§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 2.25 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir Godfrey Collins)
I beg to 2248 move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is a modest Measure the object of which is to extend for a further two years the powers of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland to prepare and settle schemes under the Land Drainage (Scotland) Act of 1930. Certain provisions in that Act were limited to a period of five years. The Commissioner for the Special Areas in Scotland in the course of his work during the last few months has made representations to the Department that he has in mind one or two schemes to improve land drainage and it is because of his representations that I am now asking the House to give a Second Reading to this Measure. The schemes in question are for the purpose of improving land drainage by, in some cases, repairing the banks of rivers and in other cases removing rocks and such like impediments from the rivers. These schemes which the Commissioner has in view can only be proceeded with if this Bill is passed into law. When the 1930 Act was passed—
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I think it was passed at that time. Under that Act the cost of drainage schemes was to be recoverable 2249 from the landowners concerned up to an amount representing the estimated value of the benefit expected to accrue to the land affected. The cost of maintenance was also recoverable up to an amount not exceeding the estimated cost shown in the scheme. The landowner under the provisions of the 1930 Act might require that any sum payable by him should be recovered by means of an annual rate apportioned between the landlord and the tenant. The procedure is clearly laid down in the Act. There are powers of arbitration and if any scheme is submitted it must be laid before this House before it can become law. I understand that the Commissioner for the special areas has in view at the moment schemes in connection with the River Kelvin and the River Clyde. They are not big schemes, I admit, but in view of his interest in them I think it right to ask for this Measure. In connection with the River Clyde the scheme which is known as the Hyndford Bridge Scheme will, it is anticipated, improve the land drainage in that area and he anticipates that it may also materially improve Lampits Farm which is Government property and on which the Commissioner himself hopes to establish an experimental farm.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I was coming to that point. In the case of the River Kelvin scheme the total cost excluding compensation will be £27,000 and it is expected to provide employment for about 115 men for 12 months. In the case of the River Clyde scheme the total cost excluding compensation will be£10,000 and it is expected to find work for 120 men for six months.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Who will employ these men? I know that the contractors will do the work but who will be responsible apart from that? It is usually a county council or some other body of that kind. Will the Commissioner be responsible in this case or will it be the county council?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
Discussions on this matter are still proceeding and it is not quite settled, but I think that probably the scheme will be carried out under the Department of Agriculture for Scotland. 2250 I shall be happy to answer any further questions on the Bill, but as I have already said, it simply extends by two years the period of the powers conferred on the Department by the 1930 Act.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
There is no alteration. The Bill simply extends for two years the powers which Parliament in 1930 saw fit to grant for five years. The Commissioner for the special areas in Scotland has made a request and it is at his request that I am submitting the Bill. I think that in the very difficult task which the Commissioner has undertaken on behalf of His Majesty's Government he ought to be supported by any immediate and practical step which this House can take to help him in his work.
§ 2.32 p.m.
§ Mr. MILNE
I wish to support the Second Reading of this Bill which Sir Arthur Rose has asked for in order to facilitate schemes of land drainage and reclamation now under consideration. I note that in the Civil Estimates for this year there has been set down a sum approaching £500,000 to meet the outlays and general expenses in connection with the work of the Commissioner in Scotland. I rejoice exceedingly that Sir Arthur Rose proposes to spend such a substantial sum on rehabilitating the special areas in Scotland, and I am sure that every Scottish Member will support with the most hearty goodwill this or any other Bill which will facilitate his schemes. But there is one matter which calls for criticism or, at any rate, inquiry. The Memorandum states that the Bill has been introduced on the recommendation of the Commissioner. The original Act of 1930 is due to expire in a month's time. Why has it been left to Sir Arthur Rose to take steps to reprieve that Act, to give it a new lease of life? Further, I should like to know whether it is the case that the benefits of this Measure are not to be extended to any district in Scotland outside the special areas. Sir Arthur Rose, as a result of his investigations, has satisfied himself that schemes can usefully be carried out in Lanarkshire and perhaps elsewhere in the special areas. Are there no other districts in Scotland where arterial drainage is required?
2251 I am not one of those who believe that Scotland is "down and out." Scotland in the past has met with disasters and has many times encountered periods of depression far more acute than that which the present generation is experiencing. But although the situation is improving, there is no gainsaying the fact that things are not altogether well with Scotland. Relatively speaking, as compared with England, Scotland is a distressed area. I have always held the view that there are really two Commissioners in Scotland. There is Sir Arthur Rose, the Commissioner appointed under the 1934 Act for the special areas, but there is another Commissioner who has no statutory title. His jurisdiction is far more extensive, and in some respects his powers are far greater. He owes his position as Commissioner to the fact that he holds the office of Secretary of State for Scotland. He is Commissioner for that distressed area, North Britain. The present holder of the office has gained the good will and regard and complete confidence of everybody in Scotland.
