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John Clay - A Scottish Farmer
Chapter X - Part 3 - Retiring Address


Gentlemen: My term of office has now drawn to a close, and before leaving this chair I would beg to make a few remarks upon the more important proceedings that have occupied the attention of this Chamber during the past session. This time last year I took this chair under no small responsibility. We were living in the midst of a red-hot election. Each county and burg was marshalling its force for the day of battle, and we, too, were buckling on our armour to vindicate those agricultural questions which were not only of the most vital importance to our class, but to the progress and prosperity of the country at large. Never before did the Scottish farming community unite its strength so firmly to promote its common good; and the soundness of our views were fully borne out by the result of the late elections, as those who adopted our resolutions were returned as representatives of the people, while others entertaining different views were unsuccessful, and had to retire into private life or seek some haven of refuge in the English Channel. The first practical question that we were engaged in was the Contagious Diseases (Cattle) Bill, and for many months we gave, I may say, our undivided attention to it. As you are all aware, we had previously made an anxious inquiry into the nature and inducing causes of the contagious diseases which destroy our herds, and more especially in reference to the worst of all of them, pleuro-pneumonia, and had prepared anxious resolutions on the subject, which we transmitted to the Privy Council, accompanied with the very full and able veterinary opinions on which they were grounded. It is not for me to say what influences these had on the Privy Council and Legislature; but the Privy Council had our best advice, and with the assistance of two of our most talented members, Mr. W. McCombie and Mr. McLagan, now M. P.'s respectively for their native counties, a valuable act has been given to the country. I do not say it is perfect. I am much of the same opinion as the Aberdeen men, that the foreign cattle restrictions should have been more stringent when there is the least appearance of disease among imported animals at the port of landing. The next question that occupied our attention was a general Road Bill for Scotland. After repeated meetings with the Lord-Advocate, in concert with the Chambers of Commerce of Edinburgh and Glasgow, his lordship agreed to table a bill abolishing tolls, and making general provisions for making and maintaining the public highways in terms of resolutions we had passed in this Chamber, and that bill is before the country, and will, I hope, become law. Another question, a world-wide uniformity of weights and measures, a most important question, and one which has had as yet little justice done to it, has also had consideration from us. At no distant period the country must choose some system to secure a world-wide uniformity of weights and measures, and none seems so simple as the metric system, which has been found to work to great advantage on the Continent. There are other questions which the Chamber has discussed, and, as regards them has given forth no uncertain sound. The opinions of the Chamber have taken a deep hold upon Parliament and the public mind, and the hypothec and game questions have been brought before Parliament in such a vigorous and spirited manner as to insure the ultimate success of both. As to the law of hypothec, the House of Lords, not content with the evidence given before the Royal Commission, moved for a select committee, when several of us gave evidence. I do not know anything that has done more to effect the repeal of the law than the evidence which was brought out during its sittings. Many of our Scotch fanners who gave evidence before the Royal Commission rather in favor of part of the law being retained, have now changed their opinions, and they can now see no equitable settlement of it but total abolition. [Applause.] Everyone must have read with interest that very able and honest letter from Mr. John Wilson, Edington Mains, to Lord Airlie on that subject; and if anyone, after a calm perusal of the evidence given before the Lords and that letter of Mr. Wilson's can maintain that hypothec is favorable either to agriculture, to landlords, or to tenant farmers, I will be forced to believe that there is no love of justice in his mind. [Applause.] The report that Lord Airlie and his colleagues have drawn up goes a long way to condemn the law: the only refuge they have is that it is good for small tenants. I do not know a greater fallacy. I grant there are several men who have risen to large farms, but these are men who had energy and perseverance, and who would have risen in spite of any law. But where a few have risen, how many have fallen or remained stationary? Or, as I said in my evidence: "We hear of small tenants being on estates, and remaining in the same position for one or two hundred years. That says very little for what either farming or hypothec has done for them." An additional proof of my statement as regards small tenants may be found in the report laid before the Lords Committee anent the sequestration of tenants. They have thought fit to pass it over in silence, but it stands as follows, out of 800, viz. 528 sequestrations were under 100; 196 for rents above 100; 76 for rents not due. Is that not sufficient to show what hypothec is doing for small tenants? From the evidence given by factors, they are rather inclined to increase the size of farms, while most of our best and largest landlords do not care if hypothec were swept away to-morrow; but I need not say more, as a report dealing very fully with the whole subject comes up for your consideration at this meeting, and your approval of which I will by-and-by take the honor of moving. The next important question that came before the Chamber was the game-laws question. Though not of the same importance as hypothec, it is a question that has caused a good deal of discussion, and no small annoyance and heart-burning between landlords and tenants when the game on arable land has been over-preserved. For the settlement of the question there have been three bills before Parliament Lord Elcho's, Mr. Loch's and Mr. McLagan's. Lord Elcho's bill has been dismissed by the general public as not at all fitted to meet the question, and the remaining two have their different supporters. In one point of view, I have no doubt Mr. Loch's bill would meet the question, but the principle of interference with private contracts is one which I cannot agree to. The time may come when the evil will have grown to such an extent that such interference may be the only remedy. I have more regard for the common sense of the landlords of Scotland than to believe ^hat they will not rather meet the demand of the country than let themselves be driven to such a position. Mr. McLagan's bill was founded upon resolutions in this Chamber. After all that has been said for and against the bill, I still prefer Mr. McLagan's as laying the foundation of a settlement of that question. [Applause.] The great objection that is raised against it is the increase that it would give to poaching. What has the present state of matters done for poachers? It has raised the number of offenders in poaching from 5,000 to nearly 9,000. How different would it have been had the tenant had an interest in the ground game. By his continual watchfulness, and that of his servants, the poacher would have had an unprofitable time of it. I am sorry that this question should have been raised between two parties whose prosperity depends upon each other, and that there should be anything of that kind that should come to mar chat kindly feeling which should exist between landlord and tenant; but I am happy to say that the rearing and slaughtering of game for market, and trying to make a second rent from land by flying creatures and creeping kind, is the exception, and not the rule, of the landlords of our country. I trust this question will soon be settled to the satisfaction of both; only let sportsmen return to gun and pointer, and be content with a fair day's sport for a good day's exercise, and the tenant enjoying the greyhound coursing, or killing of the ground game, as can he best agreed upon. I have long said the "fur" to the occupant and the "feathers" to the landlord would be a satisfactory settlement over most of the country, and, practically, Mr. McLagan's bill just comes to that. In my humble opinion, it would not be judicious to allow every man at all times and at all seasons to take to firearms; rather take the other mode by which the ground game could be kept in moderation. I now come to that part of our business what the Chamber has been engaged in regarding our cattle traffic by rail and steamboat. The Privy Council sent down specific questions, requesting specific answers thereto from us. After considerable care and consideration, we prepared, and have published, our answers in the form of a report; and to my mind it is the most practical report that has been returned by any of the Chambers, and is the only one that answers all the questions put. If the Privy Council only adopt it, our cattle traffic will be put on a sound and substantial basis. Before closing, I must call your attention to the remark that has been made against the Chamher, in a manner that is altogether unworthy of the man that made it. The objects of the Chamber are "to watch over the interest of practical agriculture, and to promote the advance of agriculture by the discussion of subjects connected with it, and to consider all questions that may be introduced into Parliament connected with agriculture." Therefore, in the name of the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture. I repudiate the remark that has been made in Parliament by a member of the Glasgow Chamher of Commerce, that "we are a mere political dehating society." I do not know this gentleman; but this I know, we, as farmers, have our capital is much at stake in our business as commercial men, therefore the prosperity of our profession is as dear to us as the prosperity of commerce is to the M. P. for Dumbartonshire. [Applause.] We are only debating about having these restrictions taken from our trade which are impeding its progress; and we only ask that same liberty of action as members of commerce claim for themselves. [Applause.] I now thank you for the great kindness and assistance you have given me when in the chair, and I would not forget to thank Mr. Curror for the very courteous and able manner in which he has assisted in carrying forward the affairs and business of the Chamber.

