Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £414,918, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, including Grants for Land Improvement, Agricultural Education and Training, Loans to Co-operative Societies, a Grant under the Agricultural Credits (Scotland) Act, 1929, a Grant in respect of the Hebridean Drifter Service, and certain Grants-in-Aid."—[NOTE.—£160,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. William Adamson)
I want to take this opportunity of saying a few words regarding the condition of the agricultural industry, in addition to dealing briefly with the administration of the Department. The condition of agriculture during the past year, particularly as regards arable farming, has caused great anxiety to everyone interested in the continued prosperity of our oldest industry, and one that still occupies a high, though not since 1911 the highest, place in our national economy. The annual value of British agriculture is some £274,000,000 or £24,000,000 greater than Australia, and only £68,000,000 less than Canada, both as yet essentially agricultural and not industrial countries. This large annual British output is mainly derived from livestock and livestock products, which provide 70 per cent. of the total, while wheat only contributes 5 per cent., and the amount of cereals as a whole sold off the farms is only 10 per cent. of the total agricultural output. Britain is, therefore, predominantly a livestock country. This huge industry, producing such a large part of our national income and employing no fewer than 887,000 of our people, is not only 602 important to the agricultural community, but is of vital interest to the whole nation.
During the whole time that I have held my present office, less than a year, I have constantly had before me the condition of agriculture, and the measures it was possible for me to take for its relief and its general development. In the course of that time, I have had the opportunity of discussing the condition of the industry with many of the men with practical experience of all its difficulties, with the view of helping me to form an opinion as to the remedies that are required to enable the industry to overcome the difficulties which it is facing. As the result of these consultations and conferences I have reached the conclusion that our agricultural industry should aim at the development and evolution of a policy which is in accordance with the natural advantages of the country, and which is capable of supplying a widespread demand. It is from that point of view that the Department of Agriculture for Scotland is proceeding in order to help the industry, if possible, to work out its own salvation.
The discussion of this Estimate gives me the opportunity of reminding the Committee of some of the steps which have, during the past year, been taken towards the attainment of the end upon which I have just laid stress. In my view, the prosperity of the farmer has always been prejudiced by his relations with the middleman. Accordingly, one of the first steps that I took was to appoint a strong and representative committee to inquire into the present position of agricultural co-operation in Scotland, and to consider what steps are practicable and desirable with a view to the development and extension of co-operation. This committee has now reported to me, and its report is available for Members. The report includes recommendations of State guarantees to banks in respect of loans and overdrafts, the appointment of a finance committee to examine applications for loans and overdrafts, the extension of the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts, compulsory grading of produce, dealing with recalcitrant minorities, the formation of a Scottish Agricultural Co-operative Federation, and the encouragement of co-operation in the Western Highlands 603 and Islands. These recommendations, it is needless to say, are at present receiving my earnest consideration and attention.
The second point with which I want to deal is that of the Land Drainage Bill, which I introduced earlier in the Session and has been passed into law. Already there are in hand two schemes, which have been under discussion for some time, dealing with the flooding of land in the valley of the River Kelvin, and with the condition of the land and houses at the mouth of the River Spey. Inspection is rapidly proceeding in the Kelvin Valley, with a view to drawing up a formal scheme, while the results of an engineering survey at the mouth of the Spey is under consideration. Other cases have been investigated where remedial measures appear to be called for, such as those in connection with irregularities in the courses of the Rivers Nith, Annan, Dee, Clyde and the Tay. The provision for field drainage (apart from arterial drainage) and the draining of hill pastures, as a matter of agricultural development, has been increased from about £12,000 to £30,000 in the present year. That such an increase was necessary is shown by the fact that already application has been made for a grant of over £40,000. The work of allocating the grants is proceeding as rapidly as the officials of the Department can manage it, and already over £16,000 has been allocated. Partly with the view of aiding the training of skilled drainers, and partly to ascertain the possibilities of the value of reclamation work, I have had surveys made of various sections of the extensive area covered by the Flanders Moss in Stirlingshire, and I am now examining the costs which would be involved in operating drainage works on a selected portion of the moss. I hope that the results of these inquiries, which are being pressed forward, may enable me to carry through an experimental scheme, which, I think, will be of great value.
The next subject which has been engaging our attention during the course of the present year has been that of the Regulations made under the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Act, 1928, which enables the Department to inaugurate experiments for grading and 604 marking in accordance with the prescribed definitions of Scottish beef killed in Aberdeen, Inverurie and a few outlying centres in Aberdeenshire and Banffshire. The selection of these centres was governed by the consideration that large quantities of Scottish beef are regularly consigned thence to London, where the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries had already initiated rather similar experiments. Since the experiment was commenced in the last days of October, 1929, the number of wholesale butchers in Aberdeenshire and district taking advantage of it, has increased from 18 in the first week to 142 in the last week of March. The number of sides of beef graded and marked increased from 537 in the week ended 2nd November, to 2,483 in the week ended 29th March. Of the latter number, it is estimated that 1,986 sides reached the London market, representing 79.3 per cent. of the total supply of Scottish beef arriving there. It is understood to be the opinion of the agricultural industry in Scotland that the present grading experiment in Aberdeenshire has helped the market for good fat cattle to a very substantial extent, and we are keeping in close touch with this development, as we consider that it is one of the things that will help the Scottish farming community to overcome their difficulties.
The next thing which has been engaging our attention is the milk feeding experiment which is being conducted in Lanarkshire. It is the largest experiment of its kind which has ever been undertaken in the country. Ten thousand children are each receiving three-quarters of a pint of Grade "A" (T.T.) milk per day. The milk is derived from 26 tubercle-free herds scattered over Aberdeenshire, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire. Roughly 950 gallons of milk are consumed each day, half of which is pasteurized while the remainder is consumed raw. The results of this experiment will, it is hoped, demonstrate the value of fresh milk, and particularly milk from tubercle-free herds, as a food for children, and thus lead to a greatly increased consumption which will benefit the dairy farming industry substantially.
With regard to transport, I should like to say that the transport services instituted under the contract between the Government and Messrs. David 605 MacBrayne (1928) Limited have been further developed, with a view to a more efficient service and lower costs of transport being provided for the agriculturists in the Highlands and Islands. The facilities for an effective transport system are still hampered by lack of adequate piers and landing places, particularly in the north and in the Highlands. We are actively devoting our attention to this problem, which presents many difficulties. Already we have dealt, as a matter of urgency, with the important case of Lochboisdale pier, for the repair of which it is proposed, in the Estimate before the Committee, to provide from the funds of the department a grant of £8,000, which is to be supplemented by a sum of £1,000 from the Fishery Board. This is a case in which there can be no doubt as to the urgent necessity for immediate action. But, if we are to deal effectively and comprehensively with the whole problem, it will be necessary to examine the requirements all round the north and north-west coasts in detail. It seems to us essential that the whole problem should comprehensively be surveyed and a clear and definite policy formulated. Accordingly an inter-departmental inquiry for that purpose has been set on foot. I need hardly say that in the course of these investigations full consideration will be given to the numerous representations which have already been made to me by hon. Members and others interested in the Highlands and Islands.
I have inserted in the Estimates the maximum provision for land settlement purposes. I have made provision for a sum of £60,000 in excess of the amount set aside for that purpose last year. Since June last year I have authorised the acquisition of 12 estates embracing over 12,000 acres suitable for subdivision into at least 181 new holdings, and I instructed that the progress of settlement should be accelerated to the maximum possible within the limits of the funds available. During the past year the Department has entered into commitments amounting to £363,000. This figure compares with commitments for the two previous years of £135,000 and £108,500 respectively. The schemes to which the Department are committed or in which negotiations are well advanced will, it is estimated, provide for the settlement of between 400 and 500 606 new holders in the course of the next few years. Further schemes are under consideration and will proceed as funds permit.
While on this subject it is worth while to consider the contribution of the Department's activities under the head of Land Settlement to the solution of the housing problem in the rural areas which sometimes attracts less attention than it deserves and receives less consideration than housing in the industrial centres of population. The constitution of holdings on a scheme of land settlement not only provides the holders with an independent living, but it also necessitates the building of new houses or the sub-division of existing farmhouses into, sometimes, two or three separate dwellings, involving adaptation and frequently considerable repairs. Steadings have also to be provided either by sub-division of existing farm steadings or the erection of new buildings varying from the store accommodation suitable for a market gardener to the various accommodation of a stock-raising holding. The total number of houses and steadings which the Department have erected or improved since 1912 in this way and in pursuance of the provisions of Section 9 of the Act of 1911, are no fewer than 3,702 and 1,772, respectively. The number in course of erection or adaptation or not yet begun but to whose provision the Department are committed is 931 houses and 370 steadings, making grand totals of 4,633 houses and 2,142 steadings, which the Department will have erected, adapted and improved on completion of their committed programme. The total estimated initial cost of this housing provision is £1,425,000, of which, approximately, £1,121,000 was expended by the 31st March, 1930, and roughly, £304,000 remains to be spent. The provision of all this housing has engaged tradesmen and others in useful work contributing generally to their own welfare as well as to the permanent benefit of the smallholders on whose behalf these land settlement schemes have been entered into.
I want to discuss what the Department have done in regard to education and research. With our three Agricultural Colleges, whose activities cover the whole country, and our six Research Institutes, we have, I believe, in Scotland machinery of a kind unexcelled in any other part 607 of the world for educating the agricultural population and for investigating the innumerable scientific and economic problems of the industry. The educational work of the colleges, both in the central classes and throughout the counties, is too well known for me to spend much time in explanations. It has been said—it may be with truth—that Scottish farmers are sometimes slow in adopting new ideas or new methods. A recent development at the Glasgow College points to a more receptive and progressive attitude. In connection with the clean milk competitions in that area, bacteriological examination of samples of milk was made, and the importance of this speedily recognised by the farmers. Large numbers of them are now regularly sending samples of milk to the college to be tested for bacterial content. During the year ending 31st March last, 830 farmers were availing themselves of this service, as compared with 367 in the previous year, while the actual number of samples rose from 2,767 to 8,692. The fruits of research are notoriously a slow ripening crop, and the harvest cannot be hurried, but valuable benefits have already been gained and there is great promise of more to come.
The next question relates to another important section of the agricultural crop, namely, the potato crop. From the point of view of the producer and the consumer I do not think that the importance of the potato crop can be overestimated. It is important from the point of view of the rotation of crops, it gives employment to a large amount of labour and it provides, or should provide, a valuable article of diet at moderate cost. The economic difficulty in which the potato growers are placed at the present time is due in the first place to the abnormally large yield of the crop last year. I fear that the farmer is not altogether free from responsibility for the situation which has arisen. In recent years the tendency has been more and more to plant those varieties which would produce the greatest weight per acre, irrespective of the eating and keeping qualities of the tubers. This fact has fostered in the consumer a tendency which is much to be deplored, that is, to avoid at this season the homegrown main crop varieties of potatoes 608 and to buy instead imported early varieties probably of no greater nutritive value but of more attractive flavour. That has resulted in an obvious disadvantage, amounting to hardship, to the home farmer, and at the same time it has meant the payment by the consumer of an exhorbitant price far in excess of the food value of the potatoes bought. My point is illustrated in the following paragraph, which was taken from the "Glasgow Herald" on Saturday last:The paragraph given in our news columns to-day regarding the rapid increase at this season in the volume of potato imports, despite the lack of a market for the home crop of old potatoes, offers a basis for an interesting calculation on the public's readiness to pay dearly for a luxury. Fine old potatoes can be bought retail at 2s. per cwt., or £2 per ton, yet last week 8,400 tons of foreign early potatoes arrived and made wholesale prices of 22s, per cwt. of leading English centres. These Spanish and other potatoes were retailed in Glasgow at 6d. per 1b., which works out at £56 per ton. So that one week's imports of luxury potatoes, taken at the price ruling on the retail stage, incurred a bill on consumers of £470,000. No wonder our farmers grumble.There is no wonder that one frequently hears the expression: "What about buying British goods now." This is a striking example of what would be a saving to the consumer as well as a benefit to the producer if our people would take a common-sense view of the situation and give the encouragement to the farming community that is necessary and secure for themselves also a better article at a much lower price.
There are other directions in which my attention has been engaged with a view to carrying out the policy of helping the farming community to overcome their difficulties and, in a general way, to develop the industry. I look upon the agricultural industry as one of the vital industries as far as this nation is concerned, and as the Minister responsible for agriculture in Scotland for the time being I consider it to be my duty to do all that I can to assist the farming community to overcome their difficulties and to develop the industry to a greater extent, if possible, than has been the case in recent years. With that object in view I am reviewing other things, in addition to the matters to which I have drawn the attention of the Committee. I am considering matters, in consultation with men of practical ex- 609 perience, which may be of value to the industry and calculated to overcome the difficulties of the industry. These matters are under my close personal observation. Whatever I am able to do to help the industry to overcome its difficulties and to develop to such an extent as will enable it to provide employment for a larger number of people than in the past, it will be a real pleasure to do it.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
The statement of the Secretary of State marks a new departure. From 1911 till this year we were always accustomed to discuss what was called the Board of Agriculture. This year, for the first time, we have listened to a statement not upon the limited sphere which we were accustomed to associate with the Board of Agriculture but upon the broad, general outline of agricultural policy which a Minister of Agriculture would be able to put before any House. My right hon. Friend feels satisfied with the general description which he gave of the work done by his Department. I cannot cavil at a good deal of the work that is done. He dealt with the question of agricultural education and research, but he failed to point out that in the Estimate this year he is decreasing the amount spent on agricultural education. One of the good things that was done by the late Secretary of State was to encourage as far as possible agricultural research and agricultural education, and I should like to know from the present Secretary of State or from the Under-Secretary why it is that there is a curtailment in the amount which is being spent on agricultural education this year.
The right hon. Gentleman dealt very sparingly with the question of agricultural development. He did not give us any idea what was happening under the various Acts which have been passed dealing primarily with agriculture. I would refer particularly to the administration of the Agricultural Credits Act. In a report which has been submitted to us this year we have what we have never had before, a long description of the various deputations which have been received during the past year by the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary. A careful perusal of the reports will show the state of feeling there is at the present time, and during the tenure of the present Government, in the agricultural com- 610 munity. There is no doubt that the state of the agricultural industry is bad at the present time. Everybody knows that. On this side of the House we have on many occasions brought to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman a great many points dealing with agriculture which were militating against its success, and on almost every occasion we have been told that this, that and the next thing was "receiving consideration." There was consideration, sympathetic consideration, serious consideration, and now we have "active consideration." I am glad to find that we have got one stage further in regard to the Committee on agricultural co-operation. Again, my right hon. Friend could not resist the temptation to tell us that the report was "receiving his consideration." I know that the report has only just gone to him, but I would remind him that we on this side have become so accustomed to this "consideration" that we warn him that we shall watch to see what steps he and his Department take in order to put into effect the various proposals brought forward by that Committee.
The Under-Secretary of State was in charge of one deputation, which dealt with the depredations of red deer. That is a point which has been raised on more than one occasion. I was glad to find that landlords and smallholders were equally anxious to come to agreement in order to stop these depredations. There is nothing more heartbreaking to the smallholder than to find that after he has expended all his labour and the labour of his family upon his holding, in November or December the crops have been destroyed by the red deer from neighbouring forests. At the end of his speech the Secretary of State drew special attention to the potato industry. He is right in saying that the potato industry is one branch of agriculture which provides a great amount of employment. I notice that he received a deputation from the farmers in Scotland dealing with last year's crop of potatoes. They wanted to know what the Government were going to do to help them to sell the crop. The Government could have assisted in many ways. They could have assisted by dealing with the railway company, in securing better freights, and they could have shown their deep interest in this problem in 611 more ways than one, but as far as I know not a single thing has been done.
I will not deal with the general question of cereals, but I am glad to find that on the question of a general agricultural policy the lines advocated by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon (Mr. Lloyd George), my colleagues and myself has at last been acceeded to by the Government, namely, that there should be a conference of the three political parties in order to see what can be done with regard to the subsidised dumping of cereals, and the whole question of agriculture, because, while in England the question of wheat is of importance, in Scotland oats are of colossal importance. When we are in competition with German oats we are in competition with the genuine article. It is only the German oats which are comparable with our own. They are of the same form and dryness, and, while other oats may come in from the Argentine, they are not the same as the German oats which are being sent here under subsidy. We therefore welcome the pronouncement made by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries yesterday, and we welcome the proposals made now on behalf of the Government that a conference should be entered into by the three parties to discuss the whole problem of agriculture.
It is not only the large farmer who is concerned with these difficult problems, but the smallholder is equally concerned, and in many cases more concerned, and the Government are under a greater responsibility when the question of smallholder comes up than when the question of the large farmer comes up. The smallholders were placed on the Highlands and Islands at very high cost, in many cases, by the Government, and they have been, during the whole of these years, directly under the aegis of the Board. One of the real troubles with regard to the small land-owning community at the present time, particularly in the Highlands, is the need of meeting costs which they are unable to bear. They were settled upon the land at the time when prices were high and stock was dear, when implements and land were dear, and in almost every case they have been unable to overcome those initial difficulties. The time has come, I think, when they should not be 612 harassed, as recently they have been, with this new principle of equipped rent, but rather be granted a revision of the various loans and bonds which are at the present time outstanding.
