Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £460,441, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1936, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, including grants for land improvement, agricultural education, research and marketing, a grant under the Agricultural Credits (Scotland) Act, 1929, and certain grants in aid.
[NOTE.—£190,000 has been Voted on account.]
§ 1.8 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir Godfrey Collins)
The Department of Agriculture for Scotland must be judged by its usefulness to the agricultural industry of Scotland, and on that basis it must justify its existence. Though agriculture is the oldest industry of the world, so rapid are the changes under which it is being carried on in these days that it might be true to say that modern agriculture is a new industry, for we are in the middle, or possibly only at the beginning, of an agricultural revolution. The application of science, research, and new methods of organisation is one aspect of that problem. The other, and by far the more complex, is the effort to secure a better balance between agriculture on the one hand and industry on the other. In many different ways the Department of Agriculture is concerned with the problems of this agricultural revolution. Its most important 1454 duty, naturally, is to watch and assist, to the best of its ability, the labours of the Scottish farming community, but it also acts, with the advice of the Agricultural Research Council, as guide and supervisor of research and education, and it is also, as the Committee well knows, the machine for the settlement of smallholders on the land.
What links has the Department to-day with the farmer? There is the Agricultural Advisory Council. The Council, as I am satisfied both from personal observation and from reports of its proceedings, supplies a very real and useful link between the farmers in Scotland and the administrators in their offices, and I should like to express my gratitude to the men who have given so much of their time and thought to this work during the last year. It may be convenient that at this stage I should say a few words on some of the topics contained in the report. In recent years the importance of research to agriculture has tended to become somewhat overshadowed by the more immediate prominence of economic organisation, but, after all, it must be ultimately on improved methods and lower costs of production that the prosperity of the industry must be based, and it is towards these ends that the scientist can give, and has given, invaluable aid to the farmer. In Scotland we have six research institutes, all pursuing vigorously investigations designed to add to the farmers' profits, to diminish his losses, and to improve at the same time the quality of his products. Valuable results have already been achieved, in providing remedies or preventives against animal diseases, better rations for stock, improved varieties of plants, etc., and I am glad the farmers throughout Scotland are increasingly availing themselves of the knowledge which is now open to them and which, thanks largely to the activities of the agricultural colleges, is promptly and widely brought to their notice.
Further, during the last year many com-plaints have been addressed to me by some of my hon. Friends as to oats, especially by those who represent constituencies in the North East part of Scotland, and I think it is unfortunately true to say that those farmers who grow oats and cannot grow wheat, and for whom oats must continue to be the staple crop, are still labouring under a sense of grievance. 1455 It is true that Scottish agriculture has suffered, relatively, from the absence of any scheme of deficiency payments for oats such as exists in the case of wheat, but it is impossible to apply that particular scheme to oats, since the revenue for the payments is derived mainly from a charge on imports amounting to nearly 75 per cent. of the total supply, while the imports of oats were in 1934 only between seven and eight per cent. of the supply. Assistance to oat growers by way of deficiency payments would therefore involve a heavy indirect subsidy from the Exchequer.
But during the last year prices have improved. In the crop years 1932–33 and 1933–34 the average prices 'were 15s. 3d. and 16s. per quarter respectively, and for the first six months of 1934–35 the price was 18s. 6d., while at the present time the price is about 21s. I should like to add that while the Government have felt unable to accept the proposal for a deficiency payment for oats in the form submitted by the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, they recognise to the full that oat growing is, in certain parts of Scotland, an essential feature of agricultural economy, and will gladly give consideration to any practicable measure that may be necessary to maintain it. The Committee knows of the tariff which was put on over a year ago, which has been of direct assistance to oat growers throughout Scotland.
I turn to beef, for that is a very important thing in the agricultural economy of Scotland, and I have been informed that of the 400,000 fat cattle produced annually in Scotland, only 112,000 are prime home-bred from Scottish beef herds, and upwards of 170,000 are imported as store cattle for fattening from Ireland and Canada. The balance of the numbers is from other classes of stock. With the sharp competition from overseas in the lower grades of beef, Scottish farmers will no doubt more and more concentrate on rearing the best class of store cattle, and on producing the highest quality of meat. It seems to me that on those lines the greatest success may be achieved. It may be that the schemes for the improvement of livestock, especially beef cattle, that has been carried on by the Department for many years have not yet fully realised their purpose, although it is difficult to be sure. Possibly 1456 the expansion of the dairy industry and dairy breeds of cattle in recent years has had an adverse effect on the condition of the home beef industry. The time may soon be ripe for some review of the working of the livestock improvement schemes with a view to discovering whether any changes are desirable that may tend to make the schemes more useful in raising the general standard of cattle in Scotland.
With regard to plots for unemployed men, from the small beginnings in 1933, when only 123 unemployed men at ten centres were provided with plots from one-quarter to one acre in extent, this scheme has grown until 1,600 plot holders are in occupation on 99 schemes embracing some 1,200 acres. What have been the results of providing these men with plots? Sir Arthur Rose, the special area commissioner for Scotland, said in his report:This scheme may be said quite definitely to have passed the experimental stage … I have found almost everywhere a keen desire for some provision of this kind … I have every confidence in recommending a large development of this provision.Our intention is to develop this scheme when land becomes available. Our difficulty to-day is to secure suitable land in the right places where the men live. One of the most important requisites for the success of such a scheme is the provision of adequate instruction and guidance. During the last few months we have appointed four horticultural instructors and two poultry instructors on the staffs of the East and West of Scotland Colleges of Agriculture with a view to assisting men who are working on the plots in those areas.
The Committee will recollect that in 1934 the House passed a Smallholdings Act, and provided the Government with increased sums of money. In 1934 the Department purchased for land settlement purposes 3,272 acres in 17 separate properties, and in addition obtained a very welcome gift of the farm at Barns of Claverhouse, 416 acres, near Dundee, the generous donor being Mr. George Bonar. The properties I have mentioned are, with the exception of one in Moray, in the neighbourhood of large consuming markets in the industrial belt of Scotland, for example, Dundee, Mid Calder, Bathgate, Uphall, Lanark, Wishaw, Kirkintilloch and Johnstone. On these 1457 3,272 acres, 380 holdings are being or will be formed, and almost all of them will be of the small type suitable for the intensive production of market garden produce or pigs or poultry and eggs, or a combination of two of them or of all three. These additions to the Department's land settlement properties will, it is expected, permit the settlement on new holdings during the year of upwards of 500 new people. That number will be secured provided that the contractors who are undertaking the erection of new buildings and fences, the construction of new roads and the installation of water supplies, can complete their work in time as I am led to expect they will.
The 39 schemes completed or to be completed of the type I have mentioned are composed mostly of holdings of five to ten acres for intensive production, and the remainder will be of 50 acres or so attached to the existing main buildings on each farm. The cost per small type holding works out at about £750; that is, the complete cost including land, house, the making of roads and fences, and the water supply. The larger holdings work out at about £1,850 each. The total number of holdings concerned is 786 small type and 43 of the larger type. The rents of the small type holdings range from £18 to £45, with an average of £30; and of the larger holdings £50 to £85, with an average of £75. The whole provides a net return on the capital invested by the State of about 3 per cent. That was the figure which I indicated to the House during the passage of the 1934 Act. In other words the undertaking we gave to Parliament has been carried out in the spirit and in the letter. The new holdings under the new programme have only recently been established. It is not permissible to say more now except that the holders appear to be making their way hopefully and successfully. I have here several instances of their development in particular cases, with which I will not weary the Committee. Our efforts have been successful in accomplishing what we set out to do, and during this year some 500 new settlement smallholdings will be created and the return to the State will be about 3 per cent. on the capital invested.
During the last few days questions of sheep stock valuation and the position of men in the Highland areas have been 1458 addressed to me, and a carefully prepared petition has been submitted to me. I said in reply to a question a few days ago that directly the petition was received we should start to inquire into the specific cases referred to in that document. It is, therefore, too early for me to be in a position to discuss in detail the contents of that petition, but it is being looked into forthwith. In this connection my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir Ian Macpherson), and my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Sir M. Macdonald) have constantly during the last few months pressed the case of these men upon the Government and have asked the Government to deal sympathetically with the holders who are under obligation to the Department.
Let me analyse their position. All the schemes carried out by the Department in these areas were initiated as a result of a demand on the part of the crofters for new holdings or for larger holdings than those which they already possess. There seems to be a suggestion in some quarters, not necessarily among hon. Members, that these people were in some way compelled to take these holdings. Of course that is not so. These holders are subject to a rent which can be revised, if they so desire, every seven years by the Land Court, and in many cases they have loans for buildings which are repayable over a long period and on very favourable terms. Finally, in some cases there is the question of sheep stock. As regards the revision by the Land Court of rents on the Department's estates in Skye and Glenelg, the outer Isles, Argyll, Sutherland, and the mainland of Ross and Inverness-shire, 88 per cent. have had or may have their rents fixed by the Land Court. Certain holders, owing to more recent entry, are not eligible to apply to the Land Court, as the period of seven years has not yet expired, but the abstention of 349 holders who to-day are eligible but have not yet applied for a revision of their rents by the Land Court is difficult to explain in the face of the representations made on behalf of the Department's tenants in these areas.
As regards sheep stocks, when they were taken over the prices charged to these holders were based on the current prices ruling at the term of entry, and in no case did they include 1459 clude any consideration in respect of acclimatisation value, the cost of which was met by the Department. The value of the stock taken over by the holder was fixed in each case either by agreement between the holder and the Department or by a livestock salesman or other man of skill agreed to by the holder. The holders themselves generally paid a small proportion of the price in cash, and the State provided as a loan not less than 75 per cent. in most cases, and in some exceptional cases 100 per cent. of the capital required. These loans are being repaid out of the profits of working the stock; in other words, profits which have accrued from the use of capital provided to a large extent, and in some cases wholly, by the taxpayer. The great majority of the holders, I am glad to say, have knowledge and experience of local agricultural conditions. In some cases they are shepherds who were previously engaged in working the self-same stock they took over as small-holders.
