Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceding £336,647, 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, 1933, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, including grants for land improvement, agricultural education, research and marketing, 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.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Unfortunately the Debate on this Vote last week was a comparatively short one and a great many Members had not the advantage of listening to the speech of the Secretary of State. It was rather in the nature of an apology, because he had to confess that the Vote this year was subjected to a rigorous economic cut. That was very unfortunate, because, if Scotland depends on one thing apart from mining, it is agriculture, which is its great industry. My right hon. and gallant Friend, in my judgment, did not satisfy Members in his justification of the economic cuts. Let me take, for example, the case of land settlement. Since I entered the House 2 years ago every Scottish Member has been exceedingly keen on this question, and no one was move keen than my right hon. and gallant Friend when he had less responsibility and more freedom. Many of us remember the ardent speeches that he delivered from that side of the House. I can quite understand his position, because he is a Member of a Government that is pledged to economy. But there are such things as false economy, and in my judgment no economy could be more false than that which seeks to cut down expenditure upon maintaining a strong and virile population upon the land.
This Report ends on 31st December, 1931. The references to land settlement 1652 are, in the judgment of most of us, extremely unsatisfactory. The number of officials employed in the Department of Agriculture has increased during the last year. There may be reasons for that. It may be that it has increased because of the number of new Acts applicable to agriculture which have been introduced. But the fact remains that, while there is an increase in salaries and expenses, there is an enormous decrease in the amount of money voted by the House for the purpose for which the Department was instituted. No fewer than 25,000 applications have been made by young and stalwart men, most of them with a native knowledge of the land of their country, for settlement upon the soil of their country. Of those 25,000, only 5,900 were settled upon the land in nearly a quarter of a century, and 11,000 of the applications have been withdrawn. The Report does not explain why they were withdrawn, but it seems to me that their hearts became faint and weary with waiting, and it is a very sad commentary upon the administration of the Act that half of the applications have been withdrawn for one reason or another. An equally significant fact is that no fewer that 7,677 applications have still to be dealt with, and this is the opportunity that is taken for a rigorous cutting down of the expenditure, willingly voted by the House, for the purpose of keeping this population on the land.
We hear every day, almost certainly every week, of the deplorable condition so far as employment is concerned. The figures of unemployment arc daily growing, and we hear from all parts of the country of the trouble that exists, particularly in rural districts, largely because the old occupations of those districts have ceased to be as profitable as they were and also because of the slackness of the land and the lack of any promise of future progress on the land. All these have gone to drive the rural population on to the market in the cities, thus increasing more and more the difficulties and the dangers of urban unemployment. There is that significant fact, and yet in this Report, as far as I can see, there is scarcely more than 12 lines devoted to it and 7,677 applications have still to be dealt with. As far as I can make out, this year no money is being allocated for the settlement of new holders upon the land. There is a suggestion that holdings 1653 may be adapted for settlement. There is no suggestion that any of the money provided by Parliament should be utilised for the purposes for which the Department of Agriculture was initially brought into existence. It is a very sad state of affairs. I hope that my right hon. Friend may be able, when he conies to reply, to hold out some hope that vigorous action will be taken for the settlement of more people upon the land, as has been suggested all these years.
My right hon. Friend knows that in the report little mention is made of the Agricultural Credits Act which was passed in 1929. At the same time there was an Act of the same nature passed for England, and by some wise piece of strategy the English farmer and the English holder had the enormous benefits of that Act conferred upon them almost immediately. For two years or more the Scottish farmer and the Scottish smallholder have been without the advantages of the Scottish Agricultural Credits Act. Many a time, as the Committee, I hope, will remember, I have pub questions to my right hon. and gallant Friend, and I put questions to his predecessor. I have felt sorely tempted during recent months when my right hon. and gallant Friend became Secretary of State for Scotland to hurl at him some of the supplementary questions which he hurled at his predecessor on this particular point. I am glad to say—and I know that it is largely due to the desire of my right hon. and gallant Friend that the Act should be put into force—that recently steps have been taken in the matter, but so far none of the advantages of this beneficent Act has been accorded to the Scottish farmer or the Scottish smallholder. At the present time in Scotland there is a strong national feeling coming into existence, and it is just this sort of thing which drives young, ardent men who love their country into the ranks of revolution. About six weeks ago my right hon. Friend stated to me that he had been in consultation with the four Scottish banks and also with the Treasury, and that some arrangement had been made. Will he be in a position when he replies to the Debate this afternoon to tell the farmers and the holders in Scotland exactly the situation, because he may take it from me that there is a very strong feeling arising among agriculturists in Scot- 1654 land owing to the fact that year after year, and month after month, they are deprived of the advantages which they see being enjoyed by their competitors across the border.
I see in the report that mention is also made of the new legislation, and I regret to see that the £10,000 which was to be given to Scotland under the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Act is to be taken away. Is it going to come back into the coffers of the Treasury or what is to be done with it? I all the more regret that the £10,000 is being withheld because it is a comparatively small sum when one considers the nature of the industry and its difficulties at the present time. I noticed during the passage of the Bill which ultimately became an Act that there were no fewer than 800 applications for assistance under the Act, and to any man with a knowledge of statecraft or of the industry that fact would be significant. It would certainly show to him that the Act was likely to be a useful Act and that the people who were concerned were alive to its value. And yet we have two or three sentences in the Report making this observation, and this observation only, that £10,000 which was allocated for the purposes of the Act was no longer to be utilised for those purposes. Will my right hon. and gallant Friend be in a position to tell us what has happened under the other Act—the Agricultural Holdings Act—which was passed last; year. It was obviously too early to have anything definite with regard to the working of the Act put into this particular Report, but six or seven months have elapsed since then. One would like to be in a position to know the results of that new piece of legislation.
In the Scottish Department of Agriculture there are a great many Departments and subsidiary Votes. It might be news to you, Captain Bourne, that in this particular Department there is a Vote granted every year dealing with piers. Piers in normal circumstances would come under the Fishery Vote, but there is a public fund in this Vote which is devoted at times to the maintenance and preservation of piers in Scotland. I have no doubt that a great many of my colleagues know of many piers which need assistance at the present time. I should like my right hon. and gallant Friend, for example, to recall the correspondence which 1655 I have had with him in regard to the pier at Gairloch on the West Coast of Scotland. There you have a pier which serves a very wide and a very beautiful part of the West Coast of Scotland, and the people there are almost entirely dependent upon the visits two or three times a week of the McBrayne steamers, but, notwithstanding the representations which have been made, this pier, like one or two on the East Coast of Scotland, is no longer in a position adequately to serve the wide district for which it is supposed to exist. Does my right hon. and gallant Friend propose to consider the question of piers? As he knows, his predecessor made several voyages on the delightful "Minna" to various parts of Scotland, and he visited all those piers. I am credibly informed that he not only visited the piers, but walked gingerly along them, and he made promises, which I have no doubt he relied upon my right hon. and gallant Friend to fulfil when he took over the reins of office, that those piers would be properly reconstructed and that they would no longer be dangerous either to traffic or to the inhabitants of those parts. But as far as I know nothing has been done. It is the same on the East Coast of Scotland. I have in part of my constituency, and no doubt other hon. Members have also, piers in the same condition.
I take the pier of Cromarty, which has been made famous because it is the pier of the birthplace of one of the greatest of Scots, and which during the course of the War was of immense advantage to the people of this country. It also serves a very wide district, but nothing has been done. The predecessors of my right hon. Friend have been in close touch, I understand, with the Public Loans Commissioners and various other bodies. The pier is almost derelict now. There is no railway, no steamers call, and the farmer, who is entirely dependent upon transport for the value of his products, is deprived of good transport because of the fact that no pier is there. There is also the question of dredging. I got a promise from my right hon. Friend that he would send a dredger connected with his Department to Portmahonack Pier. He might very well do that, because most of his constituents use that harbour, and I have no doubt that his good will towards it will be a benefit to 1656 me as well as to himself. There is another harbour which is used by almost every fisherman on the East and West coast of Scotland, and all that is necessary at the present time is that an effective dredger should be sent in order to make it an even safer haven of refuge in the time of stress and storm to the harassed mariners.
There was another new piece of legislation in 1930. I refer to the Drainage Act. Last year the grant for drainage was cut down, and I gather that this year there is no attempt to cut the grant. [Interruption.] I gathered from my hon. Friends that there is an attempt to cut that grant. What grant are they going to allow to remain without being cut down? If agriculture is to flourish, how can it flourish when you never know how much money is to be available, and when the tendency is not to increase a grant but to decrease it on every conceivable occasion? My right hon. Friend's speech was full of optimism, but I do not quite understand the optimism. It explained at great length what was done in agricultural research, a very good thing, and in agricultural marketing, a very good thing, but what is the good of research and marketing if you have not the men upon the soil to benefit by either of those two things? The soil itself cannot benefit unless it is put into a proper condition. One of the things we have always advocated for that purpose has been effective and efficient drainage. If this further cut is to be insisted upon, I shall much regret it. I understand that the amount may be cut from £40,000 to £22,000, which is almost a cut of two-thirds. I regret that that should be so and I hope that my right hon. Friend will be in a position to tell us that he is going to approach the Treasury and to make a bold stand in the interests of agriculture, an interest which I know he has much at heart.
My speech has been in the nature of a series of interrogatories and I am very anxious that those interrogatories should be fully and adequately answered. We are entitled to expect from my right hon. Friend, who has taken a sincere and deep interest in agriculture, much more than we would expect from anyone else who has not taken the same interest in it. I feel sure that if he gets a chance our expectations will not be belied. This is 1657 his first official performance as Secretary of State for Scotland dealing with the Scottish Estimates. We all recognise that he is not in a position, probably owing to the short length of time that he has occupied his office, to give us any pontifical pronouncement upon this very important subject, but we give him this word of warning, that, while we admire what he has done in the past in pressing this subject upon his Scottish colleagues and upon the Government, we expect more from him. I hope that in his reply he will not leave us with this report alone, which gives hope to nobody and which encourages no optimism. I hope that he will be able to tell us that he can supplement what is written in the report and hold out some hope to the struggling and striving farmers in Scotland and to the smallholders all over the country.
§ Mr. BARCLAY-HARVEY
The right hon. Gentleman described his speech as a series of interrogations. I would describe it as a series of demands on the Treasury to spend more money. In case an appeal from one Highlander should have too much effect upon the heart of another Highlander I, as a mere Low-lander, would like to put the other side and to appeal for more economy. I want to continue what I had begun to say the other evening when the clock reached the magic hour of eleven. I was referring briefly to the position of the headquarters staff and the expenditure of the Department of Agriculture. I should like to recall to the Committee one or two facts which it is well they should know. The old Board of Agriculture started in the year 1912 and the first full year's figures are for the year 1913. I find that the total staff employed at that time was 86. Subsequently, on account of fresh work put upon the Department and the general expansion of their duties during the War and the immediate post-War period, the staff had risen in 1921 to 392. In that year there fell what is known as the Geddes Axe and in the following year the number of the staff was 314. In subsequent years there has been a steady and persistent rise, so that this year, in spite of all the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman in not filling posts which are still to be filled, the figure is 386. Of that figure 38 are allowed as being required for new and enlarged services such as drainage, settlement, marketing and 1658 census production. If the land drainage is being reduced there seems very small reason for keeping on an enlarged staff to deal with the reduced amount of drainage. Is the census of production to be maintained from year to year or is it merely being taken for one year? If so, there is a possibility of further reduction.
Taking the actual figures of costs, I find that in 1922 the amount that the Department was to spend was 296,327, but this year, in spite of all the right hon. Gentleman's efforts at economy—I congratulate him on what he has done in that respect—the figure is £598,685, a great deal of that expenditure is accounted for by land settlement., of which, we have heard a good deal from the right hon. Gentleman. I mention these figures in order to suggest to him that there is still a field open for economy, and I hope that when we see the Estimates produced next year he will be able to adopt further economies in that section of his activities
There is the other side of the picture. The Secretary of State struck me as being highly optimistic in his description of Scottish agriculture last Wednesday. The broad facts of the case are that land all over Scotland is going out of cultivation. I do not want to worry the Committee with too many figures, but one or two are of so striking a nature that I cannot refrain from quoting them. In the year 1913, the total arable area of Scotland was 3,312,000 acres. In 1931, the total had fallen to 3,061,000 acres. I suggest that that is not a state of affairs which this Committee can view with anything but alarm and dissatisfaction. The Secretary of State and the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) have both shown a very great enthusiasm in the matter of smallholdings and land settlement. Given the right man and the right place, I have nothing whatever to say against the smallholder. At the same time, I do think that we can press enthusiasm for those things rather too far. When I hear the statement made that it is an admirable thing to take men from the towns and set them on the land, and when I hear instances quoted of some successful people who have been brought out from the towns, I cannot get out of my mind the fact that during all that time agricultural workers have been dispossessed of their 1659 work, and I cannot help remembering that in the last 20 years the figures show a decrease of some 53,000 agricultural workers of all sorts in Scotland.
