§ 17. "That a sum, not exceeding £6,631,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937, for Expenditure in respect of the Air Services, namely:
|2.||Quartering, Stores (except Technical), Supplies and Transportation||2,838,000|
|6.||Technical Training and Educational Services||657,000|
|7.||Auxiliary and Reserve Forces||557,000|
|9.||Meteorological and Miscellaneous Effective Services||817,000|
|11.||Half-pay, Pensions, and other Non-Effective Services||444,000|
§ First Resolution read a Second time.
§ Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Lieut.-Colonel Colville)
I am glad an opportunity has been afforded, on the discussion of this Vote, to say something on the working of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland 1352 and to give a brief review of its activities, as well as to say something in general about agriculture in Scotland. On the last occasion on which we discussed Scottish Estimates an arrangement was reached that hon. Members who took part in the Debate should speak for a very few minutes only and enable in that way as many as possible to take part. That arrangement worked so satisfactorily that I understand the experiment is to be repeated on this occasion, and for that reason, and also for the reason that an interruption will take place for other business at half-past seven, I intend to make my review as brief as possible, but at the conclusion of the discussion, that is, before half-past seven, my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate proposes to reply and to deal with as many as possible of the points raised in the discussion.
It has been said with much truth that agriculture is not one industry but many industries, and nowhere is that more true than in Scotland. For its size Scotland is probably unrivalled in the agricultural variations which it can present, ranging from the large farms and rich cultivation of some of the Lowland districts to the tiny, windswept crofts of the Northern and Western isles. Scottish agriculture is indeed no simple unified industry. Its problems are complex and do not yield to one kind of treatment. There is one general principle, however, which it is right to keep in mind in studying those problems. Agriculture, though a basic industry, is not an isolated one and has a close relationship with many other industries. As industry prospers and the standard of living and the consumption of food tend to go up, so the agricultural population will be assisted, and the agricultural population will be an important customer for the manufacturer and distributor. Agriculture in all its branches is very closely interlocked in the economic structure of the nation.
I have mentioned the inter-relation of agriculture and other industry, and, if I am right, one should hope that the recent improvement of industry, for which the Government do not disclaim some credit, would be followed by a stronger demand and better prices for at least some of our agricultural products. Factors affecting prices are very hard to disentangle, but the index figures have shown that in the first six months of 1353 this year, as compared with the corresponding period in 1935, there have been increases of varying amounts in the prices of fat and store cattle, eggs, butter, cheese, and wool, and from the Scottish point of view it is interesting to note that all these are products of animal husbandry, which form over 80 per cent. of Scottish agriculture.
In this varied and complex industry it is too much to hope that all branches and all districts will progress equally and simultaneously, and, as we know, we have our difficulties in certain branches of agriculture in Scotland. I want, first of all, to refer to one of those. Much has been said, and said with great cogency, of the difficulties of those who grow oats for direct sale, particularly in the North-Eastern district of Scotland. It was a matter for sincere regret to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to us all that, in spite of careful and prolonged consideration of the subject in all its bearings, it was found that the difficulties in the way of any direct assistance to oats were insurmountable. Hon. Members, however, are probably aware that a deputation representing the oat growers of the North-East and other districts of Scotland was met by the Prime Minister a few days ago and was informed by him that a further inquiry would be made into the possibility of adjusting the present policy of assistance to cereal growing so as to secure a more even distribution of the benefits.
It is sometimes suggested—in fact, I hear it often suggested—however, that Scottish farming does not benefit at all, or that it benefits hardly at all, under the Wheat Act. It is true that for reasons of soil and climate the percentage of the total wheat subsidy attracted to Scotland is relatively small compared to what is attracted to districts South of the Border, but even so the sums paid are far from negligible and should not be lost account of in speaking of the assistance given to Scottish farmers. Payments, for example, made to wheat growers in Scotland for the cereal year 1934–35, the last I have, amounted in Scotland to £382,000. The assistance which has been given through the beet sugar subsidy is helping to tide over a difficult period in Scottish agriculture, and the orderly regulation of the marketing of potatoes, and of imports, has afforded very definite assistance to potato 1354 growers. This improvement in the general level of potato prices must have made a substantial difference to many Scottish farmers. In the realm of horticulture, a very important and extensive side of agricultural work, the benefits of the Government's legislation are also apparent in Scotland, various horticultural products having been fostered under the Import Duties Act.
There is a very important Scottish interest in beef, and of special interest to Scottish farmers is the announcement of the Government's long-term policy on beef. A total subsidy of approximately £5,000,000, of which, as the House knows, a substantial part will have to come from the Treasury, will be made available. While the benefits are primarily for the cattle feeder, it is obvious that indirect advantages will also be derived by the breeder and the dairy farmer, as well as many others who are connected with the industry. From our point of view in Scotland, a very important part of the scheme, the details of which have not yet been fully worked out, is that special encouragement should be given to the production of cattle of the better qualities, a provision that should be of particular interest to the North-East of Scotland, which excel in the production of the finest kinds of beef. The general announcement of the line of our policy has been made, but the full announcement of our long-term policy will be made later. It is hoped that the announcement will be made in the autumn, in the new Session, and it will be, I know, awaited with interest in Scotland.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
Do I understand that there is to be an announcement in the autumn of the Government's long-term policy?
§ Lieut.-Colonel COLVILLE
I said that it is intended to make an announcement in the autumn, in the new Session, on the Government's long-term policy for beef, and that this will be of particular interest to Scotland, where we are much interested in the beef industry and where we are particularly interested in the production of high-quality beef. I am able to say no more now, because the announcement has not yet been made, but the problem of the special treatment of high-quality beef is particularly under our examination in preparing for this announcement.
1355 Let me now speak of another question altogether, that is, animal diseases. This must be rather a patchwork statement because I have to cover so many of the activities of the Department. Animal diseases cause immense loss annually in Scotland as in every country. An account of the current work of the Animal Diseases Research Association will be found on pages 42 and 43 of the report of the Department. The discoveries of preventive measures against certain sheep diseases have already been the means of saving large sums annually to the sheep farmers of Scotland, but there are still many pressing problems of animal diseases unsolved, and perhaps the most serious of all is that of grass sickness in horses, a disease which, I confess, has so far baffled all effort to deal with it. It has assumed alarming proportions in certain parts of the country, particularly in the north during the summer. During the present season the Animal Diseases Research Association has been concentrating all available staff on investigation of this disease. A team of five workers was continually engaged at Guthrie, Angus, where their moveable laboratory was stationed. Proposals are at present being considered for strengthening the staff of the Association and for augmenting its capacity to investigate this and other diseases of livestock in Scotland. The Agricultural Research Council have been invited to consider the possibility of assisting in a more extensive investigation of the disease.
I would stress the point that we are well aware of the serious danger of this grass sickness, and the fact that it has hitherto baffled the experts is not in any way causing us to slacken our efforts but rather to increase them, so that we can get to the bottom of this disease. It has been possible to set aside a number of possible causes of the spread of this disease as unlikely to be positive. But the investigation must proceed.
Contagious abortion, tuberculosis and mastitis also cause heavy losses to cattle breeders and milk producers in Scotland. Schemes of investigation concerning these diseases are being conducted in concert with the Agricultural Research Council. We are also conducting investigation into fowl paralysis among poultry flocks. What is worrying us most is the disease of grass 1356 sickness and we have in hand a special investigation of this disease.
I turn now to the question of livestock improvement. It is agreed on all sides that everything possible should be done to encourage home breeding of good quality stock. This applies to sheep and other livestock as well as cattle. The Department's report gives an account of assistance given by grants and premiums for livestock improvement, particularly in the Highland counties. Last year on this occasion my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned that he had in view the question of a review of all the schemes for livestock improvement. In pursuance of that he set up an inquiry, which was placed in the hands of Lord Rowallan, Major Keith, of Pitmedden, Aberdeen, and Professor White, of Bangor, and it has already made considerable progress in surveying the operation of these schemes. Amongst other questions these gentlemen will advise us on the question of grants in aid of heavy horse-breeding, the discontinuance of which has been a matter of complaint in the last two years. We are awaiting the report of this committee in considering what should be done in regard to heavy horse-breeding. I know that it is a subject of special interest to a number of Members of this Committee. Smallholders in Orkney have expressed their special interest in the question.
Now I turn to the question of milk. First of all I would speak of the attested herds scheme, the aim of which is the purification of the milk supply by the eradication of tuberculosis from dairy herds. For this purpose funds are provided under Section 9 of the Milk Act, 1934. Under the scheme as recently amended a bonus of a penny will be paid through the Milk Marketing Boards on every gallon of milk from an attested herd. Previously this bonus was paid only in respect of milk which did not find a market as Grade A (T.T.) milk under the Milk (Special Designations) Order. Financial assistance will also be offered to herd-owners to help them to meet veterinary charges for the tuberculin-testing of their cattle, and so to enable them, when herds are clear of tuberculosis, to apply for a certificate of attestation. The amended scheme also makes provision for the co-operation of local authorities and their staffs, which 1357 we regard as most desirable, and it enables private veterinary surgeons to be employed on the duty of tuberculin testing. The number of herds in Scotland now attested as free of tuberculosis is 141, and the number of cattle included in them is well over 11,000. It is expected that the new proposals will produce a rapid and substantial increase in this number. There is evidence of steady advance in this matter. The number of herds attested as clear is not only relatively but absolutely greater than the number cleared in England and Wales.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
Is the Under-Secretary of State aware where these herds are located? Is it not true that almost half of them are in Ayrshire?
§ Lieut.-Colonel COLVILLE
I shall be glad to look into those details. Generally speaking the gratifying fact is that they are all over the Border, and we are making an advance in this line which we are glad to see.
The cleaning up of dairy herds is just one, though an important, aspect of the problem of ensuring an abundant supply of good and pure milk to the people. I may not be in order in speaking at length on this subject, but in the Debate on health and housing and in an earlier Debate on nutrition the other day, emphasis was laid on the importance of this subject. There is uppermost in the minds of many people the particular difficulty in which the Scottish Milk Marketing Scheme is now. I shall refer to that subject later. I do not want that consideration to blind people's minds to the fact that there is most useful work being done for milk producers and milk consumers in Scotland under the Marketing Boards.
There was some decline in the consumption of milk in the schools during the winter months, no doubt due, in part at least, to the fact that cold milk is not so popular a drink in winter: but with the return to milder weather there was a considerable improvement in the spring, although the number of children participating in the scheme is well below last year's figure. Under the Scottish Board's scheme, during May the average number of children supplied per day was 312,000, compared with over 400,000 in the corresponding month of last year. Of the total quantity of milk supplied during May over 93 per cent. was Grade A 1358 (T.T.). Why there are not so many children taking milk in the schools is a question which is rather perplexing. There is no effort made to curtail supplies; rather the reverse. Apart from the effect of weather conditions, various reasons are given for the fall in consumption, such as that the novelty has worn off; a distaste for milk as too dull; the lack of enthusiasm on the part of parents; and here is a further reason, that senior pupils—and particularly the female senior pupils—are of opinion that milk is fattening. I pass that reason on to the Committee as I receive it, but I find it hard to believe that the senior pupils of that age are concerned with questions of this nature. Active propaganda is undertaken by the Board, in co-operation with educational bodies, with a view to stimulating the demand. We shall do all in our power to press forward this scheme, which is of real value to the children.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
There are 248 different methods for consuming milk, according to the milk bars in London and Glasgow. Would the Under-Secretary not consider making milk a little more attractive to those who have fallen back in their enthusiasm?
§ Lieut.-Colonel COLVILLE
I shall certainly pass on that suggestion. There is a difficulty, of course, in running an ice-cream soda fountain in every school. There can be no doubt as to the nourishing value of milk. Let me refer here to what is being done in Glasgow. An interesting experimental scheme is being carried out there. The board have established four children's milk centres for the sale of Grade A (T.T.) milk to be sold at reduced prices, for consumption on the premises by children between the ages of two and 15 years. Very satisfactory results have been obtained during the first two weeks of the scheme. An average of about 8,000 children a day have been supplied with milk. It is an experiment but it seems to be an experiment that is catching on. Good progress has been made with the inquiry into the nutritional value of milk. About 1,500 children attending schools in Renfrewshire have participated in an experiment carried out over a period of one year on similar lines to tests carried out at centres in England. The preparation of statistical analyses of the results of the tests will take some time. We are 1359 fully alive to the value of milk as providing nourishment for young people.
I want to say something on a question which is occupying a good deal of attention in reference to the Milk Board, and that is the Ferrier case. A difficult situation has been created by the recent judgment of the House of Lords in the Ferrier case. As indicated by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his replies to questions last week and again to-day, the Board, who met last week and again this afternoon, must be guided by their own advisers, or if necessary by the court, as to what action they can or cannot take to comply with the law as laid down; but beyond that it is for them to decide whether to submit amendments to the Scheme with a view to securing an equitable adjustment for the future of the rates of contribution of various categories of producers in the light of the decision referred to. The procedure for carrying through any amendments is laid down in the First Schedule to the Act of 1931. The position, of course, is complicated by the fact that the Reorganisation Commission, which is reviewing the whole position with regard to the milk marketing schemes, has not yet reported. I understand that the report may be issued before the House reassembles. It is clear that any proposals for amendment of the Scottish scheme will have to be considered in relation to the possibilities of more comprehensive changes. We shall certainly consult the Commission at an early stage on any amendments submitted to us by the Board in this connection.