In my opinion these smallholders have been very successful in repaying the loans. In the case of 24 loans, amounting to about £21,000, or 12 per cent. of the whole, repayment has already been made in full. As the Committee knows, a sharp decline in prices took place two or three years ago, which led, unfortunately, to a decrease in profits, which rendered it very difficult for the holders to meet their termly obligations. In these circumstances the Government two years ago granted a moratorium, during which no interest was charged and no repayment of capital was called for. We have come to the end of that period, and under present arrangements payments will again become due in November of this year. I am not going to say that a further adjustment may not be necessary, but I do say that it would be unjustifiable to settle these matters before the Autumn sales begin and the trend of prices is further disclosed. The Government have shown by the grant of a moratorium that they are prepared to consider such relaxation of the terms of repayment as may be necessary to assist the holders to implement their obligations. They will not be asked to bear a burden which is too heavy for them, and I will announce in good time before their payments are due to recommence whatever 1460 arrangements we consider necessary and fair to meet the existing situation. I know that many hon. Members are interested in this particular point, and I hope that they will bear in mind the action of the Government two years ago, and weigh very carefully what I have just said as to these men receiving that fair and just consideration which they must always claim from us.
There are many other matters in the Report which I should be only too glad to touch upon, but I know that many hon. and right hon. Members are anxious to address the Committee, and if I have omitted to touch on some subjects which interest them I hope they will not think that is due to any remissness on my part. I have endeavoured to curtail my remarks, so that as many Members as possible may take part in the debate. I would say, before sitting down, that these Estimates represent the labours of a staff of people engaged in the Department who are anxious to serve in their day the farming community of Scotland. The Department exists solely for the benefit of the farmers of Scotland, and we shall always welcome their presence in the Department on any subject, and I am sure that the more they visit the Department the greater will be the ability of the Departmeint to help them.
§ 1.32 p.m.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I do not wish to follow the Secretary of State into the many interesting points that he raised. I am sure that we all listened with great interest to his speech, and I am emboldened by the very kindly tone in which he said that the Department existed to help farmers, to say that I hope he will not mind if I bring before the Committee certain features of a draft egg scheme which has recently been published which I hope, if it is ever presented to his Department, will receive the most thorough and searching examination. I do not wish to offer any opinion on the advisability of having a marketing scheme for the poultry industry, for either eggs or poultry, nor to offer any opinion on that part of the draft egg marketing scheme recently published by the Re-organisation Commission for Scotland of the Poultry and Egg Industry—I do not wish to offer any opinion on those portions of their scheme which are of a technical character, dealing actually with marketing, because I do 1461 not feel competent to do so; but there are certain other features which seem to me dangerous and which are causing great anxiety to all egg producers throughout my constituency, and are causing many small producers to talk of reducing their hens below the low minimum number of 15 which brings them under the scheme, or to give up poultry rearing altogether. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I mention these features here, so that they may be very clearly before us all if and when any draft scheme is presented.
The first of them is that the scheme sets no limit to the contribution which the marketing board may require registered producers to pay. A registered producer going in for the scheme is giving a blank cheque to the marketing board to fix the levy at any figure which may, in the opinion of the. Board, be necessary. Nor does the scheme include any indication of a limit to the expenditure which the Board may incur on administrative costs. This point rather calls for consideration when we remember that there has been a good deal of criticism among the Scottish farming community of some of the salaries given by other marketing boards. Then there is no limit to what the Marketing Board may spend on co-operation or market intelligence. By market intelligence I suppose is meant the publication of a journal containing such intelligence. I expect that other Members of the Committee are accustomed to receiving, as I am, a very temptingly got up periodical from the English Milk Marketing Board which suggests the expenditure of a good deal of money. It is sent gratis to Members of Parliament. The expenditure incurred in the production of that journal can only come out of the pockets of the registered producers in question. I admit at once that the periodical published by the Scottish Milk Marketing Board is much simpler and of a much less expensive character, but every expense of that kind comes entirely out of the pockets of the producer.
It seems desirable that in any further schemes we should bend our minds to seeing whether it would be possible to fix some limit to the expenditure incurred by a marketing board for administration, the circulation of intelligence, co-operation and education. Indeed, is it necessary 1462 to permit marketing boards to incur any expense for education? Are we not engaged at this moment in discussing a grant, asked for by my right hon. Friend, in respect of agricultural education? Do not local authorities have power to incur expenditure for the same object? Why should marketing boards be empowered to spend on education money which comes entirely from the producers without the assistance of any grant from the Treasury or from the local authorities? There is no limit to any of these forms of expenditure, and therefore no limit to the contribution which the producer may have to pay. There is a definite limit in the potato scheme to the amount which the producer has to pay, but no limit to the expenditure which may be incurred by the Board on the special objects which I have mentioned. In regard to the unlimited contribution, there is a similar provision in the milk marketing scheme, and it is because the milk marketing scheme has caused such a loss to the producers in my area that I point out whenever I have an opportunity the danger of any scheme which would place an unlimited liability on them.
The provisions of this scheme in regard to fines are very drastic. I know that they do not go beyond the powers provided by Parliament in the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, but unfortunately when those powers are put into a draft marketing scheme and submitted to a lot of producers of small means, the producers become very alarmed. For a first infraction of the regulations the Board have power to impose a fine up to £10. That is a sufficiently heavy fine, because many of the producers are persons of small means. For a second infraction of the regulations the Board have power to impose a fine up to £100. When a provision to that effect is explained to a gathering of poultry producers, such as I have attended, the audience collapses, because none of the people present can imagine being able to pay a fine of that size. Those powers bring forcibly before us the fact that in these marketing schemes Parliament has handed over to private individuals not only some of the executive powers which we are accustomed to see in the hands of the Government but judicial powers to sue offenders and inflict fines. Those are very serious powers to hand over, especially when we remember that they are not entrusted to 1463 impartial people who have no interest whatever in the scheme but to producers who are interested parties, and that there may be an actual conflict of interests. We may have handed over judicial power to people whose interests may conflict with the interests of many of the persons on whom they may impose fines. All Boards ought to be extremely careful how those powers are exercised.
Another feature of the draft scheme is that if it be found to be placing too great a strain upon the producers, any amendment or revocation may prove very difficult. An amendment can only take place, as in the ease of other schemes, after a poll of the producers, and no poll can be taken unless 1,000 producers ask for it. What smallholder has the means of communicating with 1,000 or more people? He would have to correspond with considerably more than 1,000 producers if there were to be any hope of sufficient favourable replies. And if the scheme became so onerous that producers wished it revoked, they would have to get a poll asked for by 10,000 producers. To lay down conditions of that kind is tantamount to saying that it is impossible to revoke the scheme as it would be extraordinarily difficult to find anybody willing to undertake the burden and expense of communicating with such a very large number of producers. I therefore feel that if a draft scheme of this kind were presented to Parliament by the right hon. Gentleman and were brought into being, it might be a trap from which many producers would find it impossible to free themselves.
I understand that the English Farmers' Union and the English National Poultry Council have broadly approved a scheme containing similar provisions, but with less onerous conditions in regard to amendment. In other respects the scheme appears to be the same. I am glad to say that the Scottish National Poultry Council have been more cautious, and are waiting the result of the deliberations of a Committee before they make up their minds. But if such a scheme were adopted for England it might be very difficult for the Scottish Council to keep out of it. They might feel that it was essential that Scotland should be in 1464 a scheme, although wishing to avoid general approval of one of this kind. And there is in existence a great compulsitor on poultry producers both in England and in Scotland to have a scheme of some sort, because, under the recent Trade Agreement with Poland, no limitation can be imposed on the import of Polish eggs, unless there is a marketing scheme for eggs in this country, and Polish eggs are about the most dangerous competitor that poultry producers have to meet. They come here in very large quantities each year, Poland being the third largest oversea supplier of eggs to this country, and in 1934 they were being sold at an average price of less than 5s. 6d. per great hundred, or 120 eggs. This is, of course, an extremely low price, with which our people cannot compete. Therefore, there is in existence a very strong lever to cause poultry producers who are cognisant of these facts to feel that they must come into some sort of scheme if Polish eggs are to be kept out, or if the quantities imported are to be limited.
I would also remind the Committee that the Trade Agreement is, unfortunately, only in conformity with Section 1 of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1933, which says that there will be no limitation of imports unless a marketing scheme for the home product is in preparation or in operation. The situation, therefore, seems to me to be one in which it is very necessary for us all to realise clearly what these draft schemes contain and under what conditions producers will enter them. The right hon. Gentleman may say that it is for the producers to accept or reject such a scheme, and that, of course, is true, but when one thinks of who the poultry producers are in this country, one realises that there are many thousands of these people whose means, as I have already said, are small, and many of whom live in remote places and understand very little of these matters. To my certain knowledge, farmers doing business on a considerably larger scale than many poultry producers were by no means clear as to the potato scheme before they had to vote on it, and some of them were quite glad to have a very amateur explanation by a person such as myself before they gave their votes.
These schemes are complicated and difficult; farmers are busy; and I am 1465 afraid that many poultry producers may not trouble really to inform themselves about the scheme, or may be unable to fully understand it before they vote on it. I think there would be rather a tendency on the part of many people, if they felt frightened of a scheme or found it too difficult to understand, to say that they would not have anything to do with it and would not vote; and, of course, if many people felt like that, and did not vote, the scheme might be carried into operation over their heads. As we know, Parliament does not give very careful consideration to these schemes, feeling that they are really matters for the producers concerned. We discuss them for two or three hours, but no one in the House has ever ventured to move the rejection of any scheme. Therefore, I venture to hope that, if and when any egg marketing scheme or poultry marketing scheme is presented to his Department, the right hon. Gentleman will give instructions that it shall undergo a most searching examination, in order that we may be quite sure that it does not expose the producers to the dangers to which I have ventured to draw attention, and that we may hope to avoid the very serious and costly mistakes which I am afraid were made in the Scottish Milk Marketing Scheme, and which have meant disaster to many milk producers. I know of several producers of milk in my county have had to sell their herds in part or in whole as a result of that scheme.
