§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. Craigie Aitchison)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I propose to explain to the House briefly—for the matter does not call for elaboration—what is the scope and purpose of this Measure. The Bill is within a relatively small compass. It applies to Scotland only, and it is intended and designed to modernise, and to bring into harmony with present requirements, the law of Scotland in relation to the drainage of agricultural land. The two main provisions of the Bill are contained in Clauses 1 and 2, and they define the purposes of the Measure. The House will find on examination of these Clauses that they deal with the same problem, which, briefly stated, is the problem arising from the flooding of agricultural land in Scotland.
Clause 1 gives to the owner or occupier of agricultural land which is being injured, or is in danger of being injured, through the failure of the owner or occupier of any other land to maintain banks, or to cleanse water courses, a statutory right and power to enter upon that other land and to have things put right on the land of his neighbour. Clause 2 gives to a public authority, namely, the Department of Agriculture 432 for Scotland, power to propose and carry out, subject to certain safeguards, schemes for drainage works. The aim of both Clauses is the same, and that aim is to secure, so far as possible, the more effectual drainage of agricultural land in order that it may have an increased utility and productiveness.
The need for this Bill arises from the inadequacy of the existing how of Scotland as regards agricultural drainage, and it will enable the House to judge more readily what the Bill is designed to effect if I state what the existing law of Scotland is in the matter of agricultural drainage. As the law stands--and this is a matter upon which I hope there will be no controversy—the lower ground must receive the outfall or natural drainage of the upper ground, or, to use terminology with which we are familiar in Scotland, the inferior ground must receive the outfall of the superior ground. Even where the quantity of outfall is increased through agricultural improvements, so that a larger quantity of water is sent down from the superior ground to the inferior ground, the same rule applies. That is true, not only of surface water and of water percolating in the ordinary-way through the ground, but of running water in definite channels, that is to say, streams that are perennial and have an established course. That is the existing common law of Scotland, subject perhaps to this qualification, that in exceptional cases the courts, on being applied to, may give an equitable remedy. The experience of the law courts in that matter, however, is that the equitable remedy can be invoked only in very exceptional circumstances, and, when it is invoked, it usually results in very costly litigation, so that the remedy in a sense destroys itself.
Apart from the common law of Scotland in this matter, there are certain statutory provisions, into which I have no intention of going in detail, but I think it right to mention the Land Drainage Act of 1847. In that year, the Legislature made provision for the improvement of outfalls. Sanction was given to persons who were interested to enter on other land—a principle which is being reaffirmed in this Bill in another form—and to create the necessary works to prevent excessive outfall coining from the high ground to 433 the lower ground. Under the Act of 1847, the procedure is cumbrous, expensive, calculated to entail costly litigation, and, what is perhaps a more valid reason than any for discarding it, the statute has proved almost entirely ineffective in practice. The position at the present time, therefore, is that by both the common law and the statute law of Scotland the lower proprietor has really no remedy against an excessive outfall of water coming on to his land from the land of an upper proprietor. The converse situation holds true, that where there is failure on the part of the lower proprietor to keep the waterways of his ground clear, and allows them to become silted up so that the water re-stagnates on the ground of the upper proprietor, the upper proprietor, as the law of Scotland stands, has no remedy either in common law or under statute law, except in circumstances which are very exceptional, and with which the House need not concern itself.
With that very general introductory statement of the position, I would like to examine for a moment Clauses 1 and 2 in a little more detail. The House will observe that the purpose of Clause 1 is to enable the owner or occupier of agricultural land to require and secure the maintenance of banks and the cleansing of channels of watercourses on neighbouring lands. When I use the term "neighbouring," I do not mean neighbouring in the narrow sense. It is not confined to the case where the harm is being done on the land immediately adjacent. The watercourses of the land immediately adjacent may be quite sufficient, and yet the watercourses on land a little further away may be quite insufficient, and under Clause 1 it will be possible to deal with and find a remedy for a situation of that kind. Before the statutory power contained in Clause 1 can be invoked there is a condition precedent which must be satisfied, and that is that the land is being injured, or is in danger of being injured, from flooding through the failure of the neighbouring proprietor. I do not propose to detain the House by referring to the procedure which the Bill prescribes. It is all set out in the Bill, and its examination is more appropriate to a later stage; but there are one or two 434 points which it is appropriate to bring to the notice of the House at this stage.
The cost of the operations to make the agricultural drainage effective is a charge imposed on the owner who is failing to discharge his obligation. That is undoubtedly a very important provision of the Bill. When I used the term "obligation" I do not mean legal obligation, because, as I have just explained, under the existing law there is no legal obligation, but I mean failure to discharge the natural obligation which arises and which ought to arise from the ownership of land. If this Bill receives the sanction of this House the situation will be this, that a landowner whose land is being injured through the default of a neighbouring landowner will be able, using the machinery of this Measure, to compel the defaulting landowner to fulfil the obligation which he ought to have fulfilled without any compulsion. A further point to which I think it is right to draw attention is that the Bill secures a right of appeal to the sheriff, that is, to a judicial authority, so that any matter in dispute failing amicable settlement can be decided by the sheriff on appeal by the party interested.
I think I should give a word of explanation as to why we think it is necessary that these powers in Clause I should be conferred on owners of land. Since 1918 the number of occupying owners in Scotland has increased by 10,000. That has followed the break-up of many large estates. With their disappearance has disappeared estate management. When we had a number of tenant farmers holding under a common proprietor and under common estate management these difficulties of drainage were much more easy of adjustment than they are when a large estate has been broken up, and instead of tenancies we have a large number of occupying owners. That is why, although the law of Scotland has stood for a very long time as I have defined it, it has now become imperative if adequate protection is to be given that there should be some such power as we propose in the first Clause of this Measure.
The second Clause, which is the major part, is intended to authorise the Department of Agriculture to propose and to carry out schemes of drainage works. Two purposes are contemplated; I am not going into the details, they are there 435 in the Bill. The purposes are, first, drainage works with a view to the improvement of agricultural land; and, second, drainage works to remedy or to prevent damage to land or buildings in landward areas in Scotland. The House will see on reference to the Measure that in every case a condition precedent must be satisfied. In the first case the condition precedent is that the agricultural land should be capable of improvement, and in the second case the condition is that the land or building in the landward area is being, or is in danger of being, flooded. Those conditions, which are inserted in the Bill, will prevent, as under Clause 1, any arbitrary use being made of the powers which the Bill confers. I should add, as regards Clause 2, that not only has the Department power to execute works as defined by the Bill, but the Bill also provides for the maintenance of the works when they are executed.
There are two questions that may arise. The House may say, as regards Clause 2: What kind of schemes have you in contemplation? If you refer to the interpretation Clause, Clause 7, it will be found that the expression "drainage works" is given a very wide definition. As the definition stands, it would apply to field drainage and to any form of land drainage, but although the interpretation Clause is wide what we have in view is what is known as arterial drainage. What we contemplate is the deepening of the channels of existing watercourses mainly by the removal of obstructions, and further we contemplate the making of new watercourses. The purpose in each case is the same, namely, to prevent flooding.
In certain areas of Scotland flooding takes place periodically. It may be described as seasonal in certain parts of Scotland. The flooding occurs mainly in the north-east and in the south-west. I am not going to detain the House by giving numerous illustrations of it, but may I just mention one? The River Spey is the most rapid river in Scotland, and I think I am right in saying it is the most rapid in Britain. If you take the stretch of 10 miles running roughly from Newtonmoor to Kincraig you will find that each year there is flooding of the agricultural land upon a most extensive scale. The effect of that has 436 been to bring down the vegetation of that neighbourhood to a mere marsh vegetation within the lifetime of a single generation. There has been very great depreciation in the value of arable and pastoral land in that neighbourhood. That is merely one illustration taken from the higher reaches of the river; but when you come to the lower reaches, nearer the sea, you will find that in 1928 the river in flood made for itself an entirely new channel to the west, endangering, I think, the villages of Garmouth and Kingston. Other streams which periodically overflow their banks are the Deveron and the Findhorn. When we come to the south-west of Scotland, we have the Annan, the Nith and the Cree and in the West of Scotland parts of the Clyde. In carrying out the schemes which the Department of Agriculture contemplate in this matter, there are one or two points of importance for which the Bill makes provision, and to which I should like to refer very briefly in general terms. First of all, the House will know that part of the cost is to be recoverable by the Department and to be apportioned among the lands comprised in the area to be affected by the scheme to which the Act applies. The remainder of the cost is to be borne by the State. In putting into the Bill a provision for placing part of the costs on the owner, we have proceeded upon the principle that the land-owner should pay in respect of the betterment of his land effected through the work executed by the Department of Agriculture.
