§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7.37 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Wedderburn)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I think it will be generally agreed that this Bill is one which is considerably overdue. Hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies for several years have frequently raised questions about particular harbours and piers about which they are interested, and the general subject has been frequently debated in both Houses of Parliament. The House will remember that in 1934 the Government published a Bill, which was not discussed in the House, but which was introduced for the purpose of eliciting opinions both from local authorities and from others concerned with the construction or maintenance of marine works, and the Bill which I am now moving has been drawn up as a result of a review of the matter in the light of the opinions which were expressed about the proposals in the former Bill. I think the only major differences between this Bill and the Bill of 1934 are, first, the introduction of powers for compulsory purchase and, next, the exclusion of marine works which are owned by railway companies, to both of which I will make brief reference in a moment.
I do not think it is necessary for me to dwell either on the unsatisfactory state of many of our piers and harbours, particularly in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, or on the great inconvenience and hardships which are suffered by the inhabitants of these districts on account of their inability to enjoy rapid and satisfactory methods of communication. The main reason for the unsatisfactory state of many of the marine works, and particularly of Highland piers, is that the owners have not the necessary resources to keep them in a proper state of repair. The economic circumstances of our own time are very different indeed from those which prevailed at the time when the piers were built, when the costs of building and maintenance were very much lower, while agricultural produce brought in a very much higher return and enabled 1157 higher dues to be charged than could be charged now. The Bill proposes to meet the situation in three ways—first, by providing for the transfer of piers and harbours or other marine works from their present owners to local authorities; secondly, by setting up a new code for the construction or reconstruction or improvement of works; thirdly, by making provision for the proper maintenance and management of harbours, piers, and other marine works.
Before I mention the particular Clauses in the Bill which contain these three points, let me first say what is included in the scope of the Bill. Hon. Members will see that the Bill refers repeatedly to marine works, and that expression is defined in Clause 30 as follows:'marine work' means any harbour, pier, ferry or boatslip which in the opinion of the Secretary of State and the Minister of Transport is principally used or required for the fishing or agricultural industries or is essential to the maintenance of communications between the various parts of Scotland …But it does not include any harbour, pier, or ferry which is owned or worked by a railway company or any of the large harbours, situated at Glasgow, Leith, and other places, which hon. Members will find mentioned in the Third Schedule to the Bill, namely, Glasgow, Leith, Aberdeen, Dundee, Greenock, Ardrossan, and Granton.
Part I of the Bill is concerned with the transfer of harbours and other marine works to local authorities. Power is given enabling the owners of a marine work to transfer it on agreed terms to a local authority authorised by the Secretary of State for the purpose. A local authority here usually means a county council or a town council, but in some cases it may be convenient for two or more councils to combine. We anticipate that as a general rule the local authorities and the owners of the piers will be able and anxious to arrange a voluntary transfer, but we think cases may occur in which this will not suffice and in which powers of compulsory acquisition by the local authority may be necessary. If the owner of a pier is unable or unwilling to maintain it in a safe and proper condition, and yet is not prepared to transfer it to a local authority, it is clear that the interests of the local population may suffer, and while it is hoped that this will not happen very often, we have reason to expect that it 1158 might happen in some cases, and power of compulsory acquisition is, therefore, included in Part I, subject to proper safeguards. The House will find in Clause 2 of the Bill:Where a local authority are desirous of acquiring a marine work of which they could be authorised to accept a transfer under this Part of this Act and are unable to do so by agreement on terms which are in their opinion reasonable they may purchase the marine work compulsorily by means of a compulsory purchase order made by them and confirmed by the Secretary of State in accordance with the provisions of Part I of the First Schedule to this Act.The House will see that in Part I of the First Schedule it is laid down that an order shall incorporate the Lands Clauses Acts and the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919, and the arbiter, if one is necessary, will be one of a panel appointed by the Court of Session for the purposes of these Acts. So much for the transfer of marine works to local authorities.
The next point is that of construction or improvement of works. This involves the grant of suitable powers. At the present time powers can be obtained by local authorities or by harbour authorities under several different Acts, the General Piers and Harbours Acts, the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Acts and the Western Highlands and Islands (Scotland) Works Act, 1891, although the last mentioned one is now very largely out of date. In the case of small schemes particularly the existing procedure often proves to be unduly protracted and expensive, and the Bill aims at a simplification of procedure in these cases. Clauses 4 and 5 substitute the Secretary of State for the Minister of Transport as the authority to whom application has to be made under the General Piers and Harbours Acts and obviates the necessity of confirmation by Parliament in cases in which there is no opposition. The House will see that in Clause 7 of the Bill, power is given under which the carrying out of minor works of construction may in certain circumstances be authorised without any Provisional Order or legislation. There is provision in Sub-section (2) of the Clause that in the Highland counties of Argyll, Inverness, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland, Caithness, Orkney and Zetland, if the cost of the necessary operations does not exceed £3,000 the Department of Agriculture for Scotland may authorise the local 1159 authority to undertake new works in accordance with the procedure in the Second Schedule to the Bill.
The third object of the Bill is to provide for the proper maintenance of marine works covered by Part III, and that, I think, is a necessary accompaniment of the measures which I have already described. Many of our existing difficulties have arisen from the fact that existing powers for the upkeep of harbours and of piers have either been insufficient or else have not been fully exercised by those who had the power to exercise them. Part III gives to the local authority or harbour authority the necessary power, and at the same time deals with the financial side, relating to fixing and charging of dues—that is, in Clauses 12 and 13—the application of the harbour revenues, and for meeting any deficiency, if necessary, by way of rates. As to the question of finance, with one minor exception the Bill does not contain any provisions relating to financial aid from the Exchequer, and that minor exception is a negative one and contained in Clause 19; but the House will find a more succinct description of it in the Financial Memorandum printed on the front of the Bill. It is purely concerned with the writing off of outstanding liabilities when the marine work is discontinued.
Any grants and loans which may be necessary can be made from existing sources, that is the Votes of the Department of Agriculture and the Fishery Board for Scotland or the Development Fund. On that point all that it would be possible for me to say is that if the legislative provisions of this Bill are carried out it is obvious that there will be a great many more claims on the Department than those which have to be considered at present. The question whether financial aid should be given to any marine work covered by this Bill will, of course, be a matter which will have to be considered on the merits of each particular case. If in future grants or loans are given out of monies provided by Parliament for the construction, improvement or repair of harbours or other marine works, we think it is right, especially in view of past experience, that proper measures should be taken by the local or harbour authority to keep the work in an efficient condition and a 1160 proper state of repair, and a Clause is therefore included in the Bill enabling the appropriate Department to require the authority to carry out the operations necessary for that purpose. It is Clause 14 which gives the Department power to require such repairs to be carried out, and in case they are not carried out the Department may themselves carry out the operation and recover from the authority the expenses thereby incurred.
Part IV of the Bill deals with machinery and a number of small miscellaneous points. Clause 23, which relates to the fixing and revision of dues on inland navigation undertakings, will enable the existing charging powers in respect of the Caledonian and Crinan Canals which, as the House is aware, are conducted not by us but by the Ministry of Transport, to be continued on their present footing. Of late years these powers have been continued from year to year by the Expiring Laws Continuance Act.
I understand that the main purposes of this Bill are acceptable to all sections of the House, and I hope, in view of the long deliberations which have taken place among all the interests concerned since the publication of the previous Bill more than two years ago, that the House may now see its way to give this Bill a quick and easy passage.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. N. Maclean
Before I proceed to discuss the Bill may I, as the first speaker following the Under-Secretary for Scotland, be permitted to take this opportunity of congratulating him not only upon attaining his new position but also on the manner in which he has discharged his duty to-night. He has given the House a very clear and useful statement, and not every one who found himself in a similar position might be able to do the subject the same justice. As all who know anything of the Highlands of Scotland will agree, this is a Bill which is long overdue. Time and time again the case for assisting piers and harbours in the Highlands and Islands has been raised in this House, and while much has been done by temporary measures to afford redress and relief, it has not been adequate to their requirements, and has not secured that better harbourage for vessels which might have been assured had better methods been available. The Under-Secretary has told us that it will not be necessary to submit a Financial Resolu- 1161 tion to this House to authorise the Department to provide a grant of money to a harbour authority to undertake some repair or even the extension of an existing harbour. He said the money required could be obtained under the ordinary Estimates submitted to the House—I think that is the manner in which it will be done—by either the Fishery Board or the Department of Agriculture.
