§ Again considered in Committee.
§ [Colonel CLIFTON BROWN in the Chair.]
Question again 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.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Brown
I was saying when I was interrupted that the effects of the natural configuration of Scotland have made the problem in that country very different from that in England. There is, in short, now, as indeed there was at the beginning of the war, less "slack" to take up in Scotland. Nevertheless, we were determined that the very best use should be made of our land as we found it in spite of the relatively small proportion of permanent grass in Scotland, farmers gave notice of their intention to plough up some 280,000 acres of old grassland under the subsidy scheme. Moreover, land which cannot be ploughed may be grazed, and we could not afford to neglect our large areas of rough grazings and lands normally devoted to sport. Therefore, we took powers to deal not only with land used for agriculture, but with all land capable of agricultural use. With these powers in reserve, agricultural executive committees have been active in co-operation with the owners and occupiers concerned in arranging for the grazing of cattle and sheep on golf courses, deer forests and grouse moors. Already encouraging progress has been made. Golf clubs made a ready response to the call to graze sheep on their courses, and recent returns show that, compared with last summer, the deer forests are now carrying over 1,050 more cattle and 24,000 more sheep—an increase of 66 per cent. and 50 per cent. respectively.
Of course, much more remains to be done. The Scottish Land Court are at present carrying out surveys of the deer forests in some of the northern counties. This is being done with a view to ascertaining the numbers of sheep and cattle that could be carried on these forests, and I am much indebted to them for giving this help. The survey for Ross-shire is already complete, and further surveys will follow. They will form the basis of further action by the committees, and if in any case it should appear that the national interest requires that possession 240 should be taken of forests to secure their full pastoral use I shall not hesitate to authorise the necessary action. Already the Ross-shire committee is taking steps to deal with four forests.
This question of deer forests is not an easy one. I say that in case wild ideas are prevalent as to the results. But careful analysis of the situation shows that of the 3,400,000 acres of land estimated in 1919 to be comprised in deer forests a comparatively small area could with advantage be brought into agricultural use. The Royal Commission in 1892 scheduled only some 1,750,000 acres in the Highlands and Islands as suitable for crofter settlement or as farm grazing subjects. Close upon 500,000 acres have been already settled or acquired for afforestation. The stocking of deer forests with sheep and cattle can only be a gradual process, because animals of hardy breed are required, and they cannot be produced out of the conjurer's hat or a peroration. The risks of loss on strange and often dangerous ground are very real and grave, and there is little evidence of a desire on the part of sheep farmers or crofters to face them. That selected spots in deer forest areas can be improved and utilised will not be contested, and they will be found, but for the immediate purposes of food production their value is quite frankly little.
There is another direction, however, in which progress might be made, and I hope will be made, towards more effective use of the 10,000,000 acres of rough grazings in Scotland. A large proportion of this land outside the deer forests is in the occupation of hill sheep farmers. The land has deteriorated owing to the impossibility of finding from the industry enough return to pay for adequate reconditioning. It cannot, therefore, carry as much stock as it did, and so the returns diminish. My Department recently asked some members of the Advisory Council to look into this, and I am now examining with great care the suggestions that they have put forward. The most important is that a great deal of this land could be improved and the returns from it increased if there were more cattle on the hills. Cattle increase fertility and keep down bracken. I have little doubt that, given reasonable price levels, it will be greatly to the advantage of the sheep farming industry if the former combination of cattle and sheep 241 can be restored. Hon. Members will realise, however, that the reconditioning of hill farms in this way would be a slow business, and would not greatly affect our immediate food production policy.
In these days food production is not merely a matter of the farm. A good deal can be done in allotments and private gardens. My predecessor—to whom again I would like to pay tribute—appointed a committee on 1st April, under the chairmanship of Sir Robert Greig, to deal with this important question. We were aware in the Department that local authorities were taking active steps, but that the public response had been disappointing. The number of new allotments formed since the outbreak of war fell very far short of the total of 50,000 at which the Government were aiming for Scotland. The Government decided that immediate and intensive action should be taken before the end of April, by means of films, posters, newspaper articles, leaflets and broadcasts, to call attention to the urgent importance of growing food in allotments and private gardens. Of course, 30,000 allotments in Scotland would produce enough food to save a good deal of shipping, and the committee set about securing that figure in the first instance. The total number of allotments in Scotland at the end of April was: provided by local authorities and private enterprise, 29,300; military allotments equipped by the "Jock's Box," a fund which has been started by Scottish Newspapers Association, Ltd., 1,400; plots on railway embankments, 3,000—making a total of 33,700.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Has the committee fixed a maximum number of allotments which they hope to obtain?
§ Mr. Brown
The Government have set out to obtain, as I said, at least 50,000. The question arises as to the disposal of the surplus fruit and vegetables from these allotments and private gardens. That is not my responsibility. It is the responsibility of the Minister of Food; but the Allotments Committee, under Sir Robert Greig, have agreed to act in an advisory capacity in this matter to the Ministry in Scotland. The organisation contemplated for operation in the next phase of the intensive campaign for food 242 production will have regard to the close relationship which must exist between production and disposal. In collaboration with the Chief Divisional Office of the Ministry of Food in Scotland arrangements are under consideration with a Disposals Pool Committee of Distributors by which groups of allotment holders and private gardeners forming small right food units for purposes of production will be used as collecting channels in order to facilitate proper grading, packing and care of empties, as well as payment of the proceeds through a limited number of centres. I hope that that will have a great success, and I am sure that it will acid to the effectiveness of the campaign.
Having said that about the past, let me say something about the future. I would like to say a word about our plans for 1941, because the crops and the produce that we look for next year, will depend on the plans we make now. My Department and the committees must see that the directions we give suit Scottish conditions. It is in the light of these circumstances, and on the advice of my experts, that I have asked the executive committees in Scotland to aim at a large addition to the tillage area in Scotland for next year's harvest. The work of carrying out the necessary surveys is now in hand. Let me make it quite clear at the very beginning that it must be obvious, in view of the nature of our Scottish farming system, that a further substantial increase in the tillage area can best be achieved by ploughing up more of the rotation pasture land. We must frankly realise that this will involve an upset of the present, or normal, balance of Scottish agriculture. This is inevitable, and it calls for no apology. The change now required implies the utilisation of a greater proportion yet of good arable land for the growing of food crops rather than the production of mutton and beef. Our investigation has shown that, on an average throughout Great Britain, on average quality land 100 acres under potatoes will keep 418 people for a year; under wheat, 208 people; under oats, 172 people; while that acreage used for the production of beef and mutton will keep only nine people for a year. Those figures are eloquent. They have a direct bearing on the nation's needs in war-time, and on the diet to which I have referred.
243 More of the older grass-land will also be broken up. The continuation of the £2 subsidy until 31st March, 1941, will be an incentive to farmers to make such land available for crops. In our view—and this view has been expressed to the industry—farmers should be required to break up half of what would normally be kept as the oldest rotation grass. Where rotation pasture is kept for more than three years the farmers will be required to plough a break additional to the normal break. Farms which have been laid down to pasture since 1918 will have to make a substantial contribution to the tillage area. The committees will endeavour to select for ploughing the land which is capable of producing the largest crops. These general rules have been laid down for the guidance of the committees, and the committees, with their local knowledge, will apply them to individual farms in the light of circumstances disclosed by their surveys. Special consideration will necessarily be given to dairy farms, in view of the prime importance of maintaining our milk supply. On such farms, as elsewhere, we shall take steps to encourage the renovation of inferior pastures. It would be a mistaken policy to exhaust our resources of arable land without taking steps to make the poorer grassland capable of taking its place later in a balanced rotation. All this increased ploughing may be upsetting the farmers with settled ways, but in war time we must work to a speedier and more energetic tempo. It will involve some reductions in the number of livestock between now and the spring of 1941. Some of our low-ground flocks of breeding ewes and some of our beef cattle may have to go, to make room for the plough. But against this we may hope that increased utilisation of rough hill pastures will enable more sheep and cattle to be grazed elsewhere than on arable land. In this way we can make the best use of the land which is in cultivation, and bring into production the untapped resources of our country.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
Has the Minister any estimate of the actual acreage which will be brought into production?
§ Mr. Brown
Not at the moment. The survey is under way. But I have already pointed out, in regard to Ross-shire, what the estimate is there. In the inter-war 244 years our sheep-farming industry has tended too much to concentrate on the arable land. We want above all to encourage hill sheep farming in Scotland. It is the reservoir of the foundation stocks of the Cheviot and Blackface breeds, which can live on hill lands that otherwise would be put to no economic productive use; but the fertile lands of the plains and coastal areas—precious because they are relatively so small—should be given to the fullest extent to the production of grain, potatoes, and other crops in the hands of our expert husbandmen. There is no better husbandry in all the world.
It may well be said that the mere ploughing and cropping of acres is of little value unless the land is in a position to produce reasonably good crops. There are one or two aspects of this question of productivity upon which I would like to say a few words. There is no doubt that much of the agricultural land in this country is under-fertilised, and in need of lime and phosphates particularly. The Land Fertility Scheme, under which lime is subsidised to the ex tent of half the cost, and basic slag to the extent of one-third, has had very beneficial results in Scotland. More than 684,000 tons of lime and over 169,000 tons of basic slag have been sent to Scottish farms under this scheme. The Government are urging farmers to buy fertilisers nom—and those who know the agricultural world and have regard to what is happening in other parts of the world will understand why I emphasise the word "now" for winter use.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
How is the farmer to finance his crops when the borrowing rate of interest is 5 per cent.? If he buys stores, he must borrow the money in order to pay for them?
§ Mr. Brown
I had intended to say a word about credit a little later on, but I was in some doubt as to whether I should as I understand that the situation with regard to credit in Scotland is rather easier than it is in England and Wales. But I will bear that in mind and deal with it when I come to it. I was saying that we are urging the buying of fertilisers now for winter use and we shall do everything possible to ensure adequate supplies. Drainage is another matter of great importance. There is not 245 in Scotland anything like the great water-logged areas of the English fens. Our rivers are mostly short and sharp. But there are thousands of acres of farm land where drainage is inadequate and out of repair. Ever since the last war the Department has operated a scheme of grants to assist farmers in this respect. Grants for this service, which covers tile, hill and mole drainage, ditches and small watercourses, are now available at the rate of 50 per cent. of the cost. Annual cleansing operations are not eligible for grant, nor are the costs of regular normal farm or estate staffs except that it has recently been arranged that in the case of tile drainage the grant may cover the cost of tiles or the cost of labour contributed at the applicant's charge, whichever is the less. The welcome which the increased rate of grant has received is indicated by the fact that for the year up to 30th June the amount of grant rose from £26,043 last year, to £46,801 this year. Applications are still being received, I am glad to say, and the provision for the service this year has been increased from £20,000 to £60,000. Under the Agricultural (Miscellaneous War Provisions) Act, 1940, there is now power to enforce the cleansing and scouring of water-courses, obstructions in which cause damage to neighbouring properties.
I am glad to say that most of the cases of main agricultural units have been dealt with. The committees have called attention to them and they have reached or seem likely to reach a solution by agreement of the parties concerned. They have agreed to do the work required of them with the aid of a grant under this scheme. I am surveying the situation to see whether the powers can usefully be extended in view of the paramount importance of ensuring that no land which can be made capable of agricultural use by proper drainage is left in an unprofitable condition. I have in mind particularly the need for repair of sluices, sluice-valves and embankments on many small rivers and streams throughout the country, and proposals for amending the Act will shortly come before the House. I indicate that, not in order to discuss it, but because I think it will be of importance.
Another way in which increased production can be ensured is by the destruction of pests. Defence Regulation No. 63 246 gives powers to committees to require any person having the right to carry out the destruction of vermin or pests, to take such steps as may be necessary for that purpose, and in the event of non-compliance the committees may authorise persons to enter on the land for the purpose of carrying out the "destruction, killing or taking" specified in the Order. Under this Regulation, committees may also by Order authorise the killing of deer on any land for the purpose of preventing damage to crops, trees, or pasturage. The Committee may be interested to know that the number of deer killed in Scotland during 1939–40 amounted to 7,099 stags and 10,971 hinds. These results were achieved largely by co-operation between the occupiers of deer forests and the local agricultural executive committee. A Deer Control Officer was also appointed to assist both the organisation of deer killing and the disposal of venison. Operations for the destruction of deer and rabbits are expected to be undertaken on a wide scale this season.
As regards rabbits, which as hon. Members may know, seriously threaten, in some parts, the success of this season's increased cultivation campaign, committees throughout the country are at present doing all they can to reduce the number of these pests. They are pursuing this object as far as possible with the willing co-operation of the responsible occupiers, but where necessary they are empowered—and they will exercise their powers—to serve orders requiring the rabbits to be destroyed. If these orders are not complied with, the committees will enter on the land and carry out the necessary destruction themselves without prejudice for the taking of action against the defaulters.
§ Sir R. W. Smith (Aberdeen, Central)
Can my right hon. Friend say in how many cases, they have used that power this summer?
This is a very serious question and I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear the point carefully in mind, because this has been a very prolific season for a very prolific breed of rabbit?
§ Mr. Brown
I understand that point. I know that my hon. Friend has taken a very great interest in the matter, and that is why I emphasise it now. In order to encourage landowners, farmers, and other occupiers of land to take the 247 necessary steps to clear rabbit-infested land, the Department arranged with Scottish Agricultural Industries, Limited, to supply for a period a gas powder at half the current retail price, provided the district agricultural executive committee certify that it is required for the destruction of rabbits. This powder can easily be employed for this purpose and requires the minimum of labour, thereby overcoming one of the great obstacles to dealing effectively with this pest at the present time, namely, the shortage of trappers and other suitable labour for the employment of the usual methods of rabbit destruction.
§ Mr. Robert Gibson (Greenock)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the rabbits that are destroyed are fit for food?
§ Mr. Brown
Certainly. Extended powers have also been given under the Defence Regulations to occupiers of arable land, gardens, permanent grasslands and enclosed woodlands to kill any deer found on their holding. These powers give occupiers the right to protect their own crops and will not interfere in any way with the powers of agricultural committees. Similarly, the rights of occupiers have been extended to enable them to kill hares and rabbits on their own holdings. There are other pests too with which committees have had to deal, such as rooks, wild geese, wood pigeons, etc., and efforts are being made to induce farmers and others to wage warfare against that arch-enemy the rat.
Now let me say a few words about supplies necessary for the work of the farm. These include seeds, fertilisers. feeding-stuffs, petrol, machinery and implements. As the Committee will appreciate, the problems arising are for the most part common to the whole country, and have to be dealt with in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Food and other Departments. I wish to refer to one which affects us particularly—that of tractors. We have operated a scheme in Scotland for making tractors available to farmers who were unable to make their own arrangements for ploughing and cultivation work. It was decided that, as in the last war, this service should be undertaken, in Scotland, directly by the Department. Our share of the Government's tractor reserve available during 248 the ploughing season was gradually built up to a total of 200 tractors with the necessary complement of implements.
The total acreage dealt with by units of this reserve, in such operations as ploughing, harrowing, etc., up to the middle of May, was over 25,000, which, the Committee will agree, is a very creditable performance, considering that in most districts field operations were impossible from the beginning of the year until February and in some cases until well into March. Harvest time is approaching and my Department are in process of arranging to assist those farmers who are unable to carry out the in-gathering of the crops themselves, It is hoped to have a total of 300 outfits, comprising tractors and binders, available for harvest work, together with some 250 harvest trailers for "leading in." We are also arranging for 23 portable threshing mills to be delivered for use in those districts where it is anticipated that a shortage of threshing facilities will arise. In order to secure the necessary labour for the reinforcement of the present staff of tractor drivers, the Department have arranged for adequate training facilities at colleges and selected industrial establishments.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I ask that more of the men who are experts in threshing machines, tractors and so on, should be taken out of the forces now, if they can be spared at all, and replaced by other men. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that he will not take any more men out of this business?
§ Mr. Brown
That has been arranged. The Committee knows that there you have the old story of the balance between the forces on the one hand, and the land on the other. A particularly difficult situation arose when we suddenly extended the Territorial Army and when the Government had to decide whether the Schedule of Reserved Occupations should or should not apply to the Territorial Army. In another capacity I explained to this House that it was extremely difficult to make a decision, but there is no doubt whatever, as I shall show the Committee in moment, that the arrangements already made have greatly assisted. While I do not pretend that all the difficulties have been overcome, 249 there is no doubt whatever that the Service Departments have been as helpful as they could he in view of their own clamant demands.
I will say a few words about the labour supply, which is being assisted by the operation of schemes devised to provide supplementary labour. In many parts of the country teams of school boys are working, from the schools, and later, many of them will operate from holiday fanning camps in suitable localities. Students have offered their services, and many women have joined the ranks of the auxiliary force of the Women's Land Army, recruited for the special purpose of providing the farmer with labour for his seasonal needs. Arrangements have also been made to facilitate the employment of roadmen in agriculture during the busy season ahead. The farmer has, so far, shown little disposition to take advantage of the various schemes of unskilled labour offered to him. It is due first to the conditions of the summer and the prospect of an early harvest, and secondly, to considerations as to the price level, before the settlement was originally made. Nevertheless, since it is likely that a demand for more farm labour will arise as the time of the main harvest draws near, I have impressed upon those farmers who will he short of workers that they should, at once, notify their requirements for harvest and other seasonal operations to their agricultural executive committees or local Employment Exchanges. The quicker that is done, the easier it will be for all concerned to meet their needs.
With regard to the permanent staffs on the farms, which was the point raised by the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan)—we have taken steps to enable farmers to retain their workers and to get back the skilled labour which they need. There has been the release from the Army of a certain number of "key" men, the postponement of the calling-up of those liable for military service, and the recent lowering to 18 of the age of reservation in the case of workers in the main agricultural classes. These are all measures which have greatly contributed towards easing labour difficulties. I am advised that these measures have had the effect of maintaining almost unimpaired the skilled labour force necessary as a nucleus for the food production campaign, but I do not wish for a moment to belittle individual difficulties.
