HC Deb 25 July 1933 vol 280 cc2515-43

Postponed Proceeding resumed on Consideration of Resolutions.

Second Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed," That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

8.22 p.m.

The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir Godfrey Collins)

I am sure that I express the regret of hon. Members for Scotland that only a short time is available this evening for discussing these Estimates, but at the same time hon. Members have only exercised their rights in raising any subject they desire to raise. No one who is in touch as I am with the needs and difficulties of Scottish farmers, can fail to sympathise deeply with them in their present circumstances. The position of Scottish agriculture to-day is certainly very grave, and prices are still terribly low. As one who was formerly engaged in business I can well imagine the plight of those who are selling their produce to-day below pre-war prices.

I am anxious for a few moments to refer to the main Scottish products. Let me take, first, the question of oats. It will be within the recollection of hon. Members that the Minister of Agriculture on llth July stated that the Import Duties Advisory Committee had deferred a decision on the application for an additional duty on foreign oats until they were acquainted with the outcome of the conversations which had been initiated with the Government of Canada on the subject. I may add that day-to-day discussions are proceeding on this matter and that negotiations are being pressed forward with all possible speed. Unfortunately in this, and in other matters, action to improve prices takes time, but the Minister of Agriculture has recently cited to the House the steps which the Government have taken since they came into office to deal with these matters.

Let me remind the House of these steps. Take the case of sheep, which is of vast importance to Scotland. Prices, we are glad to know, have responded and, further, the world price of wool has risen and is still rising. Turning to arable farming, the situation is certainly grave, but definite steps are in progress for improvement. In the case of wheat alone, they are complete and have resulted in an increased acreage under wheat of upwards of 20,000 acres. Regarding barley, I understand that some of the distillers are reopening and that an increased demand may follow. In the case of the other main arable crop, potatoes, hon. Members will remember that the duty was doubled in May. A marketing scheme is under investigation, and, as the House knows, the quantitative restriction of imports depends upon a marketing scheme. As regards beef, the voluntary restrictions originally arranged last winter have unfortunately not been reflected in a rise of beef prices, as in the case of mutton, but a reorganisation commission for Scottish beef is sitting and will shortly report to the Minister concerned on a scheme for the marketing of beef, which, if adopted, will enable the principle of quantitative restriction to be applied.

I turn now to poultry. The production of eggs in Scotland has increased by some 80 per cent. since 1913; yet there still remains Go per cent. of Scottish consumption supplied from abroad. If home production could meet that demand from 8,000 to]0,000 extra workers would be employed. It is interesting to note that there is great activity in market gardening and glass-house culture. That the measure of protection afforded by the Government from foreign competition has served as a direct stimulus to the home industry is evidenced by the distinct expansion of tomato-growing in Scotland. In the last few years, unfortunately, the purchasing power of Scottish agriculturists, through the fall in prices, has diminished by nearly £10,000,000.

At a time when agriculture is suffering from unprecedented depression in prices, one effect is the withdrawal of labour from the laud, and another, alas, is the reduction of the wages of those left upon the land. It is, therefore, of the first importance that agriculture should be prosperous. In the steps which the Government are taking and have taken they realise that a successful agricultural industry will find quick reflection in the towns of Scotland. It is a truism to say that a bankrupt agriculture cannot pay any kind of wages and that a depressed agriculture seeks relief in wage reductions. Whatever else may be done by the Government to put farming in a more assured position in future, the result must be shared by the workers concerned.

For a few moments let me turn to the various marketing schemes. By way of preface I would say that in the great exporting countries of the world, so far as food is concerned, the marketing of agricultural commodities has been organised on a scale and in a manner hitherto unknown here. The Agricultural Marketing Act of 1931, and the Act recently passed by this House, have undoubtedly encouraged the erection of structures for marketing. The position of the various schemes framed under that Act at the close of last year was given in the Report of the Department of Agriculture, which I have no doubt is in the hands of hon. Members; but since the Report was issued the first marketing scheme in Scotland, the raspberry marketing scheme, has not received the support of the necessary two-thirds of the registered producers vote The scheme therefore goes no further. The poll of registered producers concerned with the milk marketing scheme, applicable to the greater part of Scotland, takes place on 12th September, and a scheme applicable to the North Eastern counties has been submitted to me for approval. I hope that these schemes, when they come to fruition and are placed before the producers at the poll, will meet with a greater measure of success than the raspberry marketing scheme met with last month.

During the Session which is now drawing to an end I have often been asked by hon. Members as to the position of the Agricultural Credit (Scotland) Act of 1929. The questions have revealed the anxiety of hon. Members on behalf of the Scottish farming industry. I am glad, therefore, to announce that the arrangements for the operation of the Scottish Agricultural Securities Corporation have now so far advanced that the corporation hope to issue their terms for loans next month, and to commence lending shortly thereafter.

Let me say a few words about research and education. The production of livestock and livestock products is a dominant feature of Scottish agriculture, forming as it does upwards of 80 per cent. of the total output in Scotland. Scotland is specially suitable for livestock and for schemes of assistance and development. The problems are numerous and complex. My advisers inform me, and I am sure correctly, that progress is being made, and that substantial benefits have already been secured. I would have given one or two instances of the activities of the research institutes in Scotland, but as many hon. Members are anxious to take part in. this Debate I will refrain from doing so. I am anxious to refer to two gratifying features of the work. One is the readiness with which workers from the different institutes and the universities combine to study various problems. In short, they are showing the very best specimens of team work.

