Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a further sum, not exceeding £20, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the charges for the following services connected with the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1945, namely:
|Class VI., Vote 16, Department of Agriculture for Scotland||£10|
|Class X., Vote 17, Department of Agriculture for Scotland (War Services)||£10|
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. Johnston)
Measured by the employment it provides, agriculture is our greatest industry. At the last census in Scotland there were 176,000 persons who made their living by it. Our next largest industry was coalmining, with 132,000. But agriculture is more than our largest industry. It supplies the lifestream of the nation. Without continuous contact and reinvigoration from agriculture, our urban population would wither and die. In war-time we should have been starved into surrender, had not our farmers, farm-workers, scientists, technicians, and administrators united to increase the yield from our flocks, from our herds, and from our fields. Yet week after week goes by, and seldom is there a Question in this House about Scots agriculture. That does not mean that there are no grievances to be met, or improvements to be made, but it does, I think, mean that the machinery of the war agricultural executive committee and local consultation is functioning well and that the general relationship between farmers, farmworkers and the Department of Agriculture for Scotland could not have been bettered. Nevertheless, this absence of Questions on the Order Paper about agriculture certainly leaves me in gathering doubt as to the subject or subjects I 1013 should choose for commentary in presenting the agricultural Estimates for the next financial year.
Apart from war services, the estimated increase of expenditure will be £138,000. I will not, I hope, unduly burden the Committee with figures, but hon. Members will be interested, I am sure, to know that the acreage under crops in 1943 was 2,120,700. That was an increase of 43 per cent. over the last prewar year, and it was 21,500 acres more than the acreage under crops in 1918, despite the loss of 300,000 acres of agricultural land since that year. In 1939——
§ Mr. Johnston
It is lost to agriculture. It has been lost, for example, for aerodromes. In 1939, some 120,000 tons of seed potatoes were exported to England. From the 1943 crop, the comparable figure is, approximately, 473,000 tons, equal to an increase of 300 per cent. The number of allotments in Scotland in 1943 was 84,000, compared with just under 20,000 in 1939; and a peak of 43,000 in the last war. The estimated yield from our allotment system is 40,000 tons of vegetables. To assist production on marginal lands, grants in 1943 amounted to £126,670, an average of nearly £20 per farm assisted. The scheme is being intensified this year and £300,000 is provided in the Estimate for that purpose. Of land improvements and drainage, I can report that, since the outbreak of war, nearly 450,000 acres in Scotland have benefited by drainage schemes. On lime, our deliveries in Scotland for the year 1940–41 amounted to 190,000 tons. For 1943–44, that tonnage is increased to 550,000 tons. Since the beginning of 1943, 18 new limestone grinding plants have been established or arranged for construction in Scotland, involving a total tonnage of 172,500 tons per annum, or almost the entire total of deliveries we had in the year 1940–41. Regarding livestock and milk, our dairy cattle increased by nine per cent. since 1939. The proportion of cattle in the special and grade A categories in Scotland had risen from 82 per cent. in 1941, to 89 per cent. in 1943—a very considerable and gratifying increase. In Scotland, 25 per cent. of our milk producers are producing tuberculin tested milk. Our T.T. pro- 1014 duction is 33 per cent. of our total supply—again a very gratifying figure.
§ Mr. Johnston
It is a very considerable increase over the English proportion, but I do not want to enter into comparisons of that kind.
§ Mr. Johnston
On mechanisation, our Scots farm tractor equipment has risen from a pre-war figure of 6,250 to over 20,000—again a very considerable and very gratifying increase. In harvest labour, the following are the particulars of the casual workers enrolled in 1943: 2,393 senior school girls enrolled for the raspberry crop; 7,500 volunteers enrolled for the grain harvest, and 55,560 schoolchildren for the potato crop. There are expected to be increased numbers for the current harvest. All these arrangements are being made, where our school-children are concerned, in close association with the education authorities. Industrial volunteers, fortunately, are coming forward in large and in increasing numbers for the harvest. They are now 4,500, which is more than four times those recruited last year, and I am in hopes that we will be able to evolve this system of "holidays with pay" in certain of our industries on a voluntary basis in the post-war years.
We in Scotland are a nation of food exporters—A remarkable fact. The total United Kingdom food production—I beg my hon. Friends to note these figures—is estimated to be 22,500,000 tons, excluding fish. Of that 22,500,000 tons, we in Scotland produce 14 per cent. On the basis of the Ministry of Food's international investigations and calculations—that we consume 990 pounds' weight of food per man, woman and child—it follows that we in Scotland feed ourselves, and export nearly a million tons in oats, beef, sheep and potatoes, and, I can add, 150,000 tons of fish. These are remarkable figures.
§ Mr. Johnston
I hope to see the day when they will. Most of the leaders of our Scottish agricultural industry are 1015 naturally concerned about the long-term prospect—prices, markets, security against the dumping of foreign surplusses at non-economic prices and so on. Milk and livestock have, therefore, already been given guaranteed prices for four years—that is, until 1948. The future prospects in cereals and potatoes are now being discussed with the leaders of industry. Meanwhile, prices are to be reviewed in February every year. What other system of price arrangement will obtain in the years that are to be, I will not venture to prophesy. It may be that import boards regulating the inflow of imported potatoes to the absorptive capacity of our markets will be provided, but whatever may be the method of price-fixing for producers, I, personally, very much hope that we shall pay far more attention than we have hitherto done to the nutritional requirements of our people, by that means assuring a tremendous expansion in our home market. We need not wait upon decisions about international trade, quotas or the like. We in Scotland are beginning—hesitatingly, tentatively, but beginning—to pursue experiments in the way of instructing our next generation of housewives upon the most attractive methods of cooking our own Scottish basic products. The domestic science courses in the schools and the cinema screen are good avenues to the new nutrition and to the stabilisation of our home production in our fields, and on our hills and our coasts.
It was, the Committee may remember, the Lanarkshire school milk experiment in 1930 which formed and still forms to-day the basis of our great national school milk consumption. There was also a rather remarkable experiment, to which, unfortunately, insufficient public attention was given, in Scotland at all events, of a method of disposing of surplus potatoes at Bishop Auckland in Durham, and the Empire Marketing Board away back in 1929 by a propaganda effort, increased threefold the weekly sale of select Scots graded and marked sides of beef in the London market. The resultant effect upon price was immediate. I certainly do not think that the possibilities of organised selling by home producers in our home market have even been seriously considered, and anything that I can do—and I am happy to say that I know I have the heartiest concurrence of my right hon. 1016 Friend the Minister of Agriculture in England in this matter—to stimulate discussion for the better marketing of our primary products and for the disposal of surpluses in such a way that they will not ruin the producers, will be done.
If I may express a purely personal point of view, the one serious handicap to a long-term guarantee of stability and assured prices in industry—and I am all for it—is a widespread fear that a great part of any assistance given to agriculture, may disappear in land speculation, and that unjust and unwarranted rent-raising may absorb part—only part—of what the nation would be willing to see devoted to an increase in agricultural well-being. It is not only here and there that a landlord may seek to extract rents beyond any reasonable figure of recompense for his outlays on farm buildings, for example, but do not let us forget the owner-occupier who may capitalise his guaranteed prices, and sell out to needy and anxious buyers at greatly enhanced figures. That certainly happened in the boom period immediately following the last war, and I have already evidence that there is again a beginning of that sort of thing. No fewer than 23 per cent. of our Scottish tenancies are held by owner-occupiers, and when we get to the larger farmers of over 300 acres, the proportion of owner-occupiers rises to 38 per cent. I want to prevent to-day owners-occupiers from capitalising any assistance given to agriculture, and selling that assistance to needy purchasers. I venture to express the opinion that sooner or later, Land Court machinery of some kind——
§ Mr. Johnston
I am dealing with prices at the moment. Land Court machinery of some kind, even if the State should own the land, will require to be used to prevent exploitation, either in rent increases or in selling price increases. I do not for a moment dispute the necessity of ensuring a just return to every section of the industry for any buildings, equipment or any other service rendered. Indeed, there are instances where the inadequacy of farm buildings is simply due to the fact that no one now is likely to provide the capital without being assured of an adequate return. If farm buildings are to be improved, if the status and standing of the agricultural 1017 worker is to be improved, and there is to be a development of amenity in our greatest industry, then a just price must be paid for the product, but let us see to it that the just price reaches the right person. I have said that there are great and practically unexplored methods of developing the home market for the home producers, but the speculator, the re-grater and the exploiter require to be prevented from harassing this great industry With their exactions.
May I say a word about the one section of our agricultural industry where conditions have not been satisfactory, and that is, hill sheep farming? As the Committee knows, we appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Lord Balfour of Burleigh on 20th November, 1941. That committee reported on 13th December, 1943, and we published its report on 10th January, 1944. Since then, all the hill sheep interests have had an opportunity of discussing among themselves the implications of that report. They sent me on 29th March a memorandum giving me their considered views. I have met their representatives to consider and to discuss that memorandum. They accept, in the main, the ordered programmes of improvement recommended in the report but they disagree with the proposed scheme of disposing Of surplus store lambs. Instead, they put forward a proposal for a subsidy on wedder lambs retained on farms. I have also had a memorandum within the past few days from the Land and Property Federation, indicating their general approval of the main recommendations of the report. But howsoever it is settled, it is clear that the problem of the disposal of store lambs surplus to feeders' requirements in any given year is one of the key problems of this industry. In years of large lamb crops the surplus ought not be the means by which prices are battered down to non-economic levels.
The Balfour of Burleigh Committee made a recommendation as to one method by which this ruinous process can be avoided, and a bottom fixed in the producers' market prices. The industry itself now suggests an alternative method that they think will settle this problem. This method we are now examining in detail with representatives of the National Farmers Union of Scotland and with the hill sheep interests, and my right hon. 1018 Friend the Minister for Agriculture and I are now discussing the other major question referred to in the Burleigh report, the recommendation for a wool marketing board. I am hopeful, however, that by amicable arrangement with the Forestry Commission some of the most depressed hill sheep areas and farms will be put to forestry purposes and part of the hill sheep industry problem, thereby automatically solved.
§ Mr. Maxton
Does the right hon. Gentleman think the Forestry Commissioners are likely to be difficult?
§ Mr. Johnston
Not perhaps unduly difficult. There are still areas of deer forests reported upon by the Land Court as suitable for grazing sheep and cattle, where sheep and cattle have not, so far, been provided. Last month, a rough preliminary estimate, of the return shows that the present stocking of the deer forests amounts to 127,000 sheep, and 4,000 cattle, but there are still vacant acres for 72,000 sheep and 3,000 cattle. In 1939, I requested the executive committees in the Highland areas to get more use made of the grazing resources of suitable deer forests where the owner was willing to negotiate lets or longer leases to stock owners. The committees were asked to do everything in their power to promote these arrangements; failing that, the committees were invited to make recomendations that I should take possession under the Defence Regulations of these forests for the purpose of letting the grazing to suitable applicants. The committees were informed that I would be ready to take possession of any suitable forest, which could not be put to full productive use by agreement with the owners. We have already taken possession of eight deer forests under these Regulations, covering 169,000 acres. Four of them are managed by the agricultural executive committees on behalf of the department; three by direct management of the Department of Agriculture; one has been let. They are now all grazing cattle and sheep. One of them is at Torosay in Mull, where we took possession in June, 1941. The stocks now numbers 3,600 wedders and 80 cattle. The wool clip alone, in two years has been sold for £1,120. We have made improvements in fences, repaired buildings, cut bracken, drained the land and, notwithstanding this expenditure, the financial return on that particular forest 1019 showed a surplus of £1,000 for the whole period of management.
§ Mrs. Hardie (Glasgow, Springburn)
The right hon. Gentleman said that the land was taken over under Defence Regulations. Does that mean it will be handed back to the owner at the end of the war if he wishes to take it?
§ Mr. Johnston
Not necessarily; and, in any case, if it was handed over, it would be with compensation to the State. I do not think the hon. Lady need be worried about that aspect of this problem. I am not arguing at all in favour of centralised management in the use of these deer forests; I am merely saying that there are instances where the forests, or part of them, can be put to productive use, and I am sure that the agricultural executive committees will do everything in their power to see to it that recommendations are forthcoming in suitable cases. All these great experiments and ventures in land, in increased tractor equipment, in agricultural co-operation and consultation, in practical demonstration and advice, in improved yield and efficiency, surely ought not to be allowed to lapse or disappear with the war but, should be extended and developed, to provide added wealth and better nutrition to the nation, and a more adequate livelihood and recompense to our primary producers.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
It is a privilege to have the opportunity of following the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I think everyone will agree that he has given the Committee a most able and comprehensive account of Scottish agricultural affairs. I think we all desire to congratulate him on his speech, and to wish him well in his great but not very enviable task of grappling with the many and complex problems which confront the Department of State of which he is head. But he is fortunate in having at his side two capable Joint Under-Secretaries and I think the Under-Secretary with whom we have to deal to-day has, if I may say so, made it his job to get about the country, to go amongst his farmers, and to get under their skins. In this way I think he has come to appreciate their manifold difficulties. I know that they appreciate what he has done; I should say they are 1020 well served at the Scottish Office and I see no reason why anyone should withhold credit where credit is due.
While the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, I could not help looking back along the road which we have travelled. I believe that this battle of the land will go down in history as one of the great victories of this war. In fact, to say that a miracle has been enacted is no overstatement, if we recall that in the period between the last war aria this, in Scotland alone, cultivation was disappearing at the rate of 1,000 acres every year. Every year there were 100 fewer farms and crofts in Scotland, and every year 1,000 workers were leaving the land. It seems only yesterday that the right hon. Gentleman, the then Secretary of State for Scotland, had to be taken up to Aberdeenshire to see the barren and derelict oat areas up and down that great county. Finally, when the curtain rose on this war, very few people seem to appreciate that 17,250,000 acres, more than half of the total cultivable acres of Britain, were lying in permanent grass, much of which were in a state of semidereliction—ditches choked, hedges uncut, rushes flourishing over arable land. That was the pre-war picture. Contrast that with the conditions to-day. In spite of an acute shortage of labour, in spite of the curtailment of imports of fertilisers and feeding-stuffs, and in spite of the great effort required to bring back thousands of acres of derelict land to cultivation, we find that the farming country as a whole—I am speaking on Great Britain figures, because I do not know what is the Scottish proportion—is producing three-quarters of the food we eat. Our agricultural output is the highest of any agricultural country in the world and two and a half times that of the German farmer. I suggest that that is a pretty good story, and that the right hon. Gentleman has shown that Scotland has played a worthy part in it, for our production per acre, except for sugar beet, which is less, and for oats, which is the same, is in every case higher than that of our English friends.
