§ 17. "That a sum, not exceeding £3,943,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come 0 course d payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1935, for Expenditure in respect of the Air Services, namely:
|2. Quartering, Stores (except technical), Supplies, and Transportation||1,490,000|
|5. Medical Services||295,000|
|6. Technical Training and Educational Services||373,000|
|7. Auxiliary and Reserve Forces||394,000|
|9. Meteorological and Miscellaneous Effective Services||341,000|
|10. Air Ministry||657,000|
|11. Half-Pay, Pensions, and other Non-Effective Services||393,000|
§ First Resolution read a Second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir Godfrey Collins)
If I do not refer to many of the subjects in the Vote which has been put from the Chair this afternoon, it will not be from any disrespect to hon. Members but will be in order to give time to hon. Members in all parts of the House to enter into the Debates on this and other Votes which are on the Order Paper. The activities of the Department during the last 12 months have been numerous and varied. It is true to say that the agricultural industry has passed through hard times during the past year and that not only have farmers had to face low and falling prices but, unfortunately, farm servants have had to share in the general depression. The industry is undoubtedly the predominant industry in Scotland. That. is, I think, seldom realised, and anyone who casts his eye over the globe will appreciate the forces at work in the various countries where they are closing 1961 their ports to our goods, and, by an extreme form of economic nationalism, are preventing goods from going from our ports to those countries. Our agricultural industry in the future will, I believe, play a larger part in the economic life of Scotland.
I have during the last few days made a survey of the agricultural industry in Scotland. The figures, unfortunately, are not available for the year later than 1930–31, but the House will appreciate the fact that for the last year for which figures are available, the gross value of agricultural produce in Scotland was upwards of £48,500,000. The mere mention of that sum is a very clear proof of the large part that the agricultural industry plays in the life of Scotland. I would ask hon. Gentlemen to look around and consider the gross value of the agricultural produce of some of our Dominions. I will quote one figure to the House which may be of interest. The gross value of the produce from New Zealand in 1932–33 was £52,500,000. Undoubtedly the figure which I have quoted for Scotland for the year 1930–31 of £48,500,000 would be less in the year 1932–33 through the fall in prices which took place in that year, but I have stated enough to show that the value of the agricultural produce in Scotland nearly approaches the total gross value of the agricultural produce of New Zealand. We in this country and in other parts of the globe always appreciate the fact that Scotland is not only an agricultural country but an industrial country as well. Figures are, unfortunately, not available to show the total value of the industrial products of Scotland, but I think the figures I have quoted are ample proof that every step which this Government or any Government can take to safeguard that vital industry is of real importance to the future of Scotland.
During recent years there has been much more good-will between the town and the country than was the case before the War. There is a better understanding and relationship between the urban and the rural populations. I cannot define accurately all the causes of that increase of good-will, but it is undoubtedly a great asset. It is of real commercial advantage to the agricultural industry that that good-will exists. It may be that that good-will and better understanding are due to modern forms of 1962 transport, which enable the urban population to travel to the countryside in comfort, and at low fares. It may also be due to an increased desire on the part of the urban population to seek an outlet among our hills and vales. It may also be due to the vast development which has taken place during the last year or two in market gardening and in the glasshouse industry, which has become a very large part of the agricultural industry in Scotland. Market gardening, the growing of tomatoes and other products under glass, has undoubtedly been fostered by the tariff policy of His Majesty's Government. The free exchange of those products from the country to the towns has brought the town into better touch with the country and has been of real value to the countryside.
I know that the agricultural industry will do its utmost to maintain the goodwill which exists, because in connection with the marketing schemes which the Government have been pushing forward it is essential for their continuity and success to secure the good-will of the consumers in the towns. It is because the consumers in the towns are ready to-day far more than in the past to give a helping hand to their brothers in the country that those schemes will go forward to greater success in the future. During the past year there has been real reorganisation at work on the countryside. The results of the latest research in our research stations which are being placed at the disposal of our farmers, are much appreciated. We cannot speak too highly of the very valuable work which has been done and is being done in our research stations and our agricultural colleges and the efforts made to make that scientific knowledge available for the practical use of the farmer. In some quarters that knowledge has been taken advantage of more than in other districts. The farmers to-day are very anxious not only to increase the productivity of their farms and to increase and improve their crops but at the same time to produce articles which the public want at the lowest possible cost. Research will undoubtedly help them in that matter, and in the Estimates which are being presented to the House there are sums set apart for research. In the research institutions the work is being carried on by keen and alert investigators, aided as they have been by practical men, and they are 1963 pouring forth knowledge of which our farmers are taking advantage in many ways.
Let me pass from that point to two or three questions which hon. Members have put to me' during recent months. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) has put questions to me 'about bracken. Experiments have been conducted with the object of securing up-to-date machines so as to eradicate bracken from our soil. The latest experiment is to secure the destruction of bracken by spraying from the air. The experiment has not yet taken place. I had hoped that it would have taken place before these Estimates were considered, but I think that next week or the following week this peculiarly interesting experiment will take place, and I hope the result will be fruitful to all concerned.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Can the right hon. Gentleman say why the Department is only putting this idea, into practice this year, seeing that not only this year but last year it has been put into practice with great effect in Russia?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
Earlier in the financial year I secured a certain sum of money from the Treasury with a view to making scientific investigation into bracken, and as a result of that expenditure we have been able to enlist the services of certain individuals to direct their minds to that problem. I am not au fait with the position in Russia and what steps have been taken to deal with the problem there, but the hon. Member will see before many months are over a real determined effort made to deal with this problem here.
§ Sir IAN MACPHERSON
As one who has also put questions with regard to bracken, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman intends to say anything about drainage?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I had not intended to touch on that subject, hut the Under-Secretary will be replying on the general Debate, and I am sere that he will make a note and deal later with the point raised by my right hon. and learned Friend. Let me come to the subject of oats. Oats has Always been a thorny problem in Scotland during the last few years. The price has been falling and 1964 the demand has been decreasing. As the Committee know, a very strict duty was imposed, I think in February of this year, and it must be gratifying to hon. Members to learn that whereas the price was only about 4s. 11d. at that time, it has since risen to 6s. 2d. The most notable fact is that imports from foreign countries have practically disappeared, so that the duties have been effective in that direction. What the future of oats and oat prices will be I will not venture to say. My experience has shown that it is almost impossible to try to forecast the course of prices.
The destruction caused by deer has also engaged the attention of the department, and I am happy to say that at a meeting held in Edinburgh during the last few days between representatives of the department and the interests concerned, an agreement was very nearly reached on that subject. I will not say that it is complete, but I can assure my right hon. and hon. Friends that we are fully conscious of the damage done by deer, that the problem requires to be solved and that if the information which reached me yesterday is accurate and conveys accurately the spirit of those who sat round the table in Edinburgh, I am hopeful that some sensible and satisfactory solution of this problem will be accomplished.
Let me turn now to the milk marketing scheme which has been in operation for twelve months. Naturally, when such a large scheme is inaugurated, covering as it does every producer in the South of Scotland and meeting as it does the desires and wishes of every distributor in that area, there are bound to be points of criticism. Every industrial undertaking in its infancy must meet with criticism, and it is impossible to think out a scheme which will be satisfactory to all concerned from the start. In judging this scheme I ask the House and the public in Scotland to look with a kindly eye on the efforts of the Milk Marketing Board in their difficult attempt to reconcile the interests of the producer and the consumer. It is not the business of the Secretary of State, and I shall certainly not try, to be the judge or arbiter as between the interests of the hoard and the interests of any section of producers or consumers. The board is a popularly elected body, to its constituents it must stand or fall, it is 1965 to them only that in the long run it is responsible.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Is not the Secretary of State in the position of one who should be prepared to protect the interests of consumers, who have no representatives on the board?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I am coming to that point. If the board require advice or assistance I shall not shirk giving what advice and assistance I can nor shall I shrink from taking any action which it is necessary to take on the advice of the Committee of Investigation. The 1931 Act set up the proper machinery to deal with complaints by any section of producers or consumers. I know the case has been raised that these committees have taken too long to come to their decisions upon the points referred to them, but this is new ground for them to cover, there is nothing to guide them in the course of their deliberations as to what line of action should be taken in their report to the Secretary of State. I am satisfied that the board, no less than myself, have been anxious, and are very anxious, to secure that present obstacles will be overcome and the interests of producers and consumers reconciled. This, I know, is, and always will be, a difficult problem, but I am convinced that that is the spirit in which the Milk Board are directing their efforts and as I have said, if they need advice or assistance and I am asked for it I will give it.
As to the problem of costs, it must always be a difficult problem how to secure a reduction of costs. It has baffled already many business men. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and I were considering to-day what steps can be taken on this difficult subject. My remarks this afternoon will be brief not because the subject is unimportant, but because other hon. Members are anxious to take part in the Debate. In submitting these Estimates to the House I do so with confidence because I know, after two years of experience, that the schemes which have been entrusted to the Department of Agriculture are administered with care and efficiency and that the Department are anxious to further the interests of 1966 agriculture in Scotland. They have been fortified in recent months in their endeavours by the valuable assistance readily and generously given by men in all ranges of life in Scotland, who are ready to pool their ideas for the benefit of the industry. That is the spirit which animates the Department, and that is the spirit in which I know the House this afternoon will discuss this Vote.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
The Liberal party could have no better justification for its decision to ask for a third day to discuss Scottish Estimates than the masterly survey which the Secretary of State for Scotland has just given of the administration of his Department. These are critical and even desperate times for all interested in agriculture in Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman's speech is the latest of many proofs which he has given that Scottish agricultural administration is in capable and sympathetic hands. lt is all the more to be regretted that administration, however capable, intelligent and sympathetic, cannot solve the problems of agriculture if the underlying policy of the Government is unsound. The years 1929, 1930 and 1931 were considered bad years for agriculture, yet there are very few farmers in Scotland who were not better off then than they are now, getting better prices for their sheep and lambs, fat cattle and stirks than they are now after three years of Protection. That is because Protection has depressed world prices more than it has raised home prices, and the Ottawa Agreements, in which the Dominion farmer was promised an expanding share of the British market, have given an immense and catastrophic stimulus to Dominion production and competition with the home farmer.
But these wider issues of policy are not proper subjects for debate to-day and I should be out of order if I attempted to outline an alternative policy. Moreover, the crisis in agriculture is so severe and the plight of the farmer and smallholder so critical that those whose disbelief in the soundness and efficacy of the Government's policy is strongest must be anxious not to indulge in any carping criticism on small points but to search within the framework of the Government's policy, mistaken as we believe it to be, for means of co-operating with 1967 them as far as we can in any measures which are intended to be helpful, or, at any rate, which seem to us likely to fulfil their object. If we cannot therefore accept responsibility for them we should not obstruct them but see that the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of Agriculture get a fair chance to try out their policy. My own attitude cannot be better described than in the words of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in a speech about a fortnight ago when he described the Minister of Agriculture as Scottish Members might describe the right hon. Gentleman, as a clever man who was honestly doing his best for the farmers. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs went on to say:Whenever he sends a paper round about pigs or milk or potatoes I, as a farmer, really hardly ever read it. I just ask where is the dotted line, and put my name to it, because it is fair he should have his chance. He is trying to do his best to do something, but I have no idea what it is.And so in this Debate we must accept all the limitations and even the menacing implications of the Government's economic policy, and apply our minds to the important problems with which the right hon. Gentleman dealt in his speech, and with others which are referred to in the report of the Department of Agriculture which is in our hands.
Let me, however, in the first place, condole with the Government, and with, the Secretary of State in particular, on the loss to the public service of an administrator of brilliant and varied gifts, a loyal and accomplished friend to Scottish agriculture, and a sound and brilliant adviser to successive Secretaries of State for Scotland. I refer, of course, to Sir Robert Greig, who, we are glad to know, retires with his health unimpaired and his strength unabated, and our best wishes go with him. Our good wishes also attend his experienced and capable successor, Mr. Laird. The Department has also suffered severe losses last year through the deaths of Mr. Miller, the agricultural inspector, and Dr. King, who was so greatly respected, and whose mastery of farm economics was one of its most precious assets.
I listened with great interest to the right hon. Gentleman to-day, and I was hoping that we should hear a little more from him on one aspect of agricultural 1968 reconstruction, and, indeed, of social reconstruction which seems to me of vital importance in Scotland at the present time, and that is land settlement. I know that the Under-Secretary of State, as well as the Secretary of State, who both frequently address the House on this subject, are keenly interested in the policy, but I wish that I could see signs that the Government were taking a longer and wider view of the many-sided significance of land settlement. In the first place, land settlement may be regarded, I think, as perhaps the most important and the most urgent aspect of agricultural reconstruction. Small holdings have now been tested in the furnace of the worst agricultural depression through which this country has ever passed, and they have come through triumphantly. The branches of production for which small holdings are best adapted are the very ones in which, when normal conditions return, agriculture is likely to be founded on an economic footing. I refer to animal husbandry, the dairying industry, poultry and eggs and all the small lines of farming in which the element of freshness is a prime element in value. Therefore, from the strictest standpoint of the economic future of agriculture, land settlement must be an essential part of any policy of agricultural reconstruction.
Then, again, there can be no doubt that the people of this country, as of all other countries, will insist on taking their dividends out of the pool of wealth which increasing production is making available for mankind, to some extent at any rate, in the form of shorter hours, and the enduring social importance of the allotment movement is, therefore, apparent with its effort to obtain good-sized gardens or small plots for miners and industrial workers, especially those with experience of country life. I welcome the advance which the Government have made on those lines. In this question a number of Members have taken a great interest. The hon. Member for Dumfermiiue (Mr. Wallace) raised some questions affecting it in the short discussion we had on these Estimates last week. The co-operation of the Government with the National Allotments' Association is work which derives immediate importance from the contributions which it makes to the mitigation of the evil of unemployment. But its significance is far more enduring than that, and the Government 1969 should press on vigorously with the development of this policy.
The particular policy of which I am now speaking—the part-time holding—not the full-time holding for the industrial worker—is receiving now an impetus partly from the co-operation of the Government with the National Allotments' Association in this very important work which they are doing, and partly from the admirable scheme initiated by the present Secretary of State and Under-Secretary of State for providing allotments or plots of ground for the miners. I hope that the Government will extend that policy, and I want to remind the Under-Secretary of what he said last week on this subject. It was a very hurried Debate at the end of the day when we had a very scanty and skimped discussion on the agricultural Estimates —about 15 minutes altogether. I am not, therefore, in the least pinning the Under-Secretary to the words he used, but I would ask him to elaborate what he said when he comes to reply to-day. Speaking of these plots, be said:So successful are they that the disadvantage in one's mind is that of thinking 1:hat they open too wide a door for the future."—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July, 1934; col. 1505, Vol. 292.]I beg him not to be too timid about it, but to press on with it. If the experiment is succeeding, I beg him to push forward with it, I believe it will be found to be of immense significance not only for the re-construction of agriculture, although I believe a great deal of agriculture in the future will be done on these lines—much more than in the past—but also because of its social significance. "Cultivate your gardens," said Voltaire, and I believe it is true, fundamental wisdom to give our industrial workers the opportunity of getting contact with the soil and that useful alternative employmen(t. The Under-Secretary of State went on to refer to the difficulty of obtaining land. He appealed to farmers and to landlords to give the land for that purpose. I warmly support that appeal, and I am sure that it will be supported in every quarter of the House. But I think the Government must be prepared for the possibility that that appeal may not be responded to; they should be prepared for it, and should be considering steps which it may be neces- 1970 sary to put into operation to acquire the land compulsorily for this purpose.
There is a, slightly different function of this type of holding, or, perhaps, a slightly larger type to which I would refer. It is one which has been raised before in our Debates by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart). It is the idea of creating a holding perhaps a, little larger than we have been discussing up to now which would be a part-time holding, and in which, in the stress, perhaps, of some economic crisis in the future, an industrial worker could find a temporary refuge and useful productive employment. Under any conceivable Government and any conceivable system there are bound to be times of crisis and dislocation. Socialism is no safeguard against that. We see the terrible dislocation and privation in Russia, the only Socialist State, and, indeed, it is obvious that there must inevitably be, owing perhaps to the actions of nature—devastating floods or droughts—or, perhaps, changes of taste and fashion on the part of the consumer, in any economic system periods of crisis and dislocation, of boom and slump. It is also clear that individual industries will rise or decline according to their efficiency, on the one hand, or their backwardness, on the other, and, again, according to the fluctuations in taste and fashion. Therefore, I would say that if the worker has a smallholding of manageable size he is able to be—to use the German phrase which I have used in this House before—crisis resisting. He has something to fall back upon, and if he has a period of unemployment, be it short or be it long, he has some contact with the soil, some real chance of maintaining his home and family, to some extent if not entirely, by the produce of his own labour.
I come now to the still larger holdings in the vicinity of towns which are meant to be whole-time holdings which the Government are setting up under the new Act which was passed this Session. We were critical of, and, indeed, I must make it clear that we are still condemning, the conditions on which the men are to be settled, but that kind of settlement is right, and agriculture will be increasingly organised like that in future, The Under-Secretary of State is, of course, an old advocate of small holdings, and the Secretary of State prac- 1971 tically confessed himself a new convert, but I can see that he has already acquired some of the characteristic enthusiasm of the new convert, and I hope that he will press forward with these aspects of land settlement.
But important as these developments are in the industrial districts, and right as the Government policy is, it is just as vital to pursue an active policy of land settlement in the Highlands and other rural counties. Even in these days of stark depression, there exists there a real land hunger and a real demand from the people who live in those areas for a chance of working a piece of land. There are thousands of unsatisfied applicants, some of them ex-service men still waiting for the land which they understood to have been promised them as the reward for their services in the War. There are 8,700 applications still outstanding. Last year alone there were more than five times as many new applicants for land as there were holdings constituted. I am not blaming the Secretary of State for not settling all those thousands of men in a year or two, but I do beg him to realise the urgency of the problem not only in the industrial districts, but also in the Highlands and other rural districts of Scotland. Depopulation is our curse. Men are leaving the countryside when they could be kept there, if they were givn a bit of land to work.
When we were last discussing this question, the Under-Secretary said that when I had the honour of holding the office which the right hon. Gentleman now holds, I had purchased no estates in the Highlands of Scotland. The Under-Secretary did not add, as I should have expected him to do with his characteristic fairness, that half the time I was in office there was a Treasury Standstill Order in operation which we had inherited from the Labour Government—a complete ban on further settlement. For half of my time it was impossible to make any move at all; but the moment it was lifted I gave instructions, which are now to be seen at the Scottish Office, that every opportunity was to be taken to acquire land for new holdings and enlargements in the Highlands of Scotland. This ought not to be an occasion, and I do not wish to convert it into an occasion, for sparring between the Secretary of State and one of his predecessors, but this was said 1972 on that day, and as I have not had an opportunity of replying and as I had to look up that particular instruction, which I have now found, I just put it on record to-day in passing.
But I do say that the Secretary of State has now a better chance than any previous Secretary of State since the War of proceeding with this work of land settlement, because never have prices been so low or money so cheap as now. Holders can now be put in on the ground floor. In 1921 and 1922, under the pressure of public opinion, men were put in at boom prices, and yet they have managed, with the exception of a small percentage of holders, to win through. Now is the time to get men in on the ground floor. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to seize this chance, and particularly would I refer to the importance of enlargements. Hon. Members who have read the report of the Department of Agriculture for last year will see that whereas in the Western Isles there are 1,000 applications for new holdings and 800 for enlargements, in the non-crofting counties there are 3,000 applicants for new holdings and only 97 for enlargements, and in the crofting counties, apart from the Western Isles, there are 1,682 applications for new holdings but 2,170 for enlargements. That shows the immense importance of providing for enlargements of holdings in the Highlands. I would, therefore, urge the Secretary of State to adopt the active policy of taking over well-situated hill farms on the expiry of their leases, to provide for the need both of enlargements and of good new holdings, in the glens and straths of these hill farms which would not involve the breaking up of good-sized arable farms.