Another gratifying feature is that, although in these days of economy every item must be cut to the bone, yet for maintenance expenses the research institutions in Scotland are receiving in our present Estimates £4,000 more than they received last year. In this connection I desire to pay special credit to the governors and staffs of the Scottish agricultural colleges for the efforts they are making to maintain unimpaired the standard of efficiency of those colleges. A remarkable sign of the interest taken by farmers in modern scientific methods came under my observation a few weeks ago. Recently in Aberdeenshire over 600 farmers and others assembled to witness a demonstration of the effects of different methods of wintering cattle. So big was the gathering that loud speakers had to be used. Hon. Members will agree that an assembly of such a size for such a purpose would have been unthinkable a few years ago. I am anxious to secure that all available information is placed readily at the disposal of farmers so that they can make a thorough use of every modern development in connection with these different institutes. I know that the services of many of the teachers and others connected with these colleges are much appreciated by the farming interest and community in Scotland.

Turning to land settlement, I deeply regret that I am unable to announce larger results, but I need not remind the House that during the past year or two considerations of finance have been paramount. In present circumstance's I have deemed it well to concentrate the greatest share of effort on providing holdings suitable for the intensive production of poultry, eggs, etc., in the industrial belt where producers can find a ready market close to their doors. The investigations which I myself made in the homes of these smallholders clearly revealed to me that the smallholder, in these bad times, has often withstood the depression as well as, if not better than, the large farmer. I should be happy indeed if it were possible to provide holdings for all those who show ability to work them. It would relieve pressure on the towns and on the mines, but I fear that we must cut our coat according to our cloth, and that financial considerations must dominate our policy in this matter.

I must add, however, that although we are concentrating the larger portion of the available sum on the creation of smallholdings in the industrial belt, we are not overlooking the needs of the Highlands and Islands, and land settlement schemes in those districts are proceeding whenever time and circumstance are in favourable conjunction. The spectacle of the effects of long-continued unemployment renders all of us uneasy, and to mitigate these as best one could, I ventured last year as an experiment to start a scheme for making available small plots of land up to one acre in extent for those unemployed men who are living in their homes and who can develop the land in their own neighbourhoods. The rents payable for these plots by the plot holders vary from 6d. to 10d. per week per acre, but no rent is being charged for the first season. The Department provide the necessary plants and seeds and the plot-holders will pay by small weekly instalments, collection being deferred to the second season of occupancy. I wish to take this opportunity of thanking the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham), and other hon. Members, for the assistance they have already granted, and we shall be enabled to go forward, I hope, with greater success in the coming year. We have made available for cultivation some 90 acres in certain counties. I am glad to say that the scheme has been taken up with enthusiasm in certain areas, and we hope for a large extension in the coming year.

I would have liked on this my first opportunity of presenting the Scottish Agricultural Estimates to the House of Commons to have gone at greater length into the various problems which come before the Department but I know how anxious many hon. Members are to voice the wishes of their constituents on the various matters which come before them in the course of the year. I hope that as times improve, the position shown by our Estimates will improve and above all that the steps taken by His Majesty's Government consistently and determinedly with the one object of raising the wholesale prices of the produce of the land in Scotland may find a response. I hope that as the months go by those steps may lead to increased prices for, as I said at the opening of my remarks the plight of the men on the soil in Scotland—many of them selling their produce at below pre-War prices—calls for every possible consideration and suggestion from the Government and hon. Members. If in the course of this evening's Debate hon. Members submit any proposals which would have the effect of raising those prices without doing undue harm to consumers in Great Britain, I assure them that such proposals will be favourably considered.

8.42 p.m.


I do not propose to follow the Secretary of State in the general survey which he has made of the position. As far as we on this side are concerned, we agree with him in the desire to see the land of Scotland returning better products and better advantages to the men who till it. I am mainly interested in the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's statement. It appears to me that the Department of Agriculture in Scotland do not render all the help which they could very well render in the settlement of men on the land. They seem to forget that there are nearly 400,000 unemployed persons in Scotland, a large proportion of whom are well qualified to work on the land. In my own country there were 31,000 fewer men employed in the mining industry in 1932 than in 1924, and anyone who knows anything about the mining population will agree that the bulk of the men in the mines to-day are either men who have themselves come from the land or are the sons of men who have come from the land during the last 30 or 40 years. What is more, a large percentage of them are anxious to get back to the land. I have had any number of communications from and interviews with men in my constituency who are anxious that the Department should do something to provide them with plots or small holdings.

I recognise the difficulty in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State fir Scotland has been placed because of the so-called financial stringency, although I have my doubts about that. You see any amount of money being more or less wastefully spent in the provision. of pleasure and luxury of one kind and another, in this town to go no further, and I do not suppose that things are worse here than in some of the other cities of the Kingdom. I am not very sympathetically inclined to the attitude of mind which finds the financial stringency as an excuse for trying to help men who are fully qualified to do the necessary work, not merely to maintain themselves and those dependent upon them, but to render very useful service to the community as a whole. One part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that I noted was his statement that from 8,000 to 10,000 more men might be employed if the poultry farming side of agriculture were extended.

I have had quite a number of men making application to me as to how they could get support from the Government on this question of poultry farming, and in our county of Lanark the Lanark County Council and the whole of the local authorities in the county have been particularly anxious during the last 12 months that something in the nature of what I am referring to should be done by the Department. It is really work for the nation, not for the local authorities. It is not the business of the county council of Lanark or any of the local authorities in that county to find land and the money for working that land for the unemployed persons in their localities. It is really national work, and it would be of considerable advantage to the nation if these men could be employed along the lines that I am suggesting. The Secretary of State for Scotland recently intimated to me that there had been applications and inquiries for smallholdings in the county of Lanark during the past five years amounting to 682, and that only 31 applications had been accepted. If the Department of Agriculture was rendering real help in this matter and providing land, anything from five to 10 times that number of men could be found to take on this work; and would it not be very much better for these men. to be employed in that work than drawing unemployment benefit at the Employment Exchange? Talking about the financial stringency, one of the main reasons for it is that the Government are prepared rather to allow men. to go about idle and draw unemployment benefit than to spend money on enabling them to find useful and necessary national work.

