§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Woodburn)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I consider it a great privilege to introduce the Bill to the House and to move its Second Reading. We Scots are a small nation, and we feel a considerable pride in the contribution that has been made by our people to many of the cultures of the world. We have sent abroad teachers, administrators, doctors, and people who have played a great part in many countries far from the homeland; and today there are about four times as many Scotsmen abroad as there are in the homeland itself.
In all that we have contributed to civilisation, I think that Scottish farming takes a very high place. The Scottish farmer is recognised as one of the best farmers in the world; and I believe it is true to say that, in spite of the assumed frugality of our soil, it is possible today in Scotland to raise greater crops per acre in certain places than it is in any other place in the world—and that applies to a great many crops. That is partly due in some cases to the thorough cultivation of the soil. Friends who have travelled with me over the border have admired the cultivation of the fields as being so thorough as to excel anything they have ever seen. In moving the Second Reading of a Bill which is going to be a charter for Scottish farmers I think that we in this House are making what has been long overdue a contribution to agriculture in this country.
It might be appropriate on a day such as this to make reference to the very sad loss that Scottish agriculture has suffered 41 in the passing of Sir Robert Greig. Sir Robert Greig did, perhaps, more for Scottish agriculture in his day than any other man; as a member of the Board of Agriculture when it was first constituted in 1912, and later on as Chairman of the Board, and Secretary to the Scottish Agriculture Department until he retired in 1934. The special interest of Sir Robert in agriculture was in research and educational work for the greater efficiency of the industry, and even after his retirement he continued to render valuable service in this regard. His reputation as an agricultural scientist and administrator was Empire wide. During the war he also rendered conspicuous assistance to the food production effort as Chairman of the Scottish Gardens and Allotments Committee. Scottish agriculture has lost a valuable friend and counsellor in him. I think that on this day it is remarkable that we are introducing a Bill which, to some extent, is the culmination of the things he stood for, and it certainly is appropriate that even today we should appeal to the people of Scotland to rally to his favourite cause of the allotments, because work on the allotments will make a valuable contribution to our well-being in the years to come.
This Bill and charter for agriculture has for its purpose to ensure that the land of our country will be utilised in the best national interest. In order to achieve that the Secretary of State will be empowered to see that nothing takes place in agreements on the land, as between landlord and tenant, which will hinder the best cultivation. The general plan of this scheme falls into two sections. The first section is given statutory authority in the Agriculture Act passed earlier this year and has for its purpose the giving of assured markets to farmers and guaranteed prices so that those in the agricultural industry will feel that they have some security when they have done their work—that they will be able to get the reward that comes from their work.
Questions have been raised as to whether these guarantees in the Act go far enough in the case of oats, and as this is a question which is of supreme importance to the Scottish farmers, my right hon. Friends and I have gone into it and have had consultation with each other; and I have been authorised on behalf of the Government to give this undertaking: 42 the Government are prepared to accept complete liability for assuring a market for the whole output of oats during the period of the agricultural expansion programme, that is to say, up to and including the 1951 crop. I trust that that assurance will give the farmers confidence that, at least, guaranteed prices will apply to this aspect of their crops, as well as to others.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
This is a very important point. Can we assume that oats are to be on the same basis as all other crops?
§ Mr. Woodburn
It would not be wise to assume more than I have said. I have made a careful statement. I do not propose to elaborate it; otherwise, I might mislead the farmers and the House. The statement has been agreed, and I have made it; and I must leave it there for the time being.
On the one side, we give farmers a guarantee, but on the other side, this Bill calls for certain duties on behalf of the workers on the land of this country. First, there are the owners of land; then the tenants; and then, of course, the workers. Unless these three classes play their parts the agriculture industry cannot accomplish what it is setting out to do. This Bill calls upon the owners to make their contribution by good management, and farmers are asked to provide good husbandry. The State, which is another party in these arrangements, provides assistance in the way of scientific information, of machinery and other contributions, and guidance to the farmers as to the best way for them to accomplish their purpose. In addition, if these fail, the State reserves the right to give direction. In these arrangements disputes are bound to arise from time to time, and provision is made in the Bill for them to be given a rehearing by the Scottish Land Courts.
This Bill is of great importance to landlords and tenants. At this juncture, I wish to pay tribute to the splendid way all the organisations connected with agriculture have contributed to making this a workmanlike Measure. As was, perhaps, to be expected, we have not been able to get complete agreement; but we put this Bill forward as the best working compromise which can be achieved, and we hope that it will be accepted as a great contribution to the future progress of agricul- 43 ture. The first part of the Agriculture Act, 1947, provides for the Ministers concerned to make a periodic review in order to fix prices so far in advance that farmers will feel some guarantee that, when they produce their crops, they will be able to sell them. This involves the provision of assured markets, and in order to provide the necessary information upon which action can be taken, provision is made for the collection of statistics. Incidentally, the Act also provides for the continuation of the liming subsidies. This Bill does not reproduce that part of the Agriculture Act.
This Measure covers the other portions dealt with in that Act and provides for Scotland those matters which are in the second Part of the Act, although it does not cover the same ground as that Part. Where there is common ground, it does not cover it in the same way. In other words, there are differences in order to make it adaptable to our conditions. In case anyone thinks that we are simply following at the tail of England, as we have been accused of doing, I would point out that the Scottish contribution to both these Measures has been of a substantial character, and that the wisdom of Scotland is to be found both in the Agriculture Act and in the Bill now before the House. The Bill bears the imprint of our war experience, and embodies many of the powers given to the Secretary of State during the war Where these powers have been found to be useful and wise, they have been perpetuated in this Bill. For the sake of those who have not studied the Bill in detail, I will give a sort of bird's eye view of what it proposes.
Part I deals with security against disturbance, and it gives to tenants a degree of security against disturbance which has not so far been possible in legislation. In addition, it amends the laws of compensation to tenants in connection with improvements, and to landlords in connection with deteriorations. It is quite clear that this part of the Bill will give fairness or compensation to all. Part II deals with good management and good husbandry. Part III deals with the control of pests and weeds. Part IV empowers the Secretary of State to acquire land. Part V deals with land settlement, and Part VI makes permanent the agricultural executive 44 committees, and makes provision for extending the Scottish Land Court. Part VII deals with minor arterial drainage, the provision of goods and services, and the provision of houses and buildings.
Part I revises the 1923 and 1931 Acts. In this Bill, the State takes a greater interest than in the past, and that interest will be of a positive kind. The use of our land and its occupancy are not now matters which are solely the affairs of landlords and tenants. The State must take a deep interest in whether the conditions of occupancy and of tenure are such as to make for the best use of the land. In connection with improvements, there has been a great deal of dissatisfaction with the previous situation where a tenant might take the land of a farmer, agree to a rent, and then, after the lease has been signed, finds that he has been made liable to pay for the improvements of the outgoing tenant, of which he was not previously aware. After this Bill has been passed, any agreements which bind the incoming tenants to pay compensation to the outgoing tenants for improvements, with one exception, will be null and void.
Therefore, after this Bill has passed, no tenant can go into a farm without knowing what he is legally liable for; he will settle the rent, knowing what his ultimate liability is, and any other agreements, which deal with the matter differently, will be null and void. Under Clause 2, the Secretary of State takes power to vary the First Schedule of the 1923 Act in respect of improvements. That is in order to protect sitting tenants, who might be involved in these changes. Clause 3 arranges for the grants for improvements to go to the land and not to the tenant. In other words, if a tenant leaves his farm, he does not take the compensation with him. Contrary to what has happened with other grants, these grants are not given to the farmer personally, but are given for the improvement of the soil, and they therefore remain on the soil. Clause 4 deals with deteriorations, and there is no great change here in the law. Clause 5 deals with disturbance.
Clause 7 protects tenants from eviction. This gives tenants more protection than they have had before, but there are certain exceptions to this otherwise absolute protection, such as bad husbandry, nonpayment of rent, a breach of the tenancy, 45 or bankruptcy. These exceptions are described in Clause 5. The other exception is where the Secretary of State approves in connection with other legislation, such as where the land is taken over for the purposes of town and country planning.
Clause 11 allows a variation in rent. Hitherto, rent could only be varied at the end of or break in a lease. Under this Clause, it is possible for the landlord or the tenant to apply for a variation in rent, and if one of the parties is unwilling, either the landlord or the tenant can appeal to arbitration where the variation can be settled. In Scotland, that variation can take place only five years after the signing of a lease. The time is three years in the case of England, and the reason for the difference is that in Scotland leases are usually of a much longer duration. Clause 13 and onwards deal with the question of the efficiency of equipment on the land. Clause 15 attempts to reconcile the varying views of the organisations on the respective liability of landlords and tenants to provide and maintain equipment. It lays on the landlord the duty of providing and replacing fixed equipment. The tenant's duty will be to keep it in good repair. The landlord has to provide the equipment and any new parts that are needed, but it is the duty of the tenant to maintain it. After the lease has been signed, but not before, it is possible for the landlord and tenant to come to a mutual agreement to transfer their obligations under this Clause. Already in Scotland there are mutually satisfactory agreements in force whereby the tenant takes off the landlord certain of these obligations.
Clause 14 is new, and gives the tenant or landlord the right to obtain a written lease. This is on the lines of the provisions of the Fourth Schedule, which makes the matter more intelligible if considered at the same time. The Fifth Schedule defines, for the first time, the rules of good estate management, and in the Sixth Schedule the rules of good husbandry have been revised and extended. The provisions here will be referred to frequently in future in connection with decisions made by the agricultural executive committees.
To pass from equipment to Part II of the Bill; this deals with the efficient use of land. Clauses 25 to 33 have much the same principles behind them as Part II 46 of the English Act. I have already paid a tribute to Scottish farming, because I sincerely believe that the best Scottish farm is not surpassed anywhere. But it would be ridiculous for us to pretend that all Scottish farming was the best; indeed, much of it can be improved. The Govern-men expect that a very considerable contribution will be made towards Scottish agriculture's cropping programme as a result of these provisions. They will do their part by helping in every way, but they also expect Scottish agriculture to bring itself up to its highest possible pitch of efficiency. We have no doubt that we shall have the co-operation of the Scottish farmer in this respect. It was obtained during the war, when Scottish farmers co-operated patriotically in every step which the Government asked them to take.
In case that co-operation should not be forthcoming the State reserves the power to deal with neglect. If there is neglect, the agricultural committee will issue a warning, and, when that has been done, may give a direction. If that direction is carried out nothing more will happen, but if it is not, if there is continued neglect of the land, provision is made in the Bill for the dispossession of the tenant or landlord, and for the land to be taken over for proper treatment in order to get the best results. This differs from the English practice. In their case, a supervision order is issued by the agricultural committee which is formally registered. The more timid and shy Scots feel that that is rather a public proceeding and prefer the private warning. Anyone can find out what that is if he goes to the agricultural committee, but it will not become a public declaration, as in England. We have adopted this procedure of the warning rather than the supervision order in deference to the feelings of the Scots.
Clause 34 empowers the Secretary of State to serve a direction in the interests of the national supply of food. This arises out of the emergency powers of the war, and will be used only in an emergency. A direction is not capable of being immediately acted upon; the Secretary of State or the Government will be required to bring forward an Affirmative Motion, which must be passed by both Houses of Parliament before such a direction can be put into effect. Clause 35 is of special interest to Scotland because it deals with deer forests and grouse moors. The Clause 47 continues the powers taken during the war under the Defence Regulations. According to the June, 1947, agricultural returns, there were in Scotland 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 acres of land given over to deer forests. It is estimated that approximately half of those are capable of being grazed. The Scottish Land Court in 1940 stated that there were 82 deer forests in Scotland, extending to 1,562,000 acres, which justified the estimate that all deer forests in Scotland could graze in the summer 7,000 cattle and 200,000 sheep. In winter, the number would be less—1,500 cattle and 110,000 sheep. That is equal to 1 per cent. of the cattle in Scotland, and 2½ per cent. of the sheep.
In 1946, some progress had been made in this matter, and we had, on these deer forests, 2,727 cattle and 150,657 sheep. Unfortunately, the hard winter brought great disaster. The number of sheep was brought down to about 109,000, and cattle to 2,309. We must realise that cattle cannot be multiplied by mass production methods. That is still the job of the cow, and it takes a little longer than the factory production of tractor. The stocking of these deer forests has to be done by the development of natural growth——
§ Mr. Woodburn
Yes, but always the cow has to be artificially inseminated. It is possible to mass-produce semen, but not cows.
Part III of the Bill deal with the control of pests and weeds. Many people who live in towns may be surprised to hear that deer, rabbits and hares are pests, because I am sure they would like to be able to get some of these pests in the shops. I have always been of the opinion that if the Miners' Federation of Great Britain had been asked to assist in removing pests from the countryside, they would have disappeared long ago. It is, however, a serious problem for the farmer, and special powers are taken in Clauses 42 to 48 to control deer, rabbits and hares. Clause 45 gives power, for the first time, to discover how many deer there are in Scotland. Clause 42 gives tenants powers to kill and take deer found on their holdings, and Clauses 47 to 49 give power to kill and take ground game found on their holdings. The provisions of Clause 44 will be 48 used if there is any question as to who is to get the deer and pay for it and there is legal proceeding. Clauses 48 and 49 provide safeguards agains the uses of firearms and poison as in the Agricultural Act.
Part IV deals with the acquisition of land. Clause 54 empowers the Secretary of State to acquire land by agreement. Land may be offered for forestry, but be found to be more suitable for agriculture, and, under this Clause, it will be possible for the Secretary of State to purchase the land for that purpose. Complications would arise, if it were bought for forestry, and could not then be used for agriculture. It also provides power for the Secretary of State to acquire land surrendered to the Chancellor in lieu of Death Duties. There is the possibility of a good deal of land being offered to us in this form, and this empowers us to deal with it.
Clause 55 empowers the Secretary of State to requisition land for research, experiment and demonstration. Normally, this land is acquired by the agricultural colleges in the usual way, but it is necessay to have this power in reserve when certain definite sites are required for very important purposes. The power will only be used in reserved cases. Clause 56 enables the same power as in the Agricultural Act is given to the Minister of Agriculture for the Secretary of State to acquire land to ensure its full and efficient use. These again are reserve powers in order to guarantee, as a last resort, that the Secretary of State has power to see that the land is efficiently used. There may be cases where severance takes place and an owner may not be willing to divert odd pieces of land from the main farm. The Secretary of State will have power to acquire them in the case of town and country planning, for roads, etc. Except in the case of severance, cases where the Secretary of State intends to requisition land must go to the Scottish Land Court. Owners, lessees and occupiers have all the right to be heard, and the procedure is laid down in the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation of Procedure) Scotland Act, 1947. It provides for the lodging of objections by all interested parties, for a hearing, or for a public inquiry.
Clause 58 makes provision for the transfer to the Secretary of State of land vested 49 in other Government Departments. For instance, a surplus aerodrome may be vested in the Air Ministry and that ground may be required to be cultivated. This makes provision for the transfer of the land from the Air Ministry to ourselves, so that it may be devoted to agriculture. Clause 59 empowers the Secretary of State to make appropriate use of the land vested in him. For example, estates which come to the Secretary of State for forestry. He will be able to decide whether they shall be used for forestry or part used for agriculture. Clause 60 empowers the Secretary of State to manage such land, to provide for the welfare of tenants and employees, with a limited power of sale.
Here I ought to explain that it is not proposed to set up an Agricultural Land Commission in Scotland, as has been done under the Agricultural Act. The Department of Agriculture in Scotland already manages 450,000 acres of land for land settlement, and it also manages 170,000 acres of agricultural land as part of forestry workings. To do that, we have staffs of land officers, surveyors, achitects and clerks of works, and we do not think it would be desirable to duplicate the organisation in another organisation, as I am quite sure every hon. Member will agree. We want to run these things as economically and in as businesslike a way as possible.
We come to Part V, which deals with land settlement. We have a large list of people who want to go back to the land. A great many men who went to the war have learned to love the open air life, and would like to go on the land. There have been people brought up on the land who would like to have a piece of land. Unfortunately, this is limited at the moment, not so much by the question of the land, as by the fact that there is no point in putting people on the land unless we can provide them with houses and buildings from which to work. Therefore, until we get the houses available there must be a strictly limited selection. Here, I would like to say that in the selection of the people to be settled on the land, preference will be given to those with agricultural experience, because of the great tragedies which occurred after the last war of men going on to the land without such experience. Many of them found their life-savings gone, and, indeed, became ruined.
50 Clause 63 empowers the Secretary of State to create holdings up to 75 acres, or holdings up to the rent of £150, no matter what the acreage. The purpose here is to create a family type of holding, such as for dairy farming, where people can build a home and not be limited in their expansion. Clause 64 empowers the Secretary of State to make loans to these prospective tenants and give them working capital up to about 75 per cent. This will give us a choice of the most suitable tenant. The question of the person to go on the land does not depend on whether he has enough money himself, but whether he has the ability to work the land. If we have power to select the most suitable person for the land, the State will be able to lend him up to 75 per cent. of his working capital. I regard this as a very important proviso, because, if our farming is to succeed, there has to be a continuous replacement of the wastage that goes on in farming as in every other industry. I regard these holdings as the nursery for future Scottish farmers because out of these holdings will grow the bigger farms. Moreover, in many of these smallholdings there is a great possibility for what I regard as laboratory experiments, and the chances are that from the experience of these holdings we may develop and improve even on the farming of the past.
Clause 66 winds up the Agricultural (Scotland) Fund. This Fund is provided annually with a sum, but the maximum is insufficient for new purposes. There is a balance in the Fund, but the Fund had to borrow from the Public Works Loan Board in order to make its advances, and, as a matter of fact, the Fund owes more to the Public Works Loan Board than it has to its credit. We think it advisable to avoid these complications of book-keeping, and the Fund is, therefore, being abolished, and payments which would be made out of the Fund will come from annual Parliamentary Vote in the usual way.
Part VI deals with the agricultural executive committees. These provided a great experiment during the war, which was thoroughly successful. The greatest credit is due to the men, who, throughout the war, sat on these committees and gave of their advice and experience for the National purpose. They gained an experience of the agriculture of the 51 country which would not have been possible in any other way. I think that one of the wisest acts of this Parliament will be to make permanent the existence of these committees. There were 41 of them during the war. The numbers are to be reduced to 11, of which there will not be more than 12 members on each. They will be appointed after consultation with the farmers, farm workers and owners. On these committees it is stipulated there will be a majority of people with agricultural experience.
Clauses 69 to 71 deal with the Scottish Land Court. Power is being taken here to increase the numbers from five to seven because the duties in this Bill being placed upon the Scottish Land Court will greatly extend its usefulness, and we believe in time the duties will be so great that it will be necessary to increase the number of members to cope with the work. Clause 72 sets up the agricultural advisory committees. These are rather different from the National Agricultural Advisory organisation in England, because in Scotland these Advisory Committees are going to assist the agricultural colleges and bring them and practical farming into harmony. There will be action and reaction, because these advisory committees will be able to advise the colleges as to what ought to be done in the particular district, and guide the college activities in order to obtain the best results in helping farmers throughout the country. In Scotland we have agricultural colleges and agricultural research institutes dealing with this research work, and they will continue to be separate in Scotland. Co-ordination will be secured through these agricultural advisory committees.