I have said that the rates at which money can now be borrowed and the present level of prices offer a great opportunity for land settlement. I have referred also to the infinitely more difficult problem which faced the Government 10 or 12 years ago, of settling men at a level of prices and high interest rates for borrowed money just after the War. It is remarkable how few of these men have failed. But undoubtedly they are going through very great difficulties, and none are going through greater difficulties than the sheep stock clubs, which borrowed large sums of money from the Government in those days in order to take over valuable sheep stock, at the 1973 very peak, in many cases, of the boom. Many of these men in these clubs took over these sheep stocks at inflated valuations, with the connivance, and even at the instigation, of the Board of Agriculture, spurred on by the Government of the day, itself driven by public opinion, which said, "You must settle these men after the War as quickly as you can." But the position of the men was not like that of a man who is investing his capital in this industry or that. It was a position which they took under advice, amounting almost to pressure. "Take this farm now which is offered you, or you will not get another chance," was the position with which these men were faced.
The situation in which they are now is an impossible one. I dealt with it at some length when I was discussing last year's Estimates of the Department some months ago, and I do not want to repeat what I said then about the imperative necessity for reviewing the obligations into which these clubs have entered. I have also made more detailed representations to the Secretary of State, and it is my duty now to thank him for the response which he made and to testify to his practical sympathy with these men in granting them a moratorium. But the moratorium is due to expire at Martinmas of this year. The collection of the annual instalments of capital and interest is due to be resumed next year, and in the meantime there is no improvement, and no immediate prospect of improvement in the financial position of these clubs.
Ten years ago—more in some cases and less in other cases—the State encouraged these men to believe that, if they worked hard, in ten years the loans would be repaid and the sheep would belong to them absolutely. After 10 years of hard work and judicious management—the Department testifies to that—after the men have looked after their stocks well, they are worse off than when they started. In one case in Sutherland the sheep stock has fallen in value to less than the amount already paid to the Department of Agriculture. They paid £3,000 in cash and borrowed £23,000, and they have repaid £13,000, but the sheep are not worth £13,000 now. Yet if this moratorium is allowed to expire they will be called upon to pay another £13,000 before they will be quit of their obligations. The men will not do it. They 1974 are losing heart. The danger is that they will give it up and throw the stocks back upon the Government's hands, and that would mean a serious loss of public money.
I therefore urge, on the ground of common financial prudence as well as of justice to these hard-working holders, that the sheep stocks should be revalued and the loans written down to a reasonable figure. In that way members of the clubs will be encouraged to persevere, and the losses incurred in pursuance of the national policy of post-War land settlement at a monstrously high level of prices will be fairly distributed between the Government, which was responsible for the policy, and the holders, to whom the benefits will ultimately accrue. Of course, the fall in sheep prices is affecting farmers and holders all over the Highlands, and I know how much sympathy the Secretary of State feels with them in their plight. There is another way in which he has shown it. I represented to him that he might reduce the fees paid by the smallholders for the rams to improve their stock, and I would thank him for the response which he made to that appeal and for the reduction which he made in the fees. But I do hope that he will very seriously consider at an early date the question of these sheep stock clubs and give the men the encouragement of knowing that when the moratorium comes to an end they will be fairly treated and that their stocks will be revalued.
There is another matter of very great importance, particularly in the Highlands at this time of year, or rather it will become of importance before the House meets again in October. That is the depredations of deer. Up to now successive Secretaries of State have attempted to deal with the situation by administrative methods and those methods have not been successful. I know that legislation has been attempted. I had some hand in the Measures for framing a Bill, and I understand that the Secretary of State has himself been giving attention to it. But we are debarred to-day by the Rules of Order from discussing the lines on which legislation can proceed or from referring to any matter that necessitates legislation. It is obvious, however, that no Act can be passed now which will affect the situa- 1975 tion next October. I therefore ask the Secretary of State what are his views and plans for dealing with this menace to Highland farmers.
I was very much interested in what the Secretary of State said about research and education. Frankly I regret that under these heads there are reductions of expenditure. The reduction under the head of research is small, but far from a reduction being necessary, what was really required was more expenditure. The importance of research and education is apt to be obscured in times of depression. People say, "All that matters is higher prices." But farmers are beginning to learn that price is only part of the problem of making farming pay. The fact is that consumers will not pay, and in times of depression, with 2,000,000 unemployed, or 4,000,000 with their dependants, they cannot pay high prices. The real problem is the relationship between costs and prices, and if by stamping out disease or by increasing yields, whether of cattle or of pastures, costs can be reduced, other things being equal consumption will be maintained and profits will be increased.
I was glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that he was going to deal with the evil of bracken, which is spreading. It is a very serious pest in many parts of Scotland at the present time. It adds greatly to the burden of shepherding and especially in parts where the sheep are apt to be struck by fly and liable to suffer death by being slowly eaten by fly. It is a terrible thing to contemplate. It is, therefore, a, service which I hope the Secretary of State will find means of rendering to agriculture, by giving some help in getting rid of the bracken pest. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) referred to the example of Russia.. I am sure we are all glad to know that the destructive capacity of the Russian Bolsheviks has found a useful outlet in Russian bracken. I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to emulate the Bolsheviks' achievements in that respect, if in no other.
Much as I would like to discuss some of the problems being considered by colleges and agricultural institutes I know there are many others who wish to speak, and I will refer to only one 1976 of their problems, that which deals with the dairying industry. It seems to me extraordinary that at a. time when the importance of promoting the dairying industry is so fully recognised and Measures are being passed with that object by Parliament, more weight should not he put behind research into the problems of the dairying industry. It was stated last year, on the high authority of a well-known official of one of these institutes that only £25,000 was being spent in the whole country on cattle disease research, and of that only £5,000 was being spent upon research into diseases of dairy cattle. I welcome the Government's Bill to deal with the eradication of tuberculosis, but there are other diseases, like contagious abortion and mastitis, which inflict greater losses than tuberculosis on the dairy herds of Scotland. I know that there is a research committee considering contagious abortion now. I hope the Government will press on with that work and give that committee all the resources that it requires. I also see with regard to mastitis that the committee of the Economic Advisory Council which is concerned with cattle diseases, has recommended in paragraph 214 of their report, that certain facilities should be given for the control of that disease through the Government's veterinary and scientific services. I should like to know whether the Government propose to carry out that recommendation because this is a matter of real importance in relation to dairy farming.
I hope also that the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us something about his plans for administering the milk Measure, and particularly for the supply of milk to school children and children of pie-school age. This matter has of course a social aspect of vital importance but it is also going to be the best possible advertisement for the dairying industry in Scotland. An hon. Member on the benches below the Gangway challenged the Minister of Agriculture to say who was going to drink all the milk when it was produced, and who was going to make people drink it, and the Minister's reply was, "I will." I hope it will be possible to get this milk across to the children, and to make them accustomed to drinking it. If we can get the rising generation accustomed to drinking milk I believe we shall be able to raise the standard of milk consumption in this 1977 country to something like what it is in the United States, and eventually to something like what it is in Sweden.
There is one other subject to which I wish to refer and that is the question of harbours. Excellent work is being done on our piers and harbours by the Department of Agriculture but more is needed. Harbours around our coasts are falling into disrepair and they are vitally important not only for the fishermen but in many places to the farmers and smallholders for whom they provide the only means of communication with markets in the south. The world famous tourist centre of John o' Groat's needs a modest extension of its harbour. Another pier on the west coast of Scotland—Loch Clash near Kinlochbervie in Sutherland which provides the means of communication to people all over a wide district with their markets in the south—grew more and more rotten until finally the late properietor—he sold the estate last Whitsuntide—destroyed the pier and the people who live there have now no pier at all which is a disaster for them. Particularly valuable work has been done by the Department in connection with the important harbour, Helmsdale, and I observe that they say in their annual report that it is completed; but unless my information is at fault, repairs are badly wanted to the middle pier, and further dredging is required there, and I would ask the Secretary of State to consider that point.
The prospects of agriculture are gloomy to-day, but there are fitful gleams of light and hope. There is much that the Government are doing which, in our opinion, ought to be left undone, and much that they are not doing which in our opinion ought to be done. But I assure the Secretary of State for Scotland that in his conscientious discharge of his onerous responsibilities to Scottish agriculture he has the good will and will also have, so far as we can honestly give it, the cooperation of even the sternest of his critics.
§ 4.40 p.m.
I listened with great interest to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland in what he said regarding the milk scheme. He said that the milk scheme in Scotland had been initiated for the benefit of the producers, but I can assure him that in 1978 my constituency the scheme has brought not benefits but penalties to the milk producers. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) said that the smallholders in some places had passed through a fiery furnace. At the present time many of the milk producers in the county of Angus are being passed through a fiery furnace in the matter of this milk marketing scheme. As an example I may mention that at Kingennie in Angus we have 34 smallholdings of which 19 are dairy holdings. Under the scheme these men are being asked to pay two rents. They have the ordinary rent payable to the Department, and then they have the levy which is put upon them by the milk scheme and which amounts to another rent. I have particulars here of a case of two brothers, both ex-service men. Their holdings together represent 96 acres and their rent including building annuities comes to £200 a year. They have been in the habit of selling their milk in Dundee, and now, under this scheme, they are subject to a levy of 5d. a gallon which just amounts to a second rent. The same thing applies to another case of smallholdings at Kintrose, near Cupar Angus. There the smallholders engaged in this industry are subject to a second rent or are at least liable for the payment of a second rent as a result of this scheme.
When these charges become due I hope that my right hon. Friend will treat these people in the same way as the sheep clubs have been treated and will give them a moratorium because these smallholdings are not gold mines, and it is impossible for those who work them to pay the rents and at the same time pay this levy. It is not merely the smallholders who are being penalised. The large milk producers are having a similar experience. It is difficult to procure exact costings in the case of milk production in Scotland, but there happens to be in my constituency a farmer who has for years kept very accurate accounts of his milk production. These accounts have been audited by a chartered accountant in Dundee who has a local reputation for accountancy especially in reference to agricultural subjects. This farmer produces 32,000 gallons of milk per year. During the winter months it costs over 1s. a gallon to produce this milk—that is the time when the cows are in stall. In the summer time it costs about 9d. 1979 and the average over the whole year is 10.3d. per gallon. This farmer as a milk producer received from the board 84d. per gallon for his milk. It does not require a financier to see that that sort of thing cannot go on or else the farmer will be put out of business, and his work-people thrown out of employment and ultimately the people of Dundee will not be able to get fresh milk every morning. It seems absurd that people who supply fresh new milk every morning should only get the same price in Dundee as the man who sends up from Dumfries or some other place milk which arrives when it is 24 hours old.
To show more clearly how this scheme works, I will give some figures relating to the case of a farmer in Angus who has two dairy farms. On the one farm he has a herd of 46 cows and during May of this year he produced 3,430 gallons of milk. He sells that milk as a retailer producer. On his second farm he has 36 cows, and the milk from this farm he sells to a distributor in Dundee. On the second farm during May 2,340 gallons of milk were produced, and these were sold at the price determined by the board, namely, ls. 2d. a gallon. That shows £136 10s. for the 2,340 gallons. From that must be deducted a charge for haulage, leaving.129 Ss. 9d. The Milk Board take a levy of 5d. per gallon on the milk produced on both farms, making in all £113 1s. 5d. After paying the levy on the produce of both farms and the expenses it means that this man only gets from his second farm 2s. 6d. We have here a concrete instance of a man with 82 cows and he has to utilise the milk produced by 36 of those cows in order to meet the expenses of the board. I think that shows an intolerable position and one that cannot be allowed to continue.
We shall probably be told that the levy will be reduced. Of course, it will be reduced because seasonal producers in the South of Scotland will be producing less milk, but that will not help the producers in Angus because the reduction in the levy will synchronise, with an increase in the cost of the production of the milk and the producer will be left exactly where he was. The Secretary of State indicated that he was not anxious to interfere in this matter. He seemed 1980 inclined to hide behind the Marketing Board and to place the responsibility upon them, but I think that he is morally responsible. His Department is morally responsible and the Government are morally responsible. I was interested to find the Minister referring to marketing schemes which the Government had been pushing forward. If the Government have been pushing forward schemes which have inflicted the penalties I have described on producers in Angus and round the East Coast of Scotland then they have a moral responsibility for putting the matter right.
The Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society is one of the offshoots, one of the subsidiaries I might say, of the Department, and on page 45 of their annual report will be found reference to the fact that this society had given assistance and support for the promotion of the Scottish milk marketing scheme and has undertaken a considerable amount of explanatory propaganda work with respect to that scheme. If the Department and the Secretary of State claim credit for having pushed forward these schemes, they cannot escape the responsibility for seeing that justice is done under these schemes to all producers. I hope we may have the assurance from the Secretary of State that apart from what the result may be of the inquiry in Edinburgh, he will see that justice is done to these people in Angus, and to the producers throughout Scotland. I do not know how he proposes to do it. I do not know whether he would favour a premium to the producer, but that is the system which I should recommend. He may favour a system of regional prices, but still I cannot imagine that he would do so, because I gather from the Estimates that he himself is penalised under a system of regional prices. It would appear that the Secretary of State for Scotland under a system of regional prices gets less than a Secretary of State in any other part of the country. I think that is an injustice both to my right hon. Friend and to Scotland. I do not expect that he will go on strike for an increase, but I can assure him that if he takes up this matter which I have brought before him, and secures justice for the producers in the East of Scotland, there is nothing he 1981 can do which will more readily induce them to support him in getting proper recognition for himself and for his Department.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I am loth to enter into this Debate on agriculture so far as it affects Scotland, but I do so because what we call country servants in Scotland—they call them agricultural workers in England—have not sent a single individual to represent them in this House. That is one of the reasons why their conditions are in such a deplorable state at the moment, and we have to do the best that we can for them. It is perfectly true, as the Secretary of State for Scotland said in his introductory speech, that there is a better understanding to-day between the industrial centres and the rural districts of the country, and that is all to the good; but he said that the predominant interest of Scotland was agriculture, that our agricultural produce was valued at £48,500,000, whereas New Zealand produced only £32,000,000 worth. Scotland is not only a great agricultural country, but, small as it is, it is one of the greatest industrial countries in the world; yet with all that reputation behind us, there are no more lowly-paid and badly treated workers in Britain than the Scottish country servants. Their conditions are deplorable as compared with things in general. It is true that they have advanced in my time, just as everything else has improved, but the agricultural workers in Scotland have not improved in the same proportion as the workers in the industrial centres,.largely because they are unorganised.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State mentioned the burning of bracken. Bracken has been a plague in Scotland for many years, simply because the Highland lairds in particular drove the Highlanders out of the Highlands. The Highland glens and straths used to boast of supporting a hardy, intelligent race by the tens of thousands, but they have been driven out of their native land. You may go to parts of the glens yet and see their homes roofless. They were driven out by the Highland landlords to make room for sheep.
Duchess of ATHOLL
May I ask the hon. Member if he would be satisfied to see those tens of thousands of people living in the Highlands of Scotland 1982 to-day, with the very low standard of living that they used to have, when they were so hard put to it for food that they used to have to bleed the cattle in the winter to give themselves nourishment, and the cattle had to stagger out at the end of the winter to try to recover their strength on the grass?
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I thank the Noble Lady for that interjection, because it permits me to say how these Scotsmen view the duchesses, particularly the Duchess of Sutherland, who was responsible for the Highland clearance. No, we to-day have no desire to see our folk driven back to those conditions. That would be out of proportion. It would be an utter impossibility to drive them back. We do not go back; we go forward. But with all our modern inventions, I must say this, that, although those Highland glens may not have maintained them on a very high standard of life, they maintained a race that defeated the power of Rome. Rome's Imperial legions went back before the same men and women that I am speaking about, people who had no power, no transport, nothing to maintain them but what they got off Scottish soil, and they were able to maintain their independence against all corners, second to nothing in the world. They may not have had a very high standard of life compared with the standard of life to-day, but that is what they did, and a race that stood that, and that has produced some of the brightest men and women of to-day—who have come even from the black houses away in the Outer Hebrides, who are holding some of the highest positions, not only in this little tight island of ours, but throughout the great British Empire—has come from the very lowest and poorest homes in the glens and dales of Scotland.
Duchess of ATHOLL
Does the hon. Member not admit that these people have improved their position very greatly by going out into the far parts of the Empire, away from the Highlands?
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I agree that it is improved, but at a terrible price, because tens of thousands of them died as a result of being driven away to Canada, at a time when it took 90 days for a sailing ship to get to Canada. They were driven out by what they called beagles, or dogs; 'their houses were burned out, 1983 they were driven on to the seashore, and they were driven into the sea. That is what the Highland lairds did, and I hope the Noble Lady is not going to defend, although she is the wife of the Duke of Atholl, what the dukes and duchesses —the Duchess of Sutherland—did in those days.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Skelton)
May I ask the exact bearing of these remarks upon the Scottish Agricultural Department's Estimates?
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
For brass face that is the limit, to rise up and ask me that, when it was the Noble Lady who interrupted. That is the explanation of it, and, if the hon. Member has the courage to challenge me, let him have the courage to challenge the Noble Lady. With that little interlude, I will get on with the main question, but I am not going to let duke or duchess or anyone else get away with it in that fashion; not even the Secretary of State for Scotland. I would like to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, when he is replying, to tell the Committee, and through the Committee to tell Scotland, how many people are working on the land in Scotland to-day and how many were deriving their livelihood from the land in Scotland in 1920. It may be that he cannot do that at the moment, but I would like to get those figures.
There is another matter. The Secretary of State for Scotland and some of his supporters thought I should not have mentioned Russia in this connection, but I want to draw attention to this fact, in view of all the satire that hon. Members opposite pour on Russia. I am not one to defend Russia as against Scotland. I will defend Scotland against the world if necessary, and that is why I am so anxious that those who are working in the interests of Scotland should give Scotland of their best. The Russians have gone out of their way to get the very best information that they can on all the snags that they come up against, and to put that information into practice. The Noble Lady is an expert in this House in having a go at Russia, but the, Russians would not allow any animal into their Empire—it is an Empire—that was afflicted with bovine tuberculosis. I wish that were the case in Scotland. 1984 Further, Russia would not tolerate a laird in that country breaking up a pier. It is not I, a Socialist from the Clyde, who says that, but a. Highland laird and a Baronet at that, the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), who tells the Committee that the lairds destroyed the piers. The Noble Lady would have great trouble in finding the Russians doing in their own land so dirty a business as that. I have seen it all over the Highlands and in the Hebrides. I have seen the piers allowed to go to waste, and I have appealed to every Secretary of State for Scotland on behalf of those piers ever since I came into this House 12 years ago.
I have taken some interest in this idea of people going back to the land, and in my constituency I have thousands on the land. I make bold to state that I have the, finest allotments in Britain in my constituency in Clydebank, and it is because I had that experience, with all the drawbacks that are attendant on those smallholdings, because on those smallholdings the men were up against the drought, not simply this year, but last year, that I appealed on their behalf to the Scottish Office for water. The Scottish Office sent down their experts to view those allotments, and they came back with a glowing report that there was nothing finer in the country than the allotments in Clydebank, but we could get no grant for water. I had to go to another source and get water put in at the expense of a big employer of labour. I have told the House that already, and I do not want to make too much of it, as it is already in the OFFICIAL REPORT. Even with all these drawbacks the wonderful production of these holdings is a standing monument to the ability that lies latent in these industrial workers. In my constituency they are mostly just one generation removed from the soil. That is why I am so keen to get them more in touch with the land. The death rate in Clydebank is almost the lowest in Britain and compares favourably with the watering places—and that in spite of the depression from unemployment.
Land settlement should he properly organised and should not depend simply on men giving their spare time to it. I carefully watch the development of the idea here that men should spend their spare time on the land. There are a number of Members who are in favour of 1985 men working all day in the workshops and spending their leisure time working on the land, together with their wives and weans. I will fight that system as long as I can, for I have seen it in operation. I have roved the Continent of Europe and seen the system in operation there, and I should not like to see our people reduced to the low smallholders' standard of life of France or to the system which exists outside Brussels. The men work all day in the workshops and live on little bits of land outside Brussels, to which they are taken by cheap transport. I grant that it is well organised, but it is so well organised that workmen who have worked all day have plenty of good hard work to fill in their spare time on the land. They might as well be dead.
