Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £374,047, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1930, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, including Grants for Agricultural Education and Training, Loans to Co-operative Societies, and certain Grants-in-Aid."—[NOTE.—£110,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Major ELLIOT
The agricultural Estimates which we are presenting are in a way a more hopeful sign than the Estimates which we have been discussing. They do indicate one of the lines along which production is taking place, one of the main avenues of production in either the modern state or the ancient state, namely, the production of food from the soil. Undoubtedly agriculture is passing through a state of depression just now, both in Scotland and in England. I do not think it is so severe in Scotland as in some parts of England. It is leading to a very vigorous reaction in certain respects. What we have seen in the past year in Scotland is the reaction of Scottish agriculture against the period of depression through which it is now passing. It has led, in particular, to a large, and in some ways unexpectedly sudden, development along the lines of marketing, more particularly co-operative marketing. We have the vigorous reaction, in the South-West, of what is known as the Milk Pool, the Scottish Milk Agency, which covers now a very considerable proportion of the milk production of Scotland and is increasing its field of operations almost daily. The Milk Pool, however, is merely one aspect of the attempt of Scottish agriculture to deal with these new problems. It is so important that the Committee will pardon me if I spend a moment or two in dealing with it.
The South-West of Scotland, our great milk area, has taken an active interest 2108 in the problems of the production and distribution of milk for many years, and the West of Scotland College, particularly the Kilmarnock Dairy School, has been one of the high lights in our Scottish agricultural education for many years past. That college is still showing active and progressive development, and the present scheme at Auchincruwl, which is largely due to the generosity of Mr. Hannah, is now on the verge of fruition. It will lead to an education and research scheme costing something like £104,000, which is a very considerable sum to spend on agricultural education and research even in these days. It is interesting to see that half that money has been found by local contributions of one kind or another. The best proof that the active interest of generous donors can to-day be excited in agricultural questions is the generous gift from Mr. Hannah, which, with the other gifts from other donors, has made it possible for this great scheme to be brought into existence. The State has taken part in the scheme and has also pressed on the foundation of the Dairy Research Institute.
It is most important that the highest powers of science should be brought into touch with the active producer, with the small milk farm. In this way the producer of the South-West should be in touch, through the agricutural college, with the best of contemporary agricultural education, and should have access, through the Dairy Research Institute, to the highest knowledge that science can give. I hope it will be possible even further to bring into touch the producer with the great engineering schools of the South West, because there is no doubt that the use of power, the use of engineering facilities, in British agriculture, has not progressed so far as in other countries, and that it is possible for us thus to reduce materially the cost of production of the great staple articles such as milk. It is true that one of the big gaps in the production of milk is the spread between producer and consumer, but a reduction in the primary cost of production, the improved use of power of machinery and of the engineering facilities of the South West of Scotland, would enable that area to give an example not merely to Scotland, but to the United Kingdom as a whole, and, we hope, also to the British Empire. It 2109 is for that reason that we concentrated in Scotland on the Milk and Health Association and on the eventual consumption of milk, which is the final object of that Association, and, of course, also of the Scottish administration as a whole. We must produce cheaply, market efficiently, and stimulate the consumption required when we have produced the article.
Milk is essentially an article which, in this country at any rate, requires handling from two aspects. There is, first, the consumption of liquid milk and, secondly, the utilisation of the surplus milk in some form or another so that it can be preserved. There is and there must always be in the summer season a flush of grass and a flush of milk. We cannot always deal with that along the lines of simple campaigns to drink more milk. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) has complained in humorous fashion on previous occasions, that it was impossible for him to produce meals for his family at the same economic rates as were given in various text books. One must realise that orders for milk are not suddenly doubled or trebled in an afternoon because the housewife sees advertisements or receives leaflets about milk. The household consumption of milk remains at a stationary level for a very considerable time. We must deal with the milk production by getting more liquid milk drunk, and also by finding some means of using surplus milk in factory processes of one kind or another instead of simply saying, as in the past, that it was surplus milk and putting it down a drain. The Milk Pool is investigating this question. We are going into it with the hope of finding some way of getting facilities for them to engage in the treatment of milk residues. There is a great field for British produced condensed milk. There is no need for us to import that very large quantity of condensed milk from overseas. There is a field open for milk residues in a thousand ways, and it will be necessary for us to embark upon the treatment of the surplus milk on a large-scale, capitalist basis, whether the capital is used by a co-operative society or even by a public body. I shall not go into that at the moment. Large-scale use of the capitalist method of attacking the milk problem is a necessity for the milk 2110 producers of the South-West of Scotland, and indeed for milk producers as a whole, if they are to receive a fair and adequate return for their labour.