Part VII deals with general points. Clause 73 deals with minor arterial drainage works and increases the amount per acre from £5 to £10. Clause 74 is very important, because the State hold themselves responsible for the provision of certain services. These include the services to stimulate food production on marginal land, a work that has been done exceptionally well in Scotland. Great credit is due for the way in which the marginal land has contributed by the work of the farmers to the production of food in Scotland. This is so that it can be continued. The State will also continue to provide the use of machinery and assistance in getting labour and assistance for bracken cutting.
52 The House might be interested to know what is the position of the machinery service in Scotland. We have available now 1,309 tractors, 14,141 ploughs, 117 mowers, 1,032 binders, 17 combined harvesters, 344 potato diggers and 143 threshing mills. The House might be interested, too, to hear about the work done by the tractors. The amount of ploughing lea has been 34,729 acres, and the amount of ploughing stubble land has been to the extent of 59,087 acres, a total of 93,816 acres. Other figures are—other cultivations, 163,106 acres harvested in 1945; hay mowing covered 11,438 acres; binder work totalled 98,530 acres; combine harvester, 2,607 acres; and potato digging, 4,590 acres.
Clause 76 deals with the powers given to the Secretary of State to provide grants for crofters' houses. The cost of housing having increased to such an extent that there is no possibility of making loans in such a way as will permit crofters to build their own houses. On the other hand, to ask the local authorities to build those houses would be to place a financial burden on the local authorities and the State quite disproportionate to what they would cost if they gave the crofters a direct grant. The crofters use their own labour to build and repair the houses, and given a certain amount of money the crofters would make a far better job of it than if it were done by contractors travelling from croft to croft. We feel if these parts of the country are to remain populated and cultivated it is necessary to have the power in given cases of offering a grant to a crofter. Loans at the moment can be given under the Small Landholders (Scotland) Act, 1911, but that amount cannot meet the present position and we require this extended power.
Clause 77 extends the operation of Part II of the Housing (Agricultural Population) (Scotland) Act, 1938. That was originally passed for five years. It was extended in 1943 to go on to 1948, and we now propose to extend it for a further five years to 1953. Clause 83 provides that in every case where the Secretary of State for Scotland is involved in any action concerning the land an arbiter shall be appointed by the Scottish Land Court.
This Bill I have described as the charter of farming in Scotland. I believe if the co-operation that was given in the formation of the Bill extends itself, as I am 53 sure it will, into the working of the land and the carrying out of the National policy for food production, there will be no doubt that Scottish farming will play its part in the national food programme in the coming year. I have great pleasure in moving the Second Reading of the Bill and I commend it to the House.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
We are indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the comprehensive survey he has made of this Bill, and we would also like to associate ourselves with what he said about the late Sir Robert Greig. I am bound to begin by lodging an emphatic protest at the way this huge amended Bill is being rushed in today's Debate. We only got this Bill last week and now we are being asked to get down to its complicated Clauses, and to do which we must obviously, compare the old Bill with the new. I have done my best to do so, but I had to spend almost the whole of Sunday trying to grasp what the changes really meant. Another point arises on that. This Bill has been taken on a day when most Scottish Members are up in the North. I would propose to the right hon. Gentleman that on the question of the Standing Committee stage, as we have faced up to the Second Reading at this early date at very short notice, he will see that a considerable period elapses before the time of the Standing Committee.
Because of the exhaustion of our dollar resources a rather strange thing has happened. The shortage of dollars has forced the Government to stage a spectacular programme for increased food production, and farmers throughout the whole country are faced with a colossal task. In fact, I should say that this is the biggest all-out drive ever planned from our own home soil, and in view of the marked switch-over to livestock husbandry, it follows that the contribution to be made by Scotland will be relatively far greater than the contribution to be made south of the Border. I have sufficient faith in the skill and wisdom of Scottish farmers to know that if they are given the means and the support they will not only reach but pass the objective which has been allotted to them. The Scottish farmer has no superior at all either in the field of cultivation or in the 54 more exact science of animal husbandry. The whole question is whether he will be given those means. I cannot go into that question at this moment. The Secretary of State knows that at the present moment the Scottish farmer has not the means of getting on with his job to the extent which we should like. Because of the crisis programme the Bill has received comparatively little publicity during the Recess, while discussion of its complicated Clauses has been conspicuous by its absence, except in the sacred precincts of St. Andrew's House. But it would be as big a mistake to imagine that the farming community look upon the Bill as of little importance as it would be to assume that it is the work solely of the Labour Government. It affects in a vital way everybody who has anything to do with the land. If it is properly administered, it will contribute to a very considerable extent to our agricultural progress.
It contains a large number of provisions which were hammered out by the Coalition Government, and a great deal that was agreed upon before the recent war began. I hope that in our discussions, which will probably be lengthy, we shall keep firmly before us not the interests of any particular section affected by the Bill but the interests of what is still our greatest single industry, agriculture. I hope that that will be the yardstick by which we shall measure everything in our consideration of the Bill. In expressing opinions on it, Scottish Members will be in considerable difficulty. The Secretary of State has given us a form of assurance. We must remember that we are discussing a Bill to which the key is missing. That key is to be found in Part I of the English Act, which contains the provisions relating to guaranteed prices and assured markets. The Bill deals only with the quid pro quo. That is all it is. It is not a charter. It deals with the method of control which is to be imposed upon the landlord and the farmer in exchange for the guaranteed prices and the assured market. It is impossible for us to discuss the one without referring to the other.
Everybody knows that if Part I of the English Act falls down, the Scottish Bill collapses with it. The Schedule to the English Act covers the main commodities with which the guarantee of the Government is concerned. When the English 55 Bill was under consideration, the Government were pressed to define the size of the assured market. On the Third Reading, the Minister of Agriculture accepted liability for assuring a market in respect of all the commodities in the Schedule for as far ahead as could be reasonably foreseen, with the two notable exceptions of oats, our main farming product, and sugar beet, which is of comparatively small importance to Scotland. I do not want to exaggerate and to say that those vital reservations have completely destroyed all confidence in Scotland in the Bill. They have not done so, but they have gone a very long way, especially in the North-East, towards shaking the confidence of Scottish farmers in the Bill. It has unfortunately generated suspicions as to the Government's intentions in regard to quantitative limitation. The Secretary of State said a few words about the oats guarantee, which is not nearly good enough.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that the position is improving. We hope to be able to buy foodstuffs from abroad before 1951 at rather better prices than those which are ruling today. The price guarantee is of tremendous importance to the farmer because he can sell his oats and get his foodstuffs cheaply elsewhere. The State, however, has to protect the community against the possibility of that position being taken advantage of, and therefore there is a limit to the time in which one can give a guarantee of that kind.
§ Mr. Snadden
The Secretary of State has given me a wonderful opportunity for a counter-argument, but I have too little time to develop it. No Scottish farmer will continue to plough 70 per cent. of his arable acreage, as he now does, if the Government buy cheap foodstuffs from abroad. The Bill will never succeed, unless the main cereal crop in Scotland can be given parity with the main cereal crop of England. Neither will the Government ever gain the confidence of the hill farmer, which is important, even though the Hill Farming Act is on the Statute Book, while one of his main saleable commodities, wool, is totally excluded from the range of guaranteed prices. I hope the House will forgive me if I enlarge upon the oats question, which is of the very 56 greatest importance to Scottish agriculture. It is not a matter which can be divorced from the Bill. It is of paramount importance to the Scottish agricultural economy. I will try to show why.
Indeed, one can argue that the Bill is a one-sided imposition, in that it places rigid controls upon farmers on the one hand while the Government run away from their responsibilities on the other. A good idea of the importance of the oat crop to Scottish farmers can be obtained by looking at the prewar acreage figures for the United Kingdom. In 1937, the total acreage of England and Wales under crops and grass was 24¾ million acres against 4½ million acres in Scotland. By multiplying the Scottish crop figure by six, the approximate relative importance of our standard crops is clearly evident. On this basis, the oat crop was just over four times as important to Scotland as to England, whereas wheat was three times more important to England that to Scotland. We have a comparatively small acreage of sugar beat. In Scotland today the oats acreage is equal to all other crops combined, so the immense importance of this crop is apparent, as is also the relative unimportance of wheat and sugar beet. Before the war wheat and sugar beet were the two crops most heavily subsidised by the State. Because of the failure of the Government in prewar days—I admit it was a mistake—to put oats and wheat on a parity basis, what happened? Scottish arable land fell into decay. What about the derelict acres of Aberdeenshire—500,000 acres? The then Secretary of State was taken by the scruff of the neck up to Aberdeenshire and shown the derelict acres. The result was that we had the Agricultural Development Act, 1939, which never came into operation because of the war, but it gave us the first price assurance for oats.
In order to prevent a recurrence of that state of affairs—surely that is what we are all trying to do—it is imperative that the oats crop is given equality of terms with wheat. I regret very much that the Secretary of State has not been able to go further than he did. I say with all the conviction I can command that unless the Scottish farmer is given an assured market for his produce in exchange for the controls under this Bill, we shall see derelict farms again, our land going back to grass and our men 57 going off to the towns. So much for the price issue about which there is so much feeling, especially in the North-east.
This Bill amends the Agricultural Holdings Act, and I should say that these amendments are recognised by the agricultural community in general as being long overdue. It creates a system to ensure compliance with the rules of good estate management and good husbandry under penalty of dispossession and entrusts the management of agricultural land owned by the Government not to a Lands Commission as under the English Act, but to the Minister himself, gives us a new policy for smallholdings, continues for administration purposes but in a new form our agricultural executive committees, and sets up the Scottish Land Court as the final appeal court in the place of the Agricultural Land Tribunals in England. The Bill as a whole appeals to me as being a sound piece of work giving effect in the main to the consensus of informed agricultural opinion in Scotland. I am not saying that it is a great Measure bet on the whole it is a sound Measure, and it shows better draftsmanship than the English Act. Although I say it is a sound Measure, that does not mean that certain parts are not open to criticism and improvement. We on this side will do our best to contribute towards its improvement, both now and upstairs.
The most important Clause in Part 1 is Clause 7, which aims at affording to the tenant security of tenure on his holding. In effect, notice to quit cannot now be given without the permission of the Secretary of State. That is a new thing. There has been a good deal of discussion about security of tenure. Some of it has been constructive and some of it has been quite wide of the mark, but it can be argued, with force, that if efficiency is going to be the watchword of the future, then the good farmer must be given greater security than in the past. With that I agree. Security of tenure and efficiency are definitely linked together. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State gave a good example when he pointed to Scotland's record. It is a good enough record. On the whole our leases have been reasonably long term, whereas in England leases on a year-to-year basis have in the main pertained. That is the reason why Scottish yields per acre are higher than in England. In spite of our very much more rigorous climate, our 58 system is more efficient than the English system because of the long-term system of tenure which has allowed farmers in the past—I am not thinking about the present—to plan ahead without living in fear of receiving their marching orders.
But between the wars because of the depression many farmers had almost to be bribed to stay put, and that was particularly the case on the marginal farms. That is why so many tenants in Scotland now hold on tacit relocation. It is here that the trouble arises. It is generally agreed that the good farmer paying a fair rent should be left undisturbed. At the same time we must be careful that we do not tie things up too tightly, as is quite easily done in an Act of Parliament, so that an impenetrable barrier is erected against new blood coming into agriculture. That would not be in the interests of agriculture. Nor would it be fair to prevent an owner resuming occupation if he had bought a place with the intention of farming it himself but for some reason or another had been prevented from doing so and had let his place with a view to occupying it later on. There is also the case of the impossible tenant, who cannot work amicably with the landlord, the agricultural committee or anybody else.
§ Mr. Snadden
Yet he may not be a bad farmer as such. In the interests of agricultural efficiency, it may often be necessary to remove such an obstacle. Hence, in my view, we cannot legislate for absolute security in every case if we are going to keep in mind that the general interests of the industry are paramount. Clause 7 is obviously a compromise Clause resulting from a great deal of discussion upstairs in the Standing Committee and all through this House, in another place and among the interests concerned in Scotland. I consider it to be about right, although I feel the Minister has too much put upon him in regard to his discretion, particularly the burden of deciding the question of "greater hardship." How will he decide that? It is also worth considering whether words should not be inserted placing upon the owner who gives notice to quit in order to farm the land himself, some definite obligation to farm that land for a specified period. It would not be right if a tenant was given notice to quit and the owner then did not do what he had 59 said he would do. Clause 13 is another important Clause. It imposes heavy obligations on the landlord in regard to fixed equipment. The question is whether he can face up to the colossal task confronting him. No one in his senses really believes that land nationalisation is the great panacea for agriculture.
§ Mr. Snadden
I know very few farmers who would welcome such a step. Yet everybody realises that all this business of planning is just idle nonsense unless our farms are adequately equipped with buildings, houses, water, roads, electricity and all the rest. That must be put right and put right quickly. What about the position of the landlord? It is not an enviable one. He has not shared to anything like the same extent as the tenant in a relatively prosperous agriculture. Rents on the whole are still low. In fact, the last comprehensive survey I can find of agricultural rents made in 1943 reveals that rents have remained substantially the same in Scotland since the year 1900, although land management costs have risen by no less than 200 per cent. during that period. The landlord can be directed under this Bill to spend one year's rent every three years without the right of appeal. We are no doubt bound to accept the principle of direction, but having done so, it is necessary to emphasise that the State must realise that it has the preliminary duty of ensuring that the landlord is getting every reasonable chance to discharge the heavy obligations to his tenant put upon him by this Bill. For example, are our means of credit sufficient today to allow him to comply with the direction of the Secretary of State? What about the Housing (Rural Workers) Act? Unless that is restored to help him with his reconstruction, he cannot be expected to do the job.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
Is it not the case that the landlord does not have to trouble about these things? All he has to do is to give up his land and go and get an honest job.
§ Mr. Snadden
That observation Is not worth a reply. The Housing (Rural Workers) Act will have to be restored. 60 Materials will have to be made available to the landlord. In any event, rents are bound to rise because, of the outlay of capital expenditure that will be necessary, and the Department of Agriculture, our greatest landowner of all, will have to face precisely the same problem as the private landlord.
Subsection (3) has caused some comment. It is held that this Subsection allows the landlord to contract out of his obligations. As I understand it, that is true, but the important point to remember is that such contracting out as can happen under this Clause can only be done with the voluntary agreement of the tenant, who cannot be given notice to quit for refusal. I can think of the one instance of a farm to let with vacant possession; that is where an unscrupulous landlord might abuse his rights under this Subsection, but that is the one instance where there would be trouble under this Subsection. We shall consider that point carefully upstairs.
I come to Part II, which lays down the responsibilities of landlord and tenant in regard to the management and farming of agricultural land. Both landlord and tenant are to receive what the Secretary of State calls "warning notices" if they fall down on their job, and the owne[...]occupier can be got at both ways. He can be got at for bad estate management, he can be got at for bad husbandry. If they fail to pull up after that, the Secretary of State comes along and dispossesses them. These are drastic powers in time of peace, especially when the main crop is not guaranteed. In the English Act, the word "supervision" is used, but after the battle which took place in Standing Committee on a similar Clause, the Scottish team appear to have gone in a corner and said, "We must take the sting out of this thing called supervision." I think they have made a bad job of it, for they have put in "warning notice" instead. "Supervision" had a friendly, sympathetic ring about it, suggesting a tiny measure of continuity, but the civil servants in St. Andrew's House have said, "We must change it," and have put in "warning notice." Warning of what? Warning of impending dispossession under Clauses 30 or 31? I think we shall have to change those words upstairs, even if we copy the English Act.
61 The provisions under this part of the Bill are drastic, as I have said. Admittedly they will not worry unduly the good farmer, and admittedly our Scottish standard of farming is high; for example only 73 tenancies were terminated during the period of the war, and it is widely accepted that our land must be looked after properly. What worries me is that the average farmer—and he is probably in the majority—has no right of appeal whatever against the warning notice being imposed. Further, and most important, there is no provision whereby a person under such a notice can ask for its removal because he thinks he has improved his place; he has to wait until the area agricultural executive committee sees fit to come along and look to see whether he has improved his place or not, and in view of the vast area covered, that might mean a long wait. We shall have more to say about this upstairs. Where a tenant farmer is in danger of losing his farm, and where an owner-occupier is in danger of losing the place into which he has put his all, and where the landlord is in danger of losing his entire property, surely in time of peace there should be a right of appeal all along the line before the unfortunate person ascends the scaffold? Surely, that is only British justice? We shall consider that in Committee.
I would like to say a word on the question of actual dispossession under Clause 30. We on this side do not oppose the principle of dispossession, but we do not like the idea of the State farming odd parcels of land all over the country. Personally I believe that the owner-occupier system is the best system of tenure. Hence, when actual dispossession takes place, where there is a sitting tenant there should be the right on the part of that tenant to offer for that farm on a valuation. After all, he may have lived there for generations, and he may want to have it as his own. Why should the State take it? If he refuses the offer, then let the Government sell that land in the open market. There are plenty of people ready today to farm such land, even if in order to do so they must lay out substantial capital sums. The same consideration arises under Clause 57, which repeals certain provisions of a previous Act and divests the Minister of the obligation to sell land requisitioned during the war in the open 62 market where the original owner is not an offerer. This is a rather subtle Clause and we shall look at it closely upstairs.
I now come to the question of land acquisition and management and the administration arrangements for Scotland. The Secretary of State asks for very wide powers, notably under Clause 56, to acquire land under almost any circumstances and to farm it if he so desires. Under the English Act the management of such land is to be undertaken by a Lands Commission; under this Bill it is to be done by the Secretary of State for Scotland. On principle, I oppose the acquisition of land for farming by the State, but we know perfectly well that it has gone through in the English Act and now we are faced with the State acquiring enormous tracts of land. I am not at all convinced that it is a wise policy to allow the whole of the land that is to be acquired to pass to the Department of the Secretary of State in Edinburgh. I believe that a Lands Commission, constituted of experts of the proper character and qualifications—and there are plenty of them in Scotland—independent of Government control, would be a far more effective factor than any Government Department. In saying that, I am not casting discredit on the Department of Agriculture for Scotland. A precedent for this is to be found in the Forestry Commission. Before the war, the Department of Agriculture was our biggest landlord, and during the war it has taken over land under the Defence Regulations.
But what is to happen under the Bill? I wonder how many hon. Members have thought about the additional burdens the Bill casts on the Secretary of State. For example, he can acquire land from owners dispossessed under Clause 30, where tenancies are terminated under Clause 32, by agreement under Clause 54, for research, experiment and demonstration under Clause 55, where land is not showing full and efficient production under Clause 56, and where he holds land requisitioned during the war, and does not sell it back because there is no offer, under Clause 57, and where he takes over land from other Government Departments under Clause 58. That is an enormous addition. What check is there on the efficient administration and management of such land taken over by the Minister? Are detailed accounts to be made public? There is 63 nothing in the Bill about that, not even about an estimate of probable or possible expenditure. Who is to be the judge of the efficiency of the Secretary of State?
Under the Bill the farmers of Scotland are put under the microscope of control. Absolutely nothing is left out. But the Minister, has taken particular care of himself under Clause 24 (2). I commend hon. Members to look at the last line of that Clause and they will see that the Minister has taken very good care of himself. We shall find the Minister, as owner, or tenant, sitting in the middle of an agricultural executive committee's area. Who is to judge of his efficiency? It cannot be the committee, when the Minister is their boss. It is an absurd position. The country is entitled to have a separate management organisation responsible to the Minister and to the country in the same way as the private owner and farmer are responsible.