Another point of importance for which provision is made is that in fixing and apportioning the cost regard is to be had to the matters set out in Clause 2 of the Bill. As regards the apportioning of costs, the first point is the probable increase in value as a result of the operation. The second point is the estimated depreciation on the basis that there had been no undertaking at all. In other words, you impose a charge in respect of so much depreciation on the hypothesis that there was no undertaking. The words are:(3) In fixing the amount of the cost recoverable by the Department and in apportioning that amount, or in apportioning the cost of maintenance among the lands comprising the area affected by the scheme, the Department shall have regard to any probable increase in the value of any such lands.437 That is the first point. The second important point is that the Department shall have regard toany depreciation in the value of any such lands, which might be expected to occur if no such drainage works as are proposed in this scheme were undertaken.In respect of the estimated depreciation, we think that is an equitable principle, because it simply means that if the owner of land is going to have depreciation of his land stayed or stopped through the undertaking of the Department, it is right that he should pay a part of the charge in the same way as if there were a practical increment benefit.
The third factor to be taken into account in fixing and apportioning the cost is any other benefit by way of relief on drainage operations. This is all contained in Sub-section (3) of Clause 2 of the Bill. The only other matter that I need to mention is that the Bill provides, on the other hand, that compensation shall be paid in respect of injury and damage caused through the operations, and there, again, in order that these matters will not be left to the uncontrolled arbitrament of a Government Department, provision is made for arbitration in respect of these matters.
There is one other matter upon which it is perhaps right to say a word or two. The House will note that the carrying out of the drainage schemes authorised by the second part of the Bill is entrusted to the Department of Agriculture. That has been done deliberately and after careful consideration. We propose by this Bill to make the Department of Agriculture of Scotland the executive and administrative authority, and the reasons why the Government have so decided after very careful consideration is that in Scotland with one solitary exception we have no ad hoc drainage authorities, and that exception is in the case of the Pow Burn in Perthshire, under a local Act. That is the only instance in Scotland of an ad hoc land drainage authority. We have in Scotland nothing analogous to the Commissioners of Sewers in England, some of which go back to the time of Henry VIII and even earlier. The reason why you do not have ad hoc authorities in Scotland as in England is that there is a great difference in the natural conditions of the two countries. In Scotland, the natural fall of the rivers 438 is good; in England, the natural fall of the rivers is bad. To take only one illustration, the Spey, the total length of which is from 90 to 100 miles, has a fall of no less than 1,500 feet from its source to its mouth at sea level. The position really is that, while in Scotland we have our own problems, with marsh and moss and bog, we have nothing corresponding to the fenland of the Eastern Counties of England. That is why in Scotland, as I have said, we have no ad hoc drainage authorities that we could press into the service of this Measure.
The second reason why we propose that the carrying out of the major part of this Measure should be entrusted to the Department of Agriculture is that we take the view, and we think it is confirmed by experience, that an ad hoc authority is unsuitable. We take the view that the county council in Scotland is not the best authority, owing to local influences which it would be difficult to disregard, and we think it better that the matter should be dealt with outside the machinery of local administration. There is a third reason why we propose a public authority, and that is that, of course, under modern conditions, this matter of arterial drainage cannot he left to the individual owner. In former days it was no doubt true that great work was done in Scotland by individual owners. We do not dispute that there were enlightened landlords when labour was cheap and when the prices of produce were relatively high. We do not dispute that there were enlightened landlords who carried out at their own expense very valuable schemes of arterial drainage.
I confess that I was amazed, when looking into this matter a short time ago, to find that in the old maps in Scotland there are indications of arterial drainage in practically every county in Scotland, carried out many years ago, when conditions were vastly different from the conditions that obtain to-day. If it were germane to to-night's Debate, I could give illustrations of them. There is, for example, the Laigh of Moray, which was drained arterially many years ago, and is now one of the most fertile districts of Scotland. Again, you have the How of Mearas, in Kincardineshire, and it is not generally known that a great deal of marshy land around Loch Leven was arterially drained 439 and brought into proper condition. To mention one other instance, a great experiment in arterial drainage was carried out in what is known as the Moss of Kincardine by a very celebrated Scottish judge of the 18th century, Lord Karnes. He was a landowner as well as a judge—they combined the two things in those days—and he carried out an amazing scheme of arterial drainage by diverting one of the tributaries of the Forth, until he was interdicted in his own court because he was spoiling the salmon fishing of some neighbours. The days, how-over, of ventures of this kind by individual owners are past, and, as we must have some form of public authority to carry out the kind of scheme that we contemplate in this Measure, we came deliberately to the conclusion that it was much better that it should be done by the Department of Agriculture than by the local authority.
I do not propose to enter into the question of the cost entailed by this Bill. There is a Financial Resolution to be moved afterwards, if the House is pleased to give a Second Reading to this Bill, on which the matter of cost will be explained. I would only say that the cost is relatively small compared with the benefit which we anticipate will result if this Bill becomes law. I have already referred to Lord Kames as one of the pioneers in this matter of arterial drainage. I made the other day an interesting discovery. I found that in the year 1779, Lord Kames wrote an essay on "A Board for improving Agriculture." What he wanted to do was to set up a Board something analogous to our modern Department of Agriculture. That was away back in the year 1779, at a time when trouble WAS developing and becoming acute between us and America. That great old Scottish Judge then wrote:A small share of the money and attention bestowed on raising colonies in America would have done wonders at home.There are many of us, on this side of the House at any rate, who think that that was not only a very simple but a very wise observation. I, for one, believe that, if we would spend on agriculture at home, on arterial drainage at home, on every aspect of agriculture at home, one fraction of what we spend on projects abroad, we should accomplish a great work for 440 the development of our country and, incidentally, for the relief of the most pressing problem of our time, the problem of unemployment. Therefore, I commend this Bill to the consideration of the House, not only because it is a good Bill in itself, not only because it is demanded and required by the agricultural community of Scotland, not only because it is going to improve agriculture in Scotland and help the agricultural community, but because we believe it to be a contribution, and a not unsubstantial contribution, to the problem of unemployment. For these reasons I hope that, whatever criticism may be offered on the details of the Measure, the Bill may receive the support of all sections of the House and obtain a Second Reading.
§ Sir JOHN GILMOUR
My first word must be one of welcome to the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Advocate to this House, and to express what I am sure will be the feeling of all Members of the House, that his first speech in explaining a Measure of some importance to Scotland has been one of clarity, and meets with the approval of Members in every part of the House. He has truly said that arterial drainage in Scotland is a matter which should receive the attention of the House. It is obvious to those who know the circumstances of agriculture in that country that, if you improve your system of drainage, you must at some point take steps to see that the arterial drains are clear and efficient for carrying off the drainage. Our country has been less affected by that problem than across the border, because of the nature of the fall of most of our streams, but we can all agree that the time is ripe for some attempt to improve arterial drainage.
I shall not enter upon the legal points, which will be dealt with by others, but, speaking as one interested in agriculture, and with a little knowledge of some of the circumstances which attend the flow and outfall of some of the rivers, I want the House to realise that the Bill for the first time is going to give the right to certain individual owners to enter a complaint against an adjoining owner, that it will allow of their taking steps to impose a considerable outlay on the part of another owner, and, while that outlay may be justified, I think the House will agree that it is our duty to be quite clear in our minds, that the machinery that is 441 to be used for this purpose is going to be fair to the individual, and that the circumstances of each case are going to be investigated by someone of sufficient technical knowledge to be able to express an opinion which is of real value as to the benefit to be derived from the proposed alteration and expenditure.
The right hon. Gentleman has truly said that within recent years a large number of the bigger estates have been broken up and that in many cases the agricultural lands are held by owner-occupiers in comparatively small holdings. If I am right, clearly you have instances where this land may be held by a man who has used every pound of his credit to obtain the ownership of a particular farm abutting upon one of our great streams. He is no doubt in a position of responsibility not only for the maintenance of his own agricultural land but for the protection that he ought to give to his neighbours. But I am a little disturbed when I think he may have a complaint made which may not be entirely justified. No doubt the appeal to the Sheriff is one which we are long acquainted with, but I should like to feel satisfied before the Bill is sent to a Committee that, in addition to the complaint of the owner or the tenant abutting, when it goes to the Sheriff he will have the advantage of some really practical advice in coming to a decision.