Associated with this project we are intending to set up a group of small holdings. Having for some time shared responsibility for agricultural development in Scotland, I am certain that small holdings which are merely miniature farms are not and cannot be economic. There are certain things that are better done on a large farm than on a small farm, and there are other things better done on a small farm than on a large farm, but we cannot treat the small man's problem by simply taking 1 per cent. of the big man's problem, because we are then setting off down that blind alley of land settlement of which Members in all parts of the House complain. If we could associate these groups of small holdings with some central institution like a bacon factory, a creamery or a milk residue factory, then we might make it possible for a real small-holding movement to take root in this country instead of, as in the past, the planting of isolated people in small groups, far from the great markets, merely as an eleemosynary or charitable process, and then finding, in spite of all we were doing, that the number of persons on the land was actually sinking.
Scotland has attacked—for I do not claim any credit for the Government in this respect—the problem of agricultural marketing in milk. There is also the Wool Growing Association. There is also the question of the National Mark in its application to eggs. The system was a very great success in England, and we were inundated with requests for it in Scotland, because the English egg was beginning to invade Scotland. Already 71 factors have registered in this scheme in Scotland, and we have every hope that the Scottish egg mark scheme will be quite as successful as the English scheme. There is a suggestion of meat marking which has been brought up and discussed, but it has not gone any further up to the present time. I did not at first think very much could be done along those lines, but I was interested to find that in the United States of America an extensive scheme of meat marking exists and works well in practice. There is also 2111 the question of the marking and grading of potatoes which has been suggested. A great deal depends, in potato distribution, on having something to deal with a glut, something on the lines of a starch factory or a manufacturing centre where manufacturing processes could be applied. Simply to deal with it on the lines of carrying forward a glut to another glut means that no one gets any advantage. Production slows down and gradually stops, and the price to the consumer gets higher.
We are moving toward a semi-regional organisation in a great many of these subjects, and it will be one of the interesting developments of agriculture in the near future to see to what extent in regionalises itself and begins to make use of what it has effected in the past to some extent, namely, the facilities which modern engineering offers for dealing with the temporary surplus which must of necessity exist in so many kinds of agricultural production. I need do no more than refer to the facilities which cold storage offered to the storing of a quantity of food products of a perishable nature, which otherwise very probably would be altogether lost. There is also the question of the canning of home products. There is no reason at all why all the canned fruit we eat should be brought in from California, or some other place. There is no reason whatever why a considerable amount of canned from should not be produced from fruit actually grown in this country.
These things hinge, to a very considerable extent, upon research of one kind or another, and in respect of research, Scotland is second to no country in the world. The Edinburgh station, the Aberdeen station and the new station we are now setting up in the South-West are of great, and I think fundamental, importance to the agricultural industry, and the station which has not yet come into existence but is being discussed for the experimental work on peat soils will, in its turn, prove of very great use and interest to that great moorland region which comprises something like three-fourths of the whole area of Scotland. It may be that scientists will find something that will deal with the problem of bracken, and the bracken-cutter, the man who goes on to the hills and whose 2112 harvest at the best can only be a bonfire—the man who lives a lonely life on the hills and produces nothing but a heap of dry bracken which can only be set on fire. If we can find something to replace that work of hand-cutting bracken we shall have done a very great act for the improvement of the condition of agriculture.
The small holdings question again must depend on the prosperity of agriculture as a whole. In 15 years there has been a fall of 1,681, in all Scotland, in holdings between one and five acres, there has been a rise all over Scotland in the same period of 583 holdings between 15 and 50 acres, and of 148 in holdings between 50 and 75 acres. These figures themselves are enough to show that we are still working on the fringe of this subject. We have not, I believe, got the economic formula that is necessary for the solution of this question.
§ Mr. MAXTON
In regard to these increases in the various sizes of holdings, the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that new land is being brought into cultivation, but merely a regrouping of holdings?