The Under-Secretary of State, when he was in a less responsible position, used to fulminate, and I agreed with him, against the process of de-population in the Highlands and Islands. I do not think that anything said to-day by the Secretary for Scotland is going to decrease that volume of de-population. I remember, 20 years ago, when I fought the constituency which I now represent, going to schools which were full of children, and when I go there now I find some of them shut and others with seven, eight or nine children in them. That is what is happening all over the Islands, and, if we cannot keep them, I do not know what is going to happen to the country. We have rural industry dying. It is true that my right hon. Friend can reply by saying that this is due to mass production, that goods can be sent by the cash-on-delivery system by post, and that the village shoemaker, carpenter, or blacksmith is no longer needed in the rural community. But I thought that the present Government, at any rate, would have made some attempt to deal with that serious problem. I find, however, that all that they have done in this matter has been to purchase a van from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to send round the country to teach the village blacksmith how to deal with oxy-acetylene for welding purposes. At the present moment this van is out of service because it has to be reconditioned. You can imagine that van going all over the country teaching the village blacksmith the effect of this system.Something attempted, something done,Has earned a night's repose.That is all I can find in this report as to what the Government propose to do to revive and maintain these rural industries. The whole thing is preposterous. What are they doing? The right hon. Gentleman said that he was paying special attention to transport. Transport is a primary necessity of the rural community if they are to live in a satisfactory condition. Up to last year all that could be spent was a miserable £10,000 upon roads 613 and bridges in congested districts. I am glad he has added to that amount and has made it £16,000 a year. By adding to it he has done something, but I do not think he realises what is happening in the Western Highlands. I could take him to a place on the shores of Loch Broom where no road is provided and where the children in consequence cannot go to school in winter. I could take him to Apple Cross, one of the most beautiful places in the country. Ever since the MacBrayne steamers started a steamer called there twice a day, in the afternoon and again on the way back, but since the new arrangement was passed by this House and a guarantee was given that that service would not be diminished, that steamer has ceased to call coming and going in the winter, and, if anyone is ill, they cannot be evacuated and anyone wishing to leave has to go right up to Stornoway and right down to—
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Yes, Mr. Dunnico, I think it is. My right hon. Friend dealt fully with the whole question. You will find it referred to on page 89 of the report, and I submit that I am quite in order in dealing with this particular point. May I bring another point to my right hon. Friend's notice, that for the Christmas holidays and the Easter holidays 12 children from that village cannot get home for the vacation.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
You will find it on page 89, but in any case the Secretary of State dealt at great length with this particular point. I was glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about the grading of meat and the disposal of it, and also about milk. Those are two admirable things, and he deserves the thanks of the Committee for all he has done in that connection. May I say, further, that I think that the Department has been anxious to stimulate an interest in improved methods of cultivation and of breeding, and they are carrying on a systematical search in agriculture. On more than one occasion, I think, I called attention to shows of cattle, horses and sheep held annually all over the country, and when one thinks 614 of 25 years ago one realises the enormous distinction between the quality and the standard of stock to-day compared with those remote days, and a deep debt of gratitude is due to the Board of Agriculture for what it is doing, and has done in the past, in connection with this matter.
I was astonished that the right hon. Gentleman did not refer to the handsome contribution of Mr. T. B. Macaulay, a very distinguished highlander who came from the Island of Lewis and went to Canada. He returned to the Island of Lewis last year and he set about trying to find out how best to improve the conditions of the people from whom he sprang. The Secretary of State might have drawn attention to the fact that not only has he established a Macaulay Institute for research in soils, particularly of peat, but he has established prizes and a fund in his native island to encourage the good management of holdings, crops, and land reclamation.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be very satisfied with what has been done in connection with land settlement, but, if he will allow me to say so, I think that the position of land settlement is still far from satisfactory. Since 1912, there have been no less than 23,441 applications. There are 7,000 of these applications for holdings still to be settled, and there are 11,000 names which have been taken off the lists. That is a very serious state of affairs. There are many reasons given for these names being taken off the lists. Very likely some may have been ineffective applications, but there is no doubt in my mind that many grew sick and tired of waiting. All that happened last year was that only 240 people were settled upon the land, and yet we have £128,000 spent upon travelling expenses and other administrative purposes. There were 175 put on to new holdings and 65 on to enlargements. When you think that it costs £255 to the State to settle anyone upon the land, and when you realise the incalculable value, as an asset to the country, of these smallholders, I am astonished that the present Government have not done more than they have done in this particular direction. It used to be said that there was no real demand for small holdings. You have only to read this report to find out that there is a genuine demand for 615 small holdings. I cannot help thinking that my right hon. Friend the Secretary for State must have been making a mistake when he said that he proposed to settle 400 or 500 more holders within the next few years. I hoped that he was going to settle 400 or 500 more holders on the land within the next few months, and not years.
§ Mr. W. ADAMSON
What I said had no reference at all to the total number that will be settled within the next few years. I said that schemes were on hand now which would settle 400 or 500 more within the next few years; and I pointed out that I was accelerating land settlement to the fullest extent permissible by the funds at my disposal.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
That is very true, but the funds at the right hon. Gentleman's disposal may be very meagre. If the right hon. Gentleman admits, as he has done, that it is a good thing to settle these persons on the land, he ought to see to it that his Department helps him by doing its level best to get more money in order to meet the ever-growing needs of land settlement. Not only is the demand a real demand, but it is a growing demand, and the most remarkable fact is that the demand is growing in the non-crofting counties. Another remarkable fact is this, and I would especially refer the Under-Secretary of State to it. The Report deals with what is called the "latent demand." I would like to read a short extract from the Report on this point:The lists inevitably carry a proportion of ineffective applications. This proportion may, however, be taken to be more than balanced by the latent demand that is awakened whenever a scheme is projected by the Department. This latent demand is usually from applicants of a good class who have refrained from lodging applications until a definite prospect of settlement is revealed. As an instance of this, the scheme of Strawfrank in Lanarkshire, on which eleven applicants were settled, may be cited. During the year preceding that term, when work was being carried out on the scheme, applications for settlement in the district were received from 18 men whose names had not previously been on the Department's lists, and most of whom could be regarded as suitable for settlement.I say that that is a very satisfactory thing to find in the Report. Let me deal with two more questions only. I want to say one word about drainage. I am 616 glad to see that an additional amount is to be expended on drainage this year. The drainage scheme last year was an utter failure, but I was interested to hear from the Secretary of State that under the new scheme, which is not so complicated, there were demands for something like £40,000 for new drainage schemes. These schemes are not arterial drainage schemes, but field drainage schemes. If by any chance the whole of that amount is not expended this year, I want to know from the Under-Secretary of State whether he is going to continue the iniquitous practice of handing back the residue to the Treasury. It has always been most unfair, when money, after a struggle from these benches, has been acquired for a certain definite purpose, if, through the laziness or otherwise of the Department, that money is not expended, but is sent back to the Department and is lost to those for whom it was obtained by the activities of Members of Parliament.
Let me deal with my final point. We have heard a great deal about the work which was done under a certain Act. I have been astonished, and so I venture to think would all in this Committee be, to find that the right hon. Gentleman never even mentioned the words "agricultural credits." That Act was produced over a year ago with a flourish of trumpets. It was the harbinger of helpfulness to many disquieted farmers and holders all over the country. When I look to see what is happening in connection with this Act in the report, what do I find? I find that the Act is now a dead letter, and that the Scottish farmers and agriculturists have a great grievance, because, while the Act pertaining to Scotland is on the Statute Book, it is not in operation, whereas in England the Act is both on the Statute Book and is in operation. Therefore, the English farmers have an unfair advantage over the Scottish farmers in regard to the benefits which they get and which the Scottish farmers have not so far obtained. I will deal with the second part of the Act in one sentence. It was designed to facilitate the borrowing of money by agricultural co-operative societies on the security of goods belonging to them and in their possession. The only comment I shall make upon that is that not a single thing has been done 617 in connection with that part, and the report suggests that that part should be abolished and should not be considered in connection with any future operation under this Act.
The really serious part is Part I. I have taken a great deal of trouble to make all sorts of inquiries as to what happened. I do not know whether the Committee remember what was proposed. It was proposed that an agricultural security company should be incorporated for the purpose of making loans on security for the purchase of agricultural land, and for making loans under the Improvement of Lands Act for agricultural purposes. The Department was authorised to make an advance to this company so as to establish a guarantee fund free of interest for 60 years in order to assist the company to give favourable loans to all borrowers. The borrower could be one of two persons—either a person who had already borrowed under another scheme, or a person who had not borrowed at all and was about to borrow in the future. If any person had borrowed under an old scheme, he was at liberty to get out of that scheme and come under the new one, and gain the benefits of this particular Act. One would have thought that a scheme of that kind would appeal to the farmers, and so it did. The report admits that application after application came for assistance under this scheme.
I myself had two particularly hard cases, which I submitted to the Department, of two men who had bought their land upon the faith of this Act being put into active operation. To-day, they have the land, and they are being sued in the courts for the money. They relied upon the good word of the British Government. What has happened? So far as I can make out the Scottish Banks have refused to have this company incorporated. Some of them refuse to incorporate a company for this purpose. They having refused to do this, I want to know what other action the Government are taking. I see from the report that other arrangements have been made. It is high time that some arrangement should be made, because meanwhile there are cases of genuine hardship of large and small farmers who took upon themselves responsibilities on the faith of an Act of 618 Parliament passed by the British Government, and yet the Scottish Office sit there and have done absolutely nothing.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Johnston)
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I repeat, they have done absolutely nothing. In England, across the Border, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries may not be so competent as the Scottish Office in many things, but in this matter they seem to have beaten them. They have given advantages and benefits to English farmers while the Scottish farmers and smallholders have been deprived of the benefits to which they are entitled. That is a very serious charge. It is a charge which is justified, and I want to hear from the Under-Secretary of State what the Government propose to do. In passing these strictures, I am sure I am only voicing the thoughts of many other Members in this House. It is high time that the Government took some effective steps to fulfil their statutory obligations and duties.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Will the right hon. Gentleman state how he would compel the banks to incorporate a company if they do not wish to do so?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
That is not my job. If I had been dealing with the matter, along with the most brilliant brains in Scotland which are at the disposal of the Under-Secretary of State, I would have found some other way of doing it, as the English people did. Under the Act you do not need to confine yourself to banks. You can go to insurance companies and to various other financial houses and get money upon good security. I think the right hon. Gentleman's interruption does not put the case in any better light. If at this stage he is wondering what the Opposition would be likely to have done, I fear the poor farmers, whose case we are putting forward at this moment, have not much to expect. I have nothing more to say at the present moment. I am very anxious to hear what the Government propose to do, particularly with regard to agricultural credits, and what further steps they are going to take to effect an improved and more generous land settlement.
§ Sir JOHN GILMOUR
The occasion when Scottish Members have an opportunity of discussing the conduct of agricultural affairs in Scotland is always of peculiar interest to us. On this occasion we approach the subject with a feeling of insecurity as to the future because, obviously, agriculture in Scotland, as in other parts, is passing through a time of great difficulty. The Minister has the responsibility of endeavouring to carry out the regulations which Parliament imposes and making use of the assistance which Parliament places at his disposal. We have listened to-day to a speech by the Secretary of State, who has given us some account of what he has been able to do during the period he has held office. This occasion is remarkable because this is the first report that has been submitted to Parliament by a new department dealing with agriculture. I have watched the development of the new arrangements with peculiar interest, and in the hope that it will be a machine better suited to the changing times in which we are living. A department of this kind, with a wider outlook and wider powers, ought to be a much better machine in the hands of whoever is responsible for the time being for dealing with these problems.
I hope it will be the policy of whoever is responsible for the work of this department to do everything in their power to obtain the confidence of the general agricultural community. It is quite easy to say that, but the confidence of the whole agricultural community will be obtained only by a close attention of the department to all the varying activities of agricultural life and calling into conference from time to time those who have practical knowledge of agricultural matters. The department must not be afraid of making use of those who represent practical agriculture throughout the country. While I admit, as one who has had experience of the Parliamentary work, that sometimes advisory councils and committees make themselves troublesome in the proposals they put forward, yet I feel that if the department is to attain to its full usefulness it must have the confidence of the general agricultural community.
We have heard to-day from the Secretary of State an account of some of the things he is doing. We must all have 620 read the report with great interest. We see a continuance of the policy which has been carried out in the past; and let me say here that it is sometimes assumed that a change of political party means a material change in the policy which is being carried out. It is said that the older political parties have failed utterly in doing their duty to agriculture in the past, and it is now suggested that the three parties should come together and consider this problem without any party bias at all. I listened to a Debate on this point in the House yesterday, and it was said, quite truly, that whatever discussions you may have on that footing, whatever advantages you may get from such a conference, nevertheless, the question of effective measures for the solution of this problem must eventually be subject to the ordinary operation of party criticism and the party machine.
In the past in Scotland we have been very fortunate in obtaining the co-operation of men of all parties with practical knowledge in making recommendations from that conference to Parliament. It is from bodies such as that, from such committees as the right hon. Gentleman has set up and whose report is now in our hands—the Committee on Agricultural Co-operation in Scotland—from bodies of that kind, speaking with first-hand knowledge of the problem, that Parliament is likely to get the material upon which it can form an opinion and upon which the Government in power, upon whom rests the responsibility for policy and for finding the money, if money has to be spent, can rely for guidance rather than any conference of political parties in this House. We, on the Floor of the House, can express with the greatest freedom and fulness our view of the circumstances and put forward, unfettered by party, the solution we propose; but when it comes to effective work, agriculturists in the country must realise, and I think we do ill if we do not make it plain, that it can only be the Government of the day, which has control of the Treasury, which can effect any material results.
I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman and the Department are proceeding steadily with the development of agricultural research. However difficult our problems in agriculture may be all agricultural opinion in Scotland, whether it is in the Highlands or in the 621 Lowlands, recognise more and more the necessity of research. One of the most difficult problems in front of these research bodies and the Department, and Parliament, is how to find machinery not only to make research effective in practical matters but to see that the results of research are put into plain, ordinary language, brought into the agricultural arena and into close touch with the practical man who is working his farm. I have watched with great interest the research work at Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow from the point of view of the practical man who wishes to have a remedy for the immediate circumstances of the time. From the research man's point of view it is clear that, in order to produce effective remedies for any of our agricultural problems, he must be given time. It is therefore essential that the agriculturist should recognise that in many cases he cannot look for immediate results. At the same time, the farmer should be encouraged to visit these institutions and realise how useful the work can be to him, but with this warning. Take the very interesting experiments carried out in connection with pigs. It is quite clear that we cannot get real results from one year's work. It must take three or four years, and the danger of the practical man when visiting these institutions and seeing that by an injection of iodine into the pig an enormous improvement takes place, is this, that he might probably do the same thing at home with disastrous results. With that caveat I still urge that these research stations should open their doors and encourage agriculturists to go and see what they are doing.
There is one other aspect of the work to which I desire to call attention, and that is the increasing number of classes which are being arranged throughout the countryside of a more elementary character, but which are of infinite value to the farm manager and the working ploughman and the cattleman. Unless those who are associated with these research stations interest themselves not only in the classrooms in our great centres like Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, but are prepared to get into close touch with those who are actually working on the countryside, we shall fail to do what is really required. I should like to ask the Secretary of State whether, in connection with this research work, he is satisfied 622 that everything is being done which should be done to encourage the universities to direct and train young men and women in research work. I confess to a sense of disappointment in the fact that it is difficult to obtain the services of first-class research workers. It may be that some of these posts are not really attractive enough to bring in the research worker, and, if that is so, it is the duty of the Department to do their utmost to encourage those who are dealing with young men and women in their early educative processes to turn their minds in a greater degree towards the possibility of filling these posts. It may be possible to fill some of these posts before long, but it is a matter which calls for the attention of the education authorities, our schools and universities.
I was glad to hear that in land drainage, both arterial and field, progress is being made. Now that the conditions of the money grant have been materially improved I understand that the Department will be able to deal with applications without having hanging over their heads the dread of the supply being cut off at a certain time. That is a matter upon which I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman. We shall watch the progress of the arterial work with interest. I do not suppose we shall see immediate results, but I hope the surveys are proceeding at the moment. There was one other aspect upon which the right hon. Gentleman did not touch, and that is the problem of the survey of the soil in different parts of the country. This question was raised by the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) and some progress has been made. I am satisfied, from such work as I have seen under the scheme, that very material results can be achieved, with a great saving to individual farmers if they possessed a know-ledge of what their soil actually requires. There have been cases where farmers have been spending money upon certain forms of fertilisers which was really money thrown away, and other cases where obviously they should have limed the soil.
If, eventually, we can have maps of our country available for those who are entering into farms, it will be of the greatest assistance. I have been struck by the fact that in the case of farms 623 which change hands from time to time a new tenant coming in has no real practical knowledge of the conditions of working on that farm during the period immediately preceding his tenancy, and he certainly has no record which goes back for any length of time. That, of course, does not apply to an established estate where a factor has been keeping those records in the estate office, but quite obviously, however skilled a tenant may be, if he goes into the farm with only such slight information as he may obtain from conversation with the outgoing tenant, he has no working principle upon which to act. Therefore, I urge that this survey system of ascertaining the qualities of the soil should be proceeded with, and that farmers in the various districts should be encouraged to try out these surveys. It may well be that from a survey of a particular part of a field one may leap to conclusions which do not apply to the whole of that field, but these matters can only be ascertained by accurate tests carried out in a practical manner. I know that the Department has been endeavouring to proceed on those lines and I trust that the agricultural community will take note of what is being done and will render assistance in enlarging those experiments.
When we come to consider the soil, and the best uses of the soil, we are brought face to face with the problem of arable farming. Everybody knows that arable farming to-day is a very difficult proposition. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State drew attention to the problem of potato growing in Scotland. I think he was right in saying—at any rate it applies in a good many cases—that some farmers were growing classes of potatoes which were not of keeping quality; that they dosed the land heavily with manure in order to obtain a large crop, and were surprised if the general public did not appreciate the results. That may be hard criticism, but I know from personal experience that it has paid me better to grow certain classes of potatoes with less yield but of higher quality than others and, while I find my neighbours around me with their pits full of potatoes, I am happy to think that I have not any at the present time. That does not go to show that I received for those potatoes the amount of remuneration which would 624 really pay for growing those crops but of this I am certain that, whether it be in potatoes or in wool, more attention must be paid by the farming industry to the careful grading and cleaning of the material in submitting it to the public.
