§ Amendments made:
§ In page 20, line 28, after "notice," insert "or a copy of a notice."
§ In line 29, leave out "Sub-section (1) of."—[Mr. Colville.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ 6.49 p.m.
Mr. J. J. Davidson
I am glad of this opportunity of being able to deal with the Scottish aspect in regard to this Clause, as I had intended last night to take part in the Debate. I want first of all to refer to the importance attached to the first three lines of the Clause, which state:(1) Where on consideration of a report from the Agricultural Executive Committee for any area in Scotland the Secretary of State is satisfied—.Therefore, with regard to this Clause and any subsequent changes which may be made by this Clause the Secretary of State for Scotland must first of all have a report from the agricultural executive committee. I know some of these committees, and I want to say quite frankly that the farmers of Scotland, particularly those taking part in county council work, and the people of the farming areas in Scotland have very little faith that the Secretary of State for Scotland will be advised in any efficient manner by these committees. Let me put this to the 1038 Secretary of State for Scotland, particularly in regard to Sutherlandshire, already mentioned by—
§ Mr. Colville
I do not know whether this question can be raised, but I want to be clear, if the hon. Member raises the composition of a particular agricultural executive committee, whether I should be in Order to reply to him on this question that the Clause stand part.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Oh, no. As a matter of fact, I was listening to what the hon. Gentleman was saying. He can, of course, object to this Clause because he does not like a committee, but we cannot change this into a Debate on the composition of these committees. The hon. Member may state his reasons for objecting to this Clause, but he cannot debate the composition of the agricultural executive committee. If he did so, then we should be having a Debate miles away from the Clause, and should be discussing something which has nothing to do with it.
§ Mr. Colville
I only wanted to make it clear that it was only fair that I should be able to reply to the hon. Member.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Yes, but I take it that the hon. Member is not going into the constitution of that particular committee, because, if so, he will be out of order.
I am glad that you, Colonel Clifton Brown, have been able to see a little better into the future of my speech than the Secretary of State for Scotland. I can assure you that very seldom do I diverge from the customs and Rulings of the House, and when I do so I shall expect the Chair to deal with that particular question. I was referring, first of all, to the fact that the Secretary of State for Scotland must be satisfied by a report from any of these agricultural committees, and I think I am entitled to refer to a particular area in Scotland, a big agricultural area, that is affected by the decisions of such a committee and to say, quite frankly, that it does not contain experienced farmers who know the land and have tilled the soil. The Secretary of State for Scotland cannot be expected to receive recommendations from a committee of that type which would enable this Clause to be put into effective operation. The Clause goes on to say that 1039 this report must contain a statement to satisfy the Secretary of State for ScotlandThat is to say, the Secretary of State "may," and not "shall," serve a notice on the owner of a piece of land that is important for the production of food during the war which the owner has neglected. I say that the whole Clause is a complete evasion of the responsibility of the Government to deal with these people who ought to be compelled in the same way as soldiers and working-class people are compelled to do their bit as far as the war effort is concerned. The Secretary of State for Scotland cannot be brusque with these people and come down on them firmly but "may" serve a notice if the question is brought to his attention by a committee not formed of agricultural experts, but by landowners. Then if the owner receives this notice, he has the right to appeal to the Secretary of State for Scotland. We have then the procedure gradually and slowly unfolding itself to deal with one of the most important phases of the national life.
the Secretary of State may serve a notice on the owner of the said other land requiring him to carry out within such period as may be specified in the notice such operations necessary in his opinion to remedy or prevent the injury as may be so specified.
- "(a) that any agricultural land in the area of that committee is being injured or in danger of being injured by reason of the failure of the owner or occupier of any other land to cleanse or scour or to join in cleansing or scouring the channel of any watercourse in, or partly in, or adjoining that other land; and
- (b) that the estimated cost of carrying out any operations necessary to remedy or prevent such injury would not be unreasonable having regard to the benefits to agriculture that would accrue, and would not, in any case, exceed an amount equal to five pounds for each acre of agricultural land benefited by the operations;
The composition of the committee of which I have already hinted is anything but helpful to the agricultural interests of Scotland—relatives and that class of people assisting one another. If the Secretary of State for Scotland is convinced that land is being neglected, he may serve a notice. If he does so, the owner can appeal against it, and the Secretary of State has to reconsider the matter all over again. After such reconsideration, if he is convinced that the landowner is not 1040 utilising the land properly and not obeying the Government's decision in accordance with the law, and not carrying out adequate drainage in accordance with the law, or if the owner is in any way neglecting the land, the Secretary of State may then carry out the necessary work himself and place the land in a condition in which it can produce the necessary food. After he has done that he may then send on the expenses to the particular person who has failed in his duty to the nation. The Clause goes on:Provided that— (i) if it appears to the Secretary of State that the necessity for the aforesaid operations is due in whole or in part to the neglect of the owner of any land other than that belonging to the person on whom the notice was served or that any benefit has accrued or is expected to accrue in consequence of the carrying out of the operations to the owner of any land other than as aforesaid, the Secretary of State may require the owner of that other land to pay such proportion of the aforesaid expense as in all the circumstances seems just;The agricultural committees which the Secretary of State has set up must be held in great favour by him, and he must pay great attention to them. He will defend them, no doubt, in this House whenever we raise questions in regard to incompetent men of 76 years of age, who have never had any agricultural experience, being appointed as chairmen. The point will be reached when the Government have done the work which the owners ought to have done, and the Government will naturally present the owners with the bill. But, despite the recommendations of the committee, the two inquiries into the notice, and the two appeals which show quite clearly that the owner is wrong, the Secretary of State for Scotland can charge the owner expenses only if it appears to him after two courts-martial that the neglect has been in whole or in part due to the owner. The whole position is ridiculous. This is a Clause which has been drawn up very astutely in order to allow the landholders of Scotland to escape their responsibilities. It does not assist the farmers in any degree, because they have very little confidence in regard to the recommendations. After presenting the bill to the owner of the land, he is then allowed another appeal against paying the expenses which the Secretary of State says he ought 1041 to pay. The individual is then also given the right to appeal finally to the Scottish Land Court. One of the most ridiculous parts of the Clause is Sub-section (6). After the owner has been found guilty of neglecting his land, has been allowed to appeal, and has had a bill for expenses sent him, has been allowed to appeal to the Scottish Land Court, and has been ordered by the Court to pay, he may receive a grant from the Secretary of State. The Sub-section says:The Secretary of State may, out of moneys provided by Parliament, make grants of such amounts and subject to such conditions as the Treasury may approve to owners of land in respect of expense incurred by or recoverable from them in pursuance of this Section.We have landowners in Scotland who for years have neglected their land, have retained their land for sporting and other interests, and have never paid any attention to the agricultural demands of the country. To-day, when the Government are saying, "In the name of patriotism, give us a food production policy and use every acre of land you can," we find agricultural committees composed only of landowners having to make recommendations to the Secretary of State—
I shall be pleased to answer if I am allowed by the Chair. The Sutherlandshire Agricultural War Executive Committee has as its chairman Colonel Gunn, aged 76, who is retired from the Army and has never tilled half-an-acre of land in his life. The secretary is —
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Member must not go into names. He was only asked to name one committee.