250 I now come to the problem of prices. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and I recently announced increased prices for most of the main agricultural commodities produced this year. For oats there will be a maximum price of 14s. 6d. per cwt. As we are all aware this has been a difficult problem and for many years, as my hon. Friends from the north-east of Scotland know, the price of oats has been a most important item in Scottish agriculture. The price now fixed is the same as the enhanced price to be guaranteed for wheat. I am not suggesting that a maximum price is the same as a guaranteed price, but I am advised that there will be little doubt that the maximum price will be realised for oats of good quality. Lest this view should be erroneous—and hon. Members know, by this time, that I am a cautious man—and lest the average price for this year's crop drops far below expectations, the Government propose to ask the House to approve an Order raising the standard price—that is the price fixed under the Agricultural Development Act of last year for the purpose of underpinning the market—to 11s. 6d. per cwt. for the 1940 crop. The same will apply to rye.
With regard to barley, the barley sold for matting will he free from price restriction, but for feeding barley the maximum price will be 14s. 6d. per cwt. The machinery for underpinning the barley market by a scheme under the 1939 Act is not appropriate for war conditions. The Government are prepared to take steps in the event of unexpected developments in the barley situation, to safeguard producers against a slump in price. Feeding barley prices are a matter of some concern to Scotland, not because barley is a specially important Scottish crop, but because the restriction on distilling may throw on to the feeding market a certain amount of barley normally used for distilling.
As large growers of potatoes, Scottish farmers are specially interested in the price and purchase arrangements for this crop, especially in regard to any surplus production, a point which specially affects us in view of the lateness of our season. It has already been announced that the Ministry of Food will take over all sound marketable surplus. This undertaking, I am sure, will be welcomed 251 because it will relieve the anxiety in large producing areas which this year have increased their acreage in the national interest. With regard to prices for main crop potatoes the principles applied with success during the past season will be adopted, namely, the prescription of prices with appropriate district and seasonal variations. It is intended that prices will be fixed at levels designed to secure to the producer in general an increased return and the increase aimed at is of the order of 20 per cent, per acre, in order to compensate for increased labour and other costs. The Committee will appreciate that it will not be possible to get down to the actual figures until the size of the crop is known.
§ Sir Ernest Shepperson (Leominster)
I assume there will be a fixed controlled price in Scotland? Will there be a control of seed potatoes which English farmers have to buy from Scotland?
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Ministry of Food will take over all surplus potatoes?
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
The right hon. Gentleman has not made clear the position about seed potatoes.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan
It was a general complaint last year that the seed potatoes sent here were a foul lot.
§ Mr. Brown
I have not had it brought to my notice except at this moment by the hon. Member. The scheme which I intend to outline later, when [...] come to deal with the Highland problem, has been generally welcomed and I should be sorry to hear his generalities applied to the whole scheme. Coming to livestock, the question of the future curse of cattle prices is under urgent consideration by an expert committee on which Scotland is represented by Professor Patterson, Mr. Reid, who is a member of the Department's Advisory Committee, and the chairman of the Scottish National Farmers' Union, Mr. Graham. so that Scotland's interests will be well formulated and well expressed. The question is complicated, on the one hand by the vital need to observe economy in the use of imported feeding-stuffs, and on the other by the fact that the producers' labour and other costs are substantially higher than they were. As an interim measure, for the duration of the present grass-feeding season, a revised schedule of fat cattle prices was put into force from 15th July designed to hold the balance fairly for the time being between these different considerations. Before the end of the eight weeks during which this schedule will apply, the whole question of future price policy in its relation to the need for the conservation of the nation's meat supply, will be exhaustively considered in all its aspects, and, of course, the producers' representatives will be consulted with regard to the longer term revision of fat cattle prices. Scotland is deeply interested in this question because of the difficulty of reconciling with the war needs of the time the maintenance of that high quality production for which she is so famous. Anything in the nature of catering for a luxury market is difficult to defend in these days and the production of super-beef must, to some extent, be discouraged.
With regard to sheep, substantially increased prices have been announced. For sheep, the new prices, which include a new price level of 1s. ad. a lb. average over the year for fat sheep and 1s. 3½d. for fat lambs, came into operation on the 1st July. The previous averages were 253 1s. and 1s. 1½d. Prices of the order now in force should, in my view, prove satisfactory to sheep producers. The increased prices to be paid by the Ministry of Supply for wool—which is a tough and not a soft subject—represent increases in the case of blackface wool of 65 per cent. over pre-war rates and in the case of cheviot wool, 45 per cent. Resulting prices are 1s. 0½d. for blackface and 1s. 3½d. for cheviot. These prices include a substantial element of subsidy which takes into account the special needs of certain classes of sheep farmers. An addition at the rate of 3½ per cent. interest with effect from 1st September, 1940, will be made in respect of wool, not taken over by the Ministry of Supply before that date.
With regard to credit facilities, I understand that considerable advantage has been taken of the England and Wales scheme whereby agricultural executive committees have themselves acted as bankers to needy farmers on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture but in Scotland the banks are handling the whole business of agricultural credit, by agreement with the Department. The reasons for the difference of plan were: first, that it appeared likely that the English scheme would not so much increase the total credit available to farmers as divert from the banks some of the worst of their business; second, the Scottish banks were probably in more sympathetic touch with the farming community than the English; third, that the Scottish banks were willing to co-operate to increase the farmers' credit where reasonably possible in the ordinary way of business. [An HON. MEMBER: "At what rate?"] I think the normal rate of interest is about 5 per cent.
§ Mr. Davidson
Agriculture is a national institution, and therefore we should have the highest amount of profit going to the banks.
§ Mr. Brown
It is extraordinary what an amount of prejudice is aroused in the minds of some hon. Members on the subject of bank credit, but I should be out of order if I pursued that question. In Scotland, the banks are held in very high esteem and are known as institutions which not only deal with their own money, but act as trustees for others.
Is it not a fact that the obligation on the borrower in Scotland counts for far more than in England?
§ Mr. Brown
I would offset that by the interruption made by the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson). We have found that it is better for the industry to deal directly with the banks than use the other machinery and as I understand it, from the first returns of the banks of advances to farmers in Scotland, the farmers' overdrafts there are less than they were in peace-time. That rather suggests that while, no doubt, there may be exceptions in the case of hill-sheep farmers, on the whole the effect of higher prices operating since the war has gone some way to improving the farmers' plight. However, if hon. Members put before me any reasons for the need of something extra to be done I will give it most sympathetic consideration but the whole position in Scotland is easier from the agricultural point of view than it was before the war.
I want to say a word about agricultural wages. The decisions recently announced by the Government with regard to agricultural prices were bound up with their proposals for dealing with the problem of agricultural labour by the two-fold policy of binding such labour to the land and at the same time ensuring that it is adequately remunerated. I should like to say at once that the farmers' organisation in Scotland has for long recognised the need for an improvement in agricultural wages and given assurances that they would welcome a rise in wages if they were put in a position to pay more. There was no doubt about their readiness to accept the price and the wages policy of the Government. The machinery for effecting immediate wage increases did, however, present some little difficulty because neither the employers' nor the workers' organisations desired the application to Scotland of the recent English Act which gave the Central Wages Board power at their own hands to fix a national minimum wage. At the time when a new policy was announced a Scottish Bill was passing through Parliament which, while it gave powers of review to the Scottish Wages Central Board, still left the initiative in wage fixation with the eleven district committees.
I was able to have discussions with both sides of the industry to find out 255 whether they desired an alteration in the light of the new policy. The answer was "No." The unions were in agreement with the object of the Government's plans and, as a result of the joint action of their nominees, the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board at their meeting on 17th June invited committees to proceed with an immediate revision of the existing rates. Certain recommendations were made by the Board as to the considerations which the committees were to keep in mind in carrying out their task. In order that the revised rates might be brought into force with the minimum of delay an Order-in-Council was made on 26th June which has the effect of dispensing, save to such extent as the Secretary of State may by order direct, with the statutory requirement that committees shall give notice of and consider objections to their proposals. Committees have tackled the new problem with admirable promptitude and revised proposals for all districts have now been presented to the Board. After their meeting on 12th July the Board announced that they proposed forthwith to make orders giving effect to the committee's proposals and that the new rates would come into force next week. The Board also announced that they are proceeding to a detailed examination of the provisions of the Orders with a view to the exercise, where necessary, of the powers conferred upon them by the Act of 1940 of varying any of the minimum rates laid down. I think that all parties, and not least the Central Board under the able chairmanship of Mr. Gordon McIntyre, are to be congratulated on the statesmanlike way in which they have dealt with the matter.
There is one other feature of the wages situation to which I should refer. Many workers have been paid wages substantially in excess of the prescribed minimum rates and it is admitted that, especially in the case of single men, owing to competitive conditions rates have been in many cases so high that there has been a disequilibrium between those rates and the rates paid to the married men, who are the backbone of the industry. It is to be hoped that the new policy, in achieving its main object of bringing agricultural wages into better relationship with those paid in other rural employment, will also tend towards a better equilibrium within the industry itself. I hope that 256 farmers generally will see that their experienced married men get the full advantage of the upward movement.
A review of the work of the Department of Agriculture would not be complete without a reference to the Highlands. The Highlands have special problems of their own in war no less than in peacetime. The Highlands and Islands, though they may seem remote from the more obvious problems and calamities of the war, certainly do not escape its effects, indeed in some respects they suffer particularly from them. The men of the Highlands and Islands have always been in the forefront of the fighting services and, as in the last war, thousands of them have gone to the high seas or fought and suffered on the battlefields of Belgium and France. In many cases it is the old and the very young who are left to carry on the work of the crofts as best they may. Holidaymaking is at a discount and in other respects abnormal conditions prevail. Moreover, the as has inevitably meant the postponement of many of those schemes which were recommended to the Government by the Highlands and Islands Economic Committee and on which my predecessor made a statement last August. I am glad to say, however, that a recent report by one of the Department's officers on conditions in the Western Isles gives some ground for hope that improvements in the agricultural position will be of great benefit. Particularly I understand there is optimism regarding the prospects of sheep prices. I will quote his observations in brief:Evident abundance of food in the islands. General state of well being is noticeable. Peat cutting and potato planting have proceeded under favourable weather conditions. Cultivation increased and veil advanced. At Eoligarry, Barra, a field uncultivated for 120 years has been ploughed up by a group of holders. Drainage is being put in in many new cases with the assistance of grants. There is a good stock of cattle ready for the sales.The main agricultural industry of the Highlands, of course, is stock-rearing, but nearly every holding has its little patch of arable ground to provide food for man and beast. Oats and potatoes are the staple crops. The prices of oats in the past winter and spring, good as they were for the general farmer who has oats to sell, created a problem for the crofter who had to buy seed oats for his cultivations. 257 It was arranged, therefore, that the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society should buy oats and supply them to crofter townships at a subsidised price. The prices fixed were 45s. and 42s. per quarter, according to the variety of oats supplied, and the Department's grant averaged 12s. 6d. a quarter. Over 3,000 quarters of oats were supplied, enough to sow 6,000 acres. The war has led to a curtailment of the schemes for spending money on roads, piers and other works in the congested districts. I hope soon to visit Inverness to discuss these and other problems affecting the Highlands.
I had intended to say a word or two about agricultural education, research and land settlement but I am afraid I have detained the Committee too long already. I hope that in this survey I have not omitted to deal with any important subject. I thought it right to speak at some length on questions peculiar to Scotland rather than on matters which are of common interest to Great Britain or on matters which, while affecting farming interests, might more properly be dealt with to-morrow on the Vote of the Ministry of Food. My officers in Edinburgh and I find everywhere in our discussions with the agricultural community, as represented particularly by the national organisation of farmers and workers and landowners and by the executive committees, a most helpful spirit of co-operation, a readiness at all times to sink partisan interests, to accept sacrifices in the national cause and to join together for the amicable discussion of common problems. That unity of purpose which animates this House and the nation at large is also evident over the length and breadth of rural Scotland and it is, I believe, impregnable against whatever trials and anxieties we may have to face in the months to come. Rural Scotland will plan and labour and pray for victory.
§ Mr. Davidson
Will the right hon. Gentleman make inquiries and arrange for us to know whether any special facilities with regard to credit will be given to small farmers and crofters who are willing to make extensions but are handicapped because of financial considerations.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
The last occasion that we met in Committee of Supply dealing with Scottish affairs was 258 18th June. Our discussions were prefaced by a very important statement by the Prime Minister, and there was then some reluctance to enter upon any extended discussion of purely Scottish affairs. I was glad, however, that quite a useful Debate took place on that occasion. It was led off by a very informative statement by the right hon. Gentleman, and to-day he has put us in his debt by giving a further statement dealing with agriculture which, I am sure, has been a very illuminating picture to the whole Committee. I think perhaps there is a feeling that, in getting down to ordinary, mundane matters, we are not doing what we ought to do in these times, when we should be concentrating all our attention upon matters relating to the prosecution of the war, but I do not take that view, because, judged in the light of these matters with which we are dealing to-day, the war is an incident. To-day we are dealing with fundamental things. We are dealing with the first industry, and have we not the Divine guarantee:While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease"?I am sure it is well on occasion to remind ourselves in these difficult times of that guarantee, a guarantee which will outlast anything that is menacing us at present, a guarantee which will stand when Hitler and those associated with him have become merely agricultural fertiliser.
The right hon. Gentleman has put us in his debt by giving us a very comprehensive statement. I think there is a good deal in that statement with which we can be very well satisfied. It takes us so far on the road. We wish to travel further and, if possible, faster, He told us that we have more land under cultivation, and he proceeded to say that there were 280,000 more acres which had been put under the plough—old grassland which had been ploughed up. I wonder whether that actually represents an increase in the actual acreage. I have had representations made to me to the effect that, while grassland has been ploughed up, in other instances land which had previously been ploughed has not been kept under the plough and that there is a certain falling-off in that direction. I am sure a statement of that kind can easily be checked, and we shall be glad if the Under-Secretary is able to refute it. We have had indications from 259 the right hon. Gentleman of increases in given crops which have been put in cultivation. He did not make any mention of sugar beet. Perhaps we might have some indication of what developments have taken place during this year in that connection. One would imagine that at a time like this, when sugar is so strictly rationed, the cultivation of sugar beet would have an opportunity of being developed. The right hon. Gentleman has told us of different crops which maintain a certain number of people per hundred acres and he gave very eloquent figures in that connection. He has shown us how relatively unimportant meat is in this connection and how very important, at a time of possible food scarcity, the potato has proved itself to be. I think in that respect he is confirming what is a scientific fact, that we do not need to depend quite so much upon flesh meats as we do upon vegetarian diet.
With regard to deer forests, I am sure all hon. Members were glad to hear that there are some thousands of cattle and 24,000 more sheep on land which has hitherto been looked upon as being devoted entirely to deer. That number of sheep is a considerable one, but it is not anything like the number which it ought to be possible to rear in that vast area which is looked upon as deer forest. The Secretary of State spoke of there being 3,500,000 acres of deer forests. I recognise that much of that land could not be used for grazing purposes, but I am sure a very great advance could be made towards putting that great area to a more important use. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the restoration of mixed cattle and sheep farms on hill land, and I think he will have the support of the Committee in pressing those who can do it to carry out that restoration, bringing more land under cultivation, making it more fertile, and causing it to carry a greater number of cattle and sheep. He told us of the effort which the Government have made to develop small allotments, and he said that 50,000 is the number at which the Government are aiming. It is very creditable that at the end of the present period the right hon. Gentleman is able to record that there are 33,700 allotments under cultivation. He mentioned a very acute problem facing many smallholders, and 260 even allotment holders, regarding the disposal of their produce, and I hope that the consultations that are being carried on and the advice that is being taken will bring forth some ideas for saving this fruit and food from going to waste and enabling it to he pu[...] to the best possible use in the interests of our people.
With regard to the prices that have been fixed for different products, I ought to tell the right hon. Gentleman that, as far as I have heard, these prices have given fairly general satisfaction. I hope they will enable the agricultural industry in Scotland to develop and to increase its properity. It is a very welcome thing to hear that a certain amount of Government subsidy has been put behind the wool prices. I think that is completely justified, for undoubtedly the hill farmers, grazing sheep and selling wool, have not come out so well as others have in the matter of subsidies for agricultural products. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement that surplus potatoes of good quality are to be taken over by the Ministry of Food and also his statement concerning the way in which the Agricultural Wages Committees have been getting on with the job of fixing the standard rates. He indicated that that work had been done very expeditiously; I agree with him, and join with him in congratulating those who are responsible.
On the question of pests and their destruction, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the way in which farmers and others can buy a gas powder—Cymag—at half the retail price for the destruction of rabbits, but he did not tell us to what extent farmers have taken advantage of that opportunity. Although I was glad to hear that these pests, which can be very destructive, are being dealt with, I did not hear the right hon. Gentleman mention another pest which has been troubling smallholders, particularly in my constituency. I am thinking of foxes, which can do a tremendous amount of damage, especially to poultry farmers. A single fox which gets into the habit of making its way to a poultry farm can cause an immense amount of destruction. Even though poultry stock, are being cut down, we do not want that cutting down to be left to the foxes; we want to do it in some more deliberate way which will not involve the destruction 261 that foxes cause. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will tell us, when he replies, how the fox pest is being dealt with at the present time.
As to drainage, I was glad to hear that the provision of half the cost of the material or half the cost of the labour, whichever is the smaller, is being readily taken advantage of. This will add greatly [...]o the productivity of the soil. The Minister also spoke of the measures that are being taken to enable farmers to have the necessary labour available for harvesting. I should be glad if we could be told how many applications have been made to the Agricultural Executive Committees, and if we could be given an assurance that in providing, for example, the services of school children for this labour, it will not be a case simply of taking advantage of the cheapest labour available. In these days when we are paying farmers subsidies for various commodities, we want to see them stand up to their undoubted obligation to pay decent wages for the work done on their farms. I hope we can be given an assurance that there will be no question of cheap labour, sweated labour, and unreasonably low wages being paid under this arrangement.
I have already referred to the poultry industry, which is in a state of decline at the present time. I know that orders have gone forth that the stocks of poultry must be cut down. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman's statement about cattle stocks also having to be depleted may possibly show a way of preserving a certain number of poultry as a result of the food that will be saved by doing away with the cattle stocks. The poultry industry is one into which a very large number of small people have put all their savings, and undoubtedly the present tendency will hit them very badly. I should be glad if the Under-Secretary would give us some indication of what is the present position with regard to the poultry industry, and what are its prospects.