Although the struggle to maintain our position as the greatest quality producers of livestock in the world has been difficult, as the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) knows, and at times even desperate, because of the Government's policy, which ever since this war 1021 began has definitely discouraged quality, especially in beef, we have succeeded in holding the field, holding the field in crop production and in beef production and in quality milk. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, 33 per cent, of our total gallonage production is tuberculin-tested, against six per cent. South of the Border. Here I welcome the recent announcement regarding the attested herds scheme, and would like to press that it should now be carried to its logical conclusion by transferring the responsibility for the administration of the Scottish end of the scheme to where it should be, which is in the Department in Edinburgh. It is nonsense to deal with the problem of animal health in Scotland from Whitehall, and note ought to be taken of that fact.
I would also ask the Under-Secretary if he would clear this point about which there seems to be some difficulty. Does the attested herd scheme cover beef cattle as well as dairy cattle? I have heard "Yes" and "No" and I do not know which is correct. The right hon. Gentleman referred to milk, and here I would raise only one point, and that is that since the war began there has been a little confusion in the minds of the public in regard to milk. The Scottish Milk Marketing Board's figures are 31 per cent. higher as regards the sale of liquid milk than they were before the war. The lesson which we learn from that is that when milk is cheap people will buy it. The shortage to-day is not due to under production but to an overwhelming expansion of consumption, which I hope will continue, Looking at these facts I suggest one is justified in saying that the battle of the land has been well fought, and I would go further by saying, as a farmer myself, that our success has been due in no small measure to the co-operation of everybody concerned in this effort—the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, our War Agriculture Executive Committees and last, but not least, the farmers and the farm workers, and among the workers I would include the land girls and all the volunteers who have come out from the cities to work. All have played their full part in what has been a great combined operation—a mass attack against starvation.
Because of the restriction which we Scottish Members impose upon ourselves in Debate it is not possible in the space 1022 of 15 minutes to tackle a subject so vast, so technical and so fundamental as agriculture. We are now in the fifth year of the war, with our agricultural machine pretty well run in and running steadily in top gear. The Secretary of State pointed out that there have not been many questions upon agriculture, and that is not surprising after the machine has been run in for five years, and I do not propose to raise many questions of detail which could be dealt with through other channels. I should like to address myself a little later to other things, but before doing that I suggest that it would be helpful if the Under-Secretary could give us a little more guidance in regard to this year's harvest labour. The Secretary of State mentioned some figures, but I am not quite satisfied about the position, because, as we all know, the soldiers have gone away and the farmers in my part of the world are a little worried about the future position in regard to volunteer labour, the position in regard to Irish labour for the potato harvest and the arrangements made respecting school children. If he could tell us what he has succeeded in doing in this direction I am sure the Committee would be grateful.
The other point which I regard as of immediate importance is in regard to the future prospects for our tillage programme. If the Under-Secretary could give us some indication of whether or not the 1945 tillage programme is to be relaxed we should be much obliged. Our land to-day has lost a little of its fertility. I do not think it has lost a very great deal, but it has lost some, and is showing signs of strain. A great deal of it is becoming dirty, and there is no question that it is badly needing a rest, and I hope that the Department will find it possible this year to relax somewhat their tillage programme. Moreover, if we are to turn our attention, as we ought, to our livestock production we shall have to release some more land to grass. On our marginal farms there should be a definite turn towards the proper function of those farms, which is stock rearing. Perhaps the Under-Secretary can say something along those lines. There is no reason why we should adopt a hush-hush attitude on the question of crop production. Farmers have to plan ahead, and it is the future with which they are concerned, and about which I should like to say a word.
1023 A few months ago there appeared a pamphlet published by the Tory Reform Committee called "The Husbandman Waiteth." I am not a member of that Committee. I cannot say that apart from the attractive pictures in it and the intriguing title I found the report contained anything very original. It seemed to me to go along rather familiar lines. But the title was certainly well chosen, and if my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Wedderburn) were here I would compliment him on it. It struck me straight away to ask: What is it that the husbandman is waiting for? I was forced to look up my Bible to see the text, and I came to the conclusion that it was the precious fruits of the earth referred to in James V, 7. But there is something else which he is looking for. At this moment he is looking for a post-war policy and he has certainly "had long patience for it." I do not suppose the Under-Secretary can add very much to what the right hon. Gentleman has said in that connection, and I say that because my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture pales at the mere mention of post-war policy, having told us in fact at that Box that he was under instructions not to speak about it. Therefore, it may be a little unfair to ask the Under-Secretary to answer this question, but it is certainly what the husbandman is waiting for.
He is beginning to wonder, and not without reason, whether the seed which was sown a long time ago and which seemed to be springing up so promisingly has not, after all, fallen on stony ground. If it has why not say so and be done with it, because agriculture learned long ago how to swallow its medicine? It is high time we had some more guidance as to the future. Of course, we have had the recent declaration of Government policy in regard to live stock prices up to 1948. That was a welcome announcement, probably the most important announcement yet made by the Government, because they had not made any before. It certainly allows the farmer to plan some distance ahead, but when an hon. Member for one of the divisions in the North of England, I think the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts), intervened in a Debate the other day upon food, and said that farmers should be grateful, in my view he went 1024 too far, because I think he had forgotten that one of the few things we can be certain about when this war is over is that we shall face a world shortage of animal products. Occupied Europe alone has lost 11,000,000 cattle, 12,000,000 pigs and 11,000,000 sheep, and these losses have to be replaced. On top of that the Argentine, because of abnormal war demands, has suffered a reduction of 568,000 head since 1941, and has now become worried about the excessive slaughter of cows.
Facing a world shortage of animal products, and especially meat, it is no wonder the Government can give a guarantee up to 1948. If they did not prices would sky rocket. The weakness of the plan is that it is too short, because obviously you cannot base a livestock policy on a four-year guarantee, and that is a question to be considered not only from the point of view of Scotland but for the whole of Britain. We are greatly in need of guidance as to the direction which expansion should take in Scotland. In the recent Debate on the Vote for the Ministry of Food the hon. Member for East Aberdeen and my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member fat Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) indulged, a little facetiously I thought, in a sparring match about wheat and sugar beet. I am not going to enter into that dispute, but the right hon. and gallant Member was thinking in terms of food shortages and the hon. Member for Aberdeen thought he was talking about postwar agricultural policy; but I agree with the hon. Member for East Aberdeen when he said that we cannot have a policy based upon wheat and sugar. The Wheat Act of I930 was a great technical success but that was all. It did nothing to solve our farming problem. It only enlarged the wheat acreage by two per cent. of our total of crops and grass and it ended up by ruining the oat growers of Aberdeenshire.
I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that 80 per cent. of Scotland's output and nearly 70 per cent. of England's prewar agricultural output was derived from livestock and livestock products. Out of Scotland's total, £41,000,000, beef was an easy first at £10,750,000, milk and dairy produce came second at £8,250,000, sheep and lambs, third, at just over £8,000,000. Potatoes and oats, of which we hear so much, important as they are, fell far short 1025 of the figures for livestock even when taken together. Therefore, it is obvious to me that what we need first and foremost for Scotland is a livestock policy. After all, livestock is what Scotland is best suited for and what our farmers are most skilled in. Hon. Members who represent Aberdeenshire constituencies will have noticed when they have been in that county during the past few months how their fine quality cattle are gradually disappearing. Why? Because of the great switch over to milk. I do not think that is a bad thing, but the tendency has spread up to Aberdeenshire and is showing itself in a vast deterioration in the quality of the cattle in the foremost county of Britain. That is a serious position. We cannot live on milk alone in Scotland, and the livestock side of agriculture has been completely out of balance ever since this war began, and in my view it will not be put right until the wide gap between milk and beef is closed. It is closing now, but it will not be properly closed until there is a real effective premium upon the well bred quality steer calf. If there is not such a premium the farmer will not rear them. If we fail to attend to that in my view we shall be at the mercy of the Argentine and Eire when this war is over.
Something has been done to restore that position, but we do not seem to have any real plan. It is a plan which I should like to have discussed. I think we ought to have a separate Debate on this subject if it could be arranged, because it is clearly a very difficult question and one which is going to affect the small man. I say that because I believe economic milk production will be based upon the large milking unit, a unit of sufficient size to warrant modern machinery being introduced, a unit of not less than 30 cows, and even that may be too low. Now I cannot see an economic future for the beef producer unless he has a large turn-over. It will not do to turn out what we have been doing in the past. The small man may, therefore, be forced to turn his attention in some other direction, possibly calf rearing, but up to the moment we have had no guidance whatever on this subject.
In conclusion, I would say a word about what the right hon. Gentleman said regarding the Balfour Report. I had intended to go for him because he had not 1026 said anything in his speech, as I did not think he would refer to it, and therefore, I have to modify in some respects what I should otherwise have said. He is now discussing this very important document, and I think it is rather extraordinary that this House should not have had an opportunity of discussing it. We discussed the Forestry Report, and here is another Report, of a very able Committee, a most important document, and there has been no opportunity of discussing it and it is obviously impossible to do so to-day. This hill sheep industry is a vastly more important industry than many people imagine. Two-thirds of the entire surface of our country is mountain and heath, and, as I have tried to point out, the mutton and lamb produced from our hills are very nearly as important to Scotland as milk production. The Balfour Committee paint a gloomy picture of the hill sheep industry. They tell us that the fertility of the past has gone and that this industry will die a slow death from exhaustion unless State and industry combine to restore it. But they do not provide any magic carpet upon which the hill farmer can step which will whisk him off to more solid economic grounds. Some opportunity should be afforded Members of Parliament to express their opinions in regard to that Report before we get legislation, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to see that we have an opportunity of discussing the Report.
A Herring Bill was presented to Parliament the other day, but I suggest that herrings are not as important to Scotland. The output of mutton and lamb from the Scottish hills is three times the value of the herring, and so it is high time we looked into the question of our hill sheep industry. I believe that our 10,000,000 acres of hill land can be made more productive, and I say that speaking with a little practical experience of a pretty extensive enterprise. The Secretary of State is now building reservoirs for hydro-electric supplies; he ought also to build reservoirs of store cattle in the hills and glens of Scotland, and I suggest that he should now give a definite guarantee for ten years that the Hill Cattle Scheme which has worked so excellently should be continued. I cannot imagine anything that would encourage enterprise more than a guarantee that this scheme should be continued for that period.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
With regard to what the hon. Member is saying about the encouragement of cattle on the upland pastures, a gentleman to whom I was speaking told me that the present rate of financial assistance is not sufficient having regard to the present price of store cattle.
§ Mr. Snadden
I do not know that I would agree with what the hon. Member's friend said. I think the cattle scheme could be improved by way of a differentiation in favour of the home breeder. At the moment the Irishman greatly benefits. I should like to see Scottish animals, bred on our own hills, given discriminatory assistance in their favour, but apart from that I think the scheme is reasonably adequate though no doubt some would like a little more.
I have perhaps spoken rather too long, and I would end by saying that although we in Scotland cannot be accused of inefficiency in any way either in crop production or in milk or anything else I do recognise that we must press on hard towards increasing our efficiency. I have never been one to believe that agricultural survival lies along the road of old-fashioned ideas, and I believe that the future of our country in terms of agriculture will depend upon quality, and that is a good sound thing to depend upon. It will depend upon the quality of our livestock, the quality of our beef, the quality of our milk, mutton and lamb, and I suggest that it is time we had far more guidance as to the future than we have had up to date. I am sure that, given reasonable security, and also given an opportunity which in the past has been denied to us, Scottish agriculture will fulfil its obligations in peace as well as it has done in war.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
When we come to deal in Committee with the Scottish Estimates for agriculture we feel that we are dealing with something that is fundamental, and I am sure that that thought has been borne out to-day by the Secretary of State himself in the fine review of the position which he gave us, and also in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perth (Mr. Snadden). I am not going to deal with the same points as have been dealt with by my hon. Friend who preceded me, but in passing I would say that he entered into a realm that it would be very 1028 difficult for anyone from this side of the Committee of the party to which I belong to follow, and that was to criticise an authoritative party statement and to approve of nothing except its title. One felt inclined when he was discussing that report, although commending its title, to ask "What's in a name?". The name does not matter so much; what matters is the policy that is propounded in the document. The Secretary of State gave us a very good picture and showed us also that he was not unaware of some of the dangers that beset the industry of agriculture. In a kind of parenthetic way he expressed his personal view that one of the greatest dangers was the possibility of exploitation of the prices for land by owner-occupiers and he indicated that he was on the alert to take every possible action, under the powers he has or may be given to check that particular tendency, which he said was already in evidence.
He made reference to the need for some sort of rent court or land court. We have the opportunity at the present time of seeing the Scottish Land Court working very effectively. We are hearing more about it to-day that we heard in times gone by, and we reflect with pleasure that the present head of it is a former Member of this House who, as I think it is generally conceded, is doing very well as Chairman of the Land Court. He has certainly devoted a great deal of attention and interest to the work that lies to his hand in his important office. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State also referred to the powers he has and the way he has used them to fill up vacancies for the grazing of deer forests. We are glad that the matter is being tackled as it is being done. It was good to hear how very successful my right hon. Friend had been in taking over some of these deer forests, notably in the Island of Mull, where, as he showed us, an immense improvement had been made.
My right hon. Friend also recited big figures about Scottish production in one way and another, and it struck me that he might also have said that, as Secretary of State, he is the biggest agricultural landowner in Scotland. The acreage in the ownership of the State now must be nearly 500,000 acres—a considerable portion of the agricultural land in Scotland. On that land we have, for nearly 3o years now, been building up a new 1029 body of agricultural workers on Government holdings. We have been establishing and developing people who have become specialists and experts in many directions. On these holdings pig-keeping, poultry-keeping, dairying, fruit production, bee - keeping, market gardening, and production under glass have been carried on, as well as the growing of cereal and root crops and the raising of livestock. The people on these holdings, it can be said, have made good, and this Scottish development under the of the State is a development that must not stop. The opportunities for holders must be increased. Before the war, whatever the position is now—and I believe it is still about the same—there was still a large number of unsatisfied applications for holdings in Scotland. What chances have these people to develop? What chances will their sons, who have been trained with them, have after the war? Normally, a farmer or owner-occupier of a farm looks forward to his son following in his footsteps. If he has a family of sons he tries to get farms for them and put them in possession. That kind of succession should be encouraged by the Department of Agriculture.
