ANGUS ROSS, Crofter, Ballone, Lairg (51)—examined.
39126. The Chairman.
—Have you a statement to make to us?
—I am a native of this parish, and I have resided therein all my life. My father possessed the same lot as I now do, and I succeeded him in 1872, at his death. He paid of rent £2, 10s., but the rent to me was raised to £ 3 . During my father's lifetime I built new offices and drained and improved a considerable part of the lot, and nearly an acre of the arable land was taken from me and added to Ballone farm in 1872, without any compensation or reduction of rent. I, as delegate, represent Ballone, Knockdhu, Rinamain, and Boutnatobrach, in which there are thirteen crofters. All these complain of the arable lots being too small, specially those of Ballone, and all are short of pasture for their cattle. In 1846, 177 acres were taken off and planted, and in 1871, 90 acres were taken away and reclaimed, which now form Ballone farm, tenanted by Mr Crawford, hotel-keeper. No reduction of rent was made, though the tenants were deprived of their pasture. The plantation grazing is now let to Mr Crawford along with the Ballone farm, but the small tenants are willing to give a reasonable rent for it. This year we made application to the factor, Mr Peacock, for the grazing of Lairg wood by the side of Loch Shin, said wood being part of Dalchook grazing, presently in the hands of the proprietor. But his Grace did not grant us that, but pointed out seventy acres of mostly barren land much further up the loch side. We could not accept of this, as we thought the rent (£25) too much, and also because there was neither shelter nor grass on it, as well as its being too far away from us, about four miles. In the township of Ballone there are five tenants, and the whole acreage within their ring fence by the Ordnance Survey is twenty-six acres, and the rental as seen by the valuation roll is £13. The tenants of the other townships I represent have rather larger arable lots, but we are all in the same state as regards pasture. We have no fixity of tenure nor any hold of the soil, but are yearly tenants. We can get no compensation for any improvements made, and when a son or other relative succeeds to the lot the rent is almost always raised.'
39127. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Who is this Mr Crawford; is he the first person who has got this new farm ?
39128. Is he from Sutherland?
—No, he is from Lasswade, near Edinburgh.
39129. Has the whole of his farm, both arable and pasture, been taken away from the arable and pasture lands of the crofters?
—The whole of Ballone farm.
39130. Was there any reduction made in the rent?
39131. Was it in consequence of the opening of the railway that this farm was made?
—I understand it was.
39132. I am afraid then the railway has not been very advantageous to the crofters ?
—Not to the poor people whatever.
39133. What lands are in the neighbourhood now that could be given to the crofters advantageously?
—This Ballone farm could be divided among them—that is the only land I see in the Ballone district—at a reasonable rent, so that poor people could live.
39134. Is the hotel-keeper paying more rent, do you think, than the crofters could afford to pay for it?
—I believe he is, but I do not believe any man will give the rent if he comes in after him. It is a bad soil and bad climate.
39135. Probably he could afford to pay that bigger rent because he has the hotel ?
—Yes, and he has a plantation of 176 acres that was taken off the poor tenants, only he pays £20 rent for the plantation.
39136. You state you applied to his Grace to get the pasture of these plantations?
—No, Lairg woods.
39137. That is in his own hands?
39138. Did you want that as a privilege, or were you willing to pay rent for it?
—We were willing to pay a reasonable rent for it.
39139. Is there any stock pasturing there at this moment?
—The Duke has some stock on—some sheep—the ruination of the country.
39140. Supposing you got more land, you would not be for putting sheep on it ?
—No, I would not.
39141. You make rather a strong statement here, that when a small tenant's name is entered on the roll there is always an increase; is that really the fact that it is the case over the estate?
—I can tell that by experience.
39142. We have been told in other cases it is called a death-tax; but suppose, as we have heard in a case already, that the mother or father is getting old, and that they are willing the son's name should be entered before their death, will the additional tax be put on then?
—There is no mistake. Any member of a family that comes in after the father or mother is sure to be taxed with perhaps 10s., 20s., 30s., or 40s. I knew that last July in my own neighbourhood.
39143. Supposing that deaths occur in the head of the croft, say within a short time of ten years or so, will it be exacted then? I mean, suppose that two come in within a period of ten years, would they still exact a new tax upon a new name?
—There is a tax upon any man who gets into the rental book.
39144. It has nothing to do with time?
39145. Is it an old condition on the estate?
—Yes, since I recollect the estate.
39146. How long do you recollect it?
—Fifty-one years ago.
39147. That is your own age?
39148. And you have heard it ever since you can recall anything?
39149. With reference to the place by Loch Shin side, did they ask a rent for it?
—They asked £25 for seventy acres of barren moor without even heather, rushes, or anything else on part of it.
39150. That is more than 6s. 8d. an acre. Is it enclosed?
—The one side is enclosed by a fence and the other by Loch Shin.
39151. Would the rent of itself have stopped you from taking it?
39152. Apart from the other disadvantages?
—Yes. If it was good pasture we would not get it. The Duke of Sutherland would not give it, as it would be given to large sheep farmers.
39153. May I ask if this inn at Lairg and this large possession is of any advantage to the inhabitants of the place?
—Mr Crawford is as good a neighbour as is in the township of Lairg.
39154. But is the fact of there being a hotel and large farm attached to it of any advantage to the district itself? I do not speak of tourists and strangers going to the place?
—I don't believe the farm is of any advantage, only he is very kind to give us the summer grazing of this plantation. He gives the privilege of that to the poor people for so much. If we put in a horse or pony we pay 12s. a month.
39155. Then he does show a neighbourly spirit to the people?
39156. Does he do that because he sees there is a necessity for it?
—I don't know, but one thing I can say is that he is a kind gentleman.
39157. You cannot say whether it is from kindness of heart he does it, or because there is a necessity for doing something for you?
39158. The Chairman.
—You said that if you had the pasture of the plantation you would not put sheep into it, and you said that sheep were the ruination of the country. Then you have a bad opinion of sheep?
39159. Well, on Saturday, when we were at Helmsdale, the people complained very much they were not allowed to keep sheep?
—That is for the small tenants, but I mean for sheep farmers.
39159*. You think the sheep are a good thing for the small people, but a bad thing for the big people. You have no objection to keep sheep yourself?
—A few for myself.