This Bill, in conjunction with Part I of the English Act, offers a promise, or to be more accurate, a hope of stability, but there is considerable apprehension in the country, not only in regard to the degree of control that is to be imposed under the Bill, but as to the actual composition of the control regime to be set up under the Bill. I have had a good deal of correspondence on that, and no doubt it will be gone into very thoroughly upstairs. It is often contended that agricultural executive committees were in the main responsible for the increased efficiency of Scottish agriculture during the war. They did very fine work, and I would be one of the last to wish to disparage their efforts. But we should bear in mind that farmers in the main, in spite of incredible difficulties, farmed well during the war not because they were made to do so, and certainly not because they were taught how to do so by any agricultural committee, but because they had the full opportunity to produce, and also because it paid them to farm well. They will continue to do so as long as they have an assurance of a decent economic outlet for their products. They should be allowed to work out their own salvation with the minimum of interference from the Secretary of State. "Let the farmer farm" should be the guiding principle of Government policy.
64 On this side of the House we accept the view that where subsidies, deficiency payments, and guaranteed prices are paid, there must be no suggestion that the State is bolstering up the inefficient farmer. We accept that straight away. Hence we must accept the principle of control, but we believe the element of control contained in this Bill will have to be modified as the years go on, if we are to secure the full co-operation of the farmers in Scotland. I see two dangers in the new set-up of our control administration under the Bill. The first is the loss of local contact, and the second that the new area agricultural executive committees may well be more cumbersome, and certainly much more expensive than was at one time contemplated. There is nothing so persuasive among the farmers in my part of the world, who I think are a fair cross-section of the farmers of Scotland, as the advice of one with a practical knowledge of agriculture, experience and broadness of mind. But the area to be covered by the new agricultural committees is so vast that the local member cannot possibly look after his own district. I think we shall find that his place will be filled by other officials from the Department of Agriculture who will not know their farmers. Local staffs will have to be retained as well as area staffs, and in the end we may have a top-heavy cumbersome machine, far more expensive than anyone ever contemplated. The cost of these committees might easily excite criticism if by any chance economy should become a part of the policy of the right hon. Gentleman. It would be interesting if the Minister could tell the House what is the estimated increase in technical and non-technical staffs under the provisions of the Bill.
I think, Mr. Speaker, it is probably true that in the age in which we live, we have to be prepared to accept a measure of direction, in industry and agriculture, but it remains to be seen whether a directed agriculture is, in fact, the key to better farming, and increased food production. Just as the English Act reeks of Whitehall, so does this Bill reek of St. Andrew's House. As one moves from Clause to Clause, in fact from field to field, the Secretary of State for Scotland is in constant attendance. Possibly he is ready to guide and advise, but he is also ready to direct and eject. We must not 65 forget that. He is given tremendous powers. Already his right hon. Friend the Minister of Food can tell the farmer how and where he shall sell his produce. Now the right hon. Gentleman can tell him what produce he shall grow, how he shall grow it, and, generally, all the farmers doings may be ordered by his governance, while ever in the background there is the threat of dispossession, disinheritance and eviction. The danger is that these powers can amount to dictation. That is the danger to the industry, and only one thing can prevent it; that is human sympathy and practical understanding.
The farmers of Scotland are independent people, and have chosen that way of life—contrary to the belief of some, like the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), that it is entirely for what they can get out of it—they have chosen to farm because it is satisfying and desirable. How will they react to the provisions of this Bill with all its impositions in time of peace? They will react according to the manner in which it is administered. If that administration is crude, hectoring or impersonal and without human understanding, as has too often been the case with food, petrol and fuel, the reaction will be severe, and the Secretary of State will have to enforce his administration by dictatorial methods. But if, as we all hope, the administration is carried out efficiently, and with tact, if the Secretary of State's Department asks for co-operation instead of demanding subservience, much good may come to an industry which has been struggling for the best part of half a century to find its proper place in the economy of the nation.
§ 5.11 p.m.
Mr. Scott-Elliot (Accrington)
As a Scotsman representing a Lancashire constituency, I have not hitherto intervened in a Scottish Debate, but, as a practical Scottish farmer, I venture to say a few words to the House on this subject. Firstly, I hope that this Bill will be generally welcomed in all parts of the House as the kind of Measure we want to see. I believe that to be so from what the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) has just been saying. The agricultural policy of the Government aims at providing stability, security and efficiency. It is in regard to the latter 66 that I wish to address some remarks to the House.
In the light of the economic circumstances in which we find ourselves I feel that we have got to produce more food at home. I believe that we can produce a good deal of that food by means of greater efficiency rather than by means of importing feedingstuffs from overseas. I do not deny that we have to import feeding-stuffs; we shall clearly have to do so because we have to aim at those foodstuffs having the highest value which will save us money in terms of dollars. We want more meat, more milk, bacon and eggs, and these do need a certain amount of feedingstuffs from overseas. Perhaps, however, I may speak from my own experience as a Border hillfarmer. Before the war, there were on my farm, practically speaking, only sheep and about 20 Galloway cows. Today, we have a breeding herd of Galloway cows, 50 per cent. larger, and a number of Ayrshire heifers which will be sold as calving heifers. We have started geese and are building up a flock of poultry for egg laying. Next year I hope to go in for pigs to rootle the ground and perform operations that would 'otherwise need a heavy plough at much greater expense. In order to keep this extra amount of stock we are growing more potatoes and are making more silage. That is the kind of thing that can be done if the farmers of the country really give their minds to it.
I would stress the enormous importance of soil fertility. It would certainly not be appropriate for me to embark upon a long disquisition on this subject, but hon. Members will know that the basic constituents of the soil are nitrogen, phosphorous, potash and calcium. These have to be in the soil in proper relation to each other. If not, we will not get the results we wish to obtain. I wonder how many farmers obtain soil analyses? These things can be done. We have in Scotland some of the best research institutions and the best means of getting technical help, in the form of the three agricultural colleges. I suggest the importance of undertaking such analyses, not merely of one or two fields but, practically speaking, of the whole farm, in order that the farmer may know exactly where he is.
I would here mention a detailed point, which is a sore subject in Scotland, namely, the very poor quality of the basic 67 slag available to us at the present time. The Joint Under-Secretary is aware of this, because I have talked to him about it. I should explain that the best quality basic slag contains a fairly high percentage of phosphoric acid. Before the war we were able to buy basic slag containing anything from 18 to 21 per cent. phosphoric acid. Today the average quality of basic slag available in Scotland contains no more than 9 per cent., so that it is necessary to put two tons of basic slag on land where one ton was sufficient before the war. It is not good enough. I have given up using basic slag and am now using super-phosphates, which, incidentally, have to be imported from abroad. I believe that they come mainly from North Africa. I do not say that anything can be done about it at the moment—I have had explanations given to me—but I believe the day may come when something can be done about it, and I think that something ought to he done, in order to make a better quality basic slag available to the farmers of the Lowland counties.
I wish now to comment on one or two details in the Bill. The first point I intend to make is perhaps a Committee point, but it is important, and is one to which my attention has been drawn by one or two well-known Scottish agriculturists. I was very interested to hear what my right hon. Friend said about the Clauses dealing with the destruction of pests, as he described them. The worst two pests I know are rabbits and deer. I put rabbits first because I am a Lowlander, and I know about their depredations, but I wish to speak now about deer. Clause 43 is long and complicated, and I would here interpolate a point about Parliamentary draftsmen. This Clause contains 33½ lines without a single full stop. That seems to me to illustrate a rather important point about Parliamentary draftsmanship. Bills are becoming more and more complicated. I have been told by those of an older generation than myself that these things did not happen in the past, that it was not necessary to have these terribly complicated and intricate sentences, that it was perfectly possible to put reasonable ideas down on paper in simple English.
If I understand the Clause aright, it gives the Secretary of State power to give the sitting tenant the right to destroy 68 deer in so tar as such killing may be reasonable. In the second place, it enables my right hon. Friend to give permission to an outside person to enter on the land, subject to giving 10 days' notice to the owner, with a view to killing deer. This is a very weak Clause, and likely to be quite ineffective. I suggest that an Amendment should be proposed in Standing Committee, that the area committees should be given power, wherever they consider it so desirable, to enter into any holding where they consider there is an excess of deer and rabbits, with a view to killing them, in so far as such killing may be reasonable and practicable.
I turn to Part V, which deals with the question of smallholdings. I notice that no reference has been made to the type of tenant to be encouraged, and I was interested to hear what my right hon. Friend had to say upon that subject. I do not believe that the smallholding policy can possibly succeed in so far as it is pursued as a purely social policy. What is needed is a policy which I believe is in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, namely, that agricultural workers, in so far as they have saved money, should then be enabled to go on to a smallholding, helped by the provision of equipment and when, in this intermediate stage, they have made a success of the smallholding, they should then be able to go a step further and become small farmers. The Scottish farmworker is perhaps more frugal than his counterpart in England, and I have known a shepherd go straight into a small farm after saving, out of his exiguous earnings, a considerable sum of money in order to pay for the stock. All the same I press that point upon my right hon. Friend.
I now come to Part VI which deals with administration. I wish to say a few words on the pros and cons of county and area committees. Of course, something can be said for both. I would have been inclined to favour the county committee because it is more in touch with local conditions, but I believe that my right hon. Friend is finding it extremely difficult to get the right type of men to serve on these committees. If that is the case, probably it is necessary to have these larger area committees. I want to stress that if it comes to giving directions for cropping in the event of a national emergency, such as may very well arise, my right hon. 69 Friend will find it very difficult for these area committees to give those directions.
I go further and express an opinion about what he said about the guarantee in respect of oats. I think I will be supported by a number of fairly experienced agriculturists in the South of Scotland when I express doubt whether he will get the acreage of oats he desires without giving some degree of cropping directions. If at some later time cropping directions have to be given, it will be necessary for these area committees to set up sub-committees covering counties—so that they will really be in a position to know what exactly are the local conditions.
There is one important point I want to make. I was delighted to hear what my right hon. Friend had to say about implements. There are far too many small farms in Scotland. I do not intend to preach a policy of perfection and to say that some of them ought to be lumped together. I do not believe that is possible. I do not even believe it is necessarily desirable if we look at practical realities. In the past the size of farms has been based on the number of pairs of horses that could do the amount of work required. Those knowledgeable in agriculture will realise that the "one-pair" farm is really too small for a tractor, yet it is extremely important that that farm should have a tractor. Therefore, the farm tenant will need to hire a tractor from the area committee. Then there is the case of the hill farmer who is trying to recondition his hill. I have been doing that recently. I have been ploughing some hill land with a view to reseeding. I cannot possibly afford to own a caterpillar tractor. Therefore, I must go to the area committee and hire from them a caterpillar tractor and a prairie buster plough.
I wish to make a further point, which the Joint Under-Secretary has heard from me before, about the sad lack of component parts for caterpillar tractors in Scotland. I do not know the exact position in all parts of Scotland, but I know the conditions in my own county and in a number of other counties. I can tell him that in Dumfriesshire today more than 50 per cent. of the caterpillar tractors are out of commission for lack of spare parts. I know that great efforts are being made to obtain spare parts from the United States; but I put the proposition to the 70 Government that we ought not to be content with this position. We ought not to accept the position that we should import caterpillar tractors from the United States. We ought to be able to make our own farm machinery. I hope that within the next five years we shall see that that is done.
There are two points of a fairly general nature which I wish to discuss. The first is in regard to the labour supply. We must get labour on the farms, especially the additional labour for carrying out improvement schemes under the Hill Farming Act. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the point. It is one which is seriously exercising me as Chairman of the Advisory Committee which he set up. I do not know from where we are going to get the labour, except in the case of big estates where special arrangements can be made. I do not know how the ordinary farmer like myself will be able to get labour to carry out the improvements mentioned in the Schedule to that Act.
If we are to get labour we must have more and better houses. In many cases, agricultural houses in Scotland are little better than a disgrace. Hon. Members are only too well aware of that fact. They will recall the Report on Rural Housing in Scotland made a little over 10 years ago to a past Secretary of State. I would like to take one or two examples from that Report to demonstrate the tremendous back-log of work that needs to he done. I do not believe that a very great deal has been done between that clay and this. The committee examined all the agricultural houses in three selected parishes, one in the Border counties, another in the middle of Scotland, and the third in the extreme North. In all, they examined 587 houses. The Report shows that 92 were satisfactory; 394 were fit for reconditioning, either to a greater or lesser degree; and 101 were fit only for demolition. That shows the tremendous amount of work that needs to be done.
Of the 587 houses, 395 had an outside water supply. Hon. Members, particularly those on this side of the House, realise the terrible burden put upon the housewife when she has to go for water to a pump outside her house. We realise how much more burdensome it is to have to go 25, 50 or 100 yards for water. The Report also shows that 169 houses had no 71 sanitary convenience whatever. Of the 587 houses, 20 had baths. I do not raise this point merely in order to complain, but to say that we must get on with it and build more houses. I entirely agree with the Minister of Health on that. Where I profoundly disagree with him is in regard to the policy pursued in the reconditioning of rural houses. Some Measure must be brought in, at any rate so far as Scotland is concerned, which will provide for the reconditioning of rural houses.
I know the people who live in these houses. I speak as one who has reconditioned a number of houses myself. I appreciate the practical realities of the case. Ten or 15 years will be needed to build the houses necessary to accommodate all the workers now living in unsatisfactory houses. If, however, a sufficient amount of money was expended upon reconditioning those houses, the work could be done very much more quickly. It seems to me that there were two things gravely wrong with the old Rural Workers Housing Acts. The first was the method of giving the subsidy. It was given in exactly the wrong way. The Government of the day could not have chosen a worse method than that of giving the subsidy in the form of two-thirds of the cost or £100, whichever was the lesser of the two. That encouraged the landowner who wanted to save money, to spend no more than £150 upon a house and not to do his job properly. The other trouble was the lax administration of local authorities. That point was well brought out in the Report on Rural Housing in Scotland. There were county councils in Scotland which simply did not do their job. They allowed landowners to recondition houses and made grants for work which should never have been made. Grants should be given, but there ought to be a far more stringent hold over the local authorities which should be required to carry out their responsibility.
The last point I wish to make is that there should be a greater degree of co-operation between agriculture and forestry. This is a subject well-known to Scottish agriculturists. In the past, the Department of Agriculture has gone one way, and the Forestry Commission has gone another, and I am very glad to see 72 that the Forestry Commission is now to come under the Secretary of State. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, in the next year, is going to show that he is master, and to make it quite clear that the Forestry Commission comes under him exactly to the same degree as does the Department of Agriculture? We have to get the two bodies working in harmony, with the fullest co-operation between them, and, above all, we have to decide, in view of the very serious state of our food supplies, how much land should be given up to forestry and how much to agriculture. Personally, in view of what has happened already, I believe that the amount of land to be devoted to agriculture should be more than would probably have been thought desirable by the Minister of Agriculture when he first made his statement about forestry.
I would like to say a word on research. There is a tremendous amount of research which could be done and the importance of which cannot be overstated. In Scotland, we are very fortunate in our great agricultural colleges. I would also mention what has been done by Dr. Russell Greig at the Moredun Institute outside Edinburgh, which has done splendid work for the hill farmer. I was telling my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary the other day that we, in the Lowlands, would set up a statue to him if he would provide a vaccine for scrapie. That is one instance of the good that could be done, and which would bring great benefits to farmers. Researches should deal with animal diseases, with the components of the soil, with crops and everything else, and should put over the results in a practical way to the farmers. Only then can we secure the results which we so much desire. May I end as I began, by expressing the hope that the Bill will be acceptable throughout the House, and that it will not be necessary for us to go into the Division Lobby?
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
I am sure all Scottish Members are glad that the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Scott-Elliot) took the plunge and entered a Scottish Debate. He has been talking on a subject which he understands and of which he has practical experience and he made a number of valuable suggestions.
73 I want to congratulate the Secretary of State both upon this Bill and upon the manner in which it was introduced. The Bill, of course, is an agreed Measure. It is the result of prolonged talks on the part of many agricultural interests in Scotland, and on the part of many of us in the course of the last six or 10 years. It was very much the subject of discussion during the war both in this House and in Committees upstairs, but that is not to take away any credit from the Minister for what he has done. He has taken advantage of that broad mass of opinion and that common pool of desire to get something done, and I am very glad that he has done so.
I wish we could have presented to us more Scottish legislation following the pattern of this Bill, for there are many more Measures which are badly needed for the country and upon which we should all be agreed. In fact, perhaps the strongest criticism that can be made against this Government is that they have not spent enough time looking for Measures of common agreement, but have spent too much time upon Measures which are highly controversial. I would particularly like to compliment the right hon. Gentleman upon the manner in which the Bill was introduced. I was impressed with the modesty with which he presented it to us; I heard less of "I" and more of "We" than I have heard from that Scottish Front Bench for many years, and it is a very welcome change. I would say to him that, if he continues in this way, he will be well regarded by his fellow countrymen, not only here, but in Scotland as a whole.
The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), in an elaborate and thoughtful speech, made reference to the financial basis of this Measure, and we must not forget that it is based on the financial provisions of the English Act of this year. I agree with the views which he put forward, but I would like—and I think I have some right—to invite the House to consider with the utmost sympathy the problems of the sugar beet industry in Scotland. I say that I have a right to do so because it so happens that, in East Fife, we grow a large amount of sugar beet, and it is there that the only sugar beet factory in Scotland is situated. I have had to fight at various stages, 74 sometimes against great odds, to preserve that piece of Scottish industry; it has been a "sair fecht," and I am here today to defend it again.
If we can retain in Scotland 10,000 acres growing sugar beet, the factory is safe. We can keep going on that basis, but that is the minimum. How is that minimum to be preserved? It has been a severe struggle during the past year, because other crops have appeared to the farmers to be relatively more profitable. To grow sugar beet is a heavy, cumbersome, troublesome and expensive business, and it is very natural that farmers should turn to something which gives them as much profit, or probably more, like potatoes, and for less work. I ask the Minister if he will consider next year—and I know he cannot do anything this year, because the contract prices have been fixed—revising the price paid for beet grown in the Scottish area, for the reason that the conditions there are definitely less favourable than those in Lincolnshire and in East Anglia.
If he wants the Scottish farmers to produce the maximum sugar beet, the proposition must be made attractive to them. I know the price for the present year has been fixed, and what I am doing now is appealing for a better price next year so that Scottish farmers can tackle this job and give us their maximum acreage, because the crop is of vital importance to the country in the present state of the nation's food supplies. But now that we are in a new season, I appeal to Scottish farmers to buckle into the job with the best will. I ask the Government to assist farmers in every possible way to achieve that objective. I believe I am right in saying that the sugar beet produced in this country now pays more in excise duty than it receives in the way of subsidies. That is a very interesting situation, because I remember that I had to fight the whole Liberal Party in the old days to keep the sugar beet subsidy going. [Laughter.] Hon. Members on the other side who are laughing were not there, and they do not know what I am talking about. We have had very great difficulty with sugar beet in Scotland, and I want to be assured that the growers are not going to be let down.
The basis of this Bill is a simple proposition. Every farmer or landowner who 75 owns or occupies a piece of the precious land of this country must manage it, work it and farm it in the most efficient way. I accept that principle without any conditions at all. I think it is a sound principle which every sensible man must accept; but it is not a new principle. When I heard the right hon. Gentleman developing his theme, my mind went back to 1927 when Lloyd George produced in Scotland—I was the agent by which it was produced, and I wrote the report myself—a Scottish Liberal land policy. The whole crux of the matter was to introduce into the farming life of the country the principle that a man should only hold land if he managed it, worked it and farmed it well. Other parts of that policy were that there should be committees to see that all that was done. That policy was laughed out of court by all sides of the House, not least by the party opposite. It makes one a little sad to think that it has taken 20 years to bring that about. As one of the originators of that statement of policy, I must say that I am glad to see it accepted. I think it is absolutely sound.