§ 1.51 p.m.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
The Secretary of State, in introducing the Estimate, touched upon a number of interesting points, but I noticed that he did not refer to the various marketing schemes which are in existence in Scotland at the present time, an omission which the Noble Lady has gone a considerable way to make good. I do not propose to enter upon the very complicated and difficult question of milk marketing, or even the less complicated one of egg marketing, but, as the Noble Lady has said, these are matters which deserve the very closest attention of the Government in Scotland, having regard to the numerous and, I am afraid, in many cases well founded complaints that must have been brought to their notice already. I was particularly interested to hear what the 1466 Secretary of State said with reference to research and improved methods in agriculture, especially as he linked these matters with the reduction in the cost of production to the farmer. One is very glad to see that line being taken in these days, because so often remedies for the difficulties of agriculture have been found in a quite different direction, that is to say, by trying to create a fixed high price instead of taking the really sound line of trying to reduce the cost of production. That, I am sure, is the only line on which agriculture can hope for success in this country.
With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman said about oats, I myself have been particularly interested in the oat question, and have studied it, making comparisons over a large number of years as regards both the prices of oats in this country and the quantities of oats imported. It is a particularly interesting subject, because it would appear that there has always been a certain percentage imported into this country, whether from the Dominions or from foreign countries it matters very little, and the percentage figures given by the Secretary of State for the imports at the present moment are, I understand, very small, so that we may fairly argue that the low price at which oats have been sold recently, in spite of the enormously high duties on imported foreign oats, is really due to those complicated and somewhat obscure causes which have depressed the prices of primary products throughout the whole world. Until we see a general recovery in world conditions, I am afraid that the price of oats will still be low to the farmer in Scotland who wishes to sell his oats. But we have to remember at the same time that a great number of farmer-producers in Scotland purchase oats, and in my part of the country we are very glad to have cheap oats. We grow a good deal ourselves, but what grown in my part of the country is consumed on the farm. We do not, however, grow enough and we have to purchase oats as well. I should like to ask the Secretary of State whether the question of subsidised wheat—the wheat that is grown under the deficiency payment system in England—can be said to have affected the price of oats. It is well known that the cheap wheat which has been produced in such large quantities i n 1467 England is used very largely for poultry food, and it has, I understand, to some extent ousted the use of oats in that direction.
As regards the extended system of plot-holdings, I am sure every Member in the Committee is very pleased to hear of the success that has attended the scheme, and that it is the intention of the Government to do what they can to extend it. Passing from plots to the larger system of small landholding, the Secretary of State referred particularly to what we may call the new landholding system which has recently been inaugurated, and gave some interesting figures as to the cost of creating these holdings and the rent at which they are let. I noticed that he said that this provides a return of three per cent., but I think it would have been a little wiser if he had said that he hopes it may provide a return of three per cent.; or would it be right to say that the scheme has been running long enough for him to be perfectly certain?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I can give no undertaking as to the future, but the rents charged in respect of smallholdings are based on a figure which yields three per cent. on the capital invested by the State.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
I understand that on the figures it should yield 3 per cent. but the actual holdings have only been in existence for a very short period, and the Secretary of State hopes, as we all hope, that in future the rent will be there. There are one or two matters to which I particularly desire to refer. On page 166 of the Estimates there is the general heading "Agriculture (Scotland) Fund (including grants-in-aid)," and in paragraph (a) there is a total of £265,000 this year as against £250,000 last year, but the various items under that heading are lumped together. I should like to know in a little more detail the allocation with regard to the heading "Purposes of the Small Landholders (Scotland) Act, 1911," and whether it includes loans for building purposes. The Secretary of State will remember that when a deputation of Highland members met him some time ago with regard to the Housing (Scotland) Act, this point was one to which he referred. I understood from him that that would be a source from which money might be found for the improvement of crofter houses. I should 1468 be glad if, when the right hon. Gentleman replies, he will be good enough to let me know whether a sufficient sum has been set aside under that heading to meet what he thought might form a suitable source from which fresh money might be forthcoming for meeting requirements as might be necessary under the Act to which I have referred. Before passing from that heading, I should like to refer to what I might call the old system of accepting small landholders. When the new system was first introduced, an undertaking was given by the Secretary of State for Scotland that it would not be to the detriment of the continuance of the old settlement, but I put a question in the House a few months ago in which I asked the Secretary of Statethe number of smallholdings and enlargements of holdings respectively, which have been created and settled by the Department of Agriculture during 1934, distinct from the new type of smallholding.The answer was:Five smallholdings and 33 enlargements of holdings were formed and settled by the Department of Agriculture for Scotland during 1934, apart from the new type of smallholdings in the neighbourhood of towns."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1935; col. 1749, Vol. 297].That is a rather disappointing figure. If in the course of the year it was found possible to settle only five smallholdings and to make 33 enlargements, it rather looks as though the undertaking given by the Secretary of State has not been very fully carried out. The settlement of holdings made in previous years was by no means large, but this shows an enormous reduction, almost to extinction point, and I shall be glad if the Secretary of State, when he replies, can give some assurance as to the policy of the Government with regard to the continuance or extension of that class of settlement.
I now pass to the second heading on the same page of the Estimates "Improvement of Livestock," and the first items under that heading are:Grants for bulls, rams, boars, poultry, goats, and grant to Scottish Milk Records Association.The matter to which I wish to draw the attention of the Government is the stoppage of the grant for heavy horse-breeding. The grant is still continued in England, but it has been stopped in Scotland. I have been at some pains to 1469 make inquiry into the matter, and I find that the reason why it was stopped was simply that in the days of great stringency some items had to be found which could be cut out, and this was one of the unfortunate items cut out. It was not because it was considered that it ought to be cut out, but something had to be cut out, and this was one of the items, and it has never been restored. I was sorry to hear the answer given by the Secretary of State the other day to an hon. Member in which he stated that he did not think that it was desirable or necessary to restore the grant. I have had communications from horse-breeding societies in my constituency in which they point out the great desirability of the grant being restored. The President of one of the most important of these horse-breeding societies which produces horses of a type that would rank very high anywhere in Scotland say:During the last 20 years great progress has been made here in evolving a better and weightier type of Clydesdale, mainly because better class sires were made available. Now, when horses are so much in demand, breeding is likely to be encouraged, but if the small breeder is forced by circumstances to use a cheaper grade sire, we are in grave danger of losing all the advancement which we have made.As a result of the assistance which hitherto has been granted, the general class of horse has been improved in the country to a very great degree. It was possibly thought that the use of horses on the farm was decreasing in many parts and that it might be an uneconomic expenditure of money to encourage the breeding of this weightier type of Clydesdale. But there are parts of Scotland where undoubtedly this horse is exceedingly valuable and where it can never be ousted by the tractor. There has been—and it is recognised in the Report—a recent improvement in the demand for horses, and the price of a good-class horse has shown a distinct improvement lately. I would ask the Secretary of State to reconsider this matter, bearing in mind the fact that the grant was originally cut out simply for the reason that some means had to be found in order to reduce the total estimate at the time. I hope that he will be able to see his way to restore it now. It seems a little curious that we should still retain in Scotland a grant from the Government to help in the improvement of goats and 1470 we cannot give a grant to help heavy horse-breeding for which Scotland is so justly famous.
I pass to the next items in the Estimate under the heading "Public Works and Miscellaneous Services in the Congested Districts." It refers to the assistance given topiers, roads, telegraph extensions, rural industries, etc., and maintenance of minor lights".I am very glad to see that there has been a distinct increase in the amount allocated under that particular heading, an increase from £8,000 last year to £20,000 in the current financial year. We know what enormous benefit, out of all proportion to the sums spent, can be obtained in the poorer outlying parts of the Highlands and Islands by the discreet use of this money. With reference to the first item, piers, I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the Under-Secretary for the great help that he has already given me with reference to one pier. There are a number of small islands in my constituency which have no piers and where the difficulty of landing goods and shipping stock is enormous, very expensive and very dangerous. I recently took the opportunity of making a tour round some of the islands and inspecting, with the county surveyor, sites where piers might easily be put, and where a few hundred pounds spent, with the aid of the local people and the local knowledge that they can supply, would be of enormous benefit. I hope very much that a sufficient sum out of the 20,000 will be retained for the purpose of making piers of that character.
I should like to thank the Secretary of State for the assistance that has been given in helping to set up telephone extensions, by arrangement between the various Government Departments, particularly the Post Office. We have been able to obtain telephone and wireless communication between one of the islands and the mainland. That is of very great importance, because it means that once that has been done it can be done again. There are many places which will benefit by that communication, which it would have been impossible to bring about with the outer world owing to the cost of anything in the nature of a telegraph cable. It is not only the most useful and cheapest way of instituting communication 1471 between the islands and the mainland, but it also has the great advantage that it cannot be interfered with by storms. There is no cable to be broken and there are no lines down.
There is one industry to which I desire particularly to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention. It is a somewhat peculiar one and I must apologise to the Committee if I take a few minutes in speaking upon it. It is an industry of considerable importance to Orkney, the kelp industry, which is only worked to any extent in Orkney and some of the Western Isles. The amount of kelp produced in Orkney prior to the War was something over 2,000 tons a year at a price of £6 to £7 a ton, so that it will be recognised what an important amount of money that was in the Island. But prices have sunk very much and the price that can be offered by the purchasers of kelp in this country are such that it is impossible for the Islanders to produce it. The price is now something like £2 to £2 10s. a ton. Many of the producers of kelp had recently become the owner occupiers of their holdings and they gave a particularly good price because they had good kelp beaches from which they obtained the sea weed, which they burnt and turned into kelp. They have been particularly hardly hit.