I think that one of the most interesting features in Scotland is the increased and extending interest in co-operative methods. We in Scotland, over a long period of years, have been preaching this system of agricultural co-operation. It has been a long and uphill task but to-day we feel that, in such things as the milk pool and the wool growers' association, we are proceeding on sound lines. At the present time in Scotland we are endeavouring to make an arrangement to deal with potatoes. Of course, a great deal depends upon the loyalty of those who enter into these arrangements. I have a firm belief that if these measures are to have success, it must come from an earnest appreciation of their necessity by the rank and file of those in the business but it is necessary that those who speak on agricultural matters either in the House of Commons or outside it, should point the way and encourage the agricultural community, and interest them in these projects. It may well be that in order to bring such an arrangement as I have mentioned to a proper consummation, it would be only right that the Department should lend financial assistance, but I hope that from all parts of this Committee and throughout Scotland encouragement will be given to the formation of this association for the better marketing of one of our main crops, namely, the potato crop, and that from such an arrangement will result greater stability in employment and greater security for the farmers generally.
In this matter, of course, controversy is inevitable when you come to speak of the association between the farmers and the middlemen. I do not think that there is a necessity for the great number of middlemen existing in this industry to-day nor do I think that all their interest and experience need be lost if we change to new systems. I think we must endeavour to bridge the gulf and make use of the knowledge and experience which these men, no doubt, possess. Looking at agriculture on broad lines I have always conceived that it was the duty of the Department to concern itself primarily with the larger aspects of the question—with re- 625 search work, with obtaining information, with linking up the various bodies in Scotland and such bodies as the Empire Marketing Board—but, of course, in addition to that, we in Scotland are faced with the problem of developing land settlement. I do not wish to go at great length into that problem at present, beyond saying that when I was responsible I pursued a general steady policy of land settlement. I was more concerned with seeing that the individuals who were placed upon holdings had a reasonable and fair opportunity of making a decent living, than of multiplying numbers without regard to the settlers themselves.
I observe signs of increased activity in the Department in this direction and I am a little disturbed about some of the ventures which are being made. I think one of the difficulties in the way of land settlement, particularly in the outer islands, is the fact that we have taken a great amount of the possible land on which it is at all likely that individuals will be able to make a living, even of the barest kind, and in the process of doing so we have, in fact, obliterated the moderate-sized farm and the possibility of an example being set by people working with a good class of stock. We have obliterated the possibility, certainly in these outer islands, of showing an example of the progress which can be made by any competent and advancing agricultural mind. If a man in those outer islands is progressive and has ambition quite obviously he cannot find scope for it in those islands but has to go elsewhere. I wish to question the Under-Secretary particularly in regard to some of the more recent efforts at land settlement in the outer islands. I see for instance in the report that Luskentyre has been acquired and I wish to know the terms upon which it has been acquired or whether those terms have yet been concluded, and what are the ideas of the Department for developing that property?
I have visited these islands and while I do not set myself up to speak dogmatically upon agricultural affairs, yet I am convinced, from such inquiries as I have made on the spot, that that particular property is perhaps the least suitable of any which could be acquired for development. Any low land which there is upon it is of an extremely sandy nature. If the surface of the land is 626 broken unless the greatest care is taken it becomes sand, and, as far as I understand it, the unfortunate people who go into holdings on that property will not be able to obtain peats for fuel or sea-wrack for the development of the soil. Nor is there any opportunity for them on that estate to combine fishing with their other activities, and anybody acquainted with the problem knows that it is often essential that there should be this combination. I am anxious not to appear to critical, but I think the money which has been spent upon this property, whatever the amount may be, would have been infinitely better spent elsewhere and in other circumstances. I think it is the height of folly to put people down in a place which cannot in the end be developed effectively. If it is to be administered by the Department for the next three or five years, if they have spent a large sum of money in acquiring sheep which they hope during that period will become acclimatised on this property, it may be an amusing experiment to the Under-Secretary of State and those with whom he is working, and it will be watched with interest by those of us who regard it as the height of folly.
On the matter of stock, I agree that, whatever we may be able to do in the matter of cereals, our country must be very largely a stock-producing country, and it is essential that we should keep our strains clean, and use the best possible stock. I was a little disturbed to hear from the outer islands that—no doubt impelled by the butchers who go there to buy young stock—an effort was being made to change from the Highland breed to a cross breed, and to introduce either shorthorns or black Angus.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
Of course, anyone who has been in the Western Isles recognises that the small calf which is found there, very stunted and underfed, without the early development which is found upon the mainland, is not attractive to the butcher who goes out there to buy. He says to these people, "If you would bring in another cross, we will pay you far more for the results." That might be, as a very temporary matter, but if, as I fear would happen, they were to sell their best Highland cattle and 627 kept some cross-bred heifer and bred again from that, there would be much chaos, and at the end in the Western Islands it would be to the great detriment of the whole community. I hope that, whatever experiments may be made in this matter, they will be very careful and tentative, and that the most careful restriction will be placed on the keeping of the cross-breed if that were permitted. The Government, of course, have stud farms, and they purchase from time to time considerable numbers of bulls and rams for the improvement of stock. It is generally agreed that that work has been satisfactory, and has led to a great improvement in the general stock throughout the country.
I believe that more and more it will be found that, if the Department could hire better rams and bulls from those who breed the best class of stock, even in reduced numbers, we would still further raise the quality. We have reached at the present time a certain stage of improvement, but unless the crofter communities, and unless the Department in conjunction with them, are able to send from time to time really high class sires and rams, we will see stagnation in improvement which will be unfortunate. Therefore, I hope that the interest in future in these matters will be directed towards improving the quality. I trust that the educative side of agriculture will be carefully developed and supported. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty drew attention to the fact that he thought there was a reduction in the grant for education. I think that is not in fact really so, but the Under-Secretary will no doubt be able to inform us later on.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
The agricultural education grant for this year is £72,000; last year it was £80,000.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
I think that that is the case, but I should be glad if the Under-Secretary would confirm what I believe is the case. I trust that my right hon. Friend and the Under-Secretary will have as great pleasure in dealing with the Department and with these problems that I had when I was responsible to this House.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
I would not have intervened but for the point which has been referred to by the late Secretary 628 of State. My interest in education is well known, and if there had been a decrease in the amount of money available for agricultural education, I should certainly have lodged a protest and taken action. It will be found on referring to the Estimates, that although in 1929 the agricultural education grant was £80,000 and in 1930 is £72,000, the reduction is in maintenance and the amount of money set aside for travelling expenses. If a research station or school is built in connection with general education, that is not covered by annual expenditure. I believe that that is the real explanation of this decrease.
There has been a plea in this House for years by both sides that the education funds of Scotland should bear some responsibility for agricultural education. I have always claimed that there should be a closer relationship between the Education Department and the Department of Agriculture. We are not doing enough in agricultural education. In England, there are two farms directly under the control of education authorities, and four under the joint control of education authorities. I would like to see a further development on that line in Scotland. Education authorities should have a closer relationship with agricultural colleges, so that we could get more and more agricultural education in Scotland. A minute has been issued dealing with the amount of money available for agricultural colleges, and it has been favourably received except by one of the counties, but that happens to be more than balanced by the larger county of which I share the representation; and any reduction that there might have been in the provision for other education is more than made good by the additional £3,000 or £4,000 which will be available during the next few years for agricultural colleges.
I would like to see a questionnaire issued by either the Department of Agriculture or the Education Department asking for a return of the schemes of work in which education authorities are engaged, either in primary schools or in agricultural colleges, and in the sending out of lecturers and teachers to rural areas for the purpose of giving agricultural education. I would like this questionnaire to be sent out to the authorities so that we can get an actual return of the work which is being done in 629 agricultural education. The gratitude of hon. Members on all sides is due to the Committee on Agricultural Co-operation in Scotland, which was set up in October last year, for so speedily having done their work. As one Member, I want to thank them for the speedy, effective and efficient way in which they have dealt with the problems which were referred to them, and to the able Report which they have issued for our information. I hope that the Government and all parties will take an active interest in considering that Report.
§ Mr. DUNCAN MILLAR
Members in all parts of the Committee will agree with the hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Westwood) in welcoming heartily the Report of the Committee on Agricultural Co-operation as one of the best features of the administration of the Secretary of State in relation to agriculture. This is a subject the treatment of which was long overdue. The views of practical men who have considered this question, and who are able to make practical suggestions, ought to carry great weight, and I hope that the Secretary of State intends at the earliest moment to put into effect a number of their recommendations, and particularly to keep in view that it is essential that a substantial grant should be available if any system of co-operation is to be carried out successfully. The sum of £1,000,000 which is suggested in the Report is not by any means too large. What is important in the Report is that it brings out very clearly, the changes that have taken place in our marketing system within recent years, and the necessity for the individual farmer taking steps to co-operate with others if he is to keep up with the progress of the times. Para graph 70 of the Report makes special reference to the fact thatThe whole marketing system in agricultural produce is undergoing a rapid development, the effect of which is to place the individual farmer who conducts his buying and selling independently at a much more serious disadvantage than he was in the past. On the supply side, amalgamations and combinations are being effected rapidly and the process has every indication of growing. Whatever advantages that may bring in the way of eliminating unnecessary competition, there can be no doubt that the individual farmer will be in a weaker position as a buyer. On the marketing side, he is faced by a growth of combination amongst the producers and ex- 630 porters in other countries who enter into competition with him in the markets of this country.It is essential therefore that organisation on a large scale should be created by the farmers, and that they should have substantial financial assistance. Such organisation will also enable them to make aconsiderable reduction of the waste of transport which is such a serious item of cost in our present unorganised system of marketing, and proper grading would be of great value to the distributive trade and to the consumer.There is also a point in the Report to which I desire to draw attention with reference to the need for eliminating the extraordinary waste which exists to-day in the handling of produce. In paragraph 74, the Report points outIt is notorious that in certain farm products there is a great deal of unnecessary dealing at a considerable cost to both producers and consumers. These dealings ought to be eliminated.6.0 p.m.
We are all familiar with the number of stages through which produce passes between the producer and the consumer, which eventually forces upon the consumer the necessity of paying a much higher price for the commodities than he might otherwise have had to pay. Another important suggestion in this Report provides for a new form of agricultural charge by co-operative societies over merchandise in possession of their members. The position to-day under the Agricultural Credits (Scotland) Act, 1929, is that it is practically inoperative. In the case of Part II, which deals with short-term credits, that is largely due to the fact that the agricultural charge which has been created under the Act, which involves placing the produce in possession of the borrowing Co-operative Association, cannot be put into effect. It is necessary that some modification should be made in order to create a valid charge and enable Part II of the Act to be carried into effect.
I would also urge upon the Secretary of State that immediate steps should be taken to deal with the situation created under Part I of this Act. It is not enough for him to gay that he has been considering how to set it going. We are dealing with a very serious injustice to Scottish farmers as compared with farmers in England. The English Act of 1928 provided for the 631 formation of an Agricultural Corporation, the Government undertaking to make contributions to the corporation in order to form a guarantee fund equal to the amount of the share capital of the corporation, no interest to be charged on these contributions for a period of 60 years. In England all the banks, with one exception, have subscribed the requisite amount of capital. Between the date when the Act came into full working order, 14th January, 1929, and the 30th April this year, no less than £5,000,000 had been issued in loans to English agriculturists, and a further considerable amount is subject to pending agreement. That puts English farmers in a very advantageous position, such as we ought to see our Scottish farmers also placed in. How can that be done? The Under-Secretary asks, "How can we coerce the banks?" Surely we can make some further effort, make an appeal to other organisations, such as co-operative bodies, insurance societies and the like, which might be prepared to assist in enabling this part of the Act to be put into operation.
There is another suggestion which I made the other day in a question across the Floor of the House. When four of the principal Scottish banks are willing to come in and subscribe £15,000 each, why could we not start off the scheme with the help of those banks until we are in a position to secure further capital; or, alternatively, why should it not be possible for a branch of the English Corporation to be formed in Scotland? I am sure the hon. Member would be the first to respond to an appeal that some further effort should be made to deal with the situation.
In listening to the statement made by the Secretary of State I was sorry to note that he seemed to have no due appreciation of the very serious shadow which is at present lying over arable farming in Scotland. A serious crisis has come upon the industry, and there is a heavy responsibility on the Government of the day and, in view of the fact that they are a minority Government, a responsibility also upon the Members of all parties to help to restore its prosperity. I need not remind the Under-Secretary of the series of remarkable demonstrations which have taken place all over Scotland during the last few months. 632 There was this remarkable feature about them, that they embraced all the agricultural interests—landowners, farmers, small landholders, farm workers, and even some of the urban interests were associated with it. A second feature about these demonstrations was that they were entirely non-political. The farmers were out to secure fair play and were anxious that serious efforts should be made to re-establish this industry, which is of first importance to the country, upon sound foundations. In the county which I have the honour to represent, East Fife, an important centre of arable farming, we had a very large demonstration and expression was given to the serious situation in fitting terms. I want the hon. Gentleman to realise that we are dealing here with hard facts, which affect a very large section of the industry.
I notice that the Secretary of State began by referring to the fact that the livestock industry in Scotland would always be predominant, but I want him to realise that arable farming is very important too, exceedingly important not only from the point of view of the produce raised but also of the employment which it finds. In arable farming districts a very much larger number of workers find employment, and they are the finest and most skilful agricultural workers in the world. In putting forward our case here we are representing a very large section of our population who are looking to the Government not only to carry out the administrative duties of the Department of Agriculture but also to have special regard to the situation created through the serious slump in the price of cereals and of potatoes and, in Scotland particularly, of oats. A communication which I had the other day from a leading agriculturist puts the need for an agreed policy. Speaking of the necessity for continuity in our national agricultural policy, he said:We feel that without a common agreement as to the remedy there would never be any stability in agricultural conditions. It would be unfortunate to have one party making certain arrangements in relation to such a business as agriculture, and, on a change of Government, another party overturning or altering them. Agriculture, from its very nature, must have continuity of policy. If it cannot have this it might be better to leave it alone to sink or swim on its own merits.That is the point of view on which those of us who have been asking for a confer- 633 ence of the three parties in the House have always based our case. This question should not be regarded from the point of view of party advantage but from the standpoint of securing an agreed policy for the industry, thus enabling farmers to know where they are. At the present moment many are going on for another season in the hope that things may get better, but they want at least some indication of what the Government's intentions are. While facing the possible losses of another season they want to know what action is to be taken, and they are satisfied, and I think they are right, that we have only to get men of good sense together to discuss practical proposals and some remedy will be evolved which while not penalising the general consumers will be fair to the industry itself.
The present depression is due, of course, to various factors, but so far as Scotland is concerned there is no doubt that inadequate provision was made for marketing following upon the very heavy crops of last year and that a considerable amount of depression has been caused by the importation of subsidised German oats. It would not be in order for me to discuss now the method which might be adopted to deal with the situation, but I would point out that the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, in a memo which they issued to me, said:The price of oats in this country at the present time is less than it was before the War and there is no doubt that while the large crop is partly responsible the low price is due in some measure to German imports.The German import bond system was established in 1894, revised again in 1925, and has been carried out over a period of years, but I submit that under the terms of the 1924 Treaty of Commerce and Navigation between Great Britain and Germany we ought to be in a position to put forward a case for action. The protocol of the Treaty says:The Treaty of Commerce and Navigation signed this day, being based on the principle of the most favoured nation, both parties to the Treaty undertake to give the widest possible interpretation to that principle. In particular,this is the important reservation:while maintaining their right to take appropriate measures to preserve their own industries, they undertake to abstain from using their respective Customs tariffs 634 or any other charges as a means of discrimination against the trade of the other and to give sympathetic consideration to any cases which may be brought to their notice in which, as a result of the rates of Customs duties or charges any such discrimination can be shown to have arisen.There is a case which ought to be made under the Treaty, and which has not yet been made by the Government, in regard to the importation of these oats under the import bond system. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Under-Secretary to see that further steps are taken to try to bring home to the German Government the effect this system has had upon our industry and to see that we exercise our right under that Treaty to take appropriate action to preserve our own industries, including this particular industry.
Of course, there are other reasons for the depression. Reference has been made to the potato trade, also a very important industry in the Division which I have the honour to represent. There was a heavy production of potatoes last season, but if I were to try to extract any consolation from the speeches made from the Government benches to-day, I should have to go to the potato producers in my Division and tell them that all the Government have to say is this: "You are producing the wrong type of potato, and the public have got such a poor appreciation of your wares that they prefer to pay an enormous additional price for imported potatoes." I do not think that is a correct statement of the facts. There is, undoubtedly, a certain quantity of potatoes which have been grown which are not fit for table use, and a great deal could be done in the selection of the best table quality and a better class of potato. But there are large quantities of first-class quality which could be and ought to be used for domestic consumption, and which are to-day unsaleable. I am quite satisfied that the effect of this importation has been to create a very serious difficulty. I can see myself nothing that would be more in the interests of the consumers of this country than that they should be asked to consume home-produced articles which are very much cheaper and better articles than those expensive foreign potatoes to which reference was made by the Secretary of State for Scotland. I think there is considerable justification for the view 635 that the market has been spoiled by the effect of such importation.