As regards land acquisition — and, again, I speak for myself—I do not approve of large-scale land nationalisation. I do not think that anybody who proposes that has ever understood what it means. But, for me, the piece-meal acquisition of land by the Department of Agriculture in Scotland is not an objectionable principle. Why? Because I was born in the social atmosphere of smallholdings and crofters, and all my political activities in the early days took place in those surroundings. I was brought up to believe that land settlement was the proper thing. It was almost a gospel with me. In order to acquire land, one often had to freeze it for the possession and use of the crofter. Sometimes it had to be acquired outright. I am not afraid of the principle of the Secretary of State for Scotland acquiring land for agricultural purposes. Indeed, for land settlement, he must acquire land. We have been doing that for years. It was never objected to in principle when it was the policy of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), and it is not objected to in principle now.
76 What matters is how the land is used after it is acquired. The Scottish Secretary did not tell us how he proposed to use it, and I think that the Joint Under-Secretary must tell us before this Debate ends what he is going to do with this land for which he takes considerable powers of acquisition. When the Department of Agriculture in Scotland take over a farm from an inefficient landowner or farmer, what are they going to do with it? Are the Department going to run it as farmers? I hope not, because that would be disastrous. If it is proposed to let it out to a good farmer, then I think that the Joint Under-Secretary ought to take an early opportunity of confirming that.
I must say that the right hon. Gentleman's estimate with regard to deer forests seemed to me a very feeble one. He said that he was only going to put 7,000 cattle and 200,000 sheep on that land. If that is the best the Government think they can do in the next year, then I do not think much of their policy. At times I have had to cross swords with the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) about the possibilities of deer forests. It used to be said in this House that they were all covered with lovely verdure and could take millions of cattle and sheep. That is all nonsense. In the old days I went into this problem myself, and I can assure the House that what can be done in that respect is really quite limited. But, within those limits, there is much which can be done. To limit the proposal to 7,000 cattle and 200,000 sheep is, in my opinion, quite paltry and merely playing with the situation. I hope that we shall get much more vigorous action than that.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The hon. Member is mistaken. We did not say that we would limit it to that. That is the estimate given by the people who examined the problem as to what the deer forests can carry. It would be wrong to put cattle there if they were going to starve to death. We must only put in the number that the land is capable of feeding.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
If the right hon. Gentleman means that is where he is going to start, I shall be more hopeful.
Land settlement is something which is very close to my heart and has been for long years. I welcome the change of attitude of the Labour Party towards this 77 whole programme. I have been in Scottish politics for 25 years, and I well remember when the party opposite were among the most hostile critics of land settlement. They opposed it because it created individual free men, standing and working on their own. I can produce many pieces of evidence to prove that the party opposite were the people who opposed it. However, I am very pleased today to find that they have changed their views.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Is not the hon. Member aware that way back in 1908—the period of mass unemployment—John McLean and other Labour leaders were advocating land settlement for the unemployed?
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
When I speak about the Labour Party, I do not expect the Scottish Communist Member to reply on its behalf. I should imagine that the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), if he were true to his colours—but, of course, his colours change so, quickly—stands for collectivisation, which is the opposite of land settlement. I never could follow the hon. Member for West Fife. Even though his constituency marches with mine, and has for the past 15 years, I am still in a maze. However, as I say., I welcome the change.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that, as the result of the experience of the last war—and I know something about that—we ought to see to it that the men who go in for smallholdings have the necessary experience. It is necessary to provide substantial credit. But was it really necessary to alter the system of tenure which had become traditional in Scotland? I wonder if that was wise? There has been no explanation of the change. It is quite clear that all future smallholders are to be offered security under new security Clauses, and that the old Landholders Act type of security is to be abandoned. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, that is not a popular proposal in the Highlands of Scotland. The crofters and smallholders in the North regard the Landholders Act as their absolute anchor in this matter. If it is proposed to abandon that Act, a reason must be given for doing so. Smallholders will have to be assured that the security they will get under the new system is as good. I do not know whether it is as good or 78 not; I have my doubts about it. Unless the right hon. Gentleman makes that point clear, he will find himself in considerable difficulties.
I hope that the smallholdings to be set up will be in groups, and that there will also be some kind of group organisation for marketing. This was being done in Scotland before the war, when considerable strides were made. The Land Settlement Association in England could give the right hon. Gentleman great help in that matter. I would like the Secretary of State or the Joint Under-Secretary to be a little more precise, and to tell the House how many smallholdings they are aiming at. Have they a programme at all? Does the proposal in the Bill mean anything at all, and, if so, what? Are the Government thinking in terms of too, 1,000 or 10,000? We know how many unsatisfied applicants there are on the list; they have been there for years, and number thousands. Are the Government aiming to meet all those applications?
Regarding war committees, I know what is being done and I think it is being well done. I pay my tribute, not only to the members of the war committees, but also to the officials. I have come into contact with them, both in England and Scotland, and have a great admiration for them. They have a rotten job to do; they have done it very well and I am sure that the whole House ought to express gratitude to them.
We are in the dawn of one of the greatest changes in agricultural methods that the world has ever known. Machinery is only beginning to be applied to farming. We are right on the very edge of it. There is an enormous field for development in front of us, not years ahead but just right ahead. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will keep his eye on the machines that his Department is using. There are new machines, new methods, and new ideas altogether, and his Department ought to keep abreast of them. I know what the machinery department in Edinburgh is like. It is very good and competent, but I am not sure that they get all the backing they need.
This is a new and a big thing in agriculture. It is going to revolutionise, not only agriculture, but the whole of the social life of the countryside and, therefore, it 79 ought to receive the greatest possible attention. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman telling us that they have got so many thousands of this kind of implement and so many hundreds of that, because without reference to steel nobody is impressed. We have got to have steel priority, otherwise it means nothing. We have tried in the last few weeks, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, to get from the Government—one Minister after another—what is meant by priority in steel in agriculture. We have never got an answer. They have side-stepped and produced a smoke screen, so that nobody believes the Government are sincere. Until the Government are able to make it clear that there will be a substantial amount of steel ready for agriculture, now, they will not get their targets, and that will be a very great pity.
This Bill is not a charter—though I do not want to take away any word that will give courage to my right hon. Friend—but it is a door opening to the new age. It is a tremendous age. It is not only that we are trying to restore agriculture; we are trying, and I have been trying for many years, to rekindle the whole idea of rural life in Scotland. I listened with very great interest to a speech made the other night by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). He was putting over something that is very big in my heart. It is the way of life in the country that matters, and until we can rebuild the rural life our country can never become great again. There lie the roots of the nation's life, and there lie the roots of a strong nation. It is from the countryside that we draw continually strength to deal with the new age.
This is, therefore, a Measure not only for agriculture, but for the whole of the industries associated with agriculture, machinery, merchants, blacksmiths and so on. It is for the whole of the people who live in the villages. The right hon. Gentleman is to be envied today for the immense opportunity afforded him by this Bill. I wish him every success. In doing that I am really wishing and praying that this great, historic, romantic, Scottish countryside may flourish and grow great.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. J. L. Williams (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I hope there is no need for 80 me to explain why city Members should be taking part in this Debate. I do not want to stress my own experience, although I have earned my living on the land, both in Scotland and South of the Border. A great many of my constituents are interested in this Bill, as are constituents in many towns in Scotland. Some people have a special interest in trying to get on to the land as smallholders or horticulturists. In these days of diminishing overseas investments and dollar shortage, when food has to be brought in from different par's of a world subjected to the destruction and devastation of seven years of war—and that volume of food to meet the demand of a nation in full employment, or something approximating full employment for the first time for many years—one can understand why this Bill is of importance to people in the towns as well as in the country. Even the question of the enforcement of good husbandry is something on which people in the towns have quite a definite point of view.
I am prepared to start from the standpoint that Scottish farming is conducted on a high standard, and that it is a very mechanised industry in many directions, and, happily, the number of farmers who have failed to come up to the standard has been very low. But in dealing with that small number of people the towns have something to say, and rightly so. The countryside has been resounding in the last 12 months with a great deal of publicity over people who have failed in the mines, and steel works, and other branches of heavy industry, to come up to the level expected, and to provide the nation with the goods they require in such great volume. The people in the countryside have heard a great deal more about the 10 per cent, in the mining industry who are not pulling their weight than they have about the go per cent. who are doing wonders—as workers are doing wonders in every heavy industry—in providing this nation with the means of getting back to something like a normal standard.
While I deplore the one-sided nature of this publicity, I fully concede the right to the farmers and other people in the countryside to criticise the miners and the steel workers, and all sorts of industrial people, because those industries are part of the national economy. But people in 81 the towns are entitled to say that farming also is part of the national economy, and the people on the land must come up to a certain standard.
I was glad to hear that the people with agricultural experience who are not now on the land are going to be given a chance. I have quite a number of people in my constituency who aspire to go back to the land, and some who have not been on the land want to become smallholders or horticulturists—especially ex-Service men. I notice preference is to be given to people with farming experience, and I do not think we can go against that view point. It is very difficult in dealing with applications from inexperienced people—ex-Service men or whatever they may be—as we found in the years after the first world war, but my right hon. Friend has a task, in helping to provide food for the nation, to conserve all farming experience, whether it be from the town or the country. A point which is of interest to some of my constituents is that horticulture has been omitted from this Bill, as it has been from the English Bill. Among those who are concerned are allotment holders, and those who wish to enter horticulture on a full-time basis. I recognise that this would require separate legislation. Horticulture is a very important phase of agriculture, is sufficiently large and varied in its different branches, is widely separated from agriculture proper, and is of such tremendous value to the nation that there should be a Bill devoted to the subject. I hope the matter is being studied seriously, we were given to understand when the English Bill was before the House, and that eventually there will be legislation to help develop, this very important branch of industry on the land.
My final remarks concern the composition of agricultural executive committees. In this connection, I welcome the recognition which is given to the three main factors on the land today—owners, farmers and employed workers. It is not quite clear to me whether the different bodies representing these people are to make nominations. If so, the Bill starts off with a very desirable democratic basis, but I would like to be assured on that point. The Minister will need, I agree, to make some direct appointments outside these three categories, in order 82 to find the men with the necessary specialised knowledge. In the countryside there still lingers some of the feudal atmosphere, and there is always the danger that even a Labour Minister might forget that. There are people coming on committees like these who pose as owners or farmers, and whose knowledge of the land is little more than affectation.
Too little attention is given to the small farmer and the farmworker. There is always the tendency to put the big farmer on these committees, often without reason. Frequently the big farmer is only a man who runs a big farm, which is composed of four different farms, and who has deprived three other farming families of a living. We do not want that kind of big farmer introduced on these committees. Very often the small farmers have far more knowledge of the land than the big farmers. The agricultural workers should also be given a place on these committees because they possess knowledge which has been obtained from a lifetime of experience on the land, and that is of real value to the nation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, like the Minister of Agriculture, has embarked upon a great task in trying to get people back to the land, and in trying to make the land flourish once more. He has presented a great challenge to history, and this Measure gives him and the House a tremendous opportunity.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)
If I may say so with respect, the hon. Member for Kelvin-grove (Mr. J. L. Williams) cannot have read the Eighth and Ninth Schedules, because if he had he would have seen exactly how these committees are to be formed. He would have seen, for example, that what are to be called the agricultural executive committees are to consist of not more than 12 members appointed by the Secretary of State after consultation with various bodies detailed in the Eighth Schedule. The hon. Member would have seen, furthermore, in the Ninth Schedule, that the agricultural advisory committees are to consist of two members appointed by the Secretary of State and 12 members nominated by special interests who are again mentioned in that Schedule.
§ Mr. J. L. Williams
My point was whether nominations were to be received from each of these two bodies. I do not think that is specified in the Schedules.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
I have many other matters to deal with, so I think I may leave that point.
I think it is possible to take two lines about this Bill. The first is the line which might well be taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie), and I should imagine might be advocated trenchantly and wittily by my hon. Friend the Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling)—the view that this Bill is an attack on the liberty of the subject, that the controls which it imposes are the negation of democracy, that it depends upon the dictatorship of committees of men who have neither been elected by others nor have financial responsibility to others, but who must comply with any direction which is given to them by the Secretary of State. On the other hand, there might be the view of those hon. Members who, like myself, accept the fact that if we are going to give guaranteed prices and assured markets to Scottish farmers, we may reasonably impose in return, such guidance and control as will ensure their efficiency.
Those of us who hold these views recognise that this Bill is just about as much an agreed Measure as is likely to be found this side of paradise. We recognise that it was based upon agreement reached a long time ago at what was called the Courthope Conference—the conference of the Royal Agricultural Society for England—that it was subscribed to by such bodies as the National Farmers' Union and the Central Landowners' Association, and put into legislative form first by the Minister of Agriculture for England and Wales, that it was touched up and improved during the Committee stages of the English Bill, and issued after long consultation between the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor and others and the Scottish interests affected, including the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, the Farm-workers' Union of Scotland, the Land Agents' Society, the Scottish Land and Property Federation, and so on. I think it is worth making this point in passing, that the advantage of having preliminary consultations of this nature regarding the terms of a Bill before it is brought to the House has made for a 84 much better and a much clearer Bill than we had in the case of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act, regarding which there was no such consultation.
Inevitably, this Bill is a creature of compromise. Like the British Constitution, it depends upon an elaborate system of checks and balances. The loss of individual freedom is balanced by greater financial security; the considerable Ministerial powers of control, and ultimately of dispossession, are checked by the weight of the agricultural representation upon the controlling committees; and so on. One could go on for a long time elaborating the rather detailed system—the well-balanced system—of checks and balances. Inevitably, much of what I shall have to say and of what other hon. Members will have to say on this Bill will be to suggest that the emphasis should be laid rather more on one aspect than on another, according to our temperaments and points of view.
Before I come to these points, I want to make one major point concerning prices, which is much more of a main point than the question of a different emphasis. The acceptance of the assured markets and the guaranteed prices of Part I of the English Act is a recognition, I think, that British agriculture is every bit as important, every bit as much of a public service, as is service in the Navy, the Army or the Royal Air Force. The obligation to maintain the small, mixed farming system of our country, and to maintain it in high production, has been recognised as a national interest. It would be improper now to argue whether the arrangements made under Part I of the English Act are adequate or not. What is relevant to the discussion we are undertaking today is to observe that the Government, in accepting an unrestricted liability for assuring a market for the crops and livestock produce listed in the First Schedule to the English Act, have made a reservation in the case of oats. That fact was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech, and he has told us that the Government have now pushed that reservation ahead for the crop which will be planted in 1952.
As I understand it, we get an unreserved guarantee for the Scotsmen's oats until the crop year, 1951; but after that a question mark. I say it is essential that we should have something more secure 85 than that if oat growing is to be profitable, and if rotational mixed farming in Scotland is to pay. In England, I believe it is true to say that only about 25 per cent. of the oat crops grown are sold off the farms; the remaining 75 per cent., or something like that, are fed to cattle. In Scotland, at least 50 per cent. of the oats that we grow are sold off the farm; and in the North-east of Scotland the proportion is a good deal higher. Of the Scottish cereal acreage, oats formed about 79 per cent. of the total in 1941. They dropped to 66 per cent. or 67 per cent. in the years 1943 and 1944. Last year they were up to 72 per cent. I believe it is true to say that oats take about 75 per cent. of our acreage of cereals. They average something like that. If we are not to have a guarantee beyond 1951 that our basic cereal crop will provide an adequate return for the producer, the rest of the Bill, so far as Scotland is concerned, will be a dead letter. Scottish farmers, the most independent folk in the world, will not tolerate restrictions and controls without a price incentive.
I pass now to more detailed comments upon various aspects of the Bill. I want, first of all, to speak about security of tenure. Clause 7 of the Bill gives, as the Secretary of State has said, the careful tenant considerable security of tenure. He went further than that. The careful tenant is, in fact, protected against almost everything except against the Government. The Government—and in the term I include, for this purpose, local authorities—can turn a good tenant out at short notice for a variety of reasons. Even if he is an efficient tenant, in these cases it does not matter. It is not going to stop it. The good tenant can be turned out by Government Departments for all sorts of purposes under the Defence Regulations which still apply. They will be able to turn a tenant out in respect of land designated for compulsory acquisition under the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act. Now, under Clause 55 of the Bill, if land is required for purposes of agricultural research, or of experiment, or of demonstrating agricultural methods, the Secretary of State will be able to go along and give the tenant notice to quit.
The point I want to make is that, almost inevitably, in the nature of things, the land will be good land, which is being well farmed, the buildings on which are being 86 well maintained. The Secretary of State will not usually want for research purposes, for educational purposes, for demonstration purposes, poor land, land not in good heart. It is much more likely he will go along to a good tenant to say, "We are sorry; we know you are a careful tenant and that you are an efficient farmer, but we need your land for special purposes." I am bound to say I do not like this provision, particularly since no provision is made by the Secretary of State to find an alternative farm for the dispossessed tenant.
I believe the danger today is that we shall go too far in endowing sitting tenants with immunity against notices to quit. The farm land of Scotland is already being very seriously reduced by Government action. There is less and less of it every year, and as the years go on, I have very little doubt that that process will be continued. There is a danger of something like a closed shop in farming. If I am right in that, it seems to me that grave consequences will follow—that it will make the entry of youth and of fresh blood into the industry more difficult than it ought to be. I believe that the Secretary of State and the Joint Under-Secretary of State are both very keen on the Young Farmers' Clubs. The Joint Under-Secretary of State, I know, has given them his support and encouragement. All of us who have come into contact with that movement feel that it is a movement full of hope for the future of Scotland. These young men and young women come along with great keenness, and with a great desire to learn agricultural methods. What chance is there going to be for them if they are not able to get hold of farms at all because all the tenants are sitting pretty, protected by this Bill, when it has become an Act of Parliament?
Secondly, it will make it more difficult for the smallholder to climb up the ladder of agricultural advancement. More than one Member has spoken about the provisions in regard to smallholdings, which we all welcome. We all want to see the farm worker, who has shown enterprise and has worked hard, given a chance to get his foot on the rung of the ladder, and to climb up from a smallholding to a small farm of his own, and then to a bigger farm. But what chance is there of that happening if we have this closed shop? Thirdly—and this is the greatest danger of all—if we create anything like 87 a closed shop, we shall have the land of Scotland badly farmed. Farmers will feel that they have complete security of tenure, and that it will take an earthquake to get them out, with the result that the land will suffer, and that will he a great shame.
Clause 7 is of great importance. It will be read by tenant farmers for many years to come. As the Secretary of State has said, it is their charter, and it shows exactly what are their rights. It is important, therefore, that it should be simple and clear, which is exactly what it is not. It is complicated and difficult to understand. I defy any layman to say what it means, and I defy even a lawyer to give a clear exposition of it. There is a great deal to be said for withdrawing this Clause, and for bringing forward a Clause in clear and simple language which the ordinary man can understand. For example, I would suggest something like this:A notice to quit served upon an efficient farmer shall be valid only in the following cases.These cases should then be listed, together with the qualifications, reservations and conditions. This may be more of a Committee point, but it is a point which some of us will wish to raise. My next point concerns warning notices under Clause 26. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) that there is a psychological effect in placing a man under a warning order. He did not like the phrase, and nor do I. I know it is intended that a man shall be guided and helped, and not that he shall be browbeaten and treated harshly. I would remind the Committee of what the Solicitor-General said on this subject during the Committee stage of the English Measure. He said that a supervision order, as it was called in that casewill be made in an atmosphere of friendliness as far as is possible, and it is desired to keep out anything in the nature of formulating a charge and making an indictment. The whole scheme is on the basis of helping the farmer to improve his farm, as has been said over and over again."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 25th February, 1947; c. 200.]I hope that that is the intention of the Secretary of State in this case. If it is, cannot we have something which expresses the intention rather better than the words "warning order"? Cannot we call it "advisory assistance," or "managerial 88 assistance," or even "a guidance offer"? I cannot agree more with my hon. Friend that there should be a right of appeal all along the line to the Scottish Land Court in these cases.