Of course, the Department of Agriculture, which is to be the main body used in framing the schemes, may, no doubt, have at its command engineers with a knowledge of draining, but in forming a big scheme such as one to do with the drainage of an area like the Spey, where undoubtedly grave and difficult technical problems will have to be solved, I would plead with him to consider whether it would not be essential to have at the command of the Department the advice of technical engineers, who cannot be found in the Department itself in the present instance but must be brought in from outside. The Department of Agriculture is, in many instances, the owner and occupier and the responsible Department for a large agricultural area. I am not going to assert for a moment that when they come to deal with problems where their property abuts upon the property of others, they will act unfairly or 442 unjustly, but I think it would greatly facilitate the acceptance of this scheme by the agricultural community if they felt that, if they had any idea of grievance in the action of the Department, there should be some provision made for an appeal beyond their decision.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that the Department of Agriculture was deliberately chosen because he thought a local authority was not very suitable for looking after this problem. I am a little uncertain as to whether that is really the case. Flooding in our rivers happens with great suddenness. You get a cloudburst in the high hills somewhere beyond Kincraig, which affects the flow of the river, and damage happens with great rapidity, and if provision is to be made with equal rapidity, is it not the case that that could be done through some local contact a little nearer the point than a Department situated at Edinburgh?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
No, but you could deal with the effects of the cloudburst with greater rapidity than if you centralised too much the provision for a problem of this kind. Quite clearly, difficulties may arise in respect of a river such as the Tay, where there are sections in which artificial boundaries have had to be built. These artificial boundaries, unless they are periodically inspected, are gradually worn away, either by the action of rats or rabbits, or by a small breakage which may appear of very small moment to the little farmer on the spot. It is essential that this House should know that if the Department is going to be responsible for this matter, some definite officer in the district is going to make periodical inspections of that problem.
In the first Clause of the Bill the complaint is made by one proprietor against another, or, it may be, by one proprietor against a group of proprietors. The problem of putting right the trouble may be a very expensive one. It seems to me that in this case there is, under Clause 1, no possibility of any part of that expense being met by the State. Obviously, under a scheme provided for in Clause 2 it is a different matter. Take the case of the small man. I know of the case of a small farmer on the banks of the Tay 443 who, if his bank is broken, will find it quite impossible, even with complete bankruptcy, to meet that problem. I see nothing in this Bill to deal with a problem of that kind unless, having found a situation of that character, you are intending to transfer it to Clause 2, so that under a carefully thought-out scheme you can deal with the problem. Damage to individual property, while it may be of a devastating character as far as the particular part of the property is concerned, may also affect the public highway or the neighbouring properties below; and, if left too long, the damage might even be carried further.
If in Committee we can safeguard some of these problems, I see no reason why we should not, all of us, co-operate for the purpose of improving the system of drainage in Scotland, and, as far as I and my hon. Friends are concerned, we will try our best to do so. I think that sometimes an improvement in a stream may be thought by some people to be of greater value than it really is. I am anxious to repeat that I hope that in coming to decisions on structural alterations, which will cost a considerable sum of money, the Department will obtain the very best advice possible. Unfortunately, we have in Scotland to-day too much land free from flooding, which is perhaps not being cultivated to its fullest extent, and it may well be that in some cases it would be the height of folly to squander further money in an endeavour to deal with some areas which admittedly are being flooded, but which, even if they were de-flooded, would not be of sufficient agricultural value to warrant the outlay. With these reservations, and with the hope that my right hon. Friend in Committee will be prepared to consider in a friendly way, and, I hope, in a spirit of co-operation, Amendments on these points, I have nothing further to say.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I should like, first of all, to associate myself with my right hon. Friend the Member for Pollok (Sir J. Gilmour) in extending a very hearty welcome in the Debates of this House to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate. Our friendship has been one of many years standing, and I am delighted to think that I was present in this House when I heard him 444 make his first speech in it. I think the House will agree with me that his speech was a Second Reading speech which has rarely been equalled in this House, and I think equally rarely have we had so lucid an explanation of a very difficult problem. The Bill, he told us, was divided into two parts, Part A which deals with the individual, and Part 2 which deals with the area. I think it would be a perfectly legitimate criticism to make of the first part of the Bill that it was more of a legal reform than an agricultural remedy. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate explained to us, in discussing the first part of the Bill, how the law of Scotland stood, and he made it plain to me, at any rate, that it was high time that the law should be reformed. From that point of view the introduction of the Bill, as far as this part of it is concerned, is indeed highly desirable. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Pollok when he says that when you are dealing with the property of any individual, as you are dealing with it under Part 1 of this Bill, the circumstances should be fairly investigated. There is no doubt in my mind that a cantankerous occupier might give a very bad time to his neighbour if you allowed him free scope under the first part of the Bill. I am certain that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, if he is in charge of the Bill in Committee upstairs, will be asked to see to it that fair safeguards are inserted so that there can be no abuse of a Clause of this kind.
It is true that there is an appeal to the sheriff under this part of the Bill. There are sheriffs and sheriffs, and I think that when dealing with a highly complicated question of this sort, it would not be too much to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to consider whether it would not be advisable to include assessors when a question of this kind is raised and there is an appeal. It is too large a burden to place upon the shoulders of one man to investigate difficult and abstruse problems of this kind. I should be very willing to support any scheme of that kind as far as it is possible to prevent any abuse of the powers under this Clause.
With regard to the second part of the Bill, it is obviously what my right hon. 445 Friend the Secretary of State for Scot-land has called his contribution to the solution of the agricultural problem in Scotland. Frankly, I do not think it is much of a contribution. Take the amount of money that is asked for under this Bill. It is only £100,000, and 50 per cent. of it will very likely be collected, as far as I can make out, locally by means of rates or otherwise. It is not a Bill of universal application to all places in Scotland where drainage may be proved necessary. It is a Bill strictly limited in scope. I understand the Lord Advocate to have given the only examples which will be brought under the scheme. Am I right in understanding that? He cited the case of the river on whose banks I was born. I know that district particularly well. There is no district in Scotland where the depredations of the rapid river Spey has been so marked as in that part of its course. I know that what he said is true. In that particular case there would be very great advantage under a scheme of this kind.
That is one part of the scheme. As to the other part, there is the Deveron, the Findhorn and the Kelvin. As far as I can make out, the scheme is going to be very limited in its scope. Not only is it to be limited in scope, but that scope is to be limited to a certain period of years. The scheme is to be in existence for five years only, so far as the second part of the Bill is concerned. I hope that I am not misquoting the right hon. Gentleman. I am willing to admit that a great amount of preliminary work has been done in engineering surveys, and I am prepared to accept the fact that a great many drainage schemes may be in existence, but I am still far from agreeing that it is a wise thing to limit the number of years within which the scope of working is to be effective.
To take another point of criticism, I am not at all sure that it is a wise thing to give complete control to any State department in this respect. Apart from the fact that there is an appeal on the question of costs, under the second part of the Bill, the Department of Agriculture is given complete control of the whole scheme.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
The Lord Advocate said that they had deliberately introduced the Department of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture is upon its trial. Had it been the Board of Agriculture, instead of using the word "deliberately," I should have said that they had done it with malice aforethought. I am willing to give the Department of Agriculture a fair chance. The only explanation which can be given for dragging in a Department of State in this way is probably the explanation which has been given by my right hon. Friend. I agree with what has been said by the late Secretary of State for Scotland. I am certain that a large local body, knowing local conditions, would in many cases be far more effective to deal with questions of this kind than a Department of State in Edinburgh, not knowing the local conditions and without any precise knowledge of the agricultural conditions as they affect that particular locality. I am, however, prepared to give the Department of Agriculture a chance. It is a new board, which has been recently reconstituted, and it may be that it will be effective, but as I am not sure about that my opinion is held in abeyance until after the Second Reading or the Report stage. If I find things are not as right as I think they ought to be, I shall be prepared to support Amendments dealing with this particular part.