On account of the rather short time allotted for this discussion, I promised not to take up much time. We have only about an hour and 10 minutes, and I do not want to stand in the way of other hon. Members, but before sitting down I wish to express the sincere hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland and his Department will really set about the task of endeavouring to find ways and means of meeting the claims of men who themselves feel that they are qualified to do this work, either in poultry farming, in plot holdings, or in small holdings. I can assure my right hon. Friend and his Department that if they do set about this task, they will get the unanimous co-operation of the Members of the Labour party in this House. The one thing above all others that is of vital importance is the finding of ways and means of enabling the men who are unemployed to earn sufficient to maintain themselves and their families.

8.51 p.m.


The Secretary of State for Scotland has given ups a survey this evening of Scottish agricultural administration which was a model, as I am sure everybody who heard it feels, of lucidity and compression, but I think our sympathy is due to him for the hard choice which he had to make between giving us the more extensive survey which he would naturally have wished to give us, and in which we all of us, and the farmers of Scotland, would have been so interested, and the generous course which he chose of affording more time to the rest of us to express ourselves this evening. I cannot help protesting against the inadequacy of the time, for which of course my right hon. Friend has no responsibility, devoted to this important subject. We have all of us the deepest preoccupation with the plight of agriculture and the distress of the farmers, farm servants, and smallholders of Scotland, and it is indeed an unhappy circumstance that we are not able to give a greater amount of time to the discussion of this subject. We hold in our hands, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the report of the Department for the past year, and when we see the variety of subjects with which we have to deal, ranging from the settlement of Scottish families on the land, education and fundamental research into agricultural problems, the vast schemes for the reorganisation of marketing on the one hand and the approval of no fewer than 88 new fancy names for margarine on the other, it is easy to see what a wide field we have to cover in this very short Debate.

But while our minds must be, as I say, mainly preoccupied with these wider problems of agriculture, it is necessary to concentrate to-night, owing to the inadequate time at our disposal, rather upon those administrative details of the Estimates the discussion of which is the primary purpose of these Debates. While last year I felt it my duty in introducing these Estimates to emphasise the appallingly serious conditions which farmers were then facing, the position to-day is even worse. The farmers' resources are more depleted, the farm servants have had to submit to reductions of wages which, though not uniform, have fallen with crushing weight on many households and have filled those who are concerned about their welfare with alarm, while the reductions which landlords are giving in rent, combined with taxation at War-time levels, are inevitably spelling disastrous deterioration in the capital equipment of the industry. The measures of the Government seem to us neither to be conceived widely enough nor to go deep enough to reach near the root of the evils which afflict the industry, but confining myself within the limits which I undertook to observe at the beginning of my speech, I will deal only with those activities of the Government of which we find evidence in this report of the Department and in the Estimates.

I should indeed have liked to follow the Secretary of State for Scotland in the references which he made to such wider issues as the raising of prices. He said he would welcome from any of us—and I should very much have liked to respond to his invitation—any suggestions which we might make for the raising of prices without involving hardship on the con- sumer. I would only make this comment on what he said, that any effort to raise prices which does involve hardship on the consumers would be fatal to agriculture, because it is only on the prosperity of the consumers and the purchasing power of the consumers of this country, mainly employed as they are in urban industry, that the prosperity of agriculture depends, and to raise prices above the power of this great mass of the population to purchase would only mean the decline and eclipse of the industry of agriculture.

Short of those larger issues of the raising of wholesale price levels, and the reform of the structure of the industry, into which I do not intend to go, there is surely no measure calculated to bring help more quickly to a place where it is more needed in this emergency by the Scottish farmer, than one which would give him the benefit of the lower interest rates which now prevail and which would therefore lighten the burden of his mortgages and secured debts. We therefore welcome the statement that at long last this Agricultural Corporation is going to get to work in Scotland, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see that it does in fact get to work. We have had assurances—I have given some myself—many assurances over four years that it is just going to happen. I have given some in the firm belief that it was about to happen. I hope that, if the Secretary of State suffers another disappointment, he will see that action is taken, if not with the co-operation of these banks, then without it, so as to make available to farmers these much needed long-term credits on sufficiently generous terms.

If this is true of farmers large and small, it is equally true of smallholders and of that particular form of agricultural organisation which is known as the sheep stock club. Many of these clubs in which we, as representing the taxpayers, have a great stake at present, are in the very direct straits, and I do not apologise for taking up the time of the House on this subject because it affects many of my own constituents and many other constituencies as well. Let me mention one case in my constituency which is typical. It is the case of Keoldale, which is the nearest place to Cape Wrath in Scotland. These men bought a sheep stock for £26,000. The Board of Agriculture, as it then was, on the instructions of the Government, told them that this was a national policy. They were not land speculators, and they understood that their willingness to take over this sheep stock was in accordance with the policy of the nation, as indeed it was. They took over this sheep stock at a sum of £26,000. They paid £3,000 down and got a loan from the Treasury for £23,000. They paid their interest whenever it was due up to Martinmas last. They have looked well after their sheep and maintained the reputation of the stock in the markets of Scotland.

Including the first payment which they made of £3,000, and the repayment of capital, they have paid £13,000 for that sheep stock. They have paid more than the stock is worth at present prices, and now they have to start to pay another £13,000 to make up the £26,000 which was the original price. It is not as if they want to get out of a contract into which they have entered. As is clearly shown on page 15 of the report, these sheep stock clubs are meeting their obligations. Out of £120,000 of loans, loans amounting to £14,000 have been repaid in full, while other repayments of capital amount to £57,000. These men are paying up splendidly, but the Secretary of State, who has sympathetically replied to my communications on this subject, must feel that it is not fair that the adjustments in those transactions, which are made necessary by economic forces of unparalleled strength and destructiveness, should be made at the expense only of these crofters. Therefore, it is urgently necessary that the Government should come to some arrangement for dealing with the finance of the sheep stock clubs which has been completely upset by the recent movements of prices.