I have here the latest reports of those two Departments, and while they show that grants of money and loans have been made to several places I think it will be the opinion of a large number of people who know the Highlands and the Western Isles that the sums granted have been by no means adequate in view of the risks to which the harbours there are exposed during the severe weather experienced on those coasts. In this morning's papers it was stated that a disastrous breach had been made in the piers at Buckhaven in Fifeshire and that the harbour at Lossiemouth had been destroyed by the gale—I have heard no later reports but that was the information obtained yesterday. If that is so, it means that there are two places in Scotland, apart from any others which may have suffered in the gale, which will require very material assistance from the Fishery Board or the Department of Agriculture immediately this Bill is passed, and consequently the grants which have figured so largely in the reports of those Departments over the last 20 to 25 years will be by no means adequate to meet the situation. I feel that the Scottish Office will soon have to face very large demands, and may have to come to the House for large sums of money in order not only to rebuild some of these harbours but to strengthen other harbours against the possibility of damage such as has been caused in the last two or three days at Buckhaven and Lossiemouth.
I notice that the Bill does not contain anything with regard to a limitation of the rates which can be levied by a local authority when it seeks to raise money to carry out any works which it has power to undertake under this Bill. I think the Act of 1891 limited the rate for harbour purposes to 1d. in the pound, and with the low assessments prevailing in those places that would mean that often only a few hundred 1162 pounds could be raised for the purpose. Take, for example, some of the places along the Moray coast, places like Port-gordon, Buckpool or Portsoy or Banff, which has a population of 4,000. Then there is Macduff with a population also of 4,000, or Cullen which has a population of just about 2,000. One can see the impossibility of a small local authority being able to raise a large sum of money for repairing or dredging an existing harbour or building a new harbour such as would be required. Consequently, there will certainly be applications for grants from those places. Other places look to the Scottish Office to get those grants of money which are adequate to carry out any proposals which they have in mind.
It is true that the Bill gives power to acquire existing harbours, but the Under-Secretary and many Scottish Members will know that the acquisition of some of the harbours will be like Dead Sea fruit. Once those harbours are acquired under the Bill, the local authority which acquires them will have to reconstruct them entirely, because they have for so long been inadequate that nothing has been done to them. The piers are too dangerous for even a small rowing boat to put in beside them in anything like rough weather. The slips of which the piers mainly consist are unsafe, and there is a possibility of some rough stone piercing the woodwork of a small boat in rough weather. It is not the harbour which the local authority will really acquire, but the right, from the owner of the land, to build a new harbour at that place. The cost of doing so will be rather large unless the Fishery Board or the Department of Agriculture comes to the aid of the local authorities in a very substantial manner.
I have one complaint to make, not against the Scottish Office or the Ministers, but one which I have made time and time again. The Bill contains many references to other Acts of Parliament, to which we must go in order to get the exact meaning of the Bill. Why cannot the draftsmen embody in the Bill in clear language all that is required? To refer us, as the Bill does, to over a dozen different Acts of Parliament, taking us back to 1861, over 70 years ago, in order to understand the Bill, is a disgrace to a Department which is as up-to-date as the Scottish Office. I hope that when 1163 other Bills of this kind are brought forward by the Scottish Office they will remember my complaint and will try to make the Bill up-to-date. I wish more English Members were here, because English Bills have the same characteristics. If we could get an alteration, I believe that legislation would be speeded up, and that we could get more business done than we do at present.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
In the first place, I wish to associate myself with the congratulations offered to the Under-Secretary of State by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) and also with the graceful tribute which the hon. Member paid to the interesting speech in which the Under-Secretary explained the Bill. The Bill is more important than some English Members might appreciate—if they were here, as the hon. Member has just said he wished they were.
I wish to comment upon the Bill from two points of view. There is, first, the vitally important point of the depopulation of the Highlands, about which public opinion in Scotland is deeply concerned. There is no more serious cause of depopulation in the Highlands than depression in the fishing industry. The second point of view, which is topical at the present time, is the importance of encouraging recruitment into our Mercantile Marine. We have had several debates in which alarm has been expressed by the President of the Board of Trade and other speakers at the falling off in recruitment for the Mercantile Marine. I cannot help feeling that there is a definite connection between that tendency and the tendency to depopulation in the fishing villages of the Highlands. All those to whom I have spoken and who have been employed in the Mercantile Marine have told me that the finest natural sailors they get into our merchant ships are the men who come from the fishing villages round the small piers and harbours on the coasts of these islands. I therefore view this Bill as a substantial contribution to the solution of those two problems, although it will not by itself solve them. A safe harbourage is an essential condition for the pursuit of their livelihood by the fishermen of a fishing village and some Measure like this is vital to stop, or to help to stop, the rot which has been causing de- 1164 population in the fishing communities of the Highlands.
It may be asked: Why are the fishermen in the Highlands of Scotland asking for public money and doles to maintain their harbours, whereas, in past years, those harbours were provided, repaired and maintained without the necessity for resorting to the public purse? The answer is that most of the piers and harbours were built 50 or 80 years ago by the landlords of the time, and from the larger harbours the owners received a good economic return upon their investments in the dues which were paid by the fishermen, when inshore fishing and herring fishing were prosperous. Since then, we have unhappily had a decline in the inshore fishing industry. There has been the growth of trawling, the development of steam and motor vessels requiring larger and more commodious harbours than the sailing vessels required, and, most recently, there has been the development of the seine net boat. I shall not discuss to-night the advantages and disadvantages of the seine net method of fishing; I would say only that it has certainly come to stay. Fishermen who have these modern boats will not go back to the old method of line and bait, which involved such hard labour for the fishermen themselves and for their wives and families. The motor boats and the seine net boats require more commodious and safer harbours than the simpler vessels of the past, and that is one of the reasons why it is important that Parliament should come to the help of the fishing communities in Scotland.
I have touched upon the social reasons—the depopulation of the Highlands, the importance of maintaining the fishing communities for the recruitment of our Navy and our Mercantile Marine and upon the fact that the development of modern types of vessel necessitates the provision of more commodious harbour accommodation, and on the fact that the economic position of the industry is such that it can no longer pay, by way of dues, a return on investment of private capital in the repair and construction of harbour work. Therefore, I welcome the Bill. There are, however, one or two points to which I would draw the attention of the House and on which I would like to ask questions of the Government. One of the most important features of the Bill is the proposal for the compul- 1165 sory acquisition of harbours in certain places. There is a strong case for compulsory acquisition. I have advocated it in the past and I am prepared to support it now, but we have to be very careful that, under the guise of compulsory acquisition, we do not attribute, to private property which is now economically worthless, a value which it would not possess except by virtue of the Bill which we shall be passing. A reference was made by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) to legislation by reference, and to the difficulty of understanding the meaning of a Bill when you have to follow a trail through Acts of Parliament leading back as far as 1861—I think the hon. Member said. It happens that the worst example of that vice in this Bill is in the Clauses relating to compulsory acquisition. I hope that the Minister who replies will be good enough to explain exactly how the compulsory acquisition Clauses will work.
I have referred to the fact that the piers were originally constructed by landlords by way of investment of their capital, but when the inshore fishing industry began to decline and dues were no longer paid, there was no fund out of which to provide for the maintenance and reconstruction of the harbour works. The result has been that, in many of these cases, for 20 or 30 years, on the one hand no dues have been received, and on the other hand no expenditure has been incurred by the owner of the harbour or pier on its maintenance and repair, and it has become valueless to the proprietor. In such circumstances a great many proprietors in recent years have handed over their harbours free to the local authority, on the understanding, and, indeed, on the assurance, that a grant of 75 per cent, would be paid by the Department of Agriculture for the repair of the harbour, the difference being found either by local subscription or by the local authority, and that the local authority would take over the responsibility of maintaining the harbour or pier. I could quote several cases in my own constituency in quite recent years of proprietors who on these terms have made free gifts of their piers to the local authority, and at this moment I can think of at least one case—I am not sure that there are not more—of a proprietor who is willing to hand over his pier, a very important pier, to the people of the dis- 1166 trict on these terms as soon as he can get the assurance that the money for the repair of the pier will be forthcoming and that the local authority will make itself responsible for its maintenance. The pier is valueless to him, and, provided he can get these assurances, he is very willing to hand it over so that it can be put in a good condition for the service of the people.