I am very glad to think that tailors and others who come from the cities can make a living on the land. I have rejoiced to see the same thing happening in other parts of the Empire. At the same time, I do feel that if we are going to justify the setting up of smallholdings simply on the ground that they are relieving the congestion of unemployment in the cities, we must not forget, as I think the right hon. Gentleman pointed out just now that people who are being trained for the land are going into the cities and increasing the amount of unemployment there. Our first duty, I think, is to ensure that people who are on the land are retained on the land. I think that that is the chief way in which to restore prosperity to agriculture in Scotland, and I should like to add in that connection, that while there is, no doubt, an unsatisfied demand for smallholdings, yet the farmers of larger farms who, after all, have always been, and always must be, the backbone of Scottish agriculture, are finding it more and more difficult to carry on, and it is become increasingly difficult to find tenants for moderate-sized and larger farms as they come into the market. I cannot, therefore, help wondering whether it would not be a wiser policy on the part of the Government to do more to assist that type of farmer, than to concentrate too much on the setting up of smallholdings all over Scotland.
I can quite understand that the Secretary of State did not wish to cover all the grounds which his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture covered in his statement about the Government's agricultural policy, but there are one or two passages in his speech which did fill me with a certain sense of alarm and apprehension. There was one short paragraph, in particular, when he was referring to the importance of land settlement. He said:In that way alone can we redress the balance—now, I suggest to the Committee, in dangerous disequilibrium—between our urban and rural population, and maintain in the countryside in Scotland men and women concentrating on those lines of production for which our agricultural conditions are best adapted."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June, 1932; col. 1206, Vol. 267.]1660 The question I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman is this: Does he really believe that conditions have so changed in Scotland that the old staple agricultural productions of meat, of milk and of cereals, particularly barley and oats, are no longer those for which Scotland is best adapted, and that we have to look to other things, like poultry, pigs and so on, for the future of our agriculture? That which is interesting Scottish farmers most at the moment is what the Government intend to do for those old established and important branches of our industry.
I do not intend to say anything at the moment about meat, because we know that is one of the questions to be considered at Ottawa, and, therefore, the Government, obviously, cannot say anything at the present moment. Nor do I intend to say anything about milk, because I understand from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that schemes are already under way dealing with that. But I do want to say one word about cereals, and particularly the Scottish cereals of barley and oats. Barley is rapidly ceasing to be grown in Scotland. On the average for the years 1911 to 1915 we had 181,000 acres in Scotland under barley; in 1931 we had 92,000 acres, and, I understand from a preliminary report in the Press the other day, this year the situation will be even worse. What is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman going to do about that? Is he assisting his right hon. and gallant Friend, a fellow Scot, in his struggle to find some method of imposing the additional duty on malting barley about which he have heard so much, and which seems to take a very long time to materialise; or is he allowing matters to drift? I sincerely hope that he is on the side of the Scottish agriculturists in this respect.
Then, what is the position of oats? There, again, we see an alarming fall, although this year, I believe, the acreage under oats will be slightly greater than last year. There seems to be a certain number of people who consider that the price which the oat crop fetches is a matter of secondary importance, because it is almost entirely used on the farm or, at any rate, in other branches of agriculture. But, in a very interesting reply which was given to the Noble Lady the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) a short 1661 time ago, the Minister of Agriculture estimated that about 40 per cent, of the total oat crop of Scotland was sold off the farms, and that the total value of that crop so sold was estimated to amount to a sum of £1,660,000. That is no small item, and if that is the average of Scotland, I suggest that in the North-East, at any rate, the average is far more than 40, and would, indeed, prove to be over 50 per cent.—a figure I have had given me by an authority in that part of the world.
Therefore, the price which the producer gets for his oats is a really important matter to him. Nobody is suggesting that we want an exaggerated price, but it is an unfair argument to use that we must take any price we can get for the benefit of other people. I do not think it is reasonable to suggest that anyone who is engaged in agriculture should live on the losses of any other branch, and I do not see why any farmer who uses the oats purely for feeding should be allowed to exist at the expense of the farmer who is producing the oats, and is looking for a price when he comes to sell his produce to solve the very difficult question of how to get profits in these hard times.
The great thing of which they are all frightened in the oat-growing counties of Scotland is the old fear of dumping. They never know, when ploughing their land, whether when they come to gather their crops they will not he faced again, as they have been before in recent years, with a catastrophic fall in prices due to the importation of oats grown under uneconomic conditions in some other part of Europe. I hope that the Secretary of State is pressing this point upon his right hon. Friend, and that we shall soon get some pronouncement that the Government intend to take steps to deal with this very real menace. I hope that that time is not very far distant. I hope we shall get a pronouncement before the House rises this Session, because if we do not, it will probably mean that we shall have to wait until the House reassembles in November or at the end of October, and then it will be too late. If we want to see the area at present under oats maintained or, as some of us hope, still further increased, we have got to get a pronouncement before the House rises, and not have to wait till 1662 some future time in the Autumn, when it will undoubtedly be too late.
I do hope the Secretary of State will bear these points in mind, but, as I have said, he takes a very optimistic view of Scottish agriculture. I am afraid he has an optimism which is not shared by the farmers of Scotland. There is a very real feeling in Scotland that nothing very much has been done to assist them. While I am not going so far as to say that, because I think a good deal has been done, at the same time I want to add one word to what the right hon. Gentleman who preceded me said about the spirit of Scottish nationalism. There is a feeling that, whereas the English farmers have had wheat dealt with, the Scottish farmers' cereal crop's have not been dealt with. I have tried, in my own small way, to correct that, because while I believe there is every justification for dealing with wheat first, I have no doubt the Government have every intention of dealing fully with Scottish agriculture later. But the feeing is there, and has to be met. Therefore, I hope the Secretary of State will be able to say something, when he replies later, that will reassure the Scottish farmers, and give those of us who are not in the ranks of revolution a chance of maintaining our position and encouraging our own people in Scotland in the well-founded belief that they are not forgotten, but which they do not realise, living so far away from the centre of our activities here.
§ Mr. JAMES STUART
I venture to intervene, in view of the shortage of Members of the Opposition present today, because I feel it is necessary, although one Scottish Member is present on the Opposition benches, that there should be a certain amount of opposition from the Government side, and I cannot, for one, join in throwing bouquets at the present Secretary of State for Scotland. I agree, however, for once with the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), who said that what we want is something more than the nice flowery speeches of the Secretary of State. Whatever the Scottish farmer may feel, I, personally, feel a considerable doubt as to whether the Scottish agriculturist is likely to get much satisfaction from the present Secretary of State for Scotland. For one thing, I 1663 consider that he is extremely fortunate in occupying the proud position he does occupy. He was resurrected, as a result of the national crisis, from the mouldering remains of the Liberal party, and, so far, during his tenure of office, his peak effort has been to oppose in the Cabinet the chief item of Government policy. I disagree entirely with the hon. Member who belongs to my own party, the representative for South Edinburgh (Sir S. Chapman), who informed us that the Secretary of State would in the future be able to look at the beautiful portrait of one of his relatives and say that he also has done something for Scottish agriculture. I hope that the hon. Member for South Edinburgh is right. I take a more cautious attitude, but I sincerely hope that the present Secretary of State will realise that Scottish farming is in a very serious condition indeed. It seems to me that if the right hon. Gentleman had had his way, if the small minority to which he clings in the Cabinet had had its way, Scottish farming would have nothing to which to pin its faith unless it is the Minister of Agriculture, who may be able to influence the Secretary of State and get something done.
The hon. Member for Peebles (Captain Ramsay) complained last week that Scottish Members were in considerable difficulty in dealing with agricultural questions, not knowing whether they should approach the Secretary of State or the Minister of Agriculture; and that if they went to one they were switched off to the other. I agree with the hon. Member. We are in a most unsatisfactory position. It is difficult to know which Minister we should approach. This state of affairs is creating a great deal of ill-feeling amongst the agricultural population in Scotland, who consider that their interests are not being properly looked after. If I did not feel this matter strongly I should not dream of standing up in this House and try to make a speech; for there is nothing which I dislike more. I should like to support the plea made by the hon. Member for Kincardine (Mr. Barclay-Harvey) that the question of malted barley should be dealt with and that a pronouncement should be made as soon as possible. It seems to me that there is considerable distaste on the part of the present Government to take any action in this matter, which has 1664 been going on year after year and nothing ever done. It was a burning question when Mr. Walter Guinness, flow Lord Moyne, was Minister of Agriculture, and he issued a White Paper explaining why it was impossible to deal with it. Since then we have had Government pronouncements to the effect that it would be dealt with. The Government, I think, should make up their minds and tell us whether they intend to do anything about the matter or not.
The same applies to the question of oats. The Lord President of the Council has stated his views on this subject; and I should like to see action taken and a pronouncement made before the House rises. Perhaps the most important branch of agriculture in Scotland for which nothing whatsoever is being done is the producer of meat. This is a most valuable branch of the industry. In this Parliament and in previous Parliaments we have voted money from the taxpayers pockets to assist the beet sugar industry and by other methods we have done much the same thing in regard to wheat. There are certain localities where these measures may be of assistance, but if you take Scottish agriculture generally neither of these measures are of any real assistance. The Scottish taxpayer is paying and the Scottish farmer is receiving no benefit. I hope the Secretary of State will realise that while he opposed tariffs and import duties he supported the wheat subsidy. I am not very keen, about it myself, but having done this for the British farmers I hope he will bear clearly in mind that he is the representative of a Scottish constituency and that the Scottish people and Scottish farmers expect something from him. His grandfather may or may not have done something for Scotland, what we want is that he should do something. I regard the right hon. Gentleman as being extremely fortunate to occupy his present high position. I am not a seeker after office but it seems to me that the party to which one should belong if you want anything in the way of honours and office is the Liberal party. All of that party, in my view are extremely fortunate to hold any position whatsoever. The fact that they are there is entirely due to the national crisis, and we expect the right hon. Gentleman to do something for Scotland and Scottish agriculture.
§ Sir JAMES DUNCAN MILLAR
We regret that owing to the lateness of the hour it was impossible for the Secretary of State to enter into a discussion of the broader aspects of Scottish agricultural policy last week. On that occasion he said thatthe immediate agricultural objectives of the Government were particularly appropriate to Scottish conditions,and he went on to refer to the pioneer work which was being done in that direction. He also stated thatIn accordance with this policy the agricultural departments of the Government, and particularly the Department of Agriculture in Scotland, have been concentrating upon such measures as may be taken immediately to help the farmer in his present distress."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June, 1932; col. 1201, Vol. 267.]I hope that this afternoon we shall get from him some amplification of this theme, because there is nothing which the Scottish farmer is at present more concerned to know than the Government's objectives which are appropriate to Scottish conditions. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, of course, speaks very specially for Scottish agriculture. We know his interest in the subject, and we should like to hear from him the proposals he has in view in relation to the staple Scottish crops and the Scottish livestock industry. The Secretary of State was a strong supporter of the Wheat Bill. He is no doubt well aware of the very limited extent to which the quota affects Scotland. The wheat produced in Scotland is not more than 2 per cent, of the whole agricultural production, but if we look at the production of livestock and livestock products we find that there represent by far the largest proportion of the production of Scottish agriculture. While cereal farmers have a great interest in knowing the Government's proposals in relation to Scottish cereal crops, I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will also tell us the policy of the Government in regard to the question of livestock farming. I know that it is a matter which is related to the proceedings at Ottawa, and I am glad that we shall have the advantage of the presence at Ottawa of Sir Robert Greig, Secretary to the Scottish Department of Agriculture, who I hope will keep in view the interests of Scottish producers and do something to effect an arrangement which will secure their interests.
1666 Scottish agriculturists in this period of severe depression are only asking for fair conditions of production and as far as possible a first call on the home market. They are anxious that the industry should be self-supporting with a view to increasing employment and thus maintaining a healthy population on the land. The Government have recognised the need for action, and those of us who are particularly interested in the position of Scottish producers hope that we shall get a further statement from the Secretary of State to-day. As a Liberal I take the view that with a National Government in power, which is prepared to view the agricultural problem not from any political standpoint but from the standpoint of national interests, we ought to be in a position to secure a satisfactory arrangement which will enable our agriculturists to produce at a reasonable profit and to make farming pay. Scottish agriculturists have no desire to exploit the consumer. Resolutions have been sent to the Secretary of State from various agricultural societies which have made it perfectly clear that they have no desire to exploit the consumer in any way. They maintain that they ought to be able to secure for themselves a fair return for their work and at the same time satisfy the needs of the consumer in the large towns. Indeed, the interests of both are bound up together, and we must look to a revival of agricultural industry as in a large degree associated with a revival of our great industries in the towns.