§ Major ELLIOT
In several of these cases no doubt new land has been brought into agricultural production, but in many cases it is merely a sub-division of an existing farm. A large farm has been broken up into a number of small holdings. Of course the serious thing is that in many cases the process means the absorption, even the destruction, of a certain amount of capital, using the word in its best sense. That is to say, a certain amount of plant has actually been destroyed in this process, a certain amount of the savings of the nation has been dissipated, and instead at the end of the time, of having improved the position, you have only altered the method of production of a certain amount of foodstuffs, and perhaps even increased the number of persons on the soil, but you have not started, which is what this experiment should really do, a great current in the national life. We are still working at the outside of this problem, and it looks as if the secret of it had not yet been found. We have dealt to some extent with small holdings in the North. It is 2113 rather a social than an economic problem, in fact a recent report on the subject indicated that it was very largely a social problem. It was not pretended that you could get more than an agricultural labourer's wage for the person who was settled, and it was even suggested that they were more in the nature of homes for the older people than actual centres where vigorous food production was carried out on the soil. That is not good enough for us. We do not want a subsidised peasantry artificially maintained on the soil by some means or another. We must, by hook or by crook, find some method by which the small man can apply himself to the production of food from the soil, and make an economic success of it against the larger units of production, or else attempts at the setting up of small holdings are doomed to failure in advance.
The whole question of Scottish agriculture is one of absorbing interest to all of us. The question of Scottish agricultural research and development is one of the really great and important chapters in our national life. In our research centres we have a real focus for a national revival, to put it no higher than that. We have real centres where Scotland is able to challenge comparison with any country in the world, and that is not a thing, unfortunately, that we can say about every branch of Scottish life or thought. We have a group of men who are young, vigorous and pre-eminent and who are gaining distinction for themselves, and for Scotland, not merely here but all over the world, who are welcomed at the ends of the earth more eagerly than they are here, and who are invited to go to America, Canada and Australia as acknowledged experts of their subjects. We had a recent invitation to the director of animal breeding in Edinburgh to go to North America to discuss some problems with them there. Over and over again our men have been asked for, until our main preoccupation is how to avoid putting such a strain on them as will break them down, and how we can avoid them being taken so far away from their work, for consulting work overseas, that they have not the necessary energy left to give to the improvement of Scottish agriculture, which is after all their primary duty and need. It is an encouraging thing to think that this group is 2114 coming into being. Whatever Government comes into existence will have the forwarding of our Scottish agricultural research activities as one of its duties. Whatever our considerations are about the future either of Scotland or of Scottish agriculture, I am certain we shall all agree that hard thinking and hard work is what has characterised Scotland in the past, and hard work without hard thinking is no use nowadays in agriculture. We have to find in our brains the things we have lost out of our pockets. We have spent years in destruction and years more in quarrelling amongst ourselves. In the inside of our heads we can find the key to what we are looking for in agriculture, as in many other things. We have to give every facility to the thinkers. I am certain we in Parliament, and in the administration, can do much, but we can do nothing more important than to keep off the backs of the thinking men and do our utmost to see that their thought is brought as rapidly as possible to the notice of practical men.
Mr. W. ADAMSON
I am certain the Committee will agree with that part of the Under-Secretary's speech in which he was dealing with the necessity for research, so that the scientists may be able to help agriculture through its difficulties. But I thought, when he was dealing with other matters, he was labouring under considerable difficulty, and was doing his best to make as much of very little having been done as it was possible for him to do, because there is no doubt the depression in agriculture is almost as great as that in the heavier industries. Further, there is almost as much dissatisfaction amongst the agricultural population at what has been done by the Government as there is amongst any other section of the community. I think the biggest problem that faces Scottish agriculture is the question of organising a proper system of marketing and grading the produce of the farm. Very little has been done up to the present. It is true that we have had a pool established in the South-West of Scotland, where something is being done in the way of grading and marketing, and he said the question of canning of home fruit was under consideration, but that practically exhausted what was being done as far as marketing was concerned. 2115 I observe also that he did not mention that we had started this new industry which is proving a success in England, namely, the production of broccoli. If I understood the right hon. Gentleman aright, he did not think there was very much in the question of marketing and grading.
§ Major ELLIOT
I said we had it under consideration, but had not been able to take it any further at present. I did not say there was not much in it. I was surprised, in looking into it, to find how much there was.
I wanted to point out to the Under-Secretary of State that chilled meat is the biggest competitor that the home producer of meat has to face, and that it is brought about partly, no doubt, because of the fact that chilled meat is cheaper than home-produced meat. It is also brought about because chilled meat is so graded and standardised that customers can get from the butcher exactly what they want. This sort of thing is not done as far as home-produced meat is concerned. The meat importers have set themselves to sell meat. I am certain that along that line there is room for a considerable amount of research and development.