If, however, proprietors all over Scotland are to be told that in future they will be entitled to claim compensation for their piers, they will find that property which until now has been valueless has suddenly received a statutory value, since they have been given a claim to compensation. The Secretary of State shakes his head. I am only putting the argument, and I shall be very glad indeed to hear if there is a satisfactory answer to it, but it is a serious argument which is in the minds of a great many of us in this House and in Scotland. The fear is that proprietors whose property is now worthless will, instead of being prepared to hand over their piers, say that, having a statutory right to compensation, they will stand out for their rights. The proprietor may be a trustee, who is bound to stand up for the interests of the people for whom he acts, and he may quite well say that he has a moral duty to stand out until the compulsory procedure is adopted and until he receives the compensation to which under this Bill he will be legally entitled.
§ Mr. Elliot
In view of the suggestions which the right hon. Gentleman is making, I think it is well that I should intervene at this moment to say that the Bill confers no financial improvement in the status of any property. It will not be in any way improved by the passage of this Bill, and no further claim to compensation can possibly arise out of the Bill. In any compulsory purchase an official arbiter will judge the price as between a willing buyer and a willing seller, and, if the property has no value, the finding of the official arbiter will be that the value is nil.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
It would be interesting to know how that will work. Would, the right hon. Gentleman tell me later on whether, in the case of a pier or harbour on which no dues have been paid for 20 years, the proprietor will receive no compensation if the property is compulsorily 1167 acquired? Let us imagine the case of a proprietor who has gone to considerable expense on a pier, not with any hope of receiving any economic return, but merely for the sake of his tenants. Does the right hon. Gentleman tell me that in such a case the proprietor will receive no compensation at all—no return for the expenditure he has incurred upon the pier— merely because it is of no economic value?
§ Mr. Elliot
Surely, the right hon. Gentleman will not ask me to deliver in advance the arbiter's award upon a hypothetical case imperfectly stated. I assure him, and I am certain that he will accept the assurance, that the Bill confers upon the proprietor no added right to compensation over and above what he has at present. The arbiter's award will determine the matter on an examination of the facts. Clearly, it would not be possible for me to go into the matter further at this stage, save to say that the Sanger which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind of an enhanced price resulting from the Bill, has been in our minds, and as far as was possible the Bill has been drawn to avoid any such enhanced price.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
As I do not think I managed to make my point quite clear to the right hon. Gentleman, I will make one more effort, and no doubt the answer will be given to us at the end of the Debate. The point is that at the present time the proprietor knows perfectly well that he has no hope of getting compensation or value for a pier in respect of which he has received no return for the last 20 years. Therefore, if the local authority say, "We have the money; we can get a grant from the Department of Agriculture; we will find the money and make ourselves responsible for the pier if you will hand it over," in nine cases out of 10 he will hand it over. But if he knows that he is going to have a statutory right to compensation under this Bill he will be almost certain to stand out for it, and if he is a trustee he is absolutely certain to do so. The right hon. Gentleman tells me in reply that the proprietor will have no right to compensation if the property has no economic value. I ask, is that so? In the case of the proprietor who has laid out money on repairing a pier—
§ Sir A. Sinclair
—or on building it, and receives no dues, so that the pier has no economic value, does the right hon. Gentleman tell me that he will receive no compensation? I hope the Lord Advocate will be able to give a reply on this point at the end of the Debate. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to realise that I am trying to put the matter before him in a helpful way, not as criticism of the Bill or of the Clause. I am willing to support the Clause subject to this one thing which I think ought to be made clear—that, in cases in which the proprietor has received no income from the pier for, say, 20 years, and has incurred no expenditure on it for a similar period, he should receive no compensation, and that the local authority should be able to get the property without having to pay for an asset which in fact has no value and on which no expenditure has been incurred by the proprietor for a great number of years.
There is one other point on the question of the compulsory acquisition procedure which I would like to put to the Secretary of State or the Lord Advocate. I would ask them whether they would not agree that a provision should be inserted in the Bill whereby, if a local authority finds that the compensation awarded by the arbiter is excessive and onerous, it should be able to drop the compulsory purchase procedure. It should not be told, "You have applied for a compulsory purchase order. This is the award and you have to pay it." What would the position be if a local authority found itself faced with an award which it thought excessive and wanted to drop the application for compulsory purchase? Would it be able to do so?
Another point of comparative detail, but still important, is the risk of a local authority being exposed to some enormous charge for repairs. Under Clause 14 the Department would have the right to order the local authority to maintain a marine work in an efficient condition and in a proper state of repair. The hon. Member who spoke last referred to the disastrous effect of the recent storm on certain harbours, and he mentioned Lossiemouth. Last year the storm did thousands of pounds' worth of damage to Lossiemouth, and again this year the damage has been as bad, or even worse. What would the position be 1169 if a local authority found itself faced with an order by the Department to carry out repairs the cost of which would constitute a crushing burden on its ratepayers? Under Sub-section (2) it can make an application to the sheriff for the cancellation or modification of the requirements contained in the notice. Does that cover the case? I have consulted a lawyer, who tells me that in his view the local authority would be bound to carry out any work that was absolutely necessary for the repair of the harbour, whatever it cost. They would have an appeal to the sheriff as to whether such a work was really necessary, whether it was not an extension or improvement rather than a mere work of repair, but they might find themselves faced with the necessity of imposing a crushing burden of expenditure upon their ratepayers in order to comply with the order of the Department. I would therefore ask the Lord Advocate whether, in order to enable the sheriff to give them adequate protection, it would not be necessary to add some words which would make it clear that the sheriff would have power to decide whether the cost of such repairs or improvements was a fair charge to impose upon the local authority or not, and to cancel or modify the Department's requirements.
The Bill is an important piece of machinery, but, of course, nothing effective will be done towards what is required for the repair and improvement of our piers and harbours unless we can get increased provision from the Treasury for that purpose. I hope that grants will be increased for this purpose in the immediate future. There is a great deal of unemployment in the Highlands. I have argued that on several occasions and pointed out how high the ratio of unemployment in those counties is as compared even with the depressed areas. There is great need for public works of this importance in that area, and I hope that that aspect of the problem will not be lost sight of. The Under-Secretary reminded us that there is no provision in the Bill for finance. He said it could be "met from existing sources," and I hope it will be met with sufficient generosity to make the Bill the useful Measure which in that way it could be made.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Anstruther-Gray
The right hon. Baronet has welcomed the Bill as a piece 1170 of machinery largely because of the benefit that he believes it will bring to fishing. I should like to welcome it also for the benefit which I believe it will bring to the tourist trade, because I think the time has now come when we recognise that one of the most hopeful prospects for financial improvement, in the Western Highlands and Islands at any rate, lies in the development of the tourist industry. I do not regret that at all. The only drawback is that it provides seasonal instead of permanent employment, but as long as that can be sufficiently lucrative it is all to the good, and I believe we should do everything in our power to assist it. My only question is as to how much the Bill is in fact going to do to assist it. As I understand the Bill, it is only an enabling Bill. The right hon. Baronet made the point that it does nothing more than allow local authorities to take over any pier, harbour or ferry that they think fit. It makes no financial provision for helping them. That does not mean that the Secretary of State cannot give financial assistance, because I believe he has already adequate powers to do this under the Development Grant, Fishery and Agriculture Public Works sub-heads. Under Clause 14 of the Bill I am very pleased to see that, once a grant has been sanctioned, he is to have the power of requiring a local authority to take action if it will not take it independently. I hope he will use his power to make these grants when called for and require local authorities to carry out improvements whenever they are necessary, because on his action depends the effectiveness of the Bill. I am doubtful whether, unless they are given encouragement, local authorities will avail themselves of their powers. In the case of a going concern perhaps they will, but, where money is obviously going to be lost, at any rate for the time being, I am very doubtful if Highland counties, which are exceedingly hard up, will be prepared to increase their rates.