In dealing with deer forests, we continue to connect the vast acreage under deer with the possibility of meeting the unsatisfied applications for smallholdings. I am sure there must be very many unsatisfied applications even to-day, many of them no doubt having been outstanding for a long time. It seems to me that the lists ought to be revised and brought up 262 to date from time to time in order that we may have in the reports issued by the Department a true picture of what is the demand for smallholdings. My own experience in dealing with smallholders is that in many cases they find the rules that are laid down by the Department very irksome indeed. This appplies before persons are accepted as tenants of smallholdings. It is demanded in the regulations that they devote their full time to the work of running the holding, and they are called upon to cultivate the holding or prove that they are using all of it to the best possible advantage.
It appears to me that in practice both those rules are very largely disregarded. The undertaking is entered into when a smallholding is let to a tenant, but complaints have reached me from those who have adhered to those two conditions to the effect that others, it may be to some extent competing with those who have complained to me, are in full-time jobs, earning good wages, and simply using the cultivation of the holding as a sort of pastime. Again, complaints are made that certain people who have been able to get holdings have used those holdings only for the purpose of providing themselves with a very desirable country residence; they have not been concerned about the cultivation of the holdings, and have used them only for grazing a few calves or sheep. Complaints of that sort are very difficult to meet. I always find that the officials of the Department of Agriculture are most anxious and most helpful when such complaints have to be dealt with, but the fact remains that in a fair number of cases—in a rather larger number than I care to think—there is a certain amount of dissatisfaction with regard to the conditions under which these holdings are let. I think it might be useful if the Secretary of State would review these conditions and take into account the possibility of easing them in certain directions, having regard to the fact that the cultivation of a holding is a very strenuous job, and that it is most difficult to make a proper livelihood under the conditions which a smallholding imposes upon the tenant.
I hope these conditions may improve. It is clear that it is a very strenuous job and a very difficult task to make a livelihood out of the smallholdings which are available in Scotland, yet, in spite of that, there is this urge to get back to 263 the land. I believe that, if the conditions of tenancy were reviewed so as to make it more easy and less irksome, a considerable amount of good might result, and that the movement might be considerably developed. After the comprehensive sweep of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, my remarks may have sounded rather tame and uninspired, but I offer these comments and ask these questions in the hope that they will be dealt with later in the Debate.
In accordance with your Ruling, Colonel Clifton Brown, I now wish to raise another matter which has no connection with agriculture. This question deals with a reply given by the right hon. Gentleman to a Question last week, and is connected with the Police Vote, which is put down later on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. Woodburn
On a point of Order. Am I correct in understanding, Colonel Clifton Brown, that we were to deal with agriculture at the moment, and then at a later stage, if necessary, introduce any other question, such as questions relating to the Police Vote?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I said quite definitely that I would not stop an hon. Member making short references to other matters, but that if an hon. Member wished to make a speech dealing with other matters, such as housing questions, I would call him later.
§ Mr. Mathers
I will keep within the bounds of your Ruling, Colonel Clifton Brown, and I will not take up much more of the Committee's time. I was disappointed with the tone more than the words of the right hon. Gentleman when he answered, last week, a Question put to him by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. R. Gibson) in connection with the appeal made by the Church of Scotland Women's Guild Organisation for "no treating" in Scottish public houses. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had not received the appeal from the Greenock area to which my hon. and learned Friend referred, but I believe he will have received the general appeal from the Church of Scotland Women's Guild, as a national organisation, in which there are 2,000 branches, covering a membership of 132,000. This appeal has been put forward, therefore, with considerable power behind it. In 264 my own constituency the guild has 25 branches, with 1,200 members. The appeal which has been made to the Minister is, I think, worthy of his attention. He certainly promised that he would keep in touch with the position, and that he would give it, where necessary, further consideration. However[...] I am urging him to recognise its importance and would point out that in the last war such orders against treating were passed. I well remember the liquor control scheme of the last war, covering not only the prohibition of treating, but also spiritless Saturdays, and the different expedients which were used to cut down drunkenness. There is no charge of excessive drunkenness in the Women's Guild appeal. Indeed, they have, in the first place, drawn attention to the danger of Fifth Column activities, and the danger of tittle-tattle going on over drinks in a public house. I urge upon the Minister the desirability of giving effect to this appeal, and I hope he will give it the further consideration he has promised.
From my own constituency comes an even more specific appeal, pointing to the danger of large crowds congregating on Sundays in a certain small burgh. The danger arises from the fact that it is a vulnerable area and an area which has been attacked by enemy aircraft. It is provided with four air-raid shelters which offer protection to the small number of people who, in ordinary times, might be in the streets. On Sundays, large crowds come flocking into the place, and they constitute, in the opinion of the town council, a very serious danger. I will read to the Committee part of a letter which has been sent to me by the town clerk:If an air raid were to happen on any Sunday when these large crowds are visiting the Burgh it would simply mean that there would be a stampede for the shelters which would be quite inadequate to give protection to the numbers requiring it. The local residenters would be crowded out of their own shelters by visitors, many of whom have no interest in the town but have merely visited it for the sake of getting drink. Some of these visitors, although possibly not the worst of liquor, are nevertheless not strictly sober, and there is a fear that they would crush women and children out of the way and create panic and disorder. Last Sunday evening long queues were waiting for buses at three different points in the Burgh, and it is understood that it was nearly midnight before the last visitors left.I do not expect the right hon. Gentleman to make any pronouncement now, but I 265 invite him to give consideration to this problem with the view of dealing with it.
I am sure that, difficult as these times are and abnormal as they are, it is good for us to gather together from time to time as a Scottish Committee and have the opportunity of dealing with Scottish matters from a definitely Scottish point of view. I am sure the Debate to-day, like others which have preceded it, will be of considerable enlightenment and value to the Minister and those associated with him in the administration of Scottish affairs.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Captain McEwen (Berwick and Haddington)
In the first place, I should like to offer my very sincere congratulations to the Secretary of State for Scotland on the remarkable speech with which he opened the Debate. I can pay him no higher compliment than to say that in it he was following the footsteps of the notable examples given by his predecessor. The Minister made a number of very interesting pronouncements, and, indeed, he anticipated me in making his announcement with regard to the wool clip. That announcement must have been in the opinion of many somewhat overdue. I would only say that the prices which he gave this afternoon—that is to say, 1s. 0½d. for blackface and 1s. 3½d. for cheviot—will, I fear, cause some disappointment. I do not wish at this stage to condemn, unheard, a pronouncement of this nature and of this importance, and I would much prefer to learn the opinion of those who are more expert on these affairs than I. The price, I believe, trill go below the expectations which a good many have formed.
While we are on this subject, I do not think it would be too rash to say that hill farmers and sheep breeders are the only section of the agricultural community who feel with some justification that hitherto they have been left out in the cold. It is a matter of argument, but there is no doubt that certain things can be done for them which would promote confidence. My right hon. Friend mentioned three things which immediately came to my mind, which could be done for these hill farmers. In the first place, there is the question of the abolition, or eradication, of bracken; in the second place, there is the improvement of drainage; and, in the 266 third place, there is the purchase of hill cattle to improve grazing. The Minister somewhat telescoped this matter by suggesting that by purchasing hill cattle they would do the work of eliminating the bracken. Although the idea is an ingenious one, I think that if these two subjects were dealt with separately, it would be much more efficacious.
§ Mr. E. Brown
I am glad the hon. and gallant Member has raised that subject. I merely made an incidental reference and did not wish it to be a pronouncement for dealing with bracken as such. The hon. and gallant Member is probably aware that there are two experiments with school-boy labour which have had a good deal of effect, and I am watching them with great interest, because I should like not only to see a war policy but also a peace policy to deal with this matter.
§ Captain McEwen
There is another point on which I should like to dwell, and that is the question of the improvement of pastureland and grassland in general. There is, I imagine, no subject which is more thoroughly beaten into the heads of farmers in Scotland. They are continually being told of the best methods by which they can improve grassland and its nutritive value, not only by the Department of Agriculture, but also by experts from various agricultural colleges. However, I believe it to be a fact that very little progress has been made in this direction, and although I would not like to suggest how further progress might be made, I think there is evidence to show that the methods employed up to the present have not been really satisfactory.
My right hon. Friend also mentioned the important question of the availability of labour. Nobody wishes to go back on the past now, but it is a fact that there was a serious shortage a few weeks ago when, owing to the prolonged heat wave and the quick ripening of the hay crop, as much labour was needed as is usually needed for harvesting and potato picking later in the season. It was not, however, available. As a result, many farmers are making their hay in adverse conditions and unsettled weather, thereby gathering an over-ripe crop which is bound to lose a great deal of its nutritive value. Thus an important part of our feeding-stuffs for the coming winter will be injured.
A question on which the Secretary of State did not touch is timber. The prices 267 of farm produce have been raised to enable farmers to pay increased wages to farm labourers, and there is a case to be made out for an increase of the controlled price of timber. The minimum wages of foresters and woodmen are governed by the same body which deals with the wages of farm labourers.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
That subject does not come under this Vote. Surely it is a question for the Minister of Supply. Perhaps the Minister can help me.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)
Last night an Order which fixed the prices of timber was moved by the Minister of Supply, and any objection to those prices should have been made on that Order.
§ Captain McEwen
It appears that I am a day too late. The timber crop in Scotland is being felled at an alarming rate, and for many years to come there will be hardly any timber fit for felling throughout Scotland. I recall that the historian Pitscottie, when speaking of the building of that pride of the Scottish Navy the "Great Michael" in the fifteenth century—
§ Captain McEwen
—that King James in order to build that great ship wasted all the woods of Fife. That could be said to-day, not merely of Fife, but of the whole of Scotland.
My hon. Friend is doing Scotland and the owners of land in Scotland an injustice because for the 20 years of the inter-war period they have spent much care, labour and money upon plantings which are coming to maturity.
§ Captain McEwen
My hon. Friend has missed the point, but he will no doubt deal with it in the speech we are promised from him later. I began by congratulating my right hon. Friend and I would like to conclude on that note. I hope he will not take it amiss if I wish more power to his elbow.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
I am sure that the whole Committee listened with pleasure to the Scottish Secretary making his survey of Scottish agriculture in such an efficient manner and in a way with which we are accustomed from him. Most of us 268 were surprised to hear the Minister had become an expert on slimming, when he suggested that a smaller diet would be more nourishing—
§ Mr. Woodburn
That will be a disappointment in some directions, especially among the ladies. The Minister has been trying a great many directions in which to improve and increase the production of Scottish agriculture. I felt that he was disappointed with regard to allotments at not having got as many as he expected. I think that that is partly due to the fact that we do not approach people who are in the vicinity of the ground which is available. I have in mind a piece of ground in the centre of our city, and I am sure that the people near it would cultivate it if it were out to them that they ought to do it as part of their national duty. Another great source of potential agricultural produce on which the right hon. Gentleman did not touch are private gardens belonging to people with small houses. Many of them grow produce which they never use, and I suggest that the question of surplus produce from this source should be looked into. The question of credit was mentioned by the Minister, but he did not attempt to justify the 5 per cent. which was paid to the banks.
§ Mr. E. Brown
I was only dealing with 5 per cent. at a particular time. The hon. Member must not take it that that is always the rate.
§ Mr. Woodburn
It has been generally accepted as approximately the rate which farmers and others are paying for their advances. In the long run it is not the farmers who pay this interest to the banks, but the Government. They are paying the farmers for their produce and the price must include the amount which the farmers have to pay to the banks for their advances. The Government are, therefore, borrowing money at 3 per cent. and paying to the banks 5 per cent., making a net loss to the Government of 2 per cent. I am saying nothing against Scottish bankers, for everybody knows that one of the principal exports of Scotland to the world is bankers. They are able to look after themselves and their own money, and we know that they are 269 able to make good profits. That is no justification why in a time of national necessity the banks should be allowed to profiteer at the expense of agriculture when other interests have willingly reduced their rate to 3 per cent. That is particularly the case when it is handicapping agricultural production. If at the request of the Ministry of Food farmers are asked not to put their livestock on the market, but to hold them up for three months, some farmers are placed in a desperate position and must obtain cash by borrowing. If they have to borrow at 5 per cent, their handicap becomes greater still. What provision is to be made for those farmers who are being asked to hold up their livestock for the convenience of the market? The Minister referred to the subject of rabbits. Has he asked the miners to co-operate with him in getting rid of this menace? I am sure that they would do it voluntarily and the trouble about the high cost of labour for rabbit trappers would disappear. If miners caught the rabbits they would not be lost as food, and it would be a better way of getting rid of them than by poisoning them.
There are two ways of expanding production. One is to increase cultivation and to bring in land which is not cultivated, and the other is the intensification of the present cultivation. My hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson), who is engaged elsewhere on a committee, asked me to bring to the notice of the Minister the case which has been brought to his attention of the estate of Ardencaple. I have photographs here which show a tractor in a little shed, in front of which is a heap of stone to prevent the tractor being used. The home farm is lying idle, nettles, rushes and all kinds of weeds are growing prolifically. It is a beautiful farm facing the Atlantic. I shall be glad if the Minister will look into this case and see what can be done to ensure that it is kept under cultivation and not kept out of cultivation on the whim of a particular owner. I agree with the Minister that the extent to which cultivation can be increased is not as great as in England, but there is a tremendous margin in the land which has gone out of cultivation in the deer forest areas, about which my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) will speak. It seems desirable in these days of tightened circum- 270 stances to spread our agriculture to the less desirable land in order to produce food. I agree that in normal times it might not be justifiable to go to any great extent to some of the backward land, but the question now is not one of economic justification but one of social and food justification, and land which we would not otherwise cultivate must be brought into cultivation.
One handicap which is keeping farmers from increasing their cultivation willingly is the fear of glut. They are still afraid that after they have grown their produce it will not be taken off their hands. The Minister made a step forward to-day when he gave an assurance that the surplus potatoes at the end of the season would be taken off the farmers' hands. He did not say at what price, and I understand the farmers are worrying whether it is to be at scrap prices or at reasonable prices which will give them a return. They would like to be assured on that point. It is difficult to separate this matter from the question of marketing. In Glasgow there has been an experiment with a pool vegetable scheme. I hope that the Scottish Secretary will use his influence to get the scheme extended to Edinburgh and other market centres in Scotland, as one way of making it possible for the farmers to sell their goods. I gather from the right hon. Gentleman's speech that he had already decided to help the farmer who ploughed up land less than seven years under grass. I understand from my farmer friends that it would increase the cultivation beneficially if there were a modified subsidy for ploughing grassland of between three and seven years and not necessarily confining it to grassland of over seven years. The question of improving the existing farms and intensifying the output is a very important one, and again it comes to a question of assisting farmers with manures, and sometimes with credits, and I was glad to have the Minister's assurance that that is being done.
Scottish agriculture cannot be dealt with on the basis of looking backwards. There are people who talk about "back to the land," with the idea that we can go back to the agricultural conditions of 100 years ago. That is impossible. We have to deal with modern conditions of life, and Scotland must be planned agriculturally with a regard for the rise of Scottish economic life. In normal times 271 world prices have made it almost impossible for Scottish agriculturists to live entirely by the production of the great standard crops, and, therefore, they have had to turn their minds to more specialised production. To give an example, between 1929 and 1937 the index price for rent and the retail prices of commodities other than food, averaged no less than 70 per cent. above 1914 prices, but the retail prices for food averaged only 28 per cent. above 1914, and out of that the distributors got a very special margin. The agricultural producer in Scotland was getting very much less than 28 per cent. over 1914 prices while other prices were over 70 per cent. higher. It stands to reason that Scottish agriculture could not keep the life of the community up to the standard desired.
§ Mr. Woodburn
If the hon. Member will read it to-morrow, he will understand it. I spoke of rent and other commodities. There are other things besides rent. On economic grounds it might not be possible to justify much of the cultivation that we are undertaking at the moment, but to-day, unfortunately, we are faced with conflicting purposes: one is to plan agriculture so that it will fit in with our economic life and the other is to plan it so that it will fit our needs for war purposes. For the moment we have to put economic considerations aside with the object of producing as much food as possible. There seems to be a justification, and it might be desirable to introduce it, for larger-scale farming than exists in some areas. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) said, the smallholding does not give the man who lives on it a decent standard of life. With the nearness of its agricultural areas to its market towns, Scotland would benefit from large-scale fanning with more of the factory-farming element introduced. If we could combine our farming with the tinning of food and other methods of preserving it we could send our products further afield and it would be a great advantage. I may have misjudged the Minister, but I should be sorry if by his remarks he means that we should lower the standard of Scottish beef. If it is to retain its market in the world it must maintain its high standard. There 272 must be no tinkering with the herds in a way which would reduce the standards of Scottish cattle, of which we are very proud and which are a very valuable asset.
Economically, Scottish farming needs planning. Instead of carrying on in the normal way of every fanner working and living for himself the farmers of Scotland have themselves come to the conclusion, I understand, that what they need is more co-ordination. It would be desirable to have an overhead committee, some body which was able to survey the whole field. The Government seem to have placed their trust in auctioneers and merchants, but rather we ought to bring the interests connected with farming together with a view to deciding what Scottish agriculture can provide and what it is wanted to provide. They could say to the Scottish agriculturist, "We want this amount of that and this amount of the other things," and then we could plan the land so as to produce it to the maximum. Agriculture requires planning, needs a scheme that will cover the whole country, and I welcome the survey which the Minister has introduced; and I am satisfied that with the co-operation which he is receiving from all branches of it the industry in Scotland will play its part, as he said, in carrying us through this great crisis.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
Having had the privilege and honour of being returned to this House at one of the most momentous periods in our country's history, it is with much trepidation and embarrassment that I rise to make my first contribution to these Debates, more particularly so when I realise that I have succeeded to the place of the late hon. and learned Member, Mr. Macquisten, who set a standard of oratory and brilliant wit to which I can never hope to attain. I would crave, therefore, the indulgence of hon. Members while I attempt to deal with some points which in my opinion hamper agriculture in the Western Highlands at the present moment. The Secretary of State made reference to remedies for the Highlands that have had to he stopped owing to the war crisis. If I may say so, I think it was unfortunate that he used the phrase "those remote parts of Scotland, the Highlands." I feel that 273 many of our troubles in the Highlands are due to that feeling in Edinburgh and London that the Highlands are so remote.