From the question of sheep stock clubs I pass naturally to the question of land settlement, in regard to which the Secretary of State expressed his sympathy and willingness to make progress when times were more favourable. At a time when the permanent settlement of families on the land could make such a substantial contribution towards the solution of the problem of unemployment, at a time when it could be done as regards certain classes of holdings, as I showed in a speech which was not challenged just before Christmas, without cost to the State, when the success of those already settled clearly proves that this is one of the true lines of agricultural development in this country, when the increasing number of applicants and the contentment of existing smallholders testifies to the immense social importance of this policy, and when the low rates of interest now prevailing afford a firm financial foundation, I cannot help thinking that it is a tragedy that the process should be increasingly slowed down. It is true that last year, faced with a deficit in the Budget, with the conversion of the War Loan not yet effected, and with the high interest rates then prevailing, I consented to surrender £50,000 of balances in the Agricultural (Scotland) Fund, but I made it plain at the time that I regarded it as a temporary measure, as an emergency contribution to the financial needs of the nation not to be renewed in a normal year; and I added the assurance, which I gave not without authority, that the process of adaptation of these holdings would continue throughout the year. Not only has that undertaking not been observed, not only has the cut of £250,000 been repeated, but it has been increased by 50 per cent, to a total of £75,000.

Now I am not going to assume that the Secretary of State is hostile to land settlement. I know that the Under-Secretary is one of its most fervent advocates. As chief of a Department he has found it necessary to give effect to the general financial policy of the Government, but this policy is one of an importance which transcends every other subject of our Debates on these Estimates. It is a question to which I shall return on a more suitable occasion, and meanwhile I will only remind the Secretary of State that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in the House the other night that the prospects for the next Budget were good. Here is a direction in which a bold constructive national effort is possible. It is a policy for which Scottish public opinion will expect a generous provision to be made in the Estimates for next year.

Several other economies which the Secretary of State has had to introduce must be regarded, if as necessities, as most regrettable necessities. I will mention only two. One is the reduction in the drainage grant. That comes at a most unfortunate time, when it can only have the effect of accelerating that deterioration in the capital equipment of the industry to which I referred earlier in my speech. Even on the basis of a contribution from the State of only one-quarter of the cost of schemes, there were applications for more than the sum of money which was available last year, and this drainage grant has a most exceptionally high employment value. It is calculated officially that for the expenditure of £1,000 out of State or local taxation you can employ as a general rule four men, directly and indirectly. For the expenditure of £1,000 out of State funds on drainage, with the £3,000 which the one who gets such a grant would have to find, you can employ 33 men directly and 11 men indirectly, making 44 in all, 11 times as many as are employed by other schemes. Therefore, it is most unfortunate that this economy should have been made at such a time on A work with such a high employment value.

The other economy to which I wish to refer is the omission to fill the vacancies which have occurred owing to the death or retirement of two highly-placed technical officers of the Department—the senior inspector of agricultural education and the chief technical Adviser to the small holdings branch, a post that I myself left vacant last year. I feel it unnecessary to detain the House by expatiating on the importance of these posts, or the great services rendered to agriculture by their occupants in past years, or upon the inevitable loss of efficiency if they are left vacant very long, but, on the other hand, it would be unfair to criticise the Secretary of State in these times of financial difficulty if he feels it possible to assume the responsibility to this House for not filling these posts at the present time. I hope, however, that he or the Under-Secretary will be able to assure us that these appointments will not be unduly delayed.

There are many other things with which I should like to deal—agricultural research and education, the need and possibilities of expansion in the milk industry, and the need for more research into animal diseases on which only £25,000 is now spent, no more than £5,000 of which goes to dairy cattle. There is, however, one question of great importance to the Highlands on which I feel it is necessary to touch at the present time, and that is the depredations of the deer. Ever since 1921 there have been meetings of representatives of the various farming organisations and landlords to discuss a policy for dealing with this subject. It is very important that we should know when it will be dealt with. If it is to be by legislation, let the legislation be introduced early. It should be circulated now, before the House rises, or during the Recess, so that we can know what is proposed, because it is in November that it will be necessary to act, and we ought to have the Bill as one of the first Measures to be discussed then; but if legislation is not possible as early as November I would ask the Secretary of State what administrative measures he proposes to deal with this problem.

Let me close with but a brief reference to the vital importance of marketing schemes. As one who has felt bound to criticise them—and must continue to do so when certain of their details and certain of the principles on which they are based come again under discussion—let me say how much I hope that in this time of desperate emergency they will meet with a greater measure of success than it is possible for me to believe they will attain. With all their imperfections they are one of the hopes in this great emergency of the Scottish farmer, and if I, in common with other Members, can in any way contribute to their success, I shall be very glad to do so. I earnestly hope that in connection with the pig, milk, and fat stock marketing schemes the Secretary of State, and those who work with him, the Under-Secretary of State, the officials of his Department, and the Agricultural Organisation Society—all who have worked so devotedly to improve the system of agricultural marketing in Scotland—will not suffer another disappointment like that which they have recently suffered in the rejection of the raspberry scheme, but rather that Scottish farmers will see in these schemes a means of exercising control such as they have never yet enjoyed over the marketing of their produce, and of convincing the public that it can rely upon Scottish farmers to produce a regular supply of graded produce, of standard types, fresher and of higher quality than any other supplies which come upon our markets. Black as is the immediate outlook, I am firmly persuaded that Scottish agriculture will revive, and that in the progress towards that revival schemes for the reorganisation of marketing will mark an important step.