To enable my right hon. Friend to answer these questions and to decide upon the proper policy in matters of that kind, I would like to suggest that he, personally, should get down to the problem in a practical way. I know how busy he is and how very precious his time is, and that much of what he has to decide must necessarily come to him secondhand. But in this matter I want him to endeavour to get first-hand knowledge, and not to depend upon recommendations from his Department, however carefully prepared. I am not saying anything against the officials at St. Andrew's House, because I and my constituents have found them very helpful indeed, but I ask him to get away from the people with red tape in their hands and red ink on their fingers, and go among the practical people with red soil on their boots so that he may learn things at first-hand. I am sure that the technical staff of his Department would be able to put him into touch with these people and that they would advise him on what should be his policy in future, in relation to matters of agricultural interest, in many directions. The agricul- 1030 ture that is being pursued on these holdings now has many facets and is not confined to any one branch. My right hon. Friend will get from these people real guidance in dealing with the problems which must be faced. If he would take the advice I am giving him now, he would find how very valuable is the work of the technical people in his Department, and he would find how popular they are with the many people who are holders of land under the Department of Agriculture. It is not a question of looking at things as a stranger. I have found that the technical people in his Department have been very much alive to the needs of these holders, and that their advice has been very gratefully accepted.
The Minister would find grievances on some of these holdings. For instance, lie would find some farm buildings, not houses, in a dilapidated condition. He would find dry privies instead of proper sanitary accommodation. He would find roads which needed repair. Where a road is serving a number of holders, I have had more than one experience of the fact that these holders are willing and anxious that the job of making the road good should be done in a thorough fashion. They do not mind the cost being spread among them by an addition to their rents. My right hon. Friend would be asked about the position with regard to prices after the war, and in particular, whether the £10 per acre subsidy for potatoes is to continue. He would also get problems put to him that do not come strictly within his own purview. He would find that injustice is felt by Scottish growers of tomatoes and strawberries about the way in which the English price is the ruling price, so that they do not have an opportunity of a good price at the beginning of the sale of these crops, in the same way that the English producer has. In respect of tomatoes and strawberries, it is well known that the quality of the Scottish product is much better than that of the English product. My right hon. Friend would find criticism, again, in comparison with England, at the fact that glass houses used for the production of such crops are not rated in England, whereas they are rated in Scotland. Holders feel that this is an unjust burden upon them. I cannot go into' this question at length to-day without being out of Order. I simply use it as 1031 an illustration of the kind of thing that would be put to my right hon. Friend, if he took my advice and went among these holders.
But my right hon. Friend would not find only complaints; he would find great satisfaction among holders and their wives at the good conditions under which they live. It is not many weeks since I met the wife of a holder who told me how, on getting up in the morning, she looked out of her windows and saw in the distance a ring of hills. I was about to say to her "It is enough to make you sing the 121st Psalm," when she herself said she felt like saying:'"I to the hills wi:1 lift mine eyeswhich, as everyone knows, is the I21st Psalm. So I say that my right hon. Friend would not find his journeying throughout these holdings in any way depressing. It would encourage him to see the splendid use to which the land is being put by these people, who I claim are the pick of the agricultural community in Scotland. I am urging that these opportunities should be extended after the war. The Secretary of State might ask, "Where is the land to come from?" He has indicated one source of increase. There is land being used for aerodromes which will probably come back to us after the war is over, and once again became agricultural land. There are the farms which have been taken over during the war, because they had not been properly farmed. They have been improved. It is not likely that the previous occupiers will desire to pay for the improvements which have been carried out during the time that the farms have been out of their possession. That is land which might be used in the way I recommend. Other land must be purchased, no doubt.
It is clear that some holdings will be lost by our post-war housing development and the holders will require to be placed on new land. Holders thus dispossessed, it seems to me, should have a first claim on the new holdings. Following upon them will be the fully skilled ex-Service men, the sons of the fine new type of agriculturist that I have mentioned, men with experience and the capital available, who would carry on the succession to which I have referred. Then we come to other experienced men such as farm grieves, like those who have 1032 established these holdings in past years, men who know how to run holdings whether large or small. Then we should require to provide for men with no agricultural experience, who come back from the war. It would be well to place such men with the best of the present holders, and train them on these farms if they were anxious to go in for land work. In co-operation with the Ministry of Labour, who are setting themselves to train men after the war, here is a realm in which they could be trained, not necessarily disabled men but men who want to take up agriculture in the years that lie ahead. After they had six months' training, the farmer whom they were helping would probably be willing to pay part of their wages, and at the end of a year they would be earning full wages. Then any question of training subsidy would cease. Later on, these men would probably want to remain with the people who had employed them, and make a permanency for themselves in this kind of work. It would be necessary, therefore, to provide for them and their wives living on or near the holdings on which they were working. That would encourage them to remain on the land, and they in turn would probably want to take up holdings of their own, and we should have the satisfaction of knowing that they had been properly trained and were efficient for using the land as holders.
These measures would result in a better and more contented agricultural population, and a more efficient and prosperous agricultural industry and would make the best of the land at our disposal. To achieve this, many things are needed. The first is a proper water supply. Then there is the need for laying on electrical supplies. I know cases of people who make their own electricity, in order to heat incubators, and who are getting concerned about the possible breakdown of the plant that they have established. It seems wrong that electricity should be made in a small way, to serve the needs of one holder who goes in for poultry breeding. The apprehension of the individual holder is understandable because the breakdown of his electricity-producing machinery would result in the loss perhaps of 1,000 or more hatching eggs—a very serious loss to him. It would be for the Department to lay on the electricity, because it would be too much to expect that the holder should stand-in, 1033 for the transformers necessary in dealing with the high-tension cables which run through different parts of the country. I believe that if supplies were provided, the holder would readily pay for them; there would be no loss and in the long run it would cost nothing at all to the Department.
I have only one other point, in regard to harvest labour. I believe this is a very valuable means of increasing the labour given to farmers at harvest time and I should like to see it continued after the war. There are hostels, big houses which have been taken over, and which will never be tenanted by the owners again. There are huts and camps which could be used by people who find their holiday, not in idleness but in another kind of work. They come from the towns and work in the countryside during harvest time, and find it all to the good of their health and it would be making a real contribution to the harvest labour in the years after the war. We have rather made a "stunt" of it during the war but I believe it could be made a permanent feature of agricultural activity. I commend to the Secretary of State these suggestions, tentative though they are, and I believe that along the lines I have indicated we could make a real contribution to the further improvement of Scottish agriculture.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
I am sure the Committee has listened with great interest to the hon. Member's speech. He will forgive me if I do not follow him in the flights of fancy that he has taken. I want to address myself to some of the points which have been made by the Secretary of State and by the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden). Again we all listened with very great interest to the brief but comprehensive survey that the right hon. Gentleman gave of agricultural affairs, but I should like to take him up with regard to one or two of the points that he raised in connection with the land system of Great Britain as a whole. He was speaking about the possible, and, indeed, I think he went so far as to suggest the actual, speculation that was going on in agricultural land in Scotland. He spoke also about rent increases. I think that he must agree that, on reflection, so far as farms on large estates are concerned, there has been practically no increase of rent in these war years. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but if he has 1034 any instances in mind I shall be happy to hear of them.
§ Mr. Johnston
I made it perfectly clear that the thing has not gone very far yet and that there were any number of owners of agricultural land who were playing the game. Indeed, I go so far as to say that some of the farms are under-rented. That does not get over the difficulty that has arisen when we get farms during the war jumping in rent from £700 to £1,100, and when we get increases of rent of £500, £400 and so on, all of which are before us now. I beg of my hon. Friend, and those who support him, to believe me that it is in the best interests of agriculture that I made the remarks that I made to-day.
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the figures he has given, and I say at once that I am in whole-hearted agreement with him regarding such cases. The figures he quoted are shameful and they will be a revelation to the Committee, and to the public of Scotland and Great Britain as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say something about speculation in agricultural property, and I take it that what he said about the landlord system with regard to rents in general will also apply to his remarks on possible speculation on agricultural land. Then he suggested that owner-occupiers who had bought their farms in the past few years had been going in for this kind of speculation. The right hon. Gentleman did not give any instances, and I do not ask him to give any now, but he suggested that owner-occupiers had gone in for the same thing after the last war. The right hon. Gentleman will know better than I do, because he has lived longer and has had considerably more experience of public affairs in Scotland. He wrote in the past an illuminating book on land tenure in Scotland, and he will be aware that about 1920 there were very few owner-occupiers compared with the number that exist to-day. I was not aware at that time that owner-occupiers were going on the principle of "cashing in" as soon as they could on the farms which they were obliged in many cases to buy very dearly. I am delighted to have had the right hon. Gentleman's revealing figures of these astonishing and scandalous increases or rent.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) ejaculated 1035 "Nationalise the land" while the Secretary of State was speaking. The right hon. Gentleman gave no reply, but I remember very well a Private Member's Motion which he introduced about 1938 on the question of the nationalisation of the land. He made it clear then, when he had not the responsibilities which he possesses to-day, that he would never be a party to anything in the nature of unfair appropriation of land without due compensation to the owners. I feel sure that the right hon. Gentleman to-day, with his added responsibilities, will be as firm as he was in his speech on the Private Member's Motion with regard to this question. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that there had been an absence of Parliamentary Questions from those representing agricultural constituencies in Scotland. The hon. Member for West Perth took him up and said that that did not mean we were all pleased and that everything in the garden was lovely, but rather that those representing agricultural constituencies had that common sense and sense of responsibility with regard to Questions which Mr. Speaker mentioned at the end of Question Time to-day.
The right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for West Perth spoke about the hill sheep industry. The right hon. Gentleman was pressed for details about how the Forestry Commissioners had reacted to the Governmental policy of putting sheep on lands which, for many years, were cleared. The right hon. Gentleman was not in a position to give details with regard to his experiences with the Forestry Commission, but he gave revealing figures about what has been done with some of the deer forests, about which, no doubt, the hon. Member for Inverness (Sir M. Macdonald) will say something when he addresses the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman's figures suggested that the restocking of the deer forests had been a great success, and I hope that it has been. I am whole-heartedly in support of his policy there. He did not tell us how many ewes the Government had put on to some of these large areas and how many were there now. If the Under-Secretary could give us a little information on the matter it would be interesting. The hon. Member for West Perth stressed the necessity of the House discussing the Balfour of Burleigh Report and I think it is desirable that we 1036 should do so if possible before the Summer Adjournment. I am not very hopeful, but you have to ask for things in this House ad nauseam, and make up your mind that if you do not get them, it will not be for want of trying.
I was talking yesterday with two big hill sheep farmers. One of them, a lady friend of mine, farms 12,000 acres of hill land and she told me that without the subsidy—which she does not like—she could not make ends meet. The right hon. Gentleman will realise that in the South of Scotland, with its sturdy sense of independence and the blood of the Covenanters, subsidies are not palatable means of making ends meet.
I am delighted to have the support of the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs in that sentiment.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Does the hon. Member agree with his lady friend that carrying on is much more important, than maintaining the spirit of Scottish independence?
I am afraid I have not time to develop that point now. The other hill-sheep farmer, who is also in a big way, re-echoed the sentiments that the lady had expressed. He went further, and said that if things went on as they were going he thought that he and his fellow hill-sheep farmers would shortly be in a position of having to come to the Government and ask to be placed as salaried managers on the land they occupied. The sheep farming lands vary very much in quality, and I would ask the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs, who has a great knowledge of Scotland and has been through most of the hills and glens of the Southern Uplands, if he does not realise the differences in quality between, say, the sheep lands of Roxburgh and Selkirk and those in Galloway. The men from the Border country will not look at them. Let us not forget that the costs of production are the same for all, whatever the quality of the land. That is why I hope the right hon. Gentleman and those associated with him in the Scottish Department of Agriculture will realise how hard it is upon hill-sheep farmers on the poorer quality of hill farms.
The hon. Member for West Perth stressed the unsatisfactory level of beef 1037 prices. I ventured to interrupt him regarding a statement made to me by a big beef producer at Castle Douglas with regard to the present rate of financial assistance to cows on upland pastures. The hon. Gentleman did not agree that the case was quite so bad on that one point, but, speaking generally, he is in complete agreement with me as to the serious position in which beef producers find themselves. I do not know whether I can go all the way with the hon. Gentleman with regard to what he said about the beef producer in the years after the war. We have switched over, as the hon. Member himself said, to dairy production and are producing milk in quantities greater than ever before. I do not imagine for one moment that the hon. Member would suggest that we should switch back again in a few years' time.
§ Mr. Snadden
I am sure my hon. Friend will realise that if we go over completely to milk production in a beef-producing country like Scotland, we shall have everybody producing milk. We must have balance, so that we do not get a movement which causes adversity.
I am delighted to hear the hon. Member say that. I never intended to suggest that I was entirely for milk production at the expense of the producer of beef. Very far from it; but as I listened to the hon. Member I thought he was suggesting an unbalanced policy in the years to come—that he was rather suggesting that we should suddenly go in for decreasing our milk production. Surely he will agree with me that what we have to urge the Government to do in the post-war period—which we hope will not be very far away—is to consider the necessity of adjusting the balance and of giving, by way of an assured market to the beef producers, an incentive to provide the quality finished article which he said so much about. I hope the hon. Gentleman is in complete agreement with me on that, and I also hope that the right hon. Gentleman, and those associated with him, will take note of what has been said on this very difficult and thorny question. It is a matter which is greatly exercising the minds of many of those in Scotland who in the past have gone over entirely to the livestock side of the farming industry. Those are the two points in the Scottish agricultural industry—the hill sheep industry and the 1038 beef-production side of farming—which are giving many of those in the industry very serious cause, indeed, for thought and anxiety.
With regard to dairying, I have no strictures whatever to pass on the right hon. Gentleman and his Ministry, but I would like to say, with regard to Scottish farming as a whole—and it is germane to what the right hon. Gentleman himself said about the absence of criticism from agricultural Members in the last few months—that farmers are seriously disturbed with regard to prices. Let me put it this way. We know the storm which the Minister of Agriculture had to encounter in January from Members representing English rural constituencies because they thought that the Government s intentions with regard to keeping the rate of prices commensurate with the rate of costs had not been fulfilled. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that there has been a very heavy increase in Scotland recently in the cost of production, as far as wages are concerned. We were all delighted to have higher wages and I have always stood, as has also the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs, for high wages. I stand for them to-day, and shall continue to stand for them, but I must point out that the Government have given no indication whatever that they are going to adjust prices in connection with the increase of wages.
I do not know whether the Joint Under-Secretary of State, when he replies, will be in a position to lift the curtain a little on this. I do not suppose for a moment that he will, but if he can, and does, I shall be delighted. I for one listened to the speech of the Secretary of State as a whole with very great interest and profit. I join with the hon. Member who urged that the earliest possible indication should be given of the Governmental long-term policy with regard to the farming industry, because there can be no doubt that there is an idea at the backs of the minds of farmers in Great Britain that their fate in the coming years will be the same as that which overtook their brethren in the years after the last war, when the Corn Production Act was dropped, and when, as we all know—whatever our fiscal or political views may be—the farming industry in this country reached a most deplorable position. As I have said, I 1039 have no hope that the Under-Secretary will be in a position to say much to-day, but I hope the Government are taking note of this matter and will shortly be in a position to allay our fears, and the anxieties of agriculturists generally, on this matter. I am delighted that we have a new recruit in the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), who is doing such gallant work from the Labour Benches in stressing the necessity that agriculture must never again be allowed to lapse into the deplorable state which it occupied between the two wars and, as we are fortified with that very strong and unexpected support, I feel sure it will go a long way towards doing something with regard to this most serious and pressing matter.