I wish to speak of the development service dealt with in Chapter III of the report of the Department. With regard to bracken, my right hon. Friend announced in the House in April last that in view of the urgency of the problem he had approved a scheme of financial assistance for cutting bracken by machines, two types of which had been tested. The scheme provides for grants of 25 per cent. towards the cost of purchase or hire of machines.
§ Lieut.-Colonel COLVILLE
The problem is not so much to dispose of the 1360 bracken as to make the land available for culture. There have been applications for assistance involving the purchase of 57 machines and the expenditure of £1,748 by way of grants has been approved. It is estimated that these machines will cut the equivalent of 8,000 acres of dense bracken twice at the proper time each year. Experiment has proved that to ensure its complete eradication bracken must be cut twice yearly at the proper times for about three years, and it is on this condition that grants are made.
§ Lieut.-Colonel COLVILLE
I cannot say without notice. There is some dissatisfaction that grants are not made for hand cutting of bracken. In certain districts it is impossible for machines to operate, and we have considered that it was important to bring into cultivation in the first instance land of a higher productive capacity where the machines have proved their value.
Another question with regard to the improvement of land is that of liming. The need for increasing the use of lime on agricultural land has been engaging the attention of the Department. It is believed that much of the arable and pasture land in Scotland is deficient in lime. In December last year the Department set up a committee consisting of representatives of the Department, the three Scottish Agricultural Colleges, and the Macaulay Institute for Soil Research, to consider the problem and to make recommendations. Following on the recommendations of the committee the agricultural colleges were asked to extend their experiments in liming and to disseminate knowledge on the subject by field demonstrations, lectures, articles and other methods. It is gratifying to learn from reports from the colleges that the practice of liming is increasing. We are closely watching this matter, because it is our view that the use of more lime on the land in Scotland would greatly benefit the land and ought to be encouraged. I will turn to another subject—
§ Mr. JAMES BROWN
Will the Under-Secretary tell us something about land drainage, and what the Government intend to do in that direction?
§ Lieut.-Colonel COLVILLE
Perhaps I might be allowed to deal with the subjects on my notes, and if I do not deal with land drainage and other questions which hon. Members may wish to raise, my right hon. Friend may touch on them when he replies.
I want to speak on insurance and wages. Within the scope of this Debate I cannot develop that subject, but it would be right before passing on to other work of the Department in connection with land settlement to refer to matters affecting the welfare of farm workers. The Unemployment Insurance scheme affecting 100,000 farm servants in Scotland has had a smooth start with no more friction than one would expect with a new machine. I cannot fully develop the question of wages and working conditions. The report has been received from the committee presided over by Lord Caithness. That committee was set up because attempts were made some time ago, with the co-operation of the Department of Agriculture in Scotland, to initiate conciliation machinery on a voluntary basis. This attempt did not succeed, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in considering representations that machinery should be set up, felt that before any action was taken on this important question there ought to be an impartial inquiry into the position. He, therefore, set up the committee, under the Chairmanship of Lord Caithness, to inquire into the conditions of service and remuneration of farm workers in Scotland and to make recommendations. The committee's report was published on the 13th of this month. It is an interesting and comprehensive report, and the committee's unanimous view is that machinery should be set up for wage regulation in Scotland. The Secretary of State has the report under consideration, and an announcement of the Government's decision on it will be made in due course.
The activities of the Department in regard to land settlement are directed in the main to the furtherance of two schemes of land settlement, first, that approved by the House in 1934, when increased money was granted for the provision of self-supporting smallholdings for qualified applicants; and, second, the provision of plots of land of from one quarter of an acre to possibly one acre in the neighbourhood of towns and villages. 1362 This will enable unemployed men who are anxious to do something to have an opportunity of useful and helpful work and to produce supplies of fresh vegetables for household consumption. Last year, in the Debate on these Estimates, my right hon. Friend predicted that 500 new holdings would be settled during the year—a record number for Scotland. His expectations were realised, and during 1935 over 500 families were settled on the land in self-contained equipped smallholdings.
§ Lieut.-Colonel COLVILLE
If I were to state all the parts of the country where these were established, it would take a long time, but I shall be glad to let the hon. Member know. I could mention the number of them in the industrial areas of Scotland, but without going into it more fully I cannot give all the information now which the hon. Member desires. During the year the development of the programme was continued by the acquisition of 11 properties covering 1,455 acres mainly in the vicinity of markets in the industrial belt, that is, Clydebank, Ayr, Kirkintilloch, Johnstone and Stirling, with one property in Perthshire and one in the Black Isle, Easter Ross. These purchases were augmented by the generous gift of Dryburgh Farm near Dundee by Mr. James Mathew. Altogether since 1934 the Department has completed or has in hand land to complete schemes providing for the settlement of 878 families on equipped smallholdings. Hon. Members will find a great deal of information in the report about the areas where these settlements are being carried out.
The scheme for the provision of plots for unemployed men has been continued. The improvement in industrial employment and the difficulty of securing suitable land in the vicinity of the men's homes have made it difficult for us to accelerate action as much as we would have liked. The scheme has expanded and now comprises some 1,400 acres and 113 centres serving the needs of between 1,900 to 2,000 plot holders. These holders are in the first year charged no rent, and they receive a loan from the Department to enable them to make a start with the cultivation of their plots. During the 1363 year under review it was possible to arrange for certain additional assistance to be given to these men after their first year of occupancy of their plots. The Joint Committee of the Scottish Union of Allotment Holders and the Society of Friends now provides seeds, lime and fertilisers in bulk to group secretaries at reduced rates, and men who have shown promise during the first year may apply to the joint committee for a loan up to £10 to enable them to purchase poultry or other small stock.
I would like to refer to what we call the "ladder" for passing men on from one type of holding to a larger one. During the year an important link has been established between the plot and the self-supporting smallholding. Some plotholders have done sufficiently well to lead them to hope that they will qualify to become independent again as smallholders. In certain cases the Department agree that plotholders can be expected to become reasonably efficient smallholders provided they have adequate guidance at the outset and can command sufficient resources to permit them to stock and work a smallholding. In these circumstances the Special Areas Commissioner—for many of these plots are in the Special Areas—agreed to provide funds to afford a number of plotholders an opportunity of entering on a period of training on holdings provided by the Department. The purpose of our scheme is to lead the men on from something in a small way until they can become independent and settle on smallholdings. We have to choose the personnel for that experiment carefully, for the risk of a number of failures would cause discouragement among the men and discredit on the work of the Department. In the Dundee district a further generous gift of funds by Mr. James Mathew, to whose work and help in land settlement I should like to pay a tribute, has enabled a similar scheme to be started there. The Carnegie Trustees has decided to make available an experimental loan fund of £5,000 to assist men who are not in the Special Areas or the Dundee district. An association is in process of being formed to administer the fund. This is a practical experiment which we believe is well worth trying, and we intend to push on with the "ladder" scheme.
1364 On the last occasion when these Estimates were discussed a good deal was said about the sheep stock loans, and subsequently my right hon. Friend found it possible to announce a substantial concession to the borrowers of these loans. The period of moratorium, previously fixed at two years from Martinmas, 1932, was extended for another year to Martinmas, 1935; and it was decided that thereafter no charges in respect of interest would accrue for five years. This concession extends the whole period during which relief in respect of loan payments is given to eight years, which, the House will agree, is an adequate way of dealing with the situation. I mention that because last year the position of holders in the Highlands and Islands was mentioned, and it was stressed that some concession was necessary for those who had taken these loans. In addition to land settlement, the Department have made progress in regard to the improvement of conditions in the congested district of the crofting counties.
The provision of funds for public works in those districts is a matter of great interest to some of my hon. Friends, who will note that it was found possible to arrange for a large increase in the provision for this service during 1935–6 of £20,000. A similar provision is included in the Estimates now before the Committee. While I do not suggest that this sum is sufficient to satisfy more than a proportion of the applications made to that Department for assistance, it is a substantial contribution towards the provision and improvement of roads and piers in the crofting areas, and the Department, in co-operation with the respective local authorities, deal with cases to which these authorities give priority. The programme of assistance this year provides for the construction or improvement of roads in Argyllshire (Islay and Mull), Caithness, Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty (Lewis), Inverness-shire (Skye and the Outer Islands), and Zetland, and for assistance in marine works in Lewis, the Outer Isles and Zetland. There are, I am aware, numerous other roads and marine works which local authorities would like to assist, but I am afraid the whole programme can be dealt with only over a period of years. I do stress that the increased Estimate for £20,000 is budgeted 1365 for again this year for these purposes.
Anyone who visits the Highlands and Islands cannot help being impressed by the evidence of improved housing in the townships. I was there during the Whitsun Recess, and while there is much yet to be done, and I do not Suggest that there is not, I wish to impress upon the House and those who are, perhaps, not familiar with those areas, that strides forward are really being made in the housing conditions in those Outer Isles. Earlier this year I could not help expressing the hope that this work would continue unabated. The Committee will be glad to hear that during the year under review, 221 loans, totalling £26,795, were approved, that building materials were supplied to the value of £50,560, quite a substantial contribution; and that the net expenditure on assisting rural housing was £34,175, against £21,139 in the previous year. I repeat those figures, because they show a marked increase in the work which the Department is doing. In my opinion there is no expenditure from which more benefit is derived than that spent on improving the housing conditions of these people.
There are many other subjects with which the Department deals, but I must leave them in order to allow hon. Members an opportunity to express their views and to raise points to which my right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate will reply. In conclusion I would say that while we make no extravagant claims in regard to land development and kindred services, because we know there is much yet to be done, we submit that the work of placing 500 families on self-supporting smallholdings, with good modern houses where children can be raised in decent healthy surroundings; of providing land for the unemployed; of extending facilities to unemployed plotholders to enable them to develop their plots to the best advantage; of placing within reach of unemployed plotholders a ladder whereby the competent man may hope to attain independence on a smallholding; and the provision of amenities in the crofting areas, is not only more than has been done before, but is a very substantial contribution to the well-being of Scotland.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I do not want to follow up the various subjects touched upon by the Under-Secretary. I wish to confine my remarks to the same limit as under the self-denying ordinance on the last occasion when the Scottish Estimates were under consideration. We feel, of course, that the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary, whoever opens the Debate, is entitled to a much longer time than the rest of us wish to take, in order to have an opportunity to explain more fully the work being done by the Department, and the same rule ought to apply to the Lord Advocate, who is going to reply, because there are before us some touchy questions which will call forth from him a good deal of his skill if a satisfactory answer is to be found. The Under-Secretary dealt with the report submitted by the Committee, over whom Lord Caithness presided, set up to discuss the wages and emoluments of agricultural workers in Scotland. In his speech he, in a manner, described the comparative success of Scottish agriculture in the year covered by the report, but it seems to me that that measure of moderate success has not been reflected in the lot of the agricultural workers. On page 17 of the report there is a statement of the wages paid in three different periods of years. Since 1935 the wages of married ploughmen have gone down by 4s. 3d., single ploughmen by 6s., cattle men, married, by 3s. 11d., and shepherds by 3s. 7d. In view of the success, moderate though it be, which is claimed for Scottish farming one would have thought some advantage would have come to those who are working on the farms, without the necessity of any committee being set up.
Can the hon. Member mention any counties or places to which his references to wages apply?
§ Mr. MACLEAN
No, I am quoting from the report, which no doubt the hon. Member will have seen. The wages are given there for the three years 1925, 1930 and 1935, and they show a continuous decrease. I suggest that in setting up that committee the farming community in Scotland merely staved off the day when they will have to meet the requests of Scottish farm workers, and the very fact that that committee was set up, and that 1367 their report is now in the hands of the Scottish public, leads me to suggest to the Secretary of State and to the Under-Secretary who, I take it, will have to consider the report, with advice from his officers, that in putting forward legislative proposals arising out of it they should avoid a repetition of the farcical position in connection with the Milk Marketing Board. In that case we gave to a certain body certain powers which have turned out to be ineffectual, and in consequence there has been legal action and we have seen chaotic conditions in the whole of the operations of the Milk Marketing Board. We do not want to have similar conditions in regard to farming operations arising out of mishandled interpretations of legislation on the part of the Scottish Office.