I should like to ask the Under-Secretary whether his Department can assist us more with regard to this particular question both as to the disposal of surplus and in regard to export. I have a memorandum from the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries on the question of the disposal of surplus potatoes—including the coarser grades not suitable for domestic consumption—for use in farina mills or for commercial spirit. I have here the memorandum in which the Department points out that if all these inferior low-grade potatoes could be kept out of the market the effect of surplus supplies of good ware potatoes would probably only be felt in very exceptional years. The memorandum also points out that there are ample means for the disposal of surplus potatoes in this country if they were made available at a manufacturing price of somewhere about 25s. per ton. That, of course, represents only a limited portion of the potatoes which on occasions of surplus might be available for such purposes, the larger quantity being sold for other uses. In conclusion they point out in this memorandum that:The problem seems to be the creation of two distinct markets for potatoes with two distinct price levels, one for ware and the other for manufacturing purposes. That is following the milk precedent.I throw out that suggestion as a practical one which might be looked into.
With regard to the export trade, I have been asked by potato growers in my Division whether the Government cannot make a further effort to secure outlet especially in a season like this when there is such a large surplus. Again, I turn to the Report, which shows that 973 certificates were issued to 31 countries for export during the past year. No doubt a very large proportion of those certificates will represent certificates for seed potatoes which are going out to many countries. I would suggest that here there is Toom for further investigation, and that a further effort should be made to secure a good market for our ware potatoes in countries in which the price at the present moment is so very much higher. In the case of America and Canada there is an enormous price being paid for potatoes, and 636 yet that market is closed to us on the score of risk of disease. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not a fact that, at the present moment, we are importing potatoes from many countries, and the certificates which are issued are regarded as sufficient to certify purity and absence of disease; while on the other hand these other countries have declined to take our potatoes because they are not satisfied on that point. It is perfectly clear that you cannot have it both ways. If it is considered absolutely necessary to secure the producer against this danger in the one case, then it ought to be made effective in the other case, where risk of disease also arises from the large quantities imported.
I would like to say a word or two upon the question of the agricultural worker, whose interests are so much bound up with the question which we are discussing there to-day of what can be done to assist agriculture. I represent a very large number of agricultural workers who are employed in arable farming districts, and there is no doubt, that there are many indications that a number of them are likely to be thrown out of employment, and some of them already have been thrown out of work. It is not a sound policy that our best agricultural workers should find it impossible to obtain employment in arable areas and have to apply for opportunities else where. That is having a very serious effect upon unemployment, because the agricultural worker is generally a good man, and when lie is thrown out of his own employment it often means that he displaces some other person. The only effect of that is to intensify unemployment in urban districts. I hope it will be kept in mind that a policy of that kind is not calculated to secure the best interests of the country, if it has the effect of turning a great many of our agricultural workers off the land instead of utilising them for arable farming.
I should like to appeal, in conclusion, to the Department to try to give the farmers a little more assistance at a time when they are exceedingly concerned about their immediate future. There are some remedies which have been suggested which are not really helpful at all. Proposals were put forward some years ago by the Corn Production Act, and the experience that we had of 637 that Act proved how futile it was to deal with this problem by means of subsidies. It was eventually repealed, but it led to a complete disorganisation, and it was shown very clearly that subsidies in most cases went to rent, and that the agriculturists got no real advantage. We want a sympathetic administration. We want scientific research, about which much has been said already. We want to see the best use made of the opportunities for agricultural education, and in this connection I would point out that the Report shows that of the scholarships given through the Department for which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible, 31 went to the children of farm workers, or to farm workers themselves, showing how well equipped these classes are to take full advantage of such education.
We want our farmers and agriculturists to feel that we wish to help and not to cramp their efforts. I believe that the Scottish farmers are the best farmers in the world, and that it is undesirable to limit their initiative and energy. At a time when they are suffering so severely, they look to the Government of the day to consider their position fairly, and to afford them assistance where assistance can be rightly rendered, and at least to give them a fair field in which to work out their own destinies and secure fair play for them in competition with others.
Earl of DALKEITH
I think there will be general satisfaction that a plain statement by the Secretary of State on the report of the Committee on Agricultural Co-operation has just been published. The opinions and recommendations of this Committee are of very great importance. Agricultural people, especially those most interested in marketing organisations, will want to know as soon as possible the proposals of the Government, and in which direction they are favourable to those recommendations. The report has been in their hands for a considerable time, and any delay in making an announcement will hold up all further plans for better organisation that may be contemplated. There will be a keen interest as to the attitude of the Government in regard to the first proposal which is to sanction 1,000,000 credit.
There are many of those recommendations which will not require any legislation, and it is satisfactory to hear that 638 the Secretary of State is already directing his consideration to that question. The difficulty of financing schemes of organisation in their initial stages is emphasised in the report, and should be overcome by a guarantee to recognised banks of loans and overdrafts to approved agricultural co-operative societies. There is to-day a great move in the direction of organising these efforts, and what is required during the initial stages is greater security. I hope that the Government will pay special attention to assistance in this direction. There should be extremely little risk attached to such a credit being drawn on, and it would be difficult to-day to find a more natural object, and although it is of importance, one must not concentrate entirely on co-operation.
The report which has just been published makes a most definite reference to the danger of uncontrolled imports. I find on page 41, in paragraph 116, a reference to the necessity of preventing the fluctuation of prices by reason of uncontrolled imports. It is stated that, if our markets are to be flooded by produce from overseas, any efforts at making farming pay by better marketing will be of little use. The outstanding feature of the last 12 months has been the failure of the Government to realise in time, or to realise at all, the consequences of these increasing imports, and their refusal to consider this problem on its own merits. I have listened time after time to the rebuke from the Government Benches that we were unable to do more to cure the difficulties of agriculture in five years, and to the excuse that they could not be expected to deal with this problem and solve its difficulties in a few months.
I would point out that this attitude of the Government clearly shows that they are unable to appreciate the real importance of the sudden inflow of subsidised oats. Starting at an awkward season of the year, and increasing rapidly to enormous proportions, it really needed drastic and immediate attention. It appears that definite or decisive action involving any party risk is becoming more and more unwelcome in this House, and the present Government, even more than previous Governments, seem to be too scared to take any possibly unusual though obvious course to help their own people. They have no justification for 639 blaming previous administrations for a crisis which only became acute during their own term of office. During the Debate last Autumn, I referred to the possibility of Czechoslovakia following the example of Germany, and the Government will no doubt have seen that proposals are now coming forward from that country under which Scotland will be made to suffer in the same way from imports of barley next year as we have this year.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Robert Young)
I have referred to the paragraph mentioned, by the Noble Lord, and I find that it says:The steps to be taken to secure control of imports are a matter outside our remit"—and the Committee go on to point out that:it is necessary for the health of the agricultural industry to prevent the fluctuation of prices by uncontrolled imports.That is a point of administration, but, in relation to importation, as I understand the Noble Lord's argument, his proposal would need legislation.
Earl of DALKEITH
I am sorry if I have transgressed. Lately, there has been a recurring demand for a conference of all parties. I have not heard what is the attitude of the Secretary of State to-wards it, but surely, while all the actions of the Government and of their Liberal supporters favour an open door to foreign imports, there would be little use in holding an all-party conference. As soon as they show a change of spirit and of policy, and a determination to give our own producers a preference, or at any rate an equal opportunity in competing with the foreigner, it will not be difficult then for any non-party conference to settle some terms for useful agreement. The farming community to-day are showing the liveliest appreciation of recent proposals from an independent source in favour of British and Empire products, and with it seems to have come a far better understanding by townspeople of present farming difficulties and sympathy towards them.
People often overlook other directions in which employment on the land is possible. The right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works, in his concluding remarks in the Debate on unem- 640 ployment last Monday, said that we should have to fall back upon agriculture and upon the land generally for solving the unemployment problem. Much attention has been drawn to some of these imports, but very little reference has been made to the imports of foreign softwoods. I do not wish to elaborate this question of timber to-day, but, as it affords an opportunity for employment on the land in Scotland, I may, perhaps, be allowed to refer to it. There is a very large field indeed for employment in planting and forestry. A large number of individuals, as well as the Forestry Commission, are endeavouring to do what they can in this respect. I would ask the Under-Secretary to draw the attention of his colleagues to the increasing imports of softwoods, some of which are produced under conditions which would not be allowed in this country, such, for instance, as those in Russia, and to consider whether home forestry cannot be encouraged more as against these imports from foreign countries. When it is impossible to sell timber in the home market, it is impossible to give the employment in planting that so many people would desire. It also reduces employment in the home timber trade and greatly reduces the transport of timber on the home railways. I would like to say a word also about employment in connection with the administration of the Rural Housing Act. There is a good opportunity for maintaining—
§ The CHAIRMAN
Perhaps the Noble Lord could show me where in the Estimate the question of rural housing comes in. I think I have seen it somewhere, but cannot put my finger on it at the moment.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
May I point out that that subject would come more properly under the Vote for the Department of Health?
Earl of DALKEITH
I thought that I might refer to the employment which is being given in connection with the Rural Housing Act, and ask the Minister for an assurance that that Act will be continued.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I said that I thought I had seen it somewhere, and I find that it is in the Vote for the Department of Health.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
On that point, of Order. Although it is 641 true that we cannot discuss housing under the Rural Housing Act, I submit that it is possible to discuss the large amount of housing which is going on under the Act of 1911, under schemes which are administered by the Department of Agriculture.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. and gallant Gentleman must not raise a new point. That was not the point on which the Noble Lord was speaking. We must take one point at a time.
Earl of DALKEITH
The Secretary of State made reference to schemes under the Land Drainage Act for the South of Scotland. I wonder if we could have some information with regard to the schemes for the Annan and the Nith which he mentioned. Under the land drainage grants, much useful employment is now being given, and I would ask if early information could be given in future with regard to this policy. It is most important that such information should be available early in the year, in order that more schemes may be carried out at those seasons when employment in other directions is most slack.
Then I should like to ask the Under-Secretary one or two questions with regard to the administration of small holdings. I understand that, in the transfer of loans from existing holders, they can be assigned to the landlord, but not to incoming holders. Is it considered that the landlord alone offers good security, or is there any other reason? Instances have cropped up lately where, in a group of small holdings, difficulty has arisen with regard to water supply. That is quite a natural difficulty, and one that it is not always easy to avoid. In the case of combined water supplies for a group of holdings, it appears that there are not always in the original lease proper agreements with the new holder for their maintenance. This can be a serious hardship on individual holders, and I have brought to the notice of the Department a case from the parish of Ancrum, in my own constituency, to which I trust they will be able to give sympathetic attention and active help. The position seems to be unsound, because, although the Department of Agriculture creates all holdings, and would naturally be responsible, it is able to 642 disclaim all responsibility for any trouble that arises later on. I think that this is an important point which should be considered in future schemes, and that it is only a fair obligation to try to make amends for the mistakes which have been made under existing schemes.
I should like to make one reference to animal diseases, in regard to which hope that progress has been made by the Department during the last 12 months. It is in regard to a small though very infectious disease, nomely that of sheep scab. In reply to a question which I put a few days ago, I was informed that during the past 12 months there have only been 29 cases in Scotland, as compared with 294 in England and 297 in Wales. In view of these figures, I should like the Secretary of State to counteract the impression which is often spread that it is sheep from Scoltand which are most affected by this disease. In the Border counties, especially, very great care is taken in looking after the stock and keeping them free from disease, and my reason for asking that attention should be given to this matter is that much harm can be done in trying to sell sheep on this side of the Border when that wrong impression is so falsely spread. I would ask the Minister if he is prepared to consider further the policy of preventing the movement of sheep from a farm or holding upon which an outbreak of scab has occurred, so as to prevent the spread of infection into clean country. Many people point to weakness in the present regulations, and consider that they lead to hardship and expense in cases where the area is very clean.
I would also ask the Under-Secretary to draw the attention of his colleagues to the very slow progress that is being made in Border counties in response to the demand of scattered agricultural communities for the provision of more rural telephone exchanges and call offices. I understand that provision was made for these a year ago, but that, although large numbers of people employed on the engineering staff of the Post Office have been paid off who might have been employed on this useful work, nothing has been done. In conclusion, may I call the attention of the hon. Gentleman to the very serious harm that is being 643 done by the depletion of the capital available for agricultural land, and by the high and increasing taxation, which is having a most serious effect upon agricultural employment and upon employment of all kinds connected with the land. If the Government wish owners who are responsible for employment in connection with the land to carry out their obligations to the full, I feel sure that they cannot realise how severe the burden on land actually is.
§ Mr. SINKINSON
I have to compliment the Secretary of State on his speech and on the comprehensive report that we have had. I look upon the Department of Agriculture as, in the not very distant future, the greatest Department in the country. I never think of Scotland without thinking what a glorious country we have, fertile, not over-populated, a place where experiments, research and all sorts of things in connection with the production of food in all its branches, livestock, cereals and otherwise, can be carried out. The Department certainly has a great and a very interesting future before it. One point I should like to elaborate is that of dairy-farming. About the year 1865, Danes were sent over here to be taught dairy-farming, and what the Danish Government did for their dairy farmers brought them to the greatest prominence of any people in the agricultural world. They were taught their profession in Scotland and they went, back home and developed it with Government assistance, and they now have a sale in this country of dairy produce of £50,000,000 or £60,000,000. We have hundreds of thousands of acres in Scotland which are capable of finer dairy-farming than in any country in the world. Owing to the climate, we have the finest fibre in wool that can be produced and, of course, there is the production of mutton. This kind of thing could be encouraged by the Department and, if it goes on the plan that Members of this side of the House would like to see, it would certainly give it such encouragement, that instead of purchasing £50,000,000 or £60,000,000 worth of produce from other countries, we shall find employment for scores of thousands of people in this production. In the last year something like 48,000 acres of land have gone out of cultivation. It is deplorable to think that a fertile country 644 like Scotland should have land going out of cultivation, and the Department should certainly see to it that some mass attack is made to get our land back to production.
The right hon. Gentleman said they had purchased 12,000 acres for holdings. I should be interested to know what was paid for land. We have heard hon. Members opposite who are farmers. How they can be farmers and can be here I do not know. The farmers I know are very industrious men, and they could not be in this House at the same time. We have holdings in my constituency, and the estate is rated by the Department. I cannot say at the moment exactly how many holdings there are but, according to the report for 1928, we are paying £1,900 a year to some individual who belongs to the estate. I also find in the report that that has been taken over for a matter of 250 years. This is one of the primary burdens on agriculture. When I listen to hon. Members opposite who are farmers, who might have 4,000 acres, or less or more, I wonder if they are paying £1 an acre in rent, because the rent of a 4,000 acre farm would be £4,000 a year. Rent is a serious consideration, and that is one reason why I should like to ask what is paid for these 12,000 acres. I hope the Department will go on and get more people on to the land by means of small holdings.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
There is very little fresh material that can possibly be discussed with any advantage to-day. The Secretary of State has been hatching out an agricultural policy of some sort or another for 12 months, so he assures us, but so far, although we have asked him over and over again what it was, we have not received any answer. Some of us are beginning to think he has been sitting, quite unwittingly and in good faith, on a china egg all the time, because nothing productive has happened. I should like to ask the Under-Secretary whether lie could now, quietly, in Committee, when tempers are not raised, and it is not like Question Time, give us some indication when it likely that a more active and constructive agricultural policy may be announced, because in these Estimates there is not a single original item of expenditure proposed.
The right hon. Gentleman was very interesting in one part of his speech. He 645 admitted that the importation of potatoes and cereals had been having a very detrimental effect on agriculture North of the Tweed, and we all know that, whatever our fiscal views may be. It would be out of order to make a fighting. Protectionist speech, but I should like to ask what the Government propose to do in order to deal with this problem of dumped imports of cereals and potatoes, and how they propose to stimulate the production of cereals and potatoes, without which I do not think agriculture in Scotland can survive. You cannot stimulate the production of these vital cereals, oats and barley, and potatoes, unless somehow or other we can arrange for the farmer to get a price which will give him some profit at the end of the year. For the last two or three years the losses sustained by Scottish farmers on cereals and potatoes have been prodigious, and they cannot go on year after year selling at a price which will not anything like compensate for the cost of production. If prices continue to be inadequate and fail to remunerate the farmer, more and more land will go down to grass, as it is going down to grass every month, acre by acre, and the drift of the agricultural workers to swell the ranks of the unemployed in the towns will increase.
The whole problem of agriculture revolves around prices. I should be the first to admit that the most devastating factor, and I think the principal cause of the prevailing agricultural depression has been the world fall in wholesale prices. It is certainly not the responsibility of the Secretary of State, but every step ought to be taken to try to counteract that world fall of prices which makes it so difficult for farmers to make a profit at present. It is more difficult in agriculture than in any other industry, because the gap is greater between the outlay and the realisation of the price of the goods that are produced.
The question of import control has been mentioned. I should like to ask if the Government are going to make any experiment at all along those lines. I have always taken a great interest in this question, and I have always thought there were a great many arguments in favour of it as well as arguments against. I know the Under-Secretary has been a consistent and very powerful supporter 646 of the principle of controlling imports and that was, I think, the main factor in the policy of the Labour party at the last election.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I could not permit the Under-Secretary to answer the question. The hon. Member has asked it, and he must leave it at that.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I am grateful to you for having allowed me to ask the question, and I will leave it at that. I would rather like to know whether the hon. Gentleman would not consider this particularly with regard to potatoes at the present time, and also whether the Government are proposing to put into operation any scheme for a potato pool. If he could also give us any further information, if he has any, about any schemes for organised marketing through the co-operative societies or otherwise, I am sure hon. Members on this side of the Committee would be very interested. There is no doubt that the effective organisation on a co-operative or collective scale of agricultural produce is perhaps more important than anything else. So far we have had no constructive proposals from hon. or right hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the Committee, and we on this side have a right to expect that they will make suggestions and proposals along those lines, because they have talked about it so much.