§ Sir Murdoch MacDonald (Inverness)
Probably no Debate in this Committee has so many facets as a Debate on agriculture. In the past three-quarters of an hour we heard discussed a dozen different phases of the subject. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) dwelt very largely on the future state of agriculture, a matter which concerns me very much too. The last speaker dwelt on several points, such as sheep and the possibility of nationalization——
§ Sir M. MacDonald
In nationalisation, there is a possible solution and one which has been indicated in the report of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners of England, who are, probably, the largest holders of agricultural land in the country. They set aside 16.1 per cent. of their rentals for maintenance of those things which a proprietor has to maintain in connection with farming. They set aside a further 16.3 per cent. for the purpose of improvement. In other words, they set aside something like 32.4 per cent. of the rentals for the purpose of putting it back into the farms by way of maintenance and improvement.
§ Sir M. MacDonald
Yes, those are the figures of what they put back. In thinking over the matter, as far as Scotland was concerned, I came to the conclusion and recommended to my friends that if 1040 one-third of the rentals were hypothecated—not paid direct to the proprietors, but put into a separate account and spent on maintenance and improvement—there would be no necessity for the consideration of nationalisation.
§ Sir M. MacDonald
The landlord gets 66⅔ after the 33⅓ is taken off. The amount which the Ecclesiastical Commissioners spend on their farms is 32.4 per cent., as I have already pointed out, and they, as proprietors, draw two-thirds. The bad landlord will have to spend that total sum of money, but the really good landlord who has kept his farm in first-class order—and there are good landlords as well as bad ones—will not require to do so. At the end of a lease, the money remaining in the hypothecated account can be refunded to the proprietor, as unspent money, to which he is entitled, because it was not spent on the farm. In the case of the bad proprietor, the whole 33⅓ per cent. will have been spent and, as a consequence, the farm will be kept in a first-class condition as are farms of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners of England. I have asked farmers, proprietors and others if a sum representing one-third of the total income was a reasonable figure, and I have been assured that it was an ample and fair figure to deduct and set aside. Therefore, if the Government wish to consider this matter and wish to avoid nationalisation, which has been recommended and which must come unless something of this kind is done, they must ensure that the bad proprietor properly maintains his farm. He is not necessarily bad in the normal sense of the word. In many cases the owner has not the money to spend and cannot afford the necessary maintenance.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Before the hon. Member leaves that point, I would like to point out that we are most anxious to relieve them of that burden.
§ Sir M. MacDonald
It is only a burden on them up to one-third if the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' figures are correct. Two-thirds of the rental remains free.
Surely my hon. Friend is not suggesting that the Ecclesiastical 1041 Commissioners are model landlords? I have never heard that case put forward before.
§ Sir M. MacDonald
That is an entirely different problem. I was referring to their agricultural land and, if a scheme of that sort were adopted, it would solve the problem of nationalisation and solve it, I think, in a very reasonable way. Indeed, I have been advised by many people that it is a reasonable suggestion.
Another matter to which reference has been made by previous speakers is hill sheep farming. Owing to circumstances over which I had no control I was prevented from hearing the speech of the Secretary of State. He referred to hill sheep being put upon land hitherto used as deer forests. Some time ago, I went to the trouble to estimate the position. It seemed to me that, judging from all the information I could find, there were nearly 3,500,000 acres in Scotland used for deer forests. Normally, but not invariably, there were no sheep on deer forests. A lot of people seem to think that sheep and deer do not get on well together, whereas it is well known that sheep and grouse do. The future estimates of what may be the extent of deer forest land are that it will be very much smaller. I estimate that it will be reduced to something like 1,500,000 acres; in other words, that 2,000,000 acres will have been set free for sheep, if necessary. Unfortunately, a great part of that land if not the whole of it will take a relatively small number of sheep.
In the Lowlands, the fertile lowlands, we can say there will be one sheep to an acre, whereas 10 acres of hill land will be required. As a consequence, no great accretion in the number of sheep will take place. I might reasonably draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that in the normal hill sheep area, the sheep have decreased enormously during the last 60 to 80 years. Apparently there are not now more than 60 per cent. on that land, of the sheep that were there 60 or 70 years ago. If the returns for all Scotland are examined, 1042 it will be found that the number of sheep has increased. The whole area where the decrease has taken place is about half the country. The rest of Scotland therefore must have been increasing at a much greater rate than the figures actually show, while, in the Highlands, the decrease has been at a much greater rate than is evident from the total figures.
The Hill Sheep Committee reported that something ought to be done to improve the quality of the pastures. There is a possibility of greatly improving them. Certain areas, relatively small, which will not amount to more than a few hundred acres, have been dealt with in respect of rough grasses and heather. They have been limed and possibly there has also been a slight addition of phosphates. When they have been so treated it is possible to keep far more sheep on them than before. One sheep owner told me that he dealt with 400 acres of that class of land; that he had scarified it or ploughed it, limed it and had added a little chemical manure, and that he was able now to keep three sheep where only one sheep was kept before. That might be a very fortunate case, but I do not think there is any reasonable doubt that the number of sheep in the Highlands could be doubled if the Government took the necessary steps to see that the work recommended by the Hill Sheep Committee was carried out.
It has been suggested that we ought to keep pressing for a Debate on the Hill Sheep Committee's Report. I hope that a Debate will take place and that I shall have the privilege of being called upon to speak upon the matter. Therefore, I will not deal with this subject any further, in view of the possibility of a Debate at an early date, but I will turn to a major point, touched on by the hon. Member for Linlithgow, namely, the future of farming. My hon. Friend referred to the holders, but he did not specify exactly what he meant by holders. I have in my constituency, as everybody knows, a great number of people called crofters, who are very small holders.
§ Sir M. MacDonald
Yes. There are two classes. The crofters, and the holders or smallholders, must be dealt with in the same way by the Government in the 1043 immediate future, as my hon. Friend has suggested. But there is the other class, who keep the great farming area of the country from 50 to a maximum of about 1,000 acres in Scotland. They were referred to by the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), who spoke of the possibility of those people being put into a very bad position owing to wages being what is considered high at the present time. I do not think the wages are high in relation to the wages of other classes of the community. The agricultural worker is only now, for the first time as far as I know, being put into his proper position in relation to the rest of the community in so far as wages are concerned. I expect that the present high rate of wages may not continue——
§ Sir M. MacDonald
Well, if so, then the value of money comes down. It may be that, in relation to the present value of money, the scale may be lower. I do not want to see the agricultural worker once again come down to the condition in which he formerly was. How is that to be avoided? It is obvious that the normal arable farmer of 50 acres and upwards is under two disabilities. The first is the compulsion to pay a standard rate of wages, and the second is the necessity of continuing to keep in cultivation the area that he has now in cultivation. If they have to do those two things, and if values drop and if, after the war and the interregnum period are over, subsidies vanish—I can well understand that subsidies must continue during the transition period—farmers will again be placed in a very parlous position. Cultivation in this country may go back as it did many years ago, indeed, since the last war, and farmers will find themselves in a very serious predicament. It is obvious that, in those circumstances, the Government must find other methods of increasing the money available to farmers for paying the rates of wages necessary to employ the requisite number of men to keep the present total of agricultural land under proper rotation.
In my view, the only way in which the Government can do that, is to arrange that, if farmers cultivate their land normally and properly, as inspectors of agriculture decide, and if they do not 1044 earn £3 an acre, the Government, instead of giving a general subsidy, will make up the difference between what they actually earn and £3. I am advised that, even in normal circumstances and in the bad times that occurred in the years between the wars, many farmers were able to carry on well. In other words, they were able to make some figure comparable with £3 an acre, and to subsist fairly well on it. There is no reason to expect that they will not be able to do the same thing in the future. That applies to the vast number of farmers on good land who will be able to continue to earn a living as they did in the past.
There will be a different situation for farmers on moderate or poorer land. There is a vast area of that class of land in Scotland, unfortunately, and in order to keep it under cultivation we shall have to say to the farmers that if they do not earn £3 per acre, after all their expenses are paid, the Government will find the balance. The National Farmers' Union wrote to me and said that this was bringing into the picture a new kind of inquisition into what the farmer is doing. I pointed out that that was not the case because at the present time the Inland Revenue authorities say to everybody who pays £100 rental and over, "You must produce your books so that we are satisfied as to what you are earning." But in the case of those who pay £100 of rental and under they say, "We charge you on three times the rental. We assume you earn three times the rental. If you object to that assumption produce your books and show that what you say is so."
What I am suggesting would form no new inquisition into what farmers are doing. It would be a simple clear matter, depending on what the Inland Revenue return showed, as to what amount they would get. But it would have a wonderful effect. I am informed by inspectors of agriculture that they would then be able to devote the whole of their time, or nearly the whole of it, to attending to farmers who were not earning that figure, that is, £3 an acre, and helping to lift them up to the stage at which they will be no burden to the State. There is the possibility, under a system of this kind, of an immense improvement in the agricultural value of the present low types of land, either moderate or marginal land, as it is normally called. If some system 1045 of this kind were carried out, it would be, from the Government's point of view, I am told, a great saving in money compared with the present expenditure. I can freely say that I have had a farmer come to me and say in private conversation, "I am ashamed of the money I have been getting." [Interruption.] He had been getting so much. He was on good land. In consequence he said he was ashamed of the money he was getting.
§ Sir M. MacDonald
The Minister of Agriculture, on a recent occasion, stated that he was aware of a great number of farmers who are doing extremely well under the present circumstances. Is there any reason why anybody should do extremely well out of the Government at the present time? Certainly people have to be carried, if they are unable to cope with their land, but there is no reason to pay them further sums beyond that. The people who require the help are the people on moderate and poor land, not necessarily the people on good land, and when one refers to good land that does not mean the size of the land. A man may have 600 acres and have a first-class farm and another man may have 60 acres of first-class land and have a first-class farm too. But two other men may have 600 acres of moderate or poor land and 60 acres of moderate or poor land respectively. The cost of cultivation in the cases I have given—sowing, reaping, and the other things required to produce a crop—is practically identical for each. Yet the Government give a larger figure to the man on good land because he gets more money per bushel or quarter on produce he takes out of the land.
I suggest that the Secretary of State for Scotland should consider very seriously some alteration in substitution for the subsidies which on all sides, it is agreed, will eventually drop. At the same time everybody is desperately keen that the agricultural workers' wages should be maintained at the level at which they are, and that the whole of the agricultural land of the country should be maintained in cultivation. My hon. Friend wanted still more cultivation if that were possible. I agree with him that wherever it is possible, we should cultivate still more, just as in the case of the hill sheep industry we should lime the land, and cut out the rough grass, in order to feed more 1046 sheep than we do now. If these things were done, the position of agriculture in Scotland would be very different for a future Minister, from what is the case today.
§ Lord Dunglass (Lanark)
Hon. Members have properly used this occasion, which comes once a year, of raising agricultural matters of particular interest to us in Scotland. Indeed the Secretary of State took that line and avoided the more general case of the long-term agricultural, policy. He was right to do so, and I would make only one or two comments on his few remarks on that subject. I do not know if he noted, as I did, the other day—I hope he did—some remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Debate on employment, in which he said:Of course we want to develop our agriculture. We have got to, because of our exchange conditions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June, 1914, Vol. 401, c. 407].That, I think, is true, and I hope the Secretary of State has cut that out, as I have done, for use on a future occasion, because it is not always that that kind of remark, of solicitude for agriculture, comes from the mouth of the Treasury.
All I would say on that point is that these long-term plans for agriculture will need decisions and agreements on a world level and an Empire level, and also on the level of this country. They will be a most complicated affair, and I hope that the Secretary of State, if he takes part in those negotiations, will do so on the basis that any plans into which we enter should secure, for this country at least, a level of output well in advance of anything we had between the wars, and that meanwhile, until we get absolutely working agreements, we should retain in our own hands the power to protect our own home producers, should the need arise. Pending world agreement, that seems to me to be absolutely essential.
I come to some of the particular matters which I should like to put to the Joint Under-Secretary. I take up the matter raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers), the question of the marketing of strawberries and raspberries—perhaps a tactless thing to do in the South these days. It seems to me that the Scottish producer of strawberries is, put at a disadvantage compared with his competitors in England. It is possible for the producer in England, in the last 1047 weeks in May, or the early weeks in June, to get a good price for his table strawberries over a number of weeks. This can only be done by the Scottish grower for a minimum percentage of his crop, and by far the largest proportion of his crop has to be sold at prices which are fixed for the glut period of the English market. It is too late this season to help our producers in Scotland, and I do not quite know what is the machinery by which prices are fixed, but I would ask the Joint Under-Secretary if, next season, during the negotiations he would take particular notice of this question. It would be of the greatest help to our Scottish producers, if they could get better prices for a number of weeks. It is possible, I think, under regional price agreements. In the case of raspberries the difference in price is not as between England and Scotland, but between two regions in Scotland. The price is being fixed at something like 81s. per cwt. for the Angus area, while the prices in Lanarkshire are only some 72s. per cwt.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Glenvil Hall)
I hope the Noble Lord will not pursue this particular point too far, as the question of prices comes under another Ministry.
§ Lord Dunglass
That is the information I am trying to extract from the Minister. This is a difference between two regions in Scotland, not between England and Scotland. There is no justification for it as far as I can see. Costs of production in Lanarkshire are just as high as in Angus, and the quality is just as good.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
Is it not a fact that in fixing prices of this kind the Minister of Food must have regard to advice received from the Department of Agriculture in Scotland? They must to some extent advise the Minister. Surely it would be in Order to discuss that?
§ The Temporary Chairman
That may be so. Actually the fixing of prices is done, I am advised, by the Minister of Food, and while I did not want to stop the Noble Lord, I had to indicate that it would be unwise to carry the matter too far in case he went over the line into another Estimate and on to another Vote.
§ Lord Dunglass
I quite see your point, Mr. Hall, and the hon. Member for Gor- 1048 bals (Mr. Buchanan) has expressed the point I was trying to make, that the Department comes into the negotiations. If my hon. Friend wants to be convinced about the quality of Lanarkshire raspberries and if he will meet me in a week or two, I think I can satisfy him.
§ Lord Dunglass
If my hon. Friend will treat this as a matter of urgency and can alter it for this season's crop, we shall be most grateful.