The Under-Secretary also touched on the question of agricultural holdings, a point upon which I had intended to raise certain questions. He was quite pleased with this Department. If not wholly satisfied with the success achieved he feels, at any rate, that a great advance has been made. He said that 878 persons had been placed on equipped holdings and over 500, I take it, placed within the past year. I would draw attention to the chaotic position which still exists in regard to smallholdings. There have been more than 28,000 applications for smallholdings since 1912, and of those 12,000 have been withdrawn. Of the applications withdrawn 5,000 were by ex-service men, who had trusted to the promise that they were coming back to a land fit for heroes and were going to have their share of that land. Tables in the appendices at the end of the report give the figures in detail and so I will not read them, but I suggest that in view of those figures all cannot be well with the work of placing men on the land. It is to be remarked that it is mainly in the years that have followed the War that the applicants have been so numerous, and the withdrawals also equally numerous. I suggest that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary should consult together, and also consult with those responsible for this branch of administration, to find out why these applications have been withdrawn. Although I do not represent a crofting constituency I have received many applications from those areas, I expect because 1368 the people there believe that my name entitles me to represent them as well as to represent an industrial constituency. If there is any grievance in the Western Isles or in the crofting counties and they believe I can do anything about it the people write to me, and I have had innumerable cases in which ex-service men and others have complained of having waited years for smallholdings, and in sheer disgust at waiting, and the failure to obtain any information from the Scottish Office or the Department of Agriculture as to the possibility of obtaining holdings, they have ultimately withdrawn their applications and continued to carry on as best they could. It would be interesting, before the next report is issued, if the Scottish Office would endeavour to find out the causes which compelled those 12,000 applicants to withdraw their application—at least in the majority of cases, because I do not expect it would be possible to ascertain it in all cases.
The Minister was asked about land drainage. He stated that he did not propose to touch on that subject, but would leave any point concerning it to the Lord Advocate. Might I point out that several instances are given in the report where attempts have been made, under the 1930 Act, to bring about schemes of land drainage in certain parts of Scotland? The Scottish Office have been compelled to drop some of those owing, I take it, to the opposition of intrested parties who own land in the vicinity, or in the actual locality, where the land drainage is required. It is interesting now to note that so far as that vexed part of Scotland is concerned, which has been constantly flooded by the River Kelvin, the Stirlingshire area, the Scottish Office has now taken its courage into its hands and has determined to apply the Act of 1930 to that area at a cost, I understand, of something amounting to £2,900.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
There is no indication of that in the official report, which I have here, and which states that approximately £2,500 will be applied to flooding in that area.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I would like to know what it is intended to do with the Garmouth area in which there is constant flooding? There seems to be some objection or difference of opinion between the Duke and the railway company who own the bridges which span the River Spey, just below the village of Garmouth, and which helps to dam the river and to cause the flooding which takes place there at certain periods when there is excessive rainfall. While that difference of opinion exists, those who are living in the village of Garmouth are put to a considerable amount of inconvenience by the constant flooding, which sometimes almost washes them out of their houses. I would like to know what is being done in that area.
According to the report, certain objections have been taken by interested parties, I take it, to what was proposed in the River Nith area. The Government and the Scottish Office have been compelled to drop the scheme which they were preparing. If there is any idea of betterment of the people who are living in those areas, and who are at present subjected to floods during the rainy season, the Government ought not to allow individual interests to stand in the way of the good of the community. They have powers under the 1930 Act and they have allowed that Act to be almost smothered. Only persistent agitation compelled them to deal with the River Kelvin area. I suggest that the Government should take advantage of the powers afforded in the 1930 Act and, where any individual owner of land or any other interested local party is endeavouring to dam back the attempts of the Scottish Office to create a system which would bring considerable benefit to the community, those powers should be put into operation. They should get compulsory powers to do these things.
Once the Scottish Office do so, they will bring benefit to certain areas which the community find it almost impossible to use at present, because of the risks of periodical flooding. Many tracts of country in Scotland could be brought into cultivation by a sane system of drainage. I suggest again to the Under-Secretary of State that the powers which are in existence in the Act should be put into operation. If the Lord Advocate would apply the law in the manner that 1370 is best suited for the community, and not for the Government, I am convinced that we could put the plan through and render some of these parts of Scotland suitable for cultivation.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Sir MALCOLM BARCLAY-HARVEY
I am sure hon. Members will agree with me that we have been given an extremely interesting description by the Under-Secretary of the various activities of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland. I could not help thinking, as I listened to what he said, that we are very well off in having a Department of Agriculture of our own. It has been suggested that we might have our agriculture put under the English Department, but I should very much regret that change. At the present time we have, in this Department, I believe, one that really does understand Scottish needs in a way that nobody in London could do. We are far better off than if we were looked upon as an appendage to some English Department. I hope that the suggestion will receive no further consideration.
I was interested to hear from my right hon. and gallant Friend about smallholdings. I have watched the scheme which was instituted in 1934 with very great interest and sympathy, and it is no small achievement—indeed it is a very great achievement—to have managed to put no fewer than 5,000 families on the land in the course of one year. I should like the Lord Advocate to tell us a little more about how many of the people are getting on. The Under-Secretary did not attempt to give us all the details, but only some interesting figures. Many of us in Scotland are watching this scheme with very great interest, because we believe it will be of real value to the people of Scotland. I am not going to exaggerate that side of the subject. We all know that you cannot judge agriculture in Scotland merely by the success, as I believe it to be, of a scheme of this sort. These smallholdings are undoubtedly specialised holdings which cannot be put down in any part of Scotland, and they form only a comparatively small part of the holdings, which exist, or did exist, in many parts of Scotland.
I am sorry to see that, despite constant attention by a very efficient Department of the Government, agriculture in Scotland is by no means in the condition 1371 which many of us would like to see, particularly in the North-East of Scotland, and the part which I have the honour to represent. It is just as well that I should give one or two figures to show in what state some of this agriculture now is. The figures are not unknown to my right hon. and gallant Friend, but I do not think they are fully appreciated by all hon. Members or that they can be stressed overmuch. A very good illustration of the position of agriculture is found in the figure of how much land is under cultivation. I find that, since 1913, the area of land under cultivation in the North-Eastern division of Scotland, has fallen by 18,449 acres and, if you take arable land, apart from land under grass, by 51,004 acres. I find that the total number of people employed in 1913 was 35,334 and in 1935 had fallen to 23,326. That is a very serious fall, as hon. Members will agree.
If we consider the valuation figures for agricultural subjects in that district, they will show whether agriculture is paying or not. If your agricultural valuation is going down, that is a very good sign that your agriculture is not nourishing. The gross annual value of agricultural subjects has fallen by no less than £14,506 since 1913–14, before there was any deflation. Since 1925–26, when deflation had been going on for some years, it has fallen in that district, by £84,956. Grassland, which was referred to the other day, gives another good illustration of the state of things. On 12 typical Aberdeenshire farms, the rent has fallen 21.4 per cent. since 1913–14, and, in the case of 11 others, 28.5 per cent.
§ Sir M. BARCLAY-HARVEY
I mean 21 per cent. lower than it was in 1913–14. That is not a very pretty picture, I agree, but it would have been a very great deal worse if it had not been for the action taken by the Government, and by the previous Government, during the last five years. I trust that my right hon. and gallant Friend will carefully watch this matter, because the people are having a very difficult time, and are looking for some practical help. I know we have his sympathy.
1372 I cannot go into the major question to-day, because it involves legislation, but there are one or two things, small by comparison, in which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman can help. The first is in respect of a matter to which he has already referred, grass sickness in horses. This is becoming a serious question in Scotland. In Aberdeenshire alone, during the period from 1st May to 2nd July, 477 horses are said to have died from this disease. That is an increase of 33 per cent. over the corresponding period of last year, representing 2.3 per cent. of the entire horse population of Aberdeenshire, and means a loss of £20,000 in one county alone. That is going on all over Scotland, and will be seen to be a very serious problem. Hon. Members were pleased, and the people of Scotland will all be pleased, to hear the statement of my right hon. Gentleman that he is pressing forward with investigations into this matter. I want to make quite certain that none of the results of the inquiry is stifled. The question is far too serious for the welfare of Scotland. It is one of the ways that we can save money by spending.
On the question of bracken cutting machinery for Scotland, can my right hon. and gallant Friend give us a little information about how the scheme will work? It has great possibilities, and I should like to know whether the way in which these machines are driven is as satisfactory as we all hope. It is a good thing to know that considerable advantage is being given. I should like to know a little more about it. Then on the question of land drainage; here again, now that we are entering into a time of greater prosperity in the country, if not in agriculture, I hope that the Government may consider increasing some of the grants. In very large areas, difficulty arises by the drainage of an important burn; the difficulty is to raise funds. Perhaps that is one of the best ways to help agriculture in many parts of the country.
There is an extremely valuable Blue Book on the agricultural outlook for Scotland. The last issue, for the year 1930, appeared in 1933. That Blue Book is a mine of useful information. I should like to ask the Secretary of State whether one is going to be produced for 1935, and, if not, why not. I should also like, if it is possible, to see it produced more quickly 1373 than was the last one. I know the immense amount of work that is entailed in producing a volume of this sort, but it is so important that I hope we shall be able to have it as early as possible. Moreover, in view of its great usefulness, could not we have it at shorter intervals than every five years—say every three years, or possibly two? The more information that we can get on these matters the better, and I believe that this would be another small practical way of assisting our agricultural industry.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
In the first place, I should like to congratulate the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who opened the Debate on having given us such an interesting survey of the problems of his Department. I think it may be said that there are two assumptions which underlie many of the speeches that are made in these debates on Scottish Estimates. The first is that the Secretary of State for Scotland, from whatever party he may be drawn, is a foolish, incompetent, and lethargic, administrator, a witless and helpless tool in the hands of unscrupulous party managers on the one hand and of the hide-bound officials of his Department on the other; while the second is that the Under-Secretary of State, from whatever party he may be drawn, is a man of ability, energy and independence of character. Nobody, I think, would come to either the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins) or to me for an impartial judgment on the truth of the first assumption; but, as neither of us has filled the office of Under-Secretary, we may, I think, without immodesty, acclaim and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will join me in acclaiming, the truth of the second proposition; and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Under-Secretary, by his speech this afternoon, has shown himself to be a worthy successor in a long line of able predecessors.
There were so many points in the speech of the Under-Secretary that it is impossible for me to deal with them all, but one of the first which he mentioned was the very important one of animal diseases. I agree, with what he and the hon. Member for Kincardine (Sir M. Barclay-Harvey) said about the great importance at the present time of the 1374 question of grass disease, and there are other diseases which are also very important. I think the whole question of animal disease is one which demands a great effort on the part of the Government to deal with it. Indeed, that was the opinion, not only of the present Government, but also of their immediate predecessors. I think it was the first National Government who appointed the Animal Diseases Committee of the Economic Advisory Council. That committee produced a very valuable report about a year ago, and I should like to know from the Lord Advocate, when he comes to reply, what steps the Government propose to take in order to carry out the recommendations of that report. Of course, one vital scientific question is that of cleaning up the herds, and tackling, in particular, the problems of tuberculosis, contagious abortion, mastitis, and the other diseases, of which these are the chief, which require to be dealt with. I should like to know what the Government propose to do in order to carry out the recommendations of that committee. It is satisfactory to know that some progress is being made with tuberculosis, and, although it may be true that, as was said, I think, by an hon. Member above the Gangway, many of these herds which are being cleaned up are located in Ayrshire, that is due to the fact that there was instituted in that county the scheme of the Department of Agriculture which included the free distribution of tuberculin, of which advantage was widely taken and which has been an immense success in that county. I believe that, if the Government would accept the recommendations of the Animal Diseases Committee on that subject, a very much greater and quicker advance could be made.
Then the Under-Secretary gave us an interesting description of the plight of agriculture in Scotland, and we followed closely his exposition of the fundamental principles on which the Government's policy is based. There is no doubt whatever about the seriousness of the plight of agriculture in Scotland at the present time. We were told in 1931 that all the ills of agriculture were due to Free Trade, and that immediately Protection was given the difficulties of the farmer would disappear. We have now had nearly five years of Protection, boards and subsidies, 1375 and the Government claim that they have done more for agriculture than any other Government in history. Yet the monthly index of prices, although the right hon. and gallant Gentleman may find some encouragement by comparing it with the first six months of last year, is still far below the first six months of 1931, which was the crisis year of the Free Trade years, and the farmer now is not only getting less for his produce, but is paying anything up to 60 per cent. more than he ought to be paying, and would be paying under Free Trade, for his feeding stuffs and fertilisers; and, in spite of the favourable turn in the trade cycle during the past few years, and the expansion of the purchasing power of the consumer, farming is still a woefully depressed industry. Ministers tell us that it is all due to over-production, but it is due to nothing of the kind. Over-production is a bogey of the Protectionist mind. It is due, as I have consistently argued, to under-consumption, and our arguments are now receiving overwhelming proof from scientific reports on the physique and nutrition of the nation, and from the most recent report by the League of Nations Committee on the problem of nutrition.