Man's chief end is not to work. Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever. To work in the way that we Members of Parliament work is all right, but, if you have to work at the dictates of another, even for eight hours a day, you have done your day's work without having to work in your spare time. Work is all right if you can work when ou like and do the kind of work you like, but that is not the kind of work the worker has to do. He has to work at the dictates of another, and the sad thing is that he often has to work at the dictates of an individual who is mentally and physically his inferior. There is not very much pleasure in working all day under those conditions. It is said that it is nice for him to get into the fresh air and into the country after his day's work. That would not be so bad if it were always a beautiful day and a fine night, but that is not the state of affairs. He is under the canopy of heaven,When chill November's surly blastMade fields and forests bare.When it is chilling him to the bone he has to get to work and win the produce from the soil. It is a wrong idea that he goes on to the land free from the gaffer and starts work when he likes and stops when he likes. There never was a bigger mistake. Men are working under the most exacting of taskmasters when they are working with livestock. Unless those who are attending livestock are always on the job, not eight hours a day, but 24, nothing will more readily go wrong, because, of all things, livestock will not stand carelessness. Although I have put that picture forward, I still 1986 believe that it is possible for us easily to have four times the number of workers on the land than we have now. My experience of smallholdings and plots in our country is that they are derelict land. There is ever so much good land in Scotland which is lying fallow and could be utilised. There is no better agricultural land in Britain, and that is saying something. Not only would it produce agricultural produce, but it would rear the finest men and women whom the sun has ever shone on.
It is possible in our day and generation to open up our country in a manner in which it has never been opened up before. One of the terrible drawbacks for people who love their native land and who would like to live out in the country is the loneliness of being far removed from human habitation. That has largely been got over by the wireless, a thing about which our forefathers who defied Imperial Rome knew nothing. When I and others like me go up into the Highlands, what are we met with? We are met with individuals who should be the backbone of our rural areas but who want to go to the towns. Their mothers appeal to us to get their sons into so-an-so's office, or into a lawyer's office in Edinburgh or Glasgow, or into some big engineering office as a clerk, or anything to get them away from the land so that the young fellows can come home at the holidays and the week-ends dressed up in plus fours and posing as something superior. We have to face that feeling and get rid of it. Men should stick to the land, stick to their native place. Let them raise Cain as the Irish have done in defence of their native land, let them fight for concessions, let them take an intelligent interest in the political life of their country and see that they have representatives who will make demands on the Floor of the House of Commons in defence of Scotland. Let them do that instead of running away and trying to pick a good job for themselves and sacrificing everybody connected with them.
We used to advocate light railways to open up the Highlands, but we do not need to do that now, for man's ingenuity has come to our assistance and given us motor lorries. Motor transport can be organised in the most out-of-the-way places that were never touched before by humanity, but which are now acces- 1987 sible and in direct touch with the great industrial centres. The Scottish Office have a better opportunity than other Governments have had. It is no use them telling me that when Labour was in control they did no better than the present Government. The situation, like everything else, has entirely changed. The Labour Government was held up, no matter what they wanted to do. They were a minority Government. But this Government is all-powerful. I do not know of any Government in the history of this country which had such an overwhelming majority as this Government. That being the case, it is out of all reason for them always to be throwing back on us that the Labour Government did not do this when they were in office. They had not the power of the present Government.
I would like them to do what they are doing all over the country. They are making great preparations for a revival of trade. They are saying that they see round the corner now and that we are going to have a boom. I hope it is true. Private individuals hacked by this Government are staking their all in trying to give the country a lift, and I am backing them. I do not believe our country is down and out at all. I see the process at work in the building of the Cunarder. I see it at work in the building of great docks, not simply the graving dock that is to receive the Cunarder in Southampton; they have built up an entirely new line of docks, independent of the graving docks that they have, in order to cope with the new trade that they expect to have. These men are spending millions. It may be called private enterprise; but I am not quarrelling with that at the moment. The fact is they are taking the risk. They are viewing the situation as I view it, only they want to take advantage of it and make a profit.
As a Socialist I want the Government to go along the same lines and take advantage of man's ingenuity, of which we are joint heirs, and tap cur agricultural areas in Scotland in order to meet the demands of the industrial areas for food. In my opinion Scotland can produce the food for the Scottish people. There is no finer food in the world than Scottish food. Scotland can produce the finest beef in the world, and that means the pro- 1988 duction also of milk, butter and cheese. I have listened to a lot of learned individuals in this House criticisng the Minister of Agrculture about milk, and speaking of the large consumption of milk in Sweden, Norway and other countries by comparison with the consumption in Scotland, but they have forgotten that the Scottish people are greater devourers of butter and cheese than the people of those other countries. The miner of Scotland has proved that cheese is one of the best articles of food. Cheese is what he carries to the pit with him every day, shut up in between Ids slices of bread; and there is no heatier type of man on earth than the Scottish collier.
It is the development of our agricultural resources in Scotland that I suggest to the Scottish Office, but not on the cheeseparing lines of giving 400 individuals smallholdings, when we have thousands of applications for them. The Government have not touched the fringe of this problem. The possibility of Scotland supplying the Scottish people with food has never been tested. Never was the opportunity easier, with all our modern appliances; and never was the Scottish Office as well equipped as it is now. Their Research Department in agriculture was never so well equipped. The Secretary of State for Scotland and the Under-Secretary cannot say they have not officials who are capable of the job. They are willing to undertake it, and have the ideas, because they have placed them before the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary. All the facilities are there if only the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary would go to the Cabinet in the spirit of those men who have spent their millions on the Cunarder and are spending their millions to build wharves and graving docks at Southampton. They are taking a risk, because there is not the trade there at the moment. It has been suggested that the Secretary of State for Scotland is underpaid. Here is a glorious opportunity for the Secretary of State, hacked up by his able Under-Secretary, to justify his existence by doing something big, something that ought to be done, something that must be done, unless Scotland is to become a derelict country. It is in the hands of the Secretary of State for Scotland to save Scotland from that fate. What does it matter—all this idea about making money, getting rich, getting a 1989 good job, getting control of your fellows? That is what is being instilled into the minds of the youth of Scotland. Get on; walk over somebody else; get into place and power—even though it means leaving Scotland and coming to England. Get on! I know it will be said, and I do not deny it, that they are the victims of circumstances, but I want to change those circumstances. I want to make my native land a country the youth will not desire to leave, and will not need to leave. They must give their country of their best. They are not doing right unless they do give their native land of their best. It has the first call on them, the land that gave them birth. But after I have said all this, and have impeached all and sundry, the fact still remains that it is with the Scottish Office that the power lies to make our country a country that Scotsmen will desire to live in and not to flee from—to "flee from the wrath to come." The wrath is there—poverty.
I hope the Under-Secretary, when he is replying, will give some consideration to what I have said, because not simply in our great industrial areas but all over Scotland, I have never seen the Scottish people better than they are to-day, even in the mining areas and in the agricultural areas. It is because I see them so well that I feel satisfied that we have been repaid for all the money expended on social services—well repaid. They are a race who have withstood terrible depression, particularly during the last 10 years, and if Scotland were organised from the Scottish Office, not with a view to making a profit out of the energy and capacity of the people, as the farmers, the shipbuilders and the engineers employ them with a view to making a profit, we should make Scotland a better country and Scottish men and Scottish women better men and women. I know that people will smile at me and become quite sarcastic about these proposals; but there is a change in the outlook of men and women, not only in Scotland but throughout the civilised world, on the lines which I have put forward today; and it is in order that my native land may progress along those lines that I put forward this suggestion, hoping that it may penetrate into the minds of both the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Under-Secretary.
§ 5.28 p.m.
Duchess of ATHOLL
Before I speak of the two sections of the agricultural industry with whose difficulties I wish to deal, I should like to refer to the claim of my right hon. Friend that the improvement in the price of oats is due to the much higher duty of 9s. a quarter which was imposed on foreign oats in December. My hon. Friend the Under Secretary will remember that it was some months after the imposition of that duty before there was any improvement, and during that period oats were coming into Scottish ports from Russia at a. price of no more than ls. 8d. per cwt., or 5s. a quarter. That continued for some time, and during that period there was little or no improvement in price, in spite of the higher duty. The improvement has come since Russian oats ceased to arrive in this country. For three months we have had no Russian oats, and it is during that period that we have seen the so far satisfactory improvement in price. I would therefore ask the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary whether they ought not to safeguard the Scottish oat farmers who depend so much on oats, from a recurrence of the dumping, at absolutely cut-throat prices from which they have suffered so much during the past two or three years. It will be very wrong if Scottish farmers are left without any safeguard against this.
I now come to the difficulties in the milk industry. One of my hon. Friends has already brought very clearly before the House the loss which has been caused to Eastern milk producers, large and small. A few weeks ago I told the House of a producer in Fife who, with a rental of £700 'a year, was losing at the rate of £1,000 per year compared with what he had been receiving the year before. That was when the levy was not more than 4d. a gallon. It became 5d. a gallon in May, and I do not suppose that it has been a penny less in June. I understand that 52 per cent. of the milk produced in June was used for manufacture, and that, I believe, is a bigger proportion than in any other part of the year. I can confirm having heard of producers who estimate that they are losing double their rents as a result of the charges that they have to pay. I ask the Under-Secretary to bear in mind continually that a great number of pro- 1991 ducers in the centre and east of Scotland voted for this scheme on the assurances which they received from representatives of the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society that the levy was not likely to reach ld. per gallon. That has been stated to me by men in my own area, and I have had it from men in other areas. It is a very serious matter.
Many producers in the East of Scotland also consider that they were not fully consulted in the early stages, although it was supposed to be a producers' scheme. It originated, I understand, in A public meeting or a meeting of producers called by the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, and held in the North British Hotel in Edinburgh. At that meeting, a provisional committee was appointed to draw up 'a draft scheme and to report back to a similar meeting. That provisional committee did not report back, and therefore many producers in the area hold that they were not sufficiently consulted. A great responsibility is thrown on the producers. They are asked to draw up schemes of this kind, which are very complicated matters. We who have a good deal of experience in drawing up things on paper and of trying to understand things which are drawn up on paper, may hardly realise how difficult it is for many men whose lives are spent in actual production from the soil to understand these schemes and their possible or probable implications. I have been concerned to find how little these schemes were understood by the men whom they were likely to affect in pounds, shillings and pence of their daily earnings.
The Act under which these schemes are drawn up throws too much responsibility upon the producer. We know that it gives an outline of such schemes; yet it says that a scheme shall first of all come from the producers. I should be very glad if the Under-Secretary would tell us whether representatives of the Board of Agriculture gave unofficial help at any stage in the drawing up of this scheme. I quite understand that it is impossible, because of the wording of the Act, for the Minister or anybody on his behalf to take such action officially, but I would like to know whether help is given unofficially by departmental representatives who have great experience in studying things on 1992 paper. They might be able to help the producers to steer past some of what seem to be obvious pitfalls, from the point of view of the man who has to pay the levy. I should also like the Under-Secretary to think over the point as to whether, besides advice, it would not be desirable that a scheme of this kind should allow persons who have no interest in the scheme either way, to be members of the governing board. We have to recognise that there is a conflict of interest in this matter between the men with surplus milk for manufacture who will benefit from it, and the man who only sells milk for consumption and who will be likely to lose. That is a difficult business for a board composed only of producers, who are likely to have a majority on one side or the other, to work out, and it may be difficult for the minority to feel that they have had their fair say. I know that it is not possible to discuss legislation, and I do not propose to do so, but I would ask the Under-Secretary to consider whether a scheme under which such tremendous power is given ever the livelihood of milk producers should not include some disinterested element in a way which I understand this scheme does not provide.
§ Mr. SKELTON
The Noble Lady may be interested to be reminded that in the first year the Government appoint two representatives on the board, but that is in the first year only.
Duchess of ATHOLL
Is that the case with the body which was set up the other day? Does it apply to the provisional board or to the elected board?
Duchess of ATHOLL
In any case, it might be better if some disinterested element could be included on the board, and perhaps the Under-Secretary will consider the point. It might be done by administrative action. I find it a little difficult to understand the announcement which the Under-Secretary made yesterday. As I understand it, it means, in the 1993 main, that the Investigating Committee considers that the man who produces milk for consumption all the year round has not a permanent claim to special consideration as compared with the man who produces milk only in the summer, when his cows can go out to grass. But production in the winter is always more expensive than production in the summer;. I do not see how one can get away from that. Every dairy farmer knows that when you have to keep cows indoors it is more expensive than feeding them out on good grass in the summer. I am afraid that the recommendations of the Committee that the help given to these men shall be only temporary, will cause very great concern in the east and centre of Scotland, where the milk produced is chiefly of level quantity all the year round.
The anxiety that I feel in regard to the losses which the scheme is entailing on the level producer has not been lessened by the inability of the Minister of Agriculture to give the House any indication either of how much relief from the levy is likely to be given under the early clauses of the Milk Bill or of the additional burden which will be placed on producers by the later proposals in the Clause dealing with publicity. I cannot but fear that unless the Government take action of a stronger kind than the Investigating Committee have recommended, many dairy men in my part of the country will be unable to carry on a business which I am sure the Under-Secretary must regard as vital and fundamental for national needs.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Let me remind the Noble Lady that the action of my right hon. Friend is limited by the recommendations of the committee of investigation which is a statutory body whose recommendations determine the Minister's powers under the scheme.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I understand that my right hon. Friend has no power beyond what the Investigating Committee recommend?
Duchess of ATHOLL
This is another matter which ought to be very closely considered by the Minister and the Under-Secretary, who must be cognisant of defects in this milk scheme which could not have been present to their minds a year ago.
1994 I now want to call attention to the serious position of the poultry industry. During the last six weeks or so, hon. Members have been receiving very strongly-worded resolutions from various societies of poultry keepers talking of the desperate plight in which the industry is placed, largely owing, they say, to foreign imports. I know that the quantity of foreign imports has declined of recent years. There was a decrease of about 10 per cent. in the imports of poultry in the first six months of 1933 as compared with the corresponding period of 1932. But the fall in value of those imports was over 25 per cent. and thus the movement of prices was obviously much greater than the fall in quantity. If the first six months of this year are compared with the corresponding period of last year it will be found that there is hardly any decrease in quantity, but a fail in value of about 8 per cent. We are brought back always to the question of the price of imports, which deserves more consideration than it seems to receive. it is, I believe, an even bigger matter than the quantity. I dare say the Under-Secretary has seen the recommendations sent out by the Scientific Society of Poultry Breeders. They have made various recommendations under five heads with which I will not trouble the House, but all of them deal with foreign imports, the more distinct marking of foreign eggs and with tariffs and quotas. I hope that the plight of this industry is going to be very seriously considered.
Finally, I would say that the difficulties which have been experienced with regard to the Milk Scheme, and the fact that the Potato Scheme has not yet proved its worth, make me feel very anxious about being a party to bringing another section of the agricultural industry into a scheme before we have further experience of the working out of these schemes. I understand that the Poultry Reorganisation Commission is sitting, and that people are looking to that commission to suggest a scheme, but I feel that it is a great responsibility, boa' for the Government and for this House, to bring another section of the industry into a reorganisation scheme, as the price of getting imports limited, before we have had further experience of drafting schemes of this kind. I would remind my hon. Friend that no condition was 1995 attached to the pledge given at the election of 1931 to limit agricultural imports by whatever means the Government considered to be most effective, and I regret very much that the first Clause of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1933, laid down as a condition that the industry at home should have a scheme in preparation or in actual operation. I would ask my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State to think over that question very carefully, and to consider whether it's really consistent with their responsibilities to ask the House to press another section of the industry, which is in a very serious plight, into a reorganisation scheme before we are thoroughly satisfied that we know how the present schemes will work.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Captain McEWEN
I speak for a constituency which may be said without exaggeration to represent all sides of the agricultural industry. Without dealing seriatim and in detail with the various interests concerned, I should like to mention in a general way two interests which are suffering at the present time under a very particular sense of grievance. Both of these interests have already been dealt with very fully this afternoon, and, no doubt, will be dealt with still further at later stages of the Debate. The first is that of milk. I know that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary are fully aware of the difficulties under which the East of Scotland producers are suffering at the present time. I had occasion the other day in this House to call the attention of my right hon. Friend to the fact that a number of smallholders in East Lothian were at present in the position of being unable, on account of the levy, to pay their rents, and had so informed the Department of Agriculture, and I asked him what steps, if any, he proposed to take. The reply was that pending the report of the committee of investigation his hands were tied.
I accepted that at the time as being a perfectly justifiable and fair answer, but I do submit that there is in all this an imminent danger. It would appear that the hands of the Secretary of State for Scotland are tied. It would appear, on further investigation, that the Milk Marketing Board's hands are tied; and I venture to go so far as to say that it 1996 would even appear that the hands of the Minister of Agriculture are tied. It seems to me that we are in danger of coming under the domination, not of the Hidden Hand, but of the equally sinister Tied Hand. If my right hon. Friend has not already seen it, I would venture to call his attention to a letter which appeared in yesterday's "Scotsman," signed by Dr. Chalmers Watson, who farms one of the historic farms of Scotland and is a great authority on all matters concerning milk production. He has several very pertinent remarks to make on this very subject.
The other interest, which I would only mention in passing, is, as the Under-Secretary will have already guessed, that of the poultry industry. I am aware that steps are being taken at the present time to deal with this matter, and I only hope that they may not be too long delayed, because I think it is obvious to all that there is one point at any rate which is common to both these industries, arid that is that they affect, very largely at any rate, the small man—the smallholder. It appears to me that it is a weakness of all these marketing schemes that we have had recently, whether for potatoes, milk, pigs or anything else, that they are in their inception extremely difficult to explain and extremely difficult to understand, and it is from this fact that there arises at a later stage the reiterated and most regrettable accusation of bad faith against the Government. We all know that, in connection with the Milk Marketing Scheme, the constant accusation is that the producers who went into that scheme did so under false pretences, that is to say, that they were misled as to the reasons whereby they were persuaded to go into the scheme; and I think it should be the main object of my right hon. Friend and his Department to see that, above all, this most unfortunate impression is eradicated.
As regards what I may call the perennial questions of Scottish agriculture—beef, oats and barley—I do not intend to say anything this afternoon. Those branches of the industry are, largely thanks to Government intervention and Government help, in a position —I do not wish in any way to use exaggerated language—whence hope is not altogether excluded. There is, however, 1997 one other question that I should like the House to consider. It was touched upon by the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) at the outset of his speech, but he did not carry the matter very far. That is the question of farm servants' wages. Although this is a Scottish afternoon, and there are not many here other than Scottish Members, I would like to remind the House that there is no wages board in Scotland. Although often in this House, when the question of farm servants' wages arises, the answer from the Front Bench is that there is a wages board, and that, therefore, the matter can be left to it, that does not affect Scotland, and I would add that a wages board is not even desired in Scotland.
The point that I want to make is that towards the beginning of the present year the Farm Servants' Union produced a scheme for collective bargaining. The details of the scheme were pretty widely known, and I do not think it is necessary for me to enter into them now, but the scheme was submitted to the Scottish Office, as well as to the National Farmers' Union, for consideration, and in February I asked the Scottish Office in this House what their attitude was towards the scheme. The answer was that, until agreement had been reached between the two bodies—the Farm Servants' Union and the National Farmers' Union—they were not prepared in any way to intervene. I quite understood that they did not want to be in a position of bringing pressure to bear on either the one side or the other in a matter of this kind, but I confess that I thought at the time, and I still think, that that was a great opportunity for arranging on a friendly basis a very difficult and ticklish question, and one, moreover, which it was peculiarly the business of a National Government to undertake, or at least to facilitate. I regretted very much, and I still regret, that that collective bargaining scheme was allowed, as it were, to lie on the table. I would venture to express the opinion that perhaps an expression of sympathy, or some expression showing that the Scottish Office, for example, would be prepared to facilitate by their persuasiveness in a friendly way the putting forward of this scheme, might have been of advantage then at the critical moment, and I hope that even 1998 now it is not too late to expect that the scheme may yet receive from the National Farmers' Union the consideration which I personally feel it very richly deserves.
