DONALD STEPHEN, Northtown, Birsay (36)—examined.
24164. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—What is your profession?
—A farmer's son and small proprietor.
24165. Do you occupy any land besides what you own?
—I work on my father's farm.
24166. Is this property your father's or your own?
—My father is tenant.
24167. But you are a proprietor besides?
—Of a small bit of ground.
24168. Is that yours or your father's?
24169. And your father is tenant?
24170. What extent of land does your father hold ?
24171. What extent of property do you possess?
24172. Did you purchase this property?
24173. How long have you held it?
24174. Was it arable land when you bought it?
24175. To whom did it belong?
—To a proprietor in Aberdeenshire of the name of Park.
24176. Were there others beside you who bought common land at that time?
—No, it was a part of infield property, and this was outfield common. It was for sale by private bargain at the time.
24177. What price did it sell for?
—I would not like to mention the price because I am, perhaps, for selling it again.
24178. Is it entered in the valuation roll'?
24179. For what rent?
24180. For the sixteen acres?
24181. Have you reclaimed it?
—Part of it.
24182. Was that £5 put on before you reclaimed it?
—No, since there have been improvements on it.
24183. Is there a house on it?
—No house at present.
24184. Does your father hold his land upon lease?
24185. What length of lease?
—I think there are about six years to run.
24186. Was it a fourteen or a nineteen years' lease?
—I am not exactly
sure; I think it was for thirteen years.
24187. Was his an improving lease?
24188. Was the land uncultivated when he entered upon it?
—We reclaimed about forty-five acres since we came to the property about eighteen years ago.
24189. Is he to receive compensation for it at the close of the lease?
24190. He thought, when he took the lease, the length of lease would be sufficient compensation for it?
—I suppose so.
24191. Has it been profitable?
—No, unfortunately it has not. It may be a good illustration of how landlordism has been in this country. During the last eighteen years we have reclaimed about forty-five acres; drained it, and tilled it, and put out more money in the reclamation than the property cost eighteen years ago. Some of the ground was a loch at one time; we have drained it, and in some parts we put down 400 loads of stones to the acre. It is all stone drains. Every dry year we get no crop out of it; and in a wet year we get no crop either. It requires a medium year, or a dropping year. In the field we reclaimed there are no turnips this present year, although it was sown with turnips. We have built a house upon it, and we received no assistance from the proprietor, and I suppose at the end of the lease the proprietor can turn us away without any compensation, and that is where the hardship comes in.
24192. What rent have you been paying?
—About £15 a year.
24193. There were about thirty-five acres improved when you entered?
—No, there were scarcely that; it was in a very bad state. The proprietor who had it then had two tenants—there was a double building—and the two tenants removed and sold off their crop. The next tenant had it for a year and rouped off the crop. The next tenant was two years in it; he had nothing to put upon it when he came, and the second year he rouped off the produce. We then entered. The first year we came, in the month of April, we had nothing but artificial manure en it, and we have been in it since. The farm was in a very run-out state when we entered, and it took a number of years to put it in proper condition. Since then we have reclaimed about forty-five acres, or I may say I have ploughed myself about fifty acres of virgin soil, and we have spent more money on improving than the property comes to.
24194. And the land which you have reclaimed is not very good land altogether?
—It is second class land.
24195. But the land you found under cultivation is of better quality?
—It is very good ground, but there are only about fourteen acres of it.
24196. You have put that into good heart?
—Yes, it is in good heart. We used about five cwt. of artificial manure, and twenty or thirty loads of
24197. What does a load weigh here?
—About half a ton; and it takes usually about fifteen tons to dung an acre.
24198. What class of stock do you keep?
—We imported a pure bull from Aberdeenshire the other year.
24199. And you breed a cross stock ?
24200. What do your two-year-olds fetch?
—We sell them when they are about six quarters old and get about £16.
24201. Do your neighbours keep equally good stock?
—They have been using the same bull which we keep, and their stock is very good.
24202. Is yours the only bull in the parish of that class?
—There are only other two—I suppose Mr Leask of Bordhouse and Mr Bratch of Swanie; but some of the other farmers occasionally take down a pure bull.
24203. Is the land which you have purchased a good quality of land?
24204. Does it adjoin the land you rent?
24205. You proposed to work them together?
24206. Do you look forward to having to pay higher rent or to being removed?
—I could not say; it is a new proprietor who is on just now. He is a relation of my own; he is my uncle.