From such inquiries as I have been able to make it appears that the market is dominated by Chile. Not only in Chile is kelp produced but it is derived from the residuum of disused oil wells, and made in Java and Japan. It is a curious element that can be made from sea weed all over the world, and the main markets for it are this country and Germany. I understand that the iodine which is produced by Chile is a by-product of nitrate, and the Chileans are in such difficulties financially that the big producers there are selling at below cost price, in fact at any price in order to get some ready money. So long as that state of affairs exists and with Chile dominating the market it is very difficult to hope or expect that any purchaser of kelp will give a price that will enable the producers of kelp in Orkney to compete with the knock-out prices for kelp from Chile. There has been an agreement in the past between Chile and this country as regards the quota that should be applied to various countries, but at 1472 the present time it is impossible for purchasers of kelp in this country to offer a price which will allow of any iodine being produced from kelp in Orkney. The facts that I have quoted will show what a serious matter it is to these small land holders in Orkney if they are deprived of this source of income. I do not pretend that I can offer any way out of the difficulty. It is a very great difficulty. It may be that in future a new system of producing iodine will be adopted that will make the old system of producing it from kelp quite uneconomic, and it may have to go by the board altogether; but we have to remember, whatever the changed conditions may bring about, the effect will be very serious in Orkney where the iodine has been produced. I would ask my right hon. Friend to give close attention to a matter of such importance to one of the Counties in Scotland.
The only other item to which I would refer is that of minor lights. We have experienced some trouble recently in obtaining what may be called minor lights from the Northern Lights Commissioners, who have spent their money very carefully and, of course, the major lights come first and the minor lights last. The minor lights are very important to the local users of inland waters, but we cannot ask the Northern Lights Commissioners or the Board of Trade to do anything specially in that direction, because these are not main lights upon the high sea, where big steamers make their ocean passage. There are one or two places where minor lights would be very useful in the Islands if there is a sufficient amount of money available for the purpose.
The last point with which I should like to deal is land drainage in Scotland. The grant that was made for agricultural land drainage has been very considerably reduced since it was first made, with the result that very much less of this necessary and desirable work has been carried out than would otherwise have been the case. I can understand the argument that it is not very desirable to give a large amount of money to a landowner to do work which he ought to do himself, if he wants his land to be properly improved. There are, however small landowners and crofters who find it very difficult to engage the labour which is necessary for doing some of this work. 1473 Their land suffers as a consequence. I should like to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to one aspect of the matter which, I think, may have been overlooked, and that is that where you get a number of crofts together, situated in one area because of geographical suitability, the proper drainage of that area may be carried out merely as a sort of joint co-operative main drainage scheme, but it is quite impossible, where you have a few crofts together, and only a, small amount of grant allowable under the scheme as it exists at present, for anything in the nature of a main drain to be put in, which would benefit the whole of the neighbouring crofts which are situated in one area. I would ask that that aspect of the matter might be borne in mind, and, if it is considered desirable, as I am sure any close inspection would lead to that result, that a main drain of that sort should be put in for the benefit of adjoining crofts, something more than 25 per cent. of the cost should be allocated. I hope that the Under-Secretary, if he is going to reply to the points I have raised, will not think that I have raised them in any way in order to worry him, except from the point of view that they are matters which are of great importance to the people concerned.
§ 2.18 p.m.
§ Sir MURDOCH MACDONALD
A very great number of people throughout the country, particularly in the Highlands of Scotland, will be interested in what the Secretary of State has just said in regard to one point in particular in his speech, namely, the valuation of sheep stock. People settled in Highland districts under these sheep stock clubs to-day were settled mainly in the years 1921 to 1924. The previous proprietors were big sheep stock farmers who were expropriated, their stock being taken over at valuation, and these sheep stock clubs were formed in place of the one previous brig sheep stock farm, and a number of people dependent upon the farm were settled upon it. The Secretary of State, referring to the matter, which has become more clamant quite recently in regard to the valuations now being made, rather led one to believe that it has only been a clamant matter in the last few months. That is not the case. Ever since these sheep stock clubs were formed applications have been made to me, and I am 1474 sure to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir Ian Macpherson) and the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), to have the valuations with which sheep stocks were credited reduced. I, myself, was lucky enough to get in specific cases quite considerable reductions in valuation. I am glad to hear, what I did not know before, that acclimatation value had not been included. Acclimatation is one of those difficult things in connection with sheep stock valuations in Scotland which certainly ought to be abolished, if at all possible, and it is quite reasonable that the Government should not have asked these new holders to pay any acclimatation value. They also gave, in the specific cases I have in mind, a very considerable reduction. Notwithstanding those reductions, owing to the continual fall ever since in the value of sheep stock, in many cases it is certain to-day the stock is not worth half that at which it has been valued on the reduced terms to the present holders.
In these circumstances, I do hope that the Secretary of State, who has spoken very sympathetically as to considering the matter, after what he sees in regard to the value of sheep stock at the October sales, will then review the whole circumstances right from the beginning, so as to ascertain what it was that these people were able to gain as a livelihood during the period of their club stock arrangements. It is not to be forgotten that the real agreement regarding the sheep stock was that the whole stock was to be amortised in 10 years. In 1932 I drew the attention of the Government very strongly to the hardship in a particular case with which I happened to be dealing at the moment. They recognised that there was a hardship, and they offered in that case to amortise not for 10 years but for 15 years, which certainly was in itself a relief, but was not dealing with the real problem, which was that at the end of the period, whether 10 or 15 years, people were going to pay double the amount of what the value would be after they had paid for amortisation. I pointed that out at the time, and asked that further relief should be granted. The Department, which in 1933 was very precise in this particular case, said that they could not give any further advantage to that particular club because they must deal then with 1475 the general problem. I was told that that would take some time. I quite realised that to go over carefully the accounts of all the club stocks in the Highlands would take a considerable time—many months, if not a year—before a satisfactory conclusion as to the real value could be come to.
It was evident, in consequence of correspondence and interviews in the middle of 1933, that the Government then were realising that these sheep values had to be seriously reduced. They evidently found that they had not sufficient time, and they did what was quite reasonable—they granted a moratorium for two years. Instead of the year I thought they might take to settle a matter of this kind, the moratorium implied that they were to take two years. The two years are now up, but no settlement has yet been come to. I am glad to know that the Secretary of State is sympathetically considering what should be done in regard to these sheep stock values as soon as the October sales have taken place. After all, it is difficult for the officers of the Department to deal with these matters. They bought these stocks at a time when the price of everything was terrifically high. It was only natural, after taking off the acclimatation value, that they should say "there is the stock; this is what we have paid for it less acclimatation value, and you in all human probability will be able to make a profit, because prices will continue as they are." But prices did not continue at the same level; they fell, and fell terrifically; fell so much that lambs were sold 18 months ago from 6s. to 9s. per head. Such prices are absolutely calamitous for these sheep stock owners.
The officers of the Department cannot be blamed for fixing these prices originally, but it is obviously the duty of the Government to reconsider these cases. Having started them off with a huge valuation for the property which was handed over to them, the Government cannot, now that values have so much decreased owing to a change in the values of all other things, say to them, "You must clear out, we will put other people in your place." The other day a case not unlike that took place. It was the case of a smallholding, not a sheep holding, in my constituency. The smallholder had been settled on the land. The Government fixed the valuation for the property 1476 handed over, and a rental based on a combination of the value of the property and the annual sum necessary to amortise it. The rent was so great that it was practically double what the previous farmer had been paying for the land. It was quite impossible for the smallholder to pay double the amount for the same area of land. This particular holder appealed to the Land Court when he was threatened with eviction, and the Land Court decided that he ought not to be evicted. At the moment the man is in possession and a revision must take place of the terms on which he is to hold his holding. When the valuation officers settled the value of that particular property they did a perfectly reasonable thing. They valued the property under the regulations. They said "It has cost the Government so much to put up new farm buildings and so much to build a house, and we must get so much for the land we have bought." That is perfectly right, and they were competent, just and humane people, but it was impossible for that particular holder to make a living, owing to the decrease in prices. The Land Court has said that he must not be evicted and that the Government must come to new terms with him.
That led me to ask a question of the Under-Secretary of State the other day, whether he would not consider allowing the Land Court to settle these values rather than wait until the expiration of the second year and then for his own officers to settle it. He said that under the normal procedure everybody was entitled to go to the Land Court at the end of seven years. Surely, my hon. Friend does not mean to imply that when there is a case of injustice you must wait seven years before it is put right. Surely, the Department can appeal to the Land Court as ex parte judges, or he and his Department can say that as they know the circumstances and that the rental they are charging is impossible they will reduce it to a reasonable figure. The best method would be to allow the Land Court to decide these cases. If the Land Court had been allowed in the first instance to decide these sheep stock valuations and then adjust them as circumstances warranted, the Government would have been relieved of the difficulty which has now arisen. The difficulty is real because people have been 1477 living in distress in order to meet the payments falling due for the annual payment of sinking fund for these sheep stock farms. It is perfectly true that they have been relieved of that for two years, that the payments for Michaelmas 1933 to 1935 have not been called up; but the value of the stock has been so low that the amount of money which they have been able to make has been so small that it has not given them a reasonable living.