I see it stated in yesterday's newspaper that my right hon. Friend is about to complete a very far-reaching itinerary throughout Scotland during the Recess, and from that he will, of course, get an impression of farming conditions as they exist in those parts; but I would point out to him with great respect that it is not only from the islander hoeing his stubborn row in the islands, or from the constituents of my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) cultivating their peaty acres under the fitful glow of the Northern Lights, or even from the more southerly part of Scotland included in his itinerary, that he will gather the most complete and most living picture of agriculture as it exists in Scotland to-day. I venture to call his attention to the fact that, if it be his desire, no doubt on another occasion, to obtain so living a picture, he should come to the red soil of Berwickshire and to East Lothian, which used to be known, and still ought to be known, as the garden of Scotland. Might he not take a leaf out of the book of his colleague the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who, I understand, is to pay a visit to those parts, though not, it is true, for the specific purpose of undertaking a study of agriculture, unless certain investigations into the superficial soil of North Berwick links may constitute such a study? I only venture to press this and other matters upon the attention of my right hon. Friend because I have a very firm belief in his sympathetic intentions towards everything which is connected with the office that he holds, and I have also a very profound admiration for the energy that he shows in the execution of his duties.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
I hope I may be allowed to preface my remarks by taking advantage of this opportunity to say how much anyone who is interested in agriculture in Scotland must regret that we no longer have the services of Sir Robert Greig. His wonderful knowledge of the subject, his balanced judgment and his wise advice over a long period of time will be very hard to replace, and I hope that, now that he has 1999 gone into retirement, his knowledge will be made use of by the Government and will not be lost altogether to the nation.
I should like to know what is the policy of the Department with regard to the assistance that is given for agricultural drainage. In the last few years the amount that has been allocated to this purpose has been a diminishing quantity. There is no doubt that very great advantage has in certain areas been taken of the assistance given by the Government. It is not only a great advantage to the farmer to be able to drain his land at a saving of a quarter of the cost, but it enables him to employ labour at a time when it might otherwise be unemployed, and anyone who knows anything about the soil in Scotland must realise what a very large area there is that needs thorough and extended drainage. Within the last three years the, sums allocated to this purpose have gradually diminished—£15,000, £12,000, £10,000 and, in the coming year, £8,000. I should like to ask whether that is due to the fact that there are not applications coming in for the money or that the Department is anxious to make a saving on this head. If the latter is the case, I should regret it very much. I think the Department ought to take every step to advertise the advantages that can be gained by making use of this relief. To make any real and substantial progress under this scheme with a sum of £8,000 is obviously quite impossible. I would press on the Secretary of State the urgent necessity of doing everything that lies in his power to see that drainage is extended and, if it means the furnishing of additional revenue for the purpose, I hope that he will find a way to do it, if not this year at least in some future year.
There is another direction in which I notice that the activities of the Department have been somewhat cut down of late, and that is the experiments of the Macaulay Institute with reference to the reclamation of peat moorland. The reason definitely given is want of finance. It seems to me a pity that these very important experiments should be abandoned for want of the necessary finance. I do not know whether the experiments, so far as they have gone, have led the Department to believe that there would be little use in carrying them further, but I 2000 can hardly believe that. I have seen experiments of this sort carried out on a very large scale in Denmark with most remarkable success, and what can be done in that way in Denmark I am sure can equally well be done in Scotland. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to say that the retardation of these experiments is only temporary, and that the first opportunity will be taken of giving them a good push forward.
The Department, with its multifarious duties, has done remarkably good work in research in a number of directions and in the educational facilities that it affords and the extraordinarily useful publications that it gives to the farmers. Now it has had the additional duty put upon it of looking after marketing schemes. To my mind it is obvious that any marketing scheme of the scale and magnitude of those that have been launched must inevitably disclose pretty big difficulties in the early months, perhods in the early years of their working. and it will need considerable patience and skill to overcome some of the difficulties which have been referred to, particularly with regard to the milk marketing scheme, where you have the east and west of Scotland, I will not say ranged in opposite camps but, at any rate, looking askance at one another already, and one hopes that the difficulties which have been already realised may be smoothed away if those schemes are really going to be what we hope they will be, that is, marketing schemes and not merely price fixing arrangements. One looks for something in a marketing scheme far more than fixing a minimum or a maximum price. One looks to see some method of leverage by which greater efficiency may be brought about in agriculture, and by which the inefficient producer will not be put upon the same level as his more efficient brother.
Now I wish to direct attention to the question of land settlement. I should like to begin with the bottom rung of the ladder, that is the allotment system. The growth of the allotment system is most remarkable. I observe from the review taken by the Department of the number of allotments granted by town and district councils that during the last year there has been a remarkable increase of something like 4,000 which have been counted, and there are others besides which have not been included. Then 2001 there is the work of the joint committee of the Scottish National Union of Allotment Holders in conjunction with the Society of Friends where assistance has been granted during the year under review to 8,884 persons, as against only 2,300 in the previous year. Finally, we come to the departmental scheme for unemployed miners, where 120 plots have been provided, with applications numbering something over 2,500. I think those figures demonstrate pretty clearly not only the efforts that have been made to meet the growing demand for those allotment grants, but also how inadequate those efforts actually are to meet the demand that is growing from year to year. I need not argue the value it is to an unemployed man, for instance, to be given a plot on which he can work and produce something, and feel himself again a worker and part of the social structure in which he lives It is of the most fruitful lines on which we can approach the question of unemployment, particularly in some of the mining areas such as that in which the Department has made its first experiment.
I hope these experiments will be increased as quickly as land is made available and as widely as events may ailow. I do not think the question of cost should be allowed to stand too much in the way, because there is no better investment, after all, than bringing idle hands and idle lands together. When we have, as we unfortunately have today, so many thousands of unemployed men who are not likely to gain employment again in their own industries, this is a method of giving them hope and helping to re-establish them in the social structure out of which they have been shaken by the severe shocks to which it has been subjected. I look upon this as the bottom rung of the ladder because a man may very well begin to take an interest in producing on a small allotment and go on to an allotment of a larger size and, having gained his experience and realised what may be done by working on the land, he may go to the second rung of the ladder and get a smallholding. The Secretary of State has recently started the policy of instituting smallholdings in the neighbourhood of large industrial centres. The Bill which provided the funds for that policy met with a certain amount of criticism from these benches, but it was 2002 by no means directed against the policy of extending landholdings, although we had something to say as regards the manner of attaining it. We sincerely hope that this experiment will prove the success that it is hoped and believed it will be.
I now come to the larger question of smallholdings throughout Scotland. The question of instituting smallhloldings throughout Scotland is by no means a new one, and when we look back upon the history of the last 22 years, I am afraid that we cannot be proud of the results which have so far been achieved. I have spoken on this subject from time to time, and have tried to urge upon different Governments that the question should be taken up as a great national movement on a far wider scale than anything which has been attempted so far. Unfortunately, things go,on from year to year with very little change. A few new holdings and a few new enlargements are made, and while anything from 150 to 200 or 300 new holders are settled, the numbers of applications coming in year by year are two and three times as large as the numbers settled. The figures which are published are most striking. During the last 22 years there have been no fewer than 26,000 odd applications for smallholdings, of which, in the course of time, 11,500 have dropped out for causes which are unknown. I should imagine that a good many of the people dropped out because they were tired of waiting for their holdings. In the 22 years to which I refer, the number of applicants who have been settled is only 6,249, an average of about 300 a year, and at the present time there are 8,749 applications still outstanding. There is no reason to stress those figures, as they speak for themselves. It is ludicrous that we should look upon these efforts as anything in the nature of a national movement worthy of being undertaken, if we really mean to take effective steps in putting people back on to the land.
We know from experience how well the smallholders in Scotland have been able to stand the storms and stresses through which we have passed. Failures are very few indeed. Now, when agriculture is being given a place in the social structure which it has not held for a good many years, when money is cheap, and when, unfortunately, the unemployed are 2003 numerous and applications for new holdings are pressing—now, if ever, is the time when an extended system of land settlement might be taken up with hopes of success. In the boom years after the War, we made new holdings at a very costly figure, and sheep stocks were purchased at very high prices. Things have altered very much, and an attempt to extend land settlement to-day would have a very much better chance of success from the financial point of view than it had some eight or 10 years ago. In fact, from the purely material point of view, we should be getting in at the bottom of the market. This is the finest opportunity that has occurred since the War for really extending the system of land settlement. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) said, this is a matter which really extends beyond the Department. It has to be taken up with the push of the whole nation behind it. At the present moment the temper of the country is such that the Government do not hesitate to ladle out large sums of money to help industries which are in difficulty and to provide subsidies to help them to tide over their difficulties. I am sure that if the Government were to put themselves at the head of a movement really showing determination to extend the holdings on a far wider scale than has been done in the past 22 years, they would have the great bulk of the nation enthusiastically behind them.
If that cannot be done—and it cannot be done in a moment—there are things which can be done within the course of a very few months, with a result proportionate to the expense incurred, that will be entirely satisfactory. If the right bon. Gentleman will look at the number of enlargements which remain to be dealt with in the Western Isles and the crofting counties, he will see that there are nearly as many enlargements waiting to be dealt with as there are applications fornew holdings. It costs very much less to make an enlargement than to make a new holding, with all the costs of administration and of incidental expenses. There are certain counties in Scotland, one of which I have the honour of representing, where the number of applications for enlargements is very large indeed, and I would press upon the right hon. Gentleman the desirability of directing the 2004 attention of his Department to the task of trying to clear off some of the accumulation of applications for enlargements of holdings. Nothing can be more unsatisfactory from the agricultural point of view than a holding of an uneconomic size, and one knows from experience that some of the holdings which were created in the past, and some of the holdings which have existed apart from those created by the Departnient, are of a size which would be very greatly improved, and obtain far greater stability than they have at the present time if the enlargements for which application has been made could be added to them. For this reason I would particularly ask the right hon. Gentleman to see if some definite step forward can be taken in dealing with the question of enlargements of holdings. We had the promise given us when the legislation relating to the new holdings in the industrial areas was going through the House, that the needs of land settlement in the crofting counties would not be overlooked. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will only be too anxious to implement his promise, and if he does it in the direction I have indicated by dealing with the large accumulation of applications for enlargements, he will be doing a piece of really good work for the smallholders who are scattered about throughout the length and breadth of Scotland.
I have said enough to show the lines along which I am thinking now and along which I have been thinking for many years past, and more to-day perhaps than in the past, as regards the question of extending small holdings in Scotland. As one looks at the conditions which exist to-day one realises more than ever the importance of getting the people who have been divorced from their industrial occupations back to the position of securing a chance of having a healthy life on the land. In conclusion, I should like to thank the Department for the assistance which they gave during the rather difficult negotiations which ended in the installation of wireless communication with the islands.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. JOHN WALLACE
I always listen with great interest to the practical contributions to our Debates which are made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shet- 2005 land (Sir H. Hamilton), and I very largely agree with what he has said on the subject of land settlement, both regarding the smaller allotments and the larger holdings. He used an expression in the course of his speech which was of some significance. He said that agriculture is being given a new place in the social structure, and I am not quite sure of the implication of the observation of the hon. Gentleman.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
May I make quite clear and explain what I had in my mind? It was that the 'attention of the Government was being directed far more to the importance of agriculture now than it had been in the past.
§ Mr. WALLACE
That is obvious, but the thought occurred to me that it was possible that the hon. Member, who always looks at things so fairly and from a, practical point of view, had possibly altered his attitude towards the benefits now being given by the Government to agriculture, and that he was looking with favour upon the kindly assistance of the National Government to our agriculture interests. If that is so, I regard it as a straightforward statement from a very important occupant of the benches opposite. When we were discussing agriculture last week, we had only a very few minutes at our disposal, and I wish again to refer to the bottom rung of the agricaltural ladder to which reference has been made. I do not see the Under-Secretary in his place at the moment, but there are one or two specific questions to which I should like a reply. Let us look for a moment at the small allotments scheme introduced by the Secretary of State for Scotland two years ago. The applications, as has been pointed oat, are very considerable, but the number of small plots is very few.
It is unfortunate that the Under-Secretary stated last week that this particular effort is still regarded by the Scottish Office is being in the nature of an experiment. I suggest that it, has got far beyond that stage. If he would be good enough to visit the small plots which unemployed miners and others are working in the Dunfermline and Lochgelly areas of Fife, he would learn something from those men as to the serious way in which they take their work and of their desire to develop it along the right lines. They are fitting themselves in every way for 2006 spheres of more important agricultural occupation, and I suggest that the Scottish Office should put forward far stronger efforts in order to extend the borders of this scheme. I put to my hon. Friend on Friday a definite question to which I did not get a reply. I will put it again this evening. In my opinion, and in the opinion of gentlemen in Fife who are voluntarily doing everything possible for these schemes, the amount allowed to the unemployed allotment holder is too small, and in place of the £2 10s. allowed to the men, the sum should be not less than £5. If we take the actual number of allotments which have been let to these men and multiply it by five, hon. Members will agree that the amount involved is not serious, especially in these days of subsidies.
On the question of allotments I should like to acknowledge the great help which the Department of Agriculture has been to the men who are working the allotments. The Department has sent most efficient representatives, whom I have met personally, both to the larger holdings and the smaller allotments. Their help has been given ungrudgingly and is very deeply appreciated by the men. I should like to repeat that you cannot deal with a matter of this kind in terms of pounds, shillings and pence. The moral effect on the minds and bodies of the men of having allotments to work is almost impossible to exaggerate. They have a, distraction from the appalling conditions of unemployment and they are taking a definite interest in getting fruit from the soil, in raising poultry and in other foams of agricultural work. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who first called the scheme into being, will see that every effort is made to extend it, because its importance cannot be exaggerated.
On the question of the milk marketing scheme, I have no desire to cover the ground which has been so well covered by other speakers, but I wish to make one observation on what fell from the lips of the Under-Secretary regarding the report of the Investigation Committee. He said that the Secretary of State had no power to deal with the Investigation Committee except within certain limits, on account of the statutory authority conferred upon the committee.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I did not say that. I said that under the Statute my right hon. Friend's powers of altering a scheme were dependent upon the recommendations to that effect made to him by the Investigation Committee. He has no power to alter a scheme except upon the recommendation of the Investigation Committee. That is the Statutory situation.
§ Mr. WALLACE
That is saying in other words what I attempted to say, namely, that the powers of the Secretary of State for Scotland are limited on account of the statutory authority conferred upon the Investigation Committee. If that be so, and if the explanation of my hon. Friend is to be accepted—and I accept it at once—I do not think that it settles the question so far as the operations of the Milk Marketing Board in Scotland are concerned. The result of its administration the present time is positively disastrous in certain parts of Scotland. If the Government say that it is impossible on account of the statutory authority given to the Scottish Milk Marketing Board to change the administration, I cannot regard that as being like the laws of the Medes and Persians, unalterable. If fresh legislation is essential, let us have it. The Scottish Milk Marketing Board is composed of men who are connected with the milk industry, and if another composition is necessary in order to have a scheme that will be acceptable to the trade, legislative enactment will have to be made to bring that into being in some way.
I should like my hon. Friend to tell me how I am to answer the milk producer, either in Fife or elsewhere, who last year was getting 1s. 2d. a gallon for his milk and to-day is getting 1s. 2d. per gallon, less 5d. which he has to pay in levy. That means that the amount he has to contribute in levy will extinguish the total amount of his profits. What answer am I to give to that man? What prospect is there that his conditions will be altered in the future? Am I to tell him that these are difficulties incidental to the working of the scheme at the beginning, or may I say that action will be taken so that fairer conditions may obtain for the producer? I can assure the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary that this is a very serious matter so far as Fife is concerned and it is time the 2008 question was faced, not from the point of view of saying: "All the necessary powers are in the hands of the Scottish Milk Marketing Board." That does not settle the matter and it will not settle the matter in Scotland. I am certain that bankruptcy lies ahead for a good many men in the milk industry to-day, and it is not the board that will be blamed for that but the Government. I should like that point of view to be borne in mind. I hope that I have not expressed myself too strongly, but I assure my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that the representations which have been made to me are so strong that I feel bound to speak perfectly frankly in regard to the matter.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. LEONARD
I should like to put one or two points which I put previously to the Under-Secretary. It is admitted that the reluctance on the part of men in urban districts to go into a country form of life is not so great now as it used to be. Although there has been a recognition of that fact, I am not sure whether a very conscious effort has been made to exhaust the possibilities of having more men going on to smallholdings from the towns and the cities. I would ask the Under-Secretary, if he can, to give a word in his reply to explain what special efforts, if any, have been made in that direction. There have been experimental schemes established relating to mining districts where the size of the holdings has in general been kept to about an acre. I suggest that there is a possibility of that type of man being capable of doing much more than the confines of one acre permit him to do.
There is another point on which I did not obtain a reply when I put a question on a previous occasion. While there has been a welcome departure on the part of the townsmen from the fear of going on to the land, there can be no doubt that there are some persons from the towns who go on to the land and who give it up. I do not know the number of holdings that have been renounced in the last year or two, but there have been certain holdings renounced. I should like to know whether since the last occasion on which I raised this question any further effort has been made to exhaust the possibilities of co-operative effort in farming. I put before my hon. Friend previously the case of an estate in Perth- 2009 shire of 690 acres which had been worked by 12 men in full employment and five partly employed. By the application of the co-operative method of work, 50 men were employed all the time. I asked if the Under-Secretary and his Department would consider the isolation of some estate for the further extension of this form of farming in order to obviate the difficulties that present themselves when individuals are not so associated. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will deal with that matter in his reply.
The only other points which I desire to raise were put in the form of question some time ago, and I shall have to repeat them from memory. I am informed that the grant to landlords for houses and steadings differ in the Western Isles compared with other parts of Scotland. I think the figure given was that in the Western Isles, in the main, the grant was £100 to £150, whereas elsewhere it was round about £350. Speaking from memory, I think the reply that I received was that it would be unfair to direct too much capital to a district that would not be capable of meeting the interest upon it. I am afraid that the amount to which I have referred for houses and steadings may be incapable of providing in a district remote from ordinary civilisation certain amenities which attach themselves to housing. I should like to know whether there has been any departure from that attitude. The other point relates to State-owned land used for hill grazing. I was informed that so far as the tenancy of hill pasture was concerned on State lands the duty of draining lay with the holder of the land. I recollect that I expressed myself with regard to the comments that had been made by the Land Court that this matter should be dealt with better than it is at the present time, and I should like to know whether the comments of the Land Court have been taken cognisance of by the Department and whether greater strictures have been placed upon the holders of these hillside State lands than have been applied in the past.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Captain ARCHIBALD RAMSAY
I should like to thank my hon. Friend for the answer that he gave me yesterday in regard to the report on milk distribution in Scotland. It seems to me that the present system, unless it can be made rather more flexible, is going to put into 2010 inexorable operation the old principle that to him who hath shall be given, and that to him who hath not shall be taken away even that which he seems to have. I heartily agree with my hon. Friend opposite that the present situation is tending to set the east against the west. My Noble Friend gave instances of farms where there was an actual loss shown, which could be traced almost entirely to the milk levy, and I have come across several similar cases. I do not wish to enlarge upon this point. I thank my hon. Friend for his reply and I see encouragement in paragraph 2, in regard to the levy being paid for a short time, but I suggest that paragraph 5, in which it is laid down that no regional price variation can be entertained, seems to be the crux of the matter, and it may be necessary to take other steps to get at what is really the fundamental difficulty of the problem.
There is only one branch of Scottish agriculture with regard to which one can say that the Government's policy has been a failure, has been lacking in enterprise or has been lacking in drive, but I feel that so far as the important subject of oats is concerned it is true. I am sorry to have to raise Banquo's ghost tonight, but I am sure the ghost is not laid yet; it is behind the right hon. Gentleman's chair at the moment, and will be even more conspicuous in the months to come. It is no consolation to me that the price of oats for the moment is better. You cannot get a reliable reading from a thermometer from which the mercury has run out. There has been no pressure from foreign oat exporters to sell oats in this country for the last few weeks, but when the pressure was there, when there were crops to be sold, one has only to look at the returns to see that the steps which were taken in January of this year were not only not successful in reducing the imports from those foreign countries whose imports we wish to reduce, but that the imports rose in alarming fashion.