There are two questions I should like to ask about a considerable wastage in agriculture at the moment. Can my hon. Friend give us any information about the incidence of mastitis? I understand this is a matter of great concern to dairy farmers, and that losses from the incidence of this disease amount to some millions of pounds a year. It is a most stubborn problem, and if he could give any information as to whether it is yielding to research it would be of interest to the dairy farmers. Another matter of wastage which, from my personal observation, is appalling is the damage done by rats. The Department of Agriculture institute "rat weeks." They have professional rat-catchers, who have done a great deal of good. I have myself seen thousands of rats killed by these professional killers, but there is wilful negligence on the part of farmers at the present time. If only they would take the simplest steps, it would be possible to reduce a great deal further the damage done by rats.
I believe it is obligatory—perhaps the Under-Secretary could tell me—for a farmer to surround his stacks with wire netting, when threshing. I can tell him that a great percentage of farmers do not do so. I saw a farm last year on which were about a dozen stacks. The farmer put netting round and some 460 rats were killed. At a neighbouring farm, the farmer did not put any netting round his stacks, and the rats streamed out all over the countryside. There are powers of prosecution, and I would say to the Under-Secretary, without any wish to be vindictive against farmers, that this is a case in which prosecution should be used. Farmers who do not take the simplest method to try to cure what is becoming a plague of rats deserve to be prosecuted.
There is one more question. Could the Under-Secretary tell us anything about the 1049 Scottish Gardens and Allotments Association? The hon. Member for Linlithgow raised the question of allotments. I think there has been probably no more valuable development in the war years than that of the allotments. The growing of fresh vegetables has meant everything to families, particularly to children, and it is something that we can well develop even more in peace-time. The great variety of topics which has been raised today illustrates the great variety of problems in Scottish agriculture. It is true that the efficiency and the prosperity of Scottish agriculture will depend on the long-term plan that must be produced, but, within our own country, we can at least hope to be efficient.
§ Mr. Sloan (Ayrshire, South)
If I had not heard the word "agriculture" used so often during this Debate, I might have made the mistake of thinking that the Committee were discussing the coal industry. It is perhaps not peculiar that the difficulties facing the coal industry are those which face agriculture. The Secretary of State gave figures of the last census, showing that there were some 176,000 people engaged in agriculture and 132,000 engaged on coal. I represent a division which is fairly equally divided as between coal and agriculture, and I have always found that when the one industry was depressed, so was the other; when miners were having a hard time, their agricultural brethren were going through it to the same extent. It is obvious that, unless we can place these national industries on a fair and equitable basis, whereby we can have sufficient production and secure a price for it which will give equal treatment to all people, we shall have these recurrent periods of depression. As with coal, it is impossible to plan agriculture, I think, without the land belonging to the people. As long as it is in the rapacious hands of landlords, to exploit the farmers and to add to the rent because of improvements that have been effected by the holders, so long will agriculture in Scotland remain in a bad state. That is fundamental, and I do not think there is any argument about it. It is unreal, and in many ways fantastic, that we are discussing something that does not belong to us, discussing an industry that is outside the scope even of the House of Commons. I have listened with varying degrees of interest to agricultural 1050 Debates in this House during the six years or so in which I have been a Member, and I have always experienced a certain amount of frustration at the end of them, because of the nebulous state in which they have been left.
In the realms of agriculture, Scotland and England are two separate and distinct nations. I use the word "nations" advisedly. In Scotland, agriculture should be our basic industry. England, carrying a population of 40,000,000 or so, cannot look upon agriculture as a basic industry. She is a manufacturing country, with teeming factories, and with her workers largely engaged in that type of industry. In Scotland we have some 4,250,000, I think—I am never sure of the figures far Scotland—and two-thirds of them are huddled together in towns and cities, with much of the open spaces of Scotland, which should be based fundamentally on agriculture, going to waste. The Secretary of State made the point that Scotland was an exporter of food. I think it was the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) who interjected that we export our food, and eat spam. That has been the position because of our economy. We have exported the best prime products that can be produced. We export beef, and, in ordinary times, import meat from the Argentine. Capital is exported from Scotland to develop the meat trade of the Argentine, while our own agriculture is neglected. We have heard a great deal about sheep to-day, but I think I can say, without the slightest fear of contradiction, that the frozen meat shop is a prominent feature in the shopping centre of any of our towns. We must export our mutton, and import frozen meat. Somebody said the other day that we exported the best of food, and imported dehydrated frogs for the people of Scotland to eat. Where do the Scottish eggs go?
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Chapman)
Did my hon. Friend say "frogs"?
§ Mr. Sloan
We might as well have dehydrated bugs as dehydrated eggs from China. That is the position in Scotland—there appears to be sufficient room for the development of agriculture in our country if we utilise our own products. There has been a mass of contradictory statements to-day. We have a statement from Denmark that the food position in Denmark is relatively high. Scotland should be as efficient an agricultural country as Denmark. The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) will not deny that.
§ Mr. Sloan
So we eat margarine instead of butter. In any shopping centre, in any city in this country, in ordinary times, we find Danish products being sold. We attempted, by preferences, to boost Imperial produce, but, even with all the assistance we could give, Denmark seemed to hold the field. That requires some explanation. I have never heard why Denmark could do that in the field of dairy produce. I do not think it ought to be so. If we turned our attention to utilising the facilities at our disposal, and making more use of the agricultural colleges and other methods of training, we should produce just as good a manufactured product on the farms as we can in the engineering shops of the Clyde and elsewhere. We have to turn our attention to that aspect.
I was on a farm yesterday. It was a fairly long distance from the road. The road from the farm was in a deplorable condition. The county council cannot accept any responsibility, because the road is not a main road. Is there nothing which can be done to assist farmers who are at a fair distance from the road to maintain roadways from their farms? I was interested, in reading the report of Wimpey's, to see that the chairman of the company said that during the past year his firm had laid down more concrete than would build a road across Europe, to the foot of the Ural Mountains. If we can lay 1052 down sufficient concrete to build a road across Europe, why is it that, among their many other difficulties, the agricultural community are given no assistance in maintaining the roads up to their farms? We had a Bill the other day to assist the farmers to obtain water supplies. Decent roads are just as necessary as water supplies.
I think there are some things which ought to be done in regard to agriculture in Scotland. I have indicated the first—that the land itself should become the property of the people. We can never make perfect use of it unless that is done. We shall require to organise home production, with a fair price for the produce, and make it available to all. We must correlate this discussion to-day with the recent discussion on the White Paper on employment, when the whole tone of the Debate centred on the question of exports. Exports of what? Exports of manufactured products of this country. But we cannot export without importing. In exchange for the goods we send abroad, we must find something to bring in to the country. I would like to know if it is the intention again to enter into competition for markets, to sell cheap manufactured goods and, in return, bring in cheap food. If we are to have a system of cheap food again, how will it be possible to maintain prices to the farmers that will allow them to produce their supplies and, at the same time, pay adequate wages to the workers in their employment?
I think it will be agreed that the agricultural labourer in this country has always had a poor show. He is having it to-day. The wages of the agricultural worker have not gone up in accordance with the wages of those engaged in other types of industry in this country. There are people who are working in agriculture—not agricultural workers, but casual workers brought in because of the demand that the job must be done in a certain time—who are earning fairly large wages, but the agricultural worker, who has been on the job always and is bound to the land under the Essential Work Order, and is under the control of his employer, has not had a fair show, even during this war. I would like to know if these wages boards are to continue, and if there is to be some attempt made to correlate agricultural workers' wages with the wages of those engaged in any other in- 1053 dustry in this country. Unless we are prepared to do that, it is perfectly evident that, when the time comes when agricultural workers can be released from the industry, they will seek work elsewhere, and there will be nobody to prevent them doing that, unless the farming community and the country are going to face up to their responsibilities and see that the agricultural worker gets a fair show.
There is no more highly-skilled worker in this country than the agricultural worker. If you start your boy as an apprentice in engineering, at the end of that time he is an engineer. Send your boy to agriculture, and before he becomes an expert in agriculture he has a dozen complete trades to learn, any of them requiring as much skill as that of the best engineer in the country. We ought to have that type of man, because, ultimately, ately, agriculture depends on that type of man and on the people who are going to do the job. The Government have sent all kinds of people to the farms. They have sent school-children to the farms, and I am surprised at the optimism of the Secretary of State regarding this matter. The practical farmer says that schoolchildren, except for lifting a few potatoes, are no use to him. You send schoolchildren to the harvest field to do a man's job, but there are nothing else but men's jobs in a harvest field. The idea that we can harvest our crops by school-children is the sheerest nonsense. Land girls—some of them—have done an excellent job, but many of them have not, and many never will. They have neither the physical nor the mental capacity for the job. Italian prisoners have been sent to the farms, but many of them are no more fond of work than some of the land girls, and we have to depend upon the-agricultural worker, working all the time and overtime, in many cases, for the purpose of harvesting these crops so necessary at the present time.
A great deal has been said to-day about a long-term policy and a post-war policy. I am not very much concerned about what is taking place during the war, because it is a period that will pass, but, if we are to pass from this period into a period such as we experienced after the last war, it will be a pity for the agriculture of our country. The agriculturalists did a good job during the last war, and received as much praise as they 1054 are receiving now. Speeches were made lauding them, but, at the end, what happened to them? They went back to the life of misery and starvation which had always been their lot. I hope that, as far as Scotland is concerned, we will be prepared to take a much longer and clearer view on this matter. The war-time industries are to pass to peace-time industries, and the war-time factories are to be transferred to peace-time activity. Therefore, we are not going to get anything in that direction. But there is one thing they cannot take, and that is the land. It is there, and it is up to the people of Scotland to develop it, so as to turn the country into a nation of agriculturists, which will be able to compete on the same basis as Denmark, and those other nations which have devoted themselves wholly to that type of economy.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) made reference to agricultural labour, and I was glad that he recognised that an agricultural labourer is just as skilled as, if not far more skilled than, any other kind of labour in industry or any other calling. But I was sorry to hear him casting a certain reflection on the work done by a very splendid body of workers in agriculture—the Women's Land Army. I have from personal experience——
§ Major McCallum
I am glad to hear my hon. Friend correct that, because I certainly understood him rather to doubt the value of the work of the Women's Land Army, and I wanted to tell him that, near to my home, there are many farms on which land girls work, and the farmers find them very satisfactory and doing a very fine job of work.
If I may, I would like to return to that hardy old chestnut, hill sheep farming, and I apologise to hon. Members if it is becoming a rather boring subject, but, after all, in the Highlands of Scotland it is our most important industry, and, as the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) said, in actual production it ranks third, though very nearly as high as the second—priority milk—in production, and is therefore a very important industry. I want to refer to that very 1055 interesting speech of the Secretary of State, because he made reference to particular places in my own constituency, and also mentioned the question of deer forests. I have a good deal of experience of deer forests in Scotland, not only in my own constituency but in a neighbouring county.
I was very interested to hear my right hon. Friend mention Torosay in Mull. Here I would like to take up a point made by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire on the nationalisation of land. I do not know what my hon. Friend's farmers think in Ayrshire, but I do know, having gone round the farmers of the Highlands, that I cannot find one who wants to continue even the small amount of nationalisation and bureaucracy that we are going through to-day. On account of the forms they have to fill in and the returns they have to make, and all that stuff- that farmers have never dealt with before, they want to see the end of it. Figures have been given, but nothing was said about the heavy losses on the Torosay deer forest when the experiment was started, and, again, nothing was said about the owners of that forest being unable to stock it with sheep and cattle.
It may interest hon. Members to know that the owner of the forest is on service, that his wife is on service and that the children are on service. Actually, the owner is the wife, but the husband has had a most distinguished career in North Africa and has won many decorations, and is to-day, for all I know, in Normandy. Therefore, it was absolutely impossible for them to fulfil the demands of the local war agricultural executive committee to stock up their deer forest. They were quite prepared to do so, but where was the labour to come from? There is no extra labour to be had in Argyll. The Department of Agriculture could say to the Ministry of Labour, "We want agricultural workers for this place in Argyllshire" and ask the Ministry to produce them; while if the owner asked for the same labour the reply would be "There is no one to be had." Nothing has been said either, of the cost of the fencing put up on that forest, but I understand most lavish expenditure was incurred in putting up fences and buildings on the requisitioned part of the estate.
Now, I turn from Torosay, which is run from the "nationalizing" point of 1056 view, to another estate also in Argyllshire, which is being run in one of the highest glens—Glen Lochy. There, a private enterprise concern has developed that glen within recent months out of all recognition. What has resulted at Torosay is child's play to what has been done in Glen Lochy. Only a few months ago, I myself used to drive backwards and forwards through that glen, when sheep were littered about the road because it was the only dry place for them. That glen to-day—it is a glen of about II miles long—has been drained by intensive draining, there are hundreds of cattle on the hillsides there now, and you do not see the sheep on the road any more. The sheep are grazing away on dry grazing. When they lie about, they lie on the hillside, and it has become a complete transformation. That has been done by private enterprise.
§ Mrs. Hardie
Is there not a grant given for that purpose by the Government? I see there is a big sum put down for land drainage. Do not they get a share of that subsidy in order to enable them to drain this land?
§ Major McCallum
Certainly, they benefit by the same grant which is general to everybody else, but they have not unlimited State funds at their disposal with which to carry out this work. I am not at all satisfied, and neither are my farming constituents, that nationalisation of the land would be a solution of the difficulties of hill sheep farming.
I want to come back to a point which has been spoken of often before but which cannot ever be too much stressed, and that is, the appalling encroachment of bracken. I was walking over a farm near my home on Sunday when I was really appalled, at a time when we should be cutting bracken, at the amount of new bracken that has grown. Fifty per cent. of the grazing on that farm is now under bracken. We shall have to get down to the question of bracken, with a view to its eradication in some form or other. I know that the Under-Secretary will tell me that the Department has sent out so many bracken-cutting machines and that they are hired out by the agricultural executive committees. But there are not nearly enough of them. Those that we have are not nearly strong enough for the job. Admittedly we cannot expect anything better in war-time, but I hope that 1057 the committee or department, or whoever it is who is going into the research on the destruction of bracken, will bear in mind the necessity of bringing out a moderately priced and really strong bracken cutter, something which will stand up to the rough work it has to face on the hill side.
I can assure him that if he or the Department or a leading motor firm, I do not care who it is, can produce a good, sound, strong type of bracken cutting machine which is motor driven, there will be an unlimited sale for it throughout Scotland. I hope the scientists dealing with the question of bracken will develop some fungus or other with which it may be possible to destroy the rhizomes themselves. You can cut the bracken off year after year, but you do nothing to destroy the rhizomes, which lie from 5 to 10 feet underground. This is becoming such a serious matter in the West Highlands and Islands that within a few years some farms will he entirely covered by bracken.