9.12 p.m.


I should like to join in thanking the Secretary of State for the brevity of 'his introduction of this Vote, and at the same time to assure him that in my opinion, at least, he managed in that short time to cover very fully a great deal of ground, for which we are all most grateful. I was glad to note that the Secretary of State realises that the scheme for the restriction of meat imports has not attained success in the matter of beef and beef prices, because I am convinced that some other action on the part of the Government will be necessary, and I hope they will press forward with the negotiations in order to find some satisfactory method of dealing with it. It was argued that the agreements which had been entered into were going to relieve the market of a considerable quantity of beef, but in actual practice the scheme has not worked out as it was intended or as we were led to believe it would.

I do not wish to go into details or quote a lot of figures, because the Secretary of State is well aware of them, but I did see one or two interesting facts stated in the "Scotsman" of 19th July. It was stated that instead of there being a reduction in the imports of frozen beef, as contemplated by the agreements, the quantity imported during the first six months of 1933 was actually 14,829 tons, or 31.3 per cent., more than in the same period of 1932. Taking chilled beef and frozen beef together, the imports in one quarter were about 10,000 tons more than in the corresponding quarter of 1932. Quite clearly the only possible result of this is a fall in the prices of beef. I do not believe that the agreements entered into have been the success which we hoped they would be.

I would like to mention the fact that frozen beef imported during the last six months was in excess of the amount of the agreements, and, in the case of the Dominions, was in excess of expectations by over 15,000 tons. The principal offender is stated to be the Argentine, which sent 7,071 tons more than it ought to have done. Australia and New Zealand together sent some 7,245 tons in excess of what was sent in the first six months of 1932. I will not quote any more figures on this question, with the exception of one to which I wish to draw the attention of the Government. There has been a very marked increase in the imports of canned meat and off als—6,000 cwts. in the first six months of the year. The percentage increase was 12½. As these canned meats are outside the scheme, they are only subject to a 10 per cent. duty, but owing to the restriction of chilled meat which is in operation, the importers naturally send their canned meat in, in spite of this duty, to help dispose of their surplus.

I have dealt with meat, and now I should like to point out that, under the agreements, it was always intended that the home producer should have the first claim on the home market. In practice, that is clearly not the case. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the question of oats, and I do not want to go further into that, except to assure him that we most earnestly hope that the negotiations with Canada will come to a successful and speedy conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman must be tired of the subject, and he will be as glad as many of us to see some satisfactory solution. As he may be aware, there is very strong feeling among Scottish farmers, and in the Scottish farming community generally, that they are' not getting fair treatment as compared with the treatment of their friends and neighbours in England. One of the chief complaints is in regard to wheat. I admit that more wheat is being grown, but the Scottish farmer has not received much help from the Wheat Quota Act, and he is not getting much help from the beet-sugar subsidy. Payments to carry out these Acts come out of the pockets of the general taxpayer. The Scottish farmer is just as much a member of the general taxpaying community as anyone else, and he does not see why, in these very difficult times, he should be taxed in order to help his neighbour across the Border. The feeling has been expressed recently that what was holding up action on the part of the Government, in connection with foreign imports of oats, was the fact that in England there is strong opposition from those who buy feeding-stuffs, and who want to buy the cheapest foreign oats for this purpose. I would like to impress upon the Government that, in the long run, and looking at the broad picture, it is far more important that we should do everything in our power to maintain a large arable acreage, and thereby assist employment, than that we should please a few buyers of cheap, imported foodstuffs.

With regard to the general question of our agricultural policy, I become more and more convinced that we must aim at increasing our own production foodstuffs. I know that under recent trade agreements entered into by the Government we have been giving away a certain percentage of our markets in this country in return for markets abroad for certain of our products and manufactured goods. I do not for a moment suggest that it is not of the greatest importance that we should find markets for our products, but I would ask, taking the long view of things, whether that is in the best interests of the country? Foreign nations are becoming more and more industrialised, and as they do so they will require less and less to buy our manufactured goods, and our exports will therefore fall. As long as we maintain our present policy, we have to continue to import enormous quantities of feeding stuffs from abroad. Therefore, when eventually our trade becomes so unbalanced that it will be necessary for us to restrict imports still further, we can do this by increasing our home production of the necessities of life. I sincerely urge the Government to keep this view before them, because the action that I suggest will have to be taken sooner or later, and, in my opinion, the sooner it is taken the better. The Government will receive every possible assistance and encouragement from their supporters on this side of the House in any action that they may take with that object in view.

9.22 p.m.


I hope that I shall not prevent those who come from areas more bucolic than my own from taking part in this Debate. I join with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) in protesting against the shortness of time available to discuss this subject. The characteristic thing about the operations of the Scottish Office is the length of time that they take to do everything, and the shortness of time that we get to discuss what they have done. In the few minutes which I propose to occupy, I want to raise with the Secretary of State for Scotland the credit question. He has received congratulations from his predecessor in office upon having brought the credits almost into being. We cannot say "quite," but he has made a more definite statement of achievement than any of his several predecessors who have had to deal with this matter. He hoped that the farmers of Scotland will have the advantages of credits available to them in a reasonably short period now; I hope that that is so.

I know, and I am sure that other hon. Members know, that there are hard-working farmers in Scotland who have had to go out of business simply because a very limited amount of credit was not available to them on reasonable terms. There is one very hard case which I have particularly in mind, of a hard-working farmer and his wife-, who had started as farm labourers. The man became a farm manager, and finally the couple got into a farm of their own at 50 odd years of age. They struck the very worst period for prices, and after a very brave struggle for two years, during which this man and his wife worked like veritable slaves from before sunrise until after sunset, they had to give up and go away back. All their life savings are gone, and at over 50 years of age they have to start at the bottom of the agricultural ladder. In Scotland, that is a very lowly, penurious and laborious position to be in. I want the right hon. Gentleman to recognise this defect in the Scottish Office. I am not placing it on the right hon. Gentleman's shoulders, because he has been too short a time in office to be blamed for it, but this defect has been characteristic of the Scottish Office ever since I have been in this House. It is the length of time between a decision taken in the House of Commons and the practical operation of that decision.