I will not weary the House with a lot of figures to show that in these critical four months the increased imports of oats were from the particular countries which grow oats under the most unfair conditions, and which are, therefore, the very countries against which our policy is aimed, but it is nevertheless true that the imports from these very countries have increased. From Chile they have almost loubled; from Germany they have in- 2011 creased by 50 per cent.; and from Soviet Russia they have increased 4½ times as compared with two years ago, when there was only a duty of 10 to 15 per cent. At the same time that these enormous increases in oat imports were taking place, there was actually a sharp decrease in imports from countries like the Argentine, whom we wish to encourage, if we wish to encourage imports from any foreign country. It is also regrettable that the imports of oats from our own Dominions should have fallen so sharply. May I suggest that a duty of this kind, when we are dealing with countries which are determined to export their surplus crops, is not really the right instrument with which to solve the situation? I do not wish to make any suggestion which must involve legislation, but I do say that if you get a position in which you are up against the declared policy of a country to defeat any form of tariff and you impose a tariff, the only people you may hit are other people, who have not got the same form of State subsidy by which they can defeat any tariff regulations.
If we take our own country, Scotland, this policy up to date has been a failure. The acreage under oats in Scotland in 1932 was 807,000; in 1933, it fell by 11,000 acres, and then we had the extra legislation which was going to do such wonderful things. The result, according to the latest figures, is that the acreage of oats for this year shows a drop of between 20,000 and 25,000 acres, over and above the drop of last year. These are serious figures. When we talk about the policy of the Government we talk with pride about wheat, and show what has been done. On Scottish platforms we show that it has resulted in increasing the acreage under wheat in Scotland by 50 per cent. How much more satisfactory it would be for Scottish speakers to be able to tell their audiences that in their fundamental crop the Government had been able to do something of the same nature? Actually we have to tell them that we have not succeeded in alleviating the situation, and that in spite of any measures we have taken the drop in the acreage of oats is twice what it was two years ago.
There was a conference in Edinburgh last May, when this dumping of German 2012 and Russian oats was going on, between the Scottish National Farmers' Union and oatmeal millers. I had the honour to be present. It seemed to me that, in the first place, there was an anxiety and a readiness on both sides to agree to other measures to deal with the situation, and, secondly, that there was an anxiety on the part of consumers of oats, the manufacturers of oat products, to work in cooperation with other bodies. I believe that a deliberate difficulty has been placed in the way of any such alternative solution by the feeders, those who rely upon cheap oats for feeding their stock. The right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that we cannot allow the feeder to expect his neighbour, the grower, to grow oats at a loss in order that he may get cheap food for his stock. I do not think that can be defended, but I have good reason to believe that this is the policy which behind the scenes they have actually put into execution by obstructing any method which is going to raise the price of oats. In addition, they have in maize a perfectly good alternative for oats and, therefore, they really have no ground for their anxiety as to the price of oats, because should the price rise to 22s. per quarter or higher they have a perfectly good and safe alternative in maize, which is not in the least likely to be affected whatever the price of oats may be.
Let me enter this plea with the Secretary of State. We thank the Government for the very remarkable duty which they put on, but we say in all seriousness that if they take the figures of imports and the acreage under oats, which reflects the position to-day more than the import figures, this policy, apparently, is a failure, and at this moment behind their chair stands the ghost of the crops which are now being grown. If they will watch the situation and prepare a scheme we shall be content. Have they some measures which they will be able to put into execution should this importation of oats by foreign countries begin again? Are the Government ready to act and take further powers, if necessary, to deal with the situation, because we cannot sit down quietly under a situation wherein the imports from countries which give subsidies are rising at a time when the imports from our Dominions are falling and when the acreage of oats in Scotland is falling by twice the speed it was two years ago.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. HENDERSON STEWART
The hon. and gallant Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Captain Ramsay) concluded his speech by putting a hypothetical question to the Secretary of State, which I do not think is possible for the right hon. Gentleman to answer. The oat position has definitely improved and I think we may well leave it there in the meantime. I desire to associate myself with the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) in congratulating the Secretary of State on his opening speech. I was grateful for his references to bracken and deer, about which I have been troubling him a little during the past few months. The answer he has made is welcome news. I am glad also that the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and Haddington (Captain McEwen) raised the question of farm servants' agreements, and I want to associate myself with his request that the Under-Secretary of State will deal with that point. It is most important that farm servants should benefit directly from any improvement that may come to agriculture, and I shall not rest until I am satisfied that whatever advances are made in the near future they are shared fully and immediately by those who work on the farms.
I want to examine the vexed problem of marketing, but from a slightly different point of view. It is somewhat surprising that an innocent and innocuous beverage like milk should have caused so much excitement. I do not know whether in Angus or West Perth they put some other stimulant into it but, at any rate, it has raised considerable heat this afternoon. I have taken the view that same improved method of marketing was necessary, and I am satisfied that in time these various marketing boards will settle down to their business. The Potato Marketing Board has settled down quickly. I criticised the provisions of the potato scheme, but I look upon the Potato Marketing Board's activities with great admiration. They are setting about their task with enthusiasm and in a businesslike way, and I shall be surprised if this board does not turn out to be the best of the lot, because it is approaching its task not as a Civil Service administration, but as a business proposition. I understand that we are going to have another 2014 scheme very soon for meat. That will be a most important matter for Scotland, as something like 50 per cent. of the total value of Scottish farm products is represented by meat and livestock. But, before that scheme is set going I hope we shall learn a lesson from the experience of its predecessors and that we shall not launch out upon another vast scheme without the most careful consideration.
Looking at these marketing schemes as a whole I seem to denote two main weaknesses. The first is that there has been a lack of proper preparatory work before the schemes were launched. I do not blame the Government; it is largely due to the failure of our statistical services to collect the necessary figures. The pig scheme, for example, was nearly wrecked in its initial stages through an extraordinary under-estimate of essential figures. The milk scheme, as was observed this afternoon, has forfeited the confidence of many Members of Parliament and thousands of producers because of the insufficient time and care given to the consideration of its consequences. I am certain that, if the milk scheme were to be started again, and we were asked once more to frame a measure, it would be a very different scheme that would be put before the House. That is the first weakness that I see.
The second weakness of these marketing schemes, and one which I realise touches on more controversial matters, is in regard to the system of appointing the members to the various boards. I am the last to suggest that there are not among agriculturists first-class men capable of running a first-class show. I know many of the leaders and have the greatest admiration for them, but I think it is now patent to everyone that it is unreasonable, if not impossible, to expect to find the executive talent to operate these vast new commercial enterprises in men, the limit of whose responsibility in the past has been a 200-acre farm. It is unfair to expect it, and therefore I am very doubtful of the wisdom of the elective system of appointing these various marketing boards. After all, the Marketing Board for milk, bacon, pigs and so on is not just the private concern of farmers. We are all in it. The farm workers are in it, the shipbuilders, and every one of us. This year we have raised a total of —20,000,000 2015 that we are giving to agriculture. Some of it is farmers money, but the bulk of it is townsmen's money, and therefore it is essential and urgent that the House of Commons should examine these things. For the House of Commons when it has approved a scheme, simply to say, "Well, there is the scheme, we have approved of it, it is your business now, carry on" is not right.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I would remind the hon. Member that what we are discussing this afternoon has really nothing to do with the method of election under these schemes.
§ Mr. STEWART
I understand that, but what I am offering is a lesson for the future. We have assumed that, having approved the scheme, we can hand it over, and that is the end of it. Parliament will be bound in the future to take more direct interest in the management of these boards which are going to control these schemes, as well as to make a much closer examination of the implications and possible effects of the schemes when they are put into operation. We have no right to accept schemes drawn up by the Farmers' Union or anybody else, without submitting them to the most searching scrutiny.
May I say one other word in regard to what one might almost call the foreign policy of the Ministers responsible for agriculture in this country? For myself, have never budged from the view that, if any industry is to have protection, agriculture should have it. That is a view expressed many times by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and I think all Liberals have subscribed to it at one time or another. When I came into this House I found a system of protection for industrial products already established, and I have never been able to see why we should deny the same assistance to the products of the farm. Therefore, I see no serious objection in practice to any of the schemes, quota and others, for the assistance of agriculture which have been presented to us. I cannot help thinking, of course, that it is a calamity that we in this country should be obliged to adopt such mutually destructive measures, destructive to us and to other countries, but, if other countries have gone economically mad, we are bound to take some measure of safeguarding.
2016 My difficulty is not with regard to the rights or wrongs of any single scheme, presented to us in this House on behalf of agriculture. The meat subsidy, for example, can, I think, be justified on the grounds of emergency, as also can the others, but I am a little concerned as to how these various and varied measures dovetail into each other, and I am going to ask my hon. Friend to help me in the matter. Constantly I ask myself: Where are we going with these schemes? What is the central objective to which we are moving? What is the plan behind these varied measures of tariffs, quotas, levies and subsidies? It seems to me, I cannot help saying, rather like a jig-saw puzzle, the parts of which do not fit, and sometimes even seem contradictory of each other. To-day there is piloted through the House a Measure that a year ago we were told it was impossible to consider. One cannot help feeling, when one thinks of the subject, and I ask my hon. Friend to believe it, that this concern is shared by the great majority of Members in this House. I would like to know where these schemes are leading us, and it is high time somebody in the Government made such a declaration.
I say that in a most friendly spirit. We boast in this country of our democracy. As we look to events in other countries in the last few hours, we are proud to have a democracy, but it will only work if you keep it informed, not only of what you are doing, but of the broad principles that guide your action. If you treat democracy with titbits of unrelated policy, as if you were handing mixed caramels to children, you will go wrong. I would like the hon. Member, if he can, to answer this question: How far do the Government intend to go on the road to self-sufficiency? How far is it intended to restrict imports? How far is it intended to encourage exports In other words, the simple question is: Where are you going to strike the balance in this economic policy? It is a matter of great importance, a matter of life and death to Scotland, with its industrial and agricultural interests, and I ask my hon. Friend with all seriousness and with the greatest friendliness to give me some answer.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Lord SCONE
This afternoon a great many speakers have devoted a considerable amount of time to the question of the milk marketing scheme especially in regard to the eastern part of Scotland, and it is so vitally important to all producers in that area that I do not think I need apologise for dwelling on it a little longer. We very much regret the conclusions to which the Committee of Investigation have come, more especially because of the way in which they were bound by the comments of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, and I would ask the House to consider, as briefly as may be, these conclusions and what they mean. In the first place, the Committee have decided apparently that there is really no merit. attached to the level producer as against the seasonal producer. That, I submit, is a most unfortunate conclusion, because it is the level producer who is the backbone of the industry. He does not produce the surplus of milk which has brought about most of the troubles of the industry. His tasks are accordingly exceedingly high, and it seems that he will be put in a worse position than the seasonal producer who has done so much to cause the trouble. We have the recommendation that some provision should be made by means of an additional payment per gallon or otherwise for a specific limited period. What is a specific limited period? I hope the right hon. Gentleman, while making it specific, will not make it too limited. I myself think a period of two years would be the minimum effective period. That will give us sufficient time to find out whether the other activities of the Milk Marketing Board are likely to lead to such an improvement of the general position that any such special provision for the level producers will by then become unnecessary.
I do not think anyone has yet drawn attention to Section (4) of the Committee's recommendations:We see no objection in the public interest to the continuance of the system whereby the board have contracted for a minimum butter fat content in excess of the legal minimum of 3 per cent.I think that is a rather remarkable conclusion. Of course, everyone wishes to get the quality of milk better as time goes on, and there is certainly no objection in the public interest to the butter fat content being improved, and every 2018 effort being put forward to maintain the improvement; but surely it is rather harsh treatment and rather unjustifiable on the part of the Milk Marketing Board to suggest that a producer should be penalised when he produces milk which has been accepted by the right lion. Gentleman in his capacity of Minister of Health for Scotland and accepted by medical officers of health as being first-class milk and all that the human frame requires. I think this recommendation is very unfortunate, and, if in the future people are to be penalised because their milk is not up to the board standard, although it is perfectly good legal quality, a grave mistake will be made and immense injustice inflicted.
I should also like to associate myself with the regrets expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for Peebles (Captain Ramsay), that it has not been thought practicable to institute a system of regional prices. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) was not far out when be said that east was against west in this matter. It is not that there is any animosity between the two areas, but the interests of the milk producers of these two districts are so completely diverse that I regret it has not been possible up to the present time to separate these areas and to give these unfortunate people in the east of Scotland a chance of carrying on, which it seems to me is going to be a matter of extreme difficulty for most of them in the future. Here I would like to put one question to the right hon. Gentleman. It may be a hypothetical question, but I think it is one which has some bearing on the present situation: What is to be the attitude of the Government supposing that there is a partial, I will not say a complete, collapse of the milk producers in the East of Scotland? Suppose that there is a sort of strike, produced simply by the conditions under which they are producing, that is that they will be unable, not merely not to make a profit, but to make both ends meet. I very much hope that that possibility, which now is almost amounting to a probability, will be borne in mind, and that if necessary steps will be thought out in advance to discount it without undue unfairness to those who are moved not by hostility to the scheme but by the sheer desperation of their economic position.
2019 One twill expect to hear certain strictures on the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) for his very extraordinary remarks. I cannot feel that those who produce milk or oats within his constituency will be very grateful to him for the daring way in which he has sought to brush aside the very difficult situation in which they find themselves. I do not possibly go quite as far as one hon. Member who has spoken in regard to the uselessness of the Government's policy for oats, but to endeavour to maintain that there is no danger whatever to the oat producer in future, and that the menace of dumped grain has gone for good and all, is to show a lamentable lack of knowledge of the situation.
It is true that the generous tariffs put on oats, for which we are grateful, did not have the immediate effect that they ought to have had. That was simply and solely because of the dumping of Russian grain brought in at the price of 5s. per quarter—a perfectly absurd price from the economic point of view. Together with the duty of 9s. a quarter it made the price 14s. The recent very satisfactory rise in price has been caused largely by the fact that there is, as usual at this time of year, a shortage of the amount of marketable oats in Scotland, and also to the fact that the Russians are not dumping at the present time and have not been doing so for some time past. But should that dumping start again in the autumn at a ridiculous price there is nothing whatever that can stop the price of oats going down once more to a figure that is altogether inadequate. It would be out of order to suggest any legislative restrictions, but I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that friendly representations might be made to the Russian Government that any such line of conduct would not be exactly the best way in which to try to get trade advantages for themselves in future. If a flood of dumped oats can be prevented from coming in I think there is no doubt that the price will remain a remunerative one for the producer, and in view of what he has had to put up with in the past such a remunerative price is very long overdue.
As regards agriculture generally in Scotland to-day, it presents a two-faced appearance. If one regards the financial position of most farmers at the moment, 2020 and if one were to judge the future from that, the outlook would be indeed a black one; but when one sees the upward tendency of prices and considers what has been done very recently for the various branches of the industry, it becomes more than apparent that the present dark cloud has a silver lining, and we hope that before long it will completely efface the dark cloud. The price of oats has now risen to a satisfactory or fairly satisfactory figure.
§ Mr. H. STEWART
The Noble Lord has said precisely what I said. At the present moment the price is perfectly satisfactory.
§ Lord SCONE
The hon. Member specifically brushed aside the possibility of anything of the kind happening in future. That shows an airiness which is by no means consistent with the facts. We have just had a Bill which has done a great deal for the beef producer, who has suffered for a long time. I spoke on this subject two days ago, and I shall not repeat my words. In the past few days I have been in Perthshire and Dumfriesshire, and the meat producers there have now a hope which they have not felt for years past. The Bill is a most welcome Measure and one for which the Government deserves and is getting the sincere thanks of all who are in the industry. As regards poultry, it is true that the position is by no means satisfactory. In the last few weeks I have had many representations from my constituents. A commission is sitting to investigate the position, but I think it would be well for the Secretary of state, in concert with the Minister of Agriculture, to examine the position very carefully, and to see whether some emergency measures are not required to bridge the period between the present difficulty and the date when any action can be taken on the recommendations of the commission.
The prices of live sheep have kept up very well, thanks to Government action again. We have comparative prosperity in the fruit-growing section of the industry. One sees also that potato prices are becoming considerably less unsatisfactory. We have some cause, therefore, for believing that Scottish agriculture is at last getting round the corner. We all wish to see it in a. very much better state, and we all associate ourselves with the sentiments 2021 of the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) on that point. It is very unfortunate that the hon. Member and his friends of the Opposition, while they are, I believe, honestly anxious to improve the situation of Scottish farmers and the wages and conditions of the agricultural workers, have sought to put their theory into practice by opposing with the utmost vigour every one of the remedial efforts which the Government has undertaken. Theory and practice in their case have been by no means coincident. I am sure that if the hon. Member and his friends really understood the position, and that if their knowledge were equal to their desire to help, we should nave a great deal more co-operation from them in the future.
While the position is as I have stated, I realise that there is still a long way to go. The road that agriculture has to traverse is mostly stony and all the way uphill. But what has been done has been of the greatest advantage. A point that all hon. Members who support the Government ought to make clear throughout the country is that one must not measure the success of the Government's agricultural undertakings merely by the rise in prices in various branches of the industry. One must consider what would have happened had those various proposals for helping the industry not been introduced. We can say that we should have had oats at under los. a quarter; mutton would have slumped as beef has done; and, if we had riot had restrictions in regard to beef exports, instead of having cattle at 35s. or more per live cwt. we should have had a price of 25s. or even 20s. The agricultural industry is very grateful indeed for the very strenuous efforts which have been made on its behalf by the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary and the Minister of Agriculture. There is a great deal more still to be done. What has been done has been of the utmost advantage, and at last we are beginning to move towards a condition of things in which a farmer will again be able to make both ends meet, and the labourer will enjoy the higher wages to which his long hours and the conditions of his work undoubtedly entitle him.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. SKELTON
We have had an interesting Debate which has covered a 2022 wide area. I would like to express on behalf of the Secretary of State and myself our appreciation of the tone in which right hon. and hon. Members have addressed themselves to this topic, the constructive suggestions that have been made, and the recognition there has been that, however wide may be the divergence of view between us upon the main structure of policy within which administration is contained, still it is part of the task of Scottish Members of Parliament to work together for the good of what is after all the most important industry in Scotland. I welcome in particular the tone with which the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) opened his interesting speech. If I seem to take up his challenge on various points I do not do so in any provocative way, but because we know that he is "a bonnie fechter." He referred to the differences I had with him in a previous Debate. I assure him that nothing would be more against my feelings than to misrepresent him, and I hope I did not in any way misrepresent him.
Let me turn to the very big topics raised in the discussion, and let me clear up a variety of questions which have been addressed to me. With regard to Highland land settlement, we are fully impressed with the importance of carrying on the policy of enlarging holdings. We are entirely at one with the right hon. Member for Caithness that nothing is worse than a holding of an unsuitable size. We have said quite categorically that no opportunity will be lost to enlarge holdings where that is possible, and the importance of putting it in that particular phraseology is that it is only when there is an opportunity that we can enlarge. Land must be vacant, and it is only when there is a vacancy that we can enlarge. Even then we have to be certain that we are doing it at reasonable cost. Within those qualifications I reiterate that we are determined to carry on the work of enlarging the holdings wherever it is possible.
My right hon. Friend and I appreciate what has been said on the subject of plots. We believe that in this respect we are in the fortunate position of having instituted an experiment of value and of far-reaching importance. My right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and 2023 Sutherland rather chided me for using the word "experiment," but I did so in order to put a brake upon myself because I am sure it would be a mistake to close the door to any further suggestions or ideas upon this matter. But I would like to add that the experience of the first year, during which I had an opportunity of seeing many of these plots, has been very remarkable. The experience of the second year so far is, I think, satisfactory and indeed in many ways more satisfactory than anyone could have expected because of the large extent to which loans for seeds and so forth have been repaid before the time for repayment was up and also because there has been such a tremendous effort on the part of the plot-holders to keep up with the payment of their rents. A further ground for satisfaction is that the demands in the second year have so greatly exceeded those of the first year. The plot-holders themselves feel that this is valuable and a beneficial effort and are responding in the most remarkable way.
I recommend any Scottish Member who finds himself in West Lothian or near Edinburgh in the course of the Recess to visit the plots at Oakbank where a piece of rough field has been converted into what looks like a model poultry farm, almost. entirely by unemployed men. If I still use the word "experiment" it is to hold in check my own hopes and beliefs. I do not think that any other questions relating to land settlement were raised except those put by the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard). I propose to deal with his four questions by means of correspondence and discussion with him, because they are all detailed and some of them are rather technical. I know that the hon. Member wants definite answers and I shall do all I can to provide them before we adjourn. I quite understand that everybody who is going to get the advantage of a grant for any purpose likes that grant to be for as high a proportion of his total expenditure as possible. That is a generalisation about human nature which we may permit ourselves, but it is necessary to fix a limit of some sort, and we think it is not unreasonable to say that the grant for drainage should be 25 per cent. of the total expenditure. Other Governments and other Secretaries of State might select other proportions, 2024 but for our part we have selected 25 per cent., and it is a most valuable addition—
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the number of applications for the grant has actually decreased
§ Mr. SKELTON
I could not say with certainty at the moment, but I may be able to answer that question before I conclude. It may be that during the slump, fortunately short-lived, in the price of sheep and mutton the sheep farmers regarded any extensive drainage operation as a, more alarming proposition than would be the case ordinarily, but with the steadily rising price of sheep and mutton I think, if there has been any drop in the number of applications, it has not necessarily been in connection with the proportion of the grant.