I find it difficult to foresee the actual effect of an Act of Parliament and it is extraordinarily difficult in this case. I should like to put to the Secretary of State the definite question how much effect he expects the Bill to have in the next year or two; I should like to put to him one or two cases and ask whether he anticipates that they will be met by 1171 the Bill. The first case I will put is one that he has heard before, which has to do with Strome Ferry. It refers to an occasion when I was imprisoned with my motor car on Strome Ferry for three hours. It happened merely because the pier on either side was so short that at low tide the ferry-boat could not come sufficiently near to allow the car to be taken off. A comparatively small sum of money only is necessary to put this matter right. The position to-day is that the Government say that it is not their job, and the local authority ask why should they take action. The landlord lets it to a tenant, who does not want to see his rent raised, and neither the landowner nor the tenant is prepared to sink the capital into it. The result is that nothing is done, and people are imprisoned for three hours, and charged 10s. for it. When that happens to somebody like me or to my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) it may not very much matter because we probably love the place and will go back in any case, but if it happens to an English tourist or a foreigner it matters very much indeed. It will make him vow that he will never go that way again, and instead of coming back next year and encouraging his friends to come, he will discourage them from coming near the place at all. I managed to get off the ferry when the tide went down after nearly three hours. It took one hour for the tide to go down, and another two hours before I could get off.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman when he replies, to say whether he believes that the Bill which we are discussing is likely to meet that case within the next 12 months. The second case is the ferry between Kyle of Lochalsh and Kyleakin. It again concerns tuorists, and it is the tourists in whom my constituents are probably interested in the West Highlands. It is not that the service is incomplete, but that it is woefully insufficient for the volume of traffic passing in the summer. I have seen cars wait for six hours in order to get across—from nine o'clock in the morning until three in the afternoon. It does not take very much imagination to see how inconvenient that may be at the end of a holiday if you have connections to catch. A person with no strict time-table at all could easily become disgusted at being kept waiting 1172 for six hours on end in order to get across a narrow ferry. I ask the Scottish Office whether cases of that sort are to be dealt with within the next 12 months. It is only if these cases are met that we shall get that real help to the tourist trade which would bring much greater prosperity in the Western Highlands. I think that the ferry will be taken over under this Bill. As I read the Measure, it makes provision for taking over ferries from private individuals. Is not that so?
I rather think that the ferry belongs to the London Midland and Scottish Railway and therefore does not come within the scope of the Bill.
§ Mr. Anstruther-Gray
If that is so, it is a very unsatisfactory answer, because in that case I do not know how we are to get the ferry improved. The last thing I wish to refer has been mentioned by the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair). It is the position of the private owner of a pier where the pier requires constant expenditure in order to keep it from falling to pieces. The dues from the pier are quite insufficient to meet the expense, and, as far as the owner of the pier is concerned, he is literally throwing money into the sea. He is not dependent upon it and does not need it himself but he appreciates that it is very important for the people who do need it. In the particular case of which I am thinking, the owner is willing to allow the local authority to take over the pier. The local authority refuse to do so on the ground that, while they recognise the importance to the inhabitants of having a pier, they are not prepared to saddle the ratepayers with the burden of its upkeep. Is there any hope of the Government promising to give assistance in cases of that kind? I do not expect my right hon. Friend to give categorical replies to the questions I have asked him, but I would like to know whether it is to be a general practice in cases of the type that I have mentioned, that the Government will help and will not leave the cost to be entirely borne by the local authority. On this point depends the extent to which this Measure will succeed in improving the ferries.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Macquisten
This Bill, it has been said, is just a piece of machinery, but unless the Treasury come to the rescue 1173 it will be like a motor car without petrol. It will be left alone and nothing will be done. The essential fact is that Parliament has to recognise that there is not any money in the Highlands for the improvement of piers and harbours, because away back in history we were sadly abused by the English Parliament. All our civilisation and our land system were destroyed, and the people were driven to the ends of the earth. We are suffering from this mal-abuse and yet in English wars the great Earl of Chatham summoned the Highland race to fight. We have rendered immeasurable service to the British race and the British Empire, and it is of immense value to preserve what original stock there is left. No money which is spent should be looked at with a narrow eye. If you get men to go out in these fishing boats to fish in these stormy seas, they ought to be provided with proper harbours, because they are men upon whom the defence of our shores will rest. Therefore, very large expenditure is justified in providing them with harbours. Also we had our fishing destroyed by English trawlers. In the days of Charles 11 there was not an English fishing boat allowed to approach within 28 miles of Scottish shores, and there was plenty of fish for the hand fisherman, and there would be still but for the depredations of the trawlers, who utterly disregard the law of the sea and go all over the place and destroy the fishing.
We have a great claim to the maximum assistance, and harbours for shore fishermen should be dotted all over the coast. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), that the owners of the harbours, in nine cases out of ten, are only too willing to make them over. There is a fine harbour in the Island of Arran which is opposite Cantyre, the name of which for the moment escapes me. I got the present Duke of Montrose to offer it to the Scottish Office as a gift and he was only too glad to do so, because he was broad-minded enough to realise that it would greatly assist the surrounding districts. What did the Scottish Office do? They would have only needed to dredge the harbour. It had silted up, but if it had been dredged it would have been a useful harbour. Not more than £7,000 or £8,000 would have been required to do 1174 the work, and it would have been of great service to the fishermen. They could have left their boats and taken the steamer across, and have got home. But it was no good. The Scottish Office would not have the harbour as a gift because it meant a little money spent. The scheme was stymied. There was no harbour or pier in the district available except those at Campbeltown and Tarbert and they were too great a distance away to be as useful to everyone. Take the fishing village and summer resort of Carradale in Kintyre. There is an iron pier, and if a steamer gives it a bump the pier will go, and the district will be ruined, because there is no other possible means of access except by going 150 miles by road. The late proprietor wanted to get something out of the pier, whereas he should have been only too grateful to have it taken over. I do not know whether it would have been taken over, because I do not know whether the Scottish Office were in a position to take it over at that time.
Many of these proprietors cannot afford the expense of maintenance of the piers. It takes a colossal sum to repair a pier. Incidentally, I note that there is very little about piers in the Bill. It is nearly all about harbours. Why should not the piers be kept up in the public interest, largely through the Ministry of Transport? As our immortal songster, Harry Lauder, sings: "Keep on to the end of the road." Let the Minister of Transport keep right on to the end of the road, which is the pier. Let him see that we have the necessary grants to put the piers in order. There is no proprietor in Scotland who can afford to put up a pier now or to maintain it. They are all pretty well taxed out of existence.
The hon. and learned Member for Greenock (Mr. R. Gibson) talked about the rapacity of the landlords. They have nothing to be rapacious with nowadays. Almost all of them, unless they have separate means of livelihood other than the land, cannot exist, because there is nothing in the land for them. Away back in Scottish history, especially in the eighteenth century, steps were taken which have had very dire results, and so many of our people have left the country. In 1825 we were deprived of the right of private distillation. Distillation kept an immense number of people on the land. The fisherman who had a small still could make a little bit out of it. More- 1175 over, the spirit which he distilled enabled him to conflict with the wet and general inclemency of the weather. He was able to take a prophylactic against influenza and colds, and he was also able to make a little out of the transaction. That right of distillation was taken away by the English Parliament and, therefore, a source of living was taken away. I view that step with a strong sense of disapproval. There are a few people in the Highlands who are defying the law; I wish there were more of them. If there were, it would perhaps bring home to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the monstrosity of over-taxing poor people who consume a commodity which in time of sickness does much to restore health.
The question of transport in Scotland is in many cases a crying shame. Take the case of Connell Bridge. A charge of 10s. is made for going across in a car. The owners will not allow a charabanc or any industrial vehicle to cross, but only private motor cars. The bridge belongs to the London Midland and Scottish Railway. It is disgraceful the extent to which railway companies are stifling the means of opening up the country districts by road transport. Nobody has done more harm to the population of this country in the last few years than the railway companies. We in this House should hang our heads in shame at the way in which we allow the railway companies to get their way in restricting road transport. To return to Connell Bridge, if you want to take a sheep across that particular bridge you are only allowed to take one sheep at the time. The company reply that they charge only one halfpenny per sheep, but the taking across of one sheep is not an easy matter. Sheep have a great aversion to solitude. A sheep does not want to be alone. Hence the legend about Mary and her lamb. The man has to drag the sheep across the bridge, and although he pays only one halfpenny for the sheep he has to pay 2d. for himself. Then he goes back for the next sheep and pays another 2d. for the return, so it costs 4½d. a sheep. And so the process and the charge go on. At one place drovers swim their sheep and cattle across. I believe there is a charge even for swimming the animals across, although they go under their own power. There are many other places I could men- 1176 tion. There is Ballachulish Ferry. The position there has, however, been mitigated to some extent. All these places are private property. The means of transport across these piers and bridges ought to be practically free.