Farmers in Scotland have a record for producing the best livestock in the world. This can be seen at the Highland Show at Inverness. In my view it points to the need for developing mixed farming. The breeding and feeding of livestock is one of the most paying lines of the industry, carried on under fair conditions, and would enable us to utilise what are some of the finest natural pastures in the kingdom. I was attracted by a reference in a volume just published by the Noble Lord the Member for Basingstoke (Viscount Lymington) to the possibility of increasing our agricultural population by increasing the number of those engaged in the livestock industry, which would provide, as the hon. Member points out, not only a means of livelihood but an attractive life as well.The cultivation of the land, while it should provide a livelihood, does afford, 1667 whatever the townsman may think, a life as well. This, in a country where industrialism has divorced occupation from interest, should be the ballast of national sanity.4.30 p.m.
The writer goes on to say that wheat growing is being steadily mechanised—which means that it is not only liable to shrink as a source of employment, but tends to come nearer to the factory type in its methods. The care of animals cannot lose its dependence on individual skill or its appeal to individual interest and pride. It is, he points out,, the chief among those subtle influences that bind a contented population to a countryside. I think that is very true.
As to the re-organisation commissions which for the moment are dealing with milk products and pig products, I do not know whether the Secretary of State can tell us how far Scotland is represented on those commissions, and when we may expect a report from them. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has referred to the marketing schemes to which effect is likely to be given in the immediate future, amongst others a possible marketing scheme for livestock, particularly fat stock. Is it proposed to call for the cooperation of the very large body of skilled salesmen and auctioneers throughout Scotland who have rendered great service to the industry and whose position as experts in connection with marketing should be recognised and taken into account under any such schemes? I was a little disappointed that no reference was made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to the position of the agricultural workers, particularly in the present depression. This is a very important element in the agricultural problem. The agricultural workers are the backbone of the industry and they represent a highly skilled and a very worthy section of our population. I understand that within recent times many of them have been paid off and that they are going into the towns to swell the army of the unemployed.
I strongly support the view already put forward this afternoon that while in exceptional cases townsmen may make excellent smallholders, it is our duty to see that in the first instance the experienced agricultural worker is utilised on our smallholdings. These men have 1668 been trained on the land; their wives and their daughters are specially skilled in dairying and other agricultural pursuits; and in my judgment it is they who have formed the most successful class of smallholders in Scotland. They ought to be given the first preferences. It is interesting to note, from the returns in the Department's Report, that of the agricultural scholarships offered under the recent scheme 21 were awarded either to bona-fide agricultural workers or to the children of smallholders or crofters. That shows how keen they are as a class to equip themselves for their duties. There is much yet to be done to attract our agricultural workers to farm service by the improvement of the condition of their houses and of the conditions under which they work in certain districts.
As to land settlement there has undoubtedly been growing evidence of the demand for land, and one welcomes the individual successes that have been referred to by the Secretary of State, mentioned in the report of the Department; but it is only right to point out that in certain districts the settlers have actually to encounter many serious difficulties, where land is poor and waterlogged, and in certain cases where early promises which were made to the applicants, who were ex-service men, were not carried out. I speak particularly of a settlement of smallholders at Thirdpart Crail, in the Division of East Fife. I have watched that settlement with great interest for a period of years. The smallholders have had a very serious struggle. In some cases the land has proved to be very poor and waterlogged, the buildings which were put up have not been built on sufficiently substantial lines and are not properly constructed, the drains have given trouble, and there is hardly a decent farm road on the whole settlement. In wet weather I have had the greatest difficulty in getting access to some of the holdings because of the condition of the roads.
This is a matter to which I have formerly referred. I received a petition from the smallholders on the subject of their difficulties, and the Secretary of State was good enough to go into the matter. It is a subject which requires further consideration. There were also difficulties in regard to water supply. In this instance the supply was con- 1669 taminated, and a filter was put in. It is absolutely essential that in a matter of that kind no doubts should exist. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that there are settlements of smallholders which require very sympathetic handling, and cases of men who have had a hard struggle and who must be allowed every opportunity of making good. They should have the feeling that the Department is acting in the closest and most sympathetic collaboration with them.
I welcome the Order which has been made during the past year preventing the importation of potatoes from European France. This was a matter about which our potato producers felt considerable anxiety, owing to the Colorado beetle. Under this Order, which became effective from 15th March, potatoes from European France are prohibited from entering this country. But the right hon. Gentleman should consider the matter a little further. I previously raised the question of the dangers arising from disease and contamination of imports of foreign vegetables and potatoes. I have here a resolution from the Highland and Agricultural Society, dealing with the question of foot and mouth disease. I have no doubt the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has received a copy of it. The resolution, which calls for the prohibition of the entry of vegetables into this country from countries where foot and mouth disease is prevalent, is founded upon a review of the facts which, I hope, will carry conviction to the Secretary of State, because it is brought out in this statement that there was strong circumstantial evidence that the outbreak in Northern Ireland last June was traceable to a cargo of Dutch broccoli landed at Leith towards the end of May. That view was accepted by the Minister of Agriculture for Northern Ireland, but it has not been accepted by the Minister of Agriculture for Great Britain. I hope that the Secretary of State will keep in view our Scottish interests in this matter, and that he will remember that there has been a great number of serious outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in countries which are sending produce to this country. In such cases I think effect should be given to the representations made, and that there should be a complete prohibition of all such produce.
1670 I would like to pay a tribute to the work of the women's rural institutes, which are referred to in the report. The work done by these institutes throughout Scotland, and especially in Fife, where the institute movement has been very active, has done much to sweeten the life of country village residents and to quicken interest throughout the rural districts. In 1931 the institutes numbered 893, with a membership of 45,000. They are closely associated with the Handicraft Guild, which has done so much to train many of our rural workers. We owe a debt of gratitude to the large body of voluntary workers who are associated with this effort.
I trust that as a result of the discussions to-day we may obtain from the Secretary of State a little more definite information as to the position of the Scottish producers, and that we may also be enabled to satisfy our constituents and the public in Scotland that we who have upon our shoulders the responsibility of dealing with these matters in this House, are determined to see that our Scottish agriculturists get a fair deal. We can assure the Secretary of State of our hearty support in every effort that he can make to assist them in these anxious times.
§ Mr. BURNETT
In the first place, I would like to endorse the remarks which have been made by the hon. Member for East Fife (Sir J. D. Millar) and the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Stuart) on the subject of livestock. I represent a town where livestock bulks largely, where a great many are dependent upon the prosperity of animal husbandry for their livelihood. Livestock producing is perhaps, next to milk products, the most important, the most successful branch of agriculture. As the hon. Member for Kincardine and West Aberdeen (Mr. Barclay-Harvey) said, in most parts of Scotland the area of cultivated land is decreasing, but in Aberdeenshire there has been an increase in recent years. We all approve of what the Secretary of State has said on the subject of agricultural research. We have benefited very much from that in the North of Scotland, from the work of the College of Agriculture. At the Rowett Institute inquiry has been made as to the effect of diet upon the nutrition of animals, and now further inquiry is being made: at the new Institute set up 1671 at Craigiebuckler into the effect of soil upon pasture. This research should be of the greatest advantage to livestock farmers. There is no doubt that at present livestock farming is in a very critical position, and that farmers are feeling the present pinch very much. We are all receiving letters from farmers stating what they think about matters. Here is a letter I received this morning, in which the writer says:If something is not done quickly farming is down and out.Another farmer writes to me:Please do something at once to help us poor farmers or it will be too late. We cannot carry on as things are at the present time.We are meeting a severe blast of competition from South America. In the Argentine climatic conditions are good, there is a plentiful water supply, droughts never occur, and steers can be killed at the age of 2¾ years. There are up-to-date refrigerating works and the beef is sent to this country chilled according to the most modern methods. It arrives here in good condition; the cost of transit is small, and it can be sold in our market here at from two-thirds, to three-quarters of the price realised by home beef. That is the problem which we have to face and there are two ways of meeting it. On the one hand we may consider that it is a matter that cannot be helped; that the conditions in South America enable the farmers there to raise cattle more cheaply than we can do it here, and that the only thing we can do is to protect our farmers—to control imports. That, of course, is a question which we cannot discuss on this occasion, but it will no doubt be discussed at Ottawa.
The other way of meeting the situation is to cut down the cost of production in this country so that our farmers may be able to compete with South America. The question is how this can be done and what the present Government is doing in connection with that matter. Going through this report, we find, of course, reference to research, and no doubt the farmers will gain from that research. But the only other expedient suggested in this connection in the report is on page 74 where there is a reference to the question of the grading of beef. This question of grading is a very 1672 difficult one. As regards the marking of beef I think there is general agreement among both farmers and distributors that foreign beef should be marked before it comes into this country. It should be marked right down the side, so that we can know at once what is foreign and what is British beef. I have tried to get opinions from a number of people as to whether grading is benefiting the farmer—the producer—in any way. The report says:The scheme has proved advantageous to the producer. It has tended to steady the price of Scottish beef at a higher level, and 'has made known the true merits of Scottish beef to a wide public.I hold that the merits of Scottish beef were very well known before grading was ever thought of. Our beef was sent down, from Aberdeen and elsewhere, to Smith-field market, and short sides of Scottish beef realised the highest prices in that market. Grading has done nothing to increase the price. In fact the price has been going down, as food prices generally have been going down, recently. I should like to quote some of the letters which I have received from farmers on this subject. One large producer of livestock writes:The majority of farmers are absolutely up against grading, but they all think that the foreigner should be compelled to mark his beef both with quality and country of origin. Why put us to the expense of grading beef?Another farmer, who submitted the question to a meeting of an organisation of farmers, writes:The feeling of the meeting was that marking and grading of home meat would not help to raise the price to the producer. What we think would do more good would be to have all the foreign meat marked with the country of origin and sold in separate shops"—
The hon. Member must not pursue that point. He will no doubt recollect, if he was here earlier in the afternoon, that a Bill has been introduced for the purpose of dealing with that question which is obviously a matter requiring legislation.
§ Mr. BURNETT
I, of course, bow to your ruling, Captain Bourne, but I would like to make a reference to the question of prices if that is in order.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
On a point of Order. Are we to assume that any discussion, such as the hon. Member for 1673 North Aberdeen (Mr. Burnett) has up to now been pursuing, in regard to the grading of Scottish beef and in reference to something which has already been done, is to be ruled out of order, because of a Private Member's Bill intoduced this afternoon.
No, the hon. Member must not understand that from my Ruling. What I was ruling out of order was a suggestion as to the compulsory marking of foreign meat. That obviously requires legislation but references to the grading of meat, in so far as it is covered by existing legislation, are certainly not out of order.
§ Mr. STUART
On a point of Order. In view of the fact that the Opposition asked that this Vote should be put down today may I inquire is there any obligation upon Members of the Opposition to be in attendance at this discussion, or is it at their discretion?
§ Mr. MACLEAN
May I explain to the hon. Member. He knows perfectly well that in Scotland the Labour party went under during the crisis, but we have done something which has never been done before in the House of Commons. Instead of doing as an Opposition is entitled to do, and putting forward on these Estimates only matters which we ourselves desire to raise, we have taken into consideration the wishes of Members in other parts of the Committee as far as these Estimates are concerned. We asked them what matters they desired to discuss and we have put down Votes which would enable Members, irrespective of party, to raise those points which they desire to raise in regard to Scottish affairs and to discuss the matters in which they are interested. I think that any little reflection on the Opposition which seems to be conveyed by the hon. Member's reference ought to be withdrawn.
§ Mr. STUART
In view of what the hon. Gentleman has said, I should like very sincerely to congratulate him upon his single-handed effort—
§ Mr. GROVES
Although I am a Member for an English constituency may I remark that those who are in attendance on the Opposition side represent a larger proportion of their party than hon. Members opposite represent of theirs.
§ Mr. BURNETT
I shall confine my remarks entirely to the question of grading which is a really important matter, and I want the Committee to consider a view which has been submitted to me by retail butchers, by sellers of high class Scottish meat in London. Their view is that as a result of grading there has been no additional demand for Home beef, and this contention is borne out by the figures of imports as published at Smithfield Market every week. In this list is published the percentage of foreign meat which is brought into this country. I have tried to follow these lists back for some time. I have made out an average for the last complete month and compared it with the corresponding months in 1929, 1930 and 1931. I find that in 1929 the imports of foreign meat amounted to 82.5 per cent.; in 1930, 83.3 per cent.; in 1931, 84.3 per cent. In 1932 there is a slight fall and the figure is 83.6 per cent., but over the whole period there is a rise in the amount of imported beef of rather more than 1 per cent.
It is continually said to me by those acquainted with the trade that good meat grades itself and that no mark or grading which is put upon it conveys the exact degree of quality. There are all sorts of grades. One person likes meat fat, another likes meat lean. One person likes it well "marbled," and so forth and butchers tell me that it would be exceedingly difficult for anyone to tell exactly what grade a side of beef ought to be, much more difficult than to grade the live animal. When a side of beef has been cut up, as soon as the butcher puts his knife into it he can tell at once what kind of meat it is, and he is the man who must ultimately grade it. If he could not do that he might as well "down tools" at once. I was anxious to bring these views on the question of grading before the Committee because this is a matter on which many of my constituents feel very strongly. As I say they are all in favour of marking foreign beef. That is a necessity if we are to know what is the foreign beef and what is the home beef. But there is a strong feeling among those who have had to deal with the matter that the grading scheme has proved a failure; that it has been, 1675 not only useless but misleading, and that we ought to revert to a system of marking only the imported meat coming into this country. If we want to tackle the whole problem involving the position of the livestock farmers in this country we will have to do it by other means. We will require to adopt stronger measures before we can restore the farmers to that prosperity which we all wish them to enjoy.