One of the principal topics in this Debate has been the milk marketing scheme and indeed marketing schemes in general, and from the lips of the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) there fell a series of questions which were all addressed to me but might very well have been addressed to the hon. Member himself with the addition, "Why did you vote for all these?"
§ Mr. SKELTON,
And that 5s the answer which I shall make to my hon. Friend. I do not propose in a Debate on the Scottish Estimates to attempt to make a statement of future policy or deal with the main objectives of the agricultural policy of the National Government, and I think the House will be with me in that view. Let me turn to the marketing schemes which have been mentioned. It must never be forgotten that no marketing scheme comes into existence until it has received a large majority of the votes of the. producers concerned. Before it is submitted to that poll it must have been fathered by a responsible and representative body of the producers. It must undergo, if necessary, examination by public inquiry, and the most scrupulous care is taken with its clauses and conditions then. A marketing scheme in existence is not a Government scheme or 2025 a bureaucratic scheme or a Civil Service scheme. It has the imprimatur of the producers, and it is for that reason that the Act Paid it down that normally a scheme could only be altered by a poll of the producers. That has to be kept in view. That is the normal way of altering a scheme, and where there is a provision enabling my right hon. Friend to make any alteration, that provision is hedged about so narrowly with qualifications that he can only alter the scheme if the committee of investigation recommends him to do so. But the reason for all that is that this a democratic structure based upon the producers' own votes.
Duchess of ATHOLL
Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind my point as to a conflict of interests in connection with the milk scheme?
§ Mr. SKELTON
I make these general observations as a, preliminary, 'and I now turn to the milk scheme itself. It is the case that the committee of investigation has had under review a number of questions brought before them by the milk producers in the East of Scotland, and I should say that one of the most important of these is the question of the amount of the levy. Do not let us forget that there have only been two months in which the levy has risen to the height of 5d. There was one month when it was 4d., but there have been several months in the autumn and the winter when it went down to 2d. It is the object of the scheme that something should be done to deal with the problem of the summer service of milk, and it is true that in the summer months, in the one complete year in which the scheme has been in existence, the levy has reached the height of 5d. It is not for me to say, and I have no evidence to support any such suggestion, that in any particular month the levy, which is reviewed from time to time, will fall from its present height. But I can say that from the experience of the past year there is no reason for us, as ordinary practical people, to suppose that the level throughout the whole year is going to remain at the June and July figure.
The House will remember that in the Measure which we recently passed certain sums were given with regard to milk used for processing purposes. I do not think it is possible to give in actual 2026 figures the effect of those sums upon the levy, but I am told that it is estimated in Scotland to amount to something like one-third of a penny per gallon on the levy. I give that figure with the utmost reserve, but, if it turns out to be correct, then that is a factor which will reduce the levy independent of the milk situation in general. Therefore, while one can appreciate, and the committee of investigation obviously does appreciate, the position of the level producer, mainly though not exclusively in the East of Scotland, it would be a mistake to assume that because the levy is 5d. in the month of July it is always going to be at that figure.
§ Mr. WALLACE
May I inform the hon. Gentleman that in the winter the complaints of the level producers against the levy were almost as strong as they are at the present time?
§ Mr. SKELTON
That may be so, but I think the complaints have increased in volume as the levy has risen.
Duchess of ATHOLL
Is it not the case that a great many of the producers voted for the scheme on the understanding that the levy would not be more than one penny per gallon?
§ Mr. SKELTON
That is not a matter with which the Government are concerned. I regret the extent to which, through more than one speech the idea has seemed to run that in some way the Government are responsible for the high levy and for any trouble that there is in the scheme, whereas as I say this is a producers' scheme.
But is it not the case that the Secretary of State said that this and other schemes were being pushed forward by the Government?
§ Mr. SKELTON
I think if my hon. and gallant Friend examines my right hon. Friend's observations in the OFFICI REPORT he will find that they hardly bear the construction which he is putting upon them and he can scarcely take these two or three words and put them against all his own knowledge and experience in these matters. As a matter of fact, 2027 whenever a scheme has been ripe for Parliamentary decision, we have always taken care that steps were taken to have a decision reached by Parliament at the earliest moment. But as for using any pressure or being in a position to use any pressure on producers to vote for or against a scheme—if that is the meaning which my hon. Friend is going to attach to the language used by my right hon. Friend, all I can say is that his words do not bear that meaning.
§ Mr. SKELTON
As I say, the schemes are producers' schemes and everybody concerned ought to realise that fact and ought not to forget it.
Duchess of ATHOLL
Is it not a fact that a great many producers in the Eastern parts of Scotland voted for this scheme only because of the condition laid down by the Government for the limitation of imports?
§ Mr. SKELTON
I do not think my Noble Friend will expect me to enter into the motives why these voters voted as they did, but while reiterating, with all the force at my command, that these schemes are producers' schemes, my own impression is that at the moment, when the levy is at its high summer level and, for the first year or two, we should be very unjustified in drawing the conclusion that the levy will remain at its present level. We have just received the report of the investigating committee, the findings of which I read to the House yesterday in answer to a question. What is the view of this responsible body as to the level producer? Their view is that there should be a period during which the level producer does get some relaxation and that that period and the amount of relief that he is going to get should be the subject of negotiation between the Milk Board, the producers of other areas, and the federation which represents the level producers. That appears to us to be a practical solution. It is a, matter for negotiation, and it would be quite out of place to suggest either what the relief should be or what the period should be, but it is a practical suggestion, and it is one which, if the negotiations, which we shall do all we can to bring into existence as soon as possible, are successful, will prove that the investigating committee 2028 will have carried out their functions in a very useful and practical way.
Let me turn to say one other word on the subject of the marketing scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife seemed to have as a background to his observations a whole list of unsuccessful marketing schemes. I do not know where these exist. There has been the English hops scheme, a notable success. There has been the bacon and pig scheme, which, considering the immensity of the operation, has brought very great advantages to the pig producers of this country, and the only danger which has arisen in connection with which is that its success was so immediate that it resulted in such an increased pig population in this country as to bring to nothing all reasonable calculations of possible increases. That is not an argument of failure, but quite the other way on, and when I add that from such information as I have, I understand that this pig scheme is already doing the most important work of improving the type of pig, which has always defeated the British bacon industry, and when one knows the improved and stabilised prices that the pig producer is receiving, I say that there is a scheme which ought not to make us hesitate with regard to marketing in this country, but is rather an encouragement to proceed.
Broadly speaking, despite the anxiety of the Eastern producer in Scotland and, I agree, certain equivalent producers under different circumstances in the South, it must not be forgotten, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture has stated more than once, that in the view of the farmers or their responsible representatives themselves the English milk scheme has benefited at least 75 per cent. of the milk producers, and has unquestionably in Scotland, while benefiting the producers in the natural dairying districts of the West, prevented the risk of an absolute slump such as would have occurred from an increased surplus of milk. Although one cannot shut one's eyes to the heaviness of the, burdens that certain producers are bearing, it is too soon, when there have only been two months of high levy, and it is only a little more than a year old now, if my memory serves me aright, to say that the milk scheme is going to be a failure. I do not agree, and while my right hon. Friend and I appreciate the 2029 public service of Members when they bring before the House and the Government the troubles of any of their constituents, I think it would be a mistake to take up a defeatist attitude about the Scottish milk scheme, because I do not think that even now, after this short period, the facts would justify it.
Now let me turn to oats, and here I must try to crack my rather damp whip against my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Peebles and Southern Midlothian (Captain A. Ramsay). He said some terrible things, if they were true, but I do not think they were quite true, if I may say so. His proposition was this, that although we have put a very heavy duty on oats, and although the price has gone up, it must not be thought that these two facts have any relation to each other.
§ Captain A. RAMSAY
I would not like my hon. Friend to get away with that. What I said was that whatever he had put on this duty, so long as the foreigners had oats to sell his duty did not have the effect of appreciably raising the price, but only since those foreign stocks have been exhausted.
§ Mr. SKELTON
My hon. and gallant Friend said that it has only been successful when there has been no foreign stuff coming in, but he never suggested that the decrease in imports for the recent months of this year as compared with the equivalent months of last year might have something to do with our imposition of a heavy duty. If he had been able to say that these were the months when foreigners never did import oats, he would have had a good argument, but what are the facts? I will take the months of March, April, May, and June of this year, and I will give the figures of imports. They were: in March 250,000 cwt., in April, 163,000, in May, 190,000, and in June, 222,000. What are the equivalents for last year? 500,000 against 250,000, 557,000 against 163,000, 472,000 against 190,000 and 437,000 against 222,000.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I am giving the figures of the total imports from overseas, both Dominions and foreign countries, for the months of March, April, May and June, for last year and this year, and in each 2030 of these months there has been a great decline this year as compared with last year. It appears to me that one would be wise to say that some of that reduction anyway is due to the very largely increased duty. Therefore, I will not accept for a moment the proposition that the duty on oats has failed, and I shall not enter into what we shall do if and when it should fail. In the meantime I think, without compromise or qualification, I can say that the Oat Duty, as far as one can test it for the short time it has been in operation, is succeeding, and the fact that it did not succeed at the very beginning, or that after the first rush there was a relapse, was due largely to the fact that there were large contracts or consignments at sea, and that the largest of the consignments was due. Indeed, we have heard from persons qualified to tell us in the trade that large consignments were in existence and at sea because the trade was anticipating an increase in the duty.
§ Captain RAMSAY
How does the hon. Member reconcile that fact with the drop of 20,000 acres under oats?
§ Mr. SKELTON
First of all, at seed time this year the price had not responded, and, secondly, with one exception there has been a constant fall in the, acreage of oats in Scotland owing to the decline in draft horses. With the decline of draft horses, there must be a decline in the demand, but one has to recollect that if the wheat situation is improving, there may be an increased demand for oats. The situation that has exacerbated the acreage question is due to a combination of a bad wheat situation with the general decline in the demand for oats. The latter you will never cure unless the horse beats the motor car, but the former I think you will, and we have taken steps to ensure that end. Let me only add, on the subject of Scottish agriculture as a whole, that I entirely agree with what my noble Friend and others have said that there are signs of rising prices for Scottish agricultural commodities, and also that our efforts have partly ensured that, and where that has not occurred they have prevented a further fall. The great example of the former is the case of sheep and mutton, and the great example of the Tatter is the price of beef, which might have fallen in a most catastrophic 2031 way if we had not regulated and restricted imports.
It is often said that Scotland has not benefited by the Wheat Act, but that is hardly so. It has only benefited to a limited extent, but there are districts where the farming is what is called high and is, therefore, the most expensive to carry on and the most disastrous to change. The prolongation of the Eastern English Wheat Act up into the Lothians and Fife and Angus has brought real help to Scotland. There is one other subsidy this year which Scotland has made more use of than in the past few years. I refer to the beet subsidy. I am glad to be able to tell the House that this year there are some 8,000 acres under beet in Scotland as compared with some 1,500 last year, and it does look as if the farmers are beginning to appreciate the value of the beet subsidy, as they have undoubtedly appreciated the value of the Wheat Act.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I am afraid I cannot at the moment. That brings me to my final point. My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) asked where we were going, why all these different methods, what was all this jigsaw puzzle, why here quotas, there tariffs, here a wheat scheme, and there a marketing scheme? The answer surely is that agriculture is not one industry but many, and that different products, and the proportions in which they are grown in this country compared with the amounts that are imported, demand different treatment.
If the House and those who are interested in agriculture—and this Debate has made it clear that they are not confined to the country districts but that there is a universal feeling that agriculture is now appreciated by the towns—will assess the value of the actions which the Government have taken and are taking for its assistance, they will find that the most striking feature of that action has been the variation of the methods which have been adopted. There has been an elasticity of method which reflects elasticity of mind and an appreciation of the variation of the circumstances. That variation of method has led hon. Members to raise the somewhat desolate question as to whether it means 2032 mental confusion. It does not mean mental confusion, but political courage and intellectual adaptability. As Thomas a Kempis said, every sin shall have its proper torment. I think I have dealt with the main points in the Debate, and my right hon. Friend and I thank the Scottish Members who have spoken. The Debate will strengthen our hands, and Scotland will know that there is a unanimous feeling in the House of Commons as to the vital importance of agriculture to our country.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Will the hon. Gentleman reply to the specific question I asked as to how many men were earning their living on the land in Scotland in 1920 and how many to-day?
§ Mr. SKELTON
I can give the hon. Gentleman the figures if he will be content with 1921 and 1932. Taking regular and casual workers together, the total number of agricultural labourers in Scotland in 1921 was 127,000, and in 1932 it had fallen to 111,260.
§ Mr. WALLACE
I should like my hon. Friend to answer a question which I have put specifically on two occasions, namely, whether he is prepared to consider an increased allowance to unemployed miners who are being given small plots.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I apologise to my hon. Friend for not dealing with that point. We have considered this matter very carefully, not only since my hon. Friend raised the matter the other day, but also in the general administration of the plots, and we are satisfied on experience that it is better to restrict the financial assistance given to each plotholder within the present limits. The plotholders are making good and they are repaying, but I should be unwilling to add any other charge to the cost of establishing plots. If this is going to be a widely extended movement, it is of great value that we should be able to establish a man on a plot of one-third or one-half an acre at an expenditure which does not exceed £6. If that sum be doubled, we get into a different region of finance. If my right hon. Friend and I saw that the present financial assistance by way of loan were seriously cramping stockholders, we should consider the matter afresh, but the general evidence of one's own eyes is that they do wonderfully well upon the loans that we give them and that it is 2033 much better not to burden a plotholder with loans of an undue amount if it can be avoided.
§ Mr. WALLACE
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I will give him evidence at a later date to show that they are being cramped at the present time for want of further financial assistance.
§ Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.
§ Second Resolution read a Second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
The object we had in asking the Government to put down this Vote to-night was merely to tie up some of the loose ends that were left in the Debate last week. Some hon. Members felt that there were one or two points in that Debate which might be pursued a little further. I know that the House wants to get on to the Ministry of Health Vote and to discuss ribbon development, and I do not wish to take up the time except to say two things which arise out of the Debate which took place last week. An interesting discussion was raised by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) and the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) about bursaries. This is a matter upon which all of us in Scotland feel very strongly. Glasgow is not the only part of the country where there are instances of boys and girls who cannot go to Universities because the bursaries are not sufficient to enable their parents to keep them there.
When we are discussing the amount of money devoted to the payment of University bursaries, we should keep distinct the question of educational efficiency and the question of making sure that lack of means is no bar to a University education. It is suggested in the Annual Report of the Department that it is not a bad thing in some respects that fewer people are getting University bursaries. In so far as that is true, it is a matter in which the Universities ought to help the educational administration. Distinguished members of the Universities sometimes complain of a certain falling off in the educational standards of University entrants. It is for them to keep those standards up, and so 2034 far as that is fight on grounds of educational efficiency none of us would complain. We complain that boys and girls who on educational grounds would benefit by going to the University, are prevented by lack of means. In so far, therefore, as economy may be justified—I do not say it is—by reducing the number of University bursaries as a consequence of any effort of the 'Universities to restore what some educational authorities think to be the lower standard of entrance to the Universities to the standard from which it has declined, we have no complaint; but in so far as economy is being carried to the point of debarring boys and girls from going to the Universities on financial grounds alone, we think it is a very serious matter.
I wish to support the remarks which the Secretary of State made in introducing these Estimates in regard to the Educational Endowments Commission. I am glad that he went out of his way to pay a tribute to the great public service which has been done by that hard working and much abused body. I have spoken on this subject before, and I think I have been the only Member to speak in support of the commission apart from the Members of the Government. Some hon. Members suggested that I was doing it because of my personal and political association with the chairman of the commission. That is far from being the case. As a matter of fact, I have never discussed this subject with him. I have taken the stand I have because I am convinced that it is in the interests of education in Scotland that there should be a real reform of the educational endowment system, and that, while all proper respect should be paid to many bodies which have administered these endowments in a real spirit of public service, more obstructive and less efficient bodies should not be allowed to hinder this work, that is so vital to the future of education in Scotland. One hon. Member suggested that there ought to be a statement of things done by the commission. There is an admirable statement in the fifth report of the commission in which, coming on the heels of the other four reports which they have published, a very full account of their work is given.
I do not want to suggest that the critics are not entitled to their due. It is 2035 a good thing that there should be criticism and that the work of the commission should be subjected to public discussion that the public should have a lively and keen interest in the work that is being carried on; that it should not be carried on behind closed doors; and that there should be public hearing of the controversies over important issues which are being decided. Much of the criticism has been authoritative and weighty, and it is vital that full consideration should be given not only to the interests of the children, who must come first, but to the testators who have left their money, for this purpose, so that other people should not be discouraged from leaving bequests for educational purposes. Neither I nor any other Member claims that this commission is infallible, and those of us who admire the work it has done were pleased to hear the tribute paid to it by the right hon. Gentleman.
The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Moore) criticised the provision under which the commission are entitled to bring under review wills made since 1920, urging that the date should be altered to before the War in 1914. I think that would be a great mistake. He said the attitude of people towards this question had changed since the War. If it has changed at all it is since the War ended, and so the present date is about right. He also suggested that there should be an appeal to the Court of Session, but Lord Mackenzie's Committee which inquired into the question, and on whose recommendation the Educational Endowments Commission was appointed, dismissed the idea that this was a matter suitable to be handled by the courts. I suggest, however, that it would be a good thing if the responsibility given to the Secretary of State as vice-president of the Council of Scottish Education could become effective at an earlier stage. It is a real responsibility, as the Under-Secretary has pointed out. It is a responsibility which I exercised to some extent when holding the office which the right hon. Gentleman opposite now holds. He has exercised that responsibility very effectively in the case of the Marr Trust, and it is astonishing to find that great authorities in education seem to disbelieve that it is an effective responsibility. I do not altogether agree with the action of the Secretary of State 2036 in connection with Marr College, but I will not go into that question now. At any rate, that case does show that he has power to act when he thinks it necessary in the interests of Scottish education. If the views of the Department could be effectively brought to bear upon the work of the commission at an earlier date there would be a great deal to be said for that, and it might encourage closer co-operation between the Department and the commission, to the great advantage of Scottish education.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. LEONARD
I wish to say one or two words with regard to the feeling there is in Glasgow on the subject of the Education Grant Regulations. Last year there was considerable criticism by myself and other hon. Members representing Glasgow of the amount Glasgow received out of the fixed sum which is disbursed by the Department. Something was said regarding the advantages of the English method of the percentage grant, but that was not the point of our protest. Three factors which enter into the educational position in Glasgow were also put forward, but that was not a point upon which we were prepared to quarrel. What was felt to be an injustice, however, was the formula which has been adopted by the Department in the allocation of grants to the various localities according to what are deemed to be their needs. Last Wednesday I asked the Secretary of State for information as to the percentage which the grants payable under the Education Grant regulations bore to the net estimated expenditure for the year 1933–34 in each education area in Scotland. I am grateful for the answer, which provided a considerable list of authorities and gave details of the percentages.
I find that the amount received by Aberdeen County is 73.1 per cent. of its total expenditure. Banff receives 74.3 per cent., Moray and Nairn 69.2 per cent. and Perth and Kinross 56 per cent. It is not denied that those parts of the country have their special problems, and in order to be fair I should also quote the position in some of the burghs. Aberdeen receives 56.1 per cent., although I think it would be agreed that the urban problems are not very acute in Aberdeen. Dundee receives 58.2 per cent., although I am advised that the special services in Dundee are not so high as in Glasgow. 2037 Edinburgh receives 46.1 per cent., though Edinburgh, again, has not the social problems of Glasgow. Glasgow receives only 46.2 per cent. of the estimated expenditure. As I say, it is not denied that the districts I have quoted have special problems of their own, associated with the scattered nature of their population, and what they have to do with regard to their teaching staffs. But we feel that whereas all those factors were taken into consideration when the formula was drawn up, the needs of Glasgow do not receive sufficient weight under that formula. Glasgow's special problems include the great amount of medical inspection which has to be undertaken, the feeding and clothing of necessitous children, and the schools for mental and physically defective children which have to be maintained. The special problems of Glasgow do not affect many other cities. Obviously, too, unemployment is one of the special factors there.