This brings one to the major question. The real policy of the Government ought to be to have the people of this country as widely spread as possible, to prevent great concentrations in the big towns. That being so, here is an area in the north of Scotland which can keep a greater number of people than are there now if they are properly settled on the land. I suggest that the Government should seriously consider asking the Land Court to come in at the beginning to settle future cases as they arise, rather than they themselves or their officers should be put in the invidious position of coming to decisions which trade conditions may vitiate. There is one other matter I want to refer to and that is the question of piers referred to by the hon. Member for the Orkneys and Shetlands (Sir R. Hamilton). Access to the Highland ports of Scotland is a difficult problem. My own view is that the sea between the various islands is really the high road, and that if the Minister of Transport can subsidise the construction and maintenance of roads throughout the country then equally he should be able to maintain the transport across these short stretches of, water between these islands, and in particular maintain the piers at the end of his own roads. I understand that he does not maintain any pier at the end of a road. I know a number of such cases in my own constituency. I have had brought to the knowledge of the department one very clamant case—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
This subject, if it arises at all, arises on Vote I. There is then a special Vote for transport to the Western Isles.
§ Sir M. MACDONALD
Then I will not go further into the matter now. It had already been brought up by my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton), and I 1478 thought I would be equally at liberty to refer to it.
§ Sir IAN MACPHERSON
On a point of Order. Is not my hon. Friend perfectly in order in dealing with transport, because it affects the cost of sheep stock, and if transport is bad it has a very grievous affect on the costs of sheep stock.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The right hon. Gentleman is well aware of the old rule in Committee of Supply, that where there is a specific Vote for a service that service must be dealt with under that Vote. If he will look at the Vote in Class I, No. 24, Sub-head (E), he will find a subsidy to deal with transport to the Western Isles. That service should be discussed on that Vote.
§ Sir M. MACDONALD
Referring to the subject with which I have previously dealt, I once again express the hope that the Secretary of State will he able to appoint an ad hoc commission to investigate the whole problem of sheep stock prices in the Highlands. The depression that we are passing through may remain stationary, but no one can tell what is to happen to-morrow. A commission ought to be appointed that would be capable of dealing with and advising upon the whole problem. That is what the memorandum by Mr. Murchison, which has been referred to, proposes. I hope it will be considered. Whether my right hon. Friend is able to appoint an ad hoc commission or not, I hope he will at the earliest date bring in the Land Court to help to settle what rentals and valuations are to be, rather than leave people under a grievous burden for seven years before they can get matters put right.
§ 2.39 p.m.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR-WEDDERBURN
I have not had the advantage of being able to study the petition of the crofters in the Western Highlands on whose behalf my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Sir M. Macdonald) has just spoken. I have listened very carefully to the observations of my hon. Friend, and to those of the Secretary of State, and it seems to me that the picture of the undoubted grievance under which these men are now labouring, or perhaps I should say their difficulty, is simply a picture in miniature of the difficulties of the entire agricultural 1479 community. We have been told by my hon. Friend that their first difficulty is the very serious fall that has taken place in the price of the commodities that they produce. That is the whole root of the agricultural problem, not only in Scotland but everywhere else. My hon. Friend told us also that they have now to pay interest and capital reimbursement on sums borrowed for building purposes and for purchases of stock which were made at a time when prices were very much higher than they are now. That again is a difficulty which is shared by farmers in all parts of the country. Many of them purchased their farms and their stock at a time when prices were high.
My hon. Friend said further that they found that their rents were too high. I think that most landowners in Scotland within the last few years have been obliged to grant very substantial reductions in rent. In the case of tenants of the Board of Agriculture there is sometimes a little more difficulty, because it is only every seven years that their case comes up for review before the Land Court. I understand that in the case of the crofters some part of their obligations has been remitted for a few years by moratorium, and when the autumn valuation begins this year their case for a moratorium will again be considered. My hon. Friend complained of the sheep stock valuations. He pointed out that these valuations had been too high even without acclimatisation value. I only wish it were possible that all sheep stock valuations, for the last two generations, could be retrospectively revised. For many years these valuations have been a recognised method of plundering whoever has to pay the difference between the assessed value and the real market value of the sheep. The Government now have a Commission sitting to consider that question, but even if the Commission produces any important recommendation, which I very much doubt, I am afraid it will simply be a case of locking the door after the horse has been stolen.
The principal difficulty is, of course, the decline in agricultural values, which indeed is the root cause of our entire economic problem, according to many people—the deflation of values which has deprived the farmer both of a just reward for his own labour and of 1480 purchasing power in the industrial markets. I understand that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) is about to speak on this subject. I think we should listen with a little more attention to representations which are made by hon. Members of the Liberal party on behalf of one class or another of agriculturists, if they did not invariably oppose every Measure of the Government to raise the price of agricultural commodities.
The part of the Secretary of State's statement on which I wish to dwell is that part in which he dealt with land settlement, not in the crofting counties, but in the Lowlands, in the industrial areas. He said something about plots for unemployed men. In the Annual Report of the Department of Agriculture figures given of the numbers of men settled in the year 1934 show that 788 were settled on 578 acres. The figures given by the Secretary of State this afternoon were just about double that total. I hope, therefore, we may conclude that within the last few months, since the depressed area Commissioner was appointed, there has been a very rapid increase in the rate at which these men are being accommodated with small plots. He also gave figures showing the results of land settlement under the Act of last year. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) drew a distinction between what he termed the old system of land settlement, that is to say, the kind of small holdings which were common before the Bill of last year and the new system, that is to say, settlement upon holdings of five to nine acres in the neighbourhood of large towns.
It is upon that distinction that I wish to offer a few comments. Though the old system had many great advantages—and I do not see any ground for supposing that the granting of family holdings in the Highlands has been prejudiced by the new Act—I do not think it could be said that the settlement of men on family holdings of 50 arable acres or so was likely to increase very much the agricultural population or provide employment for many more men than are already on the land. Moreover, it was very expensive and public opinion was inclined to be cautious about going too far in a policy which was costing the taxpayer so much in comparison with the results produced. But if it should prove an economic proposition 1481 position to settle men on holdings of five or seven or nine acres and if those settlers can succeed by intensive cultivation in providing themselves and their families with a complete livelihood from that very small area of land, it is obvious that an extension of that policy would multiply the agricultural population many times over and would go a long way to redress the balance between urban and rural population. That would mean that our land settlement policy instead of being merely a redistribution in the size of properties would do something definite towards taking men away from overcrowded and congested urban areas and settling them on the land and increasing the rural population. If I quote some previous observations of mine on this subject I only do so with the object of shortening the argument which I am attempting to present. When the Vote for the Department of Agriculture was discussed two years ago I ventured to say:If it could be shown—I do not say it could—that the cost to the State of settling a man on the land would be no more than the cost of settling a family of five persons from a slum into a new house—if we are justified in spending that sum in the one case for nothing more than providing a family with a new house, are we not ten times more justified in spending this money in order to provide him not only with an excellent house but with permanent employment which will help to redress the balance between urban and rural industry? I believe the possibilities of smallholdings at present are almost unlimited when we have cheap credit, when land is easily available and when there are no fewer than 5,000 unsatisfied applications for smallholdings although we are only able at present to settle a hundred men a year. I purposely refrain from giving any figures not because I believe they are unimportant but because the latest available figures are those of a year ago, and we may have reason to hope that the reduction in cost that may be effected, may be so great, that even the figures of a year ago would be of little value for any future calculations that we may have to make. If the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary can succeed in producing estimates which will justify expenditure upon a far greater scale than is provided for in this Estimate, they will earn the gratitude of their colleagues in this House and of their countrymen in Scotland."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th July, 1933; Cols. 2539–2540, Vol. 280.]Last year, when the new Bill was brought in, while I regretted the grant was not larger, I said I hoped—and indeed was satisfied—that the Secretary of State's method of administering it would justify its augmentation before the end of the 1482 three years' period. We have listened to the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman to-day. Can we conclude from his speech that there is any prospect of those hopes being fulfilled? He tells us that the return to the Treasury or rather to the Department of Agriculture from the expenditure on these holdings will be at the rate of 3 per cent. I have made a rough calculation from the other figures which were given and I think the return would be equal to three per cent. He tells us that the average rent of each holding is about £35 and that the average cost of each holding was about £750, the grant being £750,000. That means that we may expect a gross rental of £35,000 on that capital expenditure. To bring in a return of 3 per cent. you would only need £22,000 which leaves £13,000 for rates, repairs and capital depreciation.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland asked whether this was only a provisional estimate or whether it had been borne out by what happened already. If the first settlers under this scheme have only been in occupation for a year or less, it is difficult to say whether, at the end of three or four years, they will all have made a success of their holdings. But about a hundred of them have already been in occupation for some time, and if they have all punctually paid their rents, if none of them have yet failed, are we not entitled to say that the results so far have been sufficiently encouraging to justify an extension of the policy. I would never recommend a reckless or lavish expenditure of money on this Vote but I think if it can be said—and I believe from the figures given by the Secretary of State that it can be said—that this new policy has been successful and is going to bring in a return which will cover the interest at prevailing rates, on the money which has been spent, we ought not to be over-cautious in expanding the policy and the right hon. Gentleman ought not to be over-modest in asking the Chancellor of the Exchequer to supply him with money for a purpose which seems to fulfil all the conditions rightly demanded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he is distributing the resources at his disposal. We understand that the Government now contemplate measures—which we cannot discuss on this occasion—for the restoration 1483 of industry in parts of the country in the neighbourhood of large centres of population where unemployment is high and that among these schemes land settlement is likely to play a considerable part. We may be entitled to hope that in that matter, which is of some importance to our industrial problem as a whole, the Scottish Office has set a practical example to the whole country.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Sir JOHN WALLACE
I am exceedingly glad to have heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Mr. Scrymgeour-Wedderburn) and that for a special reason. So far, the Debate has been more or less confined to the Highlands and listening to it one would imagine, indeed, that the Highlands of Scotland occupied a predominant position in Great Britain.