§ Mr. MILNE
I am not sure that I could say the same thing of his advisers, whoever they may be. When the original Act was passed, it was contemplated that £100,000 could be usefully spent on arterial drainage. The language of the memorandum, which I suppose has been framed by my right hon. Friend's advisers, is not encouraging. It tells us that one scheme is still being carried on, that in connection with the River Annan, and that the net cost will be £1,300. In addition to that, we are told that £1,000 has been spent on general survey work. Has the Scottish Office any new schemes in contemplation, apart from those of Sir Arthur Rose, and has the work of survey been brought to an untimely end? I would like some assurance from the Secretary of State that the Scottish Office is going to prosecute vigorously an exploration of the possibilities of this Act.
I have been looking at the history of the Act in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I see that after the Act was passed there were numerous questions about it in Parliament, but then those questions became fewer and fewer, and finally they ceased altogether. I hope that those 2252 Scottish Members whose constituencies are more especially interested in arterial drainage will not allow the Act to become a dead letter. I would remind them that when Noah was in the ark, he never ceased in his interrogations, but constantly kept asking if the floods were abating, and at last the floods did abate, and the ark rested on dry land. I suppose those hon. Members who asked the questions will say to me, "Ah well, but Noah was not faced with our difficulties. He never had to deal with the Scottish Office." Be that as it may, I would respectfully advise that when this Bill becomes law they will renew their questions, and then at long last perhaps something will be done. I do not want, however, to finish on a note of admonition and censure. This excellent little Measure has been introduced for the primary purpose of facilitating the schemes of Sir Arthur Rose. I shall vote for it with the very greatest pleasure, and I am sure I am expressing the feelings of all of us when I say that we wish all success to Sir Arthur Rose in his gallant adventure.
§ 2.41 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I am afraid I cannot allow the hon. and learned Member's unlimited praise of the Secretary of State and censure of the officials to pass without comment because we have always said this, that in my time we have never really had a bad Under-Secretary of State, but we have never had a good Secretary of State.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
An official once asked me who was the best Scottish Secretary, and I said to him, "You should not put it in that way, but you should ask who has been the worst. You should put them all in a lucky bag, and the only way to find out who has been the worst would be to pick them out of the lucky bag, because they are all so bad; they are none of them very good." In connection with Sir Arthur Rose, I was one of his critics, and it is only right to say that I am glad that at least the River Clyde has a drainage scheme, and that there is a drainage scheme also for 2253 the River Kelvin. I presume they would not have been started by the Scottish Office. With all its knowledge, the Scottish Office would never have thought of them if it had not been for Sir Arthur Rose. It is really a remarkable achievement, that he should have found what all the officials could not find. All these great men, all these skilful negotiators, all this great Department would never have found these out but for Sir Arthur Rose, who has succeeded in producing two drainage schemes, one of which, I understand, will employ over 100 men and the other slightly under 100 men. He is to be congratulated on a remarkable achievement in that respect. I must confess that I am glad that the hon. and learned Member for West Fife (Mr. Milne) has given Sir Arthur Rose his blessing in this connection, because before Sir Arthur has finished, he will need all the blessings he can get.
As far as this Bill is concerned, I welcome the fact that for once the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State did not blame the Labour Government for anything. Generally speaking, Ministers have ceased to justify themselves in any way at all; their only justification is to mention the faults and failings of previous Secretaries of State, but on this occasion the right hon. Gentleman has introduced a Labour Government Measure. I do not want to be taken as wholly in agreement with this Bill, because there was a part of the original Act that I never liked, regarding compensation. However, this Bill is limited to two years, and I understand also that it is, comparatively speaking, limited to particular areas. I understand you are only giving money for the schemes that Sir Arthur Rose adopts, that, in other words, you are prepared only to help schemes within Sir Arthur Rose's jurisdiction; or is this money not confined to his area?
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
All the same, the Department would never have found out these schemes but for Sir Arthur Rose. It is not difficult to find the Clyde, yet you could not find a scheme for the Clyde, and it was the same with the Kelvin. How would the Scottish Office have found out these schemes had it 2254 not been for Sir Arthur Rose? In addition to being in charge of the distressed areas, could he not be put in charge of the agricultural problem? The party with which I am associated will not vote against this Bill. We shall not vote against it because it provides a job for somebody and will make for some good.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
With regard to the observations of the hon. Member about the Scottish Office, if at any time the Scottish Office fails it is not fair to blame the officials, for the Ministers must take the blame. The Department explored the whole problem of drainage after the 1930 Act, but then came the crisis and the work was slowed down. One of these schemes had been investigated by the Department before, but we are grateful to the special commissioner for urging it upon us.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Sir A. Lambert Ward.]