I have a tabulated statement here showing the special expenditure per head of the pupils in different areas. The expenditure per pupil on these special services in Glasgow last year was no less than 18s. 3¾d. In Edinburgh the special services expenditure was only 9s. 9½d., Dundee, 8s. 7¾d., and Aberdeen, 6s. 4d. I suggest these figures do lend colour to the complaint of the city of Glasgow that the formula is so framed as not to give due recognition to her special problems. The Regulations lying on the Table of the House show that there is an allocation of £25,830 to Glasgow. That is the sum which has been given to Glasgow since 1928. It is respectfully suggested to the Department that many things have happened since then, and that there ought to be a review of this grant. I understand it is the view of the Department that to alter the formula would put a penalty upon the rural authorities. Glasgow does not want to put any penalties upon the rural authorities, but, all the same, we feel that Glasgow's case ought to have recognition. Glasgow has been informed that in the past, when money was available, she was treated rather generously, and that when things had to be tightened up the burden placed on her was not so heavy as on other parts of the country. I respectfully suggest that that shows that Glasgow has a case. At any rate, it shows that her case has been recognised in the past. The Department 2038 also claim that the present method allows a great deal of freedom to local authorities and recognises special services. So far as I can ascertain, Glasgow have not asked for any special sums for the services mentioned, but that the problems peculiar to Glasgow should be given weight in the formula just as weight has been given in that formula to the peculiar positions in other parts. It is suggested that as the block grant was allocated in 1929 without regard to the resulting rate, the same attitude should be adopted in respect of the education grant. The true index of equity can be found better by looking at the matter from a percentage point of view. Glasgow have pressed for a number of years for re-adjustment within the present arrangement, but if sonic satisfactory modification cannot be arrived at, Glasgow, I am informed, will have to change their attitude from a claim for re-adjustment to an insistence upon an entirely new method of allocating the Scottish Education grant. I trust therefore that some attention will be paid to this matter in the immediate future with a view to making a modification along the lines for which Glasgow have pressed for so long.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Sir ADRIAN BAILLIE
I am very grateful for the opportunity of raising a matter peculiar to the county which I represent. The Education Committee of the county council of West Lothian are very perturbed about the education grants for the current financial year, arising out of the part restoration of the cuts which were imposed in 1931. Further, they are perplexed at the apparent failure of the Government to implement the undertaking which was made in the Chancellor's Budget speech last April that an amount would be refunded to the local authorities equal to half the restoration of the cuts in teachers' salaries. Either there is a grant sufficient to implement that undertaking or not, and if the total sum required has been earmarked in the education fund of Scotland, the distribution must have been operating unfairly in the case of West Lothian, because the amount of the grant has not been sufficient to cover the restoration of half the cuts.
The net estimate of the increase in the salaries bill for West Lothian is £4,300; half restoration of the cuts would cost 2039 £5,240, but the net increase in the grants allocated to the West Lothian authority is only £906. The extra money which should have been available as grant, in accordance with the announcement in the Chancellor's speech of 17th April, and covering the period from 1st July, 1934, to 15th May, 1935, is £4,840. The deduction from that sum has been £3,934, leaving only £906 as the additional grant for the current financial year. These figures will not be news to the Under-Secretary, because the local authority have had a voluminous correspondence with the Department. The local authority are not satisfied with the replies that have been received, and I must say, with -all respect, neither am I. It has been stated that the deduction to which I have referred was independent of any adjustment of grant arising out of the restoration of cuts, but I would emphasise that the major item in the deduction of £3,934 was £3,137, which related to what I believe is known as "distribution of losses and gains" covering a number of teachers and pupils.
That leads me to what we consider to be a very real grievance, concerning the method of the distribution of education grants. One of the main items to which the Scottish Office devotes those grants is teachers' salaries. Not long ago, the Secretary of State for Scotland addressed an appeal—if I understood it aright—to the local education authorities in which he expressed the desire that they should study economy as far as possible, and they were especially to address their attention to reductions in the teaching staff. My information is that only two county authorities in Scotland have nobly and efficiently responded to that appeal. I have here a letter which I received a few days ago from the Director of Education in West Lothian, and it puts the position and expresses the feeling which we have in this matter.
The letter draws attention tothe failure on the part of many of the education authorities to respond to the Government's plea for economy in staffing,and states:There has actually been an increase in the number of teachers in Scotland instead of a decrease. It is true that the Department estimate a net increase of 1,300 scholars, but this should not have added 59 teachers to the total of last financial year.2040 The letter points out that:West Lothian in addition to saving, say, eight teachers for the decrease of 233 pupils on the roll, saved another nine following upon the request made by the Secretary of State. It will thus be apparent how West Lothian has suffered such a loss in grant as £3,137 incidental to the distribution of losses and gains. The only other area losing such an amount is the large county of Lanark. … On the other hand we find Stirling gaining in addition to their normal share of the increased grant a sum of £2,352 on distributional changes in scholars and teachers, the cities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow £1,408, £4,986 and £17,372 respectively.I have raised this matter on one or two occasions with the Under-Secretary. On 13th July, 1933, desirous of being constructive and not destructive, I prepared a memorandum in which I submitted an alternative method for the distribution of education grants and which I thought deserved sympathetic consideration. I suggested, for instance, that the Department should require county authorities to submit the numbers of their elementary pupils, and that in each case the number might be divided by 40, as a fairly suitable size for an elementary class. That division having been made, the result would show the number of teachers which the authority should properly require. A larger allocation would probably have to be made for scattered rural areas, but seems, at least to me and to my local authority, that by 1936 or 1937 it should be possible throughout most of Scotland to arrange for such classes of 40.
I suggested at the same time that the county authority should submit the number of children that they had in post-qualifying classes, and that that number might be divided by 25, as representing the appropriate size for a post-qualifying class. As a result of that division, you would get the number of post-qualifying teachers to which the grant should be limited. I suggested that, if that alternative were adopted, it would not only be fairer to those counties which were really making an effort at economy, but the resulting economies could be allocated partly to increasing the basic allowance per teacher, and there would still be sufficient to allocate to sparsely populated and distressed areas. Instead of the Department saying to the local authority, "We will pay you so much per teacher," the Department might say to the local authority, "We will pay you in respect of the number of teachers Chat you have," 2041 after the formula which I have suggested had been applied. In other words, you would have a block teachers' grant, and, if a block grant is good in some respects, I cannot see why it should not be good in this respect as well.
The Under-Secretary, in his reply at that time, admitted that the present form of distribution was not entirely satisfactory, and that he had, indeed, six months previously, gone into such a formula as I have outlined, but had turned it down because of the practical difficulties. I quite appreciate the practical difficulties, but I suggest that they were no greater than those involved in putting into operation the De-rating Act. I repeat that I appreciate those difficulties, hut I would suggest to the Under-Secretary that his Department is dealing with those difficulties to-day. It is already making allowances to sparsely populated areas, and it is already making allowances for small schools, low valuations, and so on. I was informed at that time that the department were pressing local authorities to reduce their staffing arrangements. Surely the department must have some standard to apply to those local authorities whom they are pressing to reduce their staffing arrangements, and, if so, I should be glad if the Under-Secretary would, if possible, give me some idea of what standard is being applied to those local authorities who so far have not seen fit to give effect to the appeal of the Secretary of State. It seems to us—and when I say "us" I mean the local authorities and myself in the constituency which I represent—that the present system of education grants operates unfairly towards those authorities who are honestly endeavouring, within the bounds of efficiency, to practise economy.
There is only one last point that I would like to make. The fact that, in the case of West Lothian for example, the department's grant has been reduced by £3,000, does not establish any economy so far as the national finances are concerned. That is my understanding of the situation. The reduction in grant merely goes back into the pool, to be re-allocated as the department desires, or to be redivided among other authorities who have apparently been less amenable to the appeal of the Secretary of State for economy. I would earnestly beg the Under-Secretary to re-devote his attention 2042 to this problem of the re-allocation of these grants, especially so far as the grants applicable to teachers' salaries are concerned—
§ Mr. SKELTON
I understood that my hon. Friend was referring, not to teachers' salaries, but to block grants for teachers.
§ Sir A. BAILLIE
The grant in so far as it is earmarked for the number of teachers concerned, at so much per teacher per head. I would ask my hon. Friend to re-devote his attention to that part of the grant, in order to redress what I seriously believe to be a great injustice to such depressed areas as West Lothian, which are doing their very best to assist the Secretary of State in carrying out economies.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Lord SCONE
There are two points that I wish to raise on this Vote, and in discussing both I will be as brief as I can. The first is the question which has been raised by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) with regard to children of marked ability being prevented by education authorities from taking up bursaries, because of the family circumstances. I quite agree with the hon. Member that wherever this occurs it is more than deplorable, and I hope that my hon. Friend will take immediate steps to investigate the position. In the six years during which I was a member of Perthshire Education Authority, we never had any case of that sort, because we took care that all those who merited it went forward to any institution for which they were qualified. One case that we had was that of a boy whose parents were dead, and who lived with his grandmother, whose total income was £30 per annum. This scantiness of resources did not prevent the boy from attending Perth Academy, Edinburgh University, a university in Germany, and the Sorbonne, at all of which he greatly distinguished himself. That was due to the fact that Perthshire Education Authority unanimously recognised that he had most exceptional ability, and were therefore willing to expend a very large sum of money if necessary. I hope that other authorities will show themselves at least as far-seeing as we were on that occasion.
With regard to the activities of that doubtless well-meaning, but, I am afraid 2043 I must say, often-ill-doing body, the Educational Endowments Commission, we are very glad to learn, from a hint given by the Secretary of State to-day in reply to a question, that the Commission's wings are to be clipped somewhat in future. I think most people will agree that it would be a pity if the Commission came to an end at the present time, with its work unfinished, but I am sure that the Scottish Office will have earned the gratitude of all those in Scotland who are deeply interested in education—and everyone knows that their number is very large—if it puts a stop to the Commission's playful habit of interfering grossly with bequests which have been left for certain purposes, and trampling roughshod upon the wishes of those who have left those bequests. One of the glories of Scottish education in the past has been the way in which persons of means, either during their lifetime or after their death, have made provision for boys and girls who possessed scant resources but great brains. The conditions were, of course, very varied. Sometimes they were territorial, sometimes professional, and sometimes they depended on the name of the beneficiary. If the right hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary would take steps to see that. as far as is humanly practicable, the intentions of the testator are faithfully observed, they will not merely earn the thanks of all those interested in education, but they will also cause to lie more quietly in their narrow beds those who in the past out of their resources did their best to ensure that no one possessing brains, whether of their own parish, their own trade, or their own clan, should suffer from lack of education for wart of financial resources.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I entirely agree with what has been said on the subject raised by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean), that of bursaries for meritorious young people whose circumstances are very poor, and I am very delighted to hear the examples that are given of the enlightened way in which the education authority of a county with which I have been intimately connected carries on its work. My right hon. Friend and I are considering the steps that can be taken. The matter is one within the actual purview of the local authorities, and I think 2044 the valuable examples that have been given might be copied by other local authorities.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Might I emphasise the suggestion I threw out previously that, if the Scottish Office were to draw the attention of local authorities to the powers they already possess under the Education Act of meeting a situation such as was contained in the cases that I quoted, that would at least give them no further excuse for going on in the way some of them are evidently doing.
§ Mr. SKELTON
That is one of the points that we are considering, but I find some difficulty in believing that the expert advisers of education authorities do not know that there is an Act of Parliament which has been their Magna Charta since 1918.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I was informed that the Members of the Committee said they could do nothing under the law to give a grant, and, when I informed them that it is there in the Act, they told me they knew nothing about that.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I will remember the hon. Member's information on that point. Several different matters have been raised on the subject of the grant. The point of the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) has been pressed upon us more than once by the City of Glasgow. The point they make is this. Glasgow gets only 46.2 per cent. of its total education expenditure from the Government grant, whereas you find such favoured spots as Orkney getting 80.5 per cent. from the Government grant. Does not that show that Glasgow is being very hardly treated? But the way one must test the validity of that proposition is to ask how much the authorities have to spend from the rates and, if we find that Glasgow with its low percentage contribution from the State only has to pay an education rate of 33.9 pence in the £ whereas Orkney with its high grant none the less has to pay an education rate of 64d. in the £, one appreciates the situa tion more truly. Trying to look at the matter with complete importiality, it appears to me that on the whole the method of calculating the general grant works out with fair equity. It may show a very small percentage given by the State, but it also shows that districts, even with the high percentages that they 2045 get from the State, still have to pay very high rates, and I do not think the position of Glasgow is fully appreciated merely by stating the figure of the percentage of grant expenditure.
§ Mr. LEONARD
Is it not the case that the rate has a very close relationship to valuation, and will not the hon. Gentleman agree that derating is a factor of considerable importance?
§ Mr. SKELTON
That may all be perfectly true, hut I am dealing with the situation as I find it. Whenever anyone finds that an argument based upon the rate does not suit him, he discards the rate and goes back to valuation. That is a familiar dialectical device. I am not criticising it, but I do not believe that changing the argument from rating to valuation really makes a very great deal of difference at the end of the day. I prefer to compare income with income rather than income with capital. I commend the figures that I have given. I could give many more to show that, although some other areas get a larger percentage, yet they have to bear a great burden, the truth of the matter being that the bare essentials of education are more burdensome to a community when the scholars are scattered and the schools have to be many and various. That, I think, is the reason why, even though reinforced by these large grants, the rates in the rural districts are so heavy.
I turn from the general question to the question of the special grant. I doubt whether many Members are conversant with the details, which are somewhat technical. The special grant was made a block grant in 1927, when certain factors of a formula were elaborated. I am well aware that in any block grant based upon a formula you have to reconsider and reassess periodically. It is only a question when the next revision period will come. I am unwilling to pledge myself as to the actual year in which we shall make that revision, because I want to see the financial situation stabilised. It should be at a time when we have not to expect any sudden extra expense, such, for instance, as would be involved if the remaining cuts were restored to the teachers. But, in principle, I do not differ from my hon. Friend or from his constituents in saying that there must be periodical 2046 revision of the special grant. Whether there should be any periodical revision or any rearrangement of the formula of that system in relation to Glasgow, I do not pledge myself or make any promise, and therefore, that is all I will say here and now on the topic as a special topic. I do not pretend to be very much of a mathematician, and I always doubt my own mathematical results, but, as far as I can judge, after many years experience, I think that on the whole the method of allocating the 'Scottish education grant by the Scottish Education Department is one which, on the whole, works well.
This brings me to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Sir A. Baillie). It is true that he, and, it may be, the education authority of West Lothian are not satisfied with the method by which the education grant is distributed. If I may say so with all courtesy and respect, they are only an individual body, and the great majority of education authorities, I think I am right in saying, are satisfied with the method adopted—the formula of so much for teacher and so much for scholar. I think, as far as I can judge with the experience I have had, that on the whole a rough and ready and fair equity of distribution is achieved.
§ Sir A. BAILLIE
Would it not be applicable to say that the reason that the vast majority of county authorities are satisfied is because the vast majority have not responded to the appeal for economy and that only the two counties of Lanark and West Lothian are carrying the baby?
§ Mr. SKELTON
I should not like to limit the general agreement of education authorities with the method adopted to the years when economies were made by the Secretary of State. For long years there has been a general feeling that it has not been a bad method of distribution. Do not let any apparent temporary disadvantage to a particular local authority raise in their minds any doubt as to the general value of the method of Scottish educational finance as a whole, namely, the receipt by Scotland of a grant, with which my right lion. Friend and those associated with him in the Education Department have the power of dealing in a way far more unrestricted than the narrower bounds of the equivalent 2047 English Acts. Elasticity in the matter of dealing with educational expenditure is of real importance, and while it is of great importance that the education authorities should generally be satisfied with the method, I should be very sorry to find one authority which at the moment may think that another method might give it a better result and that the whole method of Scottish educational finance is wrong.
I challenge—and I will not do more—the figure given by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow. My information is that the grant increase for that county this year is £1,400, and, in view of the fact that the school population is falling and that the secondary school teacher population is also falling, that they would have suffered a very heavy reduction if it had not been for the increased sum available consequent upon the decision of the Government to restore half the cuts. I am told that whereas West Lothian has actually received an increase of £1,400 this year, its educational circumstances for the year would have brought about a serious decrease.
I will complete what I have to say by adding that there is no foundation for the proposition, which, I think, I heard my hon. Friend utter, that the Government stand the whole cost of the restoration of cuts, either in England or in Scotland. As far as Scotland is concerned, the grant for local education authorities is not earmarked for the special purpose, and as far as England is concerned, I understand—and I state this with very great diffidence—that the restoration of cuts, as far as the secondary schools is concerned, falls as to one-half upon the local education authorities. I may be wrong about that—I think I am right—and I use it only as an example to show that my hon. Friend has no foundation for saying that at any time the Government have said that the whole of the money needed to restore the 50 per cent. of the cuts has to be found in the education grant. The Scottish education grant, as is well known, is conditioned to be 11/80ths of the sum to be expended in England. It is not conditioned by the salaries of the teachers in the schools at all. I think that I have dealt with the whole of the subjects raised in this short Debate, but I shall be very glad at any 2048 time to discuss privately with my hon. Friend his views about Scottish education grants, as I know that it is a subject in which he takes very great interest.
§ Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.
§ Third Resolution read a Second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Sir PERCY HARRIS
I make no apologies to the House for switching off hon. Members from the Northern part of the Isle—Scotland—to England, especially as some of the problems I intend to raise are of common interest to the United Kingdom. I intend to deal particularly with one of the new developments of the Ministry of Health—town-planning. I do not apologise for doing so because of its extremely intimate relation to housing. Housing and town-planning ought to be regarded as one problem, and, if town-planning is neglected and not properly approached, then inevitably the full advantage of spending both public and private money on housing will be more or less neutralised. I am in the fortunate position of not being worried with the fear of having to refer to legislation for, on the whole, Acts of Parliament give us more or less all the powers we require. It is purely a matter of putting the existing law into operation. We have made great progress during the last 20 years not only in legislation, but in public opinion. The Burns Act usually referred to as the 1909 Act, containing our town-planning policy, the 1925 Act, and last, but not least, the 1932 Act, which the right hon. Gentleman may claim as his, are all on the Statute Book. They are comprehensive and cover not every possible problem, but a great part of the needs of the case.
We are not lacking in ideas. I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that there has been great progress in public opinion, I will not say on the part of the general public but of those people who are specially qualified to study the question. I refer to the Royal Institute of British Architects, who have spent considerable sums in the training of younger unemployed men in making plans in anticipation of developments in and 2049 around London. In London we have had that very remarkable committee, one of the best of its kind, the London Regional Planning Committee, to which I should like to pay a special compliment, because their work is mainly voluntary, arduous and extraordinarily good, as far as it goes. Now that we have had the Act on the Statute Book for something like 18 months I think the time for action has come. The longer we leave town planning, and the longer we neglect it the more difficult it is to take advantage of it. Every year is wasted. If we had only been able to carry out what might be described as the ideas of our first town planner in London, the London of to-day might have been a much better place.
Be that as it may, I want to be fair and to pay a tribute where it is due. A great deal of work has been done since 1919 under the various Acts of Parliament. The prospects are not so bad as to make us pessimistic. In Liverpool they have a complete town planning scheme, partly due to the initiative of a distingushed engineer, who is now engineer of the London County Council. When I was in Liverpool a little time ago I was taken to see how they were regulating development by forward planning. Nor can we overlook what has been done in the County of London. Already we have inside the county 18 town planning schemes, covering an area of something like 37½ square miles. That is all to the good. If I read the newspapers aright—I am no longer a member of that distinguished body—the London County Council are going to make a complete survey and a complete scheme of town planning inside their boundary. But, and this is the important point that I want the Minister to take note of—I believe the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me when I say that all the boundaries that you make for town planning are more or less artificial.