One other point I would like to raise is milk policy. To-morrow a Bill will come up in this House on Report giving power to the education authorities to issue milk to the school children. I want to ask the Under-Secretary for Scotland whether he proposes or has in his mind any possible extension or development along those lines, and whether he does not think it would be possible to extend the consumption of milk by some method or other in Scotland; and, further, whether he is aware of the fact that the consumption of milk in this country is far lower than the consumption of milk in any other comparable civilised country in the world? That has a very disastrous effect upon the health of the population. Any administrative methods of which the hon. Gentleman could conceive to extend the consumption of milk so as to endeavour, at any rate, to achieve the consumption achieved in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany and, indeed, even in France and Belgium would be of the greatest assistance and value. Another 647 question I want to ask the hon. Gentleman is whether he is satisfied that the Merchandise Marks Act is being administered efficiently and satisfactorily, because my farmers are constantly complaining still that imported beef from abroad is being retailed in shops up and down the country as "prime Scotch beef."
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I shall be very glad if the hon. Member can give me a specific case of that. He is aware that the Marketing Committee set up by the Empire Marketing Board and the Department of Agriculture in Scotland have taken every possible step to trace these allegations. We have prosecuted, and if he can give us any specific cases in his own area we shall be glad.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I have none at the moment, and the hon. Gentleman will not expect me to produce them now, but I will bring them to his attention. I merely point out that there is somewhat general complaint among the farmers in the north-east of Scotland on the subject, and I asked whether he himself was satisfied that the Act was being efficiently administered. If he is satisfied, then I for my part will be perfectly satisfied, too.
One final point. We have heard a certain amount about transport. The most crying practical grievance in my constituency, at any rate, and, I think, in the whole of Scotland, is the condition of accommodation roads to farms. Nearly all the farms in Scotland have not got enough capital at their disposal to put accommodation roads to their farms into good order. The county authority will not take over these accommodation roads unless and until they are put into good order. Cannot the Under-Secretary for State do something to enable the county authorities to take over and look after the accommodation roads leading to farms, whatever their condition is at the present moment? There are many farms to my own practical knowledge where it is practically impossible to get a cart to or from the farms at all, the accommodation road is in such a state of disrepair and the farmer has not sufficient capital to put it into repair.
Talking of capital and credit generally, does the hon. Gentleman really think it necessary to get these four Scottish banks to come in? Does he consider it 648 necessary, as the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) suggested, to appeal to insurance companies or any other private undertakings of that kind for the necessary money to complete and put into operation the Credits Act we passed last year? Why should he not go to the place where he ought to go to get the necessary accommodation—the Treasury? Surely the present administration has spent enough money wholly unproductively to justify a small amount of productive expenditure which would be negligible. He has got four of the banks in. He would only have to make up half from the Treasury, the amount the other four banks are unwilling to pay him, and he would be able to put the scheme into operation. It would not be lost. The security is good, and I appeal to him to go ahead with his present scheme, if he possibly can, on the basis of the four Scottish banks providing one half and the Treasury putting up the remainder. We would not lose by it, and we have had enough unproductive expenditure to justify the small outlay, which would cost the taxpayer nothing at all and be of great benefit to Scottish agriculture.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
I am rather surprised that we have heard nothing from hon. Members above the Gangway about the invitation extended by the Government last night to a three-party conference on agriculture. I do not know whether the Noble Lord who spoke was speaking on behalf of his party or of a number of Members of his party when he practically said that, unless the question of protection was allowed to rule the conference, we need not ask the Conservative party to join the conference. That is what I understood him to say. He actually allowed himself—I am sure it must have been by mistake—to misquote the report of the Committee on Agricultural Co-operation which has recently come into our hands. I should like to correct him by adding the words he omitted. He quoted paragraph 116, saying that several of the witnesses represented that the farmers could not organise marketing in this country so long as the markets are liable to be flooded by produce from abroad. There he stopped. I will read the next words, which are:We do not share that view.649 That rather alters the quotation the Noble Lord gave us. I must say that this invitation which has been issued by the Government does open up the possibilities of a new era for agriculture. Nowadays it is admitted on all hands that our great difficulties are more economic than political. It is practical difficulties of economics from which agriculture is chiefly suffering, and it seems to me regrettable that, in an emergency such as we are in to-day, the three parties cannot get together and knock out some policy of economics which is suitable for the condition of agriculture. We realise that each party starts from a somewhat different viewpoint, but there is no reason why we should not do now, as we have done before in the past when there is an emergency, drop our prejudices, our preconceived ideas, our inherited traditions and see if we cannot arrive at something which meets the requirements of the day.
Reference has been made to that remarkable series of meetings held throughout Scotland, extraordinarily well organised, extraordinarily well attended. Who paid for them I do not know. They must have cost a great deal of money, but whoever paid for them, and whoever arranged the resolutions—similar resolutions, I believe—that were carried throughout the country, there is no question that one result of all those meetings has been to bring the position of the agricultural industry very clearly to the notice of the people generally, and, therefore, it, is a particularly favourable opportunity which the Government have chosen to issue its invitation to a three-party conference. Should this three-party conference be held, as I hope it will be, they will be faced at the outset by the difficulty of stating what really are the facts in connection with the various branches of this great industry. It is always, to my mind, one of the greatest difficulties to ascertain the facts. There are so many statements, charges, over-statements made with regard to agriculture that the ordinary mortal outside, who is trying to inform himself as to what are the facts, is often left in a very hazy condition of mind.
I would like, very shortly, to refer to this question of bounty-fed oats with regard to which there have been more misstatements and more misunderstandings than any other question in the agricul- 650 tural industry which has been before the country recently. I have taken the trouble to get the figures supplied to me by the Board of Agriculture recently from which I ascertained roughly the following facts. We raise—speaking of Great Britain—something like 2,250,000 tons of oats a year in our awn country and we import, roughly, 400,000 tons a year. Now, taking the last 10 years, there are seven years during that period in which we imported more oats from abroad than we did last year, although I admit that last year the imports from Germany were greater and the imports from other countries were less. During the last 10 years there were only two years in which we imported less than last year but seven years in which we imported more. Now it is a very remarkable fact that in 1923, the year in which we imported the second highest amount from abroad, which was 134,000 tons more than we imported in 1929, we imported nothing from Germany that year at all.
The only inference that anyone can draw from these figures is that there have been most misleading statements made with regard to the effect of the importations of German oats, which have been increasing during the last year or two. I am not putting it any higher than that. As to whether there is actually a bounty or how much that bounty amounts to, I have heard a variety of opinions expressed. I have endeavoured to work it out myself, and I am inclined to think that the exporter of German oats under the export bond system does get some advantage. What that advantage is I have not been able to arrive at accurately, but I think it is a great deal less than has been generally represented, and I am going to ask the Under-Secretary if he can give us some light on this. I am sure his Department have been engaged on the subject, and I, for one, would very much like to know if the Under-Secretary can give us the information whether the Department are definitely of opinion that the exporter of German oats into this country gets a bounty and, if that is the case, what action is contemplated to meet the situation? We all realise that our producers, who are selling a product in competition with a product which comes into this country bounty-fed from abroad, are definitely placed at a disadvantage, and that it is a state of affairs which 651 ought not to be permitted to continue, but, at the same time, we have to realise that there are a number of people engaged in various branches of agriculture who benefit very greatly from cheap feeding-stuffs. That is a point which should never be forgotten.
I was very glad to hear the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) refer to the question of accommodation roads and farm roads. That is a question which has been left too much in the background. While we have been spending millions of pounds on main roads and first-class roads, these accommodation roads, which are vital arteries for farm produce, have been left neglected in the background. That, at least, is a point which any Government might take up and deal with without waiting for major lines of policy. Any county council in Scotland will tell the Scottish Office that they have a number of farm roads, and a number of applications from farmers for those farm roads to be put into a condition for carrying the agricultural produce.
It is not only to the roads that I should like to refer. Transport, after all, is one of the most important things to be considered if you are going to market your produce and generally carry on the industry of agriculture. There is transport by sea as well. Reference has been made to the transport on the Western side of Scotland carried out by the new MacBrayne Company, and I should like to brine to the notice of the Under-Secretary of State the very high freights which we have to pay in our Islands in the North of Scotland, especially when a cargo is taken from Leith or Aberdeen to Lerwick and then transhipped to a branch steamer to be sent on to the outer islands. It costs as much to send a ton of cargo from Lerwick, 15 miles, to the outer islands as it does to send a ton of cargo from Aberdeen to Lerwick. It is an exceedingly heavy charge. This is a matter to which the Government should pay attention when they are considering the whole question of transport. There are the ports and harbours which the Secretary of State spoke about to-night when he mentioned Lochboisdale and the re-conditioning of other piers and harbours. There are the freight charges on the water, and there is the 652 question of the roads as well. The whole question of transport should be looked at from an agricultural point of view as well as from the general public point of view or the tourist point of view.
I wish to refer to the very excellent Report of the Committee on Agricultural Co-operation in Scotland to which all hon. Members have paid tribute to-night. I am sorry that it was not in our hands sooner so that we might have had an opportunity of studying it before the Debate came on. I should like to draw the attention of the Committee to the very great stress which the members of that committee lay upon the disorganized state of marketing in Scotland. Anyone who takes an interest in this industry knows that one of the root troubles of the industry is the disorganised state of marketing. Although they have some criticisms to offer on the progress that co-operation has made in Scotland during past years, I am glad to see that they are full of hope for its future, and I should like to quote a few lines. They appear in page 24:We are convinced from our examination of the present position of co-operative organisations in agriculture in Scotland that they have justified themselves and proved that the principle of co-operation in the purchase of agricultural supplies and in the marketing of agricultural produce is a sound and practical method of improving the position of producers.That is a very important finding. The Secretary of State said that he was going to take this Report into his consideration, or his serious consideration, I forget which. We who are interested in co-operation hope that he will take it into his active consideration as well. We hope that one of the first things he will do will be to pay attention to the petition which has been put in on behalf of the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society in order to see that that society is put on to a sufficiently sound financial basis to enable it to tackle this question in a broad manner and to get it going. The late Secretary of State for Scotland will no doubt remember that I asked him when he sat on the other side of the House to do what he could to press forward co-operation in Scotland. I was very glad to hear him to-night taking up the attitude on this side of the House that the Government should be urged forward on the lines of doing what they could to encourage the 653 farmers of Scotland to go in for co-operation. It is for the benefit of the industry generally that the present chaotic system of marketing should, as far as possible, be ended. It is to the advantage of the producer because the great advantage of organised marketing is that you can have what everyone in the industry looks for, namely, a stabilised price. It helps to avoid a glut or a famine, and high prices and low prices, and to keep things at a stabilised price, thus being of advantage all round both to the producer and to the consumer.
Everyone was pleased with the statement of the Secretary of State with reference to the money which is being supplied for the furtherance of research. A few years ago—of comparatively recent times—farmers were apt to disregard what they called mere paperwork and theory. I am glad to think that to-day that way of looking at things has become old-fashioned and out-of-date and that the farmers have learnt, and are learning, that scientific research of the highest nature may bring them many great benefits. I should like to give, as an instance, a very striking statement which was made to me by the county organiser in the county of Orkney recently. He said that throughout the county of Orkney the accommodation of the byres is getting too small; they all require to be rebuilt throughout the county. This is entirely due to the use of wild white clover and the fact that the land is carrying 25 per cent. more stock than it did 25 years ago. That only shows what, an extraordinary improvement may come to our farmers by the use and application of scientific knowledge in such matters as pasture. Pasture is one of the principal things into which extended research is being made at the present time. We are looking for still further and better results from the scientific experiments which are being made in plant feeding to help the farmers.
Reference has already been made to the question of land settlement. I think it is extremely disappointing to learn of the rate at which land settlement is proceeding. The Under-Secretary of State—I was going to say in his unregenerate days—when he sat on the other side spoke very freely about the matter. He admitted that there could be no better in- 654 vestment of the nation's money than paying attention to the land and bringing up a strong and healthy population. Since 1912, during the course of 17 years, four of which must be allowed for the War, there were 23,400 applications received for land, and there were settled on the land, 5,300. There were 11,000 applications withdrawn and there are still outstanding 6,900 applications. I know that a number of these 11,000 withdrawals were applicants who dropped out for various reasons, but I am afraid that the majority of the names included under that heading are people who became heartsick and gave it up, and people who died while waiting. To call this carrying out a scheme of land settlement is really ridiculous. During 1929 the number settled on new holdings was 175, and there were 65 enlargements, making a total of 240. But fresh applications came in at the rate of 439, and there were 50 enlargements, a total of 489. Therefore, there was actually double the number of applications than there were people settled, with all the balance of past years to be worked off.
If the Government want to put the question of land settlement on to a really sound basis, they will have to be prepared to spend more money and to tackle the question on a far larger scale than- was indicated by the Secretary of State to-night when he said that he anticipated that 400 or 500 would be settled in the course of the next few years. It seems to me little short of ridiculous that a great wealthy country—it is still wealthy in spite of all our troubles—can spend millions on unemployment insurance and yet cannot find the necessary million pounds or two in order to double and treble the rate at which we are settling these people on the land in Scotland to-day. I submit to the Government that no better investment can be made of the nation's money than by speeding up this question of land settlement.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Sir J. Gilmour) is always interested in the question of agriculture, but to-day he seemed to be specially interested in the question of the value of land from the point of view of cultivation. It is true to say that a lack of education is responsible for the rule of thumb in farming. It requires extensive knowledge to know what 655 to do with particular land and to get it into condition for the requirements of a farmer. In the Scottish farmer there is a Scottish characteristic called dourness which makes change very difficult even when it is in the farmer's own interest. Last week-end I was on a farm on the moorland in Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pollok stated that there was great difficulty at times on the occasion of a strange farmer going on to a farm and not knowing the history of the crops on that farm or the methods of conducting that particular farm. There is such a thing as making a change. Here is an example. A few years ago when this farmer went on to this farm and was considering what to do he was told by the surrounding farmers that he would be wasting his money and that it could not be done. There have been people in occupation of this farm since 1780, since when there have been many tenants. They have tried different things, but they have all failed.
It appears that the dourness to which I have referred has two sides, and the dourness of the new farmer was shown by the fact that he paid no attention to what the other farmers told him, and he proceeded with what he called his new schemes. These farmers told him what he could not grow, but last year in the front garden of the farm he gathered 500 lbs. of marketable strawberries. When one sees what can be done in this way one realises that such a farm is by no means hopeless. It was said that the land behind the farm was useless except for the purpose of a hen run, but the man hired a petrol tractor and broke up the land, with the result that he had such a large crop of turnips, potatoes and corn that farmers came to see it. They thought he was some sort of a wizard. The important thing is to get the farmer to understand the importance of initiative in his way. The farmer is suspicious. He has been made suspicious by the middleman. When the middleman comes to the farm the farmer is suspicious, because he has been so often "done in the eye" that even when a real man comes along to give him good advice and to tell him that he will get good results if he does a certain thing, he is inclined to look at that man and to say: "Is this another one?" As a result of this suspicion, one gets stagnation. That is why 656 it is so essential that not only money and time but education should be devoted to this subject. It pays any country to educate wherever it is growing its foodstuffs, in order to ensure increased production.
We have had evidence given to-night with respect to the increased amount of meat that we can rear. Unfortunately, there is too much of a tendency to import frozen meat. I was in an English town, three weeks ago, in the centre of what is called the meat rearing district of England, and in five butchers' shops in the market square I saw nothing but frozen mutton for sale that had been brought overseas. I asked the reason, and one of the butchers replied that they had a certain way of cutting the meat. He said that their customers wanted certain cuts, and unless they cut the meat in that way they could not sell it. If they cut their home reared meat that way they would lose money. It is here that the co-operative idea could be of benefit not only to the consumers but to the man who is selling the meat and also to the nation. The middleman must be wiped out. We can never get anything like the increase we need in food products so long as the middleman takes his toll as he does at the present time. It so often happens that the middleman gets a grip on the farmer, because of the unfortunate economic position in which the farmer is placed. If we had a co-operative organisation for agriculture, it would mean that in regard to any man rearing stock or crops, no matter what his financial position might be, his crops would be valued and there would be no reason why he should lose anything because of his economic position. Even in the City of Glasgow, despite the fact that we have a big market and one of the finest slaughter houses, there is a certain type of middleman who is able to get on to the farmer who is in difficulties. We generally find that where the butcher can retire, the man who rears the beasts cannot retire. If we are to have co-operative effort it must get right down to that which is eating the heart out of hard-working, honest people on the land.
I come to the question of potatoes. It was very interesting to hear the late Secretary of State for Scotland give an explanation of what is called the potato trouble. He has grown the best type of potato and has been able to sell them 657 because they were good, while other people who grew potatoes for weight and profit have the bulk of their crop left on their hands. The reason why these farmers have not been able to get their price for potatoes, we are told, is because the abundance of bad potatoes has brought down the price of the good potatoes. That sort of thing is commercially insane. To me there would be no difficulty in regulating such a situation. We are marking qualities in meat and other things and it would be unfair to say that we cannot grade the quality of potatoes. Although we are growing the best potatoes and the conditions are such as to give an overabundance of crop, we find that the surplus potatoes are wasted. If we had been a scientific people and a really advanced nation we should have taken steps to extract from the surplus supply of potatoes many valuable things, potato spirit and other things. We ought to let the scientific man get to work, and to give them freedom in their experiments.