There is another criticism which I should like to make. The Lord Advocate laid down three canons which were to guide the sheriff when he was considering an appeal or an arbitration. I think it is a very dangerous thing to lay down canons of that kind. I do not see how they can guide anybody. One seemed to be contradictory of the other, and I can foresee all sorts of difficulties arising when the arbitrator or the sheriff, as the case may he, is asked to decide.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
It is arbitration. In Part I of the Bill it is the sheriff and in Part II it is arbitration. The only appeal on arbitration is on the question of costs. Once the Department has fixed upon its scheme, that scheme is never 447 varied. I am sure of it. Under the Bill the Department of Agriculture has the power to settle a scheme once for all, and upon the scheme itself there is no appeal, no right to go to arbitration, however much the local authority or the local people concerned may object to the scheme. The Department of Agriculture can say: "It is our scheme. It has been settled. It is the law of the land, and it cannot be altered." It is only on the question of compensation costs that an appeal to an arbitrator or a court of arbitration arises. The Under-Secretary of State, quite rightly, pointed out that the ultimate control of this scheme is in Parliament. What does the Bill say? The Bill, to all intents and purposes, introduces a Clause which one associates with the dismissal of judges. If a judge is to be dismissed, or a question as to his ability or otherwise is raised in Parliament it must be by an Address from both Houses. That is exactly what is in this Bill.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Either House. What does it matter? What happens is that the scheme which has been settled by the Department of Agriculture is laid before the House of Commons. There is no chance of discussion. It is by an Address of this House of Parliament that this scheme can be altered. I should be prepared to support any Amendments on Report stage which will alter that and give the House real and effective control over any scheme of this kind. It cannot really be in the mind of the Government that any Department of State should have the final say in what may affect the whole future of the country so far as agriculture is concerned. That cannot be good doctrine, and I hope to see it altered if it is at all possible. Clause 2 of this Bill is departmentalism run mad. I thought that this Government at least would give the House of Commons a greater share in governing the country, but this Bill, which is the first contribution they have made towards an agricultural policy, really takes away from the people of the country their fair right of judgment on particular matters and places that right, that final decision, not on the people of the country as a whole but on a Department of State in Edinburgh.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
The Secretary of State controls the Department. The fact remains that, instead of having free and adequate discussion, we are to have these schemes laid on the Table of this House. We know what has happened in hundreds of cases where this procedure has been followed. They have never been heard of again, and these schemes will practically be taken away from the control and judgment of the representatives of the people. With these criticisms, which I think are justifiable, I welcome the Bill, and I shall do all that I can to perfect it during Committee and Report stages. I believe I am speaking on behalf of the party to which I belong when I say that we regard drainage as one of the most essential improvements so far as agriculture is concerned in Scotland. We realise that the drainage of smallholdings may not come directly under this Bill, which is on a bigger scale and has to do with arterial drainage, but we welcome it, and if the Bill is carefully thought over by all hon. Members and their minds are applied to improving it in Committee it will he of great benefit to agriculture as a whole.
§ Mr. BROOKE
I should like to join in the chorus of welcome which has been accorded this Bill from all sections of the House. It is going to deal with what I believe to he one of the most serious and damaging factors in agriculture at the present moment. The right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) has described it as a puny and small contribution. I have been reading recently a considerable amount of literature on agriculture issued by the party to which the right hen. Gentleman belongs, and in every one of the treatises I have read a good deal of stress is laid upon the urgent necessity, the immediate need, of the question of the drainage of agricultural land being undertaken as speedily as possible. I should like to have heard from the right hon. Member in what way the powers of this Bill are puny and small. In one part of his speech he complained that too many drastic powers are being given to the Department of Agriculture.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I do not like to interrupt, but what I was trying to show 449 was that it was a puny contribution from the point of view of money. Only £100,000 is being spent.
§ Mr. BROOKE
I stand corrected, and I am glad to know that the right hon. Member does not regard it as a small and puny contribution. That was the impression I got, and when he went on to complain in the latter part of his speech of the large and drastic powers which are being given to the Department of Agriculture I could not quite reconcile the complaint in the earlier part of his speech with the complaint he made later on. I was glad to hear the welcome given to the Bill by the late Secretary of State for Scotland. This Bill is going to be regarded as a nonparty question. My division, which is a large county area in Scotland, is suffering from flooded areas, and every authority on agriculture, the farmers themselves, agricultural workers, and smallholders, and everybody who speaks with any authority on the question of agriculture, are all agreed that a Bill of this kind is vital and urgent. Nobody in my division who is interested in the problem at all is offering any opposition to the Measure in any way whatsoever. I am not a country dweller and I have no very intimate knowledge of the agricultural industry, but it does not require a man to have any knowledge of the day to day work of agriculture to realise the great need for this Measure and the wastage which is going on on our countryside. One has only to walk through some of the larger counties in Scotland, through the eastern portion of the county which I have the honour to represent, and the ordinary powers of observation which one possesses will prove how urgent and necessary it is that the powers in this Measure should be put into operation at the earliest possible moment. To many of my constituents at any rate it will come as a boon and a blessing.
The Kelvin Valley runs through a great part of my Division, and I have just returned from an inspection of the flooded areas. Curiously enough, one of my agricultural constituents, who is deeply interested in this Measure, has sent me a photograph of part of the flooded area, and he describes it as a familiar scene. It is a very depressing and saddening sight to see scores of acres of some of the 450 best agricultural land in Mid-Scotland, land which is rich in alluvial deposits, completely submerged by floods from the River Kelvin. If you could take a bird's eye view of the Kelvin Valley which I understand is to be included in the scheme proposed under this Bill, you will see that roads have been washed away, walls down, fences almost submerged and often, corn stacks floating about. Even the railway line which runs through part of the area is in serious danger of being undermined by the condition of the land. That means that there is a prodigious waste. All that waste could be prevented, and could have been prevented in the past if the powers contained in this Bill had been given to the Department of Agriculture or to the old Board of Agriculture.
I am informed that there is a serious loss of cattle, and that there is very great damage to land and to property, and some of my hon. Friends who know that countryside pretty well say that there has even been great danger to human life from the floods there. It is not simply the fact that this flooding is a new problem which has presented itself for the first time to the country. It is not the fact that the floods occur only rarely or once or twice in a generation. I am informed that the flooding occurs eight and even 10 times in a year and that it has been taking place almost on the present huge scale during the last 30 years. Yet in all that period no adequate steps have been taken by any previous Government to cope with it. One right hon. Gentleman who has spoken seemed to have some fear in regard to Clause 1, under which power is given to an owner to compel an adjoining owner to drain the adjoining land. That, power, is given, not only to owners, but to tenants. I have been informed by several of my constituents, especially those on small farm lands, Who have themselves been under-taking small drainage work, that often the work that they have completed at their own expense has, been nullified either because the adjoining owner has refused to take any action on his part of the land, or because the outlet into the arterial drainage has not been big enough and the arterial drainage itself has become choked.
This Bill, I think for the first time, gives the tenant or the owner power, 451 if he is suffering from the inactivity of an adjoining tenant or owner, to see that proper drainage is undertaken on the adjoining land. I believe that the protection of both parties is adequately provided for in the appeal to the sheriff. The Bill says that before the sheriff gives his decision he has to be satisfied as to the complaint, and must have before him authoritative information as to the work to be undertaken and the condition of the land.
I hope I can make an appeal before I sit down. I want to reverse the usual practice of this House. It is generally the constituent who appeals to his Member for help. On this occasion I happen to have as one of my constituents the Under-Secretary of State, who, I believe, is to be responsible for seeing some of these schemes carried out. I want to ask the Under-Secretary to see that the River Kelvin and the constituency that I represent get their fair share of the benefits of the Bill. We do not want more than our share but only our proper proportion. Every agricultural authority in my Division, a large number of farmers, smallholders and agricultural workers, have assured me that they are giving their full support to the Bill. They are expecting great benefits from it. Because of that, and because I believe that the Bill is going to render great service to the agricultural community in Scotland, I give it my full support, and I hope that the House will give it a speedy Second Reading.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I rise to deal with only one point. First, I would like, as a fellow member of his profession, to add my word of congratulation to the learned Lord Advocate for his most interesting and, if I may say so, most attractive maiden speech. The one point with which I want to deal is this: I congratulate the Government upon the main provision of Clause 2, with its recognition of the fact that under modern conditions there are certain large expenditures by way of capital on the land in which State finance is necessary. But I confess that I am a little anxious with regard to the relation between Clause 2 and Clause I. If, as was suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson), the Clause 2 schemes, where Government 452 assistance and finance play a part, are to be confined to schemes of considerable dimensions, then I fear we may find individual farmers, or small proprietors of any sort, under the operation of Clause 1 forced into very heavy expenses which they cannot themselves face. As I read the Bill first I thought that Clause 2 was not going to be confined to very large schemes, and therefore I thought that the area on which Clause 1 would operate was correspondingly small. But if you have Clause 2 schemes, only on a first-rate scale danger may be incurred because of the present form of Clause 1.
Let me give, as an example, a case in my own constituency. Many Scottish Members must know the town of Blairgowrie and the River Ericht which runs through it. A couple of miles below the town a bank of the river has, in the course of years, crumbled away to the extent of 400 or 500 yards. Immense damage is being done, not only by seasonal flooding, but as a result of the absence of the bank great boulders and quantities of gravel are now beginning to cover a very considerable expanse of agricultural ground. That particular farm happens to belong to a small trust. The total expense of rebuilding the bank would be entirely out of contemplation, in view of the funds available in the trust. Under Clause 1 any of the main proprietors or occupiers might come and insist upon the reconstruction of those 400 or 500 yards of bank, which work, I am told, will cost at least £2,000. I do not pretend to give detailed proposals at this moment, but I would ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, or the Under-Secretary, whether it is not possible to insert in Clause 1 provisions under which Government finance could also be available?