Clause 13 is highly important from the landlord's point of view:There shall be deemed to be incorporated in every lease … an undertaking by the landlord that … he will put the fixed equipment on the holding into good tenantable order, and will provide such buildings and other fixed equipment as will enable an occupier reasonably skilled in husbandry to maintain efficient production.On referring, as I often do when I want sound advice on the agricultural position of Scotland, to the Agriculture Survey of Scotland, 1946, published in Edinburgh by the Department of Agriculture, I find that, of the total land surveyed, maximum production was prevented in respect of 7 per cent. of the area by lack of land drainage, and in 37 per cent. of the cases by inadequacy of farm buildings. In passing, I would mention that we Scotsmen are very proud of this kind of publication. It is a good thing to have the situation presented in this attractive manner and readable form. It is a great help to those of us who try to study Scottish affairs. This is a problem which cannot be left to the landlords to put right unaided. I consider that it shows an utter disregard of the conditions in Scotland today, both in regard to the difficulty of increased prices, and of getting work done, obtaining materials and licences, to dispossess a landlord after 12 months. A period of three or four years would be a minimum time in which real improvement could be shown.
This brings me to the question of rents. We find that since 1939 prices have gone up by go per cent., wages by about 120 per cent., and rents by only 6 per cent. Rents are lower in Scotland in many cases than in 1870, in spite of the fall in the value of money. My hon. Friend quoted an inquiry made in 1943, which shows that agricultural rents in Scotland have remained substantially the same since the beginning of the century, although land management costs during that time have risen by well over 200 per cent. The National Farmers' Union for Scotland have recognised the fact that when this Bill becomes law, rents will have to be raised, and it is right that we should face this question at the present time. It has 89 been said today that agriculture is a partnership, which is what I have always said, between the laird, the farmer and the farmworker. In any real partnership, there must be recognition of the other man's point of view. There must be recognition of the increasing difficulty to meet obligations of the kind imposed by this Clause.
§ Mr. Scollan
Has the hon. Gentleman taken into consideration what landowners have made through the industrial development of land? Should not that be put into the balance against the agricultural rents he is now moaning about?
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
The hon. Member is entitled to call attention to increased land values, but what I am thinking about is the future of farming in Scotland. We are not concerned with speculative developers. I would agree with many things he might say about large increases in land values in the case of urban and semi-urban land; but we are concerned now about the future of agricultural land in Scotland and bow we are to get fixed equipment made good so that the land can be farmed to the greatest possible pitch of efficiency.
I want now to say a word or two about the proposals of the Bill concerning deer forests, largely because I have the honour to sit for a constituency which contributes substantially to the sport that Scotland can offer to those who choose to visit her in the most attractive seasons of the year. Power is taken under Clause 35, where it appears to the Secretary of State to be desirable in the interests of food production, to direct that deer forests and grouse moors should be stocked with. cattle or sheep, or with both. There are many safeguards against irresponsible or hastily conceived actions. The landowner must be given the opportunity of making representations to the Secretary of State. The landowner or occupier may refer the matter to the Secretary of State through the Scottish Land Court. In Committee, we shall need to look at these safeguards carefully, and strengthen them if necessary.
I certainly am an advocate of the fullest utilisation of Scotland's land for the benefit of the people of Scotland. If it can be proved in any case that it is desirable that certain deer forests or grouse moors should be stocked with 90 sheep or cattle, or both, I would not object. Nevertheless, I think we should remember to set against that the possible disadvantage of two factors which are sometimes overlooked. First, that sport has a most important part to play in Scotland's economy; it contributes substantially to rural employment. Secondly, that the stocking of our bleak uplands has not always been profitable or successful, as past findings of the Public Accounts Committee testify. I am not so much alarmed by these proposals as I am by uncoordinated planning, of which we have a deplorable example at present in the proposals of the War Office to acquire 22,000 acres of good sheep land on the Borders for training purposes, with the consequent dispossession of over 8,000 acclimatised sheep, and the closing of schools and cottages. This seems to me to be a glaring example of how not to plan the utilisation of the land of Scotland.
Part IV of the Bill confers on the Secretary of State extensive and extended powers to acquire and manage land with the object of promoting efficiency. Who is to administer this land and the land acquired under Part I of the Bill? The Secretary of State. I do not like this increased possibility of State farming, this possibility of a new and powerful absentee landlord. In England and Wales there has been set up a Lands Commission to manage and farm land which is being taken over by the State. The right hon. Gentleman says that he is not prepared to accept the proposal for a Lands Commission for Scotland, since the Department of Agriculture is already farming 450,000 acres for land settlement and 170,000 acres as part of forestry workings. Those, I think, were the figures which the right hon. Gentleman gave to the House today, although they do not seem to tally with an answer which he gave to me today to a Written Question, in which he said that the total area of land in Scotland farmed by the Department of Agriculture was 203,407 acres. However, the amount does not matter very much. The right hon. Gentleman said that skilled staff were already operating, and that he thought the House would agree that the work should be done as economically and in as businesslike a manner as possible.
I must say that I think those were insufficient grounds to set against the great 91 advantage of having independent experts doing the farming. I do not see why some of the skilled staff could not have gone over to a Lands Commission, and farmed through that Commission. But let them be independent of the Department; let us get rid of the position now obtaining where the Secretary of State is accountable to no one but himself or, rather, to Parliament in a general, but not detailed, way——
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)
To whom would this ad hoc body be accountable?
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
To the Secretary of State. Their actions could be questioned in Parliament, and their accounts inspected, exactly as the Forestry Commission's work is checked. If public money is to be spent on a vast scale—and it seems that this will be likely—we should at least know if we are getting value for our money. Farms which are taken over under an order of dispossession, unless they are required specifically for research, education, or to add to an existing unit, should be let or sold to those whose livelihood will depend on how they are run. They should not be farmed by the Department.
The great advantage of this Bill is that it has met with a wide measure of agreement; but that does not mean that there will not be a good deal of detailed discussion in Committee. There is bound to be that. The Secretary of State has described this Bill as a charter of Scottish farming. I would not so describe it myself, but in so far as he thinks it is, I am sure he will do his best to ensure that when the Bill leaves this House it will be even more an agreed Measure than it is today.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I gather from the remarks of the hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) that this Bill does not meet with the full-hearted and enthusiastic approval of the landlords of Scotland. I do not know what position landlords propose to take up on this Bill, but I hope that the landlords' union will not adopt the same tactics—and have to be removed from outside Saint Andrew's House—as the leaders of other trade unions who have had to be removed from outside the Savoy Hotel. There has been 92 criticism from the landlords' side in the Scottish Press, and one criticism is that the provisions of the Bill go too far in favour of the tenant-farmer. That is a very remarkable criticism. I would hardly have thought that the landlords of Scotland were justified in taking that attitude towards the Bill, which is distinctly on the generous side to their particular property vested interests. The hon. Member for West Aberdeen has warned the farmers of Scotland that these proposals will inevitably result in increased rents. To whom? If the increased rents go purely to farmers who work their own land, there may be some justification for them; but we have very good reason for believing that a great deal of the increased rents will go into the pockets of gentlemen whom somebody on the opposite benches irreverently described as "spivs."
I am sorry that Mr. Tom Johnston, the ex-Secretary of State for Scotland, is not in this House to pilot the Bill through, because I believe that if he were it would have been a more drastic and more radical Bill. This Bill is generous towards the property vested interests of the landlords of Scotland. To whom are these rents to be paid? The previous Secretary of State for Scotland has written a little book called, "Our Noble Families." It was written years ago, but the facts are historical facts that have never been contradicted. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is out of print."] Unfortunately, it is out of print, but I assure the hon. Member that if it came into print again, it would sell by hundreds of thousands. It is a very rare book, but it is a very good book. This is what it says about the people who will get increased rents under this Bill:Generation after generation, these few families of tax-gatherers have sucked the lifeblood of our nation; in their prides and lusts they have sent us to war, family against family, clan against clan, race against race; that they might live in idleness and luxury the labouring man has sweated and starved; they have pruned the creeds of our Church and stolen its revenues; their mailed fists have crushed the newer thought, and their vanities, the arts. In their vandalisms they burned and destroyed our national records.I do not think that anyone in this House will seriously dispute that Mr. Tom Johnston is one of our greatest historians of Scotland.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
Can the hon. Gentleman give the date of publication, and say what area of the land of Scotland is now owned by that gentleman?
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not see the relevance of that interruption, because historical facts are the same, whether the book was printed in 1906 or 1936. It deals with the proposition of the acquisition of the land of Scotland. [Interruption.] I know that this is a sore point with hon. Members opposite, but it is a relevant point. He also says of the landlords of Scotland:They scorned every principle of morality we hold dear; they gambled and murdered and robbed and foisted numerous children of illegitimate lusts on the granaries of the common people.
§ Mr. Speaker
This is all very interesting historically, but has this anything to do with the Bill before the House?
§ Mr. Hughes
With due respect, Mr. Speaker, I was pointing out that the increased rents that are to be charged under this Bill are not justified. You will excuse me if I feel rather strongly on this point, because I represent a constituency that has always held very strong views about the burden of landlordism on the people of this country. From my constituency came the poet who was a tenant-farmer in his day, and who suffered so much under the system of tyrannical landlordism. In this Debate we have had reference to tenant-farmers, and it has been suggested that tenant-farming is an ideal system for the peasant and smallholder. That was not the point of view of Burns, who wrote about his farm, that it proved a ruinous bargain. If we want to get rid of another romantic delusion about the tenant-farmer in Scotland, we have only to read the letters of Robert Burns in which he described this kind of life:The cheerless gloom of the hermit with the unceasing toil of the galley slave.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
That was written 200 years ago, and the writer of that letter was not only unsuccessful in farming, but unsuccessful in his other profession.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman would suggest that he was not successful in his profession as a poet.
§ Mr. Hughes
All I know is, that this spokesman for Scotland breathed hatred for the landlordism of his day, and, in representing my constituency, I am continuing that tradition. An hon. Member who has been interrupting sometimes speaks at Burns suppers, but it is more important to carry on the battle of Burns than to celebrate his triumph especially when it has not been achieved.
I welcome this Bill because it gives a new opportunity for farming in Scotland, and I welcome the statement made by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) in which he talked about the revival of rural life in Scotland. I believe that this Bill does open the door, and that it does give opportunities; and I hope that the administration of this Bill will help to revive agriculture in many parts of Scotland. In my constituency we have farming which is second to none in any part of the world. The milk production of Ayrshire is recognised as being more advanced than in any part of the country and under this Bill farming in general will be given a new impetus.
I specially welcome Clause 54, which gives the Secretary of State power to acquire by agreement any land used for agriculture. I wish he had been bolder, 'and instead of acquisition by agreement there had been inserted "by compulsory purchase." I believe it is absolutely necessary for the Secretary of State for Scotland to secure absolute powers to acquire land by compulsory purchase. I will give a reason. For many years I have been a member of a little town council, in whose area live rural workers. They were living in a most shocking condition. In the rural towns and villages of Scotland we have got our slums which are just as bad and as overcrowded as any of the foul slums of the larger towns and cities. When we as a town council went to the local landlord, who comes of one of Scotland's noble families, and asked him for land in order to rehouse the people who were working on his estate, we were refused the land and had to go to the courts and secure it by compulsory purchase. This landlord inherited this estate because he happened to he one of the descendants of the 19 illegitimate children of King Robert II.
95 We had to go to court to get the land, and as a result of acquiring it compulsorily we succeeded in rehousing some of the people of his estate. We had to use the law of the land in order that these rural areas could be revitalised and re-organised. I am very glad to notice that in the next Clause the Secretary of State gets these compulsory powers. It states:The Secretary of State may acquire by compulsory purchase in accordance with the provisions of this Act in that behalf any land for the purposes of agricultural research or experiment or of demonstrating agricultural methods.I entirely agree with what has been said by the hon. Member for East Fife about the necessity for research on land and especially in organising research into agricultural machinery. In my constituency I have the Hannah Research Dairy Institute, which is one of the most magnificent institutions in Scotland and, indeed, in the whole world.
§ Mr. Hughes
It is private enterprise I agree, but the land for this purpose was given by a working, farmer and not by the landlord.
§ Mr. Hughes
I acknowledge the generosity of Mr. Hannah for he was more generous than the county aristocracy. My point is that we have the Hannah Research Institute, and while hon. Members will not agree with some of my remarks, they will entirely acquiesce that this has been a godsend to agricultural education in the West of Scotland and we hope it will develop. I paid a visit to the Hannah Research Dairy Institute a few weeks ago, and there I saw signs of the beginning of the new agricultural drive. For example, a young farmer was in charge of the farm attached to the Hannah Research Institute and I was struck by his youthfulness. I asked him his age, and he said, "I am 25." He has taken a degree in agriculture at the University of Glasgow. In the institute one finds imaginative, intelligent young people with a progressive outlook whom we should encourage and aid in every way. I hope that we are going to see more of these research institutes not 96 only in Ayrshire, but in the East, the West, the North and the South of Scotland. From these farms, where the young people are given their head, we are going to see the spreading of agricultural education which I believe is the only thing that can help us to rebuild agriculture in Scotland on a new basis.
I am not quite satisfied that the Secretary of State for Scotland, judging by the answers he has given to questions that I have put down on the Order Paper, quite realises the precarious labour situation that is coming in Scotland. I asked him whether there is a shortage of unskilled labour and of skilled labour on the farms of Scotland and his answers have been far too complacent to suit me. I believe—and the farmers in my constituency believe also—that there will be a serious shortage of labour in Scotland when the German prisoners of war go. We shall have to depend to a great extent on the introduction of new machinery which will be useful in the development of the land. I was at an agricultural station a few weeks ago when they were exhibiting a new tractor and also a new kind of mechanical potato digger. I believe that those inventions should be encouraged and research into their activities given every possible help and assistance by the Secretary of State.
I should like to tell the House the reason why that should be done. In Ayrshire we have always strongly resented the exploitation of child labour in the potato field. My predecessor Mr. Alexander Sloan, Mrs. McNab Shaw and others, including the present chairman of the county council, have taken a strong line against the Department trying to conscript child labour for the fields. Whether it is a Conservative Government or a Labour Government we intend to persist in this opposition against the exploitation of child labour. I hope that the idea of improved mechanisation of potato lifting will help to settle that controversy, and that machines will be adopted on the land so that we may relieve human toil and labour. I hope we shall bring about the new era of mechanisation that is so badly needed.
The Minister of Defence recently gave figures in which he spoke of 23, 000 agricultural workers being still in the Forces. I do not know how many of them were from Scotland, but I know, and all hon. 97 Members who represent Scottish constituencies must also know, that there are still too many people in the Army, Navy and Air Force who should be on the land of Scotland. I do not know why the separate figures for Scotland are not given. We need all those men back on the land—on the dairy farms and on the fields—to rebuild the agriculture of Scotland upon a sound basis. There are such questions as rural housing and the electrification of the countryside, which is very important. On most modern farms in Ayrshire are machines for milking cows. The modern farmer is very different from the person who farmed in his place a generation ago. Now, he has to be an engineer and something of a chartered accountant as well as a very skilled worker who needs to be trained——
§ Mr. Hughes
I agree, and I do not see how we could run anything in these days without filling up forms. Indeed, some of the suggestions that hon. Members have been making in this Debate would mean the filling up of more forms.
I challenge the view that it is only Conservatives who are interested in the future of agriculture. We on the Socialist benches have a constructive policy which alone can save agriculture in Scotland and throughout the country. I wonder what would happen to the farmers of Ayrshire, or of Scotland as a whole, if the food subsidies were removed. There would be chaos in Scottish agriculture. We should give approval to the Bill. In the Committee stage we might try to improve it by including more radical provisions which would result in a drive forward towards an improved agriculture for Scotland, and I think all hon. Members would sincerely agree with that objective.
§ 7.3 P.m.
§ Mr. MacLeod (Ross and Cromarty)
I am sure that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the realms of history and of class hatred, which I have always abhorred. The statements which he has made should not have been made upon a Bill of this kind, for we need the co-operation of every class in the country in order to produce the food which is vitally necessary for the nation.
98 As a representative of an agricultural constituency and as a newcomer in the industry, I welcome the opportunity of making a few remarks about the Bill, which has been well received by all sections of the farming community in Scotland. Our farmers are prepared to give it their support, but the Government are playing the least difficult part in propounding their agricultural policy, as they did, in close conjunction with various representatives of the industry. The farmers have a far more difficult task in producing every ounce of food in present circumstances, for reasons which have already been stressed and which are well known. They include shortage of labour and housing, as well as of implements and spare parts. In my own constituency we need better roads, and a water supply. Paradoxically, there is an over-abundance of that commodity which we are always told is in short supply, paper.
The Bill will have a far-reaching effect upon everybody connected with the land. I am pleased to note that an Amendment has been brought forward, since the Bill was first presented on 15th August, to authorise the making of grants towards the provision of houses and buildings for landholders and crofters in the Highlands and Islands. I assure the Secretary of State that this provision will be made full use of by the crofters in my constituency, provided that materials are forthcoming. It will help to retain them on the land. Full use cannot be secured, however, unless the houses are provided with water. I know of farms in one of the most important agricultural regions of Scotland where the farmers are losing labour because of the local authorities' failure to obtain permission to carry out major drainage and water schemes.
I should like to repeat a point which I raised in a supplementary question to the Secretary of State on 18th November. I hope this time he will not say that we are talking at cross purposes. I asked him whether he did not believe it would be to the advantage of the Exchequer to issue grants towards such major schemes as I have mentioned, rather than to follow the present practice of providing a 50 per cent. grant to individual farmers. The farmers could make far better use of water supplied through a major scheme. Everybody would thus benefit, and so would the agricultural industry.
99 The former Secretary of State for Scotland asked local authorities to supply a list of priorities. My own local authority presented him with a list. He took the third name that was mentioned on the list. Why was it necessary to ask for a list of priorities if the Minister did not intend to accept the suggestions of the local authority? I notice that a further Amendment has been brought forward. I should have proposed it myself had it not already been proposed. I notice in Clause 75 that the Secretary of State may execute drainage work at the request of and by agreement with—I am glad to see—owners and occupiers of agricultural land. I do not think I should be wrong in stating that almost every farm in Scotland needs drainage of some sort, and certainly in the Highlands. It is the duty of the agricultural department in every county to provide a suitable drainage section. I have often thought that the Government must lose much money in giving a 50 per cent. grant to individual farmers to carry out their own schemes which owing to the, lack of proper equipment, must be carried out at greater expense than necessary. I am reminded of the wise advice of the old farmer who said that the land should be treated like a baby: Keep its face clean, keep it well fed and keep its bottom dry. I hope that under this Clause the last advice will be taken.