Moreover, it is clear from these reports that the indispensable condition of an adequate nutrition policy is an ample supply of fresh foods like milk and eggs and vegetables—the kind of foods in which we have an immense natural advantage over any foreign competition. Of these foods, of course, by far the most important is milk. In these Debates I have quoted before, but it is so significant that I make no apology for quoting it again, the opinion of Professor Pattison that, if the average daily consumption of milk per head in Scotland could be raised by a quarter of a pint, we should require 100,000 more cows and 10,000 more workers on the land to look after them, and even then our consumption would only be about half the consumption per head in Sweden. If we raised our consumption of milk to the level of the Swedish figure, it is doubtful whether, with the methods of agriculture now in vogue in Scotland, there would be enough land in the country to carry the cows that we should need in order to supply the milk required by our people. It is, therefore, in the interests both of 1376 farming and, what is much more important, of the health of our people, that there should be a complete and radical change in the agricultural policy which the present Government are pursuing with such meagre and deplorable results.
In the time that I have left I can only say a very few words on four other important points. First, with regard to the depredations of deer, it is true that would require legislation, and, therefore, I am not going to attempt to discuss the merits of any proposals which ought to be brought before this House, but I do say that some proposals ought to be brought forward. At the time when I occupied, for over a year, the office which the right hon. Gentleman now holds, I found that this matter had engaged the attention of my predecessors. Inquiries were being conducted, committees were meeting, and I thought that matters had been carried very nearly to the point of decision. Nevertheless, if the right hon. Gentleman had told me that he needed another year of committee meetings and consultation with interests and so forth, I, who had taken one, could hardly have refused him another, and I might even have allowed him a second year without very serious complaint. But four years have elapsed since then, and, if the interests cannot now be brought together in agreement, I say that the right hon. Gentleman should take the course which a Government has to take in such circumstances, of coming here and producing the best proposals that he can draft and submitting them to the judgment of the House. The matter is urgent, and ought to be dealt with now, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will table his proposals at the earliest moment.
I should like to say a word about one sorely depressed section of the agricultural industry in Scotland, and that is the crofting and smallholdings industry. The people in that industry are having very hard times. They are the people with the least elbow-room; they have the least margin; and I suggest that very special steps ought to be taken to consider their problem in the hard times through which they are passing. The Secretary of State—this was before the present Under-Secretary took over the administration of the Department—met my representations on the subject of the sheep stock clubs in a generous spirit. I have said so in this House before, and 1377 I have said so in the country to the people whom I have met there, and I am grateful to him for the two successive moratoria which he has given. My only complaint in that regard, though perhaps I ought not to mention it in the Debate on these Estimates, is that, while he is giving these advantages, which he is only giving because he realises their absolute necessity and fairness, the Treasury is coming down on these people and, for the first time since these clubs were constituted, is asking them to pay Income Tax. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will use his influence on behalf of these crofters to stop these absurd claims being made.
With regard to housing, the Under-Secretary referred to the improvements that are taking place. That is quite true, and I have seen it myself, particularly in the Western Isles. But at the same time, as he also said, though he did not emphasise it, and I desire to emphasise it now, there is a shocking amount of bad housing in these small townships, which one can see if one goes off the main roads. I would urge that, if possible, some concession should be made in the matter of interest rates on housing loans. I do not want to go into that matter now, because it is the subject of a considerable correspondence between myself and the Secretary of State. But I still hope he will be able to give that measure of encouragement to housing which I have proposed. Perhaps the Lord Advocate may be able to lift a corner of the curtain which hides the deliberations of the rural advisory committee, and tell us whether they are dealing with this question of housing in the crofting areas, because, especially now that the new Act is on the Statute Book, with its high criterion in regard to overcrowding, a very formidable problem is presented to the county councils in the Highlands and Islands.
With regard to bracken, I was dissatisfied with what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said about not giving the grants to people who cannot use machines. It is just these small crofters in these poorest counties, with the poorest land, who are hit by this refusal to give the grants to people who cannot afford to have machines, or who cannot use them because of the rocks and boulders on the ground. I would ask him to reconsider that point, because it is the 1378 small crofter in the Highlands, with a little holding of barren, rocky land, who most needs every encouragement to improve that land and increase the number of sheep which he is able to keep on it. The continuation of the increased grant for roads and piers is very much appreciated in the Highland counties. There is still great need of more work on these side and township roads and piers.
My third point is on the question of farm servants' wages which I raised on the Estimates last year when the right hon. Gentleman asked me to put down a further question at the end of the Session. He said he had a scheme for instituting a voluntary method of collective bargaining between farmers and farm servants, and in the answer to my question it was revealed that the farmers were being very backward in coming into these voluntary schemes. I have expressed my approval of the right hon. Gentleman's action in trying these schemes. The farm servants themselves were reluctant to adopt the principle of wages boards and I make no complaint at all of the Government for not rushing into that system. I applaud the fact that they tried the voluntary method first, but it has failed and we have to face it. Now he has received an authoritative and weighty report from the committee of which Lord Caithness was chairman, and I hope he will be able to announce the acceptance in due course of those proposals.
The last point that I should like to mention is the question of land settlement. The Under-Secretary made it clear that practically all the land settlement that is going on is going on in the industrial districts. There are people in rural districts, especially in the Highlands, who have been applying for years for holdings and really more ought to be done in the Highland counties. It is not true that land is not available. There is plenty of land. It is not true that there are no applicants. There are many hundreds—I should not be exaggerating if I said thousands. I press the right hon. Gentleman to give more attention in matters of land settlement to the Highlands.
Let me say in conclusion that the agricultural situation seems to me to have two things in common with the international situation which we were discussing yesterday. On the one hand it is very grave and in some parts of the country 1379 it is hardly better than it was in the depth of the depression four years ago. On the other hand, it is also hopeful for there is an opportunity afforded to agriculture to render now a new and great service to the health and strength of future generations of Scotsmen if the Government will adopt a bold policy of nutrition. I would, therefore, ask the Government to strike out boldly on the lines of the new policy which scientific inquiry has ascertained to be feasible and necessary in the interests of the health of the people. If he does that and gets rid of the shackles of this squalid old Protectionist policy which he has been following, he will obtain truly national support for his administration.
§ 5.20 p.m.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I should first of all like to say how glad I am that the Department has found it possible to inaugurate a system of grants for the cutting of bracken. I have not heard altogether favourable accounts of one of the machines recommended, but the Under-Secretary of State knows how very difficult much of the ground under bracken is to work with any kind of machinery. Naturally, I am most anxious to see hilly, rocky ground cleared of bracken, but I recognise that it is right to begin with the ground which it is easier to work on this method. I very much hope that he will be able to continue the system of grants next year and if possible extend them to hand cutting. I should also like to say how glad I am to have heard my right hon. and gallant Friend say that assistance is being given in the question of liming the ground. One of the last things impressed on me by one who did a great deal for Scottish agriculture, the late Lord Lovat, was how much of Scottish land needed treating with lime. I am therefore very glad indeed that encouragement is being given to farmers to use more time on their land.
Now I wish to turn to a subject which, as my right hon. and gallant Friend said, is very much in our minds, the question of the effect on the milk scheme of the recent decision in the House of Lords. I would stress the urgent need for two things, a measure of compensation for those who have been paying a levy, the greater part of which is now found to be illegal, and a drastic amendment of 1380 the scheme for the future. I hope the Under-Secretary has not been imagining that because he has not heard much in the last 18 months of the grievances of the milk producers, that those grievances are no longer being felt. The Reorganisation Commission has been sitting during that period and everyone has felt that it was useless to say anything until it had reported. But I would remind my right hon. Friend of the terrible situation revealed in 1934 when something like, I think, 1,100 producer retailers were actually brought into court and there were many hundreds more who were groaning under the weight of a levy that they felt to be unjust. They had found their customers themselves; in many cases they were the customers they had had before the scheme came into operation. Many had been led to believe that the levy that most of them would have to pay would be at most nine-tenths of a penny. It began with nine-tenths of twopence and in a few months rose to nine-tenths of five pence. In the case of the ordinary "level" producers the price of whose milk was paid direct to the board, they had no option. The money was deducted from the price they ultimately received from the board. In the case of the producer retailers, they were paid in the ordinary course of events by their customers and then received a demand from the board for payment of the levy.
Last year I got into touch with a good many producers in my area who were suffering severely in this matter and, as a result, I have a list of cases which I will summarise, because it helps to bring home to the House what so many of these people have been suffering. All these men, and one or two women, have been engaged in milk production for a long time. Only one has been in it for as short a period as seven years; most have been in milk production from 10 to 20 or 30 years, most of them in a small way. Quite obviously some have not been in affluent circumstances, but the fact that they have been carrying on production so long shows that they have been able to get a livelihood out of it. But a levy of £20, £30, £40, or £70 being demanded from them, as was the case in the first year of the scheme, unfortunately in many cases swallowed up a great part of the actual cash profits that they had made. By the beginning of 1934, however, my right hon. 1381 Friend had made some concessions and had appointed the Reorganisation Commission, and therefore many of the producer retailers realised that it was useless to say anything more. They had just to make the best of it; to see if they could come to terms with the board and endeavour to pay off the heavy arrears that had accumulated. I know what distress was caused to many of them in doing so. I know cases of men in a small way who with difficulty were persuaded to offer the board £3 or £4 a month and had their offers refused because that would not have meant payment in full by the end of the year.
I remember one case of a man who said he could not possibly pay a sum of that kind unless he used some capital that he had lying at the bank, as the result of the paying off of some shares. He had had his stacks and horse and cart poinded at very low prices and I pointed out to him that, unless he made an arrangement with the Board he would be sold up and would not be able to work his farm at all and, hard though it was to use some capital, it was better to do this than to lose his means of livelihood. Many said, "How long can this go on? We can pay for perhaps a few months, but we cannot go on paying for any length of time at this rate," and the result of having had to pay the levy for so long has been that during the last year many people with whom I communicated have had to sell their herds in part or in whole, which has meant either reducing production or going out of production altogether. I have a case of an old couple who had been in milk production for something like 30 years who were looking after their cows with the help of grandchildren. The result of the levy was that they had to sell the cows, the grandchildren had to leave home to find work and the old couple had to apply for the old age pension. That is a terrible state of affairs and it seems inevitable that, now that these people know that the greater part of the levy that they have been forced to pay has been on account of an illegal charge, they will feel that some compensation is due to them.
It may be said that the men who accepted the £4 a cow basis 18 months ago have been in better case than they were in the previous year when they were paying on gallonage, but on the £4 basis, 1382 if anything happens to a cow, £4 has been paid and nothing has been received on account of that cow. The £4 basis, therefore, may not always work out to the producer's advantage, and this basis was not available to the people who were selling less than six gallons a day. Therefore there are a certain number of small producers who still sell on a gallonage basis. From my own knowledge I would say to my right hon. and gallant Friend that many of these men are simply holding on by their eyelids in the hope that the Reorganisation Commission will make some proposals which will mean a very much less intolerable burden, and in view of the House of Lords decision, I think they will feel, and, I feel, with justice, that they are entitled to some compensation. The delay in issuing the Reorganisation Commission's Report has made the burden very much heavier than it would have been had the scheme been promptly amended.
Now I do not see how my right hon. and hon. Friends can really hold that this question is one which merely concerns the board, as answers that they have given us-in the House in the last few days rather seem to suggest. I recognise, of course, that the scheme was drawn up by the producers. I recognise that it came into operation because the great majority of the producers voted for it, but I am certain that a great many farmers who voted for it did not understand it in the least.
I have found myself, entirely ignorant as I am either of milk or potato production, having to explain both potato and milk schemes to farmers in my constituency. But apart from that, the Government have taken the responsibility of approving and presenting this scheme, and Parliament took the responsibility of giving a general approval to the scheme, and I cannot see that my right hon. and hon. Friends can justly claim that the scheme is one for which only producers are responsible. But if that view is held, let us be clear about this fact. The Milk Marketing Board have no funds whatever except those which they extort from the pockets of the milk producers. Therefore, if a liability is to fall upon them for compensation—and probably large numbers will ask for compensation—the money can only be found, if it has to be found by the Board, by still further increasing the already very heavy burden on the 1383 ordinary level producer, and the ordinary all-the-year-producer has had to pay very heavily in the last two years and a half in order to level up the price to the seasonal producer, as the scheme requires him to do.
Personally, I have, since the Government made the concession which they did 18 months ago, been trying to get producer retailers to accept the scheme and come to terms with the Board. I have done that both publicly and privately, and I am certain that the Government must have used their influence with the Milk Producers' Federation to that end, as it was believed that the levy was legal. I feel obliged therefore to stress the responsibility which rests upon the Government for finding the money to give some compensation to those who have had this illegal charge imposed upon them. If not, I am afraid there will be many hundreds of milk producers who will suffer a rankling sense of injustice, and there will be very great sympathy with them. I recognise that it may be difficult to calculate exactly what has been illegally paid, but I would ask my right hon. Friend, when he receives the figures from the Milk Board for which I have asked, to give very careful consideration to the matter and see if he cannot give something to soften what may well be a very sore and widespread sense of injustice.