24207. Mr Cameron.
—Was any stipulation made in your lease at the commencement about reclaiming the land?
—It was understood that we would have to reclaim it.
24208. If it was understood you had to reclaim it, I suppose that was taken into consideration in fixing the rent, was it not?
—Most certainly it would require to be taken into consideration, because it is not to be expected that the tenant would sink his capital in another man's land and get no compensation.
24209. And you preferred the compensation in your rent rather than at the end of your lease?
—We have paid more than was calculated for at first.
24210. The land you drained has no crop in a dry year and none in a wet year?
—It is so, and it can be seen this year.
24211. You could not expect much compensation for improvement of that kind?
—The money is sunk upon the property.
24212. But if it is sunk unprofitably it would be rather hard to expect the landlord, whether your uncle or not, to pay for it?
—It was loch at one time, and that money was sunk in it; and I made dry land, which is a permanent improvement.
24213. It would be a permanent improvement if you succeeded in growing crops, but if you don't succeed in doing that, it is surely not much of an improvement'!
—But when one uses the means.
24214. You endeavoured to make an improvement and it did not turn out to be an improvement?
24215. Did your father occupy himself in any other way besides farming?
—No, he was a farmer before he came to the country.
24216. Did he find the money with which you bought the land?
—It was my uncle who bought the land.
21217. No, but your own land?
—No, it was money I saved up myself.
24218. Did you save it up as a farmer, or as a labourer?
—As a labourer; I wrought on his farm.
24219. What is the quality of the land which you say is good land—producing good crop—how would you describe the soil of it?
—It is one of those black soils full of vegetable matter.
24220. And how would you describe the bad laud?
—As thin gravelly soil, or perhaps a stiff boulder soil.
24221. With a good deal of clay mixed up in it?
—White clay of the burning kind.
24222. What crops do you find succeed best in the land which is good?
24223. Does it grow good turnips?
—Some years; it depends on whether there is moisture or a good deal of sunshine. When there is a deficiency of sunshine and a prevalence of cold east winds, the crop is usually stunted.
24224. Professor Mackinnon.
—What part of the country do you come from ?
—Wick parish, Caithness.
24225. You were brought up to farming all your life?
24226. You said that the amount of money you have spent upon this place is more than what purchased it eighteen years ago; would the purchase price of it to-day be double the amount of what it was eighteen years ago?
—It would depend upon what the demand for the land was.
24227. But as demand goes in this place?
24228. So that to the proprietor, then, your outlay is no loss?
—To the landlord it is not possible, when it is 150 per cent, profit.
24229. Then the place would fetch more than double the price it fetched eighteen years ago?
—I would think so, when I called it 150 per cent, added to the purchase price.
24230. In order to make things fair for the tenant, for yourself, what change would you propose to make in the term of giving leases or the like of that?
—I would propose that all permanent improvements ought to be paid to the man who made them; take the difference of the valuation on entry and raise the rent on the termination of the lease.
24231. How would you estimate the permanent improvements?
—Such as the making of roads and building of houses and drainage. Perhaps a piece of ground only worth Is. per acre, or 6d. an acre, at the termination of a lease may be worth 30s. an acre, and the difference between that and the price when the lease was taken should be paid to the man who made it worth that.
24232. The difference between the letting value of the land just now and its letting value twenty years hence— would you consider that represented the permanent improvement upon the part of the tenant?
—We don't know what the letting value might be twenty years to come—what progress the country will make.
24233. Does not that introduce another element—the progress of the country?
—Perhaps it may from the landlord's point of view, but when the tenant has made the country—for instance, a landlord lets his land to a tenant, and the tenant puts in drains, and the landlord gives the use of the land and Government money. The tenant does the cartage and gets numbers of horses killed, perhaps, and makes himself an old man before he has come to manhood, and at the end of his lease the landlord gets a property of enhanced value, and Government money expended upon it, while he has expended nothing. Is not the man who has made it, less this money, the man who is entitled to compensation?
24234. But it would be a difficult thing to calculate the amount of the compensation?
—A tenant would not have much difficulty in calculating it. Supposing the property was worth Is. per acre when the tenant entered it, and was at the end worth 20s., less the taxes, should it not then belong to the man who made it worth that.