One can foresee many cases where the burden upon an individual farmer, owning three or four hundred acres of land in which the river bank has given way, will, as a result of his neighbours being able to call upon him to repair the damage, be immense. It is to be noted that, among the matters for consideration of the Sheriff under Clause 1, the financial capacity of the defaulting owner to deal with the situation is not mentioned. I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should consider whether the application of Government money under Clause 1 should not be automatic as it 453 is in the case of Clause 2. I suggest that it is worthy of most serious consideration whether provision should not be made so that there might be some method by which, if necessary, the assistance of a Government grant should be given. I do not think that would be any assault on the principle of the Bill, because, after all, the difference between Clauses 1 and 2 is only a matter of degree. I think that when the right hon. Gentleman considers the actual facts in regard to drainage in Scotland he will find that, unless some provision is made for Government assistance, even in Clause 1 cases, the Government may find themselves—quite against their own wishes I am sure—placing great hardships in particular cases on those owners of land whose particular part of the river is causing damage to others.
Those are the only substantive points that I wish to raise. There are many other points which could be raised in Committee, but I do warmly congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues on introducing the Bill. I hope that, while turning their attention to the question of arterial drains, which is vital from the point of view of field drainage, the greater will make them turn their attention to the less, and that they will not forget the pressing and permanent problem of field drainage in Scotland and the vast sums of money required for it.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I rise to join in the general welcome which this Measure has received in all parts of the House. I am not speaking at the moment, though I shall have a few words to say presently, about the use which is likely to be made of it, but I am grateful for and delighted at what I conceive to be the general purposes of a Bill. I think the Secretary of State and his colleagues deserve congratulation upon taking a real step in the right direction in dealing with one of the urgent aspects of the agricultural problem. In the past it has not been urgent, because, as the Lord Advocate has said, our rivers are faster. We have not until recent years felt so much the need for a large scheme of arterial drainage in Scotland, though it has for many centuries existed and been apparent to the people in England. It is for the very reason that improvements have been 454 made in land drainage, and particularly in hill drainage owing to the growing importance of sheep grazing in Scotland, and that large numbers of hill drains are being put in carrying the water down to the lower ground where the arterial drainage has been quite inadequate to carry it away, that the problem is now getting acute. If, as I hope and believe is the case, the Government really do intend to tackle the urgent problem of land drainage, then it becomes all the more necessary as a first step that the Government should have introduced so wisely and rightly this Bill for tackling arterial drainage, so that the channels shall be provided by which the additional water can be carried into the sea.
There are various Committee points with which we shall have to deal when the Bill reaches that stage, but there are one or two points which I wish to raise of more general importance. I hope we shall consider very carefully in Committee the burden that this Bill is likely to throw upon the individual owners and occupiers of land. There are many thousands of owners who are very small people and who are passing through a time of very acute depression. This depression is particularly difficult to encounter in the case of those owners who bought their property at very high rates and who have very heavy burdens of mortgages upon them at present. Of course, it may be said by those who dwell in cities and do not understand rural problems, that they will get the benefit of the expenditure and will be able to pay for it out of those benefits, but those benefits will take a very long time to accrue. When the land has been wet and sour for many years it takes a good deal of nursing, liming, and manuring before you can get it into good heart and get any return from it. Therefore, I particularly urge, in regard to these payments which have to be made and the rate of 5 per cent. per annum to be imposed under Subsection (6) of Clause 2, that they should be graduated and be made as low as possible in the first five or seven years when there would be very little return to the owner or occupier from expenditure.
There is another point with which the Lord Advocate did not deal and with which no one else has dealt, but which 455 strikes me as deserving of general support. It is provided that the Crown lands should be exempt from the provisions of the Bill. As I read that, it seems to me that a private landlord or the occupier of agricultural land having water coming on to it from Crown estates or estates in the possession of the Department of Agriculture—and it should be remembered that between them they are among the half-a-dozen largest landlords in Scotland—will have no redress and will not be able to take advantage of the Clauses of the Bill.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
May I draw the hon. and gallant Member's attention to the last words of Clause 5, which say that nothing shall be done without the consent of His Majesty or the Government Department? I think there will be absolutely no difficulty.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I do not think that will be very much comfort to the occupier or owner of land. I hope the Secretary of State will consider the matter again, because I honestly do not think, if he goes to an owner or occupier of agricultural land in Scotland and tells him that he will have no statutory rights, but will be able to go to the Department and fling himself on its mercy and ask it to do something to help him, that that owner will consider it adequate. Owners would rather have a statutory right. There may be some technical difficulty, but I ask that the question of conferring upon them, as upon all other owners and occupiers of land in Scotland, a statutory right should be considered.
I am a little disquieted about the amount of legal costs involved in the various Sub-sections of the Bill. There is, for example, in regard to the question of distributing the cost of the scheme among those affected, a provision that there should be an appeal to arbitration. The arbiter will have to he paid heavy fees. I am merely putting this forward as a point which might be considered. If proof has to be laid, it may be extremely expensive—even more expensive than proceedings in Court. Could we not bring in the Land Court in this connection? That would be a cheap and easy method, and the Land Court consists of people who have a great knowledge of land all 456 over Scotland. The Under-Secretary may say that if that were done there would be an appeal to the Court of Session, but it would be possible to enact specially that in cases of this kind the decision of the Land Court should be final. Under Sub-section (7) it is provided that if there is a dispute over the compensation, either party may go to a Lord Ordinary of the Court of Session to have an arbiter nominated. That is a costly proceeding merely in order to have an arbiter appointed. Surely there must be some simpler and less expensive way. Again, in the case of the acquisition of land, there is to be an appointment made from a panel of arbiters. That system works very well in many cases, and I am not making any general criticism against panels of arbiters, but there are cases in which arbiters have been brought into counties of which they know nothing. The Under-Secretary and I know of a case in which some extraordinary valuations were made by a man who did not know the circumstances of the particular county with which he was dealing. The Land Court would have a better general knowledge of the conditions all over Scotland than any other body. Different arbiters will give different decisions, and I suggest that a much fairer and stricter standard would be obtained if the Land Court decided these cases.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) referred to the fact that under Clause 2 the Department of Agriculture had the whole control of the scheme and that there was no appeal. I am very far from saying that we should hamper or restrict the action of the Department of Agriculture, and I am sure try right hon. Friend takes exactly the same view, but I do not like the provision under which the only form of appeal, the only opportunity of revising the decision of the Department, is that every scheme is to be laid before both Houses of Parliament, and if either House presents an address to His Majesty within 28 days, the scheme is to be annulled. Under that provision, if the House of Lords chose to vote down a scheme which had been thought out by the Department, on which a great deal of time and money had been expended, and which was of real importance to a district, then the whole of that time and money would be wasted and that district 457 would be deprived of the benefits of the scheme. I do not like that part of the Bill, and I appeal to the Under-Secretary to see if some provision cannot be introduced by which, if the Department of Agriculture is to be subject to some form of appeal, that appeal should be to a small expert body which could give a decision quickly on the general outlines of a scheme—a body to which local people can appeal if they did not approve of the scheme instead of the method of laying each scheme before both Houses of Parliament.
When we come to the use which is to be made of this Bill, as opposed to the character and purpose of the Bill itself, I find myself less enthusiastic in its support. We are giving a powerful weapon to the Government, and I ask the Under-Secretary what use is he going to make of it? Are we only going to drag on during the next five years with schemes on the Spey and in the South and West of Scotland when we have thousands of acres all over Scotland waterlogged and waiting to be reclaimed from river and sea. I ask hon. Members to consider what is being done abroad. Look across the North Sea and see the Zuider Zee and the Haarlem Meer being reclaimed. In 25 years, as the result of a continuous policy, Holland has reclaimed 250,000 acres, and in 60 years Belgium has reclaimed 1,000,000 acres. In 60 years Denmark has reclaimed 500,000 acres of forest and 1,000,000 acres for agriculture; Germany and France are going on the same lines, whereas in Great Britain our land is going back in use instead of being more and more developed as the years go past. On the other hand, our industries are depressed and the figure of unemployment is mounting up year by year. Every year we vote fresh millions, not for productive expenditure, but merely for the relief of unemployed men and women. Why cannot we bring in agriculture to redress the balance?