These and other points can be raised in the Committee stage, but I feel that until the practical issues are met, full use cannot be made of any agricultural policy. Every one must hope that the main principles of the Bill to provide a stable and efficient agriculture and security of tenure for the efficient farmer will be achieved. It is also to be hoped that the Government's policy will not be too flexible as conditions change at home and abroad. It is essential to maintain an even balance between the town and the country, and I hope it will be found by any Government to be wise policy to maintain a contented rural population.
The success of the Bill will depend on wise administration to allow the farmer to plan well ahead, and I trust that in our present difficulties there will be frequent consultations between the Ministries of Food and Agriculture, for when all is said and done the main purpose is to produce food in our own land. I hope that 100 after further discussions upstairs this Bill will emerge as a Measure worthy of our nation.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Willis (Edinburgh, North)
I have listened with interest to the Debate and in particular to the efforts of hon. Members opposite to claim credit for the ideas contained in the Bill. I listened with interest to the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) claiming that this was the result of wartime experience, of Conservative ideas before the war and so forth. I also listened with interest to the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) claiming that he had drawn up a programme in 1928 laying down these ideas, and then I recalled with interest what the hon. Member for West Perth had said at the Scottish Conservative Party Conference this. year. He said that it was unfortunate that while the Conservatives supported the interests of agriculture it was always left to a Labour Government to do anything about it. I think that is true of this Bill.
I welcome this Bill because it will help the agricultural industry enormously. If operated wisely, it should bring into use thousands of acres at present not in use. I cannot help feeling that had the Government proceeded with the nationalisation of the land earlier, many of the difficulties I foresee under this Bill, as indeed I foresaw difficulties under the Town and Country Planning Act, would have been avoided. I agree with much that has been said by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). Why we should still be called upon to recognise this landowning aristocracy of ours, I cannot tell. It is quite incompatible with any ideas I possess about democracy, [An HON. MEMBER: "What has that to do with the Bill?"] It has this to do with the Bill. An hon. Member said that rents were going up——
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
What was said was that under Clause 11 a variation of rent might be permitted. Has the hon. Member not read the Bill closely enough to realise that this could operate both ways, on an application from the tenant as well as on an application from the landowner?
§ Mr. Willis
A case was made out that one of the effects of asking owners to do certain things in connection with their land would be automatically to increase rents.
§ Mr. Willis
The argument was that the owner would be unable to do all that the Government were asking without increasing the rent. I agree that that is quite probable under this Bill. The farmer has to pay that increased rent. The farmer will expect increased prices for his crops to enable him to pay that increased rent, and the citizens will have to pay the increased prices to enable the farmer to pay that increased rent to the landowner. That is why I am interested as a Member representing a city constituency. In large urban areas today the price of food is rising. I do not quarrel with that at the moment. It is time the rural worker got a better standard of living. Too long have we lived on the poverty of the rural workers. However, the fact is that under this Bill the landowner is to be given bigger rents at the expense of the people.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
No, surely. If the hon. Member for North Edinburgh had listened he would have understood that this could apply in exactly the same way whether the land was nationally owned or privately owned. Increased equipment would mean an increased charge. The hon. Member was careful to point out that this would apply just as much in the case of State owned land as in the case of privately owned land.
§ Mr. Willis
I agree with that, but hon. Members opposite wish the food subsidies to be abolished. [HON. MEMBERS: "No"] They want the free operation of the price mechanism, which means increasing food prices. I would far sooner see that additional burden borne by the State through taxation, in which case the wealthiest contribute most, than I would see it borne in the shape of higher prices for foodstuffs.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
But that has nothing to do with the argument the hon. Gentleman was advancing a minute ago whether or not people should pay for increased equipment.
§ Mr. Willis
I am following to its logical conclusion the argument about rents increasing as a result of the duties placed on the landowner. I would have preferred the land to be nationalised so that this would not be paid to private landowners. If the land had been nationalised, the increased rents would have been 102 paid to the people of the country in respect of their own land and not to a private owner in respect of his land. I was rather sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) was pulled up when reading from "Our Noble Families." That would be a good textbook for all hon. Members opposite.
I welcome this Bill apart from that. I have stated my opinion about land nationalisation before. The Bill makes a number of improvements. I welcome the improvements which guarantee the tenant greater security. There seem to be some doubts among the Opposition about these provisions, but I think the Bill goes a long way towards strengthening that position and making it better for the industrious tenant who is making the best use of his land. I still feel, however, that there are many reasons why the farmer can be dispossessed and in most cases it is the Government which can dispossess him. Some of the reasons seem to me to be very wide, and I hope that the powers given to the Government in that respect will be used with considerable restraint because, as was pointed out from the other side, much of the land which the Government is likely to requisition is the best land. We see that going on at present, and I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire about the activities of the Defence Departments in taking some of this most valuable agricultural land. It is time we tried to think sanely about this, and to realise that it is no good preparing huge Defence Forces if we cannot feed ourselves. It is far more important to be fed than to prepare large Defence Forces and to make the necessary arrangements for their training.
§ Mr. Boothby
From the hon. Member's point of view, is it not getting the best of every world to let the Government take the best land and to leave the bad land to the private owners? Surely, that is the finest form of nationalisation from his point of view?
§ Mr. Willis
No. I would like to see it all nationalised, but at present I object most strongly to the War Department taking fertile land or land that can be used for agricultural purposes. The needs of the country are so great that this should not be countenanced at the present time. There are large areas with which 103 we can do very little that could be used by the War Departments, but for some unknown reason they always seem to go for the best districts and always close to a big town. The officers seem to like to spend their weekends in town, or something like that.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
Does the hon. Member say that only the officers wish to spend their time in the nearby towns?
§ Mr. Willis
It is usually the voices of the officers that are heard most. They are more vocal, or at least may I suggest that their contacts are more likely to produce results than are the contacts of the men.
§ Mr. Willis
That was my experience of the Forces for some 16 years.
With regard to the agricultural executive committees, I have read the Schedule several times and I wonder if the Secretary of State could give us some indication of what he has in mind as to the representation of the workers on these committees? Both the agricultural executive committees and the advisory committees—certainly the latter—have not a large enough proportion of representatives of the workers. In the case of the executive committee, no figure is mentioned, but judging from what I read, I cannot see how the workers will get a big representation, and I cannot help feeling that they are far more entitled, and likely to be of far greater value to the working of these committees than are the representatives of the landowners.
This Bill goes a long way towards helping to assist agriculture; that is why I think it is a good Bill. However, the rural problem of Scotland is much bigger than the payment of subsidies and the laying down of a quid pro quo whereby the farmer has to farm his land efficiently in return for his getting a guaranteed price. There is a big social problem concerned which this does not help at all and, whilst it is necessary, I trust that my right hon. Friend will not neglect the social aspect such as the necessity for larger communities, and adequate transport, in addition to housing, better schools, and facilities for adult education. The farmworker of the future will require a high degree of knowledge and skill. 104 His job will become a technical one. It will be helpful in increasing our food production if the people who are performing this job have the fullest knowledge concerning it, and steps must be taken along those lines. There are wider aspects of the problem, too, such as the establishment of rural and alternative industries. This Bill, by itself, will not revitalise rural life in Scotland, but it can play an important part in assisting to do that, provided we do not neglect all the other features that form part of the problem.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
Mr. Speaker, I rather regretted that you pulled up the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) at the precise moment you did, because he was just getting to a most interesting passage in Mr. Tom Johnston's remarkable work. For the same reason, I was disappointed that he did not expand a little more upon the private life of King Robert of Scotland who seems to have been, by all accounts, a remarkable gentleman. With regard to the poet, Robert Burns, I yield to no one in my admiration of him—indeed, I have just perpetrated a book in which I deal with him at some length—but even his wildest admirers would not claim that he was a very good tenant farmer. In fact, I have often reflected with satisfaction that he finally found refuge, as so many supporters of the present Government have found refuge, in a bureaucratic Civil Service appointment which enabled him to do his more important work comparatively free from the major anxieties of life.
I rise to make one point only; but it is a serious one, and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State is here. For 20 years in this House I have fought the battle of oats; and I am sorry to think that I have to begin all over again. The right hon. Gentleman—and I beg him to believe me—is making a great mistake as Secretary of State for Scotland in acquiescing in a policy which puts our main cereal crop in a position of inferiority to the other cereal crops of Britain. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman saying he is prepared to guarantee a price for this year or next year. What is being done, under the Schedule to the English Bill, and therefore under this Bill, is that oats are 105 not being given the same status as the other white cereal crops. It is a profound mistake; a crazy policy, and a cowardly policy, because the right hon. Gentleman ought to know that feedingstuffs in this country will be just as vital over the next five or even 10 years as any other kind of cereal crop in this country. The fact is that Scottish agriculture will never be rebuilt upon a firm and secure foundation unless oats are put in the same position as wheat and barley. They are the main cereal crop of Scotland.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) will remember old battles in days gone by; and especially one very savage scene when he was Minister of Agriculture, when he directed me to go and clean out a byre, he got so angry with me for raising this point. Also my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison), who told me the other day, "I remember when I was Minister of Agriculture seeing you facing me, and I associate you with one word. In a sepulchral voice you said 'oats' over and over again. Now I think you were right." And now I say, once again "oats" to the Minister; and, if he does not do the right thing, he will be driven to the conclusion in a very short time that I was right, and he was wrong. He will never put agriculture in Scotland on a solid foundation unless he recognises that oats are our basic cereal crop. In certain districts we can play about with wheat, and we have to grow barley to support another basic industry; but oats are our cereal foundation, and therefore the foundation of everything. Do not let the English drive him out of it. They may have driven his predecessor out; but now is the moment for him to make a stand, and fight to the death for oats.
I cannot help feeling that in some respects this Bill, admirable though it is in many respects, is academic in relation to our present driving needs. The right hon. Gentleman gave figures for increasing the livestock position in Scotland; but we have not enough livestock for the farms, let alone the deer forests. In the deer forests, and many other areas, there are two propositions which cause me apprehension. A lot of people are apparently going to be allowed to lay down poison all over Scotland without let or hindrance; and, far more alarming, a lot of people are also to 106 be allowed to go shooting at deer all through the night, or through much of the night. They may see a couple of eyes gleaming at them through the darkness; but they may not necessarily be the eyes of deer. It is an alarming proposition for the safety of Scotland, and will have to be looked at most carefully on the Committee stage.
My main criticism of this Bill is of a certain lack of sense of urgency. I agree that the machinery of the Bill is good; but we will not solve our agricultural problem and our food problem merely by a re-organisation of committees. We have to grow more food; and, if we are ever to have a balanced and firm economy again, we have to make Scotland at least as great an agrarian country as she is an industrial country. For that we need labour. Like the hon. Member for South Ayrshire I am not at all happy about the labour situation. I believe that, in the long run, when agriculture becomes a way of life in this country—and in our country particularly, that appeals to the mass of the workers—the labour shortage may gradually resolve itself; but, in the immediate future, I am definitely frightened of what will happen when the prisoners of war go. I do not think we have enough labour for the immediate programme—and that is what matters at the moment—the immediate programme of producing food.
There is also the problem of domestic labour on the farms. For too long the farmers' wives of Scotland have had to carry too heavy a burden. The Minister of Labour and, I think, the Home Secretary—who, by a fortunate chance, I see on the Front Bench—sometime ago produced a scheme in which foreign girls who wanted to come here were to be allowed to come and work in domestic service of a character which was of importance in the national interests. That was announced, either by the Home Secretary or the Minister of Labour—they were both concerned in it—with considerable pomp and, ceremony about a year and a half ago. But there has been only a tiny trickle of Danish and Austrian girls; and the deluge of strong, healthy and gay girls to whom we expected to give a warm welcome on the farms in Scotland, has not materialised. The farmers' wives have had too much of the burden and heat of the day to bear in the last few years; and they are still bearing it.
107 I wish to repeat what everyone has said over and over again, that we are all in this business of trying to revive the prosperity of agriculture in this country, and in our country of Scotland in particular. It is common knowledge that we are better farmers, and produce more, and do it in a better way than in any country in the world, including England. In fact, we are an example to the whole world when it comes to husbandry. We ought to make Scotland a storehouse of food in the next few years, when this country will be facing, not starvation, but great privation. If I have a criticism of the Bill it is that it is an illusion to suppose that simply by reorganisation, setting up new committees, altering their powers, giving the State to right to turn out this or that farmer, and buy this piece of land or that bit of land, we are going to solve our fundamental problem, which is to produce food, food, and more food, all the time.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)
I wish in a humble and sincere way to support what my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) said to the Secretary of State on the subject of oats. I will not bore the House by going into further details, but I wish to reinforce what has been said, because it is one of the main planks of the whole farming programme. Perhaps it is not for me to add my protest about the shortness of time we have been given for considering this Bill in its revised form. But, I am sure that the business of the House for the next two or three weeks could have been so arranged that this Bill could have been taken two or three weeks hence, without upsetting anyone. I am afraid that the Secretary of State has rather given in to the Leader of the House whose "Scotophobia" is well known.
I also protest about having this Debate on a Monday. I know I shall be lectured when the Minister replies, and he will say that Monday is a working day, like any other. Of course it is, and we are not making excuses, but Members for Scottish seats, who represent widely distributed areas, have a tremendous amount of work to do over the weekend. I think consideration should have been given by the 108 Lord President of the Council to that. This is not the first time this question has been raised. I hope that another time the Secretary of State will insist that the business shall not be taken on a Monday. Tuesday or Wednesday could have been used, and we could have discussed the Finance Bill tonight. I think it is obvious that the Secretary of State was not consulted.
The Bill is one to which we on this side of the House can give our support, at any rate, to most of its provisions and intentions. It is the sincere wish of everyone of us that farming in Scotland shall be put on a permanently sound basis, and kept there. In Scotland, as in every other country in the world, it is the absolutely essential industry, without which all others must fail. That is a fact which is not nearly generally enough known nor recognised. It is the duty of the Government and of the Opposition to rub that point home on every possible opportunity. At present the unbalance of our population as between town and country effects every aspect of our national life. It affects none more than farming, because almost the whole country today has become urban-minded. I believe I am right in saying that more than 85 per cent. of the names on the electoral roll of our country today are those of people who live in towns and cities. Therefore, in consequence, the representation of this House is overwhelmingly urban. In fact, I do not think I am exaggerating if I say that to a large number of people in this country their food seems to fall down from the skies done up in tins and cartons. One might suggest as an addition to the Union Jack the superimposition upon it of a tin-opener. That seems to be the thing in this country, sad to relate, which matters. This may be a broad statement, but it is perfectly true.
In this whirlpool of urbanisation the farming community finds it extremely difficult to keep its head above water, because along with a lack of interest and dreadful ignorance of farming both among electors and elected goes an increasing demand that the farming community shall step up its production to a tremendous degree. We should never forget that in two world wars the farmer and his men have literally saved this country of ours. It is a most efficient industry in spite of what many people say 109 about it having to become efficient. It has proved its efficiency in two world wars and will never let this country down on grounds which involve efficiency.
With these facts in mind, we should approach this Bill to see what it really proposes to do for the farmer, the farm worker and the landlord, because that is the greatest triumvirate in existence in our country today. It has never failed our country, though the country has frequently failed it. I believe that the finest form of Government that has yet been devised by man is that represented by the laird, who is prepared to accept full responsibility for the land he owns and the people who live on that land. In no other walk of life will be found so great a mutual confidence, respect, genuine co-operation and first-class practical results. In so far as this Bill takes one step towards the realisation of that objective, I will support it. If it does not move towards that it is just a delusion and a waste of time.
While on this subject of landlord and tenant and their relationship I would mention what I believe to be possible weaknesses in this Bill. I am not opposing the Bill, and I am not opposing the particular Clauses to which I shall now refer. I am only suggesting that they may require a bit of rubbing up and perhaps turning round, when we reach the Committee stage. As has already been said, Clauses 5 to 8 deal with the various details of security of tenure, a matter which everybody in this House agrees requires most careful consideration. The effect of these Clauses, particularly Clause 7, to which a good deal of attention has already been paid, seems to me to place perhaps undue restriction on the termination of tenancies or holdings, unless the Secretary of State has agreed to such termination. I may be wrong, but I think it rather operates in favour of the tenant.
I would like to ask the Secretary of State if he does not agree that there is already a considerable balance, under existing Acts, in favour of the tenant rather than of the landlord? As a matter of fact, under the existing Small Holdings and Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act, which has already been mentioned, few tenants have been given notice to quit in Scotland and few cases of unfair eviction have come to notice. 110 We regret the ones which do occur, but by and large that kind of thing does not occur. I would emphasise that tenants, as is just and right, should have every protection, particularly in the matter of land speculation. I also feel that in ordinary estate administration the landowner should be entitled to obtain possession of a farm, on proper notice and on proper terms, for his own use or for the use of a member of his family, without having to go through what must admittedly be the highly complicated and highly distasteful procedure of this Clause, which may even involve litigation.
I will not go into some details with which I was going to deal, because other hon. Members have already spoken on them, but I want to know, for instance, if the Under-Secretary would say in what circumstances would it be considered good estate management for a landlord to resume, or be entitled to resume, occupation of a farm? In the case of bad husbandry, the situation is much clearer, but even in that respect we have to realise the diffidence, as has been shown, of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland in issuing the necessary certificates in cases of bad husbandry. There must be many cases in which certificates have been refused, but in which, in the interests of both estate management and good husbandry, it would have been better that the landlord should have resumed occupation.
I am afraid that one result of these Clauses may be not so much security of tenure, which we all believe to be an excellent thing for which to work, but rather fixity of tenure, which might be very pernicious. That aspect has already been touched upon, and I would like to emphasise it. An unfortunate effect of one-sided fixity in favour of the tenant is that it will result in the depreciation of the capital which a landlord is expected to invest, or has invested in farms in the past. The Rent Restriction Acts have already had something of this effect in Scotland.
Another possibility is that all the difficulties now being placed in the way of termination of tenure may only result in the depreciation of the value of farms which, for example, the landlord might wish to sell in order to get the necessary capital for modernising and improving 111 the remainder of his estate. I think that that risk is very possible. I would like to hear from the Minister that that point has not been overlooked. It may also mean that tenants who are farming only moderately, or perhaps even badly, may be kept in possession when it would be much better if new blood, which the industry needs, were brought in.
I do not propose to deal with Clause 13, which concerns fixed equipment, as that has been dealt with by others more competent than myself. There are divided opinions on this subject in the industry, but we shall be able to go into the matter in more detail during the Committee stage. I feel that the vastly increased financial obligations on the landlord under this Clause must be recognised by the right hon. Gentleman in this matter of increased rent. The hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) was barking up the wrong tree on this question of rent in relation to prices and the estate or private owner. It is absolutely essential, in fixing and assessing farm prices, that the question of rent should in future be counted as part of the cost. That is only fair, and I hope that we shall hear something about that matter.
I believe it is correct to say that something like 70 per cent. of the farms in Scotland today are held on a tenancy basis. I believe that to be the popular basis. Is it not something of a risk, at this stage, to try to break it down, because I believe that these fixity provisions, if I may so describe them, may result in more and more farms being offered for sale, which the farmer does not want, as opposed to farms offered for letting, which he does want? That state of affairs obviously operates at the present time, and I hope that this aspect will be carefully examined. I believe that a wide latitude of contract between landlord and tenant is, in these matters, far sounder than that they should be tied up too tightly, because in so doing we are tying up two parties who know what they want better than anyone else knows.