§ Mr. E. Brown
I do not wish to interrupt, but this is a very important matter. I did not use the words in that connection at all. I was talking about the effects of the war in some of its most dreadful operations, and not in the sense that we ordinarily talk of the Highlands.
§ Major McCallum
I am glad of that explanation, but I should also like to say that in the Highlands we have not been so remote from war activities. During the first months of the war we saw more of them, perhaps, than other parts of Scotland and Great Britain. I should like to call attention also to the lack of skilled agricultural labour, and to the statement of the Secretary of State that all that was possible had been done to release skilled agricultural workers from the fighting forces. In recent weeks I have had to take up with the War Office and with the Department of Agriculture several cases in which efforts have been made to secure the release from the Army of men in key positions on farms of the Western Highlands. I would remind the Committee that my constituency alone covers nearly 2,000,000 acres and has a coast-line of more than 2,000 miles. When we have submitted applications for the release of what are veritable "key men" we have been told that there is a quota, that that quota is full and therefore, the men cannot be released.
I will give the Committee one case. The southern end of my constituency is noted for farms of quite a considerable size. Nearly all of them are run by farmers and their wives, with their families—men and women of the best stock in Scotland. The fathers fought in the last war, and their sons enlisted in the Territorial Army so as to be ready for this war. I feel that in the future some arrangement must be come to whereby if these men cannot be released in time of war when they are wanted for their farms they ought not to be recruited into the Territorial Army in times of peace. In the case I am thinking of, the farm was run by a father and mother, both getting on in years, working with two sons. It was quite a large farm. Both sons have been taken away, and yet that is the only farm in an area of several 274 miles which has a tractor of its own and a threshing machine of its own. Both sons are skilled farmers. Like all of their class they were members of the Territorial Army and were embodied at the outbreak of war.
I have made repeated efforts to try and get one of them released, in order that not only may that one farm have the benefit of the work of that skilled son but that the surrounding farms may also gain benefit, but I am told that his release cannot be granted owing to this War Office quota. I am an old soldier, with many years experience of the War Office and the workings of their minds there, and I would appeal to the Secretary of State to ask that these cases should be reconsidered once more in a more sympathetic and a more understanding manner. In the case of which I have been speaking the commanding officer himself wrote to the father saying that he realised very well the difficult position he was in and that though he could not release both sons he would agree to the release of one if he were given the necessary instructions by higher authorities. Those instructions have never been received. It may be that it is difficult for the Army to release trained soldiers, but while it takes generations to make these skilled farmers we can make trained soldiers in the course of a few months; and if we are to undertake this tremendous effort which the Secretary of State has asked us to make, in the Highlands as well as in the Lowlands, to bring more areas under cultivation in order to increase our food supplies, we ought to be allowed in cases of acute hardship to have the services of half-a-dozen or so skilled men in an enormous area like this.
The second point that I should like to raise concerns the lack of financial resources on the part of so many farmers in Argyllshire. Practically the whole county consists of small farms, worked principally by the father and mother and their family. It has been said that if these farmers cannot have their skilled sons, they should engage skilled labour from outside. I should like to impress upon my right hon. Friend that in my part of the country there is no agricultural labour, skilled or otherwise, to be had. I am so certain of that because I have been trying myself to get the labour 275 and cannot do so. Another suggestion which has been made is that the farmers in Argyllshire should utilise the services of the Women's Land Army. I think those who know the farms and crofts of the Highlands will realise that it is impossible for them to provide accommodation for women from the Women's Land Army. It is another example of the lack of knowledge of those who are put in authority over us that they should make these suggestions when they ought to know, if they have visited an area such as Argyllshire, that there is no possibility of employing these women from the Women's Land Army.
Another point which I wish to mention concerns agriculture very acutely. In my ignorance, I may not be keeping within the bounds of order, but I trust I shall be doing so. I refer to the high freights which farmers in the Islands and in the Western Highlands have to pay to the steamer companies. It is an old story, which was brought out very fully in the excellent report of the Economic Committee on the Highlands and Islands in—I think it was—November, 1938. Two years have passed, and admittedly one has been a war year, but conditions are no better; in fact, they are very much worse. I would like to give three examples to show what farmers in our part of the country have to pay, although they are asked to produce more foodstuffs. The first example concerns potatoes which growers in the Islands of Coll, Tiree and Mull send to Glasgow or to Stirling and sell at £5 10s. a ton. They are charged by MacBrayne or by MacCallum Orme's 55s. per ton freight, from the Islands to Oban. From Oban they have to pay rail freights to Glasgow or to Stirling. Nevertheless, they are expected to make a profit and pay the increased wages as well as to maintain stores and the supplies they require.
A further and more glaring example concerns a friend of mine who, a few weeks ago, was asked to buy from Stirling, on behalf of a farmer, a very small consignment of fertiliser. He paid 10d. for the fertiliser, which weighed some 27 lbs. and was over the parcel-post weight. He brought it in his car to Oban and wanted to send it across by the steamer from Oban to Loch Aline, in Morven, a distance of 10 miles. The freight he had to pay on that tenpenny- 276 worth of fertiliser was 2s. 1d. Again, a crofter on the Island of Mull who has been some 20 years in Canada has now returned to his own country to set up again and become a farmer in the old home. For building a house he bought cement in Greenock, for which he paid 48s. per ton. He shipped it from Greenock to Bunessan, in Western Mull, and he had to pay 50s. a ton freight. I maintain that, as long as that system of extortionate freight charges exists, it is impossible for farmers on the Islands and in the Western Highlands to compete with those who are on what I call the main mainland.
There is also the question of landing and loading facilities at various islands and ports of call on the mainland. A year last November, when I was travelling between our outer islands of Argyll, I saw cases of loading cattle and sheep for the Oban sales which gave rise to scenes which I consider a disgrace to any civilised community. I was surprised that cattle and sheep should have to be loaded from the ship, made to jump down several feet into something like a lifeboat, then be taken out to a boat lying off the shore and be hauled by their horns and pulled or pushed on board. I have travelled over the greater part of the world and have seen transhipments even on the surf-ridden coasts of the West Coast of Africa, but I have never seen anything so scandalous as those shipments and loadings were. I do not wish to criticise the masters, officers or crews in the vessels of MacBrayne's or MacCallum Orme's. I have travelled with those fellows in winter gales as well as in the summer-time, and I know that you could not have more gallant, efficient, cheerful or courteous seamen anywhere in the world. The lack of loading and landing facilities makes it impossible for the farmer and crofter to compete.
The provision of piers and their upkeep in certain places should not be left to the private owners of the estates on which the landing places happen to be, but should be taken over by the Ministry of Transport or by the local authorities. The welfare of the inhabitants of the Western Islands should not be left to the whims and the financial situations of private owners who, in these times of hard taxation, cannot afford to provide piers or to maintain them, even if they wanted to. In this connection, I would point out 277 that our waterways in Argyll and the Western Islands are our roads, and, as people in other parts of Scotland regard their main roads, so we look upon those sea roads. When we wish to make our way from one part to another or to embark to the mainland, we want to be able to take our vehicle or car—I am talking about peace-time conditions—arid to put it on board with some degree of assurance that it will arrive almost as well as it started. I can assure the Minister that that is far from being the case at present.
I know that we cannot expect remedies for these grievances during the war, but I suggest that, when plans are made for the future of Scotland, such matters have to be thought of many years ahead. After all, Scotland will go on progressing just as much after the war as, or even more than, it did before. As regards steamer communication, is it not possible to organise some system of public utility service, on the lines of the London Passenger Transport Board, some organisation not left to private commercial enterprise? We are told by the steamship companies that they cannot possibly lower the freights now prevailing. In fact, MacBrayne's will tell you that without the subsidy which they receive from the Government they could not possibly carry on. I maintain that the welfare of the Highlanders and the inhabitants of the Western Isles should not be at the mercy of commercial enterprise, and that these services should be installed in such a way as to provide reasonable fares and adequate services, with freight rates that farmers and crofters can be expected to pay.
An hon. Member spoke just now of the tremendous urge in Scotland to get back to the land. I am afraid that we do not notice it in the Western Highlands, and we cannot possibly get it while those extortionate freights exist. I do not imagine that anyone wants to go back to Scotland and try to compete in farming under those conditions. Anyone who has travelled in Greece, Italy or Turkey—I believe this is true also of the Scandinavian countries—will have seen that the coastal farmers and peasants have perfectly good and reasonable steamer services, run by the State, the railway companies or some organisation which enables them to be transported at fares amounting to only a few cents. Anybody who has 278 stood on the sea front at Piraeus or Trieste will have seen the crowds of people coming off the boats from the islands, with cattle and sheep. If he has then been to the West of Scotland and seen similar situations, he must have been astounded that our much vaunted civilisation and progress can allow conditions such as exist to-day in the Western Highlands, when countries which we like to think are not equal to our own are able to provide what we cannot provide.
I wish to raise one further point; I refer to the Government's evacuation policy, which my right hon. Friend spoke about some time ago said was a policy of private billeting. It is possible that, not so much in the crofts as on the small farms, to which I have seen children evacuated, there are a man and a woman cultivating the farm. Their son may have been taken already into the Army, and they are left to work in the fields all day. They have billeted upon them under this scheme three or four motherless children. Is it to be wondered at that these farmers are up in arms against taking these evacuees? Who is to ensure that the three or four little brats will not break up the cottage or the farmhouse while the man and his wife are out in the fields? We have put forward a scheme in our part of the Highlands whereby many of the empty houses may be taken over and used as hostels for this evacuation scheme rather than that evacuees should be put into the farms, thus hindering farmers in their work.
In conclusion, I would say that in our part of the country we feel that our complaints are justified, although we are by no means faultless ourselves, and we sometimes suffer from what is often called "West-Coasting." Those who live on the West Coast will know what I mean. If there is no substantial improvement in agricultural conditions in the Western Highlands it is due to lack of first-hand knowledge of our difficulties and of actual experience on the spot, by those in authority and those who are responsible for framing Government Measures affecting the Highlands.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew (Ayr and Bute, Northern)
I am sure I am voicing the opinion of the whole Committee when I say how much we have all enjoyed the speech to which we have just 279 listened. I look forward to the hon. and gallant Gentleman's contributions to many of our Debates in the future. In the course of his speech he spoke of the difficulty of farmers whose sons were in the Territorial Army. That, of course, is a very great problem. I myself served in the Ayrshire Yeomanry for nearly 30 years, and the fellows we always tried to get were the farmers. We had them for generation after generation, and they were excellent. When war comes the difficulty arises. I am sure that if anything were done to prevent farmers joining the Territorials, there would be a serious repercussion. Many farmers join the Territorials because they enjoy the training, although it may be very hard work.
With regard to the question of freights, which was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum), I noticed that a great many of his views are similar to those which we used to hear from his predecessor, the late Mr. Macquisten. As far as the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll is concerned, I, being a neighbour although separated by sea, very much appreciate what he said. The steamers which used to run from Greenock to Gourock, calling at Lochranza, no longer run, and we are very keen to have something done about it. I do not suppose anything can be done during the war, but in the better days to come I am sure that both the hon. and gallant Member and I will be urging the right hon. Gentleman to do something, because it is of great importance. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers), dealing with the question of pests, referred to foxes. Everybody realises that now there is a war on they must be destroyed. Although it sounds very simple, it is not so easy to accomplish. I recently had some experience of that difficulty where I live.
With regard to the report of the Department of Agriculture, there are two points which I would like to bring before the notice of my right hon. Friend, whom incidentally I would like to congratulate upon his excellent speech this afternoon. The particular chapter in which I am interested is the one regarding agricultural education, research and development. In that chapter there is a quotation from the Committee on Veterinary Education in Great Britain, a committee which was set up by his predecessor in 1936 and which 280 reported two years ago. They say that in their view:the State has not contributed liberally to the training of the profession and that veterinary education has been starved.That may be true, but in that chapter I do not see a single word about the extraordinary generosity of the Racecourse Betting Control Board. I happen to be a member appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland. They talk about not receiving money, and when they are very well treated they have not the courtesy to say "Thank you." We have a very large sum—about £125,000—to disburse, and if they are polite, they may get some more money; if they are not polite, they may not. I would like to give some figures for 1938, because they are remarkable. We gave the following grants: for investigations into grass sickness at Moredun Institute in Scotland, 7,50; for research into disabling diseases of horses at the Royal (Dick) Veterinary College, £650; the Royal (Dick) Veterinary College, Edinburgh, for their extension fund, £1,000; and we gave the Glasgow Veterinary College £500 towards the purchase of, I think, 40 microscopes. That is a total of £2,900, and out of the total amount of that part of the grant the total was £5,165, which represents 44.9/80. I am glad to have this opportunity of bringing these figures before the Committee, because I believe the Control Board has behaved very well indeed towards Scotland, and I wish the Treasury would take a leaf out of their book. With regard to the report of the committee to which I have referred, there is one recommendation which they give and on which I would like to comment before I resume my seat. That refers to training in animal husbandry. The report says:The Committee recommend that a pupilage of at least six months on a farm at varying seasons of the year should he required of students as the foundation of a more practical training in animal husbandry.I think that is excellent, but they go on to say:For this training a Field Station of about 100 acres, at which the different kinds of farm livestock are kept, should be attached to each school.With that I most heartily disagree, for this reason. It is not so much my own idea as that of a very experienced veterinary surgeon in Ayrshire, a friend of mine, who has a son who is studying to be a veterinary surgeon. He sent him 281 to work on a farm. I would like the right hon. Gentleman's attention for a moment, because I believe that this is important. They recommend that this should be done, and my reason for thinking it should not be done is this: If field stations are set up to train young veterinary surgeons in the treatment of animals, they see animals treated and getting attention in a way which on an ordinary farm it is quite impossible to do. I think it is so important for the young student not only to go on to a farm and see the work that is done, but also to see in fact how much attention it is possible to give. No doubt, in an experimental place it is possible to do things which it is not always practicable to do on the ordinary farm. Although it is important for the young lads to go on to a farm, it should not be a specialised farm but a general farm for learning the treatment of animals.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I would like to associate myself with the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken in congratulating very sincerely the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum). I shall have to keep on good terms with him for various reasons, one of which is that I have to go through his constituency to get to my own. With a large part of what he said in his speech I find myself in complete agreement. He raised what appeared, without any disrespect to the originality of the main part of his speech, many points which I have raised on previous occasions, and I look forward confidently to his co-operation in matters connected with the Islands and Highlands of Scotland. I am glad to hear these days a voice raised energetically and convincingly on matters which are very close to my own heart and which are of interest to my own constituency as well as to his.
There are several points which he covered thoroughly and so well that it is not necessary for me to refer to them, but I would like to reinforce some of the points that he made, especially with regard to the difficultes from which agriculture is suffering In relation to freight charges. As the hon. and gallant Member has explained to us, the position is that since the war agriculture in that area has been hampered by a deterioration of 282 the conditions in regard to freight charges and so on. Freights have gone up in spite of many promises of control last year. In spite of the promises and assurances that a watchful eye would be kept on them, they have gone up in many cases. I recognise the difficulties which war conditions have imposed upon the proposed reforms. Nevertheless, it is not a question of carrying out expensive reforms but merely of stabilising conditions as they were without any expense to the taxpayer. It has now become more urgent that these reforms should be carried out, because we are asking these people to produce the maximum which they can out of very limited resources and materials and very little material held from the Government, while at the same time we are permitting them to be exploited by those commercial interests at whose mercy the hon. and gallant Member is sorry to see them.
I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman one or two points. One of these is whether and what special precautions are being taken in the harvesting of the crops this year to prevent their being damaged, for instance, by deliberate contamination or interference and damage by enemy action. Precautions can be taken by improving protection. The question also arises—I do not know whether I am anticipating any action which the Minister will take—with regard to incendiary damage to crops, especially when we are approaching the harvesting season. Cannot we make some sort of provision with the land armies and the L.D.V. and so on, and those people who are waiting to be called up, for a watch to be kept for incendiary damage to crops? We have been talking about the possibility of incendiarism in the forests of this country and of the taking of retaliatory action abroad. We must have an eye to the possibility of deliberate incendiarism among the crops. The right hon. Gentleman may be able to do something on the lines which the Forestry Commissioners would take, such as having rangers to watch for attempts to cause damage by fire. I leave any administrative questions and details out of the suggestion altogether. The main thing is to acknowledge the fact that this danger exists and to get the assurance that something will be done about it. There is a strong possibility that an attempt will be made to create a food 283 shortage in this country by dropping incendiary bombs.
I come to a question with which the Secretary of State, who held the office of Minister of Labour in the previous Government for five years, is perhaps more familiar than anyone else in the Committee. In the Islands just now there are still thousands of men unemployed. Between the sowing and the harvest these men are to a great extent idle. They are able-bodied men, willing to do all sorts of things if they are given an opportunity. They are given one opportunity—at least, they are told it is an opportunity. That is the opportunity of leaving their crops, their homes and their families, and being transferred to the constituency of the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland (Major Neven-Spence) to work there. What is the sense of taking these men from the Western Islands and sending them to the Shetlands, making them leave behind all the crops that are there, at a time when we are calling for, and expensively subsidising, the production of more food? If these men refuse—as they naturally do—they are penalised by being told that they have refused employment, and cannot qualify under the Unemployment Insurance Act. I will not follow the rather tempting line over which we have gone so many times in the past, and upon which we have had so many rather vague assurances in the past. I cannot say that the right hon. Gentleman has broken any promises in regard to this matter, for he never made any; I cannot say that he has failed in any attempts, because he never made any. These men are willing to make a contribution in various ways, but, are not given an opportunity. We ask the Secretary of State to permit them to contribute more than they are contributing now to the national effort.