Transport is the one form of public assistance which can be given to the people of the country that does not demoralise them. All other forms of public assistance have a tendency to impair initiative and to encourage people to hold out their hands for more. I should like to give free transport for goods and other things. It increases the moral and economic standard of those who benefit. A man may be living far away in the country, but if he sees that he can get his produce to the market at a profit he will work all the harder and keener. Giving him such assistance will not demoralise him, but assist him. Therefore, all the money that is spent in cheapening the economic transport available to the people strengthens the character of the people, strengthens their economic status and also strengthens the wellbeing of the country. It is one of the best forms of investment in which any good Government could engage. Therefore, I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland will look into the matter. As Minister of Agriculture he was accustomed to hand out doles of all kinds, and in some cases the justification was doubtful, but in getting the Treasury to find sufficient funds to assist transport and to provide the whole of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland with good piers and harbours for the fishermen he will be providing a productive asset. There is the question of tourist traffic, which is important. They need plenty of accommodation and not necessarily at a hotel. I believe the crofters could make a very decent addition to their livelihood by providing stands for caravans and providing the owners of the caravans with food. [HON. MEMBERS: "Whiskey!"] Yes, it would be a good thing if they could provide that—eggs, butter and other necessaries of life. It would be of enormous assistance to the crofters and the fishermen, and would enable people of small means who cannot afford hotels, to travel more. There is great need for opening up our districts with roads and, above all, with piers.
1177 The right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland raised the question of compensation. That could be got over by inserting a Clause in the Bill giving a counterclaim for betterment. If that Clause were put in there would be no claim for compensation. Let us remember what happened in regard to the Canadian Pacific Railway when it was built. The railway company got much income for the sale of land alongside the railway. If, at the beginning of the railway system in this country, the railway companies had not been prohibited from investing in land, if they had had the right to take large areas of land, with compensation to the owner of the land as it existed before the railway was made, they would have had so much money now that we should all be travelling free.
That is a good sound doctrine. It was acknowledged in the Road Transport Act of 1909. Local authorities were given the right to take a certain area of land on each side of the road which it was proposed to lay down, but, unfortunately, that right was never exercised. It was not unjust. If a man was getting his estate opened up by a fine new road he would get a substantial sum as compensation not upon the value of the land when the road was made but upon the value of his land before the road had been made. If he made any objection he could be told that the road would not be made, and there is no doubt that he would accept the terms rather than do without the road altogether, because on the balance of his land he would make a large profit. I bought a little bit of land outside London—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Captain Bourne)
Order, order. We are dealing with harbours and piers and jetties, not with roads.
§ Mr. Macquisten
I was saying that the harbour is at the end of the road, and I was thinking of it as a road. If there was something of that kind in the Bill the amount of compensation would be very small. If a man has gone to the expense of putting up a harbour to say pier I think it would be wrong to say that as he is not making any money out of it "we are going to give you nothing." In Mull several landowners joined together and built a pier which has yielded little or no return for 30 years. I think it would be a great hardship if they were 1178 not paid and no question of betterment could arise there. Lots of these harbours in Scotland were put up for the purpose of giving employment. A harbour was put up over 100 years ago at Granton by the Duke of Buccleuch at a cost of about a million pounds, entirely to give employment to the people. For a time it was remunerative, but latterly was not. It was taken over by the railway company, who proceeded to make it pay. I believe that if this Bill is worked in a generous fashion, if a liberal amount of money is supplied by the Treasury, it will prove a very useful asset. In the long run it would enable you to keep the population on the land, you would have a reservoir of first-class seamen for all your national requirements, and in that way it would be the best possible investment. But if it is only the case of a few negligible thousands of pounds here and there, not dealing in an ample and liberal fashion with the subject, we are wasting our time to-night in passing this Bill.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan
It is remarkable that the most amusing incident tonight seems to have been the reference to getting something done in 12 months. I really think that a saving Clause might have been put into the Bill, which does not give full satisfaction to any hon. Member who has spoken so far, saying that something should be done within 12 months' time. We have waited for 12 years, indeed for 12 generations in some cases, for something to be done for the improvement and construction of piers and harbours in certain parts of Scotland. I am going to confine myself to the Highlands and Islands, the parts most affected by the Bill. This is an area covering about one-fifth of Great Britain, but it maintains only a very small proportion of its population. It should and could maintain a much larger population, if it was properly developed. It is the direct responsibility of the State, not of the local councils or the people themselves, to develop this area of Great Britain, and the State cannot shirk that responsibility for ever or pass it on to the many local authorities with their different policies and different compositions and ideas.
That is right. In the Memorandum to the Bill we are told that 1179 we cannot expect any money. Indeed, we are promised no money for the construction of any harbour or pier. The only suggestion is that there is to be money for the demolition of harbours and piers, not for the construction of piers and jetties. I am sorry that in the Bill there is no provision for the compulsory acquisition by local authorities of assets belonging to railway companies. It would be a more profitable proposition if local authorities could take over marine works belonging to railway companies. Indeed, they are almost the only properties worth considering by local authorities as worthy of acquisition. With all due respect to the intentions of the right hon. Gentleman and the Scottish Office, and with all due gratitude for the little good that the Bill does, it really is nibbling at a very big problem. It is a very small Bill in contrast with the problem it aims at solving. If it aims at solving this problem it is a somewhat puny attempt. No effort is made to consider it as a whole. Let me quote an opinion about such Measures as this for dealing with this problem in the Highlands and Islands. In the "Oban Times" of the 25th July, 1936, this appears:The recent discussions in the House of Commons on Scottish agricultural affairs, particularly these affecting the Highlands and Islands, were again disappointing. The misfortune is that Parliament has never formulated or followed a concrete policy for the Highlands and Islands. Isolated measures have been squeezed out of the Ministry and each of the concessions to public demand has included some counteracting restriction or excluded the essential accessory.In this case the essential accessory which is excluded is money. That, in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, is the most important aspect of the whole case; and there is no question whatever that it is going to spoil entirely the effect of the Bill in so far as it has any effect at all. The money is not there. Apart from the Orkneys and Shetlands, the most prosperous part of the Islands, which cannot be compared with the rest of the Highlands and Islands, the right hon. Gentleman knows, as I know from first-hand information and as his predecessor was agreed, the money is not there. The county councils cannot do these things unless the financial assistance is forthcoming. I will quote further: At present there is 1180a Committee to investigate the possibilities of economic development in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and the possibility of developing local industries.That Committee ought to have certain powers with regard to piers and harbours, and things of that sort, and this Bill ought to be related to the report of such a committee. Indeed, we ought to have had the report of such a committee before us in discussing this Bill to-night; but even if we had the report of the present committee, its terms of reference are far too narrow. It ought to be a statutory committee having certain powers, but it has none. When it was advertised that this Bill was to be introduced, the right hon. Gentleman raised great hopes. I will quote again from the "People's Journal," which expressed the very great expectations that were aroused by the prospect of the introduction of the Bill:One of the greatest sources of grievance in the Western Isles and along the Western seaboard of Scotland may be shortly removed if Government business in the next Parliamentary Session will allow of the passage of the new Bill. This is a Measure to enable local authorities in Scotland to take over piers, harbours and ferries which are privately owned.The expectations were that all those things would be included in the Bill, and that there would be no exceptions such as those where railway companies and private interests are involved. The Government are running away again from the railway companies simply because they have been given a Frankenstein power over those who create that power.For years the question of these piers, harbours and ferries has been a bone of contention up and down the West Coast of Scotland. Now at last an efiort is to be made to solve the problem. Briefly, the Bill aims at making it easier for local authorities to acquire privately-owned piers, harbours and ferries in Scotland which the present owners are no longer able to maintain adequate to the needs of the areas they serve.So says the "People's Journal." So the article continues in a very cheerful note, as though all the problems would be solved, and a very courageous Measure brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman, aiming at some of that co-ordination which he has preached so much in the past and which he has certainly tried to obtain in agriculture during the past few years.