The Lord Advocate in a very able and eloquent speech referred to the opinion of Lord Karnes and quoted him as saying that if only we had spent a little more on the development of our soil at home, instead of so much upon the American colonies it would have been much better for the country. Why does not the Lord Advocate preach that doctrine 458 to his own Government? But it seems that the Government's vision is narrowed to such miserable limits that only £100,000, of which £50,000 is State money, is going to be spent on a Measure which could be made, not merely a means of getting more production from the soil of Scotland, but a means of dealing with, at least, one important aspect of the problem of unemployment. Here we have a great new, glittering, powerful machine, but we have no petrol, or at any rate, we have only £50,000 worth of petrol to make it go. What has happened to other schemes in Scotland? There have been many schemes. There was the Flanders Moss scheme which was going to reclaim land and make it worth £3 an acre. That was a business proposal and the Joint Executive of the Distress Committees of all Scotland wanted that scheme. Why cannot that scheme be revived now that these new powers are being obtained?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am glad to have the approval of the hon. Gentleman in that suggestion. I think he represents the constituency in which Flanders Moss is situated and I am sure he will be anxious to revive the scheme just as we are anxious to revive it. I am sure that both he and the Secretary of State desire to advance on those lines. We are anxious to help them and to keep before us the greater use which can be made of what we believe to be a thoroughly good Bill. Here is an opportunity to develop our land, to employ our people productively, and to tackle one of the great problems of national reconstruction. We have a right to expect and public opinion impatiently awaits some indication of what the Government intend to do. Here is the Bill. We shall pass it to-night; we welcome it; but I would ask what use is going to be made of it; what are you going to do?
§ Major MCKENZIE WOOD
There is no difference of opinion about this Bill or the purpose of this Bill, but I should like to deal with a question or two which, in my opinion, are of more than mere committee importance. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) referred to the question of appeals, and I should like the Secretary of State for Scotland seriously to consider the point which he 459 made. As a matter of fact, the drafting of this Bill has resulted in this—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman did not mean it—that the control of all these schemes is vested in the House of Lords. When a scheme has been formulated and the cost worked out, it comes to this House and to the other House. We know here that no opportunity will ever be given to us to get the time to consider any such scheme, but in another place it is different. They have the time there, and it will be very easy for them to render null and void all the work that has been done, either because they do not like the apportionment of the cost or because they do not like the scheme itself. That is a matter of very great importance, and I hope it will be considered before the Committee stage is reached.
The next point to which I should like to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman is the difference that is to be found between the wording of Clause 1 and that of Clause 2. Clause 1 refers to the maintenance, if I may put it so, of schemes already in operation, and Clause 2 refers to new schemes; but whereas Clause 1 only deals with agricultural land, in Clause 2 it is not merely agricultural land, but "any land or building in a landward area." The question I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman or to the Under-Secretary of State, if he is going to reply, is, Why is there this difference between the two Clauses? This question of drainage is a matter which affects not merely agricultural land, but other land as well.
The Lord Advocate, in his masterly speech at the beginning of the Debate, referred especially to the Spey. He dealt with the agricultural land in the higher reaches of the Spey, and also with the town land, if I may put it so, at the mouth of the Spey. During these last Christmas holidays many of the people of Garmouth and Kingston Port have been up all night, watching the water rising and fearing that they were going to be washed away. Is their case not to be considered in connection with Clause 1? Supposing they were affected by the fact that a scheme previously in operation has not been carried out, if the people of Garmouth or Kingston-on-Spey can show that their difficulties are largely caused by the fact that somebody 460 further up the river is not doing his duty, are they to have no redress under this Clause? It seems to me that that is a matter that requires a little further explanation. I might also say that, in regard to Clause 2, the phrase "any land or building in a landward area" is a little obscure, because I do not know what is meant by "a landward area."
The last point to which I should like to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman is the incidence of the capital cost in respect of schemes under Clause 2. There is no question about the incidence of the cost of maintenance. All maintenance is to fall upon the owners and occupiers of the land in question, but with the capital cost it is different. A certain proportion of that cost is to fall upon the State, and the rest apparently on the owners and occupiers. My point is that there is nothing in this Bill to say what proportion is to fall on the State and what proportion on the others involved. There are some directions to guide the arbiters in apportioning the cost as between the different occupiers and owners concerned, but there is nothing at all to say how much is to be borne by the owners and occupiers as a class and how much by the Government, and it seems to me that there should be something in the Bill to give light on these points.
§ Major COLVILLE
I have only one point to raise in regard to this Bill, which vests in the Department of Agriculture for all time responsibility for the maintenance of these drainage works, I think, under Clause 2, and they can have the sums required for this purpose levied as a rate. The result is that a non-elected body is levying rates, and though the amount may be small, the principle is a great one. In the Coast Erosion Bill there is a similar proposal, which was criticised from this side. It is undesirable and unconstitutional that a non-elected body should have the power of levying these rates, and I suggest that where the schemes have been approved and carried out, their maintenance should be handed over to the county council, and that if the area covered by a scheme, as it well might do, covers more than one county, it might be entrusted to a drainage committee nominated by the county councils affected. I should like the right 461 hon. Gentleman to take that proposal into his careful consideration.
Before sitting down, I should like to say that I welcome this first definite proposal on the part of the Government to assist Scottish agriculture, and I trust that it will be followed by other proposals, because, important as is the question of land drainage, I think that even more important and pressing is the question of keeping good land from going out of cultivation, as it is doing at the present time. I trust the Government will speedily put forward proposals for dealing with that problem as well.
§ Mr. MacROBERT
I should like to congratulate my successor in office upon his very clear and lucid statement in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. It is clear from the speeches that have been made that the aim and object of the Bill are being supported on all sides of the House. No doubt it will be scrutinised carefully at a later stage, but at the present time I should like to draw attention to one or two points. First of all, in regard to Clause 1, there is no provision at all, as I understand, for any money payment being made by the Government. Under Clause 1 it is open to any occupier or owner to require any other owner to do something on his estate. It does not require to be an adjacent or adjoining owner. If an owner or occupier can say that his particular property is being injured or is likely to be injured, he can go against the owner who, he alleges, is injuring or is going to injure him. That is what I understand the first Clause says, and I do not take any exception to it, because I understand that it is quite clearly intended to impose a new obligation upon an owner of land, and, because you are going to impose a new obligation, it is all the more essential that you should act fairly and reasonably towards the person upon whom you are imposing it. I think that there must be some mistake in the wording of this particular Sub-section. I refer to the words, in line 11:in or adjoining such last-mentioned land.According to the Clause as it is drawn, an owner is liable to execute work on an adjoining water-course which does not belong to him. That is quite clear from the words of the Bill, and I am certain 462 that that is not intended. I. think that what was really intended was that—
§ Mr. C. WILLIAMS
In the event of one of these water-courses being next to the boundary, would it apply over the boundary as well?
§ Mr. MacROBERT
Accordingly, I do not think the Government intend that an owner should be responsible to doing any work in respect of a watercourse which is not on his property. I think that what was really intended was not to have the words "or adjoining," but some such words as "any watercourse in or partly in his land," because a watercourse is either within the property or without the property. It may be partly within and partly without, but this Clause deals with a case where the watercourse is adjoining, and that, of course, implies that it is outside the property of the proprietor who is going to be called upon to do the work. I am certain that that is not intended.
I do not think that the provisions with regard to appeal are satisfactory. Speaking generally the Sheriff should have power to say that the cost of the work which you seek to impose upon a particular owner is unreasonable in the circumstances, and he should be empowered to say, "I will not impose the duty upon him." The result would be that this particular matter might fall under Clause 2, and form part of a scheme. In that way, Government assistance could be given, but the Sheriff might reasonably be given powers, in the case of a small owner who, because it is alleged that he is injuring an owner in the vicinity, is to be called upon to spend a large sum of money to refuse to grant the order if the cost is going to be prohibitive or unreasonable. That would be a reasonable provision, and it would always be open to the particular person whose application had been refused, to move with a view to coming under Clause 2. It is true that Clause 2; is limited to five years, but if it be a good thing, it will be continued at the end of that time. There is another point with regard to anneals. In an appeal, the sheriff has no option if he is satisfied that injury is being done, but to grant the warrant to an outsider to do the work upon the other man's land. The sheriff 463 should have power to allow the owner himself to do the work, and to give him an opportunity of doing it. Further than that, the sheriff should have the opportunity of saying, "Although this owner has not executed the work within the month under Clause 1, Sub-section (2), the particular work which he was called upon, to do was of some difficulty, and he had to take more time than the month to consider his plans." If the sheriff thought that the owner was taking all reasonable steps to carry out the work in question, no warrant should be granted. These are some points which I hope will be considered, and can be considered at a later stage.