We have also an example set us by Canada. The Canadian Government have formed a wheat pool and the wheat is graded. The farmers of Canada have found that Government control gives them stable prices, and they want Government control to continue. The Canadian wheat pool is the largest farmers' co-operative organisation in the world. This is one of the things which both the Government and the farmers of Scotland would do well to examine thoroughly with a view to following their example in many respects. I also find from the published figures that the Danish farmer gets 80 per cent. of the retail price of his produce, whereas the Scottish farmer only gets something like 50 per cent. of the retail price of his produce. There, again, there is a considerable amount of room for reorganisation and co-operation. I cannot agree with the Under-Secretary of State when he says that this is more a matter for the farming community than for the Government. There are other things which the Government could have done 2116 to help the farming community, things which will require to be done in the future if farming is to continue to be one of our staple industries. We shall have to face the question of giving a greater security of tenure to the farmer than has been the case in the past. I do not care whether it is the small man or the big man. We shall have to consider the question of giving to the farming community a fair rent Court which will decide between the landowner and the farmer as to what is a fair rent.
There is a considerable number of things which the Government can do in order to help the farming community. I agree with the Under-Secretary of State when he says that our Scottish farmers can farm as well as the farmers in any other part of the world. I think that the failure has largely been a failure to co-operate with each other. The organising of a proper marketing system and a proper co-operative system amongst themselves, with the assistance of the Government—I think that the Government are bound to come to the assistance of any of our industries that are in the depressed condition in which farming finds itself—would go a long way towards helping the agriculturists of the country to get over their difficulties. The fact that in a number of our industries we are not likely again to find a staple market for our products will make us more dependent upon finding employment for a larger number of men on the soil than we have been accustomed to do for the last 50 or 80 years. I think we shall be compelled to find employment for a very much larger number of men. If this is to be done, our system of tenure and all that sort of thing will have to be gone into far more closely than has ever been the case. I do not think that in the future we shall be able to purchase as much of our food supplies from abroad as we have been accustomed to do for a generation past. The Under-Secretary of State said earlier in these Debates that he was coming back to this House and that he would be speaking on the same Estimates next year. If he is a true prophet, I hope that he will examine the problems of agriculture far more closely than has been the case until now. As I have said, I 2117 am at one with him as to the importance of research, but I think that co-operation and marketing of supplies is the line of future advance. I think that this can be brought about far more speedily and more effectively if the Government will take a bigger hand in the development of our agricultural resources than they have done up to the present time.
§ Major ELLIOT
It has been said that the Government will have to do more in the future than they have done in the past. As I have said, we have just passed a Bill by which the Government have done more for agriculture than has been done by any other administration for many years past. We have de-rated agricultural land and buildings in Scotland to the extent of seven-eighths. Really, that is a very remarkable contribution towards the solution of our agricultural difficulties.
I thought that we were leaving that matter out of the discussion altogether. I would have met the hon. and gallant Gentleman with regard to that argument had I known that he was going to mention the question. It is true that the Government have come to the help of agriculture by the relief of rates, but it is also true that the same Government have put upon agriculture increases in other directions. The Under-Secretary of State was speaking about the increase in the use of machinery in agriculture. That means that far more oil is being used, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has put 4d. per gallon on oil. If the Government are helping agriculture with one hand, they are hindering it with the other. May I remind the Under-Secretary of State of this fact with regard to the de-rating proposals? Whenever the lease expires, unless the Government go a step further than they have gone up to the present, they will have the landlord in the position of taking advantage by increasing rent.
§ Major ELLIOT
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. W. Adamson) will not deny that the problem of dealing with the remote areas has been enormously simplified by the provisions of the de-rating Bill—the relief to the North, the relief to land settlement. I was speaking earlier on the desirability of getting people on to the land. It is to wide and sweeping measures of this kind 2118 that I look to improve the condition of agriculture, both in the Lowlands and in the Highlands. The provision, for instance, of the improved transport facilities in the MacBrayne contract, will do more for rural land settlement in the Highlands than the starting of a great many small holdings schemes of one kind and another. The whole question of the deer forests in the Highlands, for instance, has been completely altered by the fact that this Government, and this Government alone, have found practical means of dealing with this problem. It is one of the features of the Local Government Bill that the deer is rated at eight times the cow. We have found a practical way of dealing with deer forests. If anyone wants a deer forest he can have one, but he will have to pay eight times the rate on the deer as he does on the cow. These are practical steps for dealing with the problem of the deer forests. The land under agricultural produce is de-rated as a practical means of dealing with problems which have confronted Government after Government and to which no other Government so far have made any practical contribution.