Let me point to two or three matters which have been outstanding. There is the Auchincruive dairying research, which is now in operation but which has taken about three or four years from the time a beneficent donor presented a handsome sum of money. It took all that time before our fellow-countrymen could get a working scheme upon which they could all agree. There is the same position in one of the other Departments about the school at Ayr. There, again, a beneficent donor placed an educational establishment at the service of the community, and they are 'still "argue-bargueing" about it, and are likely to do so for another two or three years. I know it does not come under the Agricultural Vote, but it is the same point. Again we have been told to-night that the raspberry scheme, which we passed here with the approval and support of the Secretary of State, has been rejected by the people in whose interests we were asked to pass it. Again there will be a lot of "argue-bargue," and a lot of thrawn devils will gather round the table and argue for years. In modern conditions, with the type of problem to be confronted now in agriculture and in other branches of life, you cannot have years of delay before you set going the things you want done. I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, in agriculture particularly, to devote his attention to finding out where is the weak link in Scottish administration that makes it absolutely necessary for long periods to elapse before the things we want done are actually put into operation.

9.28 p.m.


All Scottish Members to-night must speak with an eye on the clock, and I should like to join in the protest, which I will renew on the Adjournment, against the time allotted to this Debate. I wonder whether the Secretary of State for Scotland has come slightly under the influence of the atmosphere of the Scottish Office which has been described in such vivid terms by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). In referring to some matters with which he hoped to deal, my right hon. Friend employed the phrase that they would be dealt with when time and circumstances were in favourable conjunction. That possibly is a very necessary condition but, so far as certain departments of the Scottish Office are concerned, I have very largely the same view as the hon. Member for Bridgeton. Although I do not wish to indulge in any recrimination or to bring up to-night any matters of the past, I could give my right hon. Friend very striking examples of the way matters have gone on for several years in the Scottish Office in certain departments. It is time that was stopped. We are all perfectly sick of it, and the country is sick of it. I shall refer to no particular department, but I could give him some startling examples of what I mean.

Let me refer for one moment to the speech of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham). He said that in five years 682 applications had been made for land settlement in his county, and that in five years 31 of those applications had been granted. That case has only to be stated by my hon. Friend to enlist the close attention and sympathy of the Secretary of State for Scotland. If I were in that position, though I never shall be, I should call for all those applications, for all the correspondence which had taken place in connection with them, and I should require a very good explanation why out of 682 applications only 31 had been granted in these days when special consideration for the unemployed is necessary.


The Department of Agriculture is limited under the Land Settlement Act by the money granted by Parliament. That is the explanation.


I accept the hon. Gentleman's explanation. We have heard the same statement before, and there may possibly be too close an adherence on the part of the Scottish Office to the phrase that they must wait until time and circumstances are in favourable conjunction. It is time the Scottish Office took a firmer line with the Treasury on matters of Scottish interest. The Secretary of State for Scotland called the Scottish Members together some time ago and introduced to them a scheme for dealing with the unemployed by making available for them plots of land varying from a quarter of an acre to one acre. That gesture on the part of the Secretary of State for Scotland showed his genuine interest in the unemployed, and was a real contribution to the health and comfort of those people who may take advantage of his offer. So far as my own constituency is concerned, I am glad that already more than 80 men have responded to that offer. I am also glad to add that, during the past two or three weeks, two representatives from the Department of Agriculture have visited my constituency and are doing everything possible to help the centre there, which is doing its best to help the interests of the unemployed in its district. I am very glad that this friendly gesture has been made, and that the Secretary of State for Scotland has explained that the public assistance bodies will take the kindliest possible view of all those who take up this particular scheme, and that no irritating restrictions regarding relief will come between them and the full enjoyment of those plots.

On the question of the potato marketing scheme in Scotland, I am aware that this matter is sub judice at the present time, and I shall not refer particularly to it except in one connection. I am sincerely doubtful about basing our agricultural schemes or any other Scottish Measures on Bills which have been passed for English purposes. I do not know if the potato marketing scheme comes under that description. It may be quite different, but, from our point of view in Scotland, there is far too much legislation by reference and, if we could avoid that as far as possible, it would free us from a great deal of unnecessary delay and unnecessary litigation. In conclusion, I should like to acknowledge that I thought my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in the limited time at his disposal, made an illuminating and constructive speech on the question which we are now considering.

9.36 p.m.


I regret that I have not the time to touch upon one or two aspects of marketing in general, and, therefore, will confine myself to some of the figures which have been placed before us is the Estimates. Naturally, the thoughts that are in the forefront of my mind are those which must be paramount in the representative of an industrial constituency, and a constituency in which unemployment exists in an acute form, and, therefore, I shall do anything that I possibly can to prevent this or any other Government in the future from closing any avenues of employment such as I see in the possibilities presented in these Estimates.