Clause 2, again, as it is drawn, seems to a large extent limited. The Clause reads that, where the Departmentare of opinion that any agricultural land is capable of improvement by drainage works, or that any land or building in a landward area is being or is in danger of being injured by flooding and that such injury can be remedied or prevented by the execution of drainage works, the Department may, in accordance with the provisions of a scheme made under this section, enter on the land.The Clause is limited in this respect, that you have to find an area which is a flooded area, or an agricultural area, which is capable of improvement, and it is only within that area that you can carry out drainage works. It is quite clear that you might have to carry out the drainage work very far away, say higher up the river, and therefore it seems to me that it would be wrong to limit it in the way that is suggested. Do the Government mean by "any land or building in a landward area" that it shall not be limited to agriculture? I understand that they intend it to go beyond agricultural land. I am not taking any exception to that, but I would like to point out that you may be doing something that is not fair if you limit it to the landward area, because one can conceive a case where there may be a few houses outside a burgh and in the landward area which are being flooded; and, when a scheme is made for that part of the landward area, all the owners of that part are responsible and liable to pay a proportion of the expense, whereas the benefit is being received, it may be, by the whole of the burgh and all the owners 464 in the burgh. In a case like that, it would be wrong to limit responsibility in the way suggested in this Bill.
The case has been mentioned of Kingston-on-Spey. That is not a burgh, but a small village, and therefore it might properly be called landward. Supposing Kingston had been a burgh, and there had been certain properties affected by the flooding just outside the burgh. It would be very hard that these owners should have to bear the whole cost, and that would be the case if Kingston had been a burgh. One might easily have a case of a burgh being damnified by flooding, and no scheme would be applicable to it at all. But if you found a few houses outside also flooded, in that case you could have a scheme, and the cost would be thrown on the owners of the landward area. In that respect I think the Bill requires consideration.
Then I wish to ask what is the intention of the Bill with regard to mines. Hon. Members opposite seem surprised that I should refer to mines, but if they will look at the wording of this Clause they will see the phrase,Any land or building in a landward area is being or is in danger of being injured by flood.It is quite common knowledge that mines are in the landward areas, and it is known that many mines are flooded to-day. Does this Bill intend to deal with them? [An HON. MEMBER: "In so far as mines are agricultural."] The hon. Member has not appreciated the very point of this Clause. The Clause is not confined to agricultural land. That is why I am making these remarks. If the Clause had been confined to agricultural land many of my observations would rot have been apposite. It is only because it has been extended to go beyond agricultural land and buildings that these difficult questions are arising. One must remember, too, that, although we are talking of drainage, when we look at the definition we find that we are not really legislating for drains only hut for all the rivers of Scotland. It was said there are no public bodies in charge of any of the drainage schemes, and that is quite true; but it is not true of the rivers. There are the Clyde Trustees and the Forth Conservancy Board; and there may be other authorities 465 which I do not happen to know. One is apt to forget that owing to the wide-ness of the definition Clause this is a very far-reaching Bill indeed.
Some questions arose with regard to cost. I understand it is the purpose of the Bill that a certain proportion of the cost will be thrown upon the owners. It may be that it is the intention of the Government that they should pay only so far as they will be benefited. That may be the policy at the back of the mind of the Government—I do not know if it is—but if it is, it is not quite provided for in the Bill, because I see the Department are only to have regard to certain matters of benefit and the like. That is a point which needs to be carefully looked into. It is quite true, as some other speakers have stated, that there is no appeal at all from the Department with regard to the very important question of settling the schemes, and as far as I can see there is no appeal from the Department with regard to the settling of the cost of the scheme. The only appeal is this: when the Department seek to apportion the cost amongst owners, there may then be an appeal in that case, and in that case only. [Interruption.] I mean an appeal to the arbitrator. It would be arbitration under Clause 2. The method of appeal there, if a person is dissatisfied, is to ask for arbitration, and the arbiter could decide that the Department were wrong in the apportionment they made. If it were left to the Department to say without appeal what the scheme is to be and what the cost of it is to be, that might be a very serious matter for the people concerned, and I think it would be right to give some form of appeal.
It has been mentioned that the Department is an interested party. As we all know, the Department is one of the largest landowners in Scotland, and it is rather repugnant, to me, at least, to think that it is to be the judges of so many things while it may be an interested party. But these, as I have said, are matters which can be considered at a later stage. In conclusion I have to say that while there are many points which will require careful consideration and on which we shall require to see that the rights of owners are protected, so far as that can reasonably and fairly be done, nevertheless the main purpose of the Bill is one to commend 466 itself to this side of the House and we have much pleasure in supporting it.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
My first duty is to acknowledge, on behalf of the Government, the very sympathetic reception which this Bill has had from all quarters of the House. Many points have been raised to-night to which I am certain my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will give very sympathetic consideration when the Bill gets into Committee upstairs. The right hon. Gentleman and the late Secretary of State for Scotland raised, for example, the point as to whether or not it might be advisable for the sheriff to have an assessor or assessors with him under Clause 1. My right hon. Friend is willing to consider that question in all its aspects when we get upstairs. The question was also raised as to whether outside engineers might be brought in in exceptional cases. That, again, will be sympathetically considered; at least, powers may be taken to bring in outside engineers if the Secretary of State for Scotland for the time being should consider that course to be necessary. Then the point was raised by the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) and by other hon. Members as to the small man under Clause 1 and whether he could be transferred to Clause 2 on good cause being shown. I think so; at any rate that was our intention. It was clearly the intention of the Government that such a course should be followed where it could be shown that the lack of drainage or the lack of proper precautions against flooding by one man was materially injuring agriculture in his neighbourhood. That, I think, would be a case where Clause 2 would be brought in.
These and similar points, I can assure the House, will be very reasonably met if we can at all meet them when we come to the Committee stage; but we are exceedingly anxious that the main structure of the Bill should get through. We are prepared to meet hon. Gentlemen on details if we can get the main structure. What is this main structure? We do not know how many acres are flooded in Scotland. In England they had a Royal Commission. That Royal Commission has said that in 1927 there were 1,750,000 acres in danger of flooding and in immediate need of drain 467 age.There are 1,250,000 acres suffering regularly from flooding. At the present moment in Scotland, there are great stretches of land requiring to be dealt with. The Chamber of Agriculture and other organisations which claim to speak on behalf of agriculture in Scotland have demanded that something should be done and done speedily in regard to land drainage in Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland has already secured £30,000 a year for field drainage, and that is three times more than the amount of money which was spent last year. I am perfectly certain that if it is found that that sum is not enough, we shall do our best to secure a larger sum. Anyhow we have already taken steps to multiply by three the amount of money that was voted for field drainage last year.
Now comes the question of the arterial drainage required in Scotland. We do not want to be choked off with any small proposals. We must have something like a great and comprehensive scheme to tackle and deal with this subject. There are quite 10 or 12 schemes which ought to be carried out. There is the scheme dealing with the Spey where the railway bank is in danger, and agricultural land is actually being washed away. The great flood of 1928 caused one-and-a-half acres of arable land to disappear; market gardens were washed away, and dwelling houses were undermined. It is no good coming forward suggesting that we should deal with these matters with our present powers, and we must provide some central authority to deal with them. I do not want to introduce political considerations into this question, but we had a local conference on the subject of flooding on the Spey and our engineers produced a scheme to deal with it. The railway companies agreed to the scheme and offered to pay a contribution towards the cost, but the landowner refused.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I am referring to the scheme produced to stop the washing away of houses and the threatening of the railway line at Garmouth. What we propose to do now is to produce our scheme and give objec 468 tors power to object. When their objections are heard, it will then be formally intimated to all the proprietors that the scheme will provide for the expenses—not necessarily only a part, but it may be all the expenses—being borne by those who are to get the actual benefit, including those who are saved from suffering depreciation of their properties, and who may rightly be called upon for a contribution towards the cost of the scheme. I need not repeat what the Lord Advocate has said, but it is provided in the Bill that, if objection is taken, an arbiter shall be appointed by a Lord Ordinary of the Court of Session, absolutely free from any suspicion of Government influence, to settle the amount of compensation if compensation be necessary.
The hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) and the hon. and gallant Member for Banff (Major Wood) drew attention to the fact that, as the Bill now stands, a hostile Resolution in either House would kill any one scheme. I agree. We desire to get our Bill through, and, accordingly, have put in these safeguards, but we are so absolutely certain that we can make out a 100 per cent. good case that we are willing, in the interests of the agriculture of our country, to take that risk. We feared that, if we did not put in these safeguards, however extravagant they may seem to us and to hon. Gentlemen in all quarters of the House, we should not be able to secure that measure of support and agreement in this House which would be necessary for the carrying out of our purpose. If in Committee there is anything like a majority for lessening these safeguards, I am sure that no Member on this side of the House would regret it if some of them, which we believe to be absolutely unnecessary were taken out.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman opposite was mistaken in saying that there is not much in Clause 2 of the Bill, and that, on further consideration, he will amend that opinion. Thirty-three branches of the Farmers' Union—the people who know the facts—have formally sent us appeals to get on with this Bill as speedily as possible; and all the agricultural interests in Scotland so far as we know—the Chamber of Agriculture, the National Farmers' Union, the Farm Servants' Union, the surveyors, everyone—believe that the Bill, 469 even as it now stands, may mean the salvation of agricultural land in Scotland. Reference has been made to the Spey, and also to the Kelvin. I have lived by the banks of the Kelvin all my life. I see 3,000 acres, eight times in an average winter, under flood, sometimes three feet deep. I have seen roads washed away. I believe it has cost the Treasury more money for the repair of roads in that area than would have bought the whole of the land outright. Cattle have been washed away. Recently a woman disappeared, and her body was not found until some weeks afterwards, having actually passed through a town. We know that this flooding could be stopped. We have detailed reports of skilled engineers, and we have estimates of what it would cost to do it. We believe that we can, in that one valley alone, bring 3,000 acres of the finest land in central Scotland into immediate use. We believe that we can do that profitably and economically.