There are several examples that I intended to quote, but as other hon. Mem- 1181 bers wish to speak, I shall be brief. There is the case of Craignure, in Mull, where the owners have offered to concede the pier at a reasonable compensation. There are other cases, such as that of Portnaguran, in the Island of Lewis, where they have been waiting since the Walpole Commission's Report 46 years ago for the construction of the pier which that Commission recommended. Last week a local newspaper wrote:Last week the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries visited this district in order to find out what would be the cost of building it. How many fishermen who met the members of the Walpole Commission in 1890 met the Economic Committee on the Highlands and Islands, who were also reporting during last week? How many sons of those men perished in the War? How many grandsons are telling the same stories to the Committee as their grandfathers told in 1890? The Committee which visited Port Naguran seems to have been favourably impressed by the fishermen's pleas. The need for a pier still exists. The boats have still to be drawn more than 100 yards along the beaches each time they are launched and each time drawn up again. Every stone for ballast has to be lifted out. There are good fishing days when the boats cannot be launched because of breakers on the beach, and in stormy weather they require constant attention or they may be smashed to pieces. Still the fishermen at Port Naguran are waiting as they waited in 1890.Some have waited longer. There are many examples I could quote. I could give a dozen grievances from the 1935 election address of the hon. Gentleman who used to represent the Western Islands in this House, Mr. Ramsay. Dozens of different schemes have been delayed for years and have been supposed to be under consideration. There have been reports of various committees which have made favourable recommendations, but these schemes have still not been undertaken either by the local authorities or by the State. I do not intend to oppose this Bill because it does give certain powers to the local authorities which we welcome. As the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) said, the piers, harbours, jetties and boat-slips in the smaller villages are not to be overlooked. They are the beginning and end of the roads; they are the gateways of the Islands and they are the gateways of the ports. All that comes into the ports passes through them to the hinterland, and all that goes out from the ports goes through the harbours. They are as important as the middle of the roads 1182 or any other part of the roads. They are the beginning and the end of the road, and in the Islands the most important part of the road.
The case for rural distressed areas has never been stressed in this House, and I will not at this moment discuss those distressed areas at length, although they have a very definite and immediate bearing upon this subject. While we may be able to get along for awhile somehow with the industrial distressed areas, there is one thing we cannot get along with in this country, and that is the rural distressed areas when we can no longer feed the industrial areas with the produce of the countryside. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland has been responsible for very much reorganisation in agriculture, and he will agree that these areas of the Highlands, one-fifth of Britain's area, really must be given the opportunity of development which they have so long been denied.
There is an expensive steamer service run by the MacBrayne Company across the Minch and to the various Islands, the inner Islands and the Western Islands. It is subsidised to the extent of over £50,000 a year, a substantial sum, and for it we expect a good steamer service. We expect cheap rates for freights and passengers, but we do not get them. We have various grievances because of the irregularity in certain parts especially in the Southern Islands, although to the Isle of Lewis and the Northern Islands the service is very good and the seamanship excellent all over. In some cases there are good boats, but in other cases there are not. There are great difficulties in stormy weather, particularly in some parts with the very bad harbours and dilapidated piers. The problem of a proper transport service by sea between the Western Islands and the mainland is most urgent. In order to justify the very substantial subsidy given to the MacBrayne service and allow that service to give its best, there must be proper landing places, proper harbours and proper piers at which the boats can land their cargoes and load freights and embark passengers. People must not be asked to get out of the steamer at sea and go down a rope ladder into a rocking little boat, and travel two or three miles across very dangerous seas in some cases. They should be able to land 1183 properly, as people in any other part of the country are.
However, we have in this Bill, in the provisions for consultation between the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Minister of Transport, and the Board of Trade, the seeds of a policy of co-ordination between the Departments which will assist in dealing with this problem as a whole. I would like to see the right hon. Gentleman pressing for a Measure taking State control of these piers, harbours and ferries. I would like to see a really bold Measure, to place all these things under the State and run them as part of the national transport service. After all, these are public services and ought to be publicly owned, with a Minister directly responsible for them and a Department directly in control of them. The people are all for public control of these services. If you ask the fishermen whether they prefer to deal with a county council or with a private body they will tell you that they would rather deal with public property than with the property of private individuals.
There was a recent case in the Island of Lewis where a private individual for some reason or other claimed the right of proprietorship of a little jetty and sought to exclude the fishermen from landing from, and using +heir little fishing boats there. The case was heard and, of course, the decision was given that he had no right whatever to exclude them. Lossiemouth is another example. There you had the Lossiemouth and Elgin fishermen going to the local authority and asking them to take the pier over from the company and run it under public control. At Lossiemouth they delayed till the water rose "up and up" till now it has swamped the whole thing and landed the company, as it may land the county council in future years, in very heavy expense under the Bill. That is only one example, and all over the country you find that fishermen would prefer these services to be publicly owned and controlled.
There is another point in connection with the MacBrayne services. On 18th May, 1928, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) in a discussion on the MacBrayne contract said: 1184This great steamship company owns many of the piers. That makes competition difficult or impossible and compels, sooner or later, a Government to take over piers and ships." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1928; col. 1427, Vol. 217.]
§ Mr. MacMillan
The company has taken over the pier at Tarbert. I understand it is improving that pier. Nevertheless we object to a subsidised company which more or less fixes its own rates, subject to some Government control which has not been exercised, owning these piers. Notwithstanding the power of controlling these freights they are still exorbitant.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I know, but they were exorbitant at the time and they are still far too high. Nevertheless we are prepared to accept and to be grateful for the half loaf which is better than no bread. But the bread of hope, of patience, of long-suffering, which was cast upon the waters so many years ago by the people affected has come back after many delays and proved a poor investment. I think this Measure is too halfhearted. I should like to see a national Measure on a national scale taking the whole problem into the direct responsibility of a Minister instead of leaving it under the multiple control of all these county councils with conflicting interests and leaving so many exceptions as in the case of the railway companies.
Another point which ought to be stressed is the necessity for the limitation and in some cases the reduction of the pier and harbour dues. One example has been given bearing upon this point but that had reference to the case of a ferry. But there is the instance of Stornoway Harbour which is one of the most progressive. It must be said that the Stornoway harbour trust has exercised its borrowing powers to the limit and is doing very good work. But if you go to Stornoway with a car you have to cross the Minch and you have to pay about £2 or £3 for having the car taken across. It is landed on the pier at 1185 Stornoway for about two minutes but you have to pay 15s. for landing the car at the pier and on the return journey the same charges are made. Thus it costs about £6 10s. to take a car to and fro across the Minch to land it there and to pay the harbour dues. You pay about half the annual licence duty on the car.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I hope the Minister will exercise whatever power he possesses or will take power to have these harbour dues and similar charges substantially reduced. There is also the injustice of asking local authorities to bear the cost of the maintenance of these works in cases in which the Minister has taken compulsory powers for the maintenance of piers and harbours. A very small grant for some minor operation in connection with the pier or harbour may be given by the Government and thereafter the Minister claims that because he has invested some small amount in the work, the local authority should pay out, possibly thousands of pounds, on further repairs and maintenance. That is quite unfair. The cost of maintenance should not be borne by the local authority There are piers owned by local authorities at present which are not always in the best condition for the simple reason that the local authorities are not able to bear the necessary costs. We can imagine cases in which it is not possible to levy a high rate. One can imagine cases such as those which have been referred to previously, where a penny rate, say in the Isle of Scarpi, on the whole population would raise only about 4s. 2d. I think that was a case which was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman himself in another connection, and there are hundreds of cases throughout the Highlands and Islands in which the local authorities could not be expected on the strength of local rating to undertake new work or to maintain existing works in proper condition.
Recently the Minister of Transport introduced a Measure which is very definitely connected with this problem. The Minister talked in terms of £4,500,000 which was to be spent on a five-years plan of road-making for the Highlands and Islands. If the Minister of Transport can talk of spending £4,500,000 spread over a few years, surely the Secretary of State for Scotland can talk in terms of a few 1186 hundreds of thousands of pounds at least for this other great purpose. Surely the Scottish Office can be as big as the Ministry of Transport when it is clearly the case that the money will be put into a proper, profitable and productive investment. May I stress this? If and when the right hon. Gentleman sees fit to make grants for these works, I hope he will see that when labour is employed by a county council there will be an end of that vicious habit which has been introduced recently of demanding, or expecting and accepting free labour by workers on public schemes. It is disgraceful that people in the Highlands and Isles should be asked to work for wages, if they can be called wages, of from 2d. to 6d. per hour. It has been the habit in some counties to expect this kind of thing, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make provision to ensure for these workers proper and reasonable wages at least such as obtain in every other part of the country.