Here is an area where cultivation could be made much more intensive than it is at present. The Minister of Agriculture referred in his report the other day to the classification of crops and farms. He talked about the intensification of production for the "A" class, or best class, of farms; and then he said that the most economic expansion took place in the "B" class, which includes land that is being worked fairly well, but not 284 so well as it might be. He tended to push the "C" class out of the picture altogether. In the West of Scotland there is a large acreage of land of the "C" type. I am not suggesting that this elementary information is new to the Minister, but it does not seem to have struck the Minister, or the officials more directly concerned, that in that area there are these hundreds of thousands of marginal acres which in normal times it might not be economic to cultivate. We have a Ministry of Economic Warfare, which at a certain point becomes itself a Ministry of Uneconomic Warfare. Possibly, from a military point of view, its most important function is that of acting as a dog in the manger, buying up goods in order that others shall not get them. Perhaps we might do a good thing if we went in for uneconomic production in these areas where there is no cultivation at present. These areas have been described as the remote areas of Scotland—not by the Secretary of State, I admit, but by the present Minister of Health, who is himself a Member for a Highland constituency. If we are to get the best cultivation, we must have some system of centralised storage within reasonably defined regions. We cannot leave it to every one of these producers to store whatever surplus there is. We should follow the example set by the Ministry of Food in respect of herring, and buy up surplus crops as a State purchase, in a scientific way.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture has told us that he has been visiting the executive committees throughout the country. That is very reassuring. He told us that he got some very good information from them, that he had managed to encourage them in various ways, and that he had set up a system of propaganda to cheer up British agriculture. Why do not we have something done on these lines in Scotland? Perhaps something of the sort is done, but it should be more actively and energetically done, so that people may know about it. Certainly nothing of the sort is done so far as I know, and the Secretary of State does not give me any assurance on the point I think that the Minister himself might have visited Inverness long before now. I know that he is very busy, but he has a very competent Under-Secretary who has had long experience of the Ministry, and who, in 285 fact, could probably manage it better without the Minister. I have been in touch with the executive committees. They send reports about the shortage of labour, and they get replies weeks later. Some have told me that they have made inquiries about labour for the spring ploughing, and that the ploughing was over before they got replies.
On the old question of the deer forests, I must say that the Minister has been the first occupant of that bench who has honestly said that where you can breed deer you can breed blackface sheep. That is right, but it has been denied in the past. Years ago hundreds of thousands of acres of deer forest could have been used for grazing sheep. The Minister talked about the improvement of pasturage, and of sacrificing other stocks to dairy farming. But unless it is possible to guarantee an adequate supply of artificial manures, we should be very careful about reducing stock, in some areas, at any rate. The question arises in relation to the matter of wool supplies, which are very important from the point of view of imports.
Reference has been made to the question of large-estate farming. Naturally that is more economic, but I do not think that the middle of a war is the time to start a revolution of that kind. But there has been a feeling that the small man has not been dealt with on anything like so generous a scale as the big man. It is felt that holdings of half an acre or so which are brought in all over Scotland are just as important as the large farm lands in the south. We should provide that a man who can bring in one-third or half an acre will get some reward; that he should be told, at any rate, that if he can bring forward a surplus it will be bought at a good price. Why does not the Minister seek powers, if he has not got them at present, to take over some of these deer forests, in order that the deer themselves may be used? It would do a great deal in the way of providing meat, not nationally, of course, but locally, in some of the smaller towns of Scotland. The best way would be for him to tell the crofters and small farmers in these areas that they are permitted to shoot deer. I think he would find that quite popular.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Lord William Scott (Roxburgh and Selkirk)
I take up the time of the Com- 286 mittee to deal with one subject which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I refer to his pronouncement on the prices which will be paid for the 1940 wool clip. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick (Captain McEwen) said that he feared the sheep farmers of the Border country would be very distressed when they heard what the price was to be. I can assure the Secretary of State that I have no doubt what their reaction will be. I do not think that any pronouncement could produce greater despondency in the Border country than the statement that for the wool clip in 1940 the price for blackface is to be 1s. 0½d., and for Cheviot 1s. 3½d. In regard to both those classes of wool, we confidently expected at least 3d. or 4d. more.
We know that there were difficulties as regards the price of wool which the Control was willing to pay. that the decision had been postponed for weeks and months; and that the Secretary of State was doing all he could to try and get a reasonable and economic price on behalf of Scottish sheep farmers. As time went on some of us were rather nervous that we were going to be offered something in the nature of the miserable price that has been announced this afternoon. If we expect the Border and hill farmers to be able to do their share in assisting agricultural production for the next year or two years, or even more, it is only fair that we should give them a reasonable price for the commodity they produce. At 1s. 2d. per lb. there is no great fortune to be made out of mutton, and 1s. 3d. for lamb is not going to assist greatly in these days, when the cost of production has gone up very considerably, and at a time when farmers are being called upon to plough up a good deal of their best pasture land. If they have no money to assist them, they will not be able to do a great deal to improve the rougher and lower class hill pasture. I can think of nothing that can be so utterly disastrous for the hill sheep farmers not only in the Borders, but in other parts of Scotland, than to offer the miserable price that we have been given this afternoon for our 1940 wool crop.
I realise that to a large extent we are tied to the price that is being paid for the Australian wool. I have never quite realised why it is necessary that the wool producers in this country should be tied 287 to the Australian price any more than it is necessary to tie the wheat producers of Britain to the wheat price in Canada. We all know that during the latter and important months of 1939 farmers in this country were being paid nearly twice as much for their wheat as that which the farmer in Canada received, and I really do not see why wool growers in Britain should be penalised by the price that happens to be paid in Australia. We know that every pound of wool that can be produced is required, and that there is an immense amount of improvement that has to be done in hill pastures, if we can only get the hill farmers to do it. The chief thing that has prevented the hill farmers from improving their farms is the lack of cash. We have had a series of extraordinarily difficult years, and a great number of the farmers at the present moment are nearer bankruptcy probably than at any period in the last 40 years. They have been gradually going from bad to worse, and I believe that there will be greater misery felt this evening in the length and breadth of Scotland in the wool-producing, sheep-farming areas than probably on any evening that we have known, certainly for the last 40 years.
I trust that some little hope will be stretched out to the wool and sheep farmers of Scotland at the end of this Debate. I can assure the Secretary of State that a great number of hill farmers, who up till now have been carrying on and waiting for the pronouncement that was to be made this afternoon, were going to settle, when they heard what the terms for their 1940 wool crop were to be, whether they would continue with the unequal contest or whether they would chuck it up. I can assure the Secretary of State that this afternoon's pronouncement, for which I in no way hold him responsible, as I know that he has done all he can to assist Scottish sheep farmers, will bitterly disappoint a very considerable number who have been wavering in their decision. They will settle that from now they will go out of the sheep farming industry until more favourable circumstances permit them to return and once more make a living at that particular business.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morgan (Doncaster)
I feel rather an innovation appearing in a 288 Scottish Debate on agriculture, but I believe I can make a contribution that may prove helpful. In England we look upon the Scottish farmer with a good deal of respect, so that I felt some shivers pass through me to-day when I heard the Secretary of State for Scotland announcing a revolutionary upset in the rotational system of Scottish farming which will take Scottish farmers a long time to get over, and also when I heard the angle from which sheep were being regarded in a Scottish debate. I always regarded sheep as one of those farm creatures that we could wholly support in war-time because of the beneficial effect in the rotational system for the Lowland sheep and for the indigenous way they could manage for themselves on the hills. I thought that sheep would receive the fullest possible encouragement in these times.
I want to deal with two main points. The Secretary of State for Scotland treated rather lightly the handling of seed potatoes in Scotland, but I suggest that here he has a very good opoprtunity to do a great deal for Scotland. We have just seen administrative action taken prohibiting main crop potatoes in this country being lifted before August in order to help out the general supply. If we could have a compulsion levied on all English and Welsh potato-growing farms that only Scottish, or equivalent to Scottish seed were used next season, we would be able to lift from the same acreage at least one-third more of a crop. The way in which first-grown, second-grown and indifferently grown potatoes are used, especially at a time when there is an expansion of the potato acreage, causes much wastage. There is wastage because of the poor quality of the seed. Good growers realise what effect a change of seed from Scotland or Northern Ireland would have upon the total yield, and Scotland should press administratively for some such enactment as that, so that when the potato acreage of this country came to be planted with Scottish seed or its equivalent it would force up the yield per acre of potatoes sown.
I noticed the sympathetic way in which the Secretary of State treated, and was rather proud of the development of allotments in Scotland. There is one department of agricultural production in which Scotland is weak and in which at this 289 moment the country stands more in need, and that is, pig production. In England and Wales there is now a Small Pig-keepers' Council, which has been able to drive a very good bargain with the Minister of Food, to the effect that the producers will be guaranteed one-third of the concentrated food supply on the assumption that they provide the other two-thirds through the communal activity of the club or persons acting in that way, using household and garden waste. Scotland is without that scheme. Why is she not taking any steps to promote the pig population at a time when general farming has had to cut it down? If 50,000 or 100,000 pigs were produced, it would be a very definite contribution to the national need. Scottish people know how to utilise waste. Why has she not organised throughout her villages and townships the means whereby large numbers of pigs would be produced and yet secure the guaranteed supply of feeding-stuffs from the Ministry of Food?
§ Mr. Morgan
I am aware of a lot of good things about Scotland, but I am not convinced that you cannot improve matters in this regard. Because there is a traditional dislike of pigs in Scotland, for some reason or other, nothing much has been done about them in the past, but now there is to be a big potato increase, not only in Scotland but here. You can be faced with a serious problem, in surplus potatoes, evidence of which I have seen in consignments of seed potatoes. We have had oversized potatoes increasingly coming from Scotland in our seed potatoes, with the result that when we reckoned to plant six to eight cwt. of potatoes to the acre, we found that that quantity covered only half the space. That is not an economic way to use seed potatoes. It was because the Scots were afraid that they would not get rid of their ware potatoes in any other way. If there is to be an increased quantity of potatoes, the surplus will have to be looked after for which the pig is a very good alternative. Fats may be vital. Germany woke up to the fact that if she had produced more pigs in the last war than she did, her fats problem at that time might have been easier to handle. From the national point of view Scotland is hanging behind 290 in this question of the production of pigs. Here is a moment when a big potato increase is in sight and when there is a scheme in England and Wales to give the pig keeper a guarantee of one-third of his essential cereal feeding supplies. It is a challenge that Scotland ought to accept and do something about.
With regard to Scottish farmers' financial problems, although the banks there did appear to treat food producers well, there is difficulty of a real kind. May I suggest that this question of increased wages for labour, if not handled properly, will bring the farming industry into disorder? There is no argument against giving the farm worker a proper wage, but the economic fact must be faced that when you offer a farmer something like 65s. a quarter for wheat and when the yields will probably be only three quarters (504 lbs.) to the acre in a season like the one we are having now, you are actually only offering a farmer £9 15s. to the acre, as against £10 to the acre when the price last year was only 50s. a quarter, but the yield four quarters an acre. It is not price that matters; it is yield. In farming you may increase prices and not bring the increase into the net return of the cultivator. Farmers are not accepting labour in many parts of the country, or they are accepting it with the determination to get rid of it at the earliest moment. I can see this as a pressing problem later this season. In England we have stopped recruiting for the Women's Land Army, and we are discouraging the help which boys have splendidly offered in connection with the harvest. They have not been received with the warm-hearted reception they ought to have received, because the farmer has got rather shy of having so many people about his place. It ought not to be.
You are asking the farmer to pay, and rightly pay, increased wages now for a crop for which he will not be paid until 15 months hence. Why not let the farmer enter into a direct contract with his county or district committee in Scotland for growing a certain crop and let that deed become a letter of credit to his banking institution? In almost every case you could get an endorsement from a county or district committee that the farmer was under contract with them. You will have to face this, because this question of credit for the farmer is at the root of 291 the amount of labour he will employ on his land; if you face it boldly, he will employ labour. Farmers are saying, "We want to pay our men more and get the best men on the job," but this announcement has staggered them, and they do not know how they will pay such wages during the next 16 months.
This harvest—and there is no question about it—will be short. We had a declaration from the Minister of Agriculture the other day which was that the total food output of this harvest would increase. That is misleading. It is true that there are extra millions of acres growing more food for cattle and humans, but actually there will be less food for humans. There will be more grown for cattle and livestock, but it is only to replace imported food. The net increase for human consumption in this harvest is below what we had this time last year. Farmers are faced with a necessity of cutting down poultry and pigs. The labour position is serious and this harvest cannot carry it. You must mortgage the next crop in order to ensure that labour will be employed and properly paid.
I have often wondered why the Western Isles, Argyllshire and other parts of Scotland do not, in the matter of poultry, come up to the standard of the Orkney Isles. I was in the Orkneys a short time ago and saw the splendid way in which they organised egg production and export, and it would make a real contribution to the problem of housewives at the moment if we could have an increase of the egg output from Scotland. We ought to have it, and it could systematically increase even in the present circumstances, In conclusion, I would like to press on the Minister the point that he should have regard to the seed potato position as it affects England and Wales. He should try to secure some kind of administrative ruling that only such seed is used on all our potato farms next spring as will result in a one-third increase in the acreage output. But he must be careful to see that the Scottish farmer plays fair and gives us seed, and not potatoes that are seed and ware mixed.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
I seldom venture to address 292 the House, but I make no apology for doing so on this occasion, because it is a very long time since we discussed agricultural problems. We have now 10 months of war behind us, and I think hon. Members will agree that during that time a very great deal has been done to encourage and expand agricultural production. I would take this opportunity to pay my modest tribute to the Secretary of State for Scotland that was, and I would also bracket with him the late Minister of Agriculture. I am a farmer, and in my opinion, and I think in the opinion of the vast majority of farmers in Britain, both these right hon. Gentlemen rendered a very great service, not only to British agriculture, but to the country, during their terms of office. I will not say they surmounted all their difficulties—that would be an exaggeration—but they overcame many of them, and I think the Secretary of State would be one of the first to acknowledge the great value of the work done by both right hon. Gentlemen, and would be the first to admit that the foundation upon which future effort can be built, and actually is being built, has been well and truly laid.
I listened to the right hon. Gentleman's speech with very great interest and no little attention. It was a clear-cut, comprehensive speech covering a very wide field, and I do not think there is very much danger of going outside the bounds of order if one goes rather wide. The governing factor behind agricultural policy to-day is one of grim necessity. We are driven into a short-term policy. I think also a hopeful sign is that Hitler's methods of infiltration seem to have penetrated, to some extent at any rate, to the fortified citadel of the Treasury. That is a very good sign. The times are far too critical. It is what happens next year that matters, and we have to face up to it. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I throw out a word of caution. We are driven into a short-term policy, but I hope he will remember, in pursuing it in collaboration with his right hon. Friend, that the production of food is a proposition which essentially calls for long-range planning. It would be the height of folly, to my mind, if we did not plan for greatly extended production over a period of at least five years. I would go still 293 further. I would guarantee the farmer prices and a market for a period not exceeding two years after the war. I suggest that, because you very often find that an arable farmer has a large slice of permanent pasture, and he may be caught with it in stubble after two years if the war should end abruptly.
The new powers given to the Government whereby they can control everything and everybody—land, labour, wages and profits—should allow them to go ahead and remove every restriction standing in the way of increased production. The possibilities of expansion are enormous, and the worker and the farmer need the necessary stimulus if they are to put forward their maximum effort. I am glad to see that this principle has been recognised by the right hon. Gentleman, but it has been a very long time in coming. I feel that our agricultural industry has required in the past more definite direction. I would go still further, after having been round more than 30 agricultural counties in Scotland when Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Scottish Office, and say that agriculture is in need of more energetic prosecution. We have required quicker decisions, we have wanted to see the abolition of close consideration. I represent a very large agricultural constituency, very nearly as large as that of the hon. Member who spoke last, and I have had 20 years of farming experience. Uncertainty is the greatest bugbear of the farmer. He remembers the repeal of the Corn Production Act and the amazing way that the Government of the day got away with it. He is hard up for cash. The programme of increased tillage naturally calls for increased purchases, and it does not matter what legislation we pass or under what political system we live. So long as cash is cash, the ability of the producer to meet wages fixed, to run his farm efficiently and to maintain those who are dependent upon him will depend upon the relationship between what the producer receives for his produce and what it costs him to produce it. Prices are, of course, of the utmost importance.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) said something about no treating. Here is an example. Agricultural prices up to date have simply been a concrete example of no treating. The 294 maintenance of prices alone will not give that confidence which agriculture must have if it is to achieve the ultimate object of Government policy. Any surplus produced must be provided for as well. I have never been able to understand why it is that the Government have not deliberately aimed at producing a surplus of food in the same way as they are now attempting to do with armaments. Food is an insurance against starvation just as arms are an insurance against defeat.
I realise the difficulties that there are in fixing prices—the varying conditions in the different counties, the ability of the consumer to purchase at those prices, not to speak of the cry for more subsidies to the farmers—but what is the producer's main problem at the moment? We should remember that by and large the bulk of the revenue received by the farmers comes from the sale of livestock and livestock products. The price of milk seems to be all right at the present time, and I am not prepared to discuss that point, because it is a very complicated one; but the feeder and breeder of cattle is extremely anxious about the future We have been told that livestock feeding is to be discouraged. Although I appreciate that there are reasons for this, I find it extremely difficult to reconcile the Government's policy of telling us, on the one hand, that shipments of meat to this country are excessive, and telling us, on the other hand, that we cannot import any livestock feeding-stuffs because of a shortage of shipping. Why not cut out a little of the meat and bring in some feeding-stuffs instead? After all, the meat and the feeding-stuffs come from the same place. The carrying over of livestock on the hoof sounds attractive at first, but I predict that the right hon. Gentleman has in front of him a very tough problem if justice is to be done all round.
Let me take as an example a large feeding farm. The farmer has a large head of stock on his place at the present time; and it is very likely that he has not paid for some of it. The stock is in various stages of condition. The farmer cannot keep it indefinitely. He may be hard up for cash. Moreover, if the feeding of cattle is unduly discouraged, the fertility of the land will be affected, because, after all, we feed our cattle in winter, and that is the time when the manure is made. I hope that the com- 295 mittee which is looking into this matter will not be led away by the scientists, and that it will remember that the basis of land fertility is farmyard manure, and that all the imported fertilisers in the world will not take its place. I hope the committee will remember that when it is dealing with the question of the future of our livestock industry. I hope also that it will remember that the farmers are like any other business men—they go where the going is best. If a farmer finds that a price is uneconomic, he will sell his produce, for which he has a guaranteed market, and stop feeding cattle altogether, to the serious detriment of his land, and with hardship to the small store cattle breeder. The crofter's stirks will slump by pounds. Our great pure breeds like the Angus and Shorthorn are disturbed by this aspect of Government policy.