There is now no real division between the town and the country. The advent and development of the motor, especially the motor omnibus, has revolutionised the living area, the domiciliary area of the bulk of the population of the great towns and cities, whether Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, London or elsewhere. Distance has ceased to be a serious factor in deciding where people who work in cities shall live. The speeding 2050 up and development of motors will accentuate that factor. In London where the General omnibus stops the Green Line begins. Distance is eliminated, and this makes it impossible to say where local government organisation exists that any one local authority can really tackle in a satisfactory way the town planning required for the population living in and around any of our great cities, not only London but throughout the country. Obviously, owing to its size, the London problem is more acute than the problem of any other great centre.
I have referred to the Regional Planning Committee. The right hon. Gentleman is no doubt familiar with their report, and I should like to recommend it for pleasant holiday reading. It is a very remarkable book, not at all dull, well illustrated, and is not written in the official language usually associatd with a document of this kind. It shows that the Committee have realised the importance of the problem. The greater London area is accurately described as the London traffic area. First, there is the City of London, then the County of London, created in 1889, the Metropolitan Police area, which is something like 10 miles radius from Charing Cross, and then there is the great area used for traffic purposes and for regional town planning by the Regional- Town Planning Committee, covering seven counties—not too ambitious if this problem is to be properly tackled.
The problem in London has become accentuated by the extraordinary and almost miraculous development of its population. I have referred on a previous occasion to this question and I want to create a public consciousness' which, unfortunately, does not exist. London is growing almost like a miracle city, while the population is almost unconscious of what is going on. According to the census returns, the population of this area was eight and a-quarter millions at the previous census, but in 1931 it had grown to 9,145,000 and it is still growing at the same rate. There is no cessation in the expansion. According to the anticipations of the Census Commission the rate of increase of population has been increasing during the years following the census three years ago. What makes this problem so difficult is that of the increase of 920,000 persons fewer than 500,000 of 2051 the increase is due to what is described as the natural increase, the ordinary growth of the population. The balance is made up by the migration of over 400,000 people. They are flowing into this big area, unorganised, unplanned largely, and there is no authority which is really big enough to apply its mind to the position except the Government, particularly the Ministry of Health, and in common fairness I might add the Minister of Transport and the Ministry of Labour.
More than half of this increase of population is outside the county. Inside the county the population is going down, although the housing problem is not growing less. People have been pushed out by the pressure of industries and of factories into this great unorganised greater London area, which we have seen growing up before our eyes, and which we have seen when we have driven by motor car or motor omnibus in and around London. In this area there are 135 local authorities. Some people may say that, with all these authorities and this enormous number of persons who are interested in the local government of this large area, we may sleep in our beds without worry and leave them to do the job. This is a case, I will not say of a multitude of councils leading to confusion, but a division of responsibility in the matter of town planning which makes it almost insoluble. Of course the traffic question is intimately connected with it. Here is this vast population moving about, going to their work by tube, train and omnibus, some people living in the centre and working outside, but many more people living outside and working inside. To add to the difficulty you have the amusement habit and the recreation habit very much developed and encouraged by fast motor traffic, which leads to congestion. The Regional Planning Committee has been conscious of it and has diagnosed the problem, but, being an advisory committee, it is not able to provide the remedy. Let me give one quotation from their report:If town and regional planning is to advance beyond the primitive stage of merely stereotyping present and local tendencies and regulating them in detail, if it is to correct harmful trends and secure an improved distribution and better types of development, quite evidently Greater London must be considered and planned for as one complete unit.2052 The right hon. Gentleman will agree with that, and the question is how can it be done? I do not think legislation is required, we have all the power necessary under existing Acts of Parliament. But some sort of action is necessary unless you are going to have many problems of the future which will be in some cases worse than the old problems. The report points out that the relatively small amount of land occupied by new buildings covers an enormous area over which rural amenities seem to be destroyed by what is called sporadic development. If you take a ride in a car on any of the arterial roads you will see the ribbon development, little patches of houses and then perhaps a factory, and then a little bit of country. Every year it is becoming more difficult to get into the country, and there is an enormous waste of land due to the lack of ordered planning. The figures are significant. The number of dwellings built within the area is 350,000 houses. With eight houses to the acre that would absorb roughly 43,000 acres, or 68 square miles, that is in 10 years. In the region of Greater London there are 118 square miles and it may be a surprise to some hon. Members to know that there are 50,000 square miles in Greater London which are still unoccupied, especially when you find a difficulty in reaching an open space or a wood. The trouble is owing to the lack of planning, due to the number of authorities and the consequent division of responsibility.
If anyone goes down the Great West Road they will pass the Slough development, where they will see a great industrial community rising rapidly, covering all kinds of industries, but with a complete absence of any organised or planned housing provisions. If, on the other hand, they go east to Becontree they will see a great area of houses put up three years ago by the London County Council, with no industries, no factories, and no workshops for the vast new population which was dumped down in that area. Fortunately, by accident not by anticipation, the Ford Company saved the situation by placing a factory in that locality. I would impress on the right hon. Gentleman the importance of getting into contact with the Minister of Labour so that when factories are brought into these areas from the north they shall be directed to areas where there is proper 2053 provision of houses and the possibility of factory development in a convenient neighbourhood. The ideal development is that of Port Sunlight. It is quite possible and practicable, indeed, it is vital that what has been done at Port Sunlight should be done in all our great towns, and particularly in London under the powers already given in the Town Planning Acts.
The first thing to be done is to have a green girdle round London, to stop the further urban development of London unless there is reasonable provision for parks, gardens and open spaces. This Greater London of ours has grown large enough. There is nothing imaginary or visionary about such a proposal, as it has already been considered by the Town Planning Committee and the London County Council. It is also applied in almost every great German city, in America and in the Dominions, and it is only because of our old-fashioned ideas that we have not done something of the same kind of thing. Obviously, if town planning is to make any progress it is impossible to leave it to the chance action of the 135 authorities concerned. There must be joint action. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman how many of these heal authorities are co-operating? Have the powers provided by Section 35 of the Act been exercised? I have a shrewd suspicion that not many of them are cooperating. None of them want to take the initiative, they have their own little difficulties and problems, and unless there is some driving force, someone to initiate a policy, very little will be done. I am going to ask the right hon. Gentleman to give a lead to these local authorities, to get them together and encourage and stimulate their co-operation, so that we may have town planning not next year or the year after, but in the year 1934.
One other matter: a very interesting provision is made on the recommendation of the right hon. Gentleman in the Town Planning Act giving permission for satellite towns. The report, quite rightly in my opinion, recommends strongly that this is the right kind of development if you are to stop your development from urbanising too much agricultural land. The promoters of the Town Planning A ct—I suppose the right hon. Gentleman and his officials—in Section 35 made special and skilful arrangements to secure that where any locality or two or 2054 three local authorities joined together, the Minister had power to acquire land on behalf of any authority desiring to take such action. I speak subject to correction, but I do not believe there is a single case yet, except around Manchester, of any serious attempt to use these powers. Withenshaw is the only example, but I believe that is the best way to preserve rural amenities and give that varied town life which we desire to see. You do not want a segregation of one class entirely to itself. The more mixing of population there is the better for everybody concerned, and I take it the desire is that you should have enough variety of life, creating a unified society and leading to proper provision for employment as well as social amenities and recreation.
Finally, the case comes in again under Section 36, which gives the Minister great powers. The Minister may decide, after a local inquiry, that a scheme ought to be prepared, and he has the power to prepare a scheme and may require the Authority to institute it. I am not complaining that after 18 months he has done nothing in that direction, but I would remind him of the fact that he has the power, and it is a great lever to stimulate activity in recalcitrant local authorities, especially when you come to Greater London. I would not press him to take isolated action in relation to this or that authority, if he is to use his powers towards the co-operation of these various Authorities in this great area to prevent that tragic development going on all around our great cities, and particularly in London. I do not apologise for raising this subject. I believe it is the first time we have discussed it on the Ministry of Health Vote. It is intimately associated with industry, intimately associated with health, recreation and the well-being of our industrial population. I hope, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity of giving it his sympathetic consideration.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
If I am in order 1 would like to extract from the Minister some information concerning National Health Insurance. In connection with the last Bill that was put through this House reducing the benefits and taking Away the services of the doctor from the unemployed, the maternity benefit, and taking away certain pension rights, statements 2055 were made by Members of the Government that the consultative committee dealing with National Health questions had agreed to all the provisions of that Bill. Since then there have been contradictions made in connection with people who are on that body. In this House, when the previous Bill was under discussion And we were seeking some relief, I made a speech in which I stated that members of the consultative committee on the trades union side had agreed to these reductions that had taken place, and I did so on the Authority of the Ministers who had spoken in this House on 7th July, 1933. On that date the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, speaking in Committee of Supply, said:The hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Wallhead) asked whether the approval of the approved societies had been obtained. The Committee will remember that this step was taken on the advice of the consultative committee, or in co-operation with them. It was approved by all the six members of approved societies, including the trade union group, and I know of no approved society which did not agree—recognising, if you like, the grim necessity of passing that Act."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th July, 1933; col, 722, Vol. 280.]On 13th June, 1932, the late Parliamentary Secretary, now the Minister of Mines, said:The hon, Member for Crorbals (Mr. Buchanan) asked about the position of the consultative committee. It is a body of 40 members representing approved societies of every type. Six of them are representatives of trade union approved societies. The hon. Member asked me whether they approved of the Measure. The answer is 'Yes.' He asked me if they approved of this particular proposal. The answer again is ' Yes.'A little later the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) said:The Parliamentary Secretary said that the consultative committee is behind this Measure. Do I understand that it is unanimous in supporting this first Clause?Mr. BROWN: The consultative committee has given its approval to the Measure and to this Sub-section.Mr. BUCFIANAN Including the six trade unions?Mr. BROWN: Certainly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th June, 1932; Vol. 267.]We have been told since that these statements are untrue. The statements of the Minister are completely denied and others have gone further and said that the trade union approved 2056 societies have protested and that an apology has been given to them for these statements having been made. I do not seek to exploit anything that is untrue. If the Ministers have made statements that are untrue, I ask that they should be withdrawn and apologised for, and I am prepared in that case to apologise and to withdraw. I am not anxious to have private letters sent to me that I cannot cite denying these statements of the Minister and I think we are entitled, in the interest of the working class, to ask the Minister to say whether an apology has been tendered to the trade union societies or, if not, whether the trade union groups agreed to the provisions of the Measure as stated by the Minister at that time.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Sir FRANCIS FREMANTLE
I do not want to stand between the Committee and the reply of the Minister to the very interesting statement by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) or his reply to the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), but I want to appeal for a clarification and certainly an assurance on the subject of town planning. I am afraid that the difficulties of town planning are so great that, having laid down the foundation and the scheme of machinery and organisation, the tendency is for the matter to get more and more into a groove and to be side-tracked. It is a good thing when we have occasionally an opportunity such as this to ask the Minister whether he is doing all he can to impress on local authorities the seriousness of the position.
It is a common experience of all If us throughout the country, whether we go by road or by rail, to see the enormous growth of housing. These houses are growing up generally in a way that is a disgrace to the present age. There is no question about it that, taking it by and large, the degree of thought that is given to the planning and the actual usefulness of the location and distribution of housing, is a disgrace to our intelligence. Yet it is not so much our intelligence, as the actual difficulties of the position. This housing is going on at a great pace, and Ike pace will be increased especially in those areas that want planning more than anything else, that is in the case of slum clearance and overcrowding. Town planning requires to come first and the 2057 housing afterwards. That is a, point that some of us have stressed in the past. I remember emphasising it when the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Green. wood) introduced his Slum Clearance Bill. I said then that planning should come first and housing afterwards. Instead of that the right hon. Gentleman introduced his Slum Clearance Bill as the one which had the most popularity, and left it to his successors to bring in the Town Planning Bill. The two things go together, but you want the planning first and the housing then to fit into the plan.
Why is this planning sticking? It is sticking unnecessarily. In planning there is very great difficulty in visualising the future. Fortunately or unfortunately I have had recently to consider this matter from the point of view of planning my own family estate, for which I am the trustee for life. I am responsible for seeing that it is done in the best way possible. The estate falls within two rural districts. I have called in one if the best known planners, who has taken a considerable part for years in looking at things from the public point of view. I called him in to consult with him, to protect my interests from the private point of view. The difficulty is this, and it is a real one in planning. A planner comes clown and the local authority wants to plan an area for the future—a future which is almost completely unknown. The planner does not know what the future development of the area will be. He flows there will be an arterial road somewhere in the offing, and he imagines there may be a town or a village here and there. He feels it essential to get an agreement to develop a certain part of the area, with four or two or eight houses to the acre. But he is acting in the blue.
My expert and I, talking honestly and straightly as man to man, said: "This is ridiculous. We really do not know what we are planning for, and yet we are tying up the estate for all eternity to what is unknown." What is really wanted is that where you have a development coming close by and you know what the future is going to be, you should plan for it in detail. I believe that a large amount of planning is sticking now for the very reason that, consciously or unconsciously, the authorities in general feel that the landowners are right in saying, "This is nonsense. You are asking us to restrict the development of our estates, 2058 which may possibly be the centre of some close urban development, and you are asking us for ever to restrict it to a development of four, two or one houses per acre as if it were to be only suburban development."
I ask the Minister whether there is not now an opportunity for him, when he issues a circular 'on planning to local authorities, to advise them that it is in their power now to plan only superficially and provisionally for the most part where areas are still purely rural, and to leave it open for a supplementary scheme to be introduced at a later date. I cannot go into details. I believe it is passible to work the Town Planning Act in that spirit, putting emphasis on the fact that you must lay down your plan in advance for the main development, and for the minor development to be left over for the time being. It is essential to plan for the immense movement of population. About 100,000 persons are being moved out of London every year. They are settling down in different areas around London. As far as possible we want to associate that movement with the resiting of factories. This point was mentioned by the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris).
From a national point of view we do not want to encourage factories to move down from the North. I believe that the movement of factories must be allowed largely to decide itself, and the placing of houses ought to follow the placing of factories. You cannot deliberately place factories in one direction or another. Factories will find themselves where it is most useful to go. The planning of housing and the other requirements of civilisation ought to be around the factory. The factory should be the nucleus. I think we have made a mistake in trying to see where residences should go and letting factories take their own line. You cannot properly envisage any arrangement for factories except as dependent on two main things, communication and labour supply. Factories find that out for themselves. Along the Great West Road or the Great North Road or the railways, wherever the factories are finding a place, the houses should be arranged around.
The chief person who will preserve rural amenities is the private landowner. The landowner who is doing his best for 2059 the public as well as for his employés is the best preserver of the amenities of the countryside. Many of our difficulties to day arise from the series of legislative measures which have put him into the category of a selfish profiteer and have made it almost impossible for him to keep up his estate, though I am glad that things are improving in that respect. I hope that in the planning of the countryside in the future something will be done to bring him more and more into the picture, as a co-operator if not actually the central figure in the work. I hope also that our planning in the future will be freed from those causes of friction and misunderstanding which exist at present and a greater impetus and encouragement will be given to a movement which is so valuable.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Hilton Young)
Certainly no use of a two hours Debate at the end of a Parliamentary day could be more welcome to a Minister of Health than the use to which the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) has enabled the House to devote the time now available, namely, the consideration of the question of planning. One sees more and more clearly as the years pass that this is the central point to which our attention ought to be directed in the interests of the cause of good government. I sometimes think that the path of good government in these days is a path towards planning and that in order to relate our civilisation to the heavy strains which are put upon it in modern times, what we require is more powerful machinery to secure good planning ahead. For that reason I particularly welcome the publicity given to this subject to-night by my hon. Friend. It is particularly important at the present when owing to the policy of the Government we are advancing, at a rate unexampled in the past, with the building and rebuilding of the housing accommodation of the country, and when our towns owing to the development of modern transport are spreading so rapidly through the countryside. These conditions create a special requirement for greater foresight and greater attention to our planning activities.
During recent months in the course of reorganising the housing work at the 2060 Ministry of Health, the housing work and the planning work of the Ministry have been brought together into a single department instead of being separated as formerly. We have done that because we recognise that all housing work and all development must be carried out by co-ordination and deliberate planning. If the many tasks which lie before us in connection with the further development of housing are to be accomplished economically and with the best use of our national assets the work must be closely related to the work of planning. The hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) produced the impression, perhaps unintentionally, that town planning was sticking. That the rate of progress both of the organisation of the work and its actual achievement is not all we would desire, I cordially agree. I agree that we ought not to be satisfied with the amount of planning work which is being done, until it is much more adequate to the needs of the country than it is at present. But the House ought not to receive the impression that no advance is being made.
This is a new idea. The country has only taken to planning in the last generation. What we are watching is the infancy of an idea which we hope will grow to be a giant. It is a promising infancy and I have for the information of the House ascertained some figures of recent progress which are of interest. Ten years ago the number of authorities engaged in the active preparation of schemes was 218 and the number of authorities promoting schemes at the present time is 803. A more effective figure perhaps to show the progress of town planning work is the figure of the number of acres covered by planning schemes. In the course of ten years this has increased from 1,200,000 acres to 12,000,000 acres. That shows that the country is taking to planning and we have in these figures an encouragement to redouble our efforts to induce the country to take to planning more and more as an essential feature of good government. The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green put his finger upon a point calling for special attention, as regards the organisation of planning work in order to increase its efficiency. That is the rationalisation and widening of the executive areas over which planning can be administered. 2061 Generally speaking, at present the usual area of administration for planning schemes is the county district, the county borough or the borough. It is obvious that in many cases and for many planning purposes 14 ider areas are required to make the planning as effective as possible. It is for that reason that the Government policy and my own policy at the Ministry of Health has always been directed towards the promotion of regional planning committees wherever they are required and can be obtained. On the question of co-operation between local authorities I would say that so long as we have a system of local government with autonomous local bodies, and long may we continue to have that system, so long will both wisdom and progress be obtained by promoting reasonable co-operation between these authorities and not by arbitrarily overriding them. There, I know, the hon. Member and, I think, a very large majority of the Members of the House will cordially agree. Substantial success has in fact been obtained in the promotion of regional planning by these methods. Let me again take that ten years period to see what has been done. In those ten years we have increased the number of executive committees, the cornmittees that actually control the work, from one to 75. I think that is an encouraging figure for the future.
The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green dealt with the absorbing question of planning in London, and let me say, in the very short space of time that I have left to deal with so enormous a question, that planning in London is at present rather better co-ordinated than in almost any other part of the country. They have the widely extended authority of the London County Council for one thing, but undoubtedly that leads to the grave problem of co-ordinating the plans of the London County Council with the plans of the authorities of Greater London outside the County Council area, and that is a problem of which there is no final solution at present in view. The Greater London Regional Planning Committee to which he referred, is a body of invaluable use for planning the greatest city in the world upon lines which are adequate, but I would summarise the position in this way, that the problem with which the hon. Member dealt is really one of the rationalisation of London as a whole. I think we have 2062 probably the most practical and efficient arrangement that we can get for the planning of London as long as London government is on the present lines. But if he asks me here and now whether there is not a problem awaiting us for the future as to the rationalisation of London government as a whole, in order, among other things, that the planning of London may be dealt with on a more reasonable basis, I answer, "Most certainly there is." One of the most difficult, most important, and most vital problems for the welfare of the great Metropolis that awaits us, as soon as it is ripe, is that of the rationalisation of the bigger area which is now London, because London is always exceeding our arrangements for its administration. We have before us the remains of the London of the past, the City and the county council and both are already obsolete, and now we have awaiting some treatment in the future the Greater London which needs dealing with as a whole. It is impossible for me to deal further with this vast problem in the one moment that remains to me.
Let me answer the question addressed to me by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern). There is no question or necessity here for denial or apology or explanation. The situation is perfectly well understood. The proposals to which the hon. Member referred as regards the Bill of 1932 were approved by the Consultative Council as a whole, and the Consultative Council does include members nominated by the Trade Unions' Association. Let me be perfectly fair. The Trade Unions' Associations have since made clear to me the grounds of their criticism of the proposals. Nevertheless, the statements made as regards the approval of the proposals by the council were perfectly accurate.
§ 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. 14, 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.