounds in value. The iniquity of the law is still more shown when such can be done, considering that every inch of arable land in and around Grantown is either the work of the present feuars or their ancestors. Give us security of tenure, and we will make two blades of grass grow where only one is at present. The crofter, like other men, must have an incentive to work. His present insecurity puts the dead lock on all improvements both for his own and his fellow beings' good.
Compensation for improvements and meliorations.
—On the assumption that I am right in saying that the land, generally speaking, is over rented, I arrive at the conclusion that the proprietor has benefited to the tune of about fifty thousand at least by the last letting of farms in Strathspey. Rough estimate of meliorations on buildings equal to two years' rent, say £16,000; difference between the old and the new rental, say at £2000 per annum, will amount in nineteen years to £38,000; total £54,000, say £50,000 which should now be in the bauds of the
tenants, had the law of fixity of tenure and compensation for improvements been in force. The rental was about £10,000, but I have struck off £2000 for small feus and other places not embraced in the above. On the question of pasture, to the Strathspey farmer and crofter the want of a piece of pasture means simply a great drawback. As already referred to, the insecurity of the climate often brings the crofter into great difficulties, owing to his inability to fall back on a few sheep as a means of support when the crop fails him, as it has done this year in many cases. As things are at present, what with deer forests and plantations, almost all the grazings held iu former days in conjunction with the various holdings, large and small, are done away with. In the parish of Abernethy alone the deer occupy the ground once grazed on by about 10,000 sheep, and we are informed by practical men that the same ground would now graze a great many more. The same remarks apply to the parish of Duthil, although not to such an extent in the meantime. In the parish of Cromdale planting is also hemming in the crofter to a very hurtful extent. We therefore submit that every crofter should have grazing land attached to his croft or in common, sufficient to graze from fifty to one hundred sheep; and to enable this to be done, we strongly advocate the curtailment of the present lands laid waste under deer and other enclosures. I have just to add, that while the population has decreased by one half within the past fifty years, the rental of Strathspey has been more than doubled.
43665. Your first complaint was about the system of valuation; what is the practice of this district? Suppose a small farm falls out of lease at the end of nineteen years, how is the valuation for the next lease conducted?
—The valuator is appointed by the proprietor, and he goes over the ground and sends in his report.
43666. Is that generally done by the local factor, or is a professional man employed?
—A professional man.
43667. When the lease is renewed to the occupier, is a valuation generally demanded, or is there a reduction usually made in favour of the present occupier?
—If he has meliorations to get, there is a certain reduction made.
43668. What are the works or improvements for which meliorations are allowed?
—In the case I specially referred to—I mean for houses built by the tenant.
43669. Is that melioration allowed for the erection of substantial fences, drains, and trenching?
—I am not aware.
43670. When a lease is renewed do you think the tenant who is continued in the holding is allowed to continue at a lower rent than would be paid by an outsider if the holding was thrown into the market 1 Is there any customary or benevolent reduction allowed to the actual occupier, or is he charged the full market value of the holding?
—He is charged the value of it as put upon it by the valuator.
43671. As a matter of fact and practice, is that the case? He is charged the full value put upon it by the valuator?
43672. Do you know any case in the country where valuators are appointed on both sides with an oversman?
—No; I am not aware of any proprietor doing that.
43673. Do you think that in the case of small farms the land is let at the end of a lease at an exaggerated value, or if it were offered in the market do you think the proprietor would generally get offers equal to the price put upon it by the valuator?
—Yes, I believe he would get more in some cases; but the reason is this that when a man gets into a place his credit is established, and whether he is able to pay rent or not, he is in such a position that he will get credit in the nearest town or village, and can go on for a few years.
43674. So there is a considerable demand in the country for small holdings?
43675. You spoke of the withdrawal of grazing; I would like to have an example communicated to me of any recent withdrawal of grazing from a township to any considerable extent, whether for the purpose of grazing, building, or foresting?
—There are various instances—a great rnany instances in Strathspey of grazings that have been withdrawn and substituted by planting.
43676. Will you give me an example in which the whole or a considerable part of the grazing of a township has been withdrawn for planting?
—What I understand by a township—we have not got a township down there—but I am referring to the forest of Abernethy. It is not long since almost all the tenants in Abernethy had a share in the hill now used as a deer forest.
43677. I was speaking of planting in the first instance. I see there are a great number of woods here which are agreeable to the eye, and I hope some day will be profitable, and I want to understand whether these woods have been formed in any material degree of the holdings of small farmers?
—I will give a case in point. The nearest farm to this place is down at Aviemore. The people there, I think, had their right in common to the ground all behind their several lots or crofts down in that district, and now there is a wire fence running straight at the back of their places, and they are precluded from going in, which in my opinion makes these small holdings a very poor concern for them.