I come to the question of fertilisers and the improvement of hill grazing by putting hill cattle on to the land. That has been developed to a very great extent in Argyllshire, and it is doing extremely well, and I hope that the scheme will be carried forward into the post-war years. It is a scheme which will take a long time to produce any real result, but it is producing something already and we want to see it brought much further forward. It is very seldom that I hear of the question of vermin destruction but the increase in the number of foxes on the hills and mountains and glens is unbelievable. In my own particular county one of the executive committees, if not both, has very good fox club schemes to which farmers subscribe so much per head of sheep in their flocks. It is not only in Argyllshire; neighbouring counties are simply swarming with foxes and we want every possible encouragement to deal with that matter.
I now return to the old question of the West Highlands and Islands—transport problems and the tremendously high cost of freights, which adds to the cost of production. I am sure that my hon. Friend will not be able to refer to the matter of transport, particularly of sea transport, in his reply, but I hope that his Department are really considering putting forward very strenuous appeals for amelioration regard- 1058 ing freight charges in Scotland. I know that my right hon. Friend is very keen on the matter and I hope that in postwar years we shall find some improvement.
I want to refer to a small point, i.e., to the land which is left free by the Forestry Commission when they are planting up the areas they have taken over in Scotland, and in the Islands in particular. They plant between 200 and 700 feet levels, and in some counties they even go as high as 900 feet, but above that there is a large area, admittedly poor grazing, but it is grazing, which could be used by farmers on which to graze sheep in the summer time. The Forestry Commissioners' reply is that it is far too expensive and uneconomic to be able to fence all the new plantations to prevent them being damaged by sheep. I do not suggest that grazing adjoining new plantations should be fenced in that way, but I am prepared to say that in the Great Glen and other parts of the Highlands there are plantations containing trees already up to such a height that they can no longer be damaged by sheep.
In a previous Debate I made a statement regarding the Forestry Commission for which I was taken to task, and on which I should like to make a short explanation. I had referred to the planting of trees in growing oats, which I had actually seen. One of the Forestry Commission afterwards asked me where this was and I pointed out the particular area. It appeared I was to a certain extent wrong in my statement, in that, in order to clean the ground for future operations, the Forestry Commission plant oats, and having got those oats standing, they do not bother to cut them, but plant the trees between them. That was what I had seen taking place with my own eyes, and I thought it was a very bad use of agricultural land. I am sorry if I was mistaken and made public a state of affairs which did not exist.
There is one point on which nothing so far has been said by hon. Members regarding the hill sheep industry, and that is the price of wool. Wool is the only part of the hill sheep farmer's product on which the hill sheep farmer, the primary producer, gets a return. He sells his lambs to the middleman and they are taken away to the South to fatten and the middleman gets his guaranteed prices. 1059 The hill sheep farmer does not get any of that, but he gets a guaranteed price for wool. If it could be possible in any adjustment of prices in future to make certain that the farmer himself obtains direct benefit by getting a more economic price for wool, I feel sure it would go a long way towards doing away with subsidies and other funds which the Government at present have to pay out. Lastly, I want to mention a question which deals with education as well as agriculture. There are many places in the remoter parts of Argyllshire and in other parts of the Highlands where farm workers, and even farmers themselves, find extreme difficulty in getting their children educated. I have sent several cases to my right hon. Friend—he has very kindly taken them up with much vigour—where schools have closed down and left ploughmen, shepherds and other farm workers with no education facilities at all for their children.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
We must leave the question of schools until the next Vote.
§ Major McCallum
I apologise for going too far from agriculture, but I was trying to show that the contentment and well-being of our agricultural workers had a very serious bearing on the agricultural position. But having mentioned the matter I will leave it at that, and I only hope that what has been said to-day by hon. Members on all sides on the question et the hill sheep industry will have some el-feet and that we shall see to it that it never again sinks to the dreadful times experienced before the war, and may perhaps show prosperity commensurate with other branches of farming in Scotland.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
I was very glad that the hon. and gallant Member dealt exhaustively with the question of hill sheep. He is right when he says that it is a burning question as far as Scottish agriculture is concerned. I hope that my hon. Friend will deal with this question when he comes to reply. I was particularly interested in what my hon. and gallant Friend said about the price of wool. I am not quite clear——
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am interested in the price of wool as a sort of side-line 1060 in agriculture, but the hon. Member is getting very near to another Ministry and ought not to go into the matter too deeply.
§ Mr. Boothby
I agree, Mr. Williams. I believe that it is sold by one Department to another, and so naturally some confusion arises. I suggest that it might be sold at a higher price, for the benefit of Scottish farmers. That is the only point I wish to make.
I wish that a lot of the people who are getting increasingly hysterical about our export trade after the war, particularly the economists, had listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State. It was a most remarkable speech. I go as far as to say that it was a sensational speech. It claims equality of interest at least with the Doodle-bug and Normandy to-morrow in the national Press; and I hope that it will receive it. It is a remarkable fact that not only is Scotland producing all the foodstuffs she requires, but a surplus as well, despite the fact that a great deal of her land has been taken over for military purposes.
§ Mr. Boothby
No, I do not include tea. We have in Scotland a very good substitute for tea. It is also yellow but it is cold. It is all right. A very great contemporary statesman once observed to me, "I like my tea cold and yellow," and I rather agree; at any rate I strongly recommend it to my hon. Friend. But honestly, the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is worthy of a special telegram to Lord Keynes in the United States of America, before British agriculture is sold down the river to the international financiers for the second time in a generation. That we do want to avoid, if we can. It is a great achievement, and the fact that the Scottish agricultural achievement is generally admitted to be considerably larger, if not better, than the English achievement, on a proportional basis, will give great satisfaction to Scotsmen.
I think our agricultural achievement in this war has been really grand. I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend refer to the "just price." That is a medieval conception; but in medieval times the English countryside was very 1061 prosperous, and the people were well fed, more so than they were during the greater part of the 19th and 10th centuries. There is a great deal to be said for the just price for agriculturists; and it is one of those things we might well recapture from the past, and make a permanent feature of our national life.
The right hon. Gentleman had some very strong things to say about land speculation. I think we might legitimately say that is a matter for the Government to deal with. If the Secretary of State feels that land speculation is developing on an undesirable scale, he has only to come to the House for powers to deal with it, and I am sure he will get them. But what he said happened immediately after the last war is absolutely true. One remembers how inflated all values became in 1921; how some farmers bought at these inflated values, and others sold. The unfortunate men who bought, and probably took out mortgages, very soon found themselves in a position where they could not possibly discharge their obligations; for, I would remind Members of this Committee, if you take a debt incurred in 1921 as equivalent to 100 sacks of corn, it took 200 sacks of corn to discharge that debt in 1925, after we went back to the Gold Standard. We do not want that to happen to British agriculture again, because I believe it was the root cause of a very great deal of the trouble.
My right hon. Friend referred to the Land Court, and to the valuable work it is doing under Lord Gibson's chairmanship. I think that is true. My right hon. Friend thought that its activities might be extended, and the Committee may well wish that would come about. My right hon. Friend might give a hint to some of the Government Departments in this connection; because I understand that while some are willing to accept the verdict of the Land Court, others prefer to make their own calculations when questions of Government purchases of land are concerned. If the Land Court is of great value, the Government Departments ought to set an example to the rest of the community, and go to the Land Court when they want a fair valuation. My hon. Friend knows there is one particular Department that has a strong objection to the Land Court, and prefers to work it all out itself. I think the Secretary of State 1062 should be in a strong position to make forcible representations to other Government Departments that they at least should accept the judgment and the verdict of the Land Court.
I think that the figures given by the Secretary of State with regard to the increase of allotments were very satisfactory and encouraging; but we must not forget that the foundation of Scottish agriculture is to-day, and always has been, amble stock farming. Therefore, I was very glad to hear once again from a Government spokesman of the increasing emphasis the Government are putting on livestock at the present time; because it is the bullock on which any sane agricultural policy in the future has to hinge. I was also glad that the importance of improving quality, so far as livestock is concerned, is becoming increasingly appreciated by the Government. This point was dealt with quite adequately by my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), and I do not need to emphasise his argument. The Secretary of State pointed out that there has been an increase in the amount of high quality cattle produced in Scotland. I hope it will go on; and I venture to suggest it will go on, if the improvement of quality is recognised in the prices that are to be paid in future. I think we may reasonably expect that that will take place.
I believe that mixed rotational farming is now the accepted answer to the fundamental problem of British agric Inure. It has even been accepted as such by the Hot Springs Conference. But if our Scottish agriculture is to thrive, if it is to expand in the future as well as it has done in the past three years, it must also be well balanced. I think the hon. Member for West Perth was trying to make that point, as between beef and milk production. Before the war there was a tendency for our livestock policy to become unbalanced in favour of milk, as against meat. Precisely the same argument applies so far as cereal policy is concerned. I want to emphasise the necessity for a comprehensive long-term policy covering all white cereal crops—wheat and oats and barley—for ibis country, and not one directed solely to the production of wheat. I repeat again quite unrepentantly—although my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) does 1063 not entirely agree with me on this—that if we ever try to base British agriculture again on wheat and sugar, we are bound to come to grief. We shall get in exactly the same sort of mess as we were when we were forced to repeal the Corn Production Act in 1920, which did unlimited, almost permanent, damage to British agriculture as a whole. The proper place to grow sugar is the West Indies—a little, if you like, in East Anglia, but the West Indies is the place—and wheat in large quantities in Canada and Australia and South America. Our cereal policy after the war must be a balanced policy, covering all the white crops, including oats—which we are pre-eminently fitted to produce in Scotland—and barley and wheat, on equal terms.
I hope we shall also aim, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, at a greatly increased production, for home consumption, of many other things besides beef and mutton and cereals—of milk, of poultry, of pigs, of vegetables, and of fruit. All these are protective foods of the highest nutritional value, and this country is pre-eminently fitted to produce them; but let us produce and grow them in the parts of the country which are best suited to do it. It is no good going in for intensive beef production in Ayrshire, or milk production in Aberdeenshire. What I mean by a well-balanced system of agriculture, when the emergency is over—and it is gradually becoming less tense at the moment—is that we should concentrate the production of these very different articles of food in those parts of the country, which vary greatly even in Scotland, where they can best be produced. Then we shall get what I call a well-balanced system of agriculture.
I now want to raise one point particularly with my hon. Friend, and that is the question of potatoes. I have already written to the Minister of Food on the subject This again, Mr. Williams, is rather a: difficult point, because potatoes are technically bought by the Ministry of Food; but they are grown under the direction of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland. I will try to deal with this problem mainly on the growing side, and I will not criticise the Ministry of Food. The fact remains that the Department of Agriculture laid down certain acreage quotas for the production of potatoes. 1064 They are not, in the North of Scotland at any rate, a very popular crop. They we're grown rather reluctantly by the farmers under specific instructions from the agricultural executive committees. Authorised merchants for some months gave repeated assurances—most of them oral, but in some cases on paper—that these potatoes would be cleared. I could quote case after case but, at any rate, at the present moment in the North-East of Scotland there is a very large amount of potatoes left in the fields, and going bad. This should not be the case, in the fifth year of war. I want to submit that very strongly to the Committee. At the end of May, the authorised merchants, who had kept the farmers "sweet" all the way through by promising them on numerous occasions that they would clear their stocks of potatoes, suddenly turned round and said they could not accept them.
I will give the Committee one example on that point. The agricultural executive committee for the Turriff district in my constituency made an urgent inquiry regarding the potato situation in that district in mid-June—just about a fortnight or three weeks ago. They found that 275 farmers had 2,162 tons of last year's potatoes still on their hands, and going bad. It is a sad fact that I am always having to complain of something going bad. Last year it was herrings; the year before that it was oats; and this year, unhappily, it is potatoes. But we got the oat and herring situations cleared up; and I am hopeful that we shall now get the potato situation cleared up. I want to suggest to the Committee that it really will not do. Since the end of May what has happened? The Government say they will take truckloads of not less than five tons. Where does the small man come in on that? The Ministry of Food say that their guarantee of purchase ended on 31st May; but it was my hon. Friend who told the farmers to grow all these potatoes, and I ask, Why should the farmers pay the premium for national insurance against starvation in case things go wrong? It is not the farmers who should pay for these potatoes; it is the Government who, having ordered the farmers to grow the potatoes against their will, and being unable to deal with them when they are grown, are responsible.
I want to suggest two remedies. First of all, compensation should be paid to the 1065 farmers for any potatoes which, through no fault of their own, have not been cleared and have gone bad. Secondly, in the future, I think the Government should say that a proportion of all potatoes, grown in Scotland at any rate, should be taken in the autumn, so that we are not left with a glut of potatoes in one particular district.
§ Sir Ernest Shepperson (Leominster)
I do not want to interrupt my hon. Friend, but is it not a fact that during this spring, in Scotland as well as in England, the Ministry of Food Potato Section undertook to contract for all the potatoes left on a farmer's hands?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I think this is just exactly where I have to say something. It is quite obvious that if the Government Department pays a subsidy for potatoes under the Ministry of Agriculture and, at some later point, these potatoes are taken on by the Ministry of Food, it would be possible to rule that at that point this no longer comes in under this Estimate. However, if I did that, it would mean that the hon. Member would not get a satisfactory solution to this matter. Therefore, I think it is fair that the hon. Member should put this question of potatoes and that the Govern ment—as the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) has put it—should be equally free to answer as to how this matter has been so well or so otherwise dealt with by the Department concerned.
§ Mr. Boothby
I am very grateful to you, Mr. Williams; and I do not intend to pursue the subject any further. The fact is that my hon. Friend ordered these potatoes to be grown, and his colleague would not then take them, so it is really a fight between them; but I want the Scottish Office to fight and win; and anything we can say to support them in this Committee will be said. What has been clone to the North-East farmers, so far as these potatoes are concerned, is really too bad. I am therefore glad that you have given me this opportunity for raising the matter in this Debate. If my hon. Friend passes the baby to the Ministry of Food, it will not be the first time that the Department has had to carry a squalling baby; and I dare say it will manage to dump it somewhere.
There is to-day a world food shortage, as has been generally admitted; and the 1066 Minister of Agriculture in a very interesting and impressive speech in the country recently said that we in this country had to play a great part in meeting it. But I think the farmers are entitled to say, "Give us the tools, and we will finish the job." There is a very important aspect which has not been dealt with in the Debate. The labour situation is serious. There is in fact an acute shortage. I am not arguing that it can be avoided at the moment; but it must be recognised by the Government that the claims of agriculture, when it comes to any question of demobilisation, must have a very high priority; particularly in view of the position which will confront us in Europe and, indeed, in the world so far as the shortage of food is concerned. Even at the moment there are a number of petty irritants which could be put right, I do not feel I ought to be bothering my hon. Friend, as I have been bothering him in recent weeks, about such things as the shortage of blacksmiths in rural districts, and tyres for tractors, upon which he will recollect we have had a prolonged correspondence. What is the number of tyres involved? A dozen or so. Tractors are obviously of vital importance. Why does not the Minister insist on getting the tyres, and have done with-it, without Members of Parliament being written to about two tyres for a back pair of wheels or a front pair of wheels of a tractor which is obviously doing work of vital national importance? It is these pretty irritants of which I complain, because they have no relation to the real war effort at all. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State also mentioned, the housing position in the rural districts of Scotland, although less spectacular than in the urban districts, is just as grave, and should certainly receive just as high a priority when the moment comes for us to turn our attention to it.
