HC Deb 17 July 1940 vol 363 cc233-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £304,527, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1941, for the salaries and expenses of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, including grants for land improvement, agricultural education, research and marketing, expenses in respect of regulation of agricultural wages, a grant in respect of agricultural credits; certain grants in aid, and remanet payments of subsidy for oats and barley."—[NOTE.—£145,000 has been voted on account.]

3.45 p.m.

The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Clifton Brown)

Before we proceed to discuss the Estimate for the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, I would mention that I understand that hon. Members also wish to bring into their speeches points arising under the Votes for the Department of Health for Scotland and for the Police. Those Votes are also set down for to-day. If it is the wish of the Committee to take them together, I shall be very pleased to accede to that course.

3.46 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ernest Brown)

I wish only to serve the desires of the Committee, but I believe that hon. Members understand why I propose to deal only with agriculture in my opening speech, and to keep the other points to be replied to later.

Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)

I certainly think that that would be a convenient procedure. I realise with the right hon. Gentleman that we cannot expect matters incidental to other Votes to be covered in the Minister's initial statement.

Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)

Am I to understand that the Committee are to discuss Scottish agriculture, but at the same time to roam all over the field with regard to Scottish housing? If so, we might as well know where we are. It is going to be a terribly hotch-potch Debate. I have a lot of things I might say on agriculture, housing and police.

The Deputy-Chairman

If the Committee do not agree to the proposal, I shall have to confine the Debate to agriculture.

Mr. Buchanan

I suggest that we take agriculture, limit our time, and then go on to police and talk about that, rather than have a cross-current Debate.

Mr. E. Brown

On that point, I am in this difficulty. While I have no desire but to serve the wishes of the Committee or to stand in the way of the discussion of other relevant matters, for myself, since notice was given last Thursday for an agricultural discussion, I feel that the issues are so important that I propose to confine my opening speech to agriculture. It might be difficult to fix an appropriate time without doing injustice to hon. Members who wish to speak on the Agriculture Vote. As I said before, I am only anxious to serve this Committee. I therefore propose to take the Agriculture Vote first, and hon. Members can bear the limitations In mind.

Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

Surely there is no need to consider the limitation of time, because the Eleven o'Clock Rule has been suspended.

The Deputy-Chairman

The Rule has not been suspended.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

If the two Votes are taken separately will hon. Members have an equal opportunity of catching your eye on both points?

The Deputy-Chairman

It might be for the convenience of the Committee if we left the matter like this: With regard to those hon. Members who wish to talk on police or housing, the Chair can try to call them towards the end of the Debate, but I would not stop hon. Members who wish to make a reference to housing in the course of their speeches, and instead of making a second speech they can make a reference to housing, etc., during their speech on agriculture.

Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)

What is the position regarding food? It seems to me to be an impossibility to separate the food question from other difficulties that arise for agriculturists. Does your Ruling mean, Colonel Clifton Brown, that we must have no reference to matters which might be considered questions for the Minister of Food?

The Deputy-Chairman

The Ministry of Food Vote will be taken to-morrow, and, therefore, it is a question which must be postponed till to-morrow.

3.53 p.m.

Mr. E. Brown

In discussing this Estimate to-day, we are discussing Scotland's contribution to the national larder in war-time. It is from this larder that we all draw our rations. It is filled partly by home production and partly by imports from overseas. The conditions in which we are waging this war compel us to cut our imports from overseas and, therefore, to adjust our home production to the essential needs of the people. These needs have to be assessed in the light of the best available scientific knowledge. They mean a simpler diet, in all probability a healthier diet, and it is to our farmers that we look to provide the essential and the simple things. We have to produce more from our own land; we have to get more acres under cultivation. But the effort does not stop there. We have to improve the land and increase the yield from every part of it. We have to hear in mind the old saying, that two potatoes should grow where one grew before. All this effort requires a comprehensive adjustment of our farming economy, and that is the basic war fact.