43678. There is a fence drawn behind their arable, and behind the fence come the plantations?
43679. And behind the plantations are there no common grazings left higher up?
—None to my knowledge.
43680. Has that process of taking away the hill pasture been a frequent one?
—Well, the planting of wood in Strathspey has been gone into very extensively within the last thirty years, and the consequence is that people have been deprived of the grazings that have been attached to their several places.
43681. And have these plantations generally been made upon the common grazing of small holdings, and not upon large farm lands?
—I don't think they are confined to any common in particular or any place. It was general all over the district.
43682. Has the extension of the plantations given a great deal of work to the poor people?
—Well, it has given them a little work certainly in the immediate neighbourhood where they are carried on.
43683. Have the people of the country been employed, or have these plantations been wholly effected by contract with people coming from a distance—say from Edinburgh or Aberdeen?
—As far as I understand, they have been made by the proprietor and the people of the country.
43684. The trees have been raised in the country here? Ihe nurseries exist in the country here?
—I think so, to a great extent.
43685. Then it may be said to have been a domestic industry?
—Yes, quite so.
43686. You mentioned, speaking of your own individual case, that you had given £100 more for house property, believing it would be held permanently in connection with a croft. When you made this purchase of the house, I presume it was made by some written instrument of sale and purchase?
—Yes, so far as regards the house.
43587. When you made this purchase did it occur to you to ask for any security that the croft would not be divided from it?
—No; I went on the principle of use and wont, so far as regards the land.
43688. Was the croft previously attached, as it were, to the piece of ground you bought for the house, or was the ground bought for the house actually on the croft?
—It was detached from the ground I bought for the house. There is about half a Scotch acre attached to every property in Grantown. This was detached.
43689. It was detached from the property you purchased for the house?
43690. Is it usual to have a detached piece of land attached to a feu?
—All the tenementers in Grantown, with few exceptions, have a piece of land consisting of four or six acres. These have been attached to their places for a great many years.
43691. And are retained in connection with the land occupied by the house?
—The custom is that if a man buys a house from another he goes and gets the proprietor's consent to have the land, and that is very often attached to the value of the land, as in this case.
43692. Is there not usually some lease or deed or instrument by which the land is secured with the house, or are they just accepted on a verbal understanding?
—It is a verbal understanding from year to year.
43693. Can you give me any other case or cases of common pasture being withdrawn from small tenants? You mentioned Aviemore?
—When I say Aviemore, I mean the district for several miles down there.
43694. When the common pasture was taken away for the purpose of planting, was a reduction of rent made corresponding to the loss of that privilege?
—I cannot speak with certainty on that point, but there is a belief that people pay as much for the land without the pasture as they did when they had it.
43695. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many delegates are there from Strathspey besides yourself to-day?
43696. Was there a meeting held when you were appointed?
43697. Was it pretty well attended?
—Yes, there were a good number of people there.
43698. You have been connected with Strathspey for some time?
—For twenty years.
43699. Has a good deal of the planting of Strathspey occurred within that time?
—A good deal.
43700. What was the state of the ground occupied by the plantations before; was it hill pasture used by the tenants?
—So far as I can think, it was hill pasture used by the tenants, in some districts at any rate.
43701. Then what they complain of is that though it may be a proper act of administration to plant largely, they suffered by the loss?
43702. And I suppose they had to part with their flocks?
43703. Was there a good deal of sheep in Strathspey at one time?
—I have been told that the number of sheep on Abernethy at one time was 70,000—some say 100,000.
43704. In Abernethy alone?
43705. And how many are there now?
—A very good authority told me that 2000 would cover all the sheep that are in stock there.
43706. What did they do in the matter of wintering; were they obliged to send them away?
—In the summer they grazed them in the forest here and on the hills, and in the winter they wintered them on their own lands.
43707. There is a good deal of low land on both sides of the Spey?
43708. There are not many large farms on that large property of Lord Seafield?
43709. What would be the average rent?
—I would be safe in saying that three-fourths of thern are below £40.
43710. And there never were any large farms?
43711. Strathspey has always been a very populous country?
43712. Very well known?
—Very well known.
43713. Can you not give any information as to whether or not at the time these large blocks under plantation were taken away from the tenants, any substantial reduction was made on their rents?
—I am not aware any reduction was made.
43714. Do you think the land rental in Strathspey is now as large as it was before the plantations took place?
43715. Are there any other complaints the people in Strathspey have to make except what you have stated in your paper?
—I think I embrace them generally here. They blame the proprietors for coming down from Badenoch with their sheep —the like of Sir John Ramsden —coming down and taking the grazings, and of course it has the effect of putting up the price on the crofters and others.