§ Commander COCHRANE
Hon. Members who are intimate with those subjects, have already dealt with the questions of cereals and meat, but I think it is not an exaggeration to say that in the mind of every Member of this Committee is the desire to see more settlement on the land, and a larger rural population in Scotland. It is to the question of land settlement and smallholdings that I propose to limit my remarks. I regret that I have not the enthusiasm of the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary for purely agricultural holdings, but I can imagine conditions in which, I think, I would try to be just as enthusiastic as we know them to be on the subject of providing facilities for people to live in the country. My right hon. Friend in his opening speech dwelt on the tenacity of the smallholders during this time of crisis, and pointed out how they had been able to weather the storm better almost than any other section of the community. If he analysed the cases in which that tenacity has been most marked, I think he would find that they fall into two classes.
There is one comparatively small class of those who have smallholdings coupled with jobs under the Forestry Commissioners. I think there are only a few hundreds of them those in all Scotland. I think the right hon. Gentleman, would find that the remainder of the cases were those of smallholders whose holding is a part-time job, and who fortuitously have some other employment. It is plain that in these times of difficulty a man who is not pinned down to one form of employment is in a better position than a man who is entirely dependent on one form of activity whether in agriculture or some other industry. My right hon. Friend has given illustrations of the kind of men who have gone on the land from the towns and have been successful. He has mentioned the cases of the tailor, the miner, the cabinet maker. I agree with 1676 the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) as to the desirability of that development. Those particular men have been successful but when we look at the problem as a whole, is it not true that it would be easier for those people if, when going on to the land, to take over a smallholding, they could carry at any rate some part of their other employment with them? Who would then be in a stronger position than they?
Take the case of the cabinet-maker who goes to a smallholding and is dependent on a few acres and on 100 or 200 chickens, and take the case of the same man who has the holding and, at the same time, has some alternative employment either for himself or for other members of his family. I do not think there can be any doubt that this provision of alternative employment to agriculturists in Scotland is of prime importance. The conditions which we ought to try to fulfil, or, rather, the principle on which we ought to try to proceed is that of giving economic security—that is to say, that a man may know where the next week's money is coming from—coupled with economic independence. That, I believe, is of just as great importance when you are dealing with the population in Scotland.
A good deal has been said about the depopulation which has gone on in our country districts. I believe that it is a mistake to think that in olden times that larger population was entirely dependent on agriculture. Certainly in the parts of Scotland which I know best there are everywhere remains of what were small but flourishing industries throughout the rural districts. They have gone out, many of them, I think, squeezed out by the invention of the steam engine, the boiler, and so on, but it is only since that change has take place and since these small industries have to some extent ceased to function in our countryside that we have adopted a plan of segregating agriculture in one watertight compartment and putting all our other productive industries into another; and they very rarely meet.
I am not, of course, referring to the Rules of Debate in this House, but, as a matter of fact, we have got into the habit of thinking of agriculture as being something quite apart from other productive industries in this country. I do 1677 not think that any advantage has come to anybody from that way of regarding the problem, and if you take the circumstances of to-day, you will find that, in Canada, the wheat-grower is becoming uneasy. He is no longer willing to be dependent for his entire livelihood on the production of wheat, for which he can find no market. He is trying to turn to other things, and I am sure that that same argument will very shortly apply, shall I say, to the breeder of pigs in Denmark. He also will find that in these days it is not possible to make a steady and satisfactory livelihood if you are dependent entirely on one form of production. If there had been no change in the circumstances in the past few years, it might be idle to argue in this way, but I would suggest to the Committee that there have been important changes.
In Scotland you see nearly everywhere these steel towers put up in connection with the electrical grid. Some people regard them merely as an eyesore, but I confess that when I see these gaunt and rather grim steel erections, I am somewhat inclined to go and give them a friendly pat, because I believe that through the wires which these towers are tested to carry there ought to flow the lifeblood for a regeneration of our rural life in Scotland. If we are to make a full use of the land of Scotland, I believe that it must be used as far as possible to provide an alternative to other forms of employment. I am certain that there is nothing in logic or common sense in continuing to regard agriculture as something apart from our other productive industries.
Take the position of Scotland to-day. We are losing some of our industries; they are moving down to England, but our agriculture cannot follow these productive industries to England, fortunately for us. It is true that our agricultural population is decreasing, but if we are to retain other productive industries in Scotland, is it not desirable that we should link them up as closely as possible with agriculture, by giving a common employment to the people in both, thereby preventing this flow of other industries across the border to the South? I know of no other way in which that can be. done, but I believe that to the extent to which it can be done, we shall be able to find a policy for land settlement and smallholdings which does 1678 offer the greatest chance of success, which indeed offers the only possibility of a permanent solution of those difficulties, to which I cannot refer this afternoon, which are pressing upon the agriculture of every country in the world. Every country is trying to find a solution of its agricultural and other productive difficulties, and I make no apology for suggesting to this Committee that in the conditions in Scotland and with the mentality of the people of Scotland, it may be possible for us to suggest a solution of what is a world-wide problem which will commend itself to all other peoples of British extraction.
§ Sir MURDOCH MacDONALD
I should like to congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland on the Report from the Department of Agriculture which has been presented to the Committee this afternoon; and I think, along with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Fife (Sir J. Duncan Millar), who spoke earlier in the Debate, we have every reason to congratulate our-selves on the presence of Sir Robert Greigg as head of the Department under the Secretary of State, for conducting it in the manner in which it has been conducted in the last few years. I quite appreciate that in these difficult times it is impossible for the Department to carry out all the schemes which it may feel to be of benefit to agriculture, yet I think there is one scheme which should be pressed. It will not cost much, and it may save a great deal. In former years, previous to the land agitation which took place in the Highlands of Scotland, the Island of Skye was divided up into large sheep farms, owned by individual owners and farmed by individual farmers. These individual farmers, owing to the largeness of the stocks which they were able to carry, were able to deal themselves successfully, monetarily., with their stocks and to dispose of them and obtain the best market prices then ruling.
Since that time a great change has taken place. The large farms have, quite rightly, and in many cases with the sympathetic acquiescence of the proprietors, been handed over to the local people, who either themselves or their immediate ancestors had been dispossessed to make room for these same sheep farms and to lay the foundations of what is now the modern sheep farm- 1679 ing industry. In recent years the Department of Agriculture, under the Secretary of State, has very nearly completed its operations in the Isle of Skye, and very few large farms remain now in the possession of one man. They have all, or nearly all, been handed over to local communities. The sheep now owned by these new landowners are in a great number of cases held on the common stock principle, but, owing to the want of liquid funds, they are not able in the present state of agriculture to dispose of their product to the best advantage. As a consequence, an organised marketing system for the sheep and other livestock products of this island is especially desirable.
A recent inspection by a division of the Scottish Land Court has exemplified what is happening and the necessity for organised marketing in the Island of Skye. Indeed, if one looks at the short summary of that report which appears in the "Scotsman," it would appear as if, while the actual number of sheep on the various farms has been increasing, the actual product for sale has been decreasing, which indicates a very serious state of affairs and that the farmers, these new landowners, have not been able to winter their stock, owing to the want of money, in the normal way that the farmers were able to do in former years. It is, therefore, to be hoped that the Secretary of State will carefully consider the report of this division of the Land Court, and that he will influence his officials to press forward the provision of a scheme of organised marketing; and I shall be glad to hear whether or not he is able to do so.
A further point in favour of such a scheme is this: A great number of these new landowners entered into possession of their sheep stocks at valuations which were very many times the present value of the same sheep stocks. Even the report of the Department of Agriculture, on page 19, says that the value of a certain class of sheep has fallen by one-third, and even in cases by one-half, of what it was last year, and that this has occurred after quite a number of almost disastrous falls in previous years. It is perfectly true that the Department, with the consent of the Treasury, on repre- 1680 sentations made—and I have had some little share in making those representations myself, so I am aware of them—have reduced the original values of the sheep stocks and have also reduced the amount of money due for the loans made, but even the new terms thus arranged, owing to the extraordinary falls in the value of the sheep stocks in the present circumstances, have again become extremely onerous, and the farmers may possibly be incapable of the fulfilment of their original obligations on even their present terms, which are quite different from those originally made when the sheep stock was at such a high value, a few years ago, when these farms were purchased from their original owners and handed over to these people.
I must say that Skye men fully realise that, having entered into bargains, they are in honour bound to do their utmost to implement them, and while there is a limit in this respect, in that if the stock does not produce sufficient money to liquidate the debt, some arrangement will have to be made, yet, if such a scheme as the reorganisation of marketing can be carried through by the Secretary of State, then both parties, both the landowners and the State, would benefit. The State would secure the fulfilment of the engagements now entered into, and the people would be able to earn a livelihood from the sheep which they possess. It is only the Department of Agriculture which can best carry out such a suggestion, and the Secretary of State might consider whether the Agricultural Marketing Reorganisation Commission provided for in the Act of last year could not be formed for the Island of Skye to deal with livestock.
I am glad to know that the Department, notwithstanding the difficult times, have not altogether abandoned the duty of attempting to settle people on the land. I hope, however, that in forthcoming settlements, particularly in the Highland districts of Scotland, where farms are being broken up into smaller units, every attention will be paid to the selection of the new landholders so as to ensure that they actually reside on the holdings when they get them. I appreciate the difficulty of selecting tenants, but I am sure that if an obligation be entered into that the tenant must reside on the holding as well as hold it, the selection will be a much easier matter for the Department.
1681 I would like to draw the Secretary of State's attention to the matter of intensive agriculture in the extreme Western Highlands. In that area the climate is mild and temperate in comparison with the Central Highlands, and it has been represented to me by a lady who is a native of that district and has travelled much throughout the world that there is in that region the possibility of supplying some of those things, such as flowers and fruit, which our great cities are now importing from the Continent. If the Department will give sympathetic support to the organisation and classification, and particularly to the carriage of such produce, my friend, who has written long and valuable notes on the subject, and has been endeavouring to interest the womens' rural institutes in the matter, will be glad to place her knowledge and active support at the disposal of the Department. I hope that the Department will delegate someone to look into the subject and help with advice as to what produce should be grown and give assistance in the marketing. I trust that the Secretary of State will sympathetically consider this suggestion.
§ Mr. R. W. SMITH
The first thing one ought to do is to thank the Labour party for giving us an opportunity of having this discussion on agriculture in Scotland. We are grateful to them for that, but they have rather spoilt their action by showing that they are not very greatly interested in the subject.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
The hon. Member is mistaken in his assumption that the Labour party have no interest in agriculture. We put down for discussion the subjects which we believed would be of the greatest interest to Scottish Members in all parties with the hope that such a step would both prove satisfactory to the Members and produce a most interesting discussion, and not because the Labour party are not keenly interested in agriculture.
§ Mr. SMITH
I apologise to the hon. Member. I am glad that the Socialist party are beginning at last to take a greater interest in agriculture than they have done before. Many Socialist Members are now apparently beginning to realise that agriculture is really of importance to the country and cannot be allowed to go under altogether. We were rather delighted that there was to be an. 1682 opportunity of discussing agricultural questions, because those of us who represent agricultural constituencies and agriculturists throughout the country have been rather distressed about what has happened since the National Government took office. There is no doubt that when the Government first took office the country felt that at last the interests of agriculture would not be forgotten, and there was great hope that something would be done for the industry. That hope was a reasonable one because of the statements which were made by the leaders of the various sections of the Government. The Leader of the Conservative party definitely said that something must be done for agriculture, and the other leaders made similar statements, but since the National Government have been in office we have been waiting and waiting to find out what their broad agricultural policy is, and we have not yet heard it.