I would like to conclude by saying one word upon a subject which I know the Secretary of State has always had at heart, and that is the subject of nutrition, which he referred to in his speech opening this Debate. I remember that, many years ago, he and I participated in a campaign for a greater consumption of fresh milk. That campaign culminated in the milk in schools scheme, and the national milk scheme; and I do not think anybody will deny the value of those two schemes. But we have to go far beyond 1067 milk in this question of nutrition. The slogan here must be "production for distribution and consumption according to need." That should be the fundamental objective of our agricultural policy—to satisfy the nutritional requirements of the people of this country. I agree with my right hon. Friend that there is a great potential market for prime Scotch beef; but I would say to him that it must be delivered from the tyranny of the vested interests in Smithfield Market, which has been one of the banes of Scottish meat production in the past. My right hon. Friend is perfectly right when he says that the marketing of home-grown beef in this country wants to be organised from top to bottom when this war is over; and, before any question of removing the present system of control comes up, we must have something better to take its place. I agree too with what my right hon. Friend said about the importance of popularising the great foods of Scotland. It is very important that we should really try to convince the English that they do not at present eat porridge. What they call porridge is not porridge at all. The same thing goes for herrings too. I had a deplorable experience about an hour and a quarter ago. I saw on the menu of this House of Commons——
§ Mr. Boothby
Perhaps I shall have an opportunity to describe my lunch-time experience to-morrow. It was my right hon. Friend who told us in his opening speech that he wished, if possible, to popularise Scotch food not only in Scotland, but outside as well. I think it is of immense importance that this campaign should be carried through as far and as fast as possible.
Lastly, I should like to refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan). Talking of skilled labour, he said with truth that there is no higher skilled man in the world than the really efficient all-round agricultural worker. As my hon. Friend pointed out, he has to learn four or five skilled trades at once before he can be considered efficient. His wages should be brought at least to the level of those of skilled workers in other trades; but if you are, going to do that, you have got to 1068 have what my right hon. Friend referred to in his opening remarks—a just price for the products of our agriculture, and given the just price you will have the just worth.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Chapman)
I think it is very clear from the tenor of the day's Debate that the Committee warmly approves and congratulates the farmers and farm workers of Scotland on their splendid agricultural war effort, which has been second to none. I thank hon. Members who have been good enough to refer to any part played by the Scottish Office in that effort. The statistics given by my right hon. Friend, as the Minister responsible for agriculture in Scotland, are most eloquent of the success of the effort North of the border, but the policy as laid down by the Government in the light of the larger needs of the day has to be linked with production. I think the Committee will agree that the agricultural executive committees, with chairmen and members serving in honorary capacities, as well as their paid staffs, and my colleagues in the Department of Agriculture under their Secretary are entitled to some small share of recognition in whatever has been achieved, even if the prime credit goes to the farmer and farm worker. It is a record of which we may be proud.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), in a speech which the Committee clearly considered, if I may say so, the best of the many interesting speeches he has made, touched on many points. The answer to the question he put about the attested herd scheme—as to whether the scheme was open to beef cattle—is that the scheme is open to them, but that the bonus does not apply. My hon. Friend then turned to the question of harvest labour. In the war years the farmer has never been let down even though difficulties have increased year by year. As military operations became more widespread the soldiers, who were our great standby, became less available. We have relied, on a splendid response from a larger number of civilian volunteers each year who have done the most admirable work. Without their help we could not have got the crops in. My hon. Friend was anxious about the position of the present harvest. No one is satisfied or certain about it until the harvest is in, and, therefore; I do not want to spread 1069 any feeling of false assurance, but I would say that the labour division of the Department has been working on this problem since about January. We have realised that soldiers are not likely to be available this year and we have set out to recruit a greater civilian army. We want 12,000, for instance, in relation to the grain harvest, and so on. The response has been good so far.
I would Eke to emphasise the response made by industrial workers. At this date last year 950 industrial workers had volunteered for harvest labour. This year 4,336 have volunteered. I think that is a magnificent effort on the part of the industrial workers. Having got that great increase in the figure, I am anxious to assure my hon. Friend that we shall not be satisfied until we have got 12,000 volunteers at least from other sources as well as industrial workers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, with whom I have been in close touch on this subject, told me long ago that if ever I saw any danger of a serious diminution of labour being available at the time of the harvest I was to come to him at once and special measures would be taken by the Government to see that the harvest was got in. On the question of school children, for instance, I think we had 55,000 out last year for the potato harvest. They were splendid. We anticipate a slightly greater number this year, say 60,000. Arrangements have been improved, supervision has been improved and we are grateful to all the teachers who helped us last year, and whose experience has helped us to improve the scheme this year.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Perth raised the question of cultivations during 1944–45. I think it is generally agreed that we have reached the maximum limit in Scotland in terms of tillage last year. 1943 will probably prove to have been the peak year of our agricultural war effort, and if we maintain that we shall have done very well indeed. In 1944–45 we shall have to look for higher yields and the bringing in of worth while marginal land. We have had some remarkable results with marginal land. In order to accomplish the policy we have in mind for 1944–45, and taking the long term view as well, it will be necessary to have regard to a gradual re-development of livestock husbandry in order to keep the largest possible tillage acreage in good heart. We have constantly upgraded our 1070 cattle in the matter of livestock and this part of our policy will be borne very much in mind. Before the cultivation policy for 1944–45 was arrived at there was a series of regional conferences to which committees sent their chairmen and technical officers. The pith of it all can be summed up from this extract of the decisions which were reached:While the reports are to the effect that the better classes of arable land have not suffered from the programmes of intensive cropping of the last five years, careful enquiries throughout the country show that no increase in the present record area of tillage can be expected. The signs point rather to a small and gradual reduction of the area under crop on farms of secondary quality where more arable land than at present requires a rest by being put back to grass for a period. This will have to be arranged with discrimination in appropriate cases and with an eye to the future development of livestock husbandry. Such a reduction of the area under crop would not necessarily mean a proportionate fall in total yields since by concentrating intensive attentions on a slightly smaller acreage of land the results in crop and stock can be materially improved. Such a policy would be quite in keeping with any demand that agricultural production should be maintained at its highest level of yield and efficiency.That covers the cultivations position fairly well. My hon. Friend then turned to a pamphlet—"The Husbandman Waiteth"—in which he said he had enjoyed the illustrations. He also said that he did not expect a major pronouncement on Government policy to be made by an Under-Secretary. This matter also exercised the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers). Well, as far as longterm policy is concerned it is not only the husbandman who waiteth; the Under-Secretary also waiteth. As my right hon. Friend pointed out in his opening remarks, discussions have taken place on the long term policy and the situation presumably shifts down here, where discussions at the official level continue. I trust that we shall not have to wait too long, because we are as keen as any farmer that the long term policy shall be forthcoming. In the meantime we have an earnest, and I place a higher value on it than my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth did, in the guaranteed prices for four years. I think we might look on that guarantee on the highest basis and as an earnest of the Government's intentions. The points raised by my hon. Friend about the Hill Sheep Report I will come to a little later.
1071 My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow had obviously taken a great deal of interest in, and had gone to some trouble in studying certain aspects of, our agricultural problems. He was, first of all, concerned about the possible exploitation of land but I think my right hon. Friend covered that adequately. I could not agree with my hon. Friend from Linlithgow more, and with other hon. Members who referred to the Land Court, in saying that the functions of that Court might be extended in the appropriate sphere and that that Court can play a greater part in the long term policy. Whether in connection with the Hill Sheep Report or security of tenure and so on one can see great possibilities for the development of the functions of the Land Court. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow turned to the question of deer forests, a point' which was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway. For my own part I should put the question of deer forests into two categories—deer forests proper, and large sheep farms which are in danger of having to close down and go back to deer forest or derelict conditions. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, in no case has he hesitated to requisition, on a recommendation of a committee, where no arrangements could be come to for the use of a deer forest for grazing.
But I want to enter a word of warning, which was implicit in the remarks of my right hon. Friend. It would be a mistake to imagine that all the 189 deer forests of Scotland, totalling about 3,500,000 acres, were suitable for grazing purposes. When you get down to the problem you will find, as we have found by experience, that on the basis of the Land Court's assessment a further 72,000 sheep and 3,000 cattle may mark the maximum that can be carried. You get varying results. May I quote another case to show the successful side of things? I quote the example of the sheep farm at Invercassley in Sutherland-shire and the adjoining deer forest of Ben-more? The farm amounted to 34,000 acres and carried 4,260 sheep, which were on the point of being sold and which would, presumably, have meant that the farm would become derelict and join the forest. The Department of Agriculture also took over 23,000 acres of the adjoining deer forest of Benmore—
§ Mr. Kirkwood
What is meant by "taking over"? Does it mean that the Government are taking over this land?
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Does it mean that the land now belongs to the Government and that when the war ends this land, which has been made valuable, will go back to the landlord?
§ Mr. Chapman
It depends. This land was taken over under the Defence Regulations. It does not necessarily go back afterwards, but it may do. It my hon. Friend means: "Is this land in the keeping of the Government forever?" the answer is "No," but it may become so; it all depends on the circumstances after the war. [Interruption.] We must view things in the light of a long-term policy. By that time we shall be able to see what ought to be done.
§ Major McCallum
Would my hon. Friend say that this farm of Invercassley might become a deer forest? Does he know that it lies almost at sea level?
§ Mr. Chapman
What I am getting down to is not necessarily deer forest but derelict land. It would be more accurate to say derelict land. Anyhow it was going out of production as a sheep farm. That is the important point. But the stock of sheep has improved from 4,260 to 6,560, and the condition of the sheep has improved vastly with proper management for the average weight of the fleece rose from 2.476 lbs. to 3.8 lbs. and the general death rate among the sheep declined. On the other hand, we have had cases where we have had urgent representations to requisition parts of deer forests, and have done so, and have then had the greatest difficulty in getting them stocked. In one case we have had to get the owner to come forward and stock the forest. The general idea that everyone is anxious to rush out and put sheep on every bit of deer forest is not accurate. There is a great deal of deer forest which will remain of sporting and scenic value only though as much as can be used, and requires to be used, will be used and my right hon. Friend has not hesitated to take action where advisable.
§ Major McCallum
Will my hon. Friend make it clear that the land that remains 1073 deer forest could not be anything else but deer forest?
§ Mr. Chapman
I tried to make that fairly clear when I alluded to the fact that even the Land Court said that 72,000 more sheep could be carried. Still, when added to what is already being grazed, that is a small part of the whole, because a large part of it must necessarily remain deer forest. It might be afforested, but that is outside my purview.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Is it the considered view of the Scottish Office, with their war experience, that an overwhelming number of deer forests must permanently remain deer forests and not be utilised for production?
§ Mr. Chapman
No, I have indicated the amount which the Land Court in a survey considered could be used effectively for grazing, and part of the deer forests may be of use for forestry. I am not qualified to speak on that but there are great areas which are no good for grazing because of their extremely rough nature.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
The point has been made that, once a deer forest, it is bound to be a deer forest always. There is not a vestige of truth in that because hundreds of hardy boys who defended their native land were driven over the seas at the time of the Highland clearances.
§ Mr. Chapman
I think the point my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) was making was that there are parts which, by the very nature of the soil, always were of a very rough character. Even at the time the hon. Member is speaking about, when those districts were more populated, there were still parts that could not be used effectively for grazing. They were never, by their nature, designed for that kind of thing.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
In the Highlands you can still see the remnants of the houses which were unroofed, when their owners were chased out of the glens.
§ Mr. Chapman
Those parts obviously can be brought back. That is, doubtless, the kind of the area the Land Court had in mind when they were classifying possible grazings, but there is some that cannot be used. The hon. Member for Galloway asked if I could give the number of ewes being carried on the deer forests that have been taken over.
I asked how many ewes the Government put on these areas to start with, how many now remain, and how many had to be sold.
§ Mr. Chapman
There were 17,720 ewes and 546 cattle put on. I cannot at the moment give the rest of the answer my hon. Friend requires but I will see that he has it. Results have varied. In sonic cases they have been quite good. My hon. Friend also asked about increased costs arising from wages without a variation in price of milk to the producer.
I was speaking of the price level of agricultural produce as a whole and pointing out that my hon. Friend had escaped some of the stormy seas that the Minister of Agriculture had encountered because Scottish agricultural Members had not been up and doing since the rise in the cost of production.
§ Mr. Chapman
In the matter of adjustments of -prices to cover costs, especially wages, the Government has clearly to take account of the general position of the industry, and not merely the question of any particular increased cost. There are close consultations between farmers and the Government on this question of profitability, which comes into it with the general picture.
My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Sir M. MacDonald), in a speech which covered a great deal of ground, and which it would take rue a long time to answer in detail, dealt first of all with what steps could or should be taken to ensure the maintenance of agricultural prosperity. That is a consideration the Government must obviously have in mind in any long-term policy and I cannot anticipate any action that they may propose, but my hon. Friend's point of view will doubtless receive consideration. He put forward a carefully thought out scheme to my right hon. Friend and the Department of Agriculture and it was very carefully considered. The points that he raised then and has raised again to-day will not be lost sight of in the general discussion. He then raised the question of the improvement of pasture, and drew attention to the way the Hill Sheep Report emphasised this. With its ordered programme the re-furbishing of the hills is one of the very bases of the thing. A hill sheep policy which did hot go in for improving grazing generally 1075 would have no meaning. We have to put back what was there in the past: to correct extractive farming. My hon. Friend need not have anxiety. We have some remarkable experiments in the way of re-seeding—I have seen them—and we have many demonstration plots and farms throughout Scotland showing how grazing can be improved three or four fold in value. My hon. Friend went on to the question of wages and prices. In any policy which His Majesty's Government may adopt one of the items in a discussion of a fair price and a stable market must obviously be that of a fair wage to the farm worker. That is generally recognised and accepted. I do not think I can go beyond that in answering the various points he raised. He will find, I think, that there are other points on which he touched which I have included in answers to other hon. Members.
My Noble Friend the Member for Lanark (Lord Dunglass) covered the whole gamut from rats to raspberries. He first touched upon long-term policy and quoted the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am glad that he noted that remark. I have also noted it, but I want to say that in the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, whenever we have approached the Treasury, we have found them careful but never obstructive in any good case that we have put up to them. They have indeed been forthcoming. One should say that because the Treasury often get crashed on from great heights.