When the land becomes nationalised—I have always understood that that is the intention of every good Socialist—what will be the attitude of the Government in regard to rent when they take over these farms? I think that we should know that. I know a great many people are 112 hoping that nationalisation will follow very quickly. We should like to know not only what will happen when it is wholly nationalised, but also what will happen to the farms which the Secretary of State already controls.
I would like to touch briefly on a part of the Bill to which, so far, reference has not yet been made. I refer to Part III which deals with pests.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
I made a pause there in order that the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) could get off one of his famous quips on the subject of nationalisation and landlords. I knew that he would enjoy it. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has had a perfect field day already. My shoulders, broad as they are, are lacerated with the lash which I, as a moderate landlord, have suffered tonight from my hon. Friend below the Gangway. But, somehow, I think I shall recover.
I very much regret to see that the emphasis in this part of the Bill deals with the destruction rather than prevention of pests. That is a very important difference. I hope the Minister will tell us something about that when he replies. If pests are to be dealt with by Act of Parliament, it should be made clear from the outset that prevention must be the aim to which all occupiers must address themselves first and foremost. This applies even more to insects and weeds than it does to birds and animals many of which are called pest[...] when they are not and which, in any case, are more easily dealt with. On the subject of pests, there is that peculiar form of crank who says that inorganic chemicals are all that are required for our farming activities. He is the greatest pest of all. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he can, to arrange for him to be given a large dose of the poisons which he squirts about the countryside in the belief that he is doing good. Give it to him quickly, and I shall be most grateful.
Another point which has arisen in this Debate concerns the question whether the agricultural executive committees which are set up under this Bill, have already started to function. If 113 so, have they statutory authority? I may have missed it, but I am not sure that they have already statutory authority. What is the position? Is money already being spent? If we could have an assurance on that, it would help us. The question has been asked already by several people in my constituency.
I would say that I speak as a landlord in a very modest way. I have been fortunate in having some of the best tenants in Scotland and some of the best farmworkers. I make no bones about that. I hope very much that this Bill, if it passes into law unamended, will not result in the gradual disappearance of the landlord and tenant system in Scotland. I honestly believe, in the light of my experience and study, and as one who has lived in Scotland among these people, that that would be a disaster for the industry and for Scotland. We should either revert to what used to be called latifundia, the landless peasantry of the Roman Empire, which was one of the main causes of its fall, or, what perhaps is even worse, we should move to the vast, large-scale farming of America and Russia which is totally unsuited to our country and of which the dust bowl is the hall mark. These things require to be looked into very carefully. I hope that we are not moving in either of those directions.
Though we have an industrial belt in Scotland, I think that our salvation as a country lies in the development and, above all, in the proper correlation of farming, fishing, forestry and the tourist industry. I do not believe in these dreams of taking Airdrie to Inverness. It is not that which will save Scotland. Scotland is primarily an agricultural country with other vast and important industries attached. At present we are tackling these four things, farming, fishing, forestry and the tourist industry—piecemeal just as we are tackling the hydro-electric development. I would like to see them tied up as one great problem. This Bill will take a step in that direction. Let us make it all one big show instead of tackling it piecemeal.
Any Bill which is intended to be a help to the farmer, must help, and not hinder. It must remove difficulties and obstacles and not increase them. Can we honestly say that this Bill will do that, because that should be the test? If it does, it is 114 good; if it does not, it is bad. The farmer, the farmworker and the landowner know their jobs. Some are bad and some indifferent, as in every walk of life, but taken by and large these three together in their job make the greatest triumvirate that our country has today. At present they are floundering in this whirlpool of Government meddling and muddle. If this Bill will help to get us out of that, it will do good. I hope that as our Debates proceed upstairs we shall be able to introduce small improvements where they are wanted. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that we are met in the small things which we suggest for the good of the Bill.
§ 7.57 P.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I was obliged to the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and Kinross (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) for baring his broad and lacerated back to me for what he described as one more crack about nationalisation. I know that his back is broad enough, but I will not make any serious attempt to lacerate it still further. I wonder why hon. Gentlemen opposite apply even the mildest strokes of castigation upon this Bill and upon the Government. One by one, hon. Members opposite have praised the Bill. One hon. Member went so far as to say that it was the nearest thing to paradise in agreed Measures. We almost expected him to take us into paradise with him along the lines of Government policy. He climbed the foothills of the Delectable Mountains and then suddenly he turned back and took us into the Slough of Despond.
The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) went through the same antics. He said that this Bill "opened the door to a new world." Whether or not it was paradise, as described by the other hon. Member, I do not know, but at all events it was a new world. Heaven knows, agriculture needs a new world in Scotland after the treatment it has had during the last 20 years. But then he, too, went on to criticise the "new world," I take it, or the method by which we open the door, or the people who were opening the door—I do not know exactly what he wanted to criticise. Neither do I know whether the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and Kinross wanted to criticise the Bill on any of its fundamentals. However, hon. Members opposite have done very 115 gallantly in making such long speeches with so little criticism. All the speeches were complimentary in the main and moderate in their criticism, but all seemed to get involved in wild political attacks upon the Government all along the front. They seemed to suggest that agriculture has had a bad show from this Government. If they did that, they must know that they are talking nonsense.
I want to give credit where it is due—to Lord Beaverbrook. If there is any Tory Press magnate in this country, any good member of the Tory Party, or ex-member of the Tory Party—I do not know which—who deserves commendation for his sustained campaign in the interests of what he believed was best for British agriculture, it is Lord Beaverbrook. He has kept it up through the years. To do so he has had to attack the Tory Party year after year, and he has attacked one after another, collapsing Tory Ministers of Agriculture, including the right hon. and gallant Member for Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) who will himself no doubt be attacking the Bill in a few minutes' time. All through the years he has deserved credit for what was best in that campaign. In that campaign he advocated not only better farming practice, but better wages for the workers in the industry.
This is what Lord Beaverbrook's "Daily Express" had to say about the farmers the other day:They have little difficulty now in selling whatever they have to offer—wheat, barley, oats, fat beasts and sheep. The Government determine everything for them, and the farmers can have little grouse about the prices they get.I think that is the general view of the farmers themselves, and I certainly do not think that hon. Members on the opposite side of the House have rallied the farmers of Scotland against this Government or against this Bill. There may be little things that can be adjusted in Committee, and, indeed, almost all the criticisms made on the other side of the House were admitted by those making them to be Committee points.
The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing this Bill, explained its provisions very lucidly, and I should like to congratulate him on the manner in which he introduced it. It is a good Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman has every reason 116 to be proud of it, and hon. Members on that side have good reason for being proud, jointly with us, of this Bill. For one thing, some of them have claimed that it was a Bill built up by a gradual process over many years to which other parties have contributed their own lines of thought, and, on the basis of that claim, to the extent that hon. Members opposite try to detract from this Bill, they are, to some extent, criticising themselves. The main object of this Bill is to get more and better food production. That was not the policy in the days that we knew when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his friends opposite were in power and when we were in Opposition. Their policy at that time was to sustain prices by restricting both imports and production. Agricultural workers were the lowest paid, the worst treated, the most ill-housed of any workers in this country, except, perhaps, those in that other primary product industry, the fishing industry, and those in the other most fundamental industry of all, the coalmining industry itself.
There were some points made by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart)—and I think he was supported by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken—to the effect that it is no use the Government saying they hoped to restore Scottish agriculture or get people back into the countryside by introducing a Bill in the House of Commons and later operating it as an Act of Parliament. That is certainly not enough, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman was quite right in saying that we must visualise the wider problem, because this great economic problem in Scotland, after a certain period of deterioration, becomes not only an economic problem, but a social problem as well, and we must have regard to the widest implications of these things.
If there has been a drift from the land, we know the reason for it. Hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to speak apologetically about it, but they cannot afford to criticise us, because, in the short time in which the Government have had the authority of the people to do anything about it, this Government has gone further ahead than any previous Government within the century, and I think that the tributes paid to this Bill by hon. Members on the other side, be- 117 fore they floundered into the general political morass. of their criticisms, were themselves evidence and proof that there is more general acceptance for this Bill than for almost any previous Agriculture Bill which has come before this House.
It is true that the farmers themselves are pleased today, and that is saying quite a lot. The farmers who were formerly only prepared to die rich, are now prepared to live rich also, even under a Labour Government. They have asserted openly that they are getting, under this Government now, and will get even more in the future, a sense of security and prosperity which they did not know in the many years when we were out of office. The hon. Member for East Fife was making some criticism of the Labour Party as having been against land settlement—a sweeping and strange generalisation. I do not know, but perhaps it is that he is one of those who has found an irresponsible freedom as an ex-Liberal in that he will never again be called upon to fulfil any of the things which he promises, and can, therefore, promise or criticise anything he likes from now on. It was a wildly irresponsible statement. I know that some even of the founders of this party of ours who wrote and spoke on that subject for many years, were frustrated in their attempts to get land settlement out of the very hon. Gentlemen who now sit on that side of the House. They opposed us on land settlement in those days, and this attack is unworthy of the ten little nigger boys of the Liberal Party opposite, sitting on the fence, still undecided on which side they should come down.
In the far Highland and Island areas, where the average farm unit is only four or five acres, and only three acres in many cases, what the Bill is going to do for our already secure tenants, I really do not know. We are not, however, going to obstruct the passage of an excellent Bill, which is of value to us, too, because of a few minor criticisms. This Bill confers upon the tenant generally something which our crofters have had for many years. We think that security of tenure is the main general benefit brought by this Measure, subject to the ordinary decencies and reasonable practice in agriculture. I cannot understand why any criticisms should arise about security of tenure. I think we can say 118 that, all party points aside, all hon. Members should be completely united in welcoming this provision for security of tenure, and even hon. Members opposite were at heart convinced that this Bill does actually give security of tenure to many for the first time. The hon. Member for West Perth indicated that, and said that it would be impossible to be evicted or dispossessed unjustly, and described the Bill as a very adequate safeguard for the tenant.
After reading them half a dozen times, I think the compensation Clauses, to say the least, are fair and adequate. I should almost defy any rampaging landlord to evict a tenant by his manipulation of these Clauses. It takes one all one's time to understand them at all. I admit that it is easy to criticise the people who draft these Clauses; but I know the great difficulties that have to be overcome in framing them. We are agreed, then, that this Bill gives security. It frees farmers and tenants from the fear of dispossession, and they know, for the first time, that they can go ahead with their plans.
This Bill also deals with the question of the utilisation and bringing into productive use of the deer forests. I do not propose to give any figures which will, in any way, seek to contradict those given by the Secretary of State today with regard to the programme for the use of the deer forest area. He said that about half the area of 3¼ million acres might be used. I hope that, in time, more than that amount will be usable. The black face sheep could do very well on most forest land, and I would like to see them have the greatest possible opportunity of doing so.
The hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) made a strong point about the danger of destroying sporting revenue. He may have been talking of his own country; I do not know. I have here a document from Ross and Cromarty which was addressed to Tom Johnston when Secretary of State for Scotland. It states that about one-third of the revenue prewar was drawn from sporting subjects, but, during the war, that figure fell by over 50 per cent.; and it has fallen quite considerably since then. I think it would be a pity if the county council and the Government between them were unable to devise a production programme which would make up for one-sixth of their national income 119 in a more productive way than in letting the land for grouse shooting and deer hunting. The land could in part, at least, be used for the growing of food. I do not think there is much in the sporting argument. If we can make the land cultivable, for goodness sake let us do so, instead of letting it for sporting purposes to the seasonal spies of that small section of the community who are much less welcome or respected by the Highlanders than they fondly believe.
§ Commander Galbraith
I think the hon. Member is being rather unfair to my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeen. He merely said that was one of the things to be considered, and that we should consider whether Scotland was to benefit more one way or the other in employment and revenue. He was not making the point to which the hon. Member referred.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I would be extremely sorry to do the hon. Member for West Aberdeen any injustice and discourtesy by misrepresenting what he said; but, surely, it must be possible, especially in an area like Perthshire, which I know as well as any hon. Member in this House, to make more productive use of almost all of the land than simply to let it for sporting rights. We should be able to grow food upon much of it, and to bring it into useful production. There is not much that one can say on Part III. I welcome the general attack all along the line upon the deer and upon the rabbit, and other nuisances, and, if I may say so without any disrespect to the hon. Member for West Aberdeen, upon the pests which he appeared to defend.
The Minister is to be complimented upon the boldness of this Bill. Nobody has denied that it is a Bill of vision and of far-reaching scope. My own personal prejudice leads me to think that it would have been better if, in Scotland, we had a Lands Commission as in England. I do not wish the House to oppose the Bill on that score, but I would have liked to see a body of that kind in Scotland with at least the same powers as given in the English Bill. I think they could be of tremendous assistance, for example, to small farmers who are not able adequately to help themselves and us in terms of labour, costly modern machinery, and the shortage of imple- 120 ments. In a hundred different ways, I think the Commission could do the job more adequately than a harassed Department dealing with agriculture. I think the Secretary of State should be released to some extent from the heavy new responsibility which is being thrown upon him.
I hope that the Secretary of State will exercise all his powers and see that they are put into operation in making effective use of the grants as well as loans to new farming co-operatives. This country is surely one of the most backward in the world in the matter of co-operative farming. We are behind even that well-known free enterprise farming community of the United States of America. We are certainly behind the Scandinavian countries, and many of the more progressive agricultural areas of the world. I hope we shall see some positive action by the Secretary of State, and not wait until farmers get together and co-operate themselves some day. I want to see the Government taking the initiative and drawing attention by publicity and by direct approach with all the dignity and backing of the Secretary of State and Cabinet Ministers, to the value of the co-operatives. Though he may have been in the past hostile to the idea of co-operation, I think the farmer cannot fail to see the advantage of grants and loans, and consequently will see also there are a few attractive points in the idea of assisted co-operatives.
The extension of the powers and the number of the Land Court is a good thing. I hope when the additions are being made that there will be borne in mind the need for people from the crofting areas, who do know something practical about crofting and the real difficulties of small scale marginal farming; and not men who have had training as a factor, estate manager, assessor, valuator, or any of those things. At least one of the two men added to the Land Court should be selected from that class of person. I welcome the provisions regarding the advisory committees and encouragement of agricultural improvement and better farm management.
Again, the Secretary of State should take the initiative to see that technical education is given a good start. I would mention a very local point. His predecessor, and his predecessor's predecessor, have been negotiating with me—or rather I have been negotiating with them—for a very long time to try to get a technical 121 school set up in one of the croft areas in the Western Isles, at Stornoway, where we have an excellent building—Stornoway Castle—in proximity to a hinterland of textiles, Harris tweeds, and crofting and right beside the sea with the fishing. There you have all the things required to set up a technical school now. It was agreed to, and promised two years ago. Then a year ago people apparently began to forget. The Secretary of State, the Department of Education and the County Council drifted off into a little huddle here and there, wondering whether they should have the roof repaired, or drop the whole project. Here is a chance for the Secretary of State to operate on a single definite project, one definite practical thing which can be done now, or very soon. And one thing done now is worth 20 done in 15 or 20 years' time.
I want to conclude by referring to the provisions for houses for the crofters. We welcome the extension of the provisions of the Housing (Agricultural Population) (Scotland) Act, 1938, and no one welcomes more than I do the provision of grants for improving and repairing houses. That is an advantage which hon. Members opposite ought to be singing about tonight, and I am surprised they have not claimed any credit for it themselves. They are most welcome to do so, as long as we get it. A lot can be done by restoring many existing homes, and making them habitable and freeing them from damp and dilapidation. This can be done in big numbers at much less expense than by building new houses. Apart from that, while we on this side of the House prefer new houses, if we can get them, we are facing the fact that we cannot get them all for several years. Therefore, it is a sound investment to restore houses which can be made really fit for habitation and which are worth having a little money being spent on them.
There is one thing I would like to know. In the earlier Housing (Financial Provisions) Act this year, provision was made for increasing the grants for the replacement of houses no longer habitable, to a maximum of £300 for the largest houses. That provision is obviously out of date by many years. So far as housing costs are concerned in the areas to which this provision applies, especially the Hebrides, Shetlands and Orkneys and so on, they are acknowledged to be considerably 122 higher than they are elsewhere, and that fact is recognised in various Measures. Those grants must be brought into line with present day costs if they are to be effective in rehousing the people in those areas.
It is no use offering £300 to a crofter, with all the other difficulties of getting supplies and so on, and saying "Find the rest yourself." That is too like the old trick which the Tories used to play on the Highland local authorities. They would offer a 50 per cent. grant and tell the authorities to find the rest, knowing full well that they could not get the rest, but the Tories got the credit for an almost magnanimous gesture. Many of these crofters are among the most adaptable citizens we have in the country. They turn their hand from fishing to crofting, lobster fishing and road making, and then suddenly one finds them building their own houses. That is to he encouraged. That is free private enterprise in the best sense of the term, in an area where speculative builders have never gone because they could not foresee the profits. I hope the Secretary of State can give an assurance that the grants will be brought into line with present day costs.
Beyond those criticisms, if they are criticisms—I think they are hardly, in the main, as much as that—this is an excellent Bill. I think hon. Members opposite also believe it is an excellent Bill; indeed, some of them have said so. Some of them say that we on this side of the House are a rotten party and that our politics are leading the country into chaos; but apart from all those general wild political attacks—and we can allow them those little luxuries after we have "lacerated their backs"—they have to admit this is a good Bill.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I want to make a suggestion about Part III of the Bill, but before doing so I should like to say that this Bill will be received with the utmost enthusiasm, because it places Scottish agriculture on right foundations. It is a good Bill, and, as the Secretary of State said in his very lucid exposition of it, it is, indeed, a charter for farming. It was sad, therefore, to have a speech of the rather carping character of that made by the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden). He made a party speech, and a speech 123 full of Committee points. Indeed, I hope he will not be offended if I say that he spoke not like a farmer but like a sailor, because in the main he was at sea. He made two protests. His first protest was that the Bill was being rushed.
Why should the Bill be delayed? Why should there not be speed in this matter? The nation wants it very badly. It is a sound and constructive proposal for which the farmers have been waiting much too long. His second protest was that the Government had made a spectacular food production campaign. Again I ask, why not? The nation wants food production. Why should there not be a spectacular campaign? Why should not the nation be encouraged? Why should not the farmers and producers be encouraged to do all that is possible to speed and increase the production of food?
§ Mr. Snadden
I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman does not want to misrepresent what I said. What I said was that because of the dollar shortage this Government had been pressed into a spectacular food programme, and because of that fact, the implications of this Bill has been submerged, because the farmers were very busy today with other business. That is what I said.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not wish to misrepresent anything that the hon. Member said, and I do not think I am doing so. I took down his rather spectacular and dramatic words when he said that he accused the Government of staging a spectacular food production campaign. I suggest that, if the Government are doing that, they are quite rightly encouraging food production and encouraging the farmers and encouraging everybody connected with agriculture in trying to produce more food which the nation very much wants.
The scheme of this Bill is very sound. It is particularly sound in its initial propositions. The provision for compensation to the tenant for improvements is designed to encourage the tenant to improve his holding and to make the land much more valuable and useful to himself, to his landlord, and to the nation at large. The Bill is also on right lines when it provides compensation to the landlord for deterioration of the land. That is designed to prevent the tenant 124 from neglecting the land and to encourage improvement. It is also on the right lines when it provides compensation for the disturbance of the tenants; because if there is one thing more than another that the farmer requires it is security and continuity, so that he may proceed from year to year with long-term plans for the production of food. These three provisions in the Bill are designed to encourage good husbandry, to preserve continuity, and to make the very best of the land of Scotland. The Bill starts on these logical lines, and it continues on these logical lines all the way through. The farming community has waited too long for it. They will welcome it; and they deserve the beneficent provisions which it contains. It will enure not only for the benefit of the farmers but for the benefit of the whole nation. The Secretary of State is to be congratulated on this Bill, and the Government also.