My second point is that, as I think my right hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary of State realises, what has happened is shown to be a new defect in the scheme, and I think that it makes us all realise that there may be other defects which will need remedying. Since I began to give a good deal of consideration to this matter it has been clear to me that the scheme has two main defects. The first is that, because it is much cheaper to produce milk in the summer only, when cows are out to grass, than it is to produce milk all the year round, it was not equitable that the scheme should require a seasonal producer to receive the same price for his milk from the Board as the all-the-year-round producer. And we learnt yesterday from the reply which my right hon. Friend gave me that, as I had been previously led to believe, this provision in the scheme was fixed without any ascertainment of the varying costs of seasonal 1384 and level production. That seems to be a very serious matter. I am told that calculations which have been made recently in the agricultural colleges show that there is a difference of about 4d. a gallon between the cost of seasonal production in South-West Scotland and level production in the East of Scotland. If that is so, it obviously imposes a tremendous burden upon the man producing milk all the year round, which, incidentally, is a much more important service to the community than merely producing milk for manufacture in summer, in that he has to make up to the seasonal producer the difference between the price received in the open market for milk and the price paid for milk in liquid form.
The other defect in this scheme is that it places on the Board an unlimited obligation to purchase any quantity of milk offered which comes up to a certain standard. Those two defects in the scheme together give the seasonal producer an obvious inducement greatly to increase his production, and as a result there has been a very great increase of the proportion that seasonal milk bears to the whole production in that part of Scotland. While the scheme was in course of preparation some figures were provided for the committee considering the scheme which went to show that the proportion of manufactured milk to the whole would be about 22 per cent. and the price of cheese was stated at that time to be 7½d. a pound. Anyone who has followed the scheme knows that the proportion of manufacturing milk in Scotland has been as high as 52 per cent., and it is obvious that the scheme has provided a very strong inducement to the producer to increase the production and every increase in production means a heavier burden for the level producer to carry.
I do not think that it should be difficult to remedy the defects. I am very glad to gather from the speech of my right hon. and gallant Friend that he thinks it probable that the Board may put forward proposals and amendments and that they will be at once considered. It seems to me fundamental that the price of milk should be related to the cost of production. That is the basis of the scheme in force in Aberdeenshire and district and in Inverness-shire. There is provision in these schemes for a differential price. The producer of milk in winter gets a bigger 1385 price than the man who produces milk only in summer. I understand that the East of Scotland Milk Producers' Federation do not want to see the scheme scrapped, but they want to make it possible for a scheme to be worked on that basis. I believe that they made proposals of this kind to the Reorganisation Commission about a year ago, and it is difficult to understand the long delay in the issue of the report of the Reorganisation Commission.
I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will forgive me if I say that I cannot help wondering whether it is that a very influential member of the commission, Sir John Orr, may perhaps be bringing before his colleagues the scheme which he has been outlining in the Press and elsewhere during the past year—some scheme of subsidising the provision of milk to a wider circle of people than that which exists at present. Without entering into the merits or demerits of a scheme of that kind, I do not see that the solution of these difficulties can be obtained along those lines. However we may increase the demand for liquid milk, it will have to continue, broadly speaking, all the year round, and as long as you leave intact a scheme which offers strong inducements to the producer of seasonal and cheap milk to increase his seasonal production, that seasonal production will increase, irrespective of what your demand is for liquid milk. I hope very much that my right hon. Friend and the Under-Secretary will keep that point very clearly in view and not let themselves be tempted away from a very careful and meticulous examination of the scheme by bigger proposals which possibly might emanate from the Reorganisation Commission.
I would finally suggest that they should consider the probability of uniting the whole of Scotland in one scheme. Scotland seems to be a small country to have three milk marketing schemes, and to have one scheme would spread the burden of carrying the seasonal milk over a wider area. If our friends in the North of Scotland feel at first sight that they would rather be left out of any such arrangement, I would ask them whether a good deal of money could not be saved if there was only one administration instead of three as at present. Anyhow, I hope that my right hon. Friend and the Under-Secretary will consider that question.
1386 I wish to add a word about beef. I am glad to know from the Minister of Agriculture that a marketing scheme is not to be imposed upon the cattle industry. I am also glad that, seeing that the levy is to be on foreign meat only and not a heavy one, my right hon. Friend has prevailed upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give a subsidy in addition, but I cannot help pointing out that the taxpayer under this arrangement is being relieved of £2,000,000 a year, because it is estimated that £3,000,000 will be gained from the levy and the present subsidy comes to something like £4,000,000. I am afraid that there is very great disappointment among farmers that the subsidy does not provide for a guaranteed price. It has been very strongly pressed upon Scottish Members here by livestock farmers that a guaranteed price is necessary. A guaranteed price was given for wheat, and beef means a great deal more to Scotland than wheat. Unless something miraculous occurs to raise the price to the farmer the price, even when the full subsidy comes into operation, is likely to be a good deal less than the cost of production.
I know that the Government want to put agriculture upon a sound basis. It is more than ever necessary in view of the dark clouds that have gathered over Europe. I would ask my right hon. and gallant Friend not to forget that livestock is the very basis of agriculture in Scotland, and that very great anxiety has been expressed to us in this House by Scottish livestock farmers at the condition of the industry. Is it not a necessary measure of national defence to make perfectly sure that a subsidy is given which will keep what is the greater and most important part of Scottish agriculture upon a paying foundation?
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I did not take part in the last Scottish Debate, but I enjoyed the new rule in regard to 15 minutes' speeches. I realise that it is difficult to change over from a House which exhausts itself by long speeches, but we hope that, through the education which the House will receive from Scottish Members, we shall be able to establish a system under which speakers will avoid repetition. I do not intend to break the new self-imposed rule.
Duchess of ATHOLL
May I say that I had no idea that any such rule had been suggested for this Debate?
§ Mr. HARDIE
I should like to deal with a number of subjects. In the first place, I have often wondered why the Department of Agriculture have not taken more practical interest in the question of bracken. I have not seen any reference in any Departmental report to the work of Sir Albert Howard, of the Ministry of Agriculture, who was sent out to India. He is perhaps the greatest expert in plant life that we have. In India he has done very valuable work on the subject of plant manure. He has established a system under which rubbish is treated in order to create a humus. The system has been most successful, and hon. Members would be interested to see photographs of huge areas in India where refuse is taken and reduced to a humus which is more than equal to the best animal manure. If I could impress upon any representative of the Scottish Office the importance of making bracken into humus I should be very glad.
I experimented in the production of humus, and a farmer offered £2 a ton when the process had been completed and the fungi had done their work. I laid down two experimental plots covering 28 feet by 15 feet last October, and after three months we were ready to develop the humus, but a cloudburst came and washed the two plots into the river. That spoiled the experiment. Why does not the Scottish Agriculture Department do something practical on these lines and have an experiment made? The work of Sir Albert Howard has been published and he is now resident in London. I am certain that he would be happy to give any information on what has happened in India and what is being done in this country.
My next point is in regard to grass, and more particularly the poisoning that is taking place. I remember that on the farm on which I used to work as a boy whenever we had a break through in any of the hedges and the animals got into the clover, a similar condition obtained to that which is now described as grass poisoning. Has the Department of Agriculture on its research side made investigation into the question of sulphate of ammonia which is used for making grass grow? Have they ascertained 1388 where the sulphate of ammonia comes from and when it was applied? That is a most important matter for research. If you get nice, clean sulphate of ammonia you are all right, but if you get inferior sulphate and you have spots in the ground which become intensely acid and then a short distance away it is alkaline, it is not difficult to imagine what takes place in the combination. I hope the Department will go into this matter, having regard to its great importance to agriculture.
Now I come to Lanarkshire. The right hon. Gentleman knows what a wonderful area that is for fruit and how tomato growing under glass has developed. There are still huge possibilities in that field. Here is an industrial area with perhaps the biggest supply of waste heat. We have there large works which are shut down at night but which have to bank their fires. If we could use that heat and transfer it to places which are cultivating foodstuffs we could grow all the year round the finest vegetables, great quantities of which we import from other countries, especially in the early spring. We could have new potatoes at Christmas. These things are possible in an industrial area such as I have described, and they could be done very cheaply. The advantages that could be derived from the use of this waste heat are almost incalculable. We could give to the man who is attempting to grow things under glass conditions which would be very beneficial. At the present time such a man has to use an alarm clock and get up in the night in order to keep his fires going and to maintain an even temperature. What is needed is a steady temperature and what you cannot do by the use of coal fires you can do by means of gas. I hope that in the next report we shall have something practical on this subject.
Why is it that the Scottish Department of Agriculture have not yet done anything electrically? Why have they not taken steps to treat the land by electricity, as is done in Scandinavia, the effects of which I saw when I visited that country? We have our electrical plants and we know that works close down at night. Unless an electrical generating plant is kept at its full load it does not pay to run it. If steps were taken to utilise electricity in agriculture 1389 we could in dull days provide artificial sunlight for the production of products under glass, and the results would be very profitable. Why do not the Government try to do something in this direction? The Tory party are said to have all the great brains and ideas. Why have none of these things been done? Because a practical man is not at the head of affairs.
I come to the question of land drainage. Let me take the case of a farm 750 feet above sea level, 17 miles from the city of Glasgow. That farm is properly drained. The result is that the water goes to the man whose farm is situated on a lower level and who cannot afford to drain. It means that the farmer on the upper level is draining off his water on to the land of the other man who has not the money to spend on drainage. There should be a law which says that those owning ground should provide a main artery into which the farmer could drain his land. When I speak to a farmer with regard to improvements that might be made, I find him the last man to listen to anything that is new. I have been with farmers for the purpose of testing their land and discovering whether or not it is acid, and I know from experience what are the results. I should like to see another report on liming. I think the Department are failing in their duty in not seeing to it where the farmer obtains his lime. There is a tremendous difference in what is called lime. We have nothing to standardise lime. One sees farmers going to the gas works and obtaining supplies of the lime which has purified the gas, and then they spread that lime on their land. What happens? I hope that we shall be given some technical information on this matter in the report next year. The Department ought to be able to tell the farmer whether he is right or wrong in using that sort of lime. It may be right in one place but wrong in 10 places to put that kind of lime on the land. Then there is the question of sand. Where there is the presence of sand you get new conditions and you have to make scientific calculations as to what the growth is likely to be on such ground.
I hope that the Department will act less on hearsay and more upon facts. We have received from the North of 1390 Scotland extracts from newspapers calling attention to the deaths of horses from grass poisoning. Accompanying these extracts are letters from various people. There is a letter from one man who states that previous to aviation there was no grass disease. This individual, named Baines, from Glamis, says that there was nothing wrong before the visitation of aeroplanes. He seems to have the idea in his head that the aeroplane is dropping something that spreads all through an area in the form of grass poison. If the Department of Agriculture did its duty letters of that kind would not appear uncontradicted. It is the duty of the Department of Agriculture to take up these things which appear in the Press, and correct them, otherwise many farmers when they see an aeroplane will think that a few of their horses will die. I hope the Department will take note of the various matters that I have raised, and that we shall have some reference to them in the next report.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Sir R. W. SMITH
I am sure the House and also Scottish farmers will be very much interested in the practical speech to which we have just listened. It is very interesting to have a speech from the other side telling farmers what they ought to do. Might I suggest to the hon. Member that he would be conferring upon the agricultural industry a very great favour if he would take a farm and apply his principles and prove to the farmers of Scotland that they are all wrong and he is right? I venture to suggest that a good many farmers are much more practical farmers than he is.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I do not profess to be a practical farmer. What I have said has a scientific bearing upon agriculture, and if the hon. Member cares to take me up on that point I will meet him anywhere and beat the life out of him.
§ Sir R. W. SMITH
What I am suggesting is that the hon. Member should put theories into practice and show the farmers exactly what they ought to do. Let him prove to them that they are wrong, and then I am sure they will be deeply grateful to him and will adopt his plan. When we look at the report of the Department of Agriculture we 1391 cannot help being worried about the condition of the agricultural industry. The report says:The prices realised for agricultural produce show on the whole little if any improvement on those ruling in 1934.If one takes that statement and the figures of the wages now paid in the industry as compared with 1925, one can see that the position of the agricultural industry is far from satisfactory. The Board of Agriculture is the body which is responsible for the well-being of the industry, and if I venture to make one or two criticisms and put forward some suggestions it is only with a desire to improve agriculture in Scotland.
Generally when I take part in these Debates it is on the question of oats or beef in the North-East. The Under-Secretary of State in his opening remarks made the best possible case for the Department, and while we realise that in a large part of Scotland farmers have benefited by the Wheat Act, by the Beet Sugar Act and by many of the other subsidies given by the Government, yet the whole point is that the North-East has not been able to secure these benefits owing to climatic conditions. The Under-Secretary of State referred to the livestock industry, and I was glad to hear that this is being taken up by the Department. I raised the matter some time ago. In England breeders of heavy horses are rather more fortunate than those in Scotland. There was in 1932 a cut which has been restored in England, but which we have not got in Scotland. Therefore it is all the more necessary that this small benefit should be restored to the industry.