I hope that before the Bill becomes law modification will be made along the lines suggested or possibly along lines which the right hon. Gentleman himself may deem to be more useful than those suggested here. There are modifications which could be made which would certainly not affect what he desires in the Bill but would promote the best interests of the promoters of the Bill as well. I hope that he will give particular consideration to the financial question, which is all-important. In all Highland matters that is the question which affects the problem more than any other, the question of lack of adequate assistance; and unless it is forthcoming neither this Bill nor any other Bill will be any good.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted; and 40 Members being present—
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Boothby
I cannot go the whole way with the hon. Member who has just sat down in demanding that the Government should itself take over the control and regulation of all these harbour, piers and ferries. As a matter of fact, I think the local authorities are the right authorities because in the natural order of things they must know more about local conditions than the Government, especially a Government sitting as far away from the Highlands and Islands as 1187 Whitehall. Therefore I think that the principle of the Bill is quite right. On the other hand, I cannot go all the way with the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten), who seems to think that if you covered the whole of the north of Scotland with caravans full of English people and supplied them with free piers, petrol and whisky you would have solved all our problems in the north of Scotland.
I see that the right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) has come in and I would like to say with regard to his speech that nothing is more charming and disarming than his absolutely sincere determination that landlords should have no more rent. I say to him, the owner of many acres, as one who does not own one, that I do not grudge him a penny and only wish he made more. That applies to all the landlords, especially the smaller ones, in the North of Scotland. I agree with one point raised by my right hon. Friend. I feel that when a local authority has made a bid for a harbour or pier and then the arbitrator has assessed too high a price they should have the opportunity of withdrawing if they desire to do so. I would like to ask the Lord Advocate whether he could give us some assurance on that point.
It is a funny thing that the Government are now bringing in a whole spate of good Bills. Constructive measures follow one after the other, and I find myself in the almost embarrassing position of having to get up and support one Government Bill after another. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knows as well as any one that one of the main difficulties of the herring and other fishing industries in the North of Scotland is that it is becoming almost impossible for a fisherman to make a living when he only fishes in one particular kind of fishing for six months in a year. We have to try to enable fishermen to work two different kinds of fishing for practically the whole year round, and that is where, I think, this Bill may prove to be of such tremendous value. I would like to give one example from my own constituency. There are three fishing villages—St. Combs, Cairnbulg and Inverallochy—none of them very small, all within half a mile of each other, and all of them about six or seven miles from the large herring fishing port of Fraserburgh. They con- 1188 tain a large, virile and admirable population of fishermen. None of them can have a harbour at present, although that coast is one of the best white fishing grounds for inshore fishermen. They have to take a 'bus some six or seven miles into another town where they keep their boats, and then they have to return. The fact that they have to do this makes it more likely than not that they will throw in their lot with the herring fishing fleet and give up white fishing. Imagine the folly of this. Some years ago a harbour was started at Cairnbulg. They could keep their motor boats there for line fishing. I actually took the late Sir Godfrey Collins when he was first appointed Secretary of State for Scotland out on to the pier to look at it. Because there was no competent authority and there were no financial resources, the pier was left in a position where it allowed seaweed to silt up. It cost a good deal of money, and it is no good. That is false economy.
That seems to be the sort of case where a powerful and not unduly poor local authority like the Aberdeenshire County Council could intervene with the assistance of the Government. It is a local problem in my constituency, but I believe it to be typical of more than one place in Scotland. Sub-section (2) of Clause 7 says that where works cost less than £3,000 the Bill applies only to Argyll, Inverness, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland, Caithness, Orkney and Zetland. I would rather like to ask the Lord Advocate why that paragraph has been put in, and if he cannot give us a satisfactory answer whether he will scratch out the proposal and apply this to the whole of Scotland, or add Aberdeenshire. I personally do not mind which course he adopts but I hope that he will take one or the other.
I would like to reiterate what one or two speakers have said. The problem of the distressed rural area has never been tackled in this House. The percentage of unemployment in Wick is proportionately higher than in any other town of Scotland, and the percentage of unemployment throughout the whole of Scotland, especially the Highlands, is distressingly high. It is simply because these people are so scattered and poor, and cannot do any hunger marching or engage in any other corporate activity, that they are apt to be forgotten. I see 1189 no real method of bringing substantial relief to the poor crofter and the average inhabitant of the North of Scotland generally except by giving them an opportunity to pursue the calling of fishermen. The Government should take any step that would facilitate the pursuit of fishing, particularly of inshore, local fishing and white fishing, for it would give the men who work in the herring fleet, which is seasonal employment, a chance to make ends meet and to make a living in the off months. I believe that by that method the Minister could do more for the North of Scotland than by any other single method. These fishermen have had 10 lean years. They are poor, and the local authorities are poor, too. If we are to get real benefit out of this Bill, the machinery of which is admirable, there must be some finance applied to grease the wheels. I hope that in the tussles that lie ahead with the Treasury, my right hon. Friend will be successful.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) gave some instances of harbours in his constituency that would benefit by this Bill, and I am sure we were impressed by them. I would like to bring a slightly different case to the notice of the Secretary of State. There is a harbour in my constituency which is one of three fairly important harbours doing herring and inshore fishing. It has been our good fortune in the last week or two to get substantial grants from the Fishery Board and the Development Commissioners for two of these harbours. The third, Pittenweem, has been unsuccessful in its claim. I do not know what considerations were in the minds of the Fishery Board when they turned down any recommendation for that port. I imagine one of the considerations was probably that Pittenweem is a much smaller harbour than others which have applied for grants. No doubt also the fact that their trade in landings is not increasing had some effect with the Board. I hope, however, that the Fishery Board and the Secretary of State are not going to take the line that because a harbour is not a large one, is not developing, or even because its trade is temporarily falling, they can just neglect it and let it become of little use. Those communities round the smallest 1190 harbours in Scotland are of considerable importance to the nation, and I hope that the case I have mentioned may be borne in mind as one deserving of special care.
This is the kind of debate that does credit both to the Government and the Scottish Members. It is an example of unprejudiced and non-party examination of a considerable national problem, and it makes one feel how much advantage might come to Scotland if this kind of thing could be transferred more frequently to the Scottish Standing Committee. This is not an occasion to develop that thought, but it is an example of the progress that could be made by Scotsmen acting together for the good of their country. May I say, as the Member for East Fife, how much pleasure I had in seeing the Under-Secretary of State, who comes from my constituency, make his maiden speech as Minister. His promotion gave us great satisfaction in Fife and we look forward with close interest to his future work.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Elliot
No Secretary of State could complain of the response which this Second Measure has had to-day. Owing to the business-like procedure on the first Bill, we have been able to dispose of it early, and for that I have to thank both sections of the Opposition, and also the supporters of the Government who have limited themselves in a way that must at times be a great strain upon them, as it is on any Scotsman when he has a lot of other people to argue with. This Bill has, perhaps, met with a somewhat frostier reception, notably from the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan), although he, too, said that he was going to support it. He that is not against us is for us, and consequently we can say that the whole House without exception is for this Bill. Let me repeat what the Under-Secretary said in introducing the Bill, that this is not a Measure which, in itself, deals with grants. It is a machinery Bill and it would not be possible to insert finance into it. We had to deal with the situation as we found it, and the first thing we want to do is to produce a workable machine.
I do not think that anyone will deny that in the great local authorities of the north we have a number of bodies which, 1191 I think, do not entirely merit the accusations brought against them by the hon. Member for the Western Isles. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) spoke very cogently on the subject when he said that these bodies were the proper bodies to administer these local works. They have the greater knowledge and they know the conditions far better than any Whitehall or even Edinburgh administration can possibly do. I am not at all sure that, even supposing I had been able to write on a blank piece of paper, I would have written a Bill which gave the Secretary of State the power and the responsibility of taking over even the works which it is supposed are to be taken over by the local authorities under the Bill we have before us. Still less would I have done so if the purpose had been to take over the railway ferries which are at present neglected. It seems a little odd that the hon. Member for the Western Isles should be so vehemently in favour of the central bodies in theory and against them in practice; for the great railways are exactly those large centralised organisations which he desires so emphatically in the case of the State.