At the beginning of the Secretary of State's speech on Wednesday we were led to believe that at last we were to hear the broad objectives of the Government in regard to agriculture. He told us that the Government were doing something for Scottish conditions, but, when we reached the end of the speech, we knew no more about what the Government were going to do than we did ot the beginning. I hope that the Minister will to-day be able to give us some broad outline of the Government's objectives. The Secretary of State 1ms a hard job because he has to think of other things beside agriculture, but we know that he is capable of concentration on this subject from the interest that he took in it when the present Minister of Agriculture occupied his office. In 1930 the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said:Many things, hold the farmer back. There is lack of capital, lack of confidence, lack of organisation, and lack of credits."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th May, 1930; col. 1493, Vol. 233.]I know that his view has somewhat altered, as he showed when supporting the wheat quota, but I feel sure that he agrees that; these four elements are still the basis of the troubles in agriculture. The Secretary of State said last Wednesday:The immediate agricultural objectives of the Government are particularly appropriate to Scottish conditions, and, indeed, we in Scotland have already undertaken a Considerable amount of pioneer work in that 1683 direction. In accordance with this policy the agricultural Departments of the Government, and particularly the Department of Agriculture in Scotland, have been concentrating upon such measures as may be taken immediately to help the farmer in his present distress."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June, 1932; col. 1205, Vol. 267.]What is being done with regard to meat and grading and marking, to which reference was made by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Burnett)? I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will take some steps to put into effect the report which has been published on this subject. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen said that he had come to the conclusion, after careful examination, that the grading of meat was absolutely wrong and no good to the producer or consumer. That may be the opinion of the hon. Member, but I ask the Committee not to take his opinion. A committee of competent men was set up to inquire into the question, and one paragraph of their report reads:The representative bodies of British agriculture and the bulk of those butchers and caterers who sell mainly high-class home-killed beef are convinced that the scheme is of advantage both to the British beef industry and to the public.I hope that the Minister will give us some information as to the line that he will take on this report, because this system will be of vital benefit to the farmers. I hope, too, that the Minister is considering the resolution which was passed with regard to foot-and-mouth disease. It is rather important when the Northern Ireland Government have themselves accepted the findings which have been arrived at as to the source of the infection that we should seriously consider whether something cannot be done on the lines of that resolution.
I stress upon the Minister the necessity of doing something with regard to malting barley. We had a definite promise that something would be done either by means of a tax or a quota. All these months have passed, and yet we do not know whether it is to be a tax or a quota. The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Stuart) referred to the marking of barley. I understand that other countries differentiate in the duties that they put on grain, and I should like to know if the Secretary of State has gone into the question of the colouring of the grain. It is of the greatest importance to Scot- 1684 land, and he ought to know about it almost more than the Minister of Agriculture, and we should like to know if something can be done along those lines. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman also see his way to do something for the producers of pearl barley? Up to a short time ago an order issued by the Minister allowed barley growers to treat barley with sulphur dioxide in order to make it a better colour. I understand that representations have been made to the Minister on this point in order to allow the use of sulphur dioxide. The report of the Department of Health for Scotland states, on page 35:Imports of continental barley to a large extent have supplanted the Scottish output of pot and pearl barleys. At the close of the year the question of amending the Regulations was under consideration.I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to take some action. It may be a small thing, but it will be of some assistance to the unfortunate farmers, and it is the duty of Parliament to do every little thing they can in order to help agricultural interests.
I press again the point which was made by the hon. Member for Kincardine and Western Aberdeen (Mr. Barclay-Harvey) that something should be done to stop the dumping of imported food. There is no necessity for us to import any oat products, for we can, from the amount of oats produced in this country, supply all the oat products required. I will give the Minister some figures from the Board of Trade returns. In January, 1930, we imported 63,000 cwts. of oat products; in January, 1931, 70,000 cwts.; and in January, 1932, 84,000 cwts. In February, 1930, we imported 41,000 cwts.; in February, 1931, 74,000 cwts.; and in February, 1932, 97,000 cwts. In March, 1930, we imported 43,000 cwts.; in March, 1931, 68,000 cwts., and in March, 1932, 77,000 cwts. Cannot the Minister see if something can be done to stop this importation? Further, I would press on the Minister to give us some information as to when the agricultural credits scheme is to be brought into operation. The Socialist party gave financial assistance to the smallholders, and it is very hard that the Agricultural Credits Act should have been on the Statute Book so long without anything having been done to help the farmers. There is many a 1685 farmer who is just hanging on in the hope that he may be able to get some assistance from that Act, and I ask the Minister to give us some encouragement that it will soon be put into force.
Finally, I would press the Estimates themselves on the attention of the Minister. We are spending over £500,000 in connection with agriculture in Scotland. That is a reduction of £142,000, but of that cut of £142,000, not more than £2,000 has been made at the expense of the staff of the Department. The whole of the rest, £140,000, is really taken from the industry itself and I submit that that is a perfectly ridiculous position. On page 152 of the Estimates will be found the salaries, wages and allowances of the headquarters' staff-nothing to do with the inspectorate, or the seed testing and plant registration station, or smallholdings, or the surveying staff. For that headquarters' staff alone we are asked to supply more money than we were last year. Last year the expenditure on that staff amounted to £71,457, and this year it is £71,725. The expenditure on the legal staff is up by £1,000, and then there is £3,000 for the messengers, which is the same amount as last year. There is an expenditure of somewhere about £77,000 for administration expenses out of a total expenditure of £581,000, representing 12½ per cent., and I say that is too high. I have left out of account the expenditure on the inspectorate and other things, which may be said to be for the direct benefit of the farmers.
I would like to show how the saving of £140,000 has been arrived at. There is a reduction of £3,000 or £4,000 in the money given for the improvement of livestock, though surely if there is one thing more than another we ought to do it is to improve our livestock, and yet we are reducing the grants given in respect of bulls, boars, etc. It is a tragic thing that we should be spending £4,000 more on the Macaulay Institute for soils. I have no objection to money being spent on. research, but what the Minister has told us about the Macaulay Institute is that it is investigating the use of peat soils for the growing of crops, in order to bring more land into cultivation. The land already under cultivation is doing badly enough, without our starting to put people on peat soil. It is a funny thing that we should find £4,000 more for this 1686 new institute while at the same time cutting down, the grants to old institutes which are doing such good work. There is also a reduction on the expenditure on land drainage.
Those Me examples of expenditure which directly assists the. farmer, and yet we are cutting it down to the tune of £110,000. When we come to the Appropriation s-in-Aid we find that we expect to take more money from the farmers. The receipts from the licensing of bulls are expected to yield £2,000 more this year, which will come out of the pockets of the farmers; and in other cases in which fees are charged we are looking for greater receipts. That is not the way to deal with agriculture. As my hon. Friend the: Member for Kincardine and West Aberdeen has already said, in 1913 we had a Department of 89, and this year it is 386. If it is necessary to cut down the expenditure by £142,000 the staff of the Department ought to bear a bigger proportion of that cut. I ask the Minister to see whether in the months to come he cannot do something more for the direct benefit of agriculturists and not spend so much on the inspectorate and the headquarters' staff.
§ Sir GODFREY COLLINS
I rise to ask the Secretary of State to direct his attention to page 63 of his annual report on agriculture. He will find there a report of his officials on the growing of sugar beet in Scotland in 1930.
The question of sugar beet does not arise on this Estimate. The Estimate for sugar beet is for the whole of Great Britain; there is no separate Estimate for Scotland; and the Minister could not make a reply to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I was not proposing to raise the question of sugar beet. I was anxious to show, from the information supplied by the Secretary of State on page 6S of the Report, the cost of the sugar beet grown in Scotland in 1930; and I submit that if the Secretary of State is in order in presenting this Report I am in order, if I keep strictly to the exact words and figures contained in that Report on page 63. During the year 1930 10,000 tons of sugar beet were grown in Scotland, and the wholesale price was about £190,000. On page 63 we learn that the State paid—
I have listened to the hon. Member developing his point. He is now raising the question of the sugar beet subsidy, and that is not a matter to be raised on the Scottish Estimates. Because a certain service is mentioned in the Vote of a Department it is not neecssarily in order to discuss it on that Vote.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I bow to your Ruling. If you rule that I am not allowed to comment on the information which the Secretary of State has provided for Members of this Committee, and draw attention to facts which are not apparent in the Report, I will resume my seat.
I am afraid that is a matter which must come on the appropriate Vote, and that is the Vote for the sugar beet subsidy, which is No. 9 of this Class.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
On a point of Order. Is it not in order in this Debate for my hon. Friend to show that the soil of Scotland is not suitable for growing sugar beet? If there is a special reference to sugar beet in this Report I submit, with all due deference, that it is in order to show that there is a waste of public money.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
We have spent two or three hours in discussing the soil of Scotland, and there have been arguments about one type of cereal being grown and the rearing of live stock. I am anxious to direct attention to what the soil of Scotland produced in 1930. I know how proper your Ruling is that no reference should be made to the sugar beet subsidy and I will try to avoid those words. Some 10,000 tons of sugar beet were grown in that year. The wholesale price was about £190,000, and the subsidy was about £130,000. To find out the cost of the sugar to the public we must deduct the amount paid in preferential duty, which was about £58,000. Therefore, the cost of this sugar beet grown in Scotland—
The hon. Member is getting back to the subsidy. In reply to the point raised by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) the difficulty is, as he knows very well, that in Committee of Supply we must not discuss a matter for which there is a separate Vote in the Estimates. 1688 The sugar beet subsidy is in a Vote for the whole of Great Britain, and is not divided between England and Scotland, and the appropriate place to raise any question about sugar beet is on the particular Vote, Vote 9, which is not before us at the moment.
Earl of DALKEITH
I am surprised that the Secretary of State for Scotland paid so little regard to the actual condition of agriculture in Scotland in the course of his speech, and I am also sorry that the spokesmen of the Government do not more frequently devote more attention to the prices in the industry in Scotland, especially the prices of live stock and the return obtained from wool, lambs, meat, milk and so on. If the Government are not yet in a position to announce what steps they are going to take to benefit agriculture in Scotland, at least they might show some recognition of the very serious condition that exists while asking the farmers to carry on and to await the further steps that are in contemplation. Reference was made by the Secretary of State to the marketing scheme and also to the proposed scheme for the marking of meat, but it must take some considerable time to formulate those schemes, and get them approved, whereas the present is a time of very great emergency, and we need proposals which are suited to that emergency. I feel that less favourable treatment is being accorded to those who are engaged in production from the land, whether it be live stock or timber, pit props, meat or milk. The same people find themselves hit several times over, and those who are responsible for providing employment in agricultural districts have an unnecessarily difficult time. We have our Debates here and discuss figures and returns, but the actual state of the industry and its requirements is almost entirely ignored.
Since this Debate started last week many agriculturists in Scotland have acquainted me with the fact that they are very strongly opposed to the high proportion of the expenditure which goes on the staff of the Department, and I hope that the Secretary of State and the Chairman of the Department will take steps between them to keep it down. There is also the same criticism regarding the amount of money spent on land settlement in Scotland, or, rather, the pro- 1689 portion of the money which they consider has not been well spent. The hon. Member for East Fife (Sir J. Duncan Millar) drew our attention to the many difficulties of successful land settlement. The necessity for careful selection of holdings that are suitable cannot be emphasised too often. The unsuccessful holdings are either bad or difficult and almost impossible; the buildings are not always satisfactory and suitable and there is not always a good choice of occupiers of those holdings. By attention to those matters we can avoid undue extravagance.
I would ask those who are most enthusiastic for land settlement not to be led away too much by endeavours to increase the numbers of holdings so fast as to make it uncertain that they are as satisfactory as they possibly can be. Oases have often been brought before me by smallholders, where greater sympathy might have been shown by our representatives in the Government or in the Board of Agriculture. Cases are well known where buildings have been unsatisfactory or, more likely, where the water supply has been deficient. If action by the Board could be rather more smooth and could meet the absolutely necessary requirements, those whom they settle on the land would have a more congenial occupation. Once the buildings are erected on behalf of the Government, the occupier is probably told: "We are no longer concerned with you, and you must try and squeeze something out of the ground landlord if you can do so." I hope, therefore, that such objections as one experiences against the system of dual ownership will be precluded in the future, if possible, by doing away with the system which has not worked satisfactorily.
The Secretary of State for Scotland referred to the fortunate fact that there had been very few failures in cases of people settled on the land. Is this partly due to the fact that rents have not in more cases been economic rents, and that the taxpayer has really contributed considerably towards the rents for those holdings? Luckily, failures have not been frequent, but the position of many smallholders to-day is very difficult indeed and they are very near the line, and steps must be taken to help them, just as much as in the case of the larger farmers. Mention has been made of the importance 1690 of expenditure in regard to research. While we all realise the greater necessity for this, we should also recognise that much good work can be done, and is being done, without State expenditure necessarily, or assistance from public funds. As one privileged recently to visit the agricultural research sub-station which is being conducted by the Imperial Chemical Industries, I can testify to the very excellent results and valuable discoveries which are being made under private enterprise, and, as far as I know, without the use of any public funds. I feel sure that there are great practical results from this research station, and I dare say from many other similar ones, in regard to the best management of grasslands, the best and most economic methods for the improvement of crops, and the intensive uses and combinations of different types of manure.
I hope that Scotland will get some useful advantage from those enterprises that are running without State funds, as I feel sure they will, as well as from those research stations which are being carried on under the Government. There is scope for more work of this kind without the use of funds from the Exchequer. I ask the Secretary of State and his colleagues if they will consider very sympathetically and try to give encouragement to those who are engaged in farming in Scotland.
This is one of those rare occasions when the House of Commons transforms itself for a few hours into the Scots Parliament. I welcome the opportunity that is before me of making a few remarks about the position of agriculture in Scotland generally, so far, of course, as; the limits of the Vote will permit me to do so. I should like, in passing, to thank the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) for the part that he has played in making it possible for us to continue this Debate to-day. I am sure I am voicing the sentiments of all connected with agriculture when I say that, although the hon. Member may be in opposition, on this occasion he has played a truly national part. Agriculture is one of the vital subjects and one which any Administration which claims to use the adjective "National" must tackle and grapple with speedily. The discussion has been an extremely interesting one, and all the points to which I wished to refer have already been made. I will merely confine myself to re-echoing what 1691 has already been said from the local point of view as, if I may say so, the representative of the largest area under cultivation in Great Britain.