We were told by the Secretary of State for Scotland that Spanish potatoes were sold in Glasgow at 6d. a pound, or £50 per ton. He might have told us also that the seed from which those potatoes were grown came from the North of Scotland. It was Scotland that provided the seeds for what in Scottish are called "blabs of water." It is strange that the farmer who is a neighbour of the man who supplied the seeds for the potatoes cannot get on, whereas the man who supplied the seeds to Spain is doing well. Unless we have some system of co-operation among the farmers we shall not make progress. Nothing could be more suspicious than one farmer to another farmer. That is why there is a difficulty in being able to keep to a price that has been arranged. In London we hear people saying that they like a waxy potato. We have an idea in some cases where the wax is. The dry, mealy potato is the sort that the late Secretary of State for Scotland has grown. That is the food potato; the other potato is what I call the drink potato. I cannot understand why there need be anything wrong because in regard to the potato crop we have more than we need. It is the middleman business that prevents us from solving the problem. We ought so to arrange things that not a single potato need be lost. 658 The potatoes ought to be taken to the people who want them, even if they do not pay for them. A nation can do no greater wrong than to destroy its produce. Unless we use the surplus that is sent, we shall be given a shortage.
So far as the educational side of agriculture is concerned, there should be no curbing of expenditure. There are lands in Scotland—I walked over some last week—where the spending of £100 would make dry good soil of land which to-day is looked upon as unworkable bog. The question of getting land into order is a simple matter so far as the work is concerned. The complications exist in ownership, in this control and that control, but so far as the land itself is concerned I can see no difficulty in dealing with it, so long as we get the number of men required as instructors from the chemical point of view, who can teach the science of growth, the chemistry of the soil, etc. If hon. Members will talk to the young men on the farms they will find that they are ready to take up this side of agriculture. Therefore, I hope that the educational side of agriculture will not be neglected.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I understand that it is desired to continue the Debate on agriculture rather than to proceed with the Fisheries Estimate, which was the original intention. If that be so, I hope it will be for the convenience of the Committee it I answer certain questions which have been put by several speakers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will speak later. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) referred to the offer of a three-party conference on agriculture, and regretted that no enthusiastic welcome had been shown in the speeches that have been delivered. I give the proposal the warmest possible welcome. I have always taken the view that agriculture was too big an issue and the administrative difficulties were too big to be made the sport and plaything of party politics. I would say, as I have said on previous occasions, that great issues like unemployment and agriculture are too big, too great, too serious for any party to administer and control, and that they ought immediately to be made the subject of an all-party conference, if that were possible.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
If the hon. Member thinks that that is a, recent view of mine, I would draw attention to the fact that, from the Opposition benches, I put those views into the form of a Resolution less than two years ago, and indeed on several occasions. The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of the importation of German oats. Indeed, several hon. Members have raised it, and have asked if, in my opinion and the opinion of the Department, these were in fact bounty-fed imports. My right hon. Friend and I have given very anxious consideration to this problem. It has been borne in upon us by many deputations and many questions that this is one of the serious difficulties from which our arable farmers are suffering at the moment. To the best of my knowledge and belief it is a bounty-fed system. The method, roughly, is this. The exporter of German oats is allowed a free import certificate to an equivalent amount which he may sell. It has a market value, there is a traffic to it, and, therefore, to the extent that he gets an income from the sale of that certificate he is able to sell his exported oats cheaper, and so far as I can gather it is equivalent to something in the nature of 2s. per cwt. in our values. The method by which this difficulty is to be overcome is not for me in discussing the Estimate to say. My right hon. Friend may have something to say about it later, but the fact of the matter is that the method of dealing with it is surrounded by many international and diplomatic difficulties which cannot be summarily dealt with in the course of a discussion on the Scottish Estimates.
Other hon. Members have also raised the question of land settlement, the delays of settlement, and the small number of families settled annually on the land. It is quite true that, despite the fact that my right hon. Friend immediately he took office, gave instructions that the maximum number of men were to be settled on the land consistent with the Votes that had been passed by this House and consistent with the ability of the administrative machine to settle them, the rate of progress is not as great as we should have liked, but there are many difficulties which must be faced. 660 Sometime suitable land is held on a long lease. You cannot simply declare that the most suitable land in an area must be forthwith settled. The hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) knows well the great legal difficulties which involve the delay in land settlement. There is, further, the fact that the administrative machine is only capable of settling so many people on the land compulsorily—I am not talking for the moment of voluntary settlement—and that fact also must be taken into account. But the policy of the Secretary of State and the policy of this Government is to settle as many people on the soil of Scotland as it is possible for us to do.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Would the hon. Gentleman say what he means by voluntary and compulsory settlement? I did not quite follow him.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
There are two systems, broadly speaking; the system under which the Department acquires land and the system by which the Department induces a proprietor to accept settlement on his land without disturbing his ownership. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) asked me a series of questions, on two of which I propose to say a word, but on the other questions I am afraid I cannot within the limits of order possibly say anything. The question of beef products to which he alluded has indeed interested us very much. It is no scores that the Empire Marketing Board are now actively dealing with this matter. The sale of foreign beef as British beef is fraudulent now, and is an offence under the Merchandise Marks Act. If the hon. Member and his friends have any reason to believe that in any particular district such fraudulent sales are proceeding—I have no doubt they are—and if he has any information at his disposal, the Department would be very glad to have it, because we are determined that the consumers who pay for British beef shall get that for which they pay. As a result of the activities of the Empire Marketing Board and the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, the sales of marked Scotch beef on the Smithfield Market has grown about 300 per cent.—a very remarkable figure. My right hon. Friend has added another grading agent in Aberdeenshire.
661 All this is being done without any charge whatever to the industry on the north and north-east coasts, and it is hoped the industry itself will see the benefit of an assured market, the benefit of having its products protected from fraudulent competition, and will do its utmost to extend the system under which it is possible to give a guaranteed market to the British product and at the same time give the consumer an assurance that he is getting a tip-top article and is getting what he pays for. The most remarkable fact has been, that, whenever we have attempted a drive in the London market and in the Birmingham market, we have always found that we could increase the demand to a far greater ratio than we could increase the supply. The Department has taken every possible step in its power to make the producers of the first-class Scottish article aware of the opportunities that lie to their hand.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I hope I shall not be pressed on that for the moment. It involves questions of finance and the Empire Marketing Board. The State has undertaken a successful experiment, and it really ought to be the business of the industry itself which is going to reap the advantage to take cognisance of this and to provide their own grading agents co-operatively and not look to the State to provide grading agents all over the country. I hope I shall have an opportunity to-morrow of saying a word about milk. We ought at any rate to get credit for having succeeded in initiating a great milk experiment in Lanarkshire in which some 10,000 children are being daily given a ration of milk, half pasteurized and half T. T. We hope that experiment will go on till the end of June. By the way, all that milk is being purchased through the milk pool, and by that means we are doing our best to give official benison to the milk pool, and to keep it on its feet during difficult times; and we trust that when the experiment ends at the end of the school year the results in health and benefit to the children will have been so marked that local authorities all over the country will take the necessary steps to see that in their areas a guaranteed market through the schools 662 is provided for milk. If we can do that, though perhaps in a halting way, we shall certainly be doing something to bring the producer of milk into direct relation with the consumer. It is my firm conviction that we can prove we have actually saved more money in public health by this milk supply method than we have expended on the milk.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwick and Haddington (Mr. Sinkinson) and the Noble Lord who represents Roxburgh and Selkirk (Earl of Dalkeith), have asked me a large number of specific questions mostly about particular and localised things. I am going to suggest, if I may, that when the OFFICIAL REPORT appears to-morrow I will ask the appropriate officers to supply me with information, and I will undertake to send a letter to each of these Gentlemen. I am sure by that means I shall save the time of the Committee and also assure that the hon. Members will get a detailed answer to their questions.
I should like to say a word about co-operation. Everybody speaks favourably about it now and everybody gives it his blessing, but it is not so easy to put it in operation. My right hon. Friend set up a very strong committee of inquiry and asked them to report without delay. That committee has reported and the Report has been published, and my right hon. Friend has already taken the necessary steps to see how far the Department can produce schemes to ensure that some of the recommendations of that committee should be immediately acted upon. We have done more than that. We adopted an experiment in the Isle of Skye. I can give this as one illustration, because I took a personal interest in its initiation. We endeavoured to assist the growers of eggs in Skye who complained that in some parts of the Island during the glut period last year they were only getting 6d. a dozen for their eggs when the wholesale price was very much more than that. We made them an offer. We said, "We will give you what was last year's wholesale price, and we guarantee to take the total output." We offered to grade these eggs; we offered to cold store them; we offered to keep them off the market in the time of glut, and, at the end of the glut 663 period when the price had again risen, we offered to dispose of the eggs, saying that whatever surplus was over after the administrative expenses of the experiment had been met would accrue to the growers. That was an offer which we expected would be joyfully and enthusiastically accepted by every poultry breeder in Skye. It was costing them nothing, and they were getting their co-operation started without any risk or cost to themselves. I very much regret to say, however, that the growers of the eggs still saw fit to hand over their supplies to the local merchants, and thus a very promising experiment was not successful. I say this to show that it is not easy to break down engrained prejudices and habits and customs of generations, and that many poor people who are in debt to merchants cannot very easily break away from the old system of merchanting their eggs, and take up a co-operative system. But I am not all without hope in the matter. We have learned some lessons by our failure in this experiment, and my right hon. Friend is determined that whatever assistance he can give to co-operation in the marketing of agricultural produce he undoubtedly will give.
I ought to say a word in response to the right hon. Member who raised the question of the Agricultural Credits Act, and the failure of its operation in Scotland. The hon. Member was at no pains to hide his disapprobation of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland for his failure to secure that the Agricultural Credits Act operated in Scotland as it operated in England. Let me give the facts. As hon. Members know, to the amount of the capital that the new corporation would put up, the Government would add as much again, but it was found that, with half the banks refusing to come in, the total sum upon which debentures could be raised would be insufficient, in the opinion of skilled agriculturists whom we consulted in the matter, to do anything but scratch the surface, and that it was far better that we should seek to take other means of making agricultural credits effective than that we should start with the four bank system and the £65,000 system and make a failure of it and break the hearts of those who were so anxious that a system 664 of agricultural credits should be successfully floated.
My right hon. Friend, finding that the four banks would not come in, turned his attention to other sources, and I think, even yet, it would be wrong of me to be more explicit on the matter, because I am not without hope that one of these sources will succeed. But the suggestion has been made that, if my right hon. Friend fails in his efforts to get the credit system operating in Scotland as it has operated in England, it may be that he will be driven in the last resort to come in on the English banks. He might be driven then to have no separate system at all for Scotland. I am not sure, however, that that will be to the benefit of Scottish agriculture in the long run. My right hon. Friend is more emphatic on that point than I am. My right hon. Friend and the Department have anxiously explored every avenue—and when I say "anxiously" I mean it. We have spent a lot of time on the matter. We have discused it frequently with authorities on the subject of banking and agriculture. We have really done our best to explore every method of meeting what was admittedly a very difficult situation, and a situation that was difficult not on account of anything we had done.
§ Major - GENERAL Sir ROBERT HUTCHISON
Will the hon. Member say what terms and conditions the banks want?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I think I can say, without causing any difficulty, that the four banks refuse to operate under any conditions. I do assure the Committee that it has not been through any laxity or want of effort on the part of my rignt hon. Friend that the system has not operated in Scotland. I think it is time that this was said, because hon. Gentlemen in various parts of the House ask questions on this matter on Tuesday afternoons, and, when my right hon. Friend simply said he was doing his best and was considering the question, it gave rise to laughter by hon. Gentlemen who thought that my right hon. Friend was evading his duties in the matter. As a matter of fact, he was harassed with very great difficulties, and it may be that 665 we shall be driven to scrap the Scottish Act altogether and seek a new method under English auspices.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pollock (Sir John Gilmour) in everything he said in regard to research. What he said is quite in line with our policy. We do desire to speed up research in every possible way, and I hope that, when we get the results of research, no trade interest will be permitted to stand in the way of those results being fully operative. For example, when we discover that the cause of black mark in cheese is due to a species of lead poisoning in the colouring matter by which cheese is adulterated, we think that every possible step should be taken to ensure that the British public gets the pure article and an uncontaminated article, and that the Scottish cheese industry is freed, through the results of such research, from that drawback.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; Committee counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The question of the Government's attitude towards a potato pool is a matter on which I would prefer my right hon. Friend should speak. The problem is one of efficient marketing. It is our intention to produce a marketing Bill under which, I trust, potato and other agricultural pools will flourish. No pool is of any permanent use whatever unless there is some compulsory power against the recalcitrant minority. If 80 per cent. of the growers of potatoes are willing to go into a pool and 20 per cent. stay outside and endeavour to break the pool, then compulsory powers are needed over the blackleg minority.
I trust that all sections of the Committee, when we come to discuss the methods under which pool co-operative marketing can be carried out, will make it plain from the beginning that we mean business and are not prepared to tolerate a recalcitrant blackleg minority breaking the pool. The right hon. Member opposite asked about the Luskentyre experiment. The figures cannot yet be given; the official arbiter has not given his decision in the matter, but the right hon. Member will be glad to know that the somewhat dolorous picture he painted is not supported by our agricultural advisers. We have been assured 666 that we can get economic holdings for eight or ten persons, and when the right hon. Gentleman is reminded that amongst these eight or ten persons are men who were in and out of gaol for land troubles in the neighbourhood, I am certain he will agree that the State is making a far better investment in making land which was a deer forest and a rabbit warren provide a livelihood for ten families.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Yes, in order to ensure that the best possible results are obtained for further fresh experiments which we hope to make.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
Will the Under-Secretary of State be good enough to look into the question of accommodation roads to farms which was also raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton)?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
That is a matter which may involve legislation and the Secretary of State may say a word about it. It is a general question of policy. The late Secretary of State referred to the matter of surveys. We have speeded this up to the maximum, and reports are now coming in in some detail. They will be found to be exceedingly useful. We are taking specimen parishes in various parts of the country in order to get a picture of the agricultural and economic situation and it has been arranged that these surveys, shorn of names and particulars, which would enable particular farmers to be traced—we do not want to do that because it would make it very difficult indeed to conduct further surveys—will be published report after report, in the "Scottish Journal of Agriculture," beginning almost at once. These reports will be available to hon. Members, and it may be advisable later to collect them in some other form. There is also a report of the Committee on the profitableness of various branches of farming in Scotland. This will be of interest to hon. Members representing agricultural constituencies. Some four groups of 40 farms each have been specially examined, controlled and watched, and, in addition, a large number of statistics have been collected from other sources. We hope that this report will give us for the first time an 667 accurate and detailed picture of the economic position of representative farms and representative groups of farms in different parts of the country.
Hon. Members who deplore the economic position of agriculture will all agree that it is a very serious matter indeed. It is a tragedy of the first magnitude that our prime industry, upon which after all everything depends, is in such serious economic difficulties. What steps are we taking to deal with it? We are taking steps about research, about co-operative marketing, steps to ensure that the producer when he raises a product is not driven off the market by an inferior production sold under a false trade description; steps to secure better drainage of the country and better arterial drainage. These are steps we propose to take, and to take quickly. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will welcome assistance from any quarter, from any individual Member, in his efforts to ensure that within the limited circumstances in which he must operate the condition of our agricultural population is improved. As hon. Members opposite know we have sought their co-operation at weekly meetings at the Scottish Office. We are willing to extend that system, and to break down old methods of procedure. The situation is too serious for any Government to stand on old rules and regulations. Certainly this Government is prepared to take every step in its power and will welcome particularly any co-operation from other parties in the Committee to ensure that the producer on the soil, who is the backbone of our country, shall receive an adequate remuneration for his labour and service.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I should not intervene in this interesting Debate were it not for the fact that I have one or two specific matters to which I desire to draw the attention of the Government. I do not propose to traverse the very interesting discussion we have had upon agricultural co-operation and land drainage. On the question of agricultural co-operation I have to the best of my ability been an advocate in this House and in Scotland so long that it rejoices my heart to hear the general consensus of opinion that it is now making strides amongst our agri- 668 culturists. I think that is true. We in Scotland are much indebted to the Agricultural Organisation Society, which has worked so hard and under such difficult circumstances to further the policy of co-operation. There is one matter in connection with co-operation, and especially with regard to the Report of the Committee which has recently been issued, to which I desire to draw the attention of the Government, and that is the question of co-operation with regard to potatoes. The Report of the Committee—and a most, admirable Report it is—recommends, in the first place, that the Government should guarantee a sum of £1,000,000 for the furtherance of co-operation in Scotland. I understand and fully sympathise with the view implied by the Secretary of State that full consideration must be given to the Report before its recommendations are adopted. I understand and entirely agree with the view that you cannot guarantee £1,000,000 within 10 days of the issue of the Report, but with regard to guarantees, there is one aspect of the question which is urgent and vital and upon which a decision ought to be given by the Government before it decides whether or not it is going to guarantee the whole £1,000,000.
The Committee is familiar with the tremendous difficulties of the potato growers in Scotland and, in particular, the absolutely hopeless prices which were obtained last year, partly owing to the surplus. At this moment energetic, and, I think, not unsuccessful efforts, are being made to induce the potato growers of Scotland to organise themselves into what may be called a pool. For reasons with which I need not weary the Committee, there is difficulty in inducing an adequate proportion of the potato growers so to organise themselves, but I take it that there is absolutely no difference of opinion as to the necessity for such organisation, and there is no difference of opinion as to the urgency of bringing such an organisation into being before the next crop. To secure the success of such a pool it is essential that the guarantee which the Committee recommended should be given and the issue is no less than this: If the Scottish Office guarantee, not the whole £1,000,000, but whatever proportion may be found necessary as a guarantee for a potato pool, and if they do so betimes, then the pool almost undoubtedly will be in operation in time for the next crop, whereas, if 669 there is delay in deciding whether or not a guarantee should be given, I fear it is almost certain that the pool will not be organised in time to be available for the crop of 1930. It is an urgent question, and I press it upon representatives of the Government as a most practical and vital as well as urgent question. I am in thorough agreement as to the necessity for taking full time before deciding as to the full guarantee asked for by the committee. On the question of a general guarantee for co-operative enterprise as a whole, time may well be taken for consideration, but as regards the question of whether or not the potato pool ought to receive such a guarantee, time is of the essence of the matter, and I urge that a speedy and favourable decision should be come to on that specific point. All are agreed that to a very considerable extent, the fortunes of arable farming in Scotland may be permanently jeopardised if the potato crop of 1930 should suffer the same fate as that of 1929.