43716. Will you explain that a little more distinctly?
—They complain that the like of Sir John Ramsden comes down and takes grazings from Lord Seafield, and, of course, that puts up the rents on the crofters.
43717. What you say is this, that people from Badenoch, which is higher ground, take wintering in Strathspey?
—No, I mean so far as taking the grazings from Lord Seafield is concerned—the wood grazings.
43718. They take some wood grazings in Strathspey at the expense of the Strathspey people?
—That is the interference which the people complain of.
43719. What particular parts are you referring to; is it the wintering in the woods?
—I have a note here saying that Sir John Ramsden rents several thousand acres of pasture at one time in the hands of the crofters. These lands are situated at Tom Varich on Lynemore, belonging to Lord
43720. And you adduce that as an instance of the hardships that the people are subjected to?
—That is what they represented to me as a hardship.
43721. Have you any remedies except those you have stated in the paper?
—No, I have not.
43722. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—I suppose if these sheep farms now in Sir John Ramsden's hands were let to a farmer he would be bound to find wintering for his sheep?
—Very likely. The grievance, so far as I can understand from the crofters, is that he took it from the proprietor. If he took it from themselves very likely the rents would be increased.
43723. You used the expression at the close of your statement—land laid waste under deer and other enclosures;' do you speak of land under wood as being laid waste?
—Yes, waste to the farmers and to the crofters.
43724. Mr Cameron.
—How many tenants were present at the meeting at which you were elected a delegate ?
—I cannot be certain—about a dozen or two. The meeting was got up in a very hurried way.
43725. How was it got up?
—By public bills circulated through the country.
43726. Who composed the bills?
—I cannot tell. I was blamed for it myself, but I am in a position to affirm that such is not the case. The first intimation I got of the meeting was when a man came and asked me whether he could get the use of the public hall for the meeting. I spoke about the matter, and he would not tell me who was paying the expenses of getting the matter set agoing. I said if there was a public meeting I should certainly be present, and I have been asked by a great number of people who did not attend the meeting to represent them at Kingussie.
43727. How did you first get notice of the meeting?
—A printed handbill was handed into my house.
43728. Who put it into your hands?
—I cannot tell you.
43729. How did it make its way in?
—It was given to the servant, I suppose. I found it in my lobby in the morning.
43730. You did not have the curiosity to ask who gave it in?
—No, I knew it was coming. I knew the party who applied for the hall was sending out the bills.
43731. Then, at the meeting, how many of the tenants were present; was it really a representative meeting of the Strathspey tenants?
—Considering the short notice, I considered it a very fair representation from all quarters.
43732. How many were therefrom all quarters? You said just now a dozen or two; was it nearer twelve or twenty-four?
—I should say it would be nearer twenty-four.
43733. How many persons can you name who were present, who were tenants of Lord Seafield?
—I tried to take a note of them after I went home, and I have fifteen names on the paper, and there were a great many more than these, besides the people in and around the immediate vicinity of Grantown whom I did not put down.
43734. I am talking of tenants on the Strathspey estates; you can answer for fifteen?
43735. How many tenants are on the Strathspey estates of Lord Seafield?
—I suppose 400 or 500, including crofters.
43736. There were a number of names of delegates sent in from this meeting, amounting to eighteen; so according to that there were three more sent in as delegates than were present at the meeting?
—No, there were more than fifteen. I made up this list after I went home, and I know I am correct in saying there were more present than I put down.
43737. I thought you said these were all you could answer for?
—In the meantime.
43738. How did they proceed to select delegates; did they select them from among themselves?
—No; we came to an understanding that we would not confine ourselves to the people in that meeting, and elected them without asking their consent, simply because they were not present.
43739. Then, as I take it, those eighteen delegates were never asked for their consent to represent the people?
—We knew—at least some of the parties knew—the sympathies of some of those who were elected.
43740. That may be so, but as a matter of fact they were not asked?
—I am not prepared to say.
43741. You say yourself they were not consulted?
—Not by me.
43742. But by anybody?
—I am not prepared to say that.
43743. Is it your impression they were asked?
—No, I cannot say; I am not able to answer that question.
43744. In the statement you read it is mentioned that Abernethy formerly grazed 10,000 sheep?
43745. But, in answer to the Chairman, you said it would graze 100,000?
—I said some people told me it would graze 100,000, and I put it down to be within the mark.
43746. How is your evidence to be of value to us if you are not able to say whether Abernethy formerly grazed 10,000 or 100,000 sheep?
—I am putting this down on the estimate of a party who was very likely to be near the truth.
43747. Then do you think the estimate of the person who told you it was 10,000 or of the person who said it was 100,000 is the right one?
—Well, I am not very certain about it.
43748. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—How many of the twenty delegates whose names were sent in were present at the meeting when they were appointed?
—I have not got a list of the delegates.