With regard to land settlement, like the previous speaker I appreciate what has already been done with special reference to the mining areas, but I hope that, when these areas are being attended to, we shall not lose sight of the question of the ability of many people in the larger towns to accommodate themselves to the conditions, and I hope that this matter will not be confined to small units of activity, because I think that there are possibilities in larger units if they are presented in the proper form. I notice in the Estimates an item of £5 for cooperative societies. I regard the application of co-operative ideals in this work as very important, especially when men are being taken to that work who are strange to the people engaged in it, and who may need more attention and more connection with individuals of that type. When they are taken from towns or small communities they are more likely to gain the advantages that can be gained from co-operative work. I cannot go into the details now, but I should like to refer to an article on" Small Holdings round a Central Farm," which appears in the July issue of the Journal of the Ministry of Agriculture. It is written by Lord Phillimore, and he states that the two main difficulties with regard to this question are: (1) The heavy capitalisation per acre required (except perhaps in the case of statutory holdings when the holder pays a full, fair rent, and not a rent based on the capital cost of the holding); (2) The marketing of what at the best must be a small output. He goes on to say that both of these difficulties are met by the Metayer system, to which he specially refers, and that there would be possibilities in a cooperative grouping system round the central farm. He visualises a landlord, but I prefer to visualise one of our own experts as the controlling element at the centre.

The question of land drainage opens up possibilities of employment, not only for agricultural people, but for others as well. I notice that the present Estimates only provide £10,000 for this important work, showing a reduction of £6,450 as compared with last year. According to the Department's own literature, the amount provided last year was £16,450, but there were applications for no less than £17,381. The comparable figures regarding employment are not given, but, going a year further back, I find that 1931-32 gives a splendid illustration of the incidence of this work on employment. I find that in that year no less than £24,011 was paid in grants for that purpose, but that that was sufficient to agitate the people requiring land drainage to such an extent that the total outlay was no less than £73,000, and of that total sum there was expended in wages £52,493. That is an outstanding illustration of the tremendous value of this land drainage work from the point of view of providing employment. I trust that every endeavour will be made to prevent the powers that be from cribbing the Scottish Department of Agriculture in years to come, in view of the fact that in Scotland there is much land that can be made available, and I trust that this matter will be attended to in a measure which is not at the moment indicated in the Estimates.

9.41 p.m.


I am sure that hon. Members who represent agricultural constituencies have been delighted to hear the expression of deep sympathy which has come from the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) in regard to the difficulties of the Scottish farmer. It is, perhaps, symptomatic of that new interest which is now being taken, after years of propaganda, by the urban voter in the prosperity of the agricultural industry, and I hope that we may look forward next Session to the pleasure of the hon. Member's company in the Division Lobbies when it becomes necessary to vote for Measures to raise the price of agricultural products and to restrict the flood of foreign imports which is bringing ruin to those British farmers in whom the hon. Member has expressed so much interest. I was also glad to hear the right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) and others lay so much stress upon the policy of land settlement. I agree with the right hon. Baronet that the most regrettable feature of this Vote, for which, as he himself admitted, he was originally responsible, is the reduction from £125,000 to £100,000 in the amount devoted to smallholdings.


I am not responsible for the reduction to £100,000. While I was responsible for the first £50,000, as an emergency contribution to the financial needs of the nation last year, I am not responsible for its being repeated this year, or for the further cut of £25,000.


I am very grateful for that correction. The right hon. Baronet acquiesced last year in this reduction, which has now been repeated. Although the Secretary of State has been unable to-night to hold out any hope of an extension of this policy, I am encouraged, both by the recent statement of the Lord President of the Council in the country and by the exceedingly favourable circumstances which now prevail, to believe that the Secretary of State is contemplating a greater expansion of this policy than it was possible for him to indicate to the House to-night. But before that policy can be settled on such a scale as would be desired by the right hon. Baronet and by most of us, three essential preliminary conditions must be fulfilled.

The first is a cheapening of public credit and a lowering of the rate of interest at which money can be borrowed. That condition has already been fulfilled in a large measure, and we may acknowledge that the right hon. Baronet, when he was in office as a Member of the National Government, played his part in enforcing those economies which were necessary to this end. The next condition is that we should assure to the smallholder for his produce, not an exorbitant price, but such a price as will bring him a just and adequate reward for his labour, will protect him against market fluctuations over which he has no control, and will bring him at least the replacement value of his produce. That, however, is precisely what the right hon. Baronet and his party have persistently refused to do. If we are to have a prosperous and contented community of smallholders, we roust transform the agricultural market from a condition of chaos to a condition of order. You cannot do that so long as you allow the unrestricted flow into the country of bacon, eggs, butter and every other kind of agricultural produce. If we are to take seriously the hopes expressed by the right hon. Baronet for the success of the new marketing schemes, perhaps we may hope that he also will reconsider his attitude towards the Agricultural Marketing Bill and will support us next Session when these schemes come to be applied.

The final condition which must be fulfilled is that we shall justify to the Treasury the expenditure for which we ask. We are not asking the Government to reverse the financial policy of 1931 and, if we demand, as we hope we may, more money for small holdings, we must be able to reconcile that demand with those canons of economy which the Government has applied, and which have already produced such admirable results on the credit of the country and, as we believe, on our unemployment figures. The right hon. Baronet referred to his speech before Christmas in which he told us that we could now settle men on the land at no cost to the Exchequer. In that calculation was he not taking into account the amount that we should have spent on unemployment if we had had these men upon the dole?

Sir A. SINCLAIR indicated assent.


That is quite a fair calculation. If you put a man on the land, you are making another job available in industry. We may, therefore, say that, if the interest and sinking fund upon the capital expenditure of the State is not greater, by the amount of the dole, than the rent which the State receives, it is worth while to settle men on the land. The right hon. Baronet might easily go further and point out that the country spends a great deal of money upon housing, and anyone who has been at the Scottish Office and has been able to inspect the smallholding housing models there will agree that they are of a most commodious and desirable type. We are spending £12 10s. a year in the slum clearance subsidy on settling a family of five persons in a new house when they have been taken out of a slum.