§ Mr. Colville
I cannot allow that to pass. The hon. Member is making a statement which is wholly inaccurate. This committee is largely composed of practising farmers.
I dispute that, but I will not go into it now. I have certain questions addressed to the Secretary of State, and he knows that I never shirk an issue on which I have information.
1042 I will place it with the best advantage to the country before the House at the first opportunity. The point remains, in regard to this Clause, that the procedure is inadequate and will not make for efficiency in Scottish agriculture. If any of the working-class lads of Maryhill who have been called up to defend the country neglected their duties or took steps to see that others did so, they would be dealt with by the law as acting against the interests of the nation. This Clause, however, does nothing to a landowner in Scotland who neglects his land. It gives him the maximum number of avenues of escape. It leaves it wholly in the hands of the Secretary of State to decide after the agricultural committee have made a recommendation. It takes it out of the hands of the Secretary of State by giving the owner an appeal to a Scottish Land Court, but it then comes back to the Scottish Secretary who may make a grant to this unpatriotic landowner to help him pay the expenses which the Scottish Secretary thinks he ought to pay for neglecting his duty. It is a ridiculous Clause, which has been drafted in order to give landowners in Scotland the maximum means of escaping from "their duty to agriculture. It will not assist the farmers, but will react against the farming community by preventing them taking advantage of the land. It will stultify their efforts and affect the food production policy very materially. The Clause is a disgrace to the Government and ought not to be accepted without severe investigation.
§ Mr. Leslie
Is it not the case that the Sutherland County Council unanimously protested four times against the composition of the agricultural committee?
§ Mr. Colville
I do not know whether I can answer in detail about the Sutherland County Council, but they were allowed to nominate members, and did not do so. The committee is largely composed of practising farmers.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the chairman of the committee was appointed before the county council was consulted at all; that the council sent four resolutions of protest about the appointment to the committee; and that when three members of the council, all experts, were invited to attend the committee, they stated that they would first wait for the reply from the Scottish Secretary to their protest?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
We cannot turn "this into a debate on the actions of the Sutherlandshire Agricultural Committee.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Colville
I hope to find another opportunity of answering the hon. Member, because I would not like the Press to form a wrong impression of what has taken place in Sutherlandshire, where the committee are working actively for the purpose for which they were appointed. The object of this Clause—and the hon. Member's violent wrangling may be tempered when he realises it—is to make good an omission in the Act of 1930 passed by the Labour Government for dealing with the same trouble. That Act enables an owner whose land is endangered by the failure of another owner to keep his watercourses in proper order to apply to the sheriff for a warrant ordering the carrying out of the work, and the sheriff may direct that the cost should be borne by the parties in such proportion as he thinks fit. That procedure was cumbersome and expensive and has been taken little advantage of. It has been found in experience not to be effective. Therefore, the hon. Member's violent attack on the Clause in this Bill is a little out of place, because the Clause is designed to deal with the same problem. He spoke so violently about it that I am wondering what has converted him during the last 10 years.
§ Mr. Colville
I do not know why the hon. Member has become so violent a convert after all this time. The purpose of the Clause is to enable the Secretary of State to enforce the clearing of watercourses so as to ensure that land is not damaged. It is framed so that the cost may be recovered and it provides rights of appeal. I have in mind that the important thing is to get the work done. In many cases it cannot be done unless some provision of this sorties made. Therefore, we have included this provision. Having in mind the fact that the Bill is a war Measure for the purpose of speedily getting into cultivation land which is at present unsuitable for cultivation, I suggest that the method that we are proposing in the Clause is the most suitable.
Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the point that I 1044 raised in regard to initiative being taken first of all by the war agricultural committees, and will he say what kind of initiative he expects from a committee when the agent of a landowner is upon it?
§ Mr. Colville
I think, Colonel Clifton Brown, that we are getting near to a delicate subject again. The composition of the committees in Scotland is very largely of practical farmers. The hon. Member shows a complete lack of knowledge of the situation in Scotland when he suggests that the committees are composed mainly of landowners, and I would not like this opportunity to pass without saying that the suggestion made that agricultural executive committees in Scotland are not fulfilling their difficult duties as well as they can is entirely wrong. They are doing their best and tackling their job very seriously and effectively indeed.
§ Remaining Clauses ordered to stand part of the Bill.