Very few societies can boast of such a secretary; his energy and zeal can be surpassed by none, his knowledge and general acquaintance with practical agriculture is of the greatest value for the working out of the details of the Scottish Chamber. For myself I feel that I am under a deep debt of gratitude for the great assistance I have at all times received so frankly at his hands. During my term of office he has been instrumental in securing situations of high trust and responsibility to deserving young men of our class. He has a proposal to make to the new directors for expanding the usefulness of the Chamber in that respect by putting candidates for such situations under examination, which I commend to their best consideration. The applications made to him have been varied: land stewardships in England, factorships in Ireland, managers of Continental land companies, and tenants for English farms. These, at least, show that the Chamber is something more than a mere debating society in the general estimation of the agricultural world; and this assurance I can give, that no man need fear an unkind answer who seeks our secretary's aid in promoting his interests in connection with the legitimate influence of the Chamber. [Applause.] I have now to fulfil the last and most pleasing duty that devolves upon me before leaving the chair, that is, to propose Mr. John Wilson, Edington Mains, to fill the important and honorable office of president of the Chamber. I have only to mention his name to carry with me the acclamation of the agriculturists of the United Kingdom, whether Lords of the manor or labourers of the soil. His judgment is of the ripest, his experience surpassed by few, his heart is of the best, his head is of the soundest; and if there are men in every class whose sentiments and actions adorn it, and bring influence to it, and raise them to the top, certainly John Wilson is the man of our class who is entitled to that eminence; and as such I have the honor to propose him to the post of all others which he has a right to occupy, that of president of the practical agriculturists of Scotland. [Applause.]


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