That is the first practical question to which I would direct the attention of the Government. The other matter to which I wish to refer is of a much more general nature. Often in the House of Commons I have ventured to plead the cause of land settlement in Scotland. I do not desire now to criticise the Government because they have not been able this year to increase very noticeably the number of men settled, but I wish to state of the reasons why we Scottish Members ought to concentrate our attention, and why the Department should concentrate its attention upon the question of land settlement in our own country. It must not be forgotten that urban industry in Scotland is not showing the same degree of development as industry in England. We have in Scotland nothing equivalent to the new industries which are growing up in the south and it may be taken, broadly speaking, though I know there are exceptions, that in Scotland our urban districts are relying almost exclusively upon the heavy industries.
To complete the syllogism, the heavy industries are those which are now suffering most and, therefore, there is practically no exit, no "bolt-hole" within the boundaries of Scotland for those who are out of work belonging to the heavy industries. In England, despite the enormously high figures of unemploy- 670 ment, there is such a "bolt-hole" in the new light industries. The bearing of these considerations on land settlement is this. It is now a proved fact that there are many men who, although they have been brought up in urban areas and have lived by urban industries until they have been thrown out of employment, are, none the less, when given the opportunity, capable of making good upon the soil. That is proved by such examples as that which we find given in the report of the Department of Agriculture. There is the example of the tailor who, after five years work on a small holding, has now 800 laying hands and a substantial capital behind him. Anybody who has taken the trouble to investigate the subject knows that there are many similar cases.
As we in Scotland have no modern light industries to act as an outlet for our depressed heavy industries, and as it is now proved that there is a considerable urban, or semi-urban population capable of being put on the land in Scotland, it is particularly necessary that land settlement should proceed on the widest possible scale, because it is the only outlet for those who have become unemployed in such industries as mining and iron and steel. It is too little understood, that capacity of urban people, generally, to make good upon the land; and still less fully is it understood how peculiarly close in Scotland is the connection between town and country. We have not got in Scotland a number of enormous pities where life has become absolutely urbanised and where the country is an unknown factor. Urban life in Scotland is carried on far more in small towns where there is a much closer connection with the country, and there is hardly a working class family in Scotland, some of whose members have not at some time or other had something to do with the land.
That is a condition that does not exist in England. It exists most strikingly in Scotland, and if one discusses questions of land settlement in urban Scotland, one gets a much more ready response than if one discusses it with a similar class in England. There is a close social connection between the great bulk of our urban life in Scotland because it is carried on in small towns, and a much closer social connection between town and country in 671 Scotland than in England. There would be far less difficulty in carrying out in Scotland a policy of land settlement which is definitely directed towards helping the problem of unemployment in the cities. I have made these remarks at some length, but they are vital and relevant to the problem of land settlement in Scotland. Other issues and other arguments would have to be considered if we were dealing with the question of land settlement in England, but in Scotland the vital factor that cannot fail to attract attention as soon as we turn our minds to Scotland is that there is no modern development of the lighter industries to take men from the more depressed industries. If we are to keep the out of work miner and iron and steel worker in Scotland, and not drive him to the Dominions and colonies, we have only the land on which to put him. That is the main factor of the Scottish land settlement situation. The other factor is the much closer social connection between the towns and country in Scotland.
It is for these reasons that I urge that the Government, who have clearly abandoned land settlement in England, should adopt a land settlement policy in Scotland. This matter needs no legislation; it merely needs the Scottish Office to get from the Treasury a larger grant for land settlement. I am fully satisfied on the whole with the skill and ability of the Department of Agriculture to continue the work of land settlement in a wider way. I hope that the suggestion of buying estates for land settlement will be developed, and that the most unsatisfactory system of leasing estates from private owners and then instituting small holdings on them will be abandoned. It was a system which did not meet with the approval of the Committee which dealt with the question of land settlement a year or two ago. May I urge the necessity of giving some guarantee to the infant potato pool which is struggling towards life. If the right hon. Gentleman will give some guarantee to that co-operative effort, the main arable crop of Scotland, namely, the potato crop of 1930, will be dealt with under far more favourable conditions than if the guarantee were not given. The Secretary of State has it in his power either to make the potato growers secure for 1930 or to leave them in the state of 672 uncertainty and anxiety in which they are at present. The Agricultural Organisation Society are doing everything they can to create the pool and the response is amazing, if one remembers the state of affairs only two years ago. The matter rests with the Government, It is no use the Secretary of State saying that he desires to do everything to help the arable farmers, if he turns down this demand which will be placed before him that he should give the potato pool a guarantee of Government financial support. If he gives that guarantee, the Secretary of State will do a most valuable piece of work both for the general policy of agricultural co-operation, and for the vital and urgent question of giving the potato grower a fair chance.
§ Sir GODFREY COLLINS
The hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) has made a powerful appeal for land settlement in Scotland. Undoubtedly, there are thousands of men walking the streets of the towns in Scotland who have been unable to find work through their inability to get land to cultivate. I have risen to address one or two questions to the Secretary of State in connection with the best sugar factory at Cupar. There is a reference to this factory in the Report of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, page 7. This factory was erected to melt home-grown sugar. Under the Beet-Sugar (Subsidy) Act, £21,000,000 has been spent, and this particular factory has received some £750,000 under the Trade Facilities Act to enable the factory to erect buildings and buy the necessary machinery. During the last few months the factory has been melting foreign sugar and competing directly with the Greenock refiners in the markets of Scotland. Legislation may be necessary—
The hon. Member had better discuss this under the appropriate Vote. It comes under separate Vote.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
In the report of the Department of Agriculture, there is a reference to this factory, and, because of that, I ventured to address this one question to the Secretary of State as I am not anxious to raise the general subject.
If the hon. Member proposes to do no more than ask a question arising out of the report, I 673 think that would be in order, but we are now discussing the Estimates and there is nothing in them dealing with beet-sugar. Beet-sugar comes under another Vote.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I have no desire to disobey your Ruling, sir, but the Secretary of State for Scotland is responsible for this factory and it is because he is responsible and because of this reference in the Report that I wish to ask just one question.
I do not want to be rigid in my ruling, but again I would emphasise the fact that this Estimate does not include the beet-sugar scheme. The hon. Member may ask a question on the Report, but he cannot develop the argument. The beet-sugar Vote covers operations in both England and Scotland, and questions of detail must be raised upon that particular Vote.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I quite appreciate the fact that I was on thin ice. My question will be a simple one. This factory which is in Cupar has received some £750,000 under the Trade Facilities Act. Is this State-subsidised factory in Cupar carrying out its obligations under the terms of the minute?
Mr. R. W. SMITH
The Under-Secretary of State, in dealing with criticisms in regard to the Agricultural Credits Act stated that at least the Government were doing their best. That was an extraordinary remark to come from one who was lately sitting on this side of the House. If we had been in power and such an observation had been made by our Under-Secretary of State it would have been received with howls from the Labour benches. We should have been asked if nothing else could be done. Observations would have been hurled at us about our having found money for the beer and tobacco trades and we should have been asked why we could not find money for the Agricultural Credits Act. That is the kind of treatment we received from Labour when we sat on the Government side, but now that the Labour party sit there all they can say is that they are doing their best. After a year is that all they can tell the unfortunate farmers who want this credit? The Labour party would never have allowed us to get away with such a re- 674 mark, and therefore we are entitled to say that they are not acting as we should have expected the Labour party to act, in view of their old promises that they would plunge through every obstacle which stood in their path. I ask the Secretary of State to be a little more militant, to see that the unfortunate farmers in Scotland get the benefit of the agricultural credits scheme, for the position of the Scottish farmer is quite as bad as that of the English farmer.
The Under-Secretary gave us figures showing that as the outcome of the marking scheme the sales of Scotch beef had risen by 300 per cent. We are all glad to hear that, but he might have gone a little further and reminded the House that that beneficent Measure was brought in by the Unionist party. We are indeed proud that it has proved so successful. The Under-Secretary said that farmers must not look to the State to provide the graders and markers, but must supply them for themselves. We have heard a great deal about co-operation and are most anxious to see it working in our country. I feel that by co-operation we can really assist agriculture; I do not suggest that it will put everything right but at any rate it will help. But in my opinion co-operation in this industry has railed because the graders and the markers were not independent people. If a co-operative society is set up and the grader or valuer is a person appointed by the committee which run that society, many of the farmers are of opinion that the cattle of the men on the committee who appoint the grader get the first chance. As the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) said, Scottish farmers are very doubtful about each other and do not trust each other very far, and I think many co-operative schemes have not attained success owing to the fact that the graders were not impartial individuals paid by the State. Therefore I appeal to the Government to see if they cannot alter their policy and have graders paid by the Government.
It is to be noted that this Estimate provides £90,000 more for agriculture in Scotland than was the case last year. I congratulate the Secretary of State on getting more money for Scotland, and should not grudge any single penny that can be obtained for agriculture, but with the finances in the country in their present state we have no right to vote an 675 extra £90,000 unless we are assured that the money will be spent to the best advantage and that we shall get some reasonable return. Certainly before we grant this extra £90,000 we ought to know what the agricultural policy of the Government is to be. I should have thought that when the Government were asking for extra money for agriculture would have been the time to produce their policy, if they have one.
The first item I wish to refer to is that of salaries, wages and allowances. This year there is an increase in this item of £7,523. Those who look more into the details will find that this sum includes an increase of £2,669 for clerical staff and £4,173 for additional surveying staff. Take the clerical staff. There we find an increase in the item for examiners from £4,459 to £8,371. I should like to know the reason for this large increase in the Estimates for examiners, and what particular work they are going to undertake to necessitate that increase. I find that the estimate for clerks has been reduced from £33,865 to £30,685 for 1930, and the number of clerks has been reduced from 122 to 115. Why is it necessary to reduce the permanent staff and then make all this allowance for more temporary staff? I should like the Under-Secretary to give us some explanation of that reduction. On the next page there appears an item, Allowance for Temporary Clerical and Typing Assistance at Head Office of £1,377 for 1930, while in 1929 the amount was £700. What has happened to necessitate this increase in the cost of temporary clerical assistance? There is another item for temporary clerical assistance at the branch offices which also shows an increase, and I should like to know the reason for having all this temporary assistance spreading over several years.
I turn to the next page of the Estimates, and I find that, the surveying staff requires an additional £4,173 for the year 1930. I do not think that we ought to spend £4,173 more for the surveying staff without knowing what these men are going to do for the money, Why is all this extra assistance required? Has it anything to do with the increase in the number of examiners? What is going to happen, and how is this money going 676 to be spent? If all this increase of staff is necessary for examiners and surveyors it does not seem to me that the Estimates make a sufficient allowance for travelling expenses. I congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland upon the estimate for telegrams and telephones not being up, because I thought more would be necessary owing to an increase in the staff. I notice that the item for miscellaneous schemes of agricultural development shows an increase for 1930 of £23,640. For the year 1929 the estimate was £10. I think we are entitled to have some explanation as to the schemes to which this increased estimate is going to be devoted.
I notice, on page 154, it is stated that the increase of £23,640 for miscellaneous schemes of agricultural development is in order to make provision for schemes that may arise during the year. I should like to know if there is any connection between these particular schemes and the increase of £3,173 for the surveying staff. We have not been told what is the agricultural policy of the Government, and that is the reason why we are obliged to ask questions in regard to these details. On page 146 there is an increase of £26,765 in the item for Land Drainage, the full amount being £42,675. I should like to know if that expenditure is intended to deal with unemployment, and perhaps the Under-Secretary will tell the Committee whether it has any connection with the schemes to be put forward by the Lord Privy Seal.
Reference has been made to the need for more money to be devoted to agricultural education, the estimate for which was £80,205 for last year compared with £72,200 for 1930. It is very strange that that item shows a reduction. One thing that we want to do is to see that our farmers, and especially the smaller ones and those who are furthest away from the centres, get the benefit of the research that is carried out. Further, I should like to ask if something could not be done to supply leaflets and literature to farmers, setting out the results of that research.
With regard to the grants out of the Agriculture (Scotland) Fund, for the purpose of small holdings and so on, everyone is anxious, as I myself am, to see people put on small holdings, but it is absolute folly to plant a large number of 677 these smallholders throughout the country unless they are going to be able to make a living. At the present time farming is not paying, and to spend large sums of money in settling men on the land in an industry of which it is almost impossible to make a success—an industry to which the Government profess to give lip service, but which they do not do much to assist, because they have no policy—seems to me to be madness.
There is another point, which is, perhaps, rather a small one, and that is with regard to the destruction of rats and mice. I see that the item for expenses under the Rats and Mice (Destruction) Act comes to £25, but on the previous page we have an official who receives a salary of £500 a year as the executive officer under the Rats and Mice (Destruction) Act. I should have thought that, when the Act only costs £25 to administer, it might have been possible to administer it by some cheaper officer than one receiving £500 a year. [HON. MEMBERS: "Buy a cat!"] The reason why I have put these questions to the right hon. Gentleman is that, as I said at the beginning, the Government, in asking us to vote these large sums of money, are asking us to buy what in common parlance is known as a pig in a poke, and I should like to hear something definite in reference to the various items which I have mentioned.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I have had too much connection, from various angles, with land settlement in Scotland, to be unsympathetic with the Government in the work that they have in hand in connection with this matter. There are, however, two things that the Government require. The one is money, and the other is sufficient power. I think they ought to go boldly to the Treasury and insist upon getting the money that is required for the purposes of land settlement in Scotland; and also that they should come to Parliament to ensure that they get sufficient powers to acquire ample supplies of land compulsorily in order to settle those men who are still awaiting holdings. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that the rate of progress of land settlement since 1912 is something under 200 per annum, so that, since at the present time there are 3,914 applicants for new holdings, it will take him roughly 678 20 years—during all of which time, no doubt, he will be in office—to get the whole of these applicants settled.
There is another aspect of the matter, and that is that, among these 3,914 applicants, there are no fewer than 2,094 who are ex-service men. That is to say, 12 years after the Armistice, these men who came home from the War are still waiting for the implementing of the promises which were seriously made to them in the name of the nation. They are looking, and have looked, to one Government after another, and may I say that they have looked with particular hopefulness to the advent of a Labour Government, for the fulfilment of those promises. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should make these 2,094 ex-service men his first care, and should see that the time is not allowed to run on, and that these men do not have to wait 20 years for holdings.
I have been in the habit of studying the accounts of the Board of Agriculture to the extent to which one can discover them, and I should like to see, not only with regard to Luskentyre, which was referred to from the Front Opposition Bench, but with regard to every one of the estates which are acquired by the Department of Agriculture, a proper statement of accounts made public. I should like to see, for example, a capital and revenue account with regard to Luskentyre, and another with regard to Erribol, which would have been very enlightening. We always get, and are entitled to expect such statements from any undertaking or enterprise or company, and, surely, from a Department of Agriculture we ought to be able to get a statement of accounts with regard to each of these estates which they handle, showing, for example, on the capital side, what has been paid for the estate and what has been spent on it in the way of capital development for water supply, fences, additional buildings, and so on, and on the other side the revenues from the estate. I remember reading that on one occasion, when the previous occupant of the right hon. Gentleman's office was asked whether, from the records in the Department of Agriculture, he could furnish such a statement, he admitted that he could not. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should take steps—and no one is more competent than himself to do so—to see that the accounts 679 in the Department of Agriculture are kept in such a way that the public may know, when an estate is purchased or acquired for the purpose of land settlement, whether the transaction is a profitable one or the reverse.
I wish the right hon. Gentleman well in regard to the acquiring of further estates for land settlement. There are two methods by which he can proceed—the method of purchase and the method of what is known as scheduling land, which was introduced under the Act of 1911. Objections were taken to that method of scheduling land; there were too many obstacles to be overcome, and too many compensation claims to be paid to landowners. Those obstacles have been largely removed by the Land Settlement Act of 1919, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the method of scheduling land is preferable, from his point of view as an administrator, to that of purchase. I will give him in a word the main reasons for that. If he purchases land, he has, of course, to use the money of the State to buy land at far too high a price, because the price is based upon rentals which are not economic. He spends the money and then he has not, of course, sufficient to equip all the holdings in the way he would like to do. In preference to purchase, he ought to keep in his pocket the money which, no doubt, some of the landowners would like to have transferred to their pockets. He should, on the other hand, schedule in the hands of the owners whatever land he requires for the purpose of land settlement.
May I remind him of a recent decision of the Court of Session which makes it quite clear that he does not require to purchase the buildings on any estate on which he is to settle holdings. He does not require to buy either the land or the buildings. All he requires to do under the machinery of the 1911 and 1919 Acts is to schedule land for the purpose of small holdings, and the landowner gets a fair rent for the use of the land end the buildings. If he could prove that to any extent he loses in annual income by the establishment of the small holding, he has a just claim against the Department which the Department will, of course, meet, but I urge upon the right hon. Gentleman that he should not use 680 public money at his disposal in purchasing land. He should use it mainly for the purpose of equipping the holdings which he has acquired by the method of scheduling and also for the purpose of assisting the new holders with funds to carry on their industry. I do not include for the moment certain of those cases where admittedly purchase may be preferable to scheduling. I am stating a general rule which I recommend the Department to follow, that of scheduling.