With regard to sheep, I think that very few of us realise that over 50 per cent. of the land of Scotland is hill grazing, and over 80 per cent. of the sheep are hill sheep. The importance of the sheep farmer has never been properly recognised, but I think it is now dawning upon the powers that be that the sheep farmer utilises those vast and fertile areas which are quite incapable of contributing in any other way to the war effort. They are also becoming aware of the fact that the sheep farmer uses no imported feeding stuffs, and that he is the ultimate source of supply and responsible at the business end for nearly all the sheep in Scotland. The sheep farmers' fortune depends upon three things. The first is the effect which fat sheep prices have upon the store market, the second is whether or not the buyer of lambs has roots and grass to put them on, and the third is wool. The price of 1s. 2d. which has been offered for fat sheep looks quite attractive, but it should be remembered that this is not actually the price received by the farmer. The offal, which is worth 2½d. a pound, is left in the hands of the Government, so that the farmer receives something in the neighbourhood of 11½d. a pound for the bare mutton. With regard to the second factor, the ability of the buyer to take the lambs and the ewes, we must turn to the ploughing policy to find an answer. There is less grass on feeding farms, and therefore, there will be less demand for 296 breeding ewes. It is seldom appreciated that the hill ewe cannot be kept on the hill beyond a certain time If her useful life is to be prolonged, which is what the Government want, she must be taken to better pastures. She is a sort of refugee, driven from the hills by economic factors. The pasture available has very greatly diminished.
What of the thousands of lambs, which are the farmers' greatest source of revenue? The reduction of available grazing is now aggravated by another factor, which is perhaps peculiar to Scotland. Before the war, thousands of our hill lambs were bought for direct slaughter in the store market because of their light weight and high quality, but under control, there is no hope of these lambs being graded up to the proper grade. The consequence is that when the autumn sales come, I fear that, in spite of the price of 1s. 2d., there will be a glut in the store market. I recognise that the Secretary of State has done a very great dial by introducing a new grade for lambs, as there was great unfairness before, because a lamb which failed to qualify in the top grade, if it happened to be a little below that grade, fell into a class which was 5½d. below the other price. That is a feather in the right hon. Gentleman's cap. But I maintain that there is a risk of a glut occurring in the store market, because of the effects of the ploughing up policy, and the fact that direct slaughter is not permitted in the store market. As the representative of a great sheep-breeding area, I ask why the Government do not allow direct facilities to slaughter in the store market. If they did this, and the lambs were taken into cold storage, the problem would be solved.
I had intended to refer to oats, but the Secretary of State removed my doubts with regard to that point. I should also have liked to ask one or two questions about barley. But in regard to oats, do I understand that the price announced is a minimum, that the price of 43s. 6d. is a maximum, and that the price will range between these two figures? The right hon. Gentleman has referred to a survey of farms. If we have an individual examination of farms, then we shall be much more closely in touch with the agricultural committees, although I know of no reason for suggesting that these committees are not absolutely efficient. They 297 are efficient and are in touch with local conditions, but I would ask the Secretary of State whether he has powers to change the personnel. I should like the Secretary of State, when he looks into the question of survey, to remember the peculiar conditions in certain areas. For example, in Aberdeenshire, where there is a six-shift rotation, if there is a further increase in ploughing-up land it will necessitate the selling off of a good deal of stock. In the Southern uplands of Scotland further ploughing up will interfere with the stocks of ewes. In Lanarkshire the chief difficulty in increasing tillage is the lack of drainage.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to derelict land, and, without wishing to put a Scottish conundrum, I would ask him, What is derelict land? Does the Minister include the millions of acres of bracken infested land throughout the country? I do hope that at long last the criminal waste of this once excellent but now disused land is to be stopped and that we are to have an effective attack on what has been called agriculture's Fifth Column. The hon. Member who has just spoken would agree that there is no lovelier scenery than that of the Western Highlands of Scotland, but there is no more pitiful a sight to the agriculturist than the bracken-infested farms or crofts. The bracken plant is a hotbed of disease. There is a little thing called "tick" which causes disease to the sheep. Bracken-infested sheep, of which there are thousands every year, creep into the bracken and are not found for months, and vermin thrives, fouling pasture and crops. The only effective way of dealing with this pest is by cutting, and cutting persistently. The Minister mentioned gang labour, and I hope that gang labour will be used in dealing with this problem. He will have done a great service if he gets down to business; and why should not the Government, possessing undreamed-of powers five months ago, come forward with a bold, aggressive policy for which agriculture has been crying out for years? He has made a very good start as Minister for Agriculture. I believe it was the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) who said some time ago that we were creating a dangerous precedent when we appointed an Englishman as Secretary of State for Scotland. With all due respect, I do not agree with that at all. 298 The Secretary of State, I believe, served in the Highland Light Infantry during the last war, and it may be that the hon. Member for East Fife was resenting an Englishman wearing a Balmoral Bonnet. If the Secretary of State for Scotland will attack this bracken problem and defeat it, he will be given the most wonderful Balmoral Bonnet from the farmers of Scotland with the biggest feather that has ever been seen.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Captain W. T. Shaw (Forfar)
I have listened with great interest to the comprehensive speech that the Secretary of State for Scotland has made to-day, but I feel that when the agriculturists of Scotland read it to-morrow, although they will be interested in what he said about prices, they will be, to a certain degree, disappointed. They expected that he would tell them what he wanted them to do during the war situation. Last week the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries told us that he was waiting to find out what the Minister of Food wanted produced, and that he was also considering the suggestions of scientists in respect of diet. I was hoping that the Secretary of State would tell us that he was not going to wait upon the Minister of Food or any other person. What we want is food to use in the greatest quantity, both in England and Scotland. Quantity seems more important at the present time than quality, because if the blockade takes place, we want something to fill the stomachs of the population and not something which merely tickles their appetites. I have the greatest respect for the local agricultural committees, but it seems to me that too great a pressure has been brought upon them to get an increase of ploughed-up acreage. We should think more in terms of whether it would not be better to preserve good land than to increase acreage. What we want is tonnage of food and not increased acreage.
It is necessary that we should have plenty of seed potatoes of the right variety which will give a big crop. We should endeavour now to get every pound of food that can be produced. It is most essential that these local committees should not only emphasise the necessity for increasing the amount of land under the plough, but should also emphasise to the local farmer the necessity of using 299 the kind of seeds to give the largest production. The Minister of Agriculture said that farmers would have to do uneconomical things, but in Scotland they want to know, when he used that expression whether, if they concentrate on uneconomic production and then the war comes to an end, the Government will ensure them against any liability which they may have incurred in being forced to undertake this uneconomic system of farming.
I doubt whether what the Minister has told us to-day about the price of oats will meet with great approval in many parts of Scotland. I represent the county of Angus which is one of the most fertile counties and one of the largest food-producing areas in Scotland. With costs going up I do not believe the average farmer can produce oats at 34s. 6d. a quarter. In order to get back even the costs under present conditions—and they are rising every week—and to pay the present wages, 40s. is the minimum that is necessary. If we are to get the food production which seems to be necessary, it is essential that the question of price should be put on a basis that will ensure not only a return of the costs of production, but a satisfactory profit to the farmer. I hope the Minister will keep that in mind when he considers the purchase of the surplus potatoes. Potatoes are a large crop in my constituency and are of importance to Scotland generally. We have no definite knowledge of what the price will be, and I hope that the Minister will see that a fair price, which will give a profit, is fixed. I do not know whether the Department have a farm of their own, but I wish they had, so that they could gain some practical experience of what it costs to run a farm and have the knowledge to enable them to fix prices that would give satisfaction.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Sir Murdoch MacDonald (Inverness)
The Noble Lord the Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Lord William Scott) made a suggestion to the Secretary of State about the price of wool. He suggested that the price offered for black face wool, 1s. 0½d., was far too low. I am not an authority like the Noble Lord on what the price ought to be, but I know that it ought to be such as to 300 enable sheep farmers adequately to carry on their work. It is very evident that this has not been the case for a great number of years. A year or two before the war, the price of wool had sunk as low as 6d, I know one of the largest farmers in my part of Scotland, where the black face is the more common type, who had not sold one year's crop when another had come on, because the price was so low that it was impossible for him to get rid of the wool. I am told that 9d. and 10d. would at that time have been a fair price. Since then, matters have altered greatly and it is obvious that a much higher price ought to be paid now. I hope that the Secretary of State will take into careful consideration what he has been told by an authority, namely, that the price mentioned this afternoon is not high enough.
With the prices hitherto ruling, sheep farmers have not been able to develop their property as they ought to do. In the Highland area of Scotland, where the black face sheep is bred, the number of sheep has decreased in the last 80 years by 40 or 50 per cent. The Highland pastures are no longer able to carry the same amount of stock. It is obvious that farmers have not been receiving sufficient money to enable them properly to develop their land. I have asked those who were competent to say what really ought to be done. The Land and Property Federation in Scotland gave me the facts, which I passed on to the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor. As a result he appointed a Departmental Committee to consider what ought to be done. I hope that the Under-Secretary will deal with the report of that committee and will be able to tell us what conclusions have been reached. The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) said that the Government ought to evolve some policy in regard to bracken-cutting. From inquiries I have made I learn that—probably owing to the low prices sheep farmers have been getting—they have been adopting a wrong kind of policy in dealing with their land. They ought to have along with their sheep a considerable number of Highland cattle, and if the cattle are kept on the hills with the sheep, they will undoubtedly help to keep down the bracken. The bracken, however, has to be brought back something like the position it was in a great 301 number of years ago when it was in a much less vigorous condition of life than it is in to-day.
It is, therefore, obviously necessary that sheep-farmers should have an adequate return for the wool they are producing, for only by having adequate returns can they devote a part of the money they get to re-developing their land and bringing it back to the state in which it was 60 or 80 years ago, when 40 to 50 per cent. more sheep were held on the land than are held to-day. In those circumstances, I strongly suggest to the Secretary of State that he should think over what the Noble Lord said about the price of wool so that farmers will have sufficient money left to re-develop their land, as, indeed, has been done in certain cases. I know of a Highland proprietor who has some money to spare and what lie does on his land is to scatter fertilisers—phosphates, calcium and others—on the soil, and in that way he has achieved wonderful results. The quantity of grass available has been increased enormously, and he has been enabled to keep far more sheep on particular areas than formerly. To provide the money for fertilisers in that way is probably quite beyond sheep-farmers in general, and therefore it is necessary that sufficient money—of course under strict control by the Secretary of State for Scotland—should be put into the pasture-lands of Scotland in order to bring them back to something like their former fertility.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Gibson (Greenock)
This Debate takes place at a time when it is necessary to distinguish between the two points of view mentioned by the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), the short view and the long view. While we are in this Debate undoubtedly directing our attention to agriculture in Scotland at this crisis in our nation's life it is not possible to shut one's eyes altogether to what is happening south of the Border. It is necessary to keep in mind that an Order has been made whereby all along the coast from Kent up to Berwick the sheep and cattle have to be evacuated from a strip of territory extending 10 miles back from the coast. Unless we are to lose the whole of those sheep and cattle, some other accommodation must be found for them. Not only have the cattle and sheep to be removed but no feeding-stuffs are to be stored there, and 302 accordingly there must be a considerable migration of cattle and sheep in the country.
Naturally, one asks where is available land to be found. We in Scotland are familiar with the deer forests; some of us are painfully familiar with the history of the deer forests and the way in which the land there has been treated. The Deer Forests Commission of 1892 scheduled as suitable for family holdings, 1,782,785 acres of deer forest in crofting counties alone. That is not just a round figure but a figure which is specific down to the last digit, and so precise was the figure and so accurate was the information, that ordnance survey sheets were appended to the report on which the areas of land referred to in each district had been marked in colour and set out very clearly. At that date it is evident there was that very big area of land which was not being properly used. Another Commission in 1912 reported that between 1892 and 1912 a further 1,112,833 acres of former arable and grazing land had been added to the deer forests. In the light of to-day's crisis, that land has been misused. One statesman, now dead, whom the right hon. Gentleman must hold in very high esteem, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, referred to the deer forest as "the pleasure-ground of the rich," and wanted it to become the treasure house of the people. The right hon. Gentleman has before him there a stimulus to a task to which he can well bend his back, in making that land available for the people at this time.
There is the land. I was interested in the right hon. Gentleman's speech at the point where he said that stock cannot be produced out of a conjuror's hat or by perorations—I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was trying it on with his own peroration—but there is a method whereby we can put sheep on to a big portion of that deer forest land which used to be arable or grazing land, and which ought to be recovered. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he says that cattle increase the fertility of the land and keep down bracken, a point which the hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Sir M. MacDonald) emphasised strongly. Consider the number of sheep we have. I looked up the last report of the Department of Agriculture of Scotland, that is the report 303 for the year 1938, and I found that the sheep population was over 7,900,000—very nearly 8,000,000. I do not know what the latest figure is, but that figure was said to be the largest on record. I am informed that one-fifth of the whole ewe stock of Scotland is cast each year, and must be a very large number indeed. Some of these ewes are slaughtered and some are brought down to the lowlands and retained for a year or two, producing crops of lambs, before being fattened off. As was indicated by one of the previous speakers, they respond to the rich pasturage in the lowlands and the crop of lambs they throw there is larger than the crop they would throw if they remained on the hill land.
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman and to the practical men from whom he, not immediately but mediately, derives his advice, that he and they should consider the taking this year of the whole of those cast ewes and putting them back, on to the land that must be brought into use. That would have beneficial results, but it would require to be done at once, because these cast ewes are beginning to be sold, and the sale will progress rapidly from the end of the present month. If these were placed on the deer forests, you would have a rising of the price of the stock being put on to the market, which would help the problem of prices mentioned by the hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Sir M. MacDonald) and earlier speakers. Putting all those ewes on to the deer forest land would largely increase our stock of sheep, but you would not get the crop of lambs that you get by putting the sheep on to arable land in the lowlands. You would get a diminished crop; not the 150 per cent. that you get when they are out on the arable land but a crop which might be down to as low as 80 per cent. Nevertheless, the stock would be increased and there would not be any need to fix prices. We have to look at this problem of the stock of sheep widely. We have to take an overhead view. There must be, as I say, considerable migration of sheep and stock in the country generally. By the proposal which I suggest to the Committee, a very considerable contribution would be made to the big agricultural and food problem that we face at the present time.
304 Prosecutions are taking place just now on charges of failing to cultivate land. There was an instance in Midlothian the other day, when a small landholder was prosecuted and fined for tailing to cultivate a few acres of land on his holding. Failing payment of the fine, the alternative was, of course, imprisonment. The man said that he was not in a position to cultivate the land. His offence was not wilful disobedience of the law. What can one say with regard to the sporting estates, that is the deer forests. There is land there that has been cultivated—millions of acres of it. Who can say that that land is not capable of cultivation to-day? Yet how many prosecutions do we find either of the occupiers of the big sporting estates, or of the landlords who own them? I suggest that the Secretary of State might keep that matter in view. What is the point in the State coming to the aid of the proprietors of the deer forests, as I understand from the right hon. Gentleman is the case, and helping them to slaughter 7,000 stags and nearly 11,000 hinds? Why cannot the sporting tenant, or the proprietor to whom the herds belong, do that himself? If it is a matter of sport, why does he not bear the expense of it?
There is another point of importance. These deer forests are not being let at the present time, and a very important and serious rating question arises. That is an additional reason why land that used to support sheep and cattle, and particularly land that used to be ploughed, should be brought back into agricultural use. Only the Government can do that, and it must be done on a big scale. It cannot be done in some little hole-and-corner, pettifogging fashion. The suggestion which I make to the right hon. Gentleman gives him an opportunity for doing it on a big scale.
I do not want to detain the Committee, but I would point out that I spoke on this subject in my maiden speech on 16th December, 1936, and that a good deal of attention was drawn then to the Highlands of Scotland and their agricultural problems. To bring the land back into cultivation, stock must be put on to it. I most warmly welcome the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum), who coupled with sheep, Highland cattle. Land was brought into use in New Zealand in just that way. Big sheep farms were started and, bit by bit, the land was brought 305 under control. Then the big farms were cut up into small farms. I should not think it would be easy to start right away by taking that deer-forest land and making it into smallholdings. There must be an intermediate stage and in the present position of the country, it should be that of putting sheep and Highland cattle on to the land in order to bring it immediately under control.
The right hon. Gentleman gave figures in regard to tractors. The Government have it in mind to make tractors available. All the tractors in the country should be brought into use. If a lot of land is ploughed up, you will find, as in the lowlands, the more sheep and cattle you will displace. Alternative accommodation will have to be found for them. That is another reason why we should go back and redeem the land which has been wasted in the deer forests.
I shall not detain the Committee with any further observations on agriculture, but before I sit down I think it is my duty to speak of the matter that was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers). When I put a Question on the Paper on the subject of treating, I did it as Member for my constituency, and the fact that I did so has attracted a good deal of attention, particularly in my constituency, where there is a newspaper, which appears every afternoon in some five editions. This newspaper took the matter up and published a leading article on this question of "no treating." The right hon. Gentleman was expected to be very helpful with regard to this question and in the reception that he would give to the suggestion in it. In that leading article the hope was expressed that there would be control of the liquor trade. The reception that was actually given by the right hon. Gentleman to that Question was, I submit, most unfortunate, in view of the high expectations that were held in my constituency, and were swiftly defeated. What was the suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman? It was to give me figures for drunkenness in Scotland. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman does not know that in Scotland a person is not charged and certainly not convicted of drunkenness unless he is not only drunk but incapable. He may be as drunk as any people that we may think of—
§ Mr. Gibson
—but as long as he is able to take care of himself, then he is not liable to be charged and he certainly will not be found guilty of drunkenness because he is not incapable. Further, even supposing he were not able to look after himself—and I am glad that the Under-Secretary is sitting beside the right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench, because he has had to deal with this sort of thing time and again on the bench—if he has a friend with him who is able to take care of him and lead him home, the policeman does not interfere at all and that man is not charged and not found guilty of being drunk and incapable. Accordingly, the right hon. Gentleman will see that the report of these figures which he gave, was received with very great regret and disappointment both in my constituency and elsewhere because they did not meet the point. The point which was being put was this—that to treat a member of the forces is the easiest way to get information from him, and that was what was troubling the minds, the consciences and the patriotic spirit of these Presbyterian women in my constituency.