If it could be shown—I do not say it could—that the cost to the State of settling a man on the land would be no more than the cost of settling a family of five persons from a slum into a new house—if we are justified in spending that sum in the one case for nothing more than providing a family with a new house, are we not ten times more justified in spending this money in order to provide him not only with an excellent house but with permanent employment which will help to redress the balance between urban and rural industry? I believe the possibilities for smallholdings at present are almost unlimited, when we have cheap credit, when land is easily available, and when there are no fewer than 5,000 unsatisfied applications for smallholdings, although we are only able at present to settle a hundred men a year. I purposely refrain from giving any figures, not because I believe they are unimportant but because the latest available figures are those of a year ago, and we may have reason to hope that the reduction in costs that may be effected may be so great that even the figures of a year ago would be of little value for any future calculations that we may have to make. If the Secretary of State, who can bring to bear upon this problem the weight of his great business experience, and the Under-Secretary, who has identified himself very closely for the whole of his political life with the policy of land settlement, can succeed in producing Estimates which will justify expenditure upon a far greater scale than is provided for in this Estimate, they will earn the gratitude both of their colleagues in the House, and of their countrymen in Scotland.

9.50 p.m.


The Government position, as I understand it, is that the industry of agriculture should be made to thrive. I very much regret that we cannot say that Scottish agriculture thrives. The Secretary of State has admitted that its position is very serious. I do not want him to consider that I am criticising him personally. What I am criticising is the policy of the Government. I do not think we have had a fair deal. May I quote the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 12th February, 1932? Agriculture has been so long depressed, it has suffered so many disappointments in the past, that I do not think anybody can be surprised if it is still anxious and if it is even a little suspicious about any new proposals."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1932; col. 1602, Vol. 261.] If those words were true in 1932 they are true to-day, and I certainly think something must be done soon. I want to press very strongly on the Minister two points that were raised by the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. James Stuart) with regard to the imports of oats and frozen mutton. Oats is the main cereal crop of the Scottish farmer, the one that makes farming pay and keeps the farm labourer in employment. If oats are going to go out of cultivation entirely, there is no hope for ordinary arable farming. An application was made by the Scottish Farmers' Union to the Advisory Committee, and a second application was made in March, which was hung up until the other day. The English Farmers' Union joined in the application, so that they think something ought to be done for Scottish cereal growers. The Minister tells us now that nothing can be done and that we can have no report because negotiations have been entered into with regard to the import of oats, and the Advisory Committee will not report until some decision has been come to. I press on him to let us have some decision. The question of oat products is also of vital importance. It is no good having oats dealt with if we do not deal with oat products as well. With regard to frozen meat, if the Minister looks at the trade and navigation returns he will find that the imports for the first and second quarters of frozen mutton and lamb show a certain reduction, but, putting the two together, the reduction is nothing like 10 per cent. It is more like 5 per cent. at the very most, and it does not seem that we are carrying out the undertaking given to the Dominions at Ottawa, and we are doing something greatly to the detriment of our farmers.

9.55 p.m.


If the Scottish Office has shown any dilatoriness, there can be no dilatoriness in my reply, for in respect of this Vote I have five minutes in which to do it. The question has been so clearly stated that I hope I shall not fail to answer the questions raised. First of all, and most important, is the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. R. W. Smith) and others, Is the Government policy letting Scotland down in particular? "Have we done all we can for oats? Are we doing all we can for beef? With regard to the question of oats, as hon. Members well know, until you get a reduction of the main overseas import, which is the Canadian import now, no increase of duty by itself will be sufficiently operative, but negotiations are going on with Canada at this moment. So much for oats.

Mr. R. W. SMITH rose


I am afraid that I cannot give way. Now with regard to the imports of beef. The House, and Scottish Members in particular, must recollect that we are only in the era of voluntary agreements made in an emergency by the Minister of Agriculture and the Government. You cannot hope to get a proper control until you have the contemplated regulations in force under the new Marketing Act. That in its turn demands the existence of a marketing scheme. Those who are anxious to see a proper regulation of the imports of beef must rest for its approval when it comes before them upon the Scottish farmers of the beef marketing scheme. Upon that basis quantitative restriction rests under the Act which the House has passed this Session. Let there be no mistake about that. If you are in the era of voluntary agreements, no doubt the machinery for getting those agreements completely carried out is much more difficult. There will not be a satisfactory situation except you have the situation figured by the Marketing Act of marketing schemes and restriction orders on foreign imports.

The other main question has been that of land settlement, and the feature of the Debate has been the universal feeling on all sides of the House as to the importance of that subject. I am glad to see general agreement in the wisdom of our experiment of trying plots of half an acre or so for unemployed miners and others. Let me recall to the House that that is experimental, but I think that we have reason to be satisfied that the results will be successful. We have gone into it during the first year on a small scale, as I am sure it would not be wise to try to induce large numbers of men to go in for the thing until we have seen how it works.


Why do you not do for the West of Scotlancl what you do for the East


As far as I can judge from the reports, the efforts will be a success, and before the autumn I hope to have visited every plot, so that we may have personal knowledge as to the success of the experimental scheme. On the subject of land settlement, there is no doubt general agreement as to the particular need of Scotland and the strong feeling expressed as to its expansion. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) referred to various cases of delay and procrastination, some dealing with agricultural topics and some with other topics, but all I can say is that I shall be delighted to deal with each of these with him in correspondence or by discussion. I speak for my right hon. Friend and myself when I say that we shall take every means in our power to expedite the work. I do not think that we have failed in that, and if we have failed we are most anxious to be criticised. If our work needs to be expedited, we shall lose no time in trying to expedite it. I will give an undertaking on the part of my right hon. Friend and myself that no efforts on our part in the various activities under our control will be left undone to expedite the work.

Question "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.

It being Ten of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15, to put forthwith the Questions, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the outstanding Resolutions reported in respect of Classes I to IX of the Civil Estimates, and of the Navy Estimates, the Army Estimates, the Air Estimates, and the Revenue Departments Estimates.