Let me say one word on the question of the consumption of milk. The Under-Secretary has told us what the Government are doing in supplying milk to school children. I do not know whether there is any truth in the statement, but I am told that parents, owing to the fact that their children are being given free milk in schools, are not giving them so much for breakfast. If that is so it is a very serious matter and wants watching; that is if it is true that parents are neglecting their duty to provide the necessary nourishment for their children because they know they are getting it in school. The provision of a supply of pure milk is of great benefit to the health 1392 of the population and is also of importance to the agricultural industry. But when we talk about doing the best for the agricultural industry we shall have to go much further than merely supplying milk to school children. We must get it into the homes of our people.
My opinion is that the reason why milk is not used more in the homes of the people is that in the past the milk sold to the housewife in the towns has not been produced under pure conditions; it has been dirty milk, and did not keep and, therefore, the housewife, when she found that it turned sour by the next morning, did not purchase it. I am, therefore, glad indeed to hear from the Under-Secretary of State that the provision of pure milk has advanced, and I trust that the Department will do all it can to see that the people get a pure article. If we can get a pure article, which will keep, the housewife will return to the purchase of milk rather than continue to buy tinned milk. As regards the nutritive value of milk, if we are going to experiment in a scientific way we ought to give milk to a certain number of children and treat a similar number of other children with other forms of food, so as to see how they react to the different diet. To take a certain number of children and give them milk and another lot of children who do not get milk is not a sound way of dealing with the matter.
With regard to the question of crofters and land settlement, I am not opposed to land settlement, but I do not think it is right to look on land settlement as an agricultural problem. It is much more a matter of health or of husbandry. But that is what we are doing. We are putting men on to the land in order to get them out of the towns. Land settlement is not an agricultural question. When we are told that so many thousands of pounds are being spent for the benefit of agriculture I think it should be realised that many thousands of pounds are not being spent for the benefit of agriculture but largely for the benefit of those who are unemployed, who are taken out of the towns and put on to the land. The suggestion that all this money is being spent for the benefit of agriculture is not quite a fair criticism.
I notice that there is a large increase in the salaries of the Department of 1393 Agriculture, an increase of over £14,000. I should like to know why this is necessary. There is a large increase in the number of persons who are paid, from 237 in 1935 to 292 in 1936. That naturally means that some extra work is being done. I want to stress this point on the Government. What we want at the present time is that the Department shall deal with economic statistics. We ought to get further statistics with regard to the economic position of the industry in Scotland, and also other statistics and facts. I notice that the analysis of the agricultural statistics and the classification of farms by type has been resumed. The Department in their report say:This is to form eventually the basis for the selection of farms to provide accounting data, and should also throw light on the general conditions prevailing over a wide area or even over the whole country.I would appeal to the Under-Secretary to hurry up with this analysis. We want the data to show the general conditions prevailing in the agricultural industry. We want to know the cost of the production of oats and of beef. It would be of enormous advantage if we had these figures when discussing what ought to be done for the industry. This is a work which the Department should undertake at once. I should also like the Scottish Advisory Council to take up this question and see what they can suggest. The council was set up for this special purpose. May I ask whether the Department has received any report from the council with regard to the cereal situation in Scotland? I make a special appeal for these statistics so that we shall know the general position in Scotland. I suggest that the country should be divided into areas, which should be dealt with separately, because there are certain areas, such as the north-east, which may be called very Special Areas. If matters go on as they are at the present time we shall have to ask that the north-east area shall be put under the Congested District Board so that we shall get further assistance. I do not ask for that now, but I do think it is necessary to divide the country into areas so that the general position of Scotland can be thoroughly examined.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. J. BROWN
I was glad indeed to hear the Under-Secretary speak of the 1394 great progress that has been made during the last two years. It may not seem great progress in the eyes of many hon. Members, but relatively it is great progress compared with what has taken place in recent years. We welcome everything that is being done to place men on the land in smallholdings and to give them work to do. In Ayrshire we have smallholders who make a profit. Within a mile of where I am living there are eight or ten who are able to bring milk to the village, and who can keep their sons there. Many of these men were miners, but they have been able to turn their hand to a smallholding and have made a profit out of it. It has given an impetus to the smallholdings movement in the area.
Amid all the improvements, and the progress that has been made, I want to stress the question of land drainage. When so much assistance has been given to agriculture in every direction, I cannot understand why it should to a great extent—almost to vanishing point—have been taken away in the case of land drainage. I am not now talking about the rivers, because if a few thousand pounds were spent there we should be able to bring about an immense increase in the acreage under cultivation, and we should be doing very well both for Dumfriesshire and Ayrshire.
§ Mr. BROWN
Yes, it borders it. It would not have taken a great deal of money to do that, but by some mischance or other—I was out of the House at the time—it fell through and was not done. The farmers have been helped in almost every direction, but not in respect to land drainage. I believe I am right in saying that in 1919 a 50 per cent. grant was given to the farmers for land drainage, but in 1928 that grant was reduced to one-third, and almost immediately afterwards to one-quarter. At the present time the farmers cannot—or say they cannot—afford the expense of drainage. While I am a convinced Free Trader, I do not see why, when so much money has been given to the beetroot growers, or to those who attempt to grow 1395 beetroot, and to other sections of agriculture—although very little good has come to the agricultural worker—a little more should not be given in order to get land properly drained. My hon. Friend the Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) suggested that sour land helped to bring about grazing sickness. I am sure the Secretary of State knows, as many other hon. Members know, that in many parts of Scotland there is land sour for want of drainage. Is it not possible that lack of land drainage is responsible for a good deal of grazing sickness? I think there might be something in that statement. Although I have lived in an agricultural district all my life, I know very little about practical farming; a little practical work with a spade in the garden is the extent of my knowledge. But I would ask hon. Members not to think that I do not represent agricultural workers, for the majority of my constituents are agricultural workers, and I am very anxious that something should be done for them.
If there were more land drainage we should have more scope for producing food. I think the Government and many others, including some hon. Members on this side, are a little afraid that if war should come, there would very quickly be a famine in this country. Why not encourage the cultivation of more land? Why not reclaim many areas that could easily be reclaimed, seeing that they have become derelict only during the last 20 or 25 years? Why not give suitable assistance for drainage in order that we may have more than three months' food supply at our disposal if, unhappily, war comes upon us? We do not want war, but in the state of Europe and the world to-day we should always be prepared for war. Here we have one method which would be far better than spending millions on destroying life; it would help to maintain life if unhappily war came.
Moreover, land drainage would give a good deal of work. I do not say that it would give a great amount of work when compared with the vast needs of the country at the present time for more employment; but it would mean the employment of many tile-makers, many drainers and even a good number of miners. I am informed that 40 tile-makers make as many tiles in a day as will keep some 227 drainers going, and I 1396 also understand that something like 27 man-shifts a day would be required in the mines for the necessary coal to be produced. Those figures are infinitesimal when set against the huge figures of unemployment, but nevertheless the employment would be worth having. In any case, why should we have in Scotland waterlogged land that could easily be converted into something that would be worth looking at? I am old enough to remember when every farm in the South-West of Scotland had its field of wheat, and I am even old enough to remember the time when everybody had a little piece of flax. That has now disappeared.
If the Government gave the assistance necessary for this drainage, I am certain we could not only get more land for the production of food, but make the land worth looking at—make it, so to speak, blossom like the rose. After all, a nice landscape is worth having, even at a little expense. If the Government would give assistance I am sure that much could be done by the farmers which would give work to others, and incidentally make Scotland a much better country from the agricultural point of view than it is at the present time. I trust the Government will take my remarks into account. I hope they will reintroduce the 50 per cent. of assistance which was given in 1919, and I believe we would be satisfied with that. At any rate, I commend that suggestion to the Lord Advocate and the Under-Secretary of State, and I hope that, so far as they are concerned, they will try to give some assistance in order to get more land drainage, to the benefit of the country and the people as a whole.
§ 6.26 p.m.
I am very glad to have the opportunity of following the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. James Brown), the former Lord High Commissioner of the Church of Scotland, whose constituency borders my own. I listened with very great interest to every word of his comprehensive speech. Before coming to the points I wish specially to raise, I would like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his remarks about land drainage. Many of us who hold the Protectionist point of view think that land drainage is sometimes put forward in the Debates in this House and outside as a means of attempting to avoid the real 1397 issue in agricultural politics and economics, but I certainly agree with the right hon. Gentleman that very much more might me done in regard to land drainage. I hope that as a result of the several pleas that have been made in the course of the Debate this afternoon, the Scottish Office will think very seriously on this matter and see whether something can be done. If I may introduce a personal note, I should be very glad if some assistance were given, and would at once undertake a land drainage scheme in a small way.
There is one other point I would like to make with regard to something which was said earlier in the Debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen and Kincardine (Sir M. Barclay-Harvey) congratulated the Under-Secretary on his speech, and said that he hoped we would hear very little more about the necessity of combining England and Scotland under one agricultural Department. I am sure that the speeches this afternoon, all calling attention to various aspects of Scottish agriculture, will confirm His Majesty's Government in the attitude they have taken up on this important matter. We have heard a good deal about bracken, and I would like to back up the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) about not penalising those who are unable to afford the machinery which is shortly to be available—if it is not already available—for keeping down what is becoming a very heavy scourge in many parts of Scotland. It is a matter we ought to have faced already, and we shall have to do all in our power in the next few years to see that no more ground is taken out of cultivation because of bracken.
The main thing about which I rose to speak is the vexed question which has been alluded to several times in the Debate, although not as much as I would have liked. The Under-Secretary, in his opening remarks, referred to the crux of the whole agricultural position both in England and in Scotland, namely, the vexed question of beef production and what we are going to do about it. I wish the right hon. and gallant Gentleman could have seen his way to be a little more specific, but I was very glad indeed to hear what I thought to be a remark of great promise in his speech, when he said that the long-term policy would be 1398 debated very early in the Autumn Session. I had been under the impression—I hope the unfortunate and erroneous impression—that we had already been made aware of the proposals with regard to the long-term policy for beef. I am full of hope this afternoon that now, no doubt arising from the repeated complaints that have been made in recent agricultural Debates, the Government are reconsidering the position, and that they are going to offer us in the autumn a very much more comprehensive and realistic policy in this matter.
The other day, in discussing the position of cattle in the agricultural body politic, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, who I am sorry is not in his place to-day, threw out a novel suggestion when he said, in reply to something which had been said by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), that it was necessary, before one entered the arena of agricultural matters, to engage in some form of manual labour in agriculture, and he suggested handling the plough, cocking hay, pulling turnips and cleaning byres. I have never handled a plough, but I have helped with the hay and pulled turnips, and on more than one occasion I have cleaned a byre. I mention that only because I was very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman should have insisted that some form of practical manual labour was necessary before one could venture to speak on such a controversial subject as the policy we are to follow with regard to beef. However, I have great hopes, in view of the fact that the Under-Secretary said that proposals would be introduced in the House in the early part of the Autumn Session.
I have no wish to tie my right hon. and gallant Friend down to the early weeks of the Session, but we will say before Christmas, or as soon as possible. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen has often raised the question of oats, but I think he will agree with me, having perused, as he often has, the figures regarding the place of the various branches of agriculture in Scottish production, that we must tackle the big things first, and the beef-producing branch of the agricultural industry 1399 accounts for the major part of Scottish agriculture. I hope, as the weeks and months go by, if the proposals of the Government are not adequate, we shall continually impress on Ministers the fact that they will have to be up and doing for this section of the industry.
Several hon. Members above the Gangway and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) have alluded to the wages paid in the industry. We passed through all its stages during the present Session, an unemployment insurance Measure for the agricultural labourer. That was practically an agreed Measure. Then we had the recent report of the Caithness Commission. I do not know what is likely to be the outcome of the findings of that commission as regards legislation, but I suppose we shall have to wait and see what the Government propose to do in the autumn, or sometime in the next Session. Do not let hon. Members, either those who sit above the Gangway or those who occupy the Liberal Benches, think, however, that they can escape from facing the realities of the situation in agriculture by raising questions of that kind.
The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) quoted figures to show the decline in wages in the last five years. We were all appalled and aghast at the figures which the hon. Member gave, but surely they show the necessity of doing something now to ensure that agriculture shall occupy its proper place. Surely they show the needs of action, by legislation and administration, to ensure that agriculture shall be put into a state of efficiency. Otherwise, the demand for labour in agriculture is bound to shrink, and it is no good attempting to fix wages unless you are sure that the industry is in a state of efficiency and able to employ more and more men, and women too, for that matter. I was rather surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Ayrshire state that he was a convinced Free Trader. I think those were his words. But I suppose that he is only a convinced Free Trader for the duration of the present Government and that if a Socialist Government were not only in office, but in power, and proceeded to nationalise or socialise all our basic industries, he would then be prepared to consider protection and assistance for 1400 those industries. However, I was glad to hear what the Under-Secretary had to say as regards the Government's policy and I hope that the Lord Advocate later in the Debate will be able to throw a little more light upon this and other dark subjects.
The hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) said the other day that the Tory party were digging themselves into the agricultural constituencies. The Minister of Agriculture taking up that point said he was pressed on one side to do more for agriculture and on the other side was told that he had done too much. He argued from that state of things, that the Government's policy must be right because it steered a middle and even course between the two extremes. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Burslem is not at present in his place, and I wish he would go down to Scotland and have a talk with some of our agriculturists and ask them what they think of what the Government have done, particularly with regard to the livestock branch of the industry. I assure him that he will find them in a very discontented frame of mind. Only last Saturday I heard of a lifelong Conservative in Scotland whose father and whose grandfather were both highly respected Members of this House, and who had decided to sever his official connection with the Conservative party owing to their failure to keep their promises with regard to restoring agriculture to its rightful place in our national economy.
We have waited now nearly five years for the Government to produce a livestock policy and it is not to be wondered at that agriculturists who hoped for so much from a National Government should be despairing—as they are to-day. They are despairing, one might say, not only of the Government but of the Parliamentary machine. Many of them feel that Hitler or Mussolini would have done more in a month, especially those who have been in Italy and have seen for themselves what Mussolini accomplished for agriculture in his country within a few years of taking control of its affairs. I am not making any plea for methods of dictatorship. I agree that if such methods were applied we should probably suffer many very uncomfortable things, even though agriculture might be put right. I only mention that to show the state of feeling in the industry and in 1401 the hope that it will help the Government to view this question in a realist light and to produce a more practical policy on beef production than they have seen fit hitherto to offer to the House. I shall await with interest what the Lord Advocate has to say on this pressing matter.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
Much as I should like to follow the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) into some of the wider issues which he raised, I must refrain from doing so, in view of the self-denying ordinance which hon. Members have imposed on themselves as regards length of speeches. I am conscious of a certain feeling of temerity in intervening at all in the Debate, because in these days I gather it is regarded as almost indecent, even for a Member representing an agricultural constituency, to speak on agricultural topics, and presumably it is much worse for a representative of an urban constituency to charge into such a discussion. Nevertheless, I would like to deal with a matter which affects my constituency and for once in a way I find myself closely in sympathy with the views of the Noble Lady the Member for West Perth (Duchess of Atholl) who raised the question of the position of the Scottish Milk Marketing Board.
I think we ought to hear, before this Debate closes, a little more about the situation created by the recent decision of the House of Lords. That decision is to the effect that producer-retailers are not liable to pay money to the board for the purpose of averaging out the price. Although that decision may have been a shock to the Secretary of State and to the board, it cannot have come altogether as a surprise. As long ago as March, 1934, the Eastern Milk Producers' Federation put on record their view that the use of money paid by the producer-retailers for this purpose was not only an injustice in itself, but was outside the terms of the scheme. Indeed, I think they put forward that view at an even earlier date and they certainly recorded it in March, 1934, so that the decision of the House of Lords does not come as a bolt from the blue. It simply confirms the view taken all along by the federation and by producers generally in the East of Scotland. It would be interesting if the Lord Advocate when he replied 1402 were to give us an authoritative statement on the legal position.
I suppose the great majority of producer-retailers have paid the levy, either as a cow levy or in the ordinary form, and, of course, those who have not paid willingly or have decided not to pay, have been subject to the poinding sales to which reference was made by the Noble Lady the Member for West Perth. What is to be the position of those from whom money has already been recovered? It is a general doctrine—and I think it is the same in Scotland as in England, though I speak with some diffidence on that point—that money paid under a mistake of law is not recoverable. There are, however, various exceptions to that rule and I should be grateful for the Lord Advocate's opinion as to whether that rule applies to the money paid to the board by the producer-retailers.
I submit that this is not merely a matter for the Board, and I was a little surprised at an answer given on this subject by the Secretary of State for Scotland last week. My right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), in a Supplementary Question, asked:Will the right hon. Gentleman see that restitution is made to those who have had sums wrongfully taken from them?The Secretary of State replied:That is a matter which rests with the Board and not with the Department."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1936; col. 445, Vol. 315.]I realise that that was only an answer to a Supplementary Question, and I hope it will be made clear that this question is regarded, not merely as a matter for the Milk Board, but as a matter for the Government. When an injustice has been done, when some thousands of people have been wrongfully deprived of these sums over a considerable period, that is not something to be left to the Milk Marketing Board. Apart from the question of strict legal liability and of whether or not those who have paid will be able to recover their money by some sort of legal process, two questions remain which I hope will be answered before Friday. Certainly I hope answers will be given to them in the near future so that the people in the East of Scotland may know where they stand. The first question is: 1403 Will restitution be made to those who have paid their levy? The second question is: If so, from what source is it to be paid? I have not tried to create unnecessary difficulties, but the Government must realise that this is a matter of the greatest concern to those affected and that they ought to know their position as soon as possible. I do not think anybody would dispute the fact that they are people who, for the most part, in the early days of the scheme received very harsh treatment at the hands of the Board.
The Noble Lady the Member for West Perth represents, I think, a consensus of opinion in the East of Scotland when she says that the Scottish milk scheme on its present basis cannot continue. The basis of nearly all the milk marketing schemes in different parts of the country is that, to a certain extent, the level producers subsidise the seasonal producers. That may be all right for an English scheme in which the level producers are in a majority. But where you have a situation such as has existed in Scotland for the last three years, in which a minority has to carry a majority on its back, you have an impossible state of things.
I would also like to ask when may we expect the report of the Milk Reorganisation Commission. The Commission has now been sitting for a long time, and when we raise questions as to the reform of the Scottish milk scheme we are told to wait for its report. That report is already overdue, and we should be told whether we may expect it before Parliament reassembles in October.
There is one other matter, again arising out of the operations of the Milk Board, which I want to mention. One of the great difficulties in the operation of the milk scheme in Scotland has been the question of discount or dividend. In this matter we are governed by the terms of the contract which is put out by the board, and I would like to remind the House of the actual terms of Clause 17, Sub-section (4) of the contract, which reads:For the purpose of this Clause, any discount, dividend, rebate, gift, or similar inducement, promised or made to or for the benefit of a customer shall be deemed to be a reduction in price. Provided always that any registered co-operative society may return dividends to their members on retail 1404 sales of milk to them for liquid consumption. The Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society may pay dividends on milk sales to registered co-operative societies who are members of the Scottish branch of the Whole sale Co-operative Society. Provided also"—and these are the words to which I want particularly to call attention—that the Board may, on the application of distributors in any county or city, permit distributors in such county or city to pay dividends, provided that the Board is satisfied that it is the general desire of such distributors that such permission be granted.That is the general arrangement that has been made. I have no doubt the board wish to give equality of treatment as between co-operative societies on the one side and the ordinary distributors on the other, and though I am not speaking in any way as an enemy of the co-operative societies—I think they themselves would agree that you must try to hold the scales evenly, particularly in this matter of price reduction—I want to draw the attention of the House to the case of Mr. Stephens, who is a producer-retailer at Inverurie. Mr. Stephens found that the co-operative society which was competing with him in his district was giving a discount amounting to about a seventh of the total price. He determined that he would give a similar discount, so he proceeded to provide his customers with one week's free milk in seven. Every seventh week they had free milk. For that he was brought before the court by the board and fined £5. He then proceeded to give his customers one free day in seven, and he was again brought up and this time fined £10. He then discussed the matter with the board, and eventually, as an act of grace, they allowed him to give a quarterly dividend, because, they said, that was the form in which the dividend was given by the local co-operative society. But it is not the same thing for a small shopkeeper as it is for a large society. If he were to give quarterly dividends it would mean that he would have to keep books for his customers, to issue stamps, and, to employ additional labour in order to keep the books and calculate the discount—all unnecessary work and expense, making a very heavy burden on a man in a small way of business.
If the aim is simply to hold the scales evenly between all sides, as long as you 1405 have a discount given on the one side approximately equivalent to the dividend given on the other, I cannot understand why the small tradesman should be harried in this way and why he should not be allowed to give his discount in the way best suited to himself and most profitable to his own business. I think there is this sense of grievance, particularly among the small retailers and producer-retailers, which has been very largely created by incidents of the kind which I have just described. I am one of those who hope that the Scottish Milk Board in its present form will shortly cease to exist. Certainly it will never be a very popular body in Scotland as long as it conducts its affairs in this manner and gives unnecessary pinpricks and irritation to people who are carrying on their business in a perfectly law-abiding fashion.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
When the House realises the multitude of subjects covered by this Vote, it can appreciate to the full the able and effective way in which the Under-Secretary of State condensed his remarks even to a half hour. I want to concentrate, in the limited time at my disposal, mainly on the report of the Committee on Farm Workers in Scotland, which is now available for Members of this House. During the last 12 months many reports have been submitted to this House, through the Secretary of State for Scotland, from Departmental committees which he has set up. The work of some of these committees has extended over at least three years; another that I know of has taken at least 18 months; and I think this particular committee, the Caithness Committee, is entitled to be complimented on the speed with which it has submitted its report and also on the fact that, despite the varying interests represented, it has been able to submit for the consideration of the Secretary of State and this House a unanimous report.
There are one or two points in this report that are of interest, particularly in view of recent Debates in this House. On page 9 of this report we find a reference to child labour, and I think it is all to the credit of Scottish agriculture that they have been able to adjust themselves, in carrying on this great industry, to what is claimed to be a scarcity of child labour in the rural districts. It is 1406 of the greatest interest to those concerned in child welfare and also in agriculture that we find in this report this statement:In the greater part of Scotland the industry has successfully accommodated itself to its inability to secure child labour, and we see no reason why the practice of employing children on work of this nature should not be entirely abolished throughout the country.I wish the Noble Lady the Member for West Perth (Duchess of Atholl) had been in her place to hear that passage quoted. I think it is a very important statement to come from this impartial committee, and it proves that certain areas in Scotland have adjusted themselves, in dealing with the problem of agriculture, to that scarcity of child labour.
There is one other point in this report to which I want specially to refer, and that is the reference to housing conditions. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) has already pointed out that in many of our rural districts, and in the Highlands and Islands, despite the progress that has been made, some of the housing conditions are still abominable, deplorable, and altogether indefensible. Special reference is made on page 17 of the report, not so much to the housing conditions as to the tied-house system, which again, I submit, is altogether indefensible in its association with agriculture. I believe it is possible, without any new legislation, but by administration, to deal, not at one stroke of the pen or in one day or one month, with this problem, because in paragraph 59 of this report it specially refers to the need for what I would call slow progress in dealing with this problem. It states on page 18:We are satisfied that under the tied-house system it is not possible for the farm worker to achieve any real independence, but whatever form any modification of the system may take, it is obvious that the process must be a gradual one.I want to see the Department starting on that gradual process of abolishing the tied-house system so far as the agricultural worker is concerned. I understand that there is still on the Statute Book the Housing (Rural Workers) (No. 2) (Scotland) Act, which, if operated, would enable the Department to build houses in the rural districts of Scotland to let at rents of not more than 3s. 6d. per week, including rates. I understand 1407 that very limited advantage was taken of that particular Act and that in the name of economy the working of the Act was actually suspended from 1932 onwards. I want to ask the Lord Advocate, when he replies, whether the Department have any intention of trying to work that Act now, so as to give us in the rural districts housing conditions which will make it possible to keep our people on the land, instead of having them emigrate into urban areas, not to the good of the urban areas and certainly to the disadvantage of the rural areas in Scotland. I therefore ask for a definite reply from the Lord Advocate as to whether they intend, now that the financial stringency is past, to operate the Housing (Rural Workers) (No. 2) (Scotland) Act?
On page 35 of that report special reference is made to the need for organisation on the part of both employers and employés, so as to enable negotiations to take place more easily between these two parties so far as wages are concerned. Paragraph 115 reads:Finally, there is one other matter of some importance that is worthy of mention. In the course of our enquiry we have accepted the evidence of the Scottish Farm Servants' Union.The membership of this organisation is about 15 per cent. and of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland 25 per cent., and I want to suggest to the Under-Secretary of State that the Department might use their influence to bring about better organisation on the part of the Scottish farmer and equally so far as the agricultural workers themselves are concerned. That is an administrative problem, and it is far easier to settle wage problems between the representatives of well-organised bodies of both employers and employés than to deal with wages in a haphazard way, as happens to-day in connection with Scottish agriculture.
The Under-Secretary of State, in introducing this Vote, made several references to the work of the Department, but he only briefly touched on the question of the depredations done by deer. This was also referred to, I think, by the right hon. Member for Caithness. Surely the Department should have been doing something more in connection with this problem than the report that is in 1408 our hands indicates. There is a very short paragraph on page 9 of the Department's report dealing with depredations by deer:Reference was made in the report of 1934 to conferences with a joint committee representative of landowners and farmers with a view to framing proposals for legislation. … As there was no immediate prospect of legislation, no further conferences were held in 1935.Surely the problem of the depredations done by deer, particularly in connection with many of our smallholdings in Scotland, is something that ought to have called for conferences during 1935. Surely something more should be done than is conveyed in this particular report. I have heard of men being practically cleared off the holdings by the hordes of deer which have come down from the Highlands. That means a loss of livelihood as far as these smallholders are concerned. The Department have not been doing all that they might have done in dealing with this problem.