The only other matter to which I should like to draw attention is also a matter of policy, but it seems to me to be a somewhat grave one, namely, that of equipped rents. The Department of Agriculture is now the largest landowner in Scotland and owns some 400,000 acres in its own right. But it controls the administration of holdings which are not upon estates owned by the Department, and a change has taken place in the policy of the Department during the last few years. It was instituted by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, with what object I do not know, but, on the pretext that the Department of Agriculture had not power under the existing Acts to continue loans to incoming holders, I understand that instructions were given to the Department that they should not give loans to incoming holders, but that those holdings that became vacant should be let to new holders at equipped rents. Letting at equipped rents means that you let the land and buildings, the tenant pays rent for both to the Department and he never by any possibility can become the owner of the buildings. In my opinion the Department, in altering the policy as I have stated, has taken a step that is contrary to the spirit of the Small Holding Acts and for which there is no statutory authority whatever. The extraordinary point is that the Department still claims that those men who are put into holdings under the equipped rent system are still land holders. They are land holders in name only and they do not have the attributes of land holders which the Land-holders Acts have clearly laid down. A land holder, according to the Acts, is a man to whom belongs the greater part of the improvements upon the holding. A tenant at an equipped rent owns none of the buildings at all and never can become the owner.
I want to represent the three aspects of this transaction to the right hon. Gen- 681 tleman from the different points of view. First of all with regard to the holding itself, it is deprived of its character as a land-holders' holding. It becomes one under the Agricultural Holdings Act in every sense except that of name. In my opinion the Department had no authority, statutory or otherwise, for the change of policy. It cannot have been for the purpose of returning the money to the Treasury that the change of policy took place, because the Treasury loans were given to the Department for some 50 to 80 years. In the second place, the Department becomes the owner of the buildings and the land and is in perpetuity drawing from them an equipped rent which is not what the land holder was, under the Acts, expected to pay, namely, merely a land rent, but they are obtaining from the tenant a rent for both land and buildings, and the rent that is being charged is much higher than it need be. They are being charged rent with is equivalent roughly to the rent of the land plus the annuity for acquiring the buildings, and yet they can never become the owners of the buildings.
In the third place, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider what is the position of these tenants. They are paying equipped rents and they are higher than they need be. In the second place they are bound to maintain the buildings as land holders. They are called land holders with the liability to maintain the buildings. This does not mean merely liability at common law, that is to say for the common law repairs which any tenant has to make. The liability is for all the repairs to the buildings and, if the tenants do not keep the buildings in repair, they are liable to ejection. At any rate they have no recourse against the Department if renewal or reconstruction is required.
The tenants are put in a very prejudicial position for themselves. They are also liable to be rated on the land and buildings, and they are not even getting the benefit of the De-rating Act. They are being rated, not upon an eighth of the land rent as they would have been rated if this change of policy had not taken place. They are being rated upon an eighth of the equipped rent, which is very much higher and, accordingly, they have to pay higher rates as well as higher rents. Not only has the Department changed this policy with regard to 682 land and buildings, in lands in other ownership than their own, but they have applied to the Land Court for registration of persons as new holders at equipped rents of small holdings on land owned by the Department.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider this, and I would ask him whether he knows of any statutory authority which is the sanction for the change of policy and whether he believes that the Department is entitled to utilise the smallholders' Acts in order to obtain money from the Treasury for the establishment of land holdings in Scotland upon the basis of these Acts, and then to proceed to let the land to tenants on terms which are outside the Acts? The scheme of the Acts is perfectly clear, that the men were intended to be put in holdings and assisted with loans from the Department, and after the course of 50 years they or their successors are to be the absolute owners of the buildings for which they have paid. That is the scheme of the Acts. The right hon. Gentleman's Department is using the Acts in order to obtain money from the Treasury for the establishment of holdings upon that scheme and then, as I understand, are departing from the terms of the scheme, and are letting the holdings on terms quite alien to the spirit of the Acts, which will prevent the men who are settled there from becoming land holders in the spirit of the Acts with all the rights and privileges intended to be conferred upon them.
I understand that this policy of the Department of Agriculture is being put in force in many parts of Scotland. Whenever a holding becomes vacant, they are taking the opportunity to let that holding at equipped rent. They are proceeding to acquire estates which they are going to let out upon an equipped rent basis. In my humble submission, this policy requires to be justified and explained. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, with great deference, that, unless he can satisfy himself as to the statutory legality of the procedure, as to whether it is not an injustice with regard to the landholders, he ought in the meantime to prevent the policy from being proceeded with in the future.
§ Major DUDGEON
My right bon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has assured us of his sympathy 683 in regard to the present plight of Scottish agriculture. He has assured the Committee on many occasions of his keen sympathy in regard to the present agricultural situation in Scotland, and I am quite sure that his sympathy is absolutely sincere, but I would suggest that he would receive cordial thanks from the Scottish agricultural community if he would develop his sympathy a little further into drastic and immediate action to redress the agricultural situation. The right hon. Gentleman has been furnished, within the last few weeks, with a very admirable report in regard to the marketing of agricultural produce. It was stated to-day that this report has only been available for Members during the last two days, but I am inclined to think that the right hon. Gentleman has had the report in his possession for a good few weeks, and I hope he will be in a position at a very early date to announce his decision on this matter. With regard to the question of organised marketing as a whole, I do not intend to stress it this evening, but I would suggest that, if organised marketing is going to be of assistance to a particular branch of agriculture, which is in a most serious state at the moment, namely, the potato industry, it is essential that something should be done immediately which would operate in regard to the crop to be produced this year. A system of pools has been in operation in Scotland in regard to milk and wool, and they have at the present moment achieved a very considerable amount of success. There is every reason to believe that, if this system were extended to the potato industry, it would to a very considerable extent relieve it from its very grave and growing difficulties. My right hon. Friend should take measures at the earliest possible moment to assist the setting up of a potato pool in Scotland.
The question of agricultural education is one in which Scotland has always taken a very great interest, and which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland did a great deal to assist. The agricultural colleges in Scotland have received more financial assistance within the last few years than they did in the pre-War period, but undoubtedly, there could be more money very usefully utilised by the agricultural colleges, and I must especially stress the 684 point that the staff, both the teaching staff actually in the colleges and the extension lecturers in the counties, should have their salaries reviewed and that the payment to the staffs of agricultural colleges in Scotland should be on a parity with the payment in similar institutions in England and Wales. We have had very excellent staffs in all our agricultural colleges, but we have always found that there has been a considerable drift to England and Wales of some of our best lecturers and instructors. Therefore, I would suggest that this question of review of salaries should be undertaken at a very early date. With regard to the agricultural college that I know best, namely, the Glasgow and West of Scotland Agricultural College, which is now entering on a new sphere in a very fine agricultural estate in Ayrshire, I would suggest that my right hon. Friend should review the position in regard to the college and the dairy institute. I am one of those who have never been of the opinion that it was desirable to have these two separate organisations with different governing bodies. It would be infinitely better in an area such as the South-West of Scotland, where we have a good deal of similarity in regard to agricultural conditions, that the college and the dairy institute should be under united control.
I was interested to know from the speech of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland the strides that are being made in regard to land surveying. It is very important that at the earliest possible date we should have a complete land survey of the whole of Scotland, and thereby be put in a better position to arrive at a policy for the utilisation of all land in Scotland to its most perfect economic value. With regard to the question of the method of survey, might I suggest that agricultural organisations, such as the National Farmers' Union, might be utilised through their local branches in accelerating and possibly cheapening the cost of survey to the State? If that were done, the Scottish Agricultural Department would be in a, position to accelerate more quickly this question of survey. There is the question of agricultural costing. The Under-Secretary of State stated that considerable progress had been made in this matter. I think that if the ser- 685 vices of the Farmers' Union or even the services of the local accountants who are operating in regard to farm accountancy were taken more broadly into co-operation by the Scottish Agricultural Department more extensive statistics would be available. I place the greatest possible importance upon this question of finding out farm costs. It is only by getting definite and irrefutable statistics in this matter that we shall be able to arrive at a comparatively early date at a higher standard of farming throughout the country.
The dairy industry, which particularly affects the south-west of Scotland, is becoming increasingly embarrassed. During the last few years the dairying branch of Scottish agriculture has been in a comparatively satisfactory condition, but we know to-day that there is a large surplus of liquid milk on the market. In some parts of my constituency milk was sold as low as 5d. per gallon in the month of April, which meant a tremendous loss to the producer. It is very difficult to regulate the supplies of milk, but I would suggest that an extension and strengthening of the milk pool would be of great assistance. The right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State has an opportunity through the report of the Committee on Marketing of strengthening the milk pool and so making it more successful in giving a remunerative price to the milk producers.
In 1928, a regulation was brought into force by another Department prohibiting the use of preservatives in cream. That has had a very serious effect in the cream market. I have received figures from the organisation of creamery proprietors of Great Britain, and I find that since 1928 their sales of cream have gone down by the appalling figure of 51 per cent. This Order therefore is very detrimental to the dairying industry. Recently, three creameries operating to a large extent in the South-West of Scotland have had to close down through the operation of this Order, and there are even farmers' co-operative creameries which will have to close down in the comparatively near future if something is not done to mitigate this very serious loss in the sale of cream. There is also the question of the importation into this country of ever larger quantities of condensed, preserved and dried whole and skimmed milk. It 686 is at least time that some comprehensive inquiry was made into the conditions in the countries from which these condensed and dried products come. During the last 20 or 25 years the dairying industry in this country has been faced with one regulation after another, thus enhancing the costs of production. I can state as a Free Trader that it is essential that inquiries should be made into the conditions obtaining in the countries of origin of these ever-increasing imports of condensed and skimmed milk. It is a question of fair trade and fair play for our British dairy farmers.
The question of land settlement has been referred to by several speakers during this Debate. I believe that it is more important to set up economic units in regard to small holdings than it is to set up a large number of units. There is one suggestion which I should like to throw out to the right hon. Gentleman, and that is the question of setting up a number or a group of small holdings adjacent to towns, so that they can be worked by part-time workers. I think it is very essential to-day that we should try and draw the countryside and the urban populations together. During the last 20 years tremendous strides have been made in extending and cheapening transport. There is no reason why those who reside in towns to-day and who could reside five or even 10 miles out of the towns should not find part-time work in the towns and have a small holding of, say, from 2 acres up to 10 acres where they can employ their spare or their part-time. They would be able to increase their incomes and at the same time the right hon. Gentleman would be doing a great social service by bringing the interests of the countryside and the interests of the urban community more closely together.
Scottish agriculture, which has always been outstanding and of a very high order of merit, is rapidly declining through no fault of its own but owing to difficulties which, in large measure, it cannot overcome, the countryside is becoming depopulated, thousands of acres, year after year, are being put down to grass, and the whole rural community is becoming poorer and poorer. It is; therefore, essential that measures should be taken at the earliest possible moment: to put Scottish agriculture on a stable 687 footing. I welcome the announcement which was made last night that there is going to be a three-party conference in regard to the present critical position of British agriculture. I believe, as do many hon. Members in this House, that there can be no solution of the problem of agriculture along party lines. We can only find an agricultural policy by entering a conference without prejudice and arriving at a policy which will ensure the agricultural community continuity. It is no good one party in this House, even if it were a party with a large majority, framing a policy and bringing it into operation. We saw the futility of that in the Corn Production Act which was promoted and enacted by the Coalition Government. There was no continuity about that Act, and really it was the beginning of all the evils in regard to agriculture in Great Britain. Therefore, I hope that at the present time when we have a spirit and a will in this House wholeheartedly to co-operate, we shall do so in order to ensure that the agricultural community will be able in the future, as in the past, to play an outstanding part in the economic and social life of our nation.
§ Mr. W. ADAMSON
I have had no cause to complain of the spirit and temper in which hon. Members of both parties in Opposition have put their case. Their contributions have been of a very helpful character. Before I answer some of the questions that have been addressed to me I want to take the opportunity of paying a very hearty tribute to Mr Macaulay for his generous contribution towards the process of converting peat soil into an agricultural proposition. We are very much indebted to him. The hon. Member for Kincardine (Mr. Scott) said that there were still 2,000 ex-service men who ought to be my first care so far as land settlement is concerned. I can assure the hon. Member that he does not need to remind me of that responsibility. The fact that I have provided in these Estimates for an additional £60,000 for land settlement in Scotland is proof of my interest in the settlement of ex-service men on the land. The next point that he put to me was that he thought it was better that a profit and loss account should be provided for each estate. I will keep that suggestion in mind. I was 688 about to use a word of which the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) made a considerable amount of play in the earlier part of the Debate, a word which he seemed to think was a favourable expression of mine. All that I would say about that matter is that it is better to "consider." There is always a chance that you will make progress if you are considering a matter. It is better to consider things than to do nothing at all.
The hon. Member asked me to consider the question whether it was better to purchase land for holdings or simply to make the necessary arrangements for scheduling the holdings. This matter has been examined, and it will certainly be kept in mind. He also put to me a number of legal points, which will be borne in mind and examined. The right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty spoke of the agricultural report, and described it as excellent. It is an excellent report, and makes a considerable number of suggestions, but even the right hon. Gentleman, who is in a hurry to get the report put into operation, will admit that one requires a little time to examine it. He also spoke of the salaries for instructors. The last point that he dealt with, or the last point I remember, was in regard to the question of cream. During the last few days we have had an opportunity of discussing this question with a very large and representative deputation. The views of that deputation will be carefully considered.
Certain questions were also addressed to me by one of the hon. Members for Aberdeen. He wanted an explanation about the appointment of seven examiners. The explanation is that only one extra man has been appointed. There has been a corresponding reduction in another department. The extra man appointed is for the purpose of assisting with the survey which is taking place, and which has been so highly commended by a number of hon. Members. Another question was put to me with regard to what is being spent on steps to reduce the number of rats and mice. Those of us who are practical agriculturists know the importance of keeping down rata and mice.
§ Sir PATRICK FORD
As I understood it, my hon. Friend's point was that only 689 £25 was being spent on this important work of keeping down rats and mice, and that a salary of £500 is being paid to the gentleman who administers the £25.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I wanted to add, with regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) as regards the salary of £500, that it is the salary of an official who is kept for co-ordinating the efforts of the local authorities in keeping down these pests. The hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) put two points with which I would like to deal. He urged the importance of land settlement and in contradistinction to the hon. Member for Kincardine (Mr. Scott) he urged that we should proceed with land purchase. I can assure the hon. Member for Perth that the Department is proceeding along these lines to a very considerable extent. They are the owners now of no less than 321,377 acres, and they inherited from the Congested District Boards 84,500 acres, making a total of 403,877 acres, so that they are going a considerable way to meet him so far as the question of land purchase is concerned. With regard to the point put by him as to taking the necessary steps to get the Government to guarantee the potato crop to the extent of £1,000,000—
§ Mr. SKELTON
I did not mean that £1,000,000 was to be spent on the potato pool alone, but that whereas the decision with regard to the whole recommendations of the committees might be postponed, the guarantee of some figure with regard to the potato pool was urgent.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I am quite aware that the tendency is to develop pools. The co-operative system is commonly described as a pool, and already such pools are in existence for dealing with milk. I understood that what the hon. Gentleman wanted was that I should get the Government to guarantee these pools to the extent of £1,000,000. Hon. Members who are putting forward this proposal do not anticipate that the guarantee will involve the Government in very much money. I may say that this is a proposal that has been put to me recently by the officials of the Agricultural Organisation Society.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. SKELTON
This is a very technical question. The point I was trying to make was that the potato pool is urgent. It should be in existence before this year's crop comes on and this assistance can only be secured by the guarantee if given early. No sum like £1,000,000 would be needed, but a very much smaller sum. The general guarantee referred to in the Committee's report could be left for more mature consideration later, but the potato guarantee is urgent.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I can assure the hon. Member that I am well aware that the potato pool is urgent. It has been placed clearly before me by the officials of the Agricultural Society, and I have said it is being investigated. The hon. Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins) put a question regarding beet-sugar, and I will give careful consideration to the representations made, but I want to point out that it is anticipated that there will be a marked increase in the acreage under beet-sugar in Scotland in 1930, the approximate estimate being 2,000 acres under beet cultivation as against the very much smaller amount, I think 612 acres, last year. It is not possible to say what amount may be required to meet the subsidy payments in 1930, but the figure allowed for estimate purposes is £120,478. This will mean a considerable addition to the work of the beet-sugar factory in Cupar. I do not know whether it will put them in the position of being independent of that form of work of which the hon. Member for Greenock complained.
I think I have covered most of the questions put to me since the Under-Secretary of State answered questions previously. I want, in conclusion, to thank hon. Members for the very friendly manner in which they have discussed this Estimate with me, and I hope the explanation that I was able to give in my opening remarks, and that the Under-Secretary was able to give, and what I have been able to add since has been satisfactory to both sides.
Mr. R. W. SMITH
May I have an answer to my question as to what are these miscellaneous schemes of agricultural development for which £23,000 odd is put down in the Estimates.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; Committee counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. ADAMSON
The sum mentioned is for miscellaneous schemes for agricultural purposes. There is a corresponding sum in the appropriation, which means that there is no addition in the amount of money being asked for.
§ Dr. HUNTER
In relation to the Cream Preservative Order, have the promised consultations between the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of Health materialised.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I have already stated that the matter is being investigated, and we have met the Minister of Health in the process of our investigation.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.