This is the first occasion when we have really discussed the position of agriculture in Scotland. Many references have been made on many occasions during the present Parliament to the parlous condition of agriculture throughout the land. Fortunately in the northern part of the country affairs are not so bad as they are in England, but that is no reason why we who represent Scottish agriculture should be content to lie back and remain in a negative position. The position there, although it is not so acute, largely owing to the mixed system of farming, is unhappily far too serious to permit of our pursuing a course which is not justified. It was very encouraging to hear the right hon. Gentleman, in opening this Debate this afternoon, speak in such a direct manner about the necessity of speedily tackling this difficult subject, and associating himself with all that was said about him by his colleague the Minister for Agriculture. It is certainly very encouraging, after we have so often heard in this House the old argument, "What is the use of doing anything for agriculture in a small island such as this. It is merely necessary to concentrate upon the basic industries and leave agriculture to work out its own salvation." That is the theory which has been held by an enormous majority of the people of this country for far too long. It is owing to the fact that that theory has dominated the mind of the nation that agriculture has been prevented from having its voice heard. We hope, that now that we have got a national Parliament, and that the mind of the nation is awakening to the necessity of doing something, that Parliament is really going to do its best by the most ancient of all industries.
I have heard it said that when industry flourishes agriculture will, as a natural sequence of events, flourish also. Even those who have the most cursory knowledge of matters pertaining to agriculture will, after a few minutes' reflection, give a direct negative to any such statement as that. When industry during the long Free Trade era of this country reached its highest pinnacle, agriculture was in its lowest depths, as low, proportion- 1692 ately, as it finds itself to-day. It is extremely difficult, owing to the poverty of the industry, to frame a comprehensive policy to meet the requirements of all who are engaged in agriculture. That has been the difficulty in the past, and it is the difficulty to-day. One great step forward has, at all events, been made, and one of the greatest obstacles of the past was that three elements in agricultural life were at variance and cross-purposes as to what was best to be done. These three were the owner of the land, the occupier of the land, and the labourer who maintains himself on the land by the sweat of his brow. In the past they have generally been in conflict, but to-day you have the spectacle of those three different orders of agricultural society realising that their objective is a common one, and that there is nothing to be gained but everything to be lost in a clash of opinion such as has prevailed in the past. They must go forward in a solid body to demand that their common industry shall have justice meted out to it.
We have had a good deal of discussion about cereal farming in Scotland. Cereal farming in Scotland has not bulked very largely in the minds of the agricultural population. I am not for one moment suggesting that we should try to hold the balance between the cereal producer and the animal producers in Scotland, as we are doing in England by the Wheat Quota, in that much-discussed Measure which is now an Act of Parliament. It has frequently been said that the Wheat Quota Bill was responsible for antagonising the agricultural interest in Scotland, and that it hardly touched them or benefited them. The Agricultural industry in Scotland welcomed the wheat quota because it was the first step to the thorough reorganisation of the industry. Wheat certainly is grown in Scotland, or it has been grown up to the present. I do not know what will happen if an intensified system is pursued. Wheat has only been grown in very small quantities, and the same is true of the other cereals which we have already been discussing. The other cereal product that bulks largely is, of course, oats, which are grown very largely in Scotland for home consumption, to be consumed, so to speak, on the premises. A certain amount of surplus is left over. I was speaking to a prominent Scottish agriculturist yesterday, and he said that it is in regard to 1693 that surplus that they feel they are not getting fair play. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Burnett) spoke about the necessity of doing something to stop the coining into this country products from Russia, chiefly oats, which come in by the process which is commonly known as dumping. It is almost entirely in regard to oats that the dumping menace in Scotland is so great. The Noble Lord the Member for Perthshire (Lord Scone) made that point in connection with many other projects in his speech on Wednesday last. I would like, on behalf of the oat producers in Scotland, to say that they feel very keenly indeed that this matter of dumping is one that must be dealt with very drastically indeed. So much for cereal farming, which, as I have said, occupies such a small space in the minds and lives of Scottish agriculturists. There can be no doubt that it is the animal production side of the industry in Scotland, just as in England, which, if it is helped along, as we hope and believe it is going to be, will restore agriculture to its original position. In the sphere of animal products, two main items stand out as of paramount importance. Those are the branches connected with the dairying industry and that of meat production itself. What is the position of the dairy farmer in Scotland? I cannot help saying, in passing, that it is rather amusing to find that in the Twentieth Report of the Department of Agriculture, Section XI begins with a reference to an "Investigation of the profitableness of farming." As regards the dairy farmer, his position is certainly not one that would permit him to read with calmness a section with such a title. His position is insecure in the extreme. At this very moment, people are going about the country in Scotland explaining at meetings of dairy farmers the proposals of the Government with regard to the milk reorganisation scheme. I am sorry that those explanations have not been more joyfully received. There has been a good deal of heckling when those who are charged with this matter have stated their views, and questions have been invited. There is keen interest on the part of the farming public as to whether this scheme is really going to put them in a better position with regard to the marketing of their milk, and whether it is going to meet with greater success than did the 1694 milk pool, which was tried not very long ago and which ended in dire failure.
It may be said that the milk pool failed because it failed to secure the wholehearted co-operation of the milk producers-of Scotland, and there may be a grain of truth in that suggestion, but every producer who is qualified to speak on the matter will tell you that the real reason why the milk pool failed was because of the uncontrolled foreign imports of milk, both in the condensed and, sometimes, in the liquid form, that were coming into this country. The answer, no doubt, will be that the 10 per cent, duty will meet that situation, but I very much doubt if it will, and those who are actively engaged in the farming industry are also wondering considerably whether that 10 per cent, duty will really meet the requirements of the case. They believe that some better organisation than that will be necessary if the marketing of milk and the question of dealing with surplus milk are to be handled in a way that is calculated to produce the results which we all desire to see. I have noticed that at many such meetings the question of cheese has been raised. That is a question which interests me very much from the agricultural point of view. At one meeting in particular, about which I was reading the other day, the point was directly made as to how the question of cheese could be dealt with so as to give our producers the chance that they must have if they are to go on producing, when we have cheese coming in, not only from outside the British Commonwealth of Nations, but from Canada and New Zealand as well, at a price with which our home producers cannot possibly hope to compete.
As regards the main pivot of the animal production side of agriculture, namely, meat itself, that is the crux of the whole situation, because it touches the unemployment problem at first hand. If you have a real livestock policy, if you set out to produce the greatest amount of meat that you can economically in this country, holding the balance, as we all wish to do, you will directly relieve the strain of unemployment, and you will see gradually dribbling back to the land some of those who have left it in recent years and gone into the towns, adding to the large numbers there who are in the ranks of the unemployed. A vigorous livestock policy will do this because it ensures in the rotation the place of the green crop, 1695 which directly calls for increased labour in agriculture. But, just as we hope that some security is going to be offered in the nature of marketing, so we hope that some security is going to be offered in regard to the price that the producer is going to receive for his wares. I would suggest, and I think the farming community in Scotland as a whole would suggest, that what is required is the fixation, not necessarily of a maximum price, but a minimum price. A minimum price judiciously fixed would cause inconvenience to no one. The consumer would not suffer, because to-day the hiatus between the price that the wholesaler receives and the price that the retailer demands is so very large that the middleman would never have, shall I say, the effrontery to charge more than he is charging at the present time. I believe that a minimum price would meet the requirements of the situation. If security is not offered in this matter of price, there can be no doubt that the danger to the wages of those engaged in the agricultural industry will become a very live one indeed.
I spoke about this matter some two months ago, in the first Debate on the Agricultural Vote for England, and I remember that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who followed me, said that it was no use talking in that way about the necessity of raising prices so as to make more secure the position of the agricultural labourer. He said that it could never be done in that way, and that such talk was mere cant. I am afraid that, with all the deference with which on many occasions I bow to the views of the right hon. Gentleman, I cannot accept the truth of such a statement as that. Although the agricultural industry to-day is at as low an ebb as it was 40 years ago, in the last decade of the last century, wages, in Scotland at all events, are still twice as high as they were at that date. It may be said that the value of money has changed, but that is no reason why we who represent Scottish agriculture and Scottish agricultural labourers should be content to leave matters to drift owing to our inaction in not urging upon the Government the necessity of doing something; it is no reason why we should allow the wages of Scottish agricultural labourers to be placed in continuing jeopardy. The majority of those of us 1696 who are connected with Scottish agriculture, and with agriculture in Great Britain as a whole, believe that it is only by means of a strong livestock policy that the industry can be put once again in a fighting position.
In a few weeks' time that great Conference—I only refer to it incidentally—will take place at Ottawa, and it is the growing hope and belief of the farming community that our representatives at that Conference will come back to us with concrete proposals. We hope that a very firm hand will be taken in regard to British agriculture. We do not wish to see it made a shuttlecock for the purpose of obtaining the best bargain with regard to other industries. The fear lest agriculture should become a pawn in that way is a very live one in the hearts especially of Scottish agriculturists at the present time. We believe that the representatives of the Dominions will see our point of view, which is that, no matter how we may try to extend the idea of freer trade within the Empire—a most laudable sentiment and practical proposal—no scheme such as this will have the results that we all wish to see as the outcome of the Ottawa Conference which does not make for home preference first, allowing the Dominions only the second mortgage.
We in Scotland are not lovers of Protection for its own sake, as I am certain those who occupy the Liberal benches will agree. Neither are we Free Traders, nor have we been in the past Free Traders, just for Free Trade's sake. I think that, with all our faults and shortcomings, which no doubt are many, we can at all events claim to be fairly logical and hard-headed, and we realise sometimes that it is impossible any longer to kick against the pricks. Just as St. Paul, going down the road to Damascus, was suddenly dazzled by a blazing light that was let in upon him, so we to-day realise that it is impossible any longer to resist the force of present-day economic conditions. At the last General Election, the National Government appealed for a free hand, and the agriculturists of Scotland were by no means in the background in making it possible for that Government to be returned with the huge majority behind it that it had, in order that it might carry out a real national policy, not being tied or bound to any one line of action, but free to explore every 1697 avenue whereby alleviation could be brought to the distressed industry of agriculture as a whole. We tried to do our bit, and we hope sincerely, and we believe, that the National Government will do its duty also by Scottish agriculture. I am certain that our confidence will have been justified before its tenure of office is over. I have endeavoured to put the case as best I could on behalf of the industry which I represent, and about which I feel so keenly, and I thank you very much, Sir Dennis, for having allowed me to do so.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) that we should not make captious speeches making further demands on the Treasury. That is an easy line to take, but in these times, when the country is groaning under the burden of taxation, I do not think it is a sound line to follow at all I do not want any further grants, but there is money floating about and I could take the Secretary of State to parts of Scotland where money could be more usefully spent than it is being spent now. At Dingwall, for instance, money could be far better spent in giving the people the opportunity of earning their daily bread than in feeding them on the East wind of a clerical education. When one sees the right hon. Gentleman there and considers where he came from, one is reminded of the fly in the amber, and wonders how he got there. He represents a minority party in a policy to which the majority of the House is opposed. I do not suppose we can get a great deal of help from a Liberal, except that association with his colleagues may bring him to see the light, and I hope that in the course of time he may become a much more patriotic citizen. Scotland has been a kind of dumping-ground for people from England who were no use here. The right hon. Gentleman is, at all events, a Scotsman, and that is an enormous advantage. It is not like having an English Member put into that position.
The hon. Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. R. W. Smith) seemed to be surprised that, in spite of all the cuts that have been made, Government officials are in no way restricted. He forgot that, when you come to deal with the Government official class, you are 1698 dealing with a priestly, saintly, sanctified class. I have no doubt that the Government officials from the Board of Agriculture are doing their duty as well as can be expected. The were established originally in 1912 and 1913 by the Liberal party, but I question very much if the many millions that have been expended on them could not have been much more usefully applied. I remember in 1922, in connection with their policy of settling people on the land, I found out that the expenses of the Board of Agriculture would have provided every man who had been settled on the land with a pension of 30s. a week for life and allowed him to buy a smallholding for himself. I am not surprised that the officials have not been cut down. We see the same thing in America, and we see here that, as soldiers and sailors grow fewer, the War Office and the Admiralty increase. I suppose the Board of Agriculture will increase until agriculture itself dies down altogether. That will be the end of it.