As in the case of the Spey and the Kelvin, the Annan also persistently floods arable land. I am informed that at present the sour, marshy, flooded areas by the River Annan are let at 30s. and 40s. per annum, while land adjacent but just outside the flooded area lets at £6 and over. It is obvious that, if we could only take what steps are in our power to bring this land into use, as other countries have done, we could make it profitable and do something to put agriculture on a more economic footing. We hear a lot about rationalisation of this industry and the other industry. If the statements made by the agricultural interest in Scotland are correct, one-seventh of the capital resources of agriculture is urgently requiring treatment by drainage.
Here is a method by which, for a trifling sum of public money, we shall be able to do something for our greatest industry. We shall be able to make those who receive the benefit pay a large proportion of the cost. We shall be able to make those who are seeing their property depreciate pay something to have the cessation of that depreciation, and, if we cannot carry the public ownership of the land which we should desire, and other Members who desire individual ownership, and believe that everyone has a 470 right to do what he likes with his own, cannot justify this flooded anarchy any longer, surely we can sit on the Standing Committee upstairs, and, without party politics, discuss amicably and reasonably the many useful points which have been raised in the discussion to-day. I can assure the House that, if the Bill is met upstairs in the same spirit as it has been met in the House to-night, we shall do our beet to meet all reasonable points of difference. Let us trust that we shall get the Bill through as speedily as possible, so that the engineers' schemes which are already in draft can be put into use at once, and we shall see something done this summer to better agricultural possibilities.
§ Mr. C. WILLIAMS
I should not have taken any part in the Debate but for the-perfectly amazing speech which we have just heard. The hon. Gentleman has told us that there is flooded anarchy, whatever that means, in the agricultural districts of Scotland. [An HON. MEMBER: "Water!"] I should rather imagine that floods and water are usually more or less closely connected. Here is a scheme brought forward and supported by practically every Scottish Member. I propose, as an English Member, as time goes on, to look into the cost of the Bill and certain other details connected with it. When I find Scottish Members fairly steadily combining to extract money, when I find over a considerable period that these same gentlemen want to get quietly on with it, I think, as a representative of the general taxpayer, I have some right, on these rare occasions when one has an opportunity of raising one's voice, to put in a word for the general taxpayer.
I should like to call the attention of the House to the Memorandum. It is a most extraordinary Memorandum. I do not wonder that there is no representative of the Treasury here. No representative of the Treasury, unless he was more decadent than the present representatives on the Front Bench, could possibly come and answer for such a Bill as this. The Memorandum says thatthe whole cost of execution of the schemes in view may be in the neighbourhood of £100,000.It says "may be." There is nothing definite. It may be £100,000 or it may be £1,000,000, for all we know. All we know 471 is, that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland believe that they have a limitless sum upon which they can draw. Are we entitled to pass any Bill at the present time which gives them a limitless sum? I would not mind the granting of a given sum, provided I knew the precise amount. It is absolutely wrong to go forward with a Bill of this kind unless we have an understanding as to what the actual sum is likely to be. The Memorandum goes on to say:It is thought that 6ome 50 per cent. of the cost of all the schemes, excluding compensation, may ultimately be recovered.It is a queer and vague Memorandum. "It is thought"—on two occasions those words recur. We have had no estimate of what the total sum is likely to be. The House of Commons, which is supposed primarily to be a financial House, has not the remotest knowledge of the actual cost from what I have heard of the discussion this afternoon, and I have heard a very considerable portion of it. I, like others, have to leave the Chamber—we are all human—about eight o'clock for a short time, but I am no worse than any other hon. Member. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman undoubtedly speaks from his own desires and feelings, but there are some who have other ideas in life beyond that. I am sorry for the interruption, because it is a bit difficult to go into a Bill which is so complicated.
The hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State referred to the question of floods on the Spey. I understand that great damage is being done. [Interruption.] I am perfectly innocent in regard to this matter, and, surely, that is all the more reason why I should try to find out about this matter. The hon. Member says that enormous damage has been done and that the railway company are liable and willing to help. I did not notice that any other person was liable and willing to help. I conclude that the railway company are a business concern, and probably have Englishmen on the management. What about the local people from the various local authorities? No offer of any kind, as far as I can make out, has been made by local authorities to put the matter right. I always understood that if there was 472 money in it, the Scotsman was the first to be there.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
May I assist the hon. Gentleman's peroration by saying that the County Council was willing to pay, and actually invited a conference?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having helped me out on this occasion. We have an assurance with respect to the county council and the railway company. That is all to the good. But we have no knowledge that the people who make profit out of the land are going to help in any way. I should like to be certain that value will be obtained for the money spent and that in some instances we are not paying perhaps one pound in order to recover one shillingsworth of land. If the land was as valuable as we are led to believe, one would have thought that not only the railway company and the local authorities but others would have been willing to move in the matter. There may be a considerable number of big owners and tenants interested. If it could have been shown to me that the work was worth doing in every case, I should have been only too glad to give support, but it did not appear to me that the case had been proved. I cannot understand Clause 1, but I hope that the result of my intervention so far as that Clause is concerned will not be that I shall be punished by being placed upon the Scottish Committee. It is one of the most complicated bits of legislation that I have ever had the pleasure or otherwise of looking into. When my hon. and learned Friend was trying to explain what would happen under Clause 1, line 10:or to join in maintaining the banks or to cleanse the channel of any watercourse in or adjoining such last-mentioned land,I interrupted him, not from mere opposition, but to ask whether it was possible to say what would happen with regard to a stream which was on the border of the two countries. I wanted to give an opportunity to the Government to explain whether this Measure stands alone or whether it is the forerunner of an English scheme. I deliberately asked the question, and I have been given to understand from different sources that this Bill is a sort of preparatory scheme to an English land drainage scheme. If that is the case, 473 if we can be assured that all the various details of this Bill are likely to be repeated as far as England is concerned, if we can be certain that the unlimited expenditure of money which is likely to occur under this Bill is likely to occur on a wider area when England will benefit as well, I should not be quite so averse to the Bill, but when I find that there is no direct encouragement to us to believe that it will be extended on a wider scale, when I find that this grant of public money is a grant to Scotland and will not come to England, then every English Member, regardless of party, should join with me in saying that we should have such a Measure in England as well. I do not say that I should approve even in that case, but there would be a better chance of getting my approval if the provisions of a Measure such as this were extended to this side of the Border. I want to raise a point on Sub-section (2) of Clause 1. I do not profess to have a comprehensive knowledge of Scottish legal terms. [Interruption.] I am sure hon. Members will agree that I am therefore entitled to get some knowledge on these matters. I want to know what the words in this Sub-section actually mean:Where a notice has been served in pursuance of the foregoing sub-section and the requirements thereof have not been complied with within one month after such date of service, it shall be lawful for the person serving the notice to apply to the sheriff for a warrant authorising Him to cause the operations specified in the notice to be carried out or to join with any other person in so doing.It seems to me that this is authorising a tremendous interference, a collosal interference, with the rights of individuals in almost any circumstances. You may have a small man occupying a comparatively little homestead who, by some misfortune which he is entirely unable to control, is causing the blocking of a particular river. Down comes upon him this notice from the Sheriff and ultimately the whole cost of the operation, as I read the Bill, may sooner or later be put on his shoulders. I say quite honestly that in such a matter as this— [Interruption]—I am glad to find there is one hon. Member who cheers the word "honestly," because it is not so popular with the party opposite at the moment. I put it to the Secretary of State for Scotland, as a man who has had a very hard struggle in life in many ways, 474 who has been successful, can he really say that, so far as this Subsection is concerned he considers that the small man has adequate protection? I do not; I very much doubt it. It is very nice for the right hon. Gentleman's lawyer friends to say that it is all right, but the right hon. Gentleman is a man who has kindliness at the bottom of his heart, and I say frankly that if I were in his position and had to force through such a thing as this, I would not be at all sure that I would not want very much bigger powers for safeguarding the small individual with his hard lot and small margin of profit.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. T. Kennedy)
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put accordingly, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.