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that treating of the police is a widespread custom in Scotland?
§ Mr. Gibson
I said the forces. I am very glad to learn from my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that the views which were held by the Presbyterian women in my constituency met with the approval of no less a person than the Lord Provost of Glasgow, and I am sure that his strong support will have some weight with the right hon. Gentleman. I have been told of some public houses where liquor is sold bearing the advertisement, "Come in and have a drink"—
§ Mr. Gibson
"Come in and have a talk, over a glass of beer." That is the very danger which these Presbyterian women had in mind. I end on this note. There are many people in Scotland who are not teetotalers, but who wonder why it is that during this crisis, when food is required so much, grain is allowed for the brewing and distilling industries. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the figures of barley for brewing purposes. 307 How can he support that state of affairs, in reason or equity, at this time, when we are in great straits with regard to our agriculture and food supplies? I hope that he will give this matter of "no treating" further consideration in the light of the facts which, no doubt, he has since turned over in his own mind and in the light of the considerations which I have put before him this evening.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Major Neven-Spence (Orkney and Zetland)
I shall not follow the hon. and learned Member in regard to drink, but I take him up on one point. I always listen to him with respect when he talks about law, but when he talks about sheep my respect comes to an end. The hon. and learned Member suggested that it would be a good thing to put cast ewes in deer forests, presumably after they have been tupped, and he thought there would then be a better crop of lambs.
§ Mr. Gibson
I suggested exactly the opposite, that instead of having a big crop of lambs these ewes would thrive on the rich arable land of the lowlands and there would be a much smaller crop on the hills. The hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Zetland (Major Neven-Spence) may be able to correct the estimate, which is a mere guess on my part, that these ewes on the lowlands might be expected to throw a crop of 150 per cent., whereas on the hills I would not expect them to throw more than 80 per cent.
§ Major Neven-Spence
The hon. and learned Member would find that he would lose a very heavy percentage of his cast ewes wintered in the deer forests, and of those that did survive, a great many would have no lambs at all; of those who did have lambs, a large proportion would not have a drop of milk, and the net result would be disaster for the owners of these cast ewes.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Does the hon. and gallant Member say that in some of the glens in Ross-shire which have been turned into deer forests, sheep could not live? Thousands have lived there in the past.
§ Major Neven-Spence
No, I did not say that. I am talking about cast ewes. These are aged ewes which would not survive another winter in the highlands. 308 I am not talking about the young sheep for which the deer forests are perfectly suitable. I do not wish, however, to pursue this particular topic any further and I pass to the subject to which I intended to refer when I rose. I have always regarded this Supply day as a field day for me, affording an opportunity of airing the special grievances of the Highlands and Islands in West and North of Scotland, but my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyllshire (Major McCallum), who is not here now, has already dealt with these matters so thoroughly that I can see no point in going over them again. I would rather break fresh ground and shall begin, not inappropriately, with reference to the ploughing-up policy. On what principle, does my right hon. Friend base the estimates of land to be ploughed up, which are sent out to the agricultural executive committees? I have seen recently an analysis of the figures for the different counties, and if the area to be ploughed up is expressed as a percentage of the land under grass and crops, not taking the rough hill lard into account, an extraordinary discrepancy is found as between the amounts which the different counties are asked to do. I find that one of the counties in my constituency, Orkney, is being asked to plough up a much greater percentage of its total grass and arable land than Ayr and Caithness. There may be some reason for this, but it does not seem clear to me why it should be so. After all, Ayr has a much better climate than Orkney, and the climate of Caithness is not much different from that of Orkney.
On another point is my right hon. Friend taking note of the rate at which good arable land is being swallowed up by the Service Departments? I know that that cannot be helped, but it is astonishing to see the effect it is having in some counties. In the present year Orkney was asked to plough up 8,000 acres—a great deal for a county of that size. They ploughed up 4,000 acres of old grassland which ranked for grant, besides a great deal which did not rank for grant. But the campaign has been to some extent knocked endways by the Service Departments swallowing up some of the best arable land in the county.
What is the ultimate object of this ploughing-up campaign? In Orkney, for instance, we are being asked this year to 309 plough up another 10,000 acres. From what I know of agricultural conditions in that county, I am sure that that figure is quite impossible of attainment. I do not think it is physically possible to do it, and I think it would be inadvisable if it were possible, because we have reached a stage where we should be dealing with, not only marginal land, but land that has never been under cultivation. For years past the Orcadians have been steadily ploughing up very poor-looking hill land and turning it into excellent grazing, but if Orkney can plough up 2,000 acres next time, it will be about all that they can do. I wonder whether the demand is on the same scale everywhere. It seems to me we are in danger of over-doing this policy of ploughing up grass, or, rather, of doing it too suddenly. It appeals to me as a long-term policy, but, if it is rushed, it is just possible that it may result in a serious lack of balance between the grass crop and the grazing land on the one hand, and the land under cereals and root crops on the other. An alteration in that balance entails an alteration in stocking, which cannot be done in a day.
In any case, I have nothing but praise for this policy of ploughing up as a long-term policy, because it is common knowledge that there are large areas of grassland which are nothing like so productive as they ought to be. It is well known that almost any arable land which is laid down to grass will, by the mere passage of time, revert to the type of land which it was before it was brought under cultivation. You can see endless instances of this in Scotland. You can see places which were laid down to grass 30 or 40 years ago, and which though once good pasture land, have now been invaded by heather, bracken, rushes, mosses and so on. Generally speaking, pasture cannot be retained in a high state of productivity without certain rules being followed in regard to grazing and without periodic treatment with implements and fertilisers. I quite agree with the hon. and learned Member for Greenock (Mr. R. Gibson) in what he said about grazing cattle with sheep. If an area grazes a number of sheep, 5 to 10 per cent. of their number of cattle may be grazed among them without reducing the number of sheep, and this will improve the quality of the land. But sooner or 310 later there comes a time when something more radical must be done, and the best and quickest way of producing an improvement, is to plough up that grass and re-seed the land. That is where I think the policy is of very great use provided we do not rush it too quickly. Professor Stapleton has just published a little booklet with the title "Re-grassing." It would be a very good thing if my right hon. Friend could get a copy of that book into the hands of every farmer engaged in ploughing up old pasture land. If he thinks it too expensive to distribute it free, I suggest that he should "dock" a shilling for it off the sum which is given for ploughing up, and send a copy of the booklet with the cheque to each farmer because it is a most valuable book. The researches of Professor Stapleton have made him famous, but the knowledge which he has placed at our disposal is not being widely enough applied in this country, and the sooner it is applied here the better.
I come now with what, to my mind, is the most important question raised in this Debate. It is a constitutional matter. Under the Defence (Compensation) Act, 1939, if land is taken by the Government for any purpose, compensation is payable. It is payable, in the aggregate, under four heads—the rent of the land taken, the cost of making good any damage that is done, the ordinary payments that would be made by any incoming tenant for work that has been done on the place in connection with crops and manures and so on, and, also, any necessary expenses incurred. That sounds fairly comprehensive at first glance. It might look as if the farmer were being fairly treated. But, in practice, this Act will be responsible for a great deal of injustice. It is felt, particularly in my constituency, and I am certain there are many Members who have had complaints about it. It takes a little time for these things to come to the surface. The farmer is always the last man to complain without reason but I can assure my right hon. Friend that he has a very real grievance with regard to this matter at the present time. I have tried to get it put right by approaching the Service Departments but I have not had any very satisfactory answer from them. I tried my right hon. Friend himself the other day, but he referred me back to the Service Departments. I can- 311 not keep going round and round in circles like that, and therefore I am very glad now to have this opportunity of raising this question publicly.
I give the Committee a very simple example of what I mean because it will show where the injustice lies. Suppose you take a small farm of 50 acres with a valuation of £25. That may seem a small valuation but it is, approximately, what a farm of that size would be valued at in my constituency. That would provide quite a good living for a man, his wife and family, but if you took away half that farm and gave that man, as compensation, half the rent, that is £12 10s., it would mean that that family would be dealt a staggering blow because that figure bears no relation at all to the loss they will suffer. Apart from the fact that the proportion of rent payable bears no relation to the actual loss suffered, a lot of other things come in. There is a dislocation of the work of the farm, through interference with rotation and the fact that the farm will be left with too many buildings to keep up in relation to the land that is left and the same applies to labour and horses. A farm of 50 acres would have a pair of big horses but one big horse would not be able to do the work of 25 acres so it would be still necessary to keep two big horses. It is plain that the compensation provided under the Act is quite inadequate for the damage done to that man's livelihood.
There is no question whatever that the executive is entitled to make any use it likes of the property of the subject in time of emergency. There is not one farmer in my constituency who has ever complained to me about that, but it is tragic for a man whose forebears have lived for 300 years on a farm, every square yard of which has been broken in from primitive land by him and his forebears, to be uprooted and moved off his land. I have never heard one man complain about that but they have complained bitterly when they have had half their farms taken and have been offered half the rent as compensation. It is also perfectly clear, as has been pointed out on more than one occasion, that while the defence of the realm may necessitate the taking over of property it cannot necessitate the non-payment of compen- 312 sation for the property so taken over. This is really a very important constitutional point because from 15th June, 1215, the date on which Magna Charta was signed, right up to 1st September, 1939, when we passed the Defence (Compensation) Act into [...]aw, it has been the law of this country that if the executive takes the property of the subject, it must pay its value. That is one of the great bulwarks of our constitution, second only to the Habeas Corpus Act as a protection against oppression.
Claims arising from the requisitioning of land in the last war were dealt with under the Indemnity Act, 1920. As that Act was construed by the Court of Appeal, it provided that in cases of requisitioned property direct loss—that is the kind of loss I have been talking about—should be repaid. But the Defence (Compensation) Act of 1939 takes no notice of direct loss. I confess that I was not aware of what we were doing when we passed that Act in the form in which it was passed, or I certainly would have had something to say and I do not believe that any hon. Members realised what was being done otherwise there would have been a very strong protest. Such a fundamental change in constitutional practice ought never to have been smuggled through in the way it was and I can assure my right hon. Friend that this is a burning grievance. I can give him any amount of evidence of cases not so much where the whole farm has been taken for which compensation is provided on a juster basis but where the economy of the farms has been knocked endwise, and people put into great difficulties through having part of their farms requisitioned. This matter is so serious that I should be obliged if my right hon. Friend could arrange to send someone up to a place like Orkney or some other area similarly affected so that the whole question could be properly investigated on the spot to see whether some reasonable and just solution could not be found.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Sir R. W. Smith (Aberdeen, Central)
I wish to say a few words to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland upon the very important matter of agriculture. I do not know that he took so much interest in agriculture some years ago, because his interests were in other departments, but he may have 313 heard of the numerous times that I have made a plea in respect of oats as far as my part of the world is concerned. I am certain that it is the desire to get the maximum amount of food and to make agriculture a paying proposition in Scotland, and I am sorry that I cannot agree that what he is doing will necessarily have the desired effect, but I do not blame my right hon. Friend for the trouble. It dates further back. The point that I want to make is that in Scotland, when a thing is found to be wrong, it has taken far too long to get it put right. We are a small number of Members in this House, and our voice is not as loud as that of English Members, and it was years before anything was done in respect of oats in Scotland. If my right hon. Friend wants to make a success of agriculture in Scotland, he must deal with the position at once when he finds that there are difficulties and that things are not going right with Scottish agriculturists. We are told now that the maximum price for oats, which was 29s. a quarter, is to be 34s. 6d., but the price of 29s. a quarter has been running ever since the war started, and was not put right. If 34s. 6d. is a paying price now, and it is not retrospective, then since the war began farmers have been losing money on their oat crop. And further, I am very doubtful if farmers will consider 34s. 6d. a paying proposition. That is a very serious position, and I hope that the Minister will be able to see some way in which to deal with it.
I wish to call attention to another small point. I hope that my right hon. Friend will do something more with regard to agricultural county committees. I hope that he is going to get more use out of them. Are the committees to report to him as to the condition of affairs in their respective counties, and is the Department taking the trouble to stir up the agricultural committees? I am afraid that one cannot say that they are working energetically, because the other day I wrote to the Minister on the question of killing deer in certain forests and he wrote back that the agricultural committee had power to do this, but the committee seemed to be unaware of the fact.
Might I suggest that they should be informed of what their powers are? Regarding the killing of vermin and rabbits, I interrupted the Minister during 314 his speech to ask him of the particular cases in which agricultural area committees have taken action. I may be wrong, but I do not think any of them have done so. One of the things we want to do is to increase our crops, but it is no good talking about poisoning rabbits now; the damage was done long ago. Agricultural committees, it seems, have not offered to see whether damage has been done to crops through rabbits or other vermin. I do hope the Minister will try to induce farmers to realise how much damage is done by rats to their crops. You can penalise an unfortunate owner for not keeping his land free from rabbits, and I think the same thing should apply to farmers so far as rats are concerned. If they do not do it, it should be done for them, and they should be charged for the work.
§ 8.52 p.m.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
I do not want to address the Committee at any undue length, but I would like to refer to the point touched upon by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan) and my Noble Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Lord William Scott). It is the unsatisfactory position of the hill sheep farmer. We are more particularly interested in the position of the hill sheep farmer in the South of Scotland, and I wish the Minister had been in a position to give us greater assurances than he did, but I am not without hope, and I do not share the somewhat gloomy prognostications about the hill sheep farmers going out of business as a result of what they might read in the "Glasgow Herald" or the "Scotsman." For a number of years I was actively interested in the sheep fanning industry and went out of it in 1938. Prices were then unsatisfactory, but that was not the reason for my going out; the reason was that the farm then in my hands was too far away. I will not say more about this, except to reiterate that it is true that those interested in the hill sheep farming industry believe that theirs is the only branch of the agricultural industry which has hitherto had nothing done for it by way of subsidy or anything else. If the Under-Secretary cannot reassure us any more than my right hon. Friend has done this afternoon, I hope that nevertheless we shall have in a short period something which will reassure us.
315 My right hon. Friend, in his very comprehensive statement about the agricultural position, showed everybody that he realises just what agriculture means to the life of Scotland and Great Britain. We have only to look at what is going on across the Channel. France, we are told, is to be de-industrialised and turned into a purely agricultural country in order to supply the ever growing needs of the consuming Reich. Having regard to that fact, I am sure we all realise the vital necessity for us in Scotland and Great Britain that there shall be no waste or spare acres in our land. We have to be both agricultural and industrial. For long we have been regarded as the workshop of the world; indeed, I might say for too long in this sense. Because we were regarded as such, our agricultural industry, which is the oldest industry in the world in any country, has been suffered to go into neglect. I will not go into the reasons why, but I am glad that now, at long last—and it has taken a European war to do it for the second time within a generation—the powers that be in this country are thoroughly alive to the question of putting agriculture on a proper basis in our body politic.
So far as Scotland is concerned, proportionately, having regard to the number of our population, some 5,000,000, and the numbers employed in agriculture, this industry is more vital for us in the Northern Kingdom than South of the Tweed. My right hon. Friend explained at considerable length this afternoon how he proposed to readjust the balance between animal and corn production in this country. Many concerned with agriculture in Scotland have thought much more of animal production than of the production of cereals. Now the whole position is changed. We must utilise every spare acre that is capable of being cultivated. The Government are very properly calling upon us to put an increased acreage under corn cultivation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), in a most interesting speech on the Agriculture Vote for England in this House last Thursday, called attention to the waste acres. He did not allude directly to Scotland, but I am sure his mind must have been running on the same point with regard to the Highland areas. This point has been touched upon 316 by several speakers in the Debate to-day, and with all respect to the Highland areas of Scotland, so far as co[...] production is concerned, I do not think you will get very big results north-west of the line drawn by the Caledonian Canal.
I was delighted to hear the Minister touch on the point about the hill districts. I hope farmers will go in increasingly for running cattle along with sheep, and in large mountain areas like Perthshire and Inverness-shire adopt the method advocated this afternoon by the Minister. We had a most interesting speech from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum). I went through the greater part of Argyll at the recent by-election contest, and I am bound to say that I was appalled at the neglect of the acres which were normally devoted to crofters. I would certainly suggest to my right hon. Friend that it would be well if the crofters in such areas gave more tangible signs of their desire to get on with the work so far as existing acres are concerned. With regard to the acreage under deer forests, no owners or tenants either will grudge an acre which is to be devoted towards bringing about a better state of affairs as far as agriculture is concerned. I might mention the case of one estate whose owner, Lord Trent, has given many additional acres from his deer forests to his crofters.
The increase of agricultural labourers' wages is a matter which everyone in the Committee and everyone connected with agriculture in Scotland ought to welcome whole-heartedly. I am certain that there is no right-minded farmer who would for a moment complain of the minimum rate. A very considerable increase of acreage under the plough was effected last autumn and spring. We are told that in the winter and spring of 1940–41 we are to be called upon to double that amount. I am perfectly agreeable to such a course being pursued, and having regard to the patriotic instinct of the Scottish farmers themselves, this will be universally welcomed, but I think additional care should be exercised with regard to this second addition of land to be put tinder the plough. There are many who added to their increase last year only with very great difficulty, and if there is to be a sort of universal quota this time, it will come harder still to many people. I suggest 317 that it should not be put upon a universal basis like that if circumstances do not permit. I remember last spring in respect of a holding which I had in my own hands entirely under grass, some 200 acres, offering to the committee if they so desired it to put the whole acreage under the plough and thereby relieve someone else who might find himself in difficulties with regard to the acreage that he was required to put under crops. They told me that was not the right moment. I merely mention it because my case must apply to many others.
May I refer to the last of the Votes that figure in the Motion of the Prime Minister? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. R. Gibson) referred to circulars and letters which many of us representing Scottish constituencies have received from organisations connected with the Church of Scotland, in which my hon. and learned Friend is an office bearer, and I am a humble member. This is a matter which is certainly exercising the minds of many people connected with organised religion in Scotland, and perhaps even those outside organised bodies. I do not want to go into any details to-night, but I have received several letters and circulars regarding the matter, and I will leave it merely by saying that I am sure my right hon. Friend will bear the matter carefully in mind.