One of the reports on smallholdings said that the Board of Agriculture attributed the success of these men in small cultivation to the fact that their wives have been brought up on farms and knew something about it,.and that it was hopeless for men to succeed unless their partners assisted in the work. That is a very sound observation. That is how smallholders succeed. It used to be the practice, I am told, in Perthshire 60 or 70 years ago, for farmers not to have farm servants. They had smallholders surrounding them with two or three acres each. They worked on the same principle as the forestry people work to-day. They do not engage men in the forests to work for 365 days in the year less the 52 allowed for the Sabbath. They give them 150 days' work in the forest, and give them a smallholding and.say, "Earn your living on your own holding and grow your own food." It is open to the farmers to do that to-day without any interference from the Board of Agriculture. Why do they not give their men a certain amount of land and guarantee them only so many days' work and cease buying agricultural produce in the market—bacon, eggs and vegetables?
That is the real trouble with agriculture and horticulture. The produce cannot stand three profits. It cannot stand producers, middlemen and re- 1699 tailers, with the expenses of each. The labourer ought to be in a position to produce the things he lives on and, with a wage for so many days' work in the year, that would be very much better than having a money wage all the year and having to buy at the shops. The real solution of the agricultural problem is to get an economic market. If you could manage by some sort of co-operation—I do not know that the Government could do it—to bring producer and consumer face to face the problem would be solved. With regard to the taxation of meat which has been suggested, in the old days we had enormous herds of cattle. I believe we could practically feed ourselves in this country if we cultivated our land intensely. I believe we could produce all our pig supplies, eggs and bacon, but I doubt very much if we could ever produce butcher meat, in the sense of oxen, as cheaply as can be done in the Argentine. I have had a good deal of information supplied to me, and it has shaken me to some extent. But, with regard to pig products, we ought to produce all our own, and that would itself mean an enormous amount of labour in cultivation of the land, and it would help in adjusting the balance of trade.
We in Scotland, of course, have many grievances. The growing of barley is one of our greatest industries, but it is taxed to the extent of £300 to £350 per acre. That would never have been put on by a Scottish Parliament. That is a very great grievance and, until there is some modification of it, we cannot expect that the Scottish barley-grower will get a chance. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to keep that in view. I do not think he can do anything in the present state of the country's finances, but he might try of see if he cannot mitigate the taxation so that in time he will be able to do something to restore this Scottish industry to the prosperity to which it is entitled. The Scottish farmer is the best in the world. I was very proud, when I was in Rhodesia on the last two occasions, to discover that the greatest farmer in Africa was a comparatively young man who had been a successful farmer in Scotland. He was a Highlander from Argyll. He went there and took charge of one of the biggest farms in Africa, and brought a huge place to prosperity where everyone else had failed. We have to 1700 begin with children at an early stage to make them love agriculture. It is the greatest and highest of occupations. More than any other, it brings home to the soul of man that he is going into partnership with the Almighty. If we can get that instilled into the bosoms of our children, we shall get our land cultivated, there will be no difficulty and there will be nothing but prosperity for our country.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
We must compliment the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) upon the very skilful way in which he, brought in the difficulties of the industry and so enabled the Chairman, evidently, to keep a blind eye on the subject-matter of the discussion.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
The way in which the hon. and learned Member brought them in was quite in order. If they had been introduced in the usual manner, they would have come under the ken of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and he, and not the Secretary of State for Scotland, would have had something to say on the matter. I intend to address the Committee on the question of smallholdings and call attention to the amounts by which some of the Votes have been reduced. The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire spoke about the necessity of better marketing, and yet I did not find him taking exception to the Estimate in which the amount provided to assist in the marketing of Scottish agricultural produce has been reduced by £4,000. Both the hon. and learned Member and an hon. Member sitting behind him strongly criticised the Secretary of State for Scotland because of his party predilections, and not because of his position as Secretary of State for Scotland. He was criticised rather because he was a member of the Liberal party, and, according to the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire and his colleague behind him, evidently occupied the position of the cukoo in the nest.
The point which strikes me most in the Estimate is the amount which is being taken from Scottish agriculture. The amount by which the Estimate in regard to marketing is reduced, as compared 1701 with last year, is £4,832, and, as far as drainage is concerned, the Estimate is reduced by £31,000 as compared with last year. There is a total net reduction in the whole of the Estimate of £95,666 as compared with the Estimate of last year. I submit that in these days, although the cry is for economy, that kind of economy is not justified when one compares the Scottish agricultural Estimate with the Estimate for English agriculture. The percentage reduction of the Scottish Estimate is considerably higher than the percentage reduction of the English Estimate. I am not surprised that so many matters have had to be completely held up because of the way in which the Scottish Office is evidently compelled to save at the expense of agriculture. The Agriculture (Scotland) Fund (including Grants-in-Aid) has been reduced by £49,000. The Estimate for the improvement of livestock is reduced by £2,000, and yet at one time Scottish livestock was included among the finest specimens of pedigree cattle and horses one could find anywhere in the world, so much so that large numbers of prize pedigree stock in Scotland were purchased by breeders from abroad and exported to the Argentine and used in that country in order to bring about a better breed of cattle and horses. Now we find the Secretary of State for Scotland coming before the Committee with an Estimate for the reduction of the amount to be expended upon the development and improvement of one of our finest products as far as exports go.
The reduction in regard to land drainage is approximately £31,000, and yet we find in the report of the Department of Agriculture a number of places mentioned which are still liable to flooding. In those places nothing, evidently, is being done or can be done to safeguard the inhabitants from the damage which arises from flooding. I will take one place which lies outside the city of Glasgow. For some years the Kelvin Valley has been subjected to considerable flooding. The late Member for West Stirlingshire used to raise the question periodically because of the constant flooding which took place when there was anything like an excessive rainfall in the area. As far as the Kelvin Valley is concerned, the report says:In view, of the financial situation and the Committee's observations, further 1702 action in regard to the promotion of this scheme was suspended.That is the scheme to carry out work in the area to prevent a continuation of flooding. Flooding is to continue in that particular area. Considerable damage has been done, not merely to the households of people dwelling in the area, but to a very decent agricultural part of the country. Damage is to be permitted to be done there because of the financial straits of this country. I submit that no financial difficulty should be allowed to stand in the way of necessary repairs. If there were a house in this country which was not watertight, and the landlord would not make it watertight, all that would have to be done would be to report the matter to the local authority and have the matter put right at once. No protestations on the part of the owner of the property as to his being in financial difficulties would prevent the work from being carried out. I cannot, for the life of me, see why in this country valuable land upon which good food can be grown is to remain the subject of flooding for years to come, because we are told the country is in financial difficulties. You are putting those who are cultivating the land into greater financial difficulties by the refusal to drain the ground properly.
Take the Spey Valley. At Garmouth, a place which I know something about, and which is not far removed from Lossiemouth, the Prime Minister's birthplace, houses are flooded time after time. The railway company, which is one of the parties to the proposed scheme, is, I understand, prepared to go on with the scheme to prevent the flooding of that area. The landowner, I understand, takes a different point of view, and, in consequence, according to the report of the Department of Agriculture, all that is done, seeing that the scheme to prevent flooding cannot be proceeded with, is to tell the local authorities to build houses on a higher stretch of ground and remove the people there. A more stupid method of attacking the flood problem I have never read in any report. The country is in financial difficulties and cannot prevent flooding in a particular area, but the local authority are advised, with financial assistance from a Government in such difficult straits that they cannot prevent flooding, to institute a building scheme. It is almost too absurd to believe that such a contradictory situa- 1703 tion could be put into a report of the Department of Agriculture and submitted to the House of Commons for acceptance.
Can the Secretary of State for Scotland say why greater activity is not being shown in placing applicants upon smallholdings? About 6,000 people have been put into smallholdings. There are 7,000 applications pending, and between 11,000 and 12,000 applications have been withdrawn. Can one wonder that so many people withdraw their applications when it has taken so many years for some people to get smallholdings? The right hon. Gentleman will remember that a few years ago I brought to the attention of the House the cases of two men who had made applications for smallholdings in 1912, who went through the War, came back as ex-service men in 1918, and yet in 1926 were still applying for smallholdings. Finally these men had to take possession of land, and in consequence they were put into prison as land raiders. Can one wonder that men become desperate and forcibly take possession of land after having had their applications in for 14 years, having fought in the War and having been brought up on the land with all the qualifications necessary for tilling the soil and making something out of smallholdings? Is there not some justification for people withdrawing their applications when they find the Scottish Office so slow in inquiring into their cases and in obtaining the land necessary when they have found people suitable for placing upon the land?
I am not blaming the present Secretary of State for Scotland. Probably I could blame him less than the Secretaries of State for Scotland who preceded him. He has been in office less than a year. He is standing here to answer for the sins of his predecessors, but I hope that he will not put himself into the position, when future Votes come up for discussion, of being put upon the cross in the way his predecessors have been because of his inactivity in regard to the same matter. I trust that when next the same Vote comes before the Committee, he will at least have some justification and satisfaction in submitting his report to the House and showing a very marked increase in the number of people who have been placed in smallholdings, and also a 1704 very large improvement in agriculture throughout the whole of Scotland.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Major Sir Archibald Sinclair)
We have had a very interesting Debate, to which helpful contributions have been made from every quarter of the Committee. I enjoy the position to-day of being the party attacked instead of finding myself amongst the attackers. I am in one sense of the word, getting a little of my own back. All the speeches, including the attacks— the rapier touches of the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) and the more cumbersome bludgeon wielded by the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Stuart)—have been stimulating. A great deal of useful information has been given and much light has been thrown upon the problems discussed. It has been suggested by several speakers—I think the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) was the first to suggest it, and other hon. Members followed him on the same line—that when I introduced this Vote I made an optimistic speech. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs said that it was a flowery speech. Hon. Members have overlooked a very important part of the speech, in which I said clearly that there never was a time when farmers were contending against so many and such adverse handicaps as to-day.
Far from wishing to be foolishly optimistic, I say that the situation is serious, but I also say that we may have grounds for confidence in the future, knowing the whole history of Scottish farming and the progressive spirit in which Scottish farmers are attacking their difficulties, and conscious, as the majority in this House are, that the Government are putting their backs into the work and doing their best for the farming community. There are certainly some grounds upon which we may base what I would call not an unreasonable or easy optimism, but a feeling that if we do pull together and if all the Measures of the Government can be brought to a successful issue, then indeed agriculture will come into its own in Scotland as in other parts of the country and that it will be not the least prosperous of our industries. On the other hand, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) took a 1705 different view of my speech and said that it was an apology for economy. It was very far from being that.
On nearly every occasion that I have been present when the Scottish Estimates have been presented the Secretary of State has had more or less to take an apologetic view of economies, but for the first time that I have known in this House I felt bound to strike a different note. I said that, far from apologising for economy, having regard to the economic position of the country and the financial necessities of the Chancellor of the Exchequer I had to justify the expenditure of every shilling in the Estimates. It was from that standpoint I expounded the Estimates. The hon. and learned Member for Argyll said that he knew of a way in which I could make economies. It would be improper for me to follow him into a discussion of the particular item to which he referred, but I can assure him that there is not a chance of £50,000 being saved in this year at Dingwall and there is no proposal at all to spend £50,000 on any such purpose this year. I hope, however, that we shall have an opportunity later on in the evening of dealing with that particular misrepresentation, not made deliberately by the hon. and learned Member but due to a misunderstanding.
References have been made to the difficulties of almost every branch of Scottish farming. Hon. Members will forgive me at this hour and with a large agenda still before us if I do not go into every argument that has been used, or if I do not deal with every branch of farming, but there was one matter which was mentioned by several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) in his very interesting speech, and the hon. Member for Kincardine (Mr. Barclay-Harvey), namely, cereal farming. I made it quite clear in my speech in introducing the Estimates that we definitely considered that a livestock policy is the important one for this country to pursue. We attach special importance to these branches of farming— livestock farming, dairying, and so forth—and I wish to make it quite clear to the Committee that that is the policy which we are pursuing. We do not in the least ignore the importance, indeed, we have proclaimed the importance of barley and oats. The Minister of Agri- 1706 culture has announced that the question of dealing with barley either on the same lines as wheat or in some other way is being studied now. He has announced that on behalf of the whole Government, and that study, difficult and complicated as it is, is being energetically pursued. But do not let hon. Members think that there is any chance—even if they distrust me, as the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn very frankly does, and do not let the Scottish farmers think that there is any need for them to share in the hon. and gallant Member's fears—of Scottish interests being overlooked, or of barley being overlooked because it is a Scottish interest. It is in greater proportion an English interest.
There is more barley grown in Scotland than wheat. According to the last figures we had for 1930 there are 54,000 acres under wheat in Scotland and over 100,000 acres under barley. Wheat is far more important in England than in Scotland, and although barley is twice as important in Scotland as wheat, it is ten times as important for England as for Scotland, because there are 1,000,000 acres of barley in England as against 100,000 acres of barley in Scotland. Not only is it ten times as important to England |as it is to Scotland, but it is of greater relative importance in English economy than it is in Scottish economy. The easier way by far to deal with this particular problem would be to adopt the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire, as the most direct way of restoring prosperity, if it were possible, having regard to larger aspects of policy, but I am afraid that it would be impossible for me to do that by administrative action.
The hon. Member for East Fife (Sir J. Duncan Millar) and one or two other hon. Members asked me to say something more clearly about the Government's agricultural objective.