The right hon. Member for West Fife spoke of the necessity of doing more. I think that the Government can do more by relieving burdens, by improving transport facilities than anything they can do in the way of making the people co-operate. Making people co-operate is a contradiction in terms. People have to work out co-operation amongst themselves. I firmly believe that the Government in the reduction of rates on railway traffics have done a great deal to assist the agriculturist in his difficulties. In reducing the rating burdens of the land they have done more. On the whole problem of the agriculture of Scotland the Government's business ought to be, not to say that they can do better for the farmer than the farmer is doing for himself, but to do their best to co-operate with him and see that they do not put any actual hindrance in his way. That is the real avenue towards agricultural progress, and both in the Highlands and in the Lowlands, we must rely on the initiative and the self-reliance of the people. We have to consider the mere interference by a government is not the best way to gain the objects which we all have in view. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 2119 West Fife will agree that at any rate great contributions have already been made by the Government towards the helping of the industry of agriculture, and we have his hope that when he has the power he will find some way of improving these conditions when he gets in. If and when that day comes we shall be interested to see what he does.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The Under-Secretary said that something is being done against deer and grouse, compared with other things called agriculture. All that the people who are concerned with grouse and deer are doing is to pay the ordinary rates, and it is only a question of once a year that anything is done there. He did not tell us in regard to the shopkeeper and the householder, who have to pay rents, that their rents will remain the same.
§ Mr. HARDIE
We are told by the Under-Secretary that benefit will be derived by agriculture from the de-rating proposals. The fact is that when the farmer who has to carry his milk to the market by motor and, consequently, has to pay the increased duty on petrol, calculates the cost of the increased Petrol Duty and the relief that he will get under the de-rating scheme, he is out of pocket. That point has never been faced by the Government, and they cannot face it. The unfortunate farmer is left to work out his own salvation. If there had been anything real in the claim that the Government are helping agriculture by de-rating, a case such as the one to which I have referred would not be permitted. When we were discussing the Health Vote, the Under-Secretary laid great emphasis on the question of milk in regard to health. On the Vote which we are now discussing he claims to have helped the agriculturist by de-rating, although the man who carries the milk to market will be hit rather than helped by de-rating. According to the Under-Secretary the question of milk diet is of 2120 the most vital importance to the health of the community, and yet the milk producer is penalised if he uses a motor vehicle in taking his milk to market.
The milk farmer is left entirely at the mercy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to taxation, although he is supposed to be getting relief under the de-rating proposals. I have no delusions about de-rating relief as to the source from which it is to be derived and the direction in which it will go. The late Lord Advocate told us that the whole of what was called de-rating relief would go ultimately into the pockets of the landlords. When he made that statement he did not think that so much importance would be attached to it, in view of the election. It cannot be denied that so far as agriculture is concerned the milk business has been left outside the so-called benefits of de-rating. Wherever petrol power has to be used as part of the equipment of the farm, either in the taking of the milk to market, or in any other way, the farmer will not get the same relief as the man who does not require to use petrol. Therefore, the milk producer who uses petrol is penalised and he will have to pay in the extra price of petrol for the benefit of de-rating, which is to go to the man who does not require to use petrol. It is strange to say that by that means you are going to help agriculture. Take the position of a farmer in the upper reaches of Lanarkshire, whose great centre for milk distribution is Glasgow. These farmers have to get their milk into Glasgow, and it is practically all carried by petrol-driven motor vehicles. Everyone of these farmers in the purchase price of his petrol will be paying for the de-rating relief which will go to his neighbour who, instead of carrying on dairying farming, is perhaps devoting himself to calf feeding or grazing. There is no equality for the Scottish farmer under these conditions. The rating, so far as deer forests are concerned, remains the same as it does to the shopkeeper and the householder.
§ Mr. HARDIE
Why should the Government let off the man who has a deer forest on the payment of nominal rates, 2121 and yet when it comes to a farmer who has to carry his produce to market, especially the milk farmer, his costs are increased to such an extent that he loses in the transaction? The Under Secretary talked about grouse being rated eight times more than the hon. That has very little relevance to the subject, because the hen is a dairy product and the carriage on poultry becomes a serious matter. It is no use talking about the relief that is going to agriculture under the de-rating proposals, because when the question of petrol is placed in the accounts alongside the relief which is to be given by de-rating the farmer comes out on the wrong side of the balance sheet. For these reasons, we say that there has been no real help given to agriculture so far as Scotland is concerned.
§ Question put, and agreed to.