My Noble Friend then turned to the question of the differentiation of fruit prices, first, as between Scotland and England, and then as between Lanarkshire and other parts of Scotland. This again is really a Ministry of Food matter, but I am informed that there were two areas for the purposes of pricing. No. 1 area takes in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Northern parts of England down to a line drawn somewhere through Yorkshire. No. 2 area covers the rest of the United Kingdom. I will send my Noble Friend a full list of the prices of the two areas. He will note from the list that there is a time lag of a fortnight between the price changes in Area 1 and those in Area 2. That is a deliberate provision on the part of the Ministry of Food because of the climatic difference between the two areas. The bulk of the Scottish crop of strawberries will be sold at the main price of 1076 81s. 8d., and this is also true of England Eighty-five per cent. of the English crop is normally marketed after 19th June at the main-crop price. As regards the higher prices for the berries in the earlier part of the season, they are about the same proportionately as before the war. The cost of producing the early fruit is much higher. I do not think the early berries are produced in Scotland at all. A difficulty entered into the question of prices because of the heavy frosts experienced in the southern parts of England. To meet that position the Ministry of Food created a new area called No.1A, and an increased price for growers was decided on because of the frost damage. The northern part of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been relatively free from frost damage, and that is why that increased price did not apply there.
§ Mr. Mathers
The Minister should know that the frost hit the black-currant crop very seriously. I have been shown bushes from which last year eight pounds per bush were picked, but this year, because of the frost, there will be no more than one pound.
§ Mr. Chapman
I was dealing specifically with strawberries and raspberries, but I will get information about blackcurrants and see that my hon. Friend has it. Roughly speaking, in the northern part of England, where a great percentage of the strawberry crop is grown, it was not severely damaged by frost and the main crop price was maintained. That was the same as the Scottish main crop price. The Scottish strawberry crop did not suffer from frost, but the raspberry crop did in the main growing counties of Perth, Angus and Fife. The damage, fortunately, was not of a serious nature. There was only a small reduction in yield and these counties were compensated by an increase in the maximum price from 74s. 8d. to 81s. 8d. The point I wish to make is that where damage occurred there has been an adjustment in price to compensate for it whether in England or Scotland. The crop in Lanarkshire was not affected by frost, and consequently there was no revision in price. I will remember the suggestion of my Noble Friend in regard to future negotiations. These things are discussed between the Department and the Ministry of Food, but my Noble Friend will appreciate that the Department of Agriculture for Scot- 1077 land does not necessarily have the last word.
§ Mr. Chapman
We are always consulted by the Ministry of Food and we make strong recommendations. This is an old problem, but we have made representations in the past and we shall continue to do so.
My Noble Friend touched on the rat menace. It is a very serious thing. There are supposed to be about 6,000,000 rats in Scotland, and it is said that they do about £9,000,000 worth of damage in a year. I do not know how that figure is arrived at, but the damage is certainly very great. As one pair of rats can become Boo in the course of the year, the situation is one that has to be taken seriously. We have had a co-ordinated campaign. The local authorities, the agricultural executive committees and the Department of Scotland have been cooperating with other Ministries like the Ministry of Food in a real drive against rats.
§ Mr. Chapman
No, indeed. We work through the local authorities, who are technically responsible, and sometimes the Department of Agriculture has helped in urban problems where they have been acute.
§ Mr. Chapman
My hon. Friend will appreciate that although we have a staff of more than zoo rat catchers, we would like still more if we could get them. We are tackling this problem as vigorously as we can, and since they got going in September last the Department's schemes have disposed of 420,000 rats which is a good beginning. The size of the problem in agriculture may be judged from a report the other day that 4,000 rats were killed on one farm in a fortnight. A kill of 2,000 on a farm is by no means uncommon. My noble Friend raised the question of netting stacks while threshing was going on. That is required by a regulation all over Scotland, and serious attention is paid to infringements of it. The only way to 1078 get the rat menace down is for every-body to co-operate. If urban dwellers as well as country dwellers will report the presence of rats, we will do our best to tackle them.
My Noble Friend asked about the Scottish Gardens and Allotments Committee. This Committee has done the most admirable work under Sir Robert Greig as chairman. There were fewer than 20,000 allotments in 1939, and in 1943 there were 84,000. The peak figure of the last war was 43,000, so that we have almost doubled the number over the last war, and that reflects the greatest credit on all concerned. It is difficult to assess the total amount of produce, but we think that there is a cumulative yield of something like 40,000 tons per annum of crops from those people who have been digging for victory. We are grateful to all who have taken part in the prosecution of that useful and valuable campaign.
I think that covers most of the points that were raised by my Noble Friend, and I now turn to the speech of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan). I find that I approach it with some difficulty because he started with the question of nationalisation of land and I have no authority to express any views on the subject on behalf of His Majesty's Government. I know what my own views are, and they are decisively against those of my hon. Friend, but my own views are not important and I cannot discuss the matter at any length. I quite agree with my hon. Friend, however, in his plea for a better distribution of population. It is obviously wrong and very unbalanced that a quarter of the population in Scotland should be jammed into a few square miles in the south and west. Let us face the fact, on the other hand, that however desirable a back-to-the-land movement may be, it will not be easy to realise and I do not think one can hold out any hope of being able to put hundreds of thousands of people back to the land. A flourishing agricultural industry and the technical training and the wages and all the rest of it will attract a great many and, I hope, a substantial proportion of the rising generation to the land.
I have always thought, as a result of my reading about this back-to-the-land movement, that people tend to forget that agriculture is a way of life as well 1079 as a livelihood. Many people who take it up and who think that it is a very fine way of life, find that they just cannot stand it. There has to be a real love of agriculture and of the countryside. So do not let us imagine that anyone who desires to go to the country will necessarily settle there and do well. I add that as a word of caution, although I am 100 per cent. with my hon. Friend in his desire to get as many people on to our countryside as possible.
My hon. Friend then went into the question of the export of cattle. Regarding our pedigree beasts being sent to the Argentine, I would point out to my hon. Friend that the very fact that that demand is there—and I think that my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth will confirm this—has allowed an enormous upgrading in the quality of our beasts at home. It is continually going on and benefits all our herds in Scotland. The question of the upgrading of our livestock is continually borne in mind, and I therefore urge my hon. Friend to see that there is another side to the case. On the general question of imports and exports, I would ask him to let us have the fullest details about those dehydrated frogs[Laughter]—it is a most solemn matter—which he says are being imported into Scotland for consumption. We ought to have all the details so that we can see what it is all about. I am looking to my hon. Friend to let us have the evidence in due course.
The one point on which I should like to cross swords with my hon. Friend is his statement that the results of the use of school children in the harvest fields were not encouraging. There is no suggestion that one child goes into the field and does the work of one man. Possibly four children do the work of one man. I must rebut very vigorously the suggestion that the farmers do not think much of what those children are doing, because it is discouraging to the children who have done an extremely fine war job, and no one knows it better than the farmer.
§ Mr. Chapman
There is no question of young children doing the work of the grain harvest. That is for senior scholars, who are up to it. I think it is agreed that they do a good job of work, especially those from r6 years of age upwards. The test is that many go back to the same farms year after year, and are welcomed by the farmers. Without the help of that section of the population in the grain harvest we should be in a very difficult position indeed.
§ Mr. Chapman
I will certainly try to get the information which my hon. Friend wants. I was anxious not to leave undisturbed on the eve of harvest—in the midst of recruitment—the somewhat discouraging view that he presented, although I understand his feelings on the matter. I was very glad that he corrected his statement about the Women's Land Army, who have done a very fine job. What has surprised me about it is the number of girls from shops, factories and so on, all sorts of previous occupations, from mannequins to shop assistants, who have said that they want to stay on the land after the war. Some of them are of very slight build and you would not think they would be up to the job, but it is astonishing what they tackle. In the early days, farmers were exceedingly sceptical about taking on land girls, but now there is a long waiting list, and that is a great tribute to this service, in which, I know, my hon. Friend joins. Now I would turn to the observations made——
§ Mr. Buchanan
I am not being critical of my hon. Friend and I do not want him to cut down his speech, but we were given a promise that the education Debate would start nearly an hour ago. My hon. Friend is doing what I think is his proper job, namely, properly covering the points raised in the agricultural Debate, and I make no criticism of him. It is terribly unfair that we should have 1081 been promised a Debate on education which should have started nearly an hour ago.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Everybody I consulted about the Debate told me that the day was to be divided into two periods. I have not a single criticism of my hon. Friend; I think he is doing quite rightly and it would be wrong if he did not take time, but I still think that education should have some time given to it, and that this is not being fair.
§ Mr. Chapman
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for what he has said and I will try to cut down my remarks.
§ Mr. Buchanan
No, I do not want my hon. Friend to cut down his speech, because that would not be fair.
Mr. McNeil (Greenock)
The time allotted is not sufficient, either for education or for agriculture.
§ Mr. Chapman
I will turn to the speech made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll, who referred to the eradication of bracken. The Department send out machines with drivers. In some parts auxiliary labour is available, for hand-cutting, particularly students at holiday time. A great service that my hon. and gallant Friend could render to Scotland in this matter is to invent the kind of machine to which he refers. We have some of the best machines we could find, and we have also experimented in many ways with bracken, trying to make use of it such as in the making of paper, potash and so on.
§ Mr. Chapman
The difficulty is that some of these places are rather remote for pigs. My hon. and gallant Friend raised another point about the Forestry Commission and the grazing on the higher ground. He knows that I have had correspondence with him on that point and that we have been in touch with the Forestry Commission, who are willing to co-operate, where the trees are old enough 1082 not to be damaged by stock. My hon. Friend the Member for West Perth and other hon. Members touched upon the very important question of the Hill Sheep Report. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that I will not be long.
§ Mr. Buchanan
My hon. Friend is putting me in a wrong position. I do not want to limit him in any way as I think he is doing his job. All I say is that it is terrible that he can do his job only at the expense of the Debate on education, which many of us thought was to come on some little time ago.
§ Mr. Chapman
If I may, I will then turn to this question of the Hill Sheep Report. As has been clear throughout the Debate, future legislation is involved, therefore one is very circumscribed in what one can discuss. I would like to emphasise—it is the only way in which I can approach the matter without being out of Order—briefly what it means to us. Scotland agriculturally has been described in some parts—and it might be applied to the whole of Scotland—agriculturally, asa beggar's mantle with a fringe of gold.That saying emphasises the fact that of our total agricultural land 70 per cent. is rough grazing and only 30 per cent. crops and grass, whereas in England the percentage of rough grazing is 19 per cent. Forty per cent. in Scotland is used for hill sheep farming; the comparative English figure is 16 per cent. In December, 1940, there were 3,325,000 ewes, shearling ewes and gimmers in Scotland. Of these 60 per cent, were hill sheep. The comparative percentage in England and Wales was from 20 to 25 per cent. I do not make these comparisons with any desire to minimise the hill sheep problem South of the Border, but to show what a big thing hill sheep farming is to Scottish agriculture as a whole. I need not emphasise that by other figures which I have. It seems to me that the longer the report has "lain on the table" the more it has received general support. Even those who were sceptical at the beginning have come round to see that here is a possible solution. I think that is the best tribute to those who gave so much time in producing it.
§ Mr. Snadden
Could my hon. Friend answer the question of whether there was any possibility of discussing that report?
§ Mr. Chapman
That is not primarily a matter for me but I think my hon. Friend can rest assured that my right hon. Friend would welcome a discussion when occasion offers.
I would like to say more on hill sheep but I must pass to the speech of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). He started on the question of hot and cold tea and was still on nutrition at the end of his remarks. He referred to land speculation. I would point out to him that under war-time conditions my right hon. Friend has the power to refuse to allow dispossession of a tenant where there is an element of land speculation in a sale. My hon. Friend touched on animal stock farming, mixed rotational farming, and of course he was merely emphasising all the time what is stated in the Government's pledge on post-war agriculture, namely, to maintain a healthy and well-balanced agriculture. That, I think, covers the position which my hon. Friend set out. But the pith of his remarks was the question of potatoes. This matter, as he rightly pointed out, is really one for the Ministry of Food, who assure us that they will be clearing the stocks in the area in question during the whole of this month. When my hon. Friend says it was not fair to expect the farmer to pay the premium against starvation by carrying these stocks, I think I must rebut that by pointing out to my hon. Friend that these growers could have entered into a direct contract with the Ministry of Food, as was pointed out in an interruption from below the gangway. It is those who did not enter into a contract with the Ministry of Food but who went to their merchants who are placed in this particular position.
§ Mr. Boothby
Surely those merchants are acting on behalf of the Ministry of Food—they are authorised merchants?
§ Mr. Chapman
They may be authorised merchants, but I am distinguishing between those who contracted direct with the Ministry and those who did not.
There may have been a large number of small growers who are affected by this, and that arises from the fact that, anxious to increase our acreage and go beyond what the main growing areas could give, 1084 we had to resort to asking for small acreages to be grown by the people in Aberdeenshire. They responded very well. Indeed I imagine the Ministry of Food's problem has been the question of the transportation of small loads. However, we have made representations to them and we shall continue to' do so, and hope that this will be avoided in the future. Possibly, I can hold out no promise on this, we may not have to press our demands quite so vigorously in this area. Potatoes are still very high up the Ministry of Food's priority list. The Ministry of Food is counting on a very large acreage of potatoes and we have to try and get it. He may count on us pressing this matter.
I think I have covered most of the points that were raised, and I would like to conclude on this note. With the problems of labour, shortage of supplies and double summer time, which benefits the urban worker but is no blessing to the dairy farmer, agriculture in war time has not been easy. That is not the whole story. Thousands of acres have been taken away for military purposes. Sonic areas have been cleared for training needs. I will not refer particularly to the areas which have been taken over. For obvious reasons the Committee will not expect me to do that, but I know the Committee will join me in wholehearted tribute to those farmers and their families who had to be dispossessed, sometimes at short notice, and who took it in such good part. It is a heavy blow to be asked suddenly to leave your farm at short notice, to see land cultivated year by year, perhaps generation after generation, churned up by the fierce wheels of war. Yet young and old alike have taken this willingly and cheerfully, and I want from this Box to pay our tribute to them. They did it willingly and cheerfully because they knew they would be helping the fellows who are now doing so magnificently in Normandy. The successes achieved there will be their recompense. To them, and to the men who come back, the best welcome home we can give is that they shall come to a countryside which is fully alive again, where there is no neglect of the land and where there is a sound long term policy. For the urgent present, and while they are away, we have to get this coming harvest in, and hon. Members can be of the very greatest assistance if they will influence their constituents to 1085 come out and help us. It is on that note of the job to be done that I conclude these remarks.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.