The whole organisation of the Agricultural Department of Scotland was turned in a day into a war production machine, and the whole resources of Scottish agriculture have been devoted to the supreme task of contributing to victory. It is an important contribution, for although Scotland is a small country, Scottish agriculture—Scottish milk, potatoes, wheat, wool, oats, beef and mutton and the rest —plays a very big part in our peace-time economy and will play a bigger, although a different, one in war. In describing this effort it is not possible to give detailed facts and figures about production, because it might help the enemy, but I hope to convey to hon. Members a broad and accurate picture of Scotland's wartime effort to meet the nation's need for these essential foods.

Before going into some detail. I would like to make one or two general observations. In the adjustments which are being made Scottish agriculture is presented with a great opportunity. It was during periods of adversity that Scottish agriculture made some of its greatest advances. It may be—and I think I see some signs of it—that another great advance will be made in this period of trial. Anyway it is certain that Scottish farmers and workers are seizing the opportunity with all their energy, skill and resource.

As the Committee knows, the main instruments of our war-[...]ime policy in Scottish agriculture are our agricultural executive committees. The preliminary arrangements for setting up these committees had been made before the war broke out. Their business is to secure the increased production of home-produced food which we want, and to deal with the innumerable local problems which arise in a war-time agriculture. The members of the committees had already been selected, and the day after war broke out these committees came into being in each of the 40 districts into which Scotland is divided for this purpose. Their members, who give their services free, were selected primarily on account of their knowledge of agriculture in the areas concerned. They are composed of people with agricultural experience and knowledge of local conditions, enabling them to carry out effectively and equitably the Government's plans for food production. Each committee has one or more lady members to look after the training, supply and the welfare of the Women's Land Army. I would like to take this opportunity at once of paying tribute to the members of these committees for the magnificent way in which they have worked during the past nine months on the heavy tasks entrusted to them.

As soon as the committees were constituted they were invested with powers. There are two principal powers, the first of which is to give directions with respect to the cultivation, management and use of agricultural land; and the second, with the consent of the Secretary of State, to take possession of land or control the tenancy of land in suitable cases. Their first task, of course, was to secure increased cultivation and production of crops. With the assistance of parish or district sub-committees, they proceeded at once to make a survey of the farms in their districts. The greater part of this work was completed by the end of the year, and the work of issuing formal directions to farmers requiring the ploughing-up of agreed or selected fields was then proceeded with. In some cases it proved to be necessary for the committees to exercise, with my consent, the power to terminate tenancies and to take possession of agricultural land which was riot being cultivated at all or not being cultivated according to the rules of good husbandry.

Now may I say a word about the work of the committees? The problem on which they have been engaged of securing increased cultivation in Scotland, is, of course, very different from that in England. Scotland has no low-lying areas of permanent grass such as there are in England. In Scotland there are 1,600,000 acres of permanent grass as compared with 15,700,000 in England. Much of the country is hill land on which arable cultivation is out of the question. The acreage of mountain and heath land is about 10,500,000 out of a Great Britain total of 16,000,000 acres of such land. It comprises more than half the total land area of Scotland. Our lower arable land on the East coast and in the Midlands, was already, of course, in pre-war days, fanned on a large scale and some of our arable or potentially arable land had to be taken over for the requirements of the Service Departments.

Mr. Woodburn

How many acres of land which had not been cultivated, have been taken over for cultivation?

Mr. Brown

I will come to that later. As I was saying, the situation is different in Scotland because of the effects of the natural configuration of that country. There is the low land near the coast and in the Midlands and there is also that beautiful and wonderful hill country.

Mr. John Morgan (Doncaster)

The Minister is not suggesting that that wonderful hill country is not of use, agriculturally?

Mr. Brown

No, I am certainly not suggesting that and if the hon. Member will only wait he will find that some of the proposals which we have made—

4.3 p.m.

Whereupon The GENTLEMAN USHER OF THE BLACK ROD being come with a Message, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair.

Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.

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