HC Deb 14 June 1938 vol 337 cc16-8
25. Mr. Johnston

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware that the pest of bracken is one of the major handicaps to agriculture and sheep-farming in Scotland; and whether, in addition to the sum of £150 granted to the West of Scotland Agricultural College to enable it to proceed with the investigation of the best method of eradicating bracken, he is prepared to consider any enlargement of the scope of his activities in this matter?

Mr. Colville

I am aware that there has been a serious encroachment of bracken on pastoral land in certain parts of Scotland. The investigation conducted in recent years by the Committee of the West of Scotland Agricultural College has shown the effectiveness, as a means of exterminating this weed, of systematic cutting over a period of years. A number of bracken cutting machines have been tested, and grants amounting to about £3,000 have been approved towards the cost of purchase of 128 machines of approved type. In addition 58 applications are under consideration. The committee is alive to the importance of developing its work in any direction that holds promise of success and any proposals they may make for the extension of their activities will have my serious consideration.

Mr. Johnston

Is not the short point, that the right hon. Gentleman is providing only £150 for research work in dealing with this pest of bracken; and is he aware that bracken now covers an area in Scotland, equal in extent to half our total cereal acreage?

Mr. Colville

The right hon. Gentleman has left out of account the fact that we are providing grants which will greatly assist the cutting of bracken. As far as research work is concerned, I shall be ready to listen to any proposals which the committee may make, but it is wrong to suppose that the £150 is the only assistance given towards the eradication of the pest.

Sir William Davison

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the inroads of bracken are by no means confined to Scotland, but that in the South of England, and especially in the neighbourhood of London, many beauty spots are being destroyed owing to the killing of-the heather by this weed?

Mr. Neil Maclean

Arising out of the original reply and my right hon. Friend's supplementary, will the Minister explain why he has given grants to individuals whose indifference to the growth of bracken has resulted in its further spread, while he will not give grants for much better purposes in Scotland; and can he not take action against these individuals who are allowing ground to go under bracken?

Mr. Colville

I agree that it is part of the ordinary process of husbandry to see that the ground is kept clean—

Mr. Maclean

Why give them grants?

Mr. Colville

Every encouragement is given to cutting by machine, which, in our view, will help to eradicate the pest. I believe the policy we are following is the right one.

Mr. Johnston

Will the right hon. Gentleman take care not to spend this £150 all at once?