24235. You stated you expended a large amount of money upon it. Now you would not consider you would require to get the whole of that back at the end of the lease ?
—-I don't expect to get the whole of it back, but only a fair share of it, less the taxes. At the termination of the lease it would appear in the valuation roll at a higher value, and less taxes upon that
—that deducted, to whom does the balance belong unless to the man who made it so?
24236. You would ask the difference between the letting value at the beginning and end of the lease, less the taxes?
—One would naturally suppose so, to make it fair for both parties if the landlord invested nothing in the property.
24237. And you think that would be fair terms for a lease in the future?
—Well, I would not like to say that the landlord should be tied down, or that the tenant ought to be the slave of the landlord; let them make a fair, open, honest bargain, and let both parties stand by that. But there is such keen competition for the land, that farmers are led to give a higher value than the property is worth, and they must do that or emigrate.
24238. What remedy would you provide for that?
—That is a very wide question. The usual remedy in some districts you have gone over is to ship them over to America and give them £100 per family to settle them down.
24239. In order to diminish the competition?
—It would diminish the competition but not in a country perhaps like this. Perhaps land can scarcely be extended profitably here. And then, there is very heavy taxation in this country.
24240. Do you think it is heavier than it need have been?
—That is a question which requires a good deal of consideration. Some parishes are heavier taxed than others. This parish is very heavily taxed with regard to lunatics, and I think that charge should be an imperial one.
24241. Instead of a local rate, you think part of that should be levied upon the imperial taxation?
24242. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—It is so just now, half of it?
—But not a fair share.
24243. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You have told us that you bought this land with your own money, although you don't feel disposed to mention the amount. Have you ever been a ploughman in service except with your father?
24244. When did you begin to get money as wages from your father?
—I suppose when he found that I was earning more than the cost of the clothes I was getting.
24245. When about sixteen or eighteen years of age would you begin to get some money?
—I suppose it was very little I was getting at that time.
24246. Out of the money you got from him you purchased this property?
24247. You did not engage in any other business?
—Sometimes I did a little in dealing.
24248. You might buy a beast and sell it?
24249. But still the money was all made by yourself?
24250. How many times what you gave for your land would you now expect to get for it ?
—That is a very nice way of putting it, but I don't feel inclined to answer that. But if you are inclined to purchase the land I will be most happy to show you it.
24251. Is there any reason why other people in your position should not have done as well as you have done?
—One thing, I don't drink or smoke the money; perhaps what other people would spend in that I save.
24252. You have thereby been enabled to put by more than you otherwise would have done?
—No doubt of it.
24253. But suppose, then, another model young man like yourself who does not drink or smoke, is there any reason to prevent his doing what you have done—putting by money to purchase land?
—Perhaps the young men may emigrate to America, and come back and make themselves proprietors.
24254. But at home, could not young men do as you have done?
—Well, they would require to be very careful, their wages here are only £ 10 to £18 or £20 in the year, with, perhaps, six or eight bolls of meal.
24255. Following out what you have said as to yourself; supposing you got the money you want, what would you do with it?
—I would just invest it again.
24256. In lands?
—In what I might think most profitable.
24257. Would you be disposed to invest it again in land ?
—Well, at the present time there is a great demand for land, and the lawyers are very ready in offering money that it is perhaps sometimes an inducement for parties to put their money in land, as they consider it safer to have a few acres than to invest otherwise.
24258. Would you really increase your holding in land—was that your intention ?
—At the present time there is no interest can be attained by putting money in land.
24259. The return is so poor?
—It is. I know that I have been considerably out of pocket by investing my money in land.
24260. You have no intention, however, of leaving the country supposing you realise your property. You do not intend to emigrate ?
—The money I have would not carry me very far, and perhaps it might be as well to stay here as to go away. There is a suggestion I should like to bring under the notice of the Commissioners with regard to the law of hypothec : I think it should be abolished; I think it is very injurious to the farmer.
24261. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You are rather outside the class of farmers into whose cases we are sent to inquire; do you think it is injurious to the crofter?
—Yes, in many cases. Take, for instance, the case of a young man who has a few pounds and friends to give him money, there is no security for these parties who lend him the money. Perhaps at the end of a few years he may fall into arrears, and the landlord would come down upon him.