Another point connected with the police Vote is a matter which I ventured to raise some three or four weeks ago in a Scottish Debate. It concerns the activities of what, for want of a better word, I will call Fifth Columnists in Scotland. On the last occasion I was debarred by the Chair from going into any details, and I do not want to go into any great detail to-night. This is a matter which is exercising the minds of many people in Scotland at the present time, especially in the rural areas. On the last occasion, I mentioned one individual, whom I know very well, who happens to be a tenant of mine, the Marquess of Tavistock. I referred to his political outlook and to his activities. I have received one or two communications, as has at least one other hon. Member, in the period that has elapsed since I last raised the matter. A few days ago a Conservative Member showed me a letter from a working man, a constituent of his, bitterly complaining—
§ Mr. T. Henderson (Glasgow, Tradeston)
On a point of Order, Major Milner. Are we not discussing agriculture?
I am very much obliged to you, Major Milner, for your Ruling. A Conservative Member showed me a letter from a working man bitterly complaining that, whereas a former Member of this House, Mr. Beckett, who on one occasion tried to emulate the celebrated performance of the Lord High Protector, Oliver Cromwell, but only got as far as the Sergeant at Arms—Mr. Beckett, who was secretary of an organisation called the British People's Party—had been taken into custody for some weeks, Lord Tavistock, the chairman of the same organisation, had so far been suffered to go on his own way rejoicing. The writer of the letter complained bitterly, surely, here was a case of one law for the rich and one for the poor. My remarks a few weeks ago regarding Lord Tavistock drew from him a reply. He wrote to me rather complaining that I seemed to have resented his letters. I have made no answer. In that letter he disclaimed the idea of acting in any way which was inimical to the best interests of his country. A day or two after I received that letter, the "Manchester Guardian," which is a newspaper beyond all reproach, contained a report, on 18th June, under the heading, "Liverpool man remanded," which read:Charged with having in his possession a document containing information regarding certain defence measures contrary to the Defence Regulations, Frederick Bowman (36), of Duke Street, Liverpool, was at Liverpool yesterday remanded. Prosecuting, Mr. J. R. Bishop said that at the defendant's home detectives found"—
§ The Temporary Chairman
Will the hon. Member indicate how the matter to which he is now referring comes under the Scottish Vote?
Lord Tavistock happens to be a resident in my constituency, and his name was mentioned. The point is this. In the excerpt I was reading before I was interrupted, it was stated that this Mr. Bowman was remanded. He had been charged with having a vast quantity of literature in his possession connected 319 with an organisation deemed to be subversive to the national security. When charged, Bowman said:I have done nothing of which I am not proud. Are you going to arrest me? If you are not I will give no guarantee that I will alter my views or efforts, but I may guarantee that I will not distribute my leaflets.Now Lord Tavistock comes in:In court the defendant described the charge as a trumped-up and wicked one, and said the document was written to the most Christian man in the country, Lord Tavistock. In communicating anything to Lord Tavistock he did so as a patriotic citizen.I saw this two days after receiving a letter from Lord Tavistock which disclaimed that he would ever at any time, in any circumstances, do anything in a national emergency inimical to the best interests of this country.
He disclaimed the idea that he would do anything inimical to the interests of this country, and having regard to the charge preferred against Mr. Bowman, and having regard to the fact that he communicated with Lord Tavistock, it does in some way incriminate Lord Tavistock. There are very many people in rural Scotland who are very deeply disturbed about Fifth Column activities and in regard to the activities of these particular individuals. I will end on a happier note by saying that I am perfectly certain that 99 persons out of 100 are willing to do anything necessary for national defence, and that agriculturists and everyone else will act in the best way and in the best interests to protect our island.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)
This Debate on the Scottish Estimates has followed the lines of all other Debates on Scottish Estimates. No matter how able, convincing, clear and lucid the speech of whoever opens a Debate may be—and I think that can be said of the speech of my right hon. Friend—we always find that there are some points which have not been touched upon. Something is always discovered which has been omitted, and it is impossible for the opener to deal with all the subjects which come under any particular Vote. If that 320 is so, it is 10 times more difficult for the one who has to wind up a Debate to answer all the questions which have been put. What I propose to do is the same as I have done on previous occasions. I will pick out one or two of the questions which have been raised, and give a guarantee that to-morrow we will go through the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Debate, and where points which have been raised by hon. Members have not been dealt with, we will see that a reply is given to them. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) stated that whilst the problems essential to war are important and necessary for discussion in this House at the present time, we cannot altogether neglect the essential national problems which are peace problems and which we shall have to face after the war is over. This Debate has adequately proved the truth of that statement. We have been discussing problems that are not merely war problems but were problems for Scotland before the war broke out, and they will have to be faced during the war and solved if Scotland is to make the progress in agriculture or other directions that every representative from that country desires.
One of the outstanding questions raised was that of prices for wool clip. I do not think any real complaint has been made against the prices finally fixed. Farmers would like more, but the best has been done in existing circumstances to get a fair deal. The only reason there has been delay is that the negotiations were protracted and that my right hon. Friend has put up a magnificent fight, which finished in getting the prices he has announced to the Committee. A question was put by the hon. Member for Linlithgow as to the additional acreage of land that has been brought under the plough. My right hon. Friend did not say that 280,000 acres of extra land had been brought under cultivation. What he did say was that there were some 280,000 acres in respect of which we have received notices of intention to plough. We have set a fairly high figure to aim at, and the result has been that we have had almost the maximum effort on the part of farmers whose co-operation was needed if we were to meet success in this problem. Full details are not yet available 321 of the total amount that has come under the plough. It will, however, mean a vastly improved acreage for the purpose of giving us the type of foodstuffs which were referred to by my right hon. Friend, who pointed out the difference between using land for rearing cattle, using it for growing potatoes and using it for growing meal.
We have to produce the foodstuffs that are most essential and will give us the best results in feeding our people under existing conditions. A question was asked us to what has been done in connection with sugar beet. It is true that there has been a slight reduction, but the argument I have just used applies in this connection. We have to concentrate on those foodstuffs that are essential to carry us through the critical times we are facing. Another question put by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and by the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Zetland (Major Neven-Spence) was, What are the Government considerations in connection with the increased tillage of land? On consideration of certain factors, the position is that if one agricultural executive committee can show a loss of agricultural land for service purposes or for other reasons, there will be a perfectly good reason for not reaching the quota or even attempting to get the increased quota that we desire for next year. Indeed, the Department does not attempt to lay down the law finally for any district. We did not attempt to do it last year and we shall not this year. We merely state a figure at which we can aim on the view of an equitable basis for increased tillage in each district.
Among other questions, I was asked how many applications have been made by farmers to agricultural executive committees for harvest labour. Incidentally, I may say that I listened to a very interesting speech on the wireless by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan) dealing with the very effective work being done by these agricultural executive committees. He gave a very clear outline of the work they are doing to improve the productiveness of our land and enable us to get the best results from our farming. The arrangements for the supply of labour are in the hands of the executive committees. No statistics are available as to the extent to which farmers have so far asked for additional 322 labour, but my right hon. Friend, in his opening speech, urged that farmers should make their needs known early, so that we may then organise the available labour to meet the demands.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) raised the question of farming credits, and another hon. Member raised the question of credits for the small man. The Department have no reason to fear that the small man has failed so far to receive credit facilities. We in the Department only hear of cases when there is a difficulty, but we know that it is quite common for crofters and smallholders to obtain advances for the purchase of stock, for example, without any security except their own character. Characters in Scotland are of a very high standard and bankers will trust character.
§ Mr. Westwood
They do not always charge 5 per cent. There is a maximum of 5 per cent., and we place that in almost all legislation when we are dealing with percentages. I am not here defending the bankers, not by a long way, but merely stating facts and answering questions, and in all cases they do not charge 5 per cent.
§ Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen North)
The hon. Member is now on a point which I regard as the very bottleneck of the problem of increased agricultural production. The Government have boasted of what they have done by intervention with the banks to secure increased credits for farmers and crofters alike. What are the precise steps which have been taken by the Government? Before any steps were taken farmers who could deposit security could get advances without intervention by the Government. In what single particular have the banks mitigated that condition in making their advances to farmers?
§ Mr. Westwood
My only answer to that point is this: That I have been sitting here from the beginning of this Debate and have been concentrating upon the replies which I have to give to those who have put points in debate, and it is not too easy to deal with a problem of that kind sprung upon one at a moment's notice. The same pledge which I have given to other hon. Members applies so 323 far as North Aberdeen is concerned. I am sure that he will be satisfied with that. On the point which my hon. Friend has put I will see that he gets the appropriate answer.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Can the Minister give us an assurance that he will look properly into the point with which he has just dealt? He says that not in all cases is 5 per cent. charged, but I know of cases where the banks are getting ample security in Scotland and yet charge the full 5 per cent. I should be very surprised if the Minister could find many cases where they charge less than 5 per cent. if they have no other security than the character of the person concerned. If they charge 5 per cent. when they have security they are not going to charge less when they have risk. It is important that this question of the Ministry using the banks for convenience in lending to agriculturists should be clarified. I approve of it, but, while the machinery is convenient, the charge is exorbitant. The banks ought not to charge any more than is necessary to do the work of facilitating agricultural progress.
§ Mr. Westwood
I can give my hon. Friend the assurance which he seeks. The question is, Will we give further consideration to the point and look further into the matter? Yes, in every case we will do that, with a view not only to giving proper replies to Members who put questions, but of enabling Scottish agriculture to make, if possible, still more progress. Without hesitation I give the answer which has been asked for by my hon. Friend.
As I was pointing out before the interruption, we know that, while it is not common for crofters and smallholders to obtain advances for the purchase of stock with no security but their own character, as that character is known to the local bank agents, I believe that such credit is given up to, say, £50. That is an illustration of the general relationship between the banks and the farming community in Scotland. This matter of credit is of great importance. If there were a clear need to supplement existing services it would certainly have to be met, and we should have to face those responsibilities; but it is right to say that no credit scheme can deal with the man who is too deeply in debt or is unable to apply his advance 324 efficiently. In such cases there would probably be no alternative to taking possession of the farm. After all, the efficiency of the farming is our main consideration at the present time. That, I am sure, is the guiding principle which affects the Department in dealing with farms.
The question of the exercise of powers by the Department for the destruction of pests was raised by the hon. Member for Central Aberdeen (Sir R. W. Smith). Here again, the power to issue orders to kill rabbits and other agricultural pests has been delegated to the 40 agricultural committees. We cannot say without special inquiry how many orders have been issued, but I have had inquiry made to satisfy ourselves, as well as hon. Members, as to the action that has been taken and the number accounted for.
§ Mr. Westwood
No, but we do eat them occasionally.
Two fine speeches were delivered from this side of the Committee. May I say that the maiden speech by the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) was very instructive, and I only wish that he had not uttered one sentence which I was sure he did not intend. When referring to child evacuees he called them brats. I am sure he did not mean that. It would create certain reactions, especially so far as Glasgow is concerned. It was a pity to spoil such a splendid effort in a maiden speech, and I have taken this opportunity to mention it so that the hon. and gallant Member may be able to correct any unfortunate impression which may have been created.
§ Major McCallum
I would like to thank the hon. Gentleman very much for the correction. I would like to say that in my house I have had some 13 children with their mothers from Glasgow, and that one of the mothers told me only last Sunday that she was "scolding the brats" for something they had done. I was merely following the Glasgow expression, and if it was wrong, I apologise.
§ Mr. Westwood
I am glad that we now have that explanation. I mentioned it with no evil intention, but to give the hon. and gallant Member an opportunity 325 of correcting something which I am sure would have created misapprehension and bad feeling. The hon. and gallant Member for Argyll made special reference to the high freights which are being charged. That is one of the problems which have always affected the Highlands and the Islands, a problem which is not new and which is not a war problem. For many years it has been exercising the minds of those keenly interested in such matters. Several references have been made to the freight charges on merchandise sent to or from the Islands. Notwithstanding greater difficulty of operation owing to the war and greatly increased costs, the services to the Western Islands have all been maintained as nearly as practicable on the pre-war standard, and, as hon. Members are aware, these services are largely subsidised from public funds, apart from the payment made from the Post Office for the carriage of mails. There has been some increase in freight charges since the outbreak of the war, but this increase is much smaller than in the coasting trade generally and the receipts go only a very short way towards meeting the very increased costs which are now encountered. There will have to be a further contribution from Government funds, and the whole position is receiving active consideration at the present time. My right hon. Friend has instructed me to say that he will look into the cases that were mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll in this connection.
§ Mr. Westwood
The hon. Member must not read anything more into the statement which I have made; he must not add to it or take from it. Never look a gift horse in the mouth; if you do, you may lose the gift horse.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan
Will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that if it is necessary to subsidise freights a little further in order to give relief to the people concerned, he will not hesitate to do so?
§ Mr. Westwood
I will add nothing to what I have said, and I am sure the Committee would not expect me to do so.
The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) made a most careful and 326 helpful speech. I do not propose to deal in detail with the points which he raised, but I will give the Committee this guarantee, that his suggestions will receive most careful consideration. He put a special question about oats. He wanted to know something about the prices of 11s. 6d. and 14s. 6d. The 11s. 6d. minimum is a pegged-up price. If the price is less in the ordinary market, a subsidy from the Government is guaranteed to bring it up to that minimum. On the other hand, the maximum of 14s. 6d. is not a standardised guaranteed price.
I have dealt, I think, with all the main points which were raised except one. Special reference was made to deer forests. This is a question which has been exercising my own mind, as well as the minds of my hon. Friends opposite, for many years. I am sure it has also exercised the mind of my right hon. Friend during all the years in which he has represented a Scottish constituency. Wild statements are sometimes made in connection with deer forests. Three important bodies have gone into this problem. There was the 1892 Royal Commission, which undoubtedly gave us the best report of all these bodies. It dealt, county by county, area by area, with the lands which were under deer forests and which could possibly be wisely used for other purposes. That Commission gave us a "Highlander's deer forest bible," on which to work for propaganda purposes for a very long time. Although 3,400,000 acres were classed as deer forest by the Departmental Committee on Deer Forests which was appointed in 1919, it would be wrong to assume that the whole of this area has been preserved for deer, to the exclusion of sheep and cattle. Many forests carry in parts of them either a permanent or a summer stock of sheep, in numbers which vary according to current economic conditions. There are few deer forests in Scotland which do not carry some cattle or sheep. [Interruption.] I am trying to be accurate; I will not make a statement unless I have studied the problem and I will not express my wishes, but the facts. How far these deer forests can be dealt with is a question on which there is no sure guidance. There are some deer forests in which commercial graziers would hesitate to risk their stocks. During the summer, the Scottish Land Court, at the request of my right hon. 327 Friend, is surveying the deer forests in Ross-shire, Sutherland and Caithness. That is the way to go about this matter. While the deer forests in 1919 were estimated to cover 3,400,000 acres, a total of 541,000 acres, situated in the counties of Aberdeen, Angus, Perth, etc., has been used by small-holders. That reduces the total to less than 2,900,000 acres in the congested districts. [Interruption.] I am dealing with deer forests. That matter was raised by my hon. Friends, and I want to face the facts. Our case is not weakened, but strengthened, by facing the facts. That enables us to deal with the position. There was the Royal Commission of 1892, there was the Departmental Committee of 1919, and there was the committee of 1928. As I have already indicated, only the first named contains a reliable estimate of the areas of forests, moors and grazing land in the congested districts that were at the time capable of being cultivated or otherwise occupied by small tenants.
§ Mr. Barr (Coatbridge)
Did not that Royal Commission say that there were 1,779,000 acres then devoted to deer forests that could be used either for new smallholdings, or for extensions of present smallholdings? That is a very large figure.
§ Mr. Woodburn
And is it not also the case that between 1892 and 1912, 1,112,833 acres of arable land have gone into deer forests in addition to what existed in 1892?
§ Mr. Westwood
If my hon. Friends had waited for a moment I should have been able to give them some of the figures which have been provided for me. I am not blaming them in the slightest. I have been just as impatient myself, and after allA fellow-feeling makes us wondrous kind.The 1892 Commission, which covered the whole of the Highlands and Islands, scheduled 1,700,583 acres as suitable for grazing as well as parts of deer forests and other sporting land as suitable for crofter settlement. I do not think that anyone in this Committee knows the facts of this particular problem better than my hon. Friend the Member for Coat-bridge (Mr. Barr). In the crofting counties the Congested Districts Board 328 and the Department of Agriculture have since 1897 formed into holdings and enlargements of holdings 732,000 acres, and the Forestry Commission have acquired for afforestation 350,000 acres. These subjects include no less than 496,000 acres of the 1,234,000 acres scheduled by the 1892 Commission as suitable for crofter settlement. I have thought it wise to give some of the facts, but time is getting on, and I must come to an end. We have had a full day in dealing with Scottish questions, and, as I have already indicated, I will endeavou[...] to see that an appropriate reply is provided to questions with which I have not dealt in my speech. There is, however, still one other subject.
§ Mr. Mathers
May I ask the Under-Secretary whether it is not possible for him to say something abort the standard of wages that will be paid to those who are brought in to assist farmers in harvest operations?
§ Mr. Westwood
In all cases farmers must pay the minimum rate of wages in accordance with the arrangements that are made. That is the understanding. There will be no attempt on our part, and no encouragement given to any attempt to get labour merely because it is cheap or to get child labour or anything of the kind. They must pay the minimum rate of wages in accordance with the arrangements made between the farmers and the Farm Workers' Union. Voluntary labour is an entirely different point.
Regarding the point about the "no treating" problem my right hon. Friend carefully considered his reply and pointed out that the matter was continuously under review. I hope Members will not try to get anything further from me than that by way of reply. I do not see in his place the hon. and learned Member for Greenock (Mr. R. Gibson)—who is interested in this problem—but perhaps I should point out that Greenock is not the only place in Scotland. We have to deal with all these problems from the national point of view. I am not prepared to allow my own personal convictions to interfere with my administrative work. I have spent all my life, so far, in the temperance movement and I am just as anxious as any Member in this House to help that movement but when I have a duty to perform from the national point of view, I perform it in accordance with what is right from that 329 point of view. As I have said, this matter is being kept under continuous review, by my right hon. Friend. I trust that I have been able in the limited time at my disposal to deal with all the points raised and I hope that we shall now be in the happy position of unanimously obtaining tins Vote.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
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.