§ Sir J. WALLACE
I do not wish to enter into a discussion with my right hon. and learned Friend who seems to agree with that suggestion. But there are other parts of Scotland which are also of some importance even in regard to agriculture. The Secretary of State referred to a petition which he has had from smallholders in the Highlands, and I want to call attention to one observation on page 14 in that petition where it states that a number of plot holders wrote to the Department of Agriculture stating the very serious financial position in which they found themselves. They wrote in January, 1926, and anxiously awaited some news from the Department. No reply was received and in September they again appealed to the Department reminding them of their previous letter. I do not know what the merits of the petition were, but there is very little merit in the Department taking ten months to reply to a letter. On several occasions in previous Debates I have called the personal attention of the Secretary of State to the dilatory methods of the Department in dealing with correspondence, and this seems to be a confirmation of the complaint that I have frequently made. In ordinary, humble business life these methods would not be tolerated for a single week and whoever was responsible for holding up answers to correspondence of this important 1484 character would be dealt with in a somewhat peremptory manner.
My right hon. Friend also referred to the question of plot holders, and I have always been very grateful to him because two years ago he called his colleagues together and informed them what he proposed to do in this connection. That has meant a very great deal to certain districts, but I think further assistance is still required from the Scottish Office so far as these plots are concerned. A month or two ago I met the plot holders in my constituency, and a fine decent lot of men they were. They were all unemployed, and they were very glad of the opportunity to get into a better physical and mental training by applying themselves to the plots that had been allocated to them. But they had several very strong representations to make regarding the quality of the land, the rents that were charged and the inadequate allowance made by the Department. They complained that the land was old pasture land and that they were paying a rent that was two-thirds above the agricultural value. I hope my right hon. Friend will take a note of that point. They also stated that efforts should be made to obtain certain commodities free of charge and to get the rents reduced, that sheds should be supplied as fixtures and that assistance amounting to £10 should be granted to each plot holder of a half acre of ground. There was one further curious request unanimously made by that meeting to me, namely, that, in the event of an egg marketing scheme being introduced, they should have nothing whatever to do with it. They have a perfectly good method of marketing their own eggs, and they do not wish to be saddled with any expense that would be incidental to the appointment of an egg marketing board.
I should like to emphasise the sense of appreciation of the Secretary of State's action so far as these plot holders are concerned, but there is a feeling that a great deal more might be done. He stated that there was a difficulty about getting more land. The hon. Member who spoke last observed that land was easily accessible. There is plenty of land in Scotland and these unemployed men are entitled to have consideration both from the point of view of acquiring plots and of having proper financial assistance in developing them. If hon. Members 1485 had been present at the meeting where the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Milne) and myself met the plot holders, they would realise that these men are in deadly earnest to make the most of the opportunities that they have, but they think they are entitled to a more generous attitude towards them on the part of the Scottish Office.
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
The hon. Member complained that the Highlands occupied too much of the time of the Committee. Until now there have been two speakers from the Highlands and two from the Lowlands, a very modest share for the Highlands, although the hon. Member himself redressed the balance in favour of the Highlands by devoting part of his remarks to them. The hon. Member who preceded him delighted us with his speech. There is none to whom we listen with greater pleasure, and on this occasion he gave us two speeches, one new one and one that he delivered a year ago. I remember the latter very well and enjoyed it very much at the time, and I enjoyed its repetition here to-day. He said he would listen with more patience to Liberal criticism of Government policy if the Liberals did not always criticise what the Government were doing to raise prices and improve conditions for the farmer. We support them whenever we think there is a policy that is good for the country and for agriculture to support, and we criticise them frequently, not always because they are going too fast, but more often because they are not going fast enough and on other occasions for what we regard as the futility of their policy. When he says we criticise everything they do to raise prices for the farmer and to improve his market, I have here the Ministry of Agriculture's Market Review with the index for agricultural prices, and I find that the index number of agricultural prices for the last month was not only far lower than in any month since the War when we were still on a Free Trade basis but lower than for any May since the War except the May before last. Therefore, I venture to say that our criticisms have been proved by painful experience not to have been unfounded.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR-WEDDERBURN
Is not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman in favour of raising agricultural prices?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Certainly I am in favour of the revival of trade, and if you get better trade, you will get higher prices. I am not in favour of artificially raising agricultural prices by creating a scarcity. That is the futile policy which has produced the results of which I have just informed the Committee. But if we get a healthy rise in prices by stimulating trade, then, of course, I favour that. If, however, I pursued that subject any further, I should be coming under the notice of the Chairman.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I should be delighted to answer the Under Secretary, but I am afraid that if I pursued that line also, I should come under the correction of the Chairman. I do not want to discuss the most interesting speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland or the agricultural report at any great length, but there are one or two small points which I wish to raise before I come to the principal subject which I desire to discuss.
First, let me say how glad I am to see that a larger grant was spent last year on crofters' houses. It is a vital service, and I hope that it will be pushed forward this year. We do not see this item entered separately in the Estimates, but I hope it will be a sum not less than the £37,000 which was spent last year. Only £10,000 was spent the year before. The value of these loans given by the Department to the crofters and the supply of materials for housing at cost price was immeasurably enhanced until 1933 by the assistance which they received from the private enterprise subsidy under the 1923 Housing Act, and I would urge on the Secretary of State that now that that Act is repealed, the assistance which was given under that Act should still be given in some form, for example, by lowering the interest charges on these loans, or that it should be made up to the crofters in some other way, so that the very important work of improving crofters' houses should not be held up by the loss of that subsidy.
I would like also to welcome very much the increased sum which I see in the Estimates under the heading of "Public Works and Miscellaneous Services in the Congested Districts." The Secretary of State is asking the Committee to vote 1487 £20,000 this year as compared with £8,000 in the previous year. My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) has already urged, as I think did my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scrymgeour-Wedderburn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Sir M. Macdonald), the necessity of improving the piers and harbours round our coasts. It is vital to these coastal communities, and there are a number of piers and harbours which, as has been recognised by the Scottish Office and by the Interdepartmental Committee on Piers and Harbours, urgently need repair. I therefore hope that more money will be available for that purpose next year.
Another very important purpose to which this money is devoted is the improvement of parish roads. The parish roads badly need this help. I have been in correspondence with the Secretary of State on this subject for some months past, and I hope very much that the increased amount which is being voted under this heading this year will enable the Secretary of State to give us more of that help which is so much needed by the people who live in the remote rural districts on these parish roads, which are often little better than broken tracks, down which are brought their supplies, along which are taken the things that they sell when they take them to market, and which give them such poor service as compared with the luxury motor roads which go across the country for the benefit of tourists.
§ Mr. HERBERT WILLIAMS
Is there not in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency a luxury road which receives a 99 per cent. grant from the Road Fund?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
We have never been fortunate enough to secure a 99 per cent. grant from the Road Fund, but the trunk road to John o'Groats is required so much in the interests of the tourists who come into the constituency, and is such a heavy burden on the ratepayers, that I certainly demand that they should receive a 100 per cent. grant. That is the unanimous demand of the Highland County Councils.
I would ask the Secretary of State whether he will give me some assurance about the paragraph in this report about the depredations by deer. That was a 1488 subject of recommendation by a departmental committee in 1921. Their recommendations have hung fire ever since. I thought that in 1932 we had brought the matter to a point when a Bill could be drafted, and I hoped it was coming before the House of Commons. If no Bill is coming, I would ask the Secretary of State what administrative measures he proposes to take this coming autumn to prevent the depredations of deer, which caused so much dissatisfaction and disturbance last winter.
With regard to the Department's scheme for the improvement of livestock, the Secretary of State said that this matter was one which was receiving his careful study. I understand that there is most unfortunately a practice—I am stating this as true to the best of my information, but it is subject to correction by the Secretary of State—that the best bulls are not sent to the more remote districts. I suppose the idea is that the stock there is not good enough to justify service by a really good bull, and that the best bulls are reserved for those districts where the stock is best. I would urge that this is completely wrong and that it is a vital necessity to improve the stock in these backward districts. If a man from Eddrachilles sends a calf to Dingwall market, the transport costs 16s., and that is a big amount to pay when the price he gets for the calf is only £3 or £4. Moreover, he may not sell it. What really happens is that every farmer and butcher knows that the stock raiser will not face the cost of taking the calf back again, and that, unless it is a good one, they can knock it down at the market for a very low price. It is, therefore, important that, with all these difficulties, people in the remote districts should have good stock to send to market, and I would ask the Secretary of State to give an assurance that really good bulls will be sent to them. Whereas until recently they used to send a bull by motor transport from Beechwood to these remote parishes, I understand that they now send them to Lairg Station, a distance of 50 miles, and that adds considerably to the cost of the scheme.
I would also like to refer to the paragraph on farm servants' wages on page 16 of the annual report. We find that the farm servants' wages are still going down. That is not the position in England and Wales, where they have started to go up. 1489 I would ask the Secretary of State what action he is contemplating to deal with this question. It is a very difficult one, and he may say that it involves legislation which he cannot discuss this afternoon. Obviously, this state of affairs must not be left where it is—that in Scotland the wages of farm servants should be falling at a time when wages have started to rise in England.
Now I come to a few words on my principal and last point, the petition of the smallholders, which has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Inverness (Sir M. Macdonald) which reveals the serious plight of crofters and smallholders in the Highlands of Scotland. This is a very able document, a remarkable and clear statement of the grievances and disabilities from which they are suffering, and it is deserving of the closest consideration of every Member. It is not a matter which concerns only the Highland Members in Parliament. These men are tenants of the State, the Department of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland are responsible to us for their welfare, and we are responsible to the nation, and it is our duty to face the fact that previous Parliaments of different political complexions, have placed upon these holders burdens which are too grievous to be borne in the present economic situation. These holders fall into two main categories, some of them being common to both. There are, first those who have shares in sheep stock clubs. In 1933, I was the first to raise in the House the crushing burden falling upon the members of the sheep stock clubs. The Secretary of State showed the most active sympathy with the case which was presented then on the floor of this House, and introduced a moratorium, an action which I and other Members appreciate, perhaps, more than the holders can be expected to, because they would not realise the immense difficulties of the Secretary of State in dealing with the Treasury; although I am sure that his action was also appreciated by them and by all who take a broad view of these questions.