We were told by the Under-Secretary that there was a certain benefit as a result of having these additional assistants dealing with horticulture. I am going to submit that Scottish beef, as far as quality is concerned, can hold its own with any in the world. I agree that there is room for improvement. He referred to animal diseases, and said that there was a need for the strengthening of the staff for dealing with animal diseases research. Not only is there need for that, but there is need for a closer co-ordination in connection with our educational efforts re the agricultural industry in Scotland. I have only a limited time to deal with this aspect of the industry, but for 10 to 13 years I was chairman of an Agricultural Educational Advisory Committee in Scotland, appointed there with the unanimous votes of the farmers and the general representatives dealing with this problem, and it taught me some lessons about the need of the co-ordination of our educational facilities.
In recent developments in agriculture in Great Britain during the period since the War the actual conditions of agriculture north of the Tweed have not shown the decided advance that has been shown elsewhere in Britain, particularly in the South of England. Almost every county in England has its agricultural college. We in Scotland are limited to three. They 1409 are doing great work. Scotland has magnificent research institutes at Aberdeen, Glasgow, and Ayr, but there appears to be too great a gap between the farmer and the research institutes, a gap that must be bridged if we are to keep abreast of England, far less get ahead of her, which is the desire of representatives of Scotland irrespective of party. Information regarding the world's markets and consumers' requirements is lacking as far as Scotland is concerned. These defects appear to be due to inadequate county facilities, to the urgent need for a link between the farmers and the research institutes and to the lack of printed information available for farmers. I wish that I had time to develop the point which I specially wanted to make in connection with educational organisation as far as Scotland is concerned, but I am prepared like all good Scottish labour Members to try to keep to the arrangement for 15-minute speeches. It has been broken by only one side of the House, and I believe that that was due to misunderstanding, and that the hon. Lady did not hear the statement made by the Under-Secretary. There are other things I would like to have said, but I have agreed to the arrangement we made not to exceed 15 minutes.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. T. M. Cooper)
I should like at the outset, on behalf of my right hon. Friend and myself, to express my gratification at the tone in which this Debate has been conducted, the recognition which has been shown from all parts of the House of the success which the Department of Agriculture has been able to achieve in so many directions and the helpful and constructive criticism which has been offered from many quarters with regard to many of the problems which they are engaged in solving. In the short time at my disposal I propose to select as many as possible of the topics which appear to have interested the House, in order to present the answers as well as I can to the questions which have been raised, and if I omit certain of the points which have been raised I hope hon. Members will realise the difficulties with which we have all been faced as a result of the self-denying ordinance which we have imposed on ourselves.
1410 First, may I take the topic which was referred to by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) in replying on behalf of the Opposition and also by a number of other speakers—the question of land settlement, of the success of the Department's policy in that respect and of the true inferences to be drawn from the fact that to a large extent on paper the demand for smallholdings is still an unmet demand. The inferences which the hon. Member for Govan drew were, I think, not wholly justified by the figures on which he relied. His suggestion was that out of some 28,000 original applications, 12,000 had been withdrawn of which 5,000 were applications direct, and the inference which he sought to draw, very naturally, was that the problem was still, to a large extent, an unsolved problem. I am far from suggesting that there is not a great deal to be done, but I would like to suggest that in the first place the figures of the applications not yet dealt with, or not yet active, tend to present an unreal picture of the problem.
A great many of the applications are made by persons who attach conditions to their applications which it is very difficult, if not literally impossible, to meet—people who ask for smallholdings in particular areas or so situated in relation to other land that it is exceptionally difficult, or would be impossible to meet them. So that it must not be assumed from the mere sum total of applications that the problem is of the order and magnitude which the hon. Member suggested. In the second place, a large number of the applications are for enlargement of existing holdings, and must depend on the availability of land in connection with existing holdings. There is the further fact that as far as the industrial areas are concerned, in which the weight of the Department's effort has been concentrated, there is undoubtedly a growing scarcity of suitable land for meeting the purposes of the Department. I do not say that the land is not to be had, but it is not so easily had.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I do not want to be considered as trying to mislead the House, but is it not the case that the actual number of applications by ex-service men for new holdings was 10,000?
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
I am not challenging the hon. Member's figures, 1411 and am far from suggesting that he was misleading the House. I was only suggesting that the circumstances which he put forward did not justify the inference which he drew. It was only a debating consideration I was putting forward and, I think, a just and fair one. The right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) referred to the problem, and it is an element in the problem that the decline in prices has in recent years exercised a certain deterrent influence in the establishment of smallholdings in that part of the country to which he referred.
I pass from that to the closely associated question of the success of the work that has been done. A number of hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Kincardine (Sir M. Barclay-Harvey), have referred to this. I find that the figures with regard to what they call failures, meaning persons who have been settled on the land and have given it up as a bad job, show that the percentage of failures is gratifying small. I find that the largest percentage was 6 per cent. in 1928 and that since then the percentage has been of the order of 3, 2, 1 and even less than 1 per cent., indicating that a large measure of reasonable success is attained by those who are settled on the land.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman realise that this is the success of people who have been put in at a higher level of prices and had to go through the slump? Surely now that we are at a low level of prices the Department ought to be making a special effort?
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
I think that shows that they have made and are making such an effort, and are doing it with conspicuous success, and I would like to assure the right hon. Gentleman that while it is undoubtedly the case that a special effort has been made, and rightly made, in the Lowlands to alleviate the problems associated with that area, nevertheless it was never the intention to allow this special enterprise in the industrial belt to have the effect of weakening the effort of the Department in the Highlands. I have figures of the work and progress in the Highlands. Of the total of 3,500 pending applications from applicants who are classified as suitable, or 1412 probably suitable, something like 1,000 come from the crofting counties and 500 from the Highlands. That shows that, viewing the problem as it stands to-day, only one-half of the demand comes from the area in which the right hon. Gentleman is specially interested.
May I turn, not because I have adequately dealt with this problem, but because I want to deal with another, to the topic to which considerable reference was made, namely, that of land drainage? One scheme for the River Annan is complete and a second scheme for the River Clyde associated with the portion near Hyndford Bridge has been submitted to the House, while the scheme for the River Kelvin is under some discussion and exploration by my right hon. Friend. These three schemes are notable contributions to the problem. When the hon. Gentleman the Member for Govan said that not nearly enough was being done under the powers of the Land Drainage Act, I would suggest to him that the difficulties in utilising more fully the powers of that Act are very frequently of an engineering and economic kind and not of an administrative or political kind. What I mean is this: The hon. Member referred to Garmouth at the mouth of the Spey with which I happen to be familiar, and the problem there really comes to a purely engineering one. The matter has been made the subject of an engineering report, which showed that it would cost far more to hold the river in check in times of spate than could ever be recovered from the land which would be protected from its flooding.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I hope that the right hon and learned Gentleman did not misunderstand me. I was not merely raising the point with regard to the value of the land that could be protected from flooding, but the safety of property and of individuals who are being constantly flooded out.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
I understand the position is that the aim of the local authority, in siting its new housing scheme, has been to accommodate the people who are liable to the discomfort and danger of flooding in a place where that danger does not exist rather than to adopt the alternative expense of trying to keep the river in its bed. In other districts, while the problem is not of the 1413 same kind, it is correct to say that in most instances the economic difficulty of justifying expenditure, which would never be retrieved from any point of view, is so great that the application of the powers of the Land Drainage Act is much more difficult than the hon. Member imagined when he made the criticisms which he did. While that is so, I have indicated that a substantial step has been taken, particularly in the Kelvin scheme, with its £27,000 expenditure, towards carrying into operation the powers of the Act.
The hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Guy) raised a question with regard to the staff of the Department, drawing attention to the circumstance that the Estimates provided for an additional £14,000 under that head as compared with last year. The reason for the increase is to be found in a variety of circumstances. In the first place, there has taken place, not only in the Department of Health but in many other Departments of recent years, a staff reorganisation in the administrative grades, which has brought the staffing and salary scales of the Department into line with corresponding Departments in Whitehall and elsewhere. A considerable proportion of the additional expenditure is associated with that re-organisation, and a considerable proportion with normal increments in salary scales. In addition, it must be recalled that under the operation of the smallholdings schemes, the Department of Agriculture is now by far the largest landowner in Scotland, having properties extending to nearly 350,000 acres. Something like £6,000 of the increase is attributable to land settlement and factoral services and in paying surveyors and others who are employed in connection with the large estate which the Department owns. There is, in addition, the extra outdoor staff provided in connection with the attested herd scheme and under the Licensing of Bulls Act. Taking the matter altogether, if we ignore the increases which are of the automatic type, I think the House may rest assured that the staff and the remuneration are no more than are required for the adequate discharge of the many difficult duties which fall under the control of the Department.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Is the statement of the Lord Advocate correct that the Department of Agriculture in Scotland is the largest owner of land in Scotland? I always thought it was the Duke of Buccleuch.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
I think that my statement is accurate, and therefore the hon. Member is probably deprived of an argument for use on his platform. In reference to the inquiry of the hon. Member for Kincardine (Sir M. Barclay-Harvey) with regard to the volume of agricultural output in Scotland, and similar inquiries made by other hon. Members with regard to statistics, I am glad to be able to say that the publication which was formerly a 10-yearly publication and is now to be brought out every five years, will be brought down to the year 1935. I am not in a position to say how quickly it will be ready, but every effort will be made to expedite publication, because I agree that statistics of this kind are very valuable and should be in the hands of the public at the earliest possible date.
§ Mr. HENDERSON STEWART
Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that the agricultural statistics are only up to 1934 at present? We are still without the figures for 1935, and is this not a long time to wait?
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
My right hon. Friend is fully alive to the desirability of having these statistics up-to-date, and every endeavour will be made to expedite their publication.
I should like to drop the other topics on which I intended to speak in order to devote a few words to the Ferrier decision in the House of Lords and to the milk situation. There is one misconception which underlay the arguments of certain hon. Members who addressed themselves to this topic. The effect of the recent decision in the House of Lords has not been to reveal any defect in the marketing scheme of the Scottish Milk Marketing Board. It has only been to reveal the fact that the Milk Marketing Board misinterpreted one phrase in that scheme. Accordingly, when the Noble Lady the Member for Perth and Kinross (Duchess of Atholl) instances the cases of hardship which she stated had arisen in years gone by through the operation of the scheme, I should like to make it 1415 plain that the recent judgment in the case of Ferrier had nothing whatever to do with these hardships, or with the controversy between the level producer and the seasonal producer, or with any other of the topics which have given rise to a great deal of controversy in the last three or four years.
All that has happened is that in carrying out their work under the scheme, which came into operation 2½ years ago, the Scottish Milk Marketing Board placed a certain interpretation upon a single phrase in their agreement. It is fair to them to point out that on the 20th July, 1934, a court of seven judges in the Court of Session decided by six to one that the Board's interpretation of this scheme was correct. Two years later, that is, about ten days ago, the House of Lords decided that the decision of the six judges in the Court of Session was wrong and that the Milk Marketing Board's interpretation was wrong. It is only right that the House should know that for two years the Board have been administering their scheme on an interpretation which had the approval of six judges of the Court of Session.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I quite recognise the force of what the Lord Advocate says, that the board has been collecting a levy on the strength of a judgment given several years ago which has now been reversed, but is he trying to suggest that the judgment of the House of Lords does not affect many of the sums that the producers have been paying?
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
The Noble Lady invites me, as the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) invited me, to express a legal opinion in relation to this dispute. I am not bound nor entitled to express a legal opinion on that point, but out of courtesy to the House I will say in answer to the particular challenge of the hon. Member for Dundee that it would be a profound mistake for anyone to assume that because a decision is pronounced by the House of Lords in an action between A and B in circumstances which involve the reversal of a previous decision, on that account all action which has been taken in the past in good faith and in reliance upon a previous decision of the court can be undone. The point the Noble Lady must remember is 1416 this: She is taking her stand upon an appeal to Caesar. She relies on a certain construction of the scheme now affirmed to be correct by the House of Lords. When you appeal to Caesar to Caesar you go, and the answer of Caesar to those who claim that the history of the last two years should be re-written would be, as the hon. Member for Dundee rightly anticipated, that in the great majority of cases the past cannot be undone, and the money cannot be recovered.
Hon. Members will recall what was said on this very point by the Financial Secretary to-day in answer to a question relating to a reclaim of Stamp Duty. Accordingly I would ask hon. Members to bear in view that so far as the purely legal side is concerned it may well be that a comparatively small amount of the levies which have been paid in the past by the category producers is legally recoverable. The importance of that is that it would not be within the power of the Milk Marketing Board to attempt to recover moneys from ordinary producers in order to give effect to the decision, all of which points to the desirability of awaiting the decision of the Scottish Milk Marketing Board, and I understand that they are—
§ It being Half-past Seven of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 6, further Proceeding was postponed, without Question put.