§ Mr. R. W. SMITH
Before the right hon. I Gentleman leaves the question of barley may I ask whether he has considered the possibility of staining?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Yes, and what is more important it is being considered by people who have a really expert knowledge of the process. That particular question has passed the phase of being studied by Ministers. We are anxious that, if possible, all the difficulties which 1707 attend that particular process should be overcome and the possibility of overcoming those difficulties is receiving the close study and attention of the experts. With regard to the Government's objective—
§ Mr. STUART
Does that mean that the right hon. Gentleman himself would prefer to support an additional duty on malt and barley?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
The Government's policy on this subject has been announced and it is a policy to which every Member of the Government is pledged. It was announced months ago by the Minister of Agriculture.
§ Mr. STUART
I want to know whether the Secretary of State for Scotland is in agreement with that policy.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Of course he is in agreement with that policy. I have just said that I am in full and complete agreement with the policy which has been announced by the Government on that question. What are the objectives to which I have referred? First of all, the question of barley is one of the objectives to which the Minister of Agriculture has referred. Then there is the necessity of producing in this country the bacon and pork which we consume. Particularly, there is the bacon problem. That matter is the subject of study by the Reorganisation Commission at the present time. When I referred to the appropriateness of these objectives to Scottish conditions I had in mind the fact that the pig industry is making, I will not say great progress, because that would be an exaggeration, for no branch of agriculture is doing that at the present time; but it is being increasingly adopted in Scotland in small holding schemes assisted by the Department of Agriculture. They are very interesting schemes, one of which I visited a few weeks ago near Edinburgh. This is one of the directions in which the Department is moving.
A good deal of research has been done on questions which will greatly facilitate a forward move in the pig industry. That problem is being studied by a commission on which Scotland is represented by Sir William Haldane. In regard to the milk industry we have set up a Milk Reorganisation Commission. As regards marketing, we have our own milk scheme which is now going through the various 1708 stages which are ordained by the Marketing Act. There is a Scottish liaison officer on the Milk Reorganisation Commission which is sitting in London, and therefore the closest possible contact is being preserved between the milk producing industry in Scotland and the work of the Reorganisation Commission in England. A great deal of work had been done in Scotland before the policy was announced, in regard to such matters as research and disease, and we are increasing that work now and working towards an objective which will be directly useful in the development of the Government's policy for the dairying industry. The hon. Members for Central Aberdeen (Mr. R. W. Smith) and North Aberdeen (Mr. Burnett) referred to the question of beef. In regard to that we have been conducting research with the object of helping the producers. I have now requested the Scottish agricultural organisation society to draw up a marketing scheme on the lines for which the farmers asked in the resolution they passed at Inverness a few weeks ago. The question of grading is also receiving very careful examination.
I should have liked to have said a good deal more on these wider questions of policy, but I do not wish to miss answering the very many points that have been raised in the Debate, so I will pass on. Various criticisms were made by several speakers in regard to the land settlement proposals in these Estimates. On the one hand, the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs and the right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty declared that we ought not to economise in this direction, and, on the other hand, several hon. Members have declared that we have not economised enough. The right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty said that this was a very sad state of affairs, and that there was no money for the settlement of new holdings.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
We strongly object to and resent the fact that millions of pounds are being spent without any cuts at all on the Zambesi and in Palestine, whereas a great cut has been made in the miserable pittance we get for agriculture in Scotland.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am quite prepared to take the fullest responsibility for everything which is in these Estimates, 1709 and I do not in the least resent but, indeed, welcome helpful criticisms of our proposals: but I cannot be held responsible for the expenditure of other Departments. The hon. Member said it was a very sad state of affairs because there was no money for the settlement of new holders. I can assure him that that is a mistake, and I can only repeat what I said when we discussed this last week, that we were able to make economies this year without for the remaining part of the year retarding progress on adaptation work on properties already acquired, and I pointed out there could be no more false economy than to slow down that process of adaptation, for the more quickly properties once acquired could be passed through the machinery of the Department, the move economical the settlement would be.
If I may return for one moment to the subject of marketing, the hon. and learned Member for East Fife asked about the co-operation of the auctioneers in the marketing scheme. I have still good hopes of their co-operation. If we can get that co-operation, it will be very valuable and will smooth the progress of the scheme. I shall be very glad indeed if it can be assured. Of course the board will be a producers' board, but I certainly hope we shall get that co-operation.
To return to the question of land settlement, the hon. and learned Member for East Fife gave a very discouraging account of the settlement at Crail, which was echoed by several other speakers who referred to the difficulties in regard to the water supply and other points. I think this complaint and some of the other complaints made during the Debate relate to a period which is passed, a period when smallholdings were being formed under great pressure, at the highest level of prices, and by an inexperienced staff hastily recruited immediately after the War. I have said before that mistakes were made then, but we are overcoming them, and, in the particular case referred to, that of Crail, my recent reports are good. I am told that the provision of a satisfactory water supply did present very serious difficulties, but that it was met by the installation of a filtration plant which cost £900. I am told now that the holdings are being well cultivated, and that they have held one of the most successful shows in the country.
§ Sir J. DUNCAN MILLAR
I gave cases where the holdings were not yet wholly satisfactory. The scheme is working better, but there are certain holdings which require further consideration.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am glad the hon. Member agrees that the scheme is working more satisfactorily, and if the hon. and learned Member will give me particulars of the complaints that he is still receiving, I will certainly look into them. Several hon. Members have criticised me in regard to this economy on smallholdings but on this occasion, if I am criticised on the score of undue economy, my withers are un-wrung. We have to relate every Estimate to the general financial situation of the country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has to balance the Budget, and that being the problem with which the Government are faced, it is apparent that every Department has to make its contribution, and even useful, valuable and productive expenditure has to be cut out in every direction. It is for that reason that we are not able to do more in land settlement now.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I agree that there are a very large number of arrears, and we want to get on with the job. In every part of the House there will be support for a forward land settlement policy in better times, but the limiting factor at present is the financial factor. There may be differences between us as to the policy of land settlement which can be overcome, but at the present time finance is the limiting factor. I was also asked about research by the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard), and by the hon. Member for Aberdeen and Kincardine (Mr. Barclay-Harvey) who referred to the limitations which wore necessary on grounds of economy. I share fully their views, and deplore the necessity for cutting expenditure in this particular direction. It can only be defended on general grounds of broad financial policy, and not on any particular ground in relation to agricultural policy. But I would like to make it clear that the economies have been almost entirely obtained by the postponement of buildings. It is not the case that we are checking the work that is now being done, 1711 or undoing that work. What we are doing is advancing at a less rapid pace than has been done in the past. A big building programme, which was in contemplation last year, has been cut down. Expansions are not being made which were envisaged last year. To that extent, it is true to say we are slowing down the progress which had been anticipated last year, but the work of research is going on uninterruptedly and with unabated zeal: It is only expansion which is retarded.
The hon. Member for Central Aberdeen referred to the Macaulay Institute and made some criticism as to the amount of money which we are spending on that particular institute for research. Let me explain that the £4,000 is not new money. It is transferred from the advisory work already done in the agricultural colleges and out of the £4,381 only £276 is new money. Moreover it should be remembered that we owe it in a very large measure to the great generosity of Mr. Macaulay himself, who provided for its acquisition and equipment and upkeep, including the farm in Lewis, a sum of money which I cannot estimate at the moment, but which would run into five figures, say £20,000 to £25,000. Moreover) it is doing very valuable work outside that particular branch to which the hon. Member refers, such as the mineral analysis of soils and other research work to which I referred in introducing the Estimates. The hon. Member referred to economy in drainage. As regards hill drainage, we have been fortunate in Scotland in being able to continue a service which has been abandoned altogether in England and Wales, and the greater part of the economy has been in the matter of arterial drainage. At a time when ecoomy is so necessary, it was felt that it was impossible to justify so large an expenditure as £24,000 on the Kelvin scheme, to deal with only 2,580 acres. I am far from saying that the scheme is abandoned. There are many arguments which may be brought forward in favour of it, but at the present time we consider that it is not one which we should be justified in undertaking.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
With regard to the Kelvin scheme, it is not so much the acreage which is flooded as the damage that is done to other parts by the flooding of the area.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I dare say there is something in that point. I do not say that the scheme is a bad one, or that no Government will undertake it; but it is not a scheme which we should be justified in undertaking at the present time. As regards the Garmouth scheme, it is much cheaper to rebuild the houses than to spend money on these works. It would be many times more expensive to undertake this scheme than it would be to rebuild the houses.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Were the two parties owning the land which constitutes the flooded area and causing the damage, willing to bear their fair share of the expenditure on works which are necessary to prevent flooding?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Thai depends on the definition of "their fair share." The fact remains that a large sum of the money required would have fallen on the State, and, as I say, it would be much cheaper to rebuild the houses. In regard to the question of agricultural credits, the position is that all matters of principle have now been settled between the Department of Agriculture, the Treasury and the four banks concerned, and formal documents setting up the company are now before the Treasury for final adjustment. I am assured that a short period should see the successful completion of this difficult business. There has been delay which I greatly regret and deplore, but I can assure the Committee that the Department of Agriculture has done everything in its power to accelerate the matter. We are fully alive to its importance, and I hope that the period of delay has now come to an end. The hon. Member for Aberdeen West raised the question of the staff. I gave the Committee figures on the last occasion to show that we were doing our utmost to reduce the staff. First of all that we had reduced the number, abolished a number of posts of about £4,000 a year, and that we were not filling other posts, although they appear in the Estimates.
The hon. Member has complained that we are not doing enough, and that in years past there had been a steady growth of the staff. There is a simple and important answer to that complaint, which I think hon. Members should take into account, and that is the amount of 1713 work which the House of Commons, session after session, in recent years has been putting on the Department of Agriculture. I am not going into the question as to whether these measures were right or not, but I have here a long list of Acts of Parliament passed in recent years all of which have increased the duties thrown upon the Department of Agriculture. Take, for example, the year 1924–25, in which there was the British Sugar (Subsidy) Act, for which regulations had to be framed, the payment of subsidies arranged, and a large amount of routine correspondence performed. There was the Milk and Dairies Act, the Agricultural Returns Act. In 1926–27 there was the Heather Burning (Scotland) Act, the Markets and Fairs Act, and in 1928–29 the Fertilisers and Feeding Stuffs Act, the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Act, and the Agricultural Credits (Scotland) Act, all of which threw additional duties on the Department of Agriculture.
At the same time there was an expansion of business with which the Department is charged, such as the Scottish Horticultural Advisory Committee, the annual preparation and issue of the tables of the residual values of feeding stuffs and manures, and the issue and administration of new orders under the Destruction of Insects and Pests Act, administration on behalf of the Empire Marketing Board, and the administration of various works and schemes in other directions. At the same time there was an increase in the acreage of the estates belonging to the board. At the present time the total number of rents payable half-yearly and requiring to be collected is 3,676 and the total number of annuities which are collected half-yearly, in repayment on loans, is 4,322. That means that there are about 16,000 documents a year on that score alone. Some allowance, therefore, must be made in these circumstances for the automatic growth of the responsibilities of the Department when hon. Members are considering the increase in the staff. I can only repeat the assurance I have already given, that we shall continue to pursue economy in this direction and continue to cut down the staff wherever it is possible. This question is constantly under review with a view to further economies.
§ Mr. R. W. SMITH
The Secretary of State has referred to the Bill which I had the honour of introducing, the Heather Burning Bill, as one of the causes of the increase in staff. Might I suggest that if all branches of the Department were run as cheaply as the Heather Burning Act, £50 a year, it would be an excellent thing.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
The hon. Member must remember that I took a few years as they came, and, while it is obvious that the Heather Burning Act did not add substantially to the duties of the Department, it nevertheless is true that the long list of Bills which have been passed during recent years has added considerably to the work of the Department of Agriculture. I have answered as best I can most of the points which have been raised during the Debate, and I can only assure hon. Members that all the points will be carefully considered by the Department and by myself.
I have already said that it was unfair to describe my speech last week as being unduly optimistic. Of course it is true that every branch of farming, not only in this country, but in every country of the world is afflicted by great depression. Many interesting suggestions have been made for dealing with the problem which lies at the root of the agricultural difficulty and to restore equilibrium between costs and prices, but there is one great fundamental fact which will strike every one who has studied the agricultural situation, and that is that there are to-day in the world 25,000,000 people out of work, and if you allow one dependant to each of these you have 50,000,000 people unemployed, an aggregation greater than the whole population of these islands. That is what I meant when I said that the main battle for agriculture cannot be won on a purely agricultural front, but having said that I said, do not let us abandon ourselves to despair. There has been a little too much pessimism about agriculture. It has come to be regarded as a kind of poor relation to other industries. I feel convinced that agriculture in this country has a great future. Let us concentrate upon making the most of those features of the situation which are most favourable to its development. That, at any rate, I case assure the Committee will be the constant aim and determination 1715 of His Majesty's Government, of which I have the honour to be a member and of the Department over which I have the honour to preside.
§ I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.