Let me take one instance only, because I do not want to detain the Committee, one instance mentioned in this Report which hon. Members have in their hands. I do not select it because it is a case of 1490 greater hardship than other cases, but because the figures are so simple. It is the case of Keoldale, near Durness in the North-west corner of Sutherland near Cape Wrath. There the men had to take over a stock of 5,000 sheep at a cost of £26,000. They have paid back £13,000 of the principal and paid, in addition, nearly £7,000 in interest. The price at which they took over that sheep stock was £5 4s. per head. The value of that sheep stock at present prices is not £13,000—not as much as they have already paid. They have paid more than the present value of that sheep stock but, if their obligations are not revised they will have to pay another £13,000 or £14,000 plus interest at five per cent.—will have to start afresh and pay the whole present value of their sheep stock after having paid it once. Whether or not prices go up a little in the Autumn, that is an impossible task to set those men; and if the position rested on their case alone there is there clear proof of the necessity for revising these obligations. The petition came to the Secretary of State for Scotland from smallholders in Ross-shire, Inverness-shire and Argyll-shire. Many smallholders and sheep stock clubs in Caithness, including the Dun-beath sheep stock club, have written to me asking to be associated with the petition. I am sure that feeling exists in many other parts of the country. This is not only the grievance of people who have been settled, such as the Keoldale people, in 1923, which was very nearly at the peak of the price boom, but people like the Sciberscross holders who were settled as late as 1931 and who took over stock under different conditions. Eild ewes for which they paid £2 9s. had to be sold within a few months for £1 10s. That shows the depreciation which had affected the whole stock in the course of a very few months. The original valuation was in that case far too high. I would finally quote on this point the evidence of a very important official of the Department of Agriculture, Mr. Handford, one of the principal officials of the Department, who gave evidence before the Select Committee on Estimates and said:The particular holders we are concerned with I am pretty sure will not be in a position to commence repayment on any material scale this year"—that was last year—or next year"—1491 that is this year. I therefore hope that the Secretary of State will be able to give us an assurance that these obligations will be revised and that work on this matter has already been started. The other point which was raised in the petition of the holders was that rents and building annuities are heavier than they can now pay. There are, for example, the holders to whom the Secretary of State referred as paying 3 per cent. on the cost of the new holdings. I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Sir J. Wallace) said that the holders when he met them protested vehemently.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
At any rate, these holders are paying 3 per cent. A gentleman whom I know very well and whose name I am prepared to give in confidence to the Secretary of State for Scotland as one of the recognised authorities on land settlement, a man of great practical experience, has been through some of these new holdings, and told me that the rents are 25 per cent. higher than they would have been fixed by the Land Court. If farmers are able to make farming pay while paying rents which are equivalent to 3 per cent. on the capital outlay in purchasing the land and providing brand new equipment, agriculture cannot be in such a bad way as some of us supposed it was. It is not quite true to say, as is done in the petition, that nothing has been done by Parliament to meet the situation. It says in the petition:Repeated efforts have been made to secure a revision of the terms under which the holders have been settled, and some of them resettled, but the utmost so far granted has been the declaration in 1923 of a two years' moratorium.There was another very important concession, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir Ian Macpherson) took a leading part in securing it. I was associated with him at the time. It was in 1922, when we were pressing the then Government to allow the Land Court to revise the rents and building loans on the smallholdings constituted after the war. The Land Court sat from 1923 until 1925 and effected very substantial reductions of building obligations and rents. Since then there has been a further precipitous 1492 fall in prices. That is the precedent I ask the Secretary of State to follow. In 1922 there had been a very heavy fall, and there has been a very heavy fall since. I would ask him to see that, in the case of these holders who are trying to pay combined rents and interest on building loans which amount to more than they can bear, their obligations are reviewed by the Land Court.
That very wise public servant, Sir Reginald Macleod—the Macleod of Macleod—who was for so long Permanent Under-Secretary for the Scottish Office, wrote the other day in a published letter that you cannot treat these men like small capitalists, and I would say to the hon. Member for West Renfrew that his analogy with farmers does not apply. These are not men who can go about from farm to farm, driving a bargain here with the landlord, or refusing a farm there in order to get a better bargain. They are the old clansmen of Scotland, living on the soil and fixed to the soil. They have no choice. The Secretary of State, in his opening remarks with regard to this petition, said that it suggested what no responsible Member of the House would suggest—that these men have been in some way forced to take over these liabilities at too high a level. I am not suggesting that the officials of the Department have forced them to take over land in this way, but it is true to say that they have been forced—forced by economic and social conditions on the one hand, and by the assurances of the Department on the other that these were the best terms that could be offered, and that, if they did not take them, they just would not get the land. That is what happened in the Keoldale case, and I know that it happened in many other cases.
These men had no other resource. Their little holdings were far too small to maintain their families at the existing standard of living, and their one hope was this farm which had been bought by the Department of Agriculture. The Department came along and said, "These are the terms; if you do not take them we shall have to dispose of the farm elsewhere," and, if that had been done, it would have put an end to all their hopes. These circumstances amounted very nearly to force—not exercised by the Department, but by economic and social circumstances and 1493 by the fact that this was their only hope. They were not discouraged or warned by the Department. The Department simply said to them, "Here is your chance; if you do not take it the farm will be sold," and tinder that pressure of circumstances these men acted as they did. They cannot be looked upon in the same way as shopkeepers, or traders, or large farmers, who, if I may so put it, have any amount of elbow-room. They belong to the land of their fathers, and, if they cannot get breathing room and space there, they perish. Therefore, I implore the Secretary of State to realise the exceptional circumstances of this case.
I would summarise, in conclusion, by saying that there are four main points. In the first place, the moratorium should be extended at once, and the men should be given that measure of encouragement now. Secondly, there should be a revision of the obligations of the sheepstock clubs. Thirdly, the rents and building loans should be revised—I would suggest, on the precedent of 1922 and 1923, by the Land Court. Fourthly, there should be an inquiry into the whole economic situation in the Highlands. The economic situation in the Highlands is now extremely grave and difficult in many respects, and I think the time has come when in some form or other, but without holding up action as regards emergency relief for men who are in such a grievous plight, a careful and deliberate inquiry should be made.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Sir IAN MACPHERSON
The other day I ventured to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend a memorandum on behalf of the smallholders in the Highlands of Scotland. It is a very remarkable memorandum and is signed by no fewer than 700 smallholders. The grievance is not local; it is a general grievance which is felt in every corner of the Highlands. I did not quite agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scrymgeour-Wedderburn). As usual, I enjoyed his speech very much, but I do not think that there is a complete analogy between conditions in the Highlands and conditions in the agricultural industry in general. The Highlands, from the point of view of agriculture, have always been treated as being in a category by themselves. They have special legislation, and it would be very 1494 difficult to find any large township where you could not detect the hand of the Board of Agriculture, which in reality is the State. When you come to work it out, apart from a few of the larger crofters, the small landholding community are in many cases dependent upon the administration and the good will of the Board of Agriculture. There is another body which has commanded for a long time, indeed since its inception, the respect of the country, namely, the Land Court. That body has been given the power of fixing impartial rents all over the Highlands, and it is a very remarkable fact that, ever since the days of 1886, there has not, I suppose, been a thousand pounds in arrears of rent due to the Board of Agriculture.
What are the facts? My hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrew said that what was happening in the Highlands was happening all over the country as far as agriculture was concerned. It is not quite true. There is no doubt that the decline in prices is general, and has been general for many years, but I am prepared to go as far as, if not farther than, my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair). I remember well when most of these small landowners were placed upon the land. There was a great cry that anybody who served in the War should be given land, and there was at one time something like 7,000 waiting expectant landholders, and in the last year or two there have been something like 6,000. At that time instructions were given that, whatever happened, these men were to get land, with the result that these poor fellows left themselves entirely in the hands of the Board of Agriculture, and feeling, as they were entitled to feel, that they had a great and powerful body behind them representative of the State, they went and got possession of these holdings. At that time prices were abnormal. I believe that there was one case where a poor fellow had to pay £8 for a ewe and lamb which to-day can be obtained for 40s. The Department of Agriculture did not stop this sort of thing but certainly encouraged it and got the men to take smallholdings all over the place. What is the result? The most competent business men alive could not make holdings pay under such conditions. What do we find? To-day all over Scotland there 1495 are complaints that starvation and destitution confronts these people. When we are dealing with, say, the Zambesi or any remote Protectorate, we are always most generous. If some semi-independent country in Europe wanted its debts waived, we should come forward and waive them.