§ Mr. M. MacMillan
There is a difference between the large private organisation and the large State organisation.
§ Mr. Elliot
The hon. Member has that engaging belief in the power of theory which he will not always find in practice. A great enterprise is a great enterprise, whether it is State or private, and the difficulty of getting it to listen to you is about the same in either case. Let us assume, then, that the whole House is in favour of some such Measure as this— that these small marine works should be transferred in certain cases, either voluntarily or compulsorily, to larger organisations with greater financial resources, which can more easily shoulder the occasional crises which come upon them.
I think that with few exceptions the House believes that the proposals in the Bill as to the type of local authority which is to take over these marine works have been properly and appropriately chosen, that is to say, it should be the large local authority rather than the central authority. Let me go further. Many hon. Members have said that with- 1192 out adequate finance all our efforts will be in vain. That is true, for finance is the key of a great many of these efforts. Yet before one can obtain finance from the central authority one must see some workable proposition. In these circumstances and under present conditions we have never been able to see in the north a workable proposition. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen gave a very good example of a harbour where a pier had been half built and, because there was no competent authority, work on it had ceased. That is not a proposition which you could get any Government Department to support. The Development Fund, as we knew when I was Under-Secretary of State and he was in the even more powerful position of Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was the body with whom we discussed all these things. We spent much time, elaborating arrangements for the relief of Aberdeenshire harbours and piers, but even then we were not able to put forward a business proposition on many occasions. I would deprecate the suggestion that in all these things 100 per cent, grants for maintenance and construction and subsidies to enable people to go there is an attractive proposition to the Treasury, or indeed is a sound proposition for the people of the country.
We in Scotland do not wish to neglect altogether the principle of self-help; and surely it is desirable that some local contribution should be made, that some local effort should be made. I am sure the hon. Member for the Western Isles, in the somewhat exaggerated claims that he put before the House this evening, was merely indulging in a little picturesque over-statement, because I am sure he would agree that some local effort is desirable if you have really to attract support and assistance from central funds.
If then we accept those points, that there should be such a Bill, that it should deal with marine works which are not being worked properly now, that these should be taken over locally, and that some assistance should be found from local as well as central sources, then I think we have the main principles of the Bill, and the only question is, Are the details of it reasonable and adequate? The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean), whose tribute to the new 1193 Under-Secretary of State we all delighted in, and felt very much, coming from one of his political opponents, said that there was nothing stated in the Bill about the possible rate on local authorities. I do not think it is desirable to put that in the Bill. He also spoke of the evils of legislation by reference and pointed out that there was indeed a great deal of such legislation in this Bill. I went into this matter when the Bill was being drafted, and it was pointed out to me by the drafting authorities that in fact the Acts which were being incorporated, which are mostly in the First Schedule, were actually drawn for the purpose of being incorporated in legislation such as this, and if they were reprinted in all the hundreds of Acts to which they applied, it would be a trouble and not an assistance to those who are desirous of following out these Statutes.
I admit that I found the argument not wholly convincing, for I myself am disposed to see the whole of a Bill laid before me and not just a bit of it, with an index to other Acts of Parliament. But this legislation by reference is not here through any neglect or bad draftsmanship and is not due to any sloppy or slovenly work by the Scottish Office or by the draftsmen. It is merely that this is the common form which is used in all these Acts, and if we were to incorporate all the Acts to which reference is made in the First Schedule, we should have a Bill twice or three times as thick as this, which might raise still more false hopes than the hon. Member for the Western Isles has suggested, because the mere appearance of such a volume all about piers and harbours would make people think that the millennium had indeed come and that this flood of gold which they desired was about to descend on them in even larger quantities.
§ Mr. Maclean
In the very Schedule to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, there is reference to an Act passed 90 years ago. Surely he does not suggest that it was then provided in such a manner that a Bill such as we are now discussing could be incorporated in the terms of that Act of 1845?
§ Mr. Elliot
That is exactly what I am saying, without any reservation, that the Act of 1845 was drafted for exactly the purpose of being incorporated in Acts 1194 such as this, and there are certainly Acts older than that of 1845 upon which the social structure of this country depends and to which reference is made in Acts every day. I wish to defend the draftsmen of the Scottish Office from the charge of having done slovenly work.
§ Mr. Maclean
I think the right hon. Gentleman is unfair to those of us who objected to this legislation by reference. We were not accusing the draftsmen of slovenly work, but it has been the custom of the House for the 19 or 20 years during which I have been in it to carry through legislation along these lines, and it is not slovenly work that we object to, but we are desirous of having contained in a Bill such as this the full measure of the Acts and not something which requires reference back to many other Acts.
§ Mr. Elliot
I do not wish to be unjust to the hon. Members, and I was referring rather to my own position as Secretary of State when I spoke about slovenly work. Naturally, we do not accuse the draftsmen of slovenly work, because what they do is done at the instance of a Minister, but to incorporate these Acts would have meant 60 or 70 pages, and I fear that in that enormous nutshell the relatively small kernel might be lost sight of altogether.
The right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) spoke again of the desirability of not paying excessive compensation. I tried to make the position clear, but I do not appear entirely to have done so. The position is that there is no enhanced value given by this Bill, when it becomes an Act, to any marine work, but the value of a marine work being taken over is the market value as between a willing buyer and a willing seller, and I do not think I can go further than that, save to say that all the relevant circumstances—such as whether money had recently been spent on it, whether it was now in repair, whether there was revenue from it, whether the revenue might be expected to increase in future—will be taken into account.
Another point was raised by the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten), who said that a betterment claim might be incorporated into the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Lord 1195 Advocate and myself will give consideration to that, but I do not wish to tie down too tightly this proposal in a mesh of arguments, where far more than the value of the proposed recovery might easily be lost in lawyers' fees, arguing out the exact pounds, shillings and pence to be paid and possibly recovered later in compensation. As a final justification of this Clause, I would say that the local authorities have asked for it, and I find it impossible to believe that the local authorities would ask for a Clause which would prejudice them financially.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness made a further point, which was repeated by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire. If, said he, the local authorities embarked upon compulsory acquisition, went to arbitration, and found that the arbitral award, though just, was so onerous that they could not contemplate carrying through the bargain, would they be permitted to withdraw from their undertaking? Not as the Bill is drafted, because a claim for compensation lodged is the beginning of a contract, which would have to be carried through; but, in view of the point put forward, both by the right hon. Member for Caithness and by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire, the Lord Advocate and myself will look into it between now and the Report stage, and we might possibly table an Amendment to deal with that particular difficulty. I think there are precedents in land drainage and other Acts for such power, but in default of such express and explicit power of withdrawal the local authority is not able to withdraw from the final carrying through of the purchase, once having embarked on that process.
My hon. Friend the Member for Argyllshire will excuse me if I do not follow out all his arguments, more particularly as he is not in the House at the moment, and even more, really, because they raise so many fascinating questions, such as the reason for the heavy tax on distillation, and the process by which the delightful habit of home manufacture of alcohol was crushed out in the Highlands. He will excuse me if I do not go into this at any length. The Bill deals more with water than with whisky, 1196 a more prosaic and, indeed, more plentiful element. That brings me to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire. I think I have already dealt more or less with the speech of the hon. Member for the Western Isles, whose criticism I do not in any way resent. It is, indeed, the proper process of hammering out opinion on the Floor of the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire reiterated the point as to the great desirability of avoiding rural distressed areas by, if possible, allowing fishermen the right to fish both in summer and in winter, and the necessity of providing harbours and other facilities for that purpose. I am sure all of us would agree with any development of the Highlands. As I said in my speech on the Motion brought forward from the other side, the old traditional industries of agriculture and fishing must be the backbone of any such development. We must be prepared to put up with a good deal in order to maintain those industries, or to revive them if they have fallen into decay, and I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House will remember that when we come before them with proposals for, it may be, a subsidy upon home-bred cattle or, it may be, restrictions on the quota of foreign landings of fish. They cannot have it both ways. If we are to develop at home we must be prepared to put up with a certain amount of economic inconvenience, and I am sure that hon. and right hon. Members in all parts of the House who have so eloquently urged the claims of the Highlands and Islands will support us with equal vigour when we come before them with other proposals for the maintenance of fishing and agriculture, which are the two great pillars on which Highland life must stand.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.