§ Sir IAN MACPHERSON
Yes, Newfoundland. It was done there. But if we ask for something for the people of our country, who have made the Empire, what happens? We are told that they are under a moral obligation to do this or under a statutory obligation to do that. No one has a more profound respect for the Secretary of State than I have. He is trying his level best to do things, but may I draw his attention to the case which happened recently in Inverness-shire, the case of two holders at Inches. One State Department, the Land Court, was asked by another, the Board of Agriculture, to go to Inches and to evict the two holders because they had not fulfilled their obligation by signing a bond. This is what happened. I see that the Under-Secretary is rather restless. Perhaps he will wait until I have read the Report. Here is the Report, and if it can be contradicted, now is the opportunity to do it.The holder alleged that at ingoing he did not know what the cost of the buildings would be.The cost of the buildings should have been told to him by the Board of Agriculture.He expected that the total sum payable for rent and building annuity would not exceed £50. Not till 13 months after his ingoing did he become aware of what his full obligations would be. The Department valued the buildings at £800.He would not sign that bond owing to the value referred to. Then this judicial body, as a matter of favour, were asked to go and see whether they could not get the man evicted or compel him to sign the bond. What does this impartial tribunal say:The Department applied to the Land Court for the removal of the tenant from his building because he had declined to sign the bond and had thus broken the conditions of let.The Land Court in their decision state: 1496They find that the sum of £800 for which the respondent has been called upon to sign the said bond is to a material extent excessive as the value of the holding and such permanent improvements, and that it is unreasonable to ask the tenant to sign the said bond for the sum of £800.The same thing happened in regard to the second man. How can there be any justification for a thing of that sort? An impartial tribunal, sanctioned by this House, is sent as a matter of courtesy to inquire into these holdings established by the Department of Agriculture, and that is their report. If there is anything more scandalous in the administration of the history of the Department than that I fail to see. If any injustice of that kind took place on the Zambesi River or the Limpopo there would be such an outcry that Parliament would insist on the thing being put right. Here we have at our own door men who are the salt of the earth, hard-working, respectable, fine fighters when the occasion requires it, none better, men upon whom the State has depended in campaign after campaign. If they were in any other country without a, drop of Highland or English blood in their veins, they would not be so treated. That is a condition of things which the country will not tolerate, and I tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is not responsible for this, here and now, that unless something is done, he will have an agitation in the Highlands—and we do not wish to agitate there—which will be an example, not because of its terrorism, but because of the sympathy which every right-minded man and woman in this country from John o' Groats to Land's End will give to a movement of that kind.
If my right hon. Friend can contradict what I have said, let him do so now. I defy him to do it. Those are the facts, and he has only to tour the Highlands—and I would say that the Secretary of State has taken a deep and an abiding interest in his work there—to find out, not from the men themselves, but from men interested in the public life and welfare of the community as a whole, men who have no axes to grind, the truth as I have attempted to tell it to the Committee to-day. In my judgment, the right and proper thing to do, whether it is by the Land Court or by a commission ad hoc, is to see that justice 1497 and fair-play are meted out in this matter. If you do that, you will, in the course of time, recapture the good name of this Parliament, but if you delay, I warn you here and now that the time will come when the name of this House of Commons will be execrated because of the gross injustice perpetrated upon a law-abiding people.
§ Sir G. COLLINS rose—
§ Mr. MAXTON
Does the right hon. Gentleman intervene now? If there is time to spare, I am prepared to use it.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I am glad to have the opportunity for a few minutes to endeavour to reply to the main points which have been put to me this afternoon. My right hon. and learned Friend who has just addressed the Committee has spoken with deep feeling about what he considers to be a great injustice. From my place in this House, I accept full responsibility for every decision and action of those advisers of mine who are entrusted with the duty of administering these matters. I am sure my right hon. and learned Friend will not expect me at a moment's notice this afternoon to be able to give him any sort of answer to the detailed case which he has put before us, but this Committee exists for the very purpose of such cases being put forward on the Floor of the House of Commons. I shall certainly make it one of my first duties early next week to look into this matter from start to finish, and endeavour to satisfy myself, and hold the balance fairly, for this House has shown for many years an open and a generous mind to those in our Highland counties who have done such great things for our country, not only in the Great War but throughout the civilised world. As to the situation in the Highlands the same point has been put by other hon. Members. We do not desire to hide or conceal any of the facts regarding the activities of the Department, and if I thought that any inquiry would assist the efforts of the men in these distant parts I would appoint a commission to-morrow morning. But I am not convinced that any such body would achieve the object which hon. Members desire.
When the case of these sheep stock clubs was raised in the House a, few years ago the Government gave a complete 1498 moratorium for two years during which they would not ask for repayment of debt or interest. They naturally suggested a certain period after which the moratorium should be reviewed. That time has now arrived; and it is only right and natural, when public money is being spent in this way, that there should be a review of prices, the fall in which caused the moratorium to be given. Therefore, we are following the usual practice and are watching the course of prices before coming to any decision on the matter. I do not want anything that I say this afternoon to be thought to be critical of these people. I am sure that any assistance which is proposed, whether temporary or long, will be readily granted by the House, but I hope the Committee will excuse me if I do not come to any decision until the course of prices are known. That I think also covers the questions put by the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) with regard to the financial obligations and loans in connection with these sheep stock farming clubs.
Let me turn to the question of farm servants' wages. At the present moment a communication has gone from the National Farmers' Union to their branches throughout Scotland, but the answers have not yet been received. It will be premature for me to make any statement on the matter until the replies have been collected in Edinburgh.
§ Sir IAN MACPHERSON
When the right hon. Gentleman is making inquiries of the Farmers' Union is he also making inquiries of the farm servants?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
Yes. There have been conversations with the Farm Servants' Union and the National Farmers' Union. The matter may not have gone forward as quickly as the Farm Servants' Union would desire, but I can assure my right hon. Friend that the interests not only of the National Farmers' Union but of the Farm Servants' Union are being considered.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
There are some counties in Scotland where the Farm Servants' Union hardly exists. Will he in these counties endeavour to get into touch with the farm servants so that their view may be taken into account at the same time?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
These negotiations have taken place between officials of the Farm Servants' Union and the National Farmers' Union. Naturally they are of a voluntary character. There have been discussions between the responsible authorities of the two bodies, and now that preliminary understandings have been reached the recommendations have been passed from the National Farmers' Union to the branches of the Union in the different counties.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
It is a very important matter, and that is why I intervene again. I would again insist that there are some counties in Scotland—Caithness is one—where the Farm Servants' Union hardly exists. Would the right hon. Gentleman make certain that some action is taken on behalf of the farm servants where they have no organisation whatever?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I do not think that that particular point will arise just at the moment. I have taken a great deal of trouble and felt some anxiety in this matter. I will follow up the point raised by my right hon. Friend, and perhaps at a later stage of the Session he will address a question to me on the subject. Then my right hon. Friend spoke of the depredations of deer. Of course any reference to legislation on that subject would be out of order. By administration we have no means of stopping the depredations. I was asked about the sum set aside for piers and parish roads. It is true that the extra sum is not large, but I hope it will go a little way to deal with this matter. Then my right hon. Friend asked a specific question, whether the best bulls were being sent only to the best districts. Quite categorically I reply that there is no truth in that statement. There is no district being ruled out and no favouritism shown either between county and county or person and person.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Sir J. Wallace) referred to delay in correspondence. I can assure him that the Department is very anxious to attend properly, as I believe it does now, to any correspondence of hon. Members. My hon. Friend spoke at length of the poor land and the high rents of the land set aside for plots in his area. In all these matters we have to get the best land possible at a particular spot. In that area which my hon. Friend represents 1500 I am told that, speaking broadly, the quality of the land is not so good as in other parts of Scotland, but that that is not due to any lack of desire on the part of the Department to get the best land; it is due solely to inability to secure always the best land for the purpose. My hon. Friend asked for free manure, free lime, and an extra grant of £10. In these matters I am a convinced believer that if these schemes are to succeed and to stand the test of time, they must in the long run stand on their own feet. They should not be subsidised in this way. Neither do I believe that the men themselves desire these free grants from many quarters.
I was asked a question also about land settlement. It is true to say that the rents we are charging to-day may not be paid to-morrow, but that could be said at any time about anything. These men have willingly paid these rents. There is great demand, and the rents being charged are not competitive rents but what we consider to be fair rents. As a matter of fact, I accept full responsibility for every one of the rents fixed for these 500 men. I fixed these rents myself and I am convinced that they can be paid by these people year in and year out. We have on these smallholdings a body of men who with good will, hard work and enterprise are determined to succeed. I wish every hon. Member could visit these places and get into touch with these men. If they did they would be convinced, as I am, that taking one year with another, these men will make good in the long run.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) asked me to what extent the subsidised price of wheat had affected the price of oats. Far be it from me to attempt to trace cause and effect in matters of price. It is a question which has baffled the ingenuity of man almost from the beginning of time. He suggested, it may be with a certain amount of truth, that the lower price was due in some degree to the subsidised price of wheat, but it may also be the case that the price of maize and other grain affects the situation. I am informed that the price of maize for instance has a definite influence on the price of oats but I could not venture to forecast the course of prices or explain the causes of the rise and fall of prices. The hon. Member also asked about the grant for horse breeding. It is true that for purposes of economy it 1501 has been found necessary to withdraw it but so far as I have been able to find out, that has not had any bad results so far. So far as I can gather horse breeding has slightly increased in the last three years, but if further experience shows that the withdrawal of the grant is hurting horse breeding in any part of Scotland, I will at once review the situation because I share with the hon. Member that anxiety which I know is also felt by hon. Members from other parts of the country that our horse breeding should be kept up to a high standard of efficiency. As to the particular case which the hon. Member mentioned in regard to his own constituency I will readily look into that.
As regards the grant for houses I would only say that the grant-in-aid is paid into the agricultural fund and is not surrenderable to the Exchequer. The amount set aside for this year for housing is £25,000 and if that sum is not spent, it will be carried forward and will be available for the same purpose next year. The hon. Member traced, I think with accuracy, the causes of the decline in the kelp industry which in the past has been of such value to people along those shores. It is true that iodine has gone back heavily in price and the Import Duties Advisory Committee did not feel 1502 justified in putting on any duty to assist those people. It was considered that the imposition of a duty would not have resulted in the return of prosperity to that industry. Factors have been at work which have caused that industry to disappear. I regret it and I feel sure that the regret is shared by other hon. Members. I am not anxious to talk out this Vote but I feel that there are other hon. Members who, on other occasions, will wish to put forward certain points of view.
§ It being Four of the Clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.
§ Adjourned at One Minute after Four o'Clock until Monday next, 1st July.