I come to my one point of criticism—although it is rather in the nature of an inquiry than in the nature of criticism. There is in the Bill a group of Clauses which, in my respectful submission, are not entirely satisfactory. They are Clauses 38 to 49. The meaning of those Clauses is not clear. They are rather confused. We find legislation by reference to other Sections of other Acts. In Clause 38 (2) we have a double negative, which renders the meaning of that Clause not at all clear and I suggest that it should be considered again by the draftsmen in order to make it a little clearer.
The most serious criticism I have of this group of Clauses is that the provisions they contain may adversely affect the food supplies of the country, and thereby defeat the object the Bill has in view. These Clauses are contained in Part III of the Bill, which deals with the control of injurious animals, birds, and weeds. Clause 38 (1) provides that the Secretary of State:may by notice in writing … require a person … to take … steps … for the killing, taking or destruction … of such animals or birds as this Section applies to.Subsection (3) applies that to rabbits, hares, and other rodents, deer, foxes, and moles, and certain birds. If we turn to Clause 48, we find that it shall not be an offence to use poison gas, or to place a substance which generates poison gas in any hole, burrow or earth for the 125 purposes of killing animals to which Clause 38 applies. That is to say, it includes rabbits, hares and deer. In my submission, there are several objections to this group of Clauses. One objection is that animals killed by poison gas will hardly be suitable for human consumption. Another objection is that such substances, placed in the way indicated, may be accessible to dogs, cats and other domestic animals, which may be killed as a result. In this respect, this group of Clauses contrasts unfavourably with Section 7 of the Protection of Animals Act, 1912, which contains specific provisions to protect dogs, cats, fowls and other domestic animals.
Everyone will agree that the nation requires all the food it can get, and that it wants a plentiful supply of rabbits, hares and deer. Why should they be poisoned? Cannot other means be devised to kill these pests, although I should hardly imagine that deer could be stigmatised as pests? It seems to me that if the poor rabbit must be attacked, this is the wrong way to do it. Let us make an attack which kills him in such a way that he will be able to find his way to the tables of the people who badly need him for food. Scotland is providing a great deal of food, for this island, such as fish and Scottish beef. Why should it not be encouraged also to provide venison, rabbits and hares, in such a condition that they will feed the people? The power given by these Clauses should be limited to protect the food supplies, and also domestic animals. This is not a moment for detailed examination of the Clauses. I content myself merely with drawing attention to this group of Clauses, commending the Bill, and commending the Minister for his very clear and lucid exposition.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I have often stated that my constituency is a mining and agricultural constituency, and because of that I would like to say a few words about this Bill. Like other Members, I commend the Bill, although I must point out that it has several shortcomings. If we are to make a real success of agriculture in Scotland, and get the very best that we can out of the land, we must ensure an adequate supply, not only of fertilisers, but of machinery. That means that there must be close connection between those in rural areas and those in 126 urban areas, between agriculturists and engineers, between the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Supply. There has already been some talk about the difficulty of priorities, but I am certain that if the Secretary of State keeps in close contact with the Minister of Supply he will ensure that everything is done to get engineering shops in Scotland, particularly in the West of Scotland, put on to the great task of supplying the necessary agricultural machinery and spare parts.
One of my hon. Friends talked about machinery in Dumfriesshire waiting for spare parts from America. At present we may have, unfortunately, to rely on those parts from America, but the engineers of Scotland are quite capable of tackling any job that the Americans can do. During the war it was said that the Americans were doing a great job in producing ships faster than anyone else could produce them, but when we got the actual figures they showed that the Clyde engineers and shipbuilders were building bigger and better ships at a quicker rate, from the point of view of man hours, than the Americans. The same can apply to farm machinery.
Another essential is to get a greater measure of co-operation among the farmers themselves. There is great need for co-operative farming. It has been developed in certain areas to a limited extent, but too often we find a farmer cultivating land quite independently and often ignorant of what his next-door neighbour may be doing. This is no help to general production, and we must, therefore, see that the greatest, measure of co-operation is developed. There is another thing which concerns me. In the Scottish Grand Committee we have spent a lot of time discussing Bills dealing with Scottish agriculture, rural housing, or town and country planning. In all of these the question of the acquisition of land arises. It is always stated that the poor, unfortunate, landlord does not know where he is in these matters, or what will happen to him. It is cruel to keep the landlords continually in suspense. Let us have a Bill to finish them off, and finish all this trouble about acquisition.
I was interested to hear the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) saying that it was the task of the Secre- 127 tary of State and the agricultural executive committees to see that land was used to the best purpose. He said that we should not tolerate people occupying land unless they were going to get the best out of it. I am sure everybody will agree with that. The hon. Member is a National-Liberal Tory, and when he says a thing like that it can be taken for granted that the Tories are agreeable. At any rate, I did not hear one of them object. We have to see to it that those who occupy the land make the best use of the land for the production of food and in the interests of the general economy of the country. The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) will probably agree with that. We get from the hon. Member for East Fife and from Tory Members the utmost opposition to the direction of labour. They are against directing men into jobs: but here, in this, they are in favour of directing men out of jobs. They accept this Bill, which empowers the Minister to direct men out of jobs, if they are not doing good work on the land, and to direct others in.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Surely, the hon. Gentleman cannot have so far forgotten the grammar of his creed as to advocate that labour should be treated as a commodity?
§ Mr. Gallacher
Labour power is a commodity. If the right hon. and gallant Member understood economics, he would know that. But this is not a question of whether it is a commodity or not; it is a question of principle. I expect that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will talk on this Bill. Does he support the Minister and the agricultural executive committees in taking power to direct men out of jobs? That is the point; he cannot get away from it by dodging about among commodities.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Oh, yes, the Minister and the agricultural executive committees can decide that a man is not doing a good job on a farm. They can direct him out of it and direct someone else in. The power is there. One thing I am concerned about is the agricultural executive committees. The hon. Member for Kel- 128 vingrove (Mr. J. L. Williams) raised the question of whether the members of the agricultural executive committees were nominees. If we read the Schedule, we see that they are not nominees. The Minister only consults through the representatives of the various organisations—farmers' and workers' and colleges—and he has the power, without any nominations, to appoint. I do not think that is desirable. I think that there should be a right to nominate on the part of the organisations. I would agree to them nominating more than the actual number, and letting the Minister select and appoint. I think that something more than consultation should be allowed to those who provide the men on the agricultural committees.
I do not like the idea of the Minister appointing and deciding the term of occupation of the chairmen of the agricultural executive committees. I think that makes the chairmen too dependent on the Minister. The members of the agricultural executive committees are appointed for three years, one-third retiring each year, but the chairmen are appointed by the Minister, and the Minister determines how long they shall remain chairmen. I do not think that is altogether desirable. I think it would be better if there were nominations for the agricultural executive committees, and, out of those nominations, the Minister appointed the committees, and the committees appointed their own chairman for the same term of service as the members of the committee.
In general, I welcome the Bill. I hope especially that the greatest measure of support will be given to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. This is an opportunity to build up the crofts and the general agriculture in the Highlands and Islands, and I hope that everything possible will be done to achieve that. Every one of us has read of the clearance from the Highlands—how masses of men and women were hounded out of Scotland to make way for sheep. I hope we are to have as a result of this and other Bills a new clearance in Scotland. In the past the people had to make way for sheep, and now I would ask the Minister—and he will get the backing not only of hon. Members in this House but of all right thinking people in the country—to make a new clearance, and force the landlords to give way in order to bring the people back to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
§ 8.47 P.m.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
I suppose I should be diffident in intervening in this fundamentally Scottis Debate, but since I have heard the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) riding the same hobby horses through all the stages of the English Bill, I may be excused for intervening for a few minutes. In addition I do live within sight of the Scottish Border. Whereas in the past we have frequently been subject to raids and thefts, all I am going to do now is to make what I hope will be a few helpful remarks on this Bill entirely free, gratis and for nothing. From the Government side of the House, I have heard exactly the same commendation of this Bill as was made for the English Measure, which is that it is going to be of enormous immediate benefit to farmers. To my mind the most important part is the heavy weight which as the years go by is going to fall on our farmers to maintain the heavy administrative machine set up under the latter part of this Bill.
Hon. and right hon. Members opposite lay great stress on this organisation, and the hon. Member for West Fife explained how, in order to achieve the maximum production, powers should be taken to do every detail of the farmer's business for him, and if he then fails to remove him altogether. We do not consider that that is the right way to approach the problem, and we think that the claims which have been made on behalf of this Bill and the English Bill have been greatly exaggerated. In order to make this elaborate plan work, the Secretary of State, as the Minister of Agriculture has done in England, is seeking authority to recruit a great private army.
There is one regiment in the English Act for which there is no counterpart here, and that is what was called the Land Commission, who will manage the land which it is intended to acquire. I should like the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to tell us why such a different organisation has been chosen for Scotland as against that for England? I do not reckon the Land Commission to be an ideal body, but it would be a great deal better than the Minister retaining the powers. I wonder why? I can only suppose that there are no boys left for the jobs. That is why the Minister has to do all the work himself. Although the English Land Commission was set up some months ago, no names have yet appeared, although it 130 is rumoured that a late, eminent trade union official, who has lost his governorship abroad, is likely to preside over it.
Next we have to ask, What about the accounts? If we are to have a large organisation owning and managing land, how are the public and Parliament to know whether the functions of the body are carried on in a businesslike way or not? How are the accounts to be arranged? Will they distinguish between land owning and farming? We were just told by the Minister of Agriculture that he has recruited 80 qualified men of various grades to be attached to the Land Commission. Does the Secretary of State expect to find another 80 qualified men to help him?
§ Mr. Woodburn
I do not know whether the hon. Member was here when I spoke, but I mentioned that there was already a staff in existence sufficient for this purpose, and that we should not duplicate it by taking in new people.
I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman. I was not here when he spoke. I can only presume that if this work can be done by the staff already in existence, it must have been very lavishly and extravagantly conceived.
Looking at the county executive committees I wonder whether the Scottish authorities really have considered that the area for which these committees will be responsible? The large area which the English committees are expected to know intimately are, I should have thought, very nearly beyond the capacity of the normal man. The Scottish areas will be larger. When it comes to publishing their accounts, shall we be told in detail how the money is to be spent, and whether the different branches of activity will he run at a profit or at a loss?
I see another unfortunate feature which has been repeated here. The staffs of the county agricultural committees are not to be the servants of the committees but are to be attached to them by the Secretary of State. Presumably those staffs will be in the unfortunate position of having [...] try to serve two masters. I do not think that is fair. They will have an advisory function and an executive function at the same time. That is not fair to the Secretary of State, to the committees, to the staffs or to the farmers. I do not stress that point any further. I consider that this enormous organisation which is being 131 set up in the Bill and in the similar Bill for England, will, in the days to come prove an extremely heavy burden.
§ 8.54 P.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)
We have had a Debate which has certainly been more cosmopolitan than our Scottish Debates usually are. We welcome that, because these are affairs which concern not merely Scotland but England—affairs which vitally concern the United Kingdom. Amongst other things Scotland is a food exporting area. The countries South of the Border draw a considerable amount of sustenance from Scotland. Therefore, efficient agriculture in Scotland is not merely of the greatest importance to us, but it is of very great importance to them also.
It is also true that, although we have here a Scottish Bill, the key to it, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) has said, is in the English Act. The two are very closely linked together. I will not refer again to the question of the lack of a full guarantee for, oats, because that has been pretty heavily stressed from this side. The assurance the Secretary of State gave was in itself a very clear and sharp demarcation of the position of the Scottish cereal crop from that of the English cereal crop, and it only runs, as far as I can see, to the sowing of 1950.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
To the ploughing season of 1950. I agree with what the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) said, that on the most elementary grounds the crisis, as far as feedingstuffs are concerned, will run at least as long as that and possibly longer.
We are dealing tonight with the affairs of a very great industry. It is not always realised how huge in bulk is the heavy industry of agriculture. In Scotland the output in cattle, sheep and milk, runs to the sum of £41 million a year. As far as I can estimate the output of our four great heavy industries, shipbuilding, iron smelting, iron founding and coal, all put together do not run to more than £47 million a year. This means that the livestock branch of Scottish agriculture is almost as heavy as four of our great stable industries on which the industrial activity of our country is built.
132 The criticism of the Bill has not come from only one side of the House, as the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) seemed to think. Many points of criticism have come from both sides. The hon. Member for the Western Isles, after complaining that some of us had criticised the Bill, went on to criticise it himself, his idea apparently being that he could criticise a Labour Party Bill but that it was wrong for anyone else to do so. That is an attitude which is not uncommon in Scotland, but it should not be extended, I think to Parliamentary debate.
Perhaps the most important criticism, and one to which I would like the Joint Under-Secretary to devote some time In his reply, was that raised again and again, and lastly by our hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) when he said that the changeover from the agricultural executive committees is likely to result in administrative units of very unwieldy size. The Secretary of State pointed out that the number of units was being reduced from 41 to 11. In the Borders the unit is very large Indeed and the close contact between the county and the farming industry there is likely to be lost, all the more so since the county executive committee is inevitably losing one or two of the great levers which gave it power. The county executive committee previously controlled a considerable pool of mobile labour, for instance—the prisoners of war. That pool is disappearing. It controlled a pool of machinery. We are told that the machinery pool is still to remain, but the machinery pool will now be under this large administrative unit, 11 of which have to cover the whole of Scotland.
I can only say that as far as the Borders are concerned, this seems to me to be an unwieldy unit. It is of course true that these units will be decentralised by local committees of one kind or another, but still the power of the wartime administration—it was a flexible strong executive committee—will wither away and the danger is that we shall get a bureaucratic machine which will have neither the old authority nor the close touch gained by the smaller units, where the work was carried on by the people who, in the course of going about the country, were able to keep touch with their neighbours and what their neighbours were doing.
133 The Bill is interesting, not merely in what it says but in what it does not say. Great play has been made of the security of tenure given under the Bill and, indeed, of the inroads upon the landlords' power which drew tears from the eyes of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), who spent some time explaining how his heart bled for these unhappy individuals, and how some reforms should be instituted to alter their painful position. However, it is not really with the landlord that the House is concerned tonight so much as with the tenant. While the Minister protects him against any interference on the part of the landlord, nothing is being clone to protect him against the much more powerful and dangerous assaults which come upon him from other Government Departments. The Government Departments are the great incoherent, warring barons of today.
The hon. Member for West Fife talked about clearances, and how people had been dispossessed to make room for sheep, and of the Minister's power now to move into deer forests and to put deer off the land and to put sheep on instead. But that is not what has been happening. In my own countryside, across the road, another powerful baron is about to carry out another clearance. It is not a case of putting sheep on the land, but of putting sheep off the land. The county of Roxburgh has had handed into it a plan showing an area of 22,000 acres to be added to another large area in that county, which has been sterilised already for purposes of food production, which the War Department now wish to acquire by purchase, not for producing food but for using it as a practical training area. On this practical training area are 29 cottages occupied by agricultural workers, 13 cottages occupied by non-agricultural workers, a school and school house. At present it is producing pasturage of between 7,000 and 8,000 sheep and at this moment in our history, when British sheep stocks are lower than they have been since the 16th century, the War Department is advancing upon the territory of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, prepared to carry out a clearance which will reduce further by 7,000 or 8,000 breeding ewes the food stocks of our country. The Minister ought to look into this, and I hope the Under-Secretary will be in a position to make some reply on this point when he answers.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Do I understand the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to argue that the War Office should have no land?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Member must not so argue. I say that the Secretary of State for Scotland should watch with the utmost caution any attempt of anybody, but particularly of another Government Department, to diminish the food production of Scotland. The mind of the hon. Member is so corrupted by a long period of editing his powerful journal that he looks for implications which are not there. I do not suggest that the War Office should be turned off Stobs Estate and sheep put back, for the simple reason that there are not enough sheep to stock the ordinary farms of Scotland let alone finding stock for new farms. Nevertheless, if anybody comes to diminish the food production of Scotland anywhere, the Secretary of State should look at them with the closest eye.
In the present state of our fortunes I would carry that further and say that when we have a document published tonight called "Capital Investment in 1948," showing the reduction which will need to take place in capital investments, even capital investments which lead to the immediate diminution of food should be watched with the closest attention. I am referring particularly to turning off sheep to plant trees. To dispossess sheep for forestry, which cannot possibly bear any economic crop for 30 or 40 years, at this moment, when the world is scraping the bottom of the bin for food supplies, is a form of capital investment which I doubt if this country can afford. Both these things have been put under the Secretary of State, and I want an assurance from him that he will look with the utmost caution on any project which will reduce in the slightest the pasturage of the country which is capable next year of producing a lamb, and in any year a fleece of wool, or fibres for textiles, and food to eat, as against a form of investment which in no case can produce any actual return for a generation, or a generation and a half.
The danger we feel tonight—and I think this lay at the back of many criticisms and it was explicitly stated by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby)—is that there is a certain absence of urgency about the treatment of 135 this matter. I hoped that the Secretary of State might take the opportunity of making some statement on agricultural policy, short-term as well as long-term. The question at the moment is not of increasing food production. Food production in this country has diminished, and is diminishing; that is the terrible thing. A day or two ago, the Secretary of Stale said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles):Is the hon. Member aware that the farmers of this country are cultivating every acre of land?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 1875.]He said that on the Debate on the Finance Bill, but the figures show that the tillage in Scotland has gone down by 78,000 acres as compared with this time last year, and in Great Britain by 400,000 acres, and more. The feeling of the House is that a shrinkage is going on, and while we are talking of expansion we are witnessing diminution. Livestock has also greatly fallen. We have 14,000 fewer cattle in Scotland than last year, 21,000 fewer pigs, and 909,000 fewer sheep. That last figure may be due partly to the unprecedented weather, the heavy storms and long frost, and after that the terrible battering which did the damage in the lambing period in April, when lambs were battered out of existence in a month such as Scotland has seldom experienced, and when the rivers and burns were in roaring spate. Sheep, already weakened by the heavy winter, trying to leap across the streams, fell into them and were swept away by scores of hundreds, indeed scores of thousands.
Under those conditions, it is not re-organisation of executive committees of which we should be thinking, or exactly what conditions of tenure should be considered, and whether or not it will be possible to destroy noxious pests by gassing them, but how we can raise the food resources of this country in the quickest possible way; whether any breeding stocks should be allowed to be slaughtered, either of cattle or sheep; whether we can afford the loss of any stock just now which can eat and digest grass, the staple crop of this country, and the one crop in the whole gamut of agriculture in which animals do not compete in any way with man. That is the urgency which we miss altogether in this Bill.
136 The arable acreage has fallen off. We have been told that there is difficulty in regard to machinery. I sympathised deeply with the hon. Member for West Fife when he said that there were engineers in Scotland as capable as the engineers of any other country of making engines to till the soil of their country. Yet last year we sent abroad every fourth agricultural machine we made—and we are 400,000 acres down in the tillage of England and Wales and 78,000 acres down in the tillage of Scotland. There is nowhere where an agricultural machine can do as much good as in the fields which we ourselves have made, or where an agricultural machine can work on as many days a year as in this country. That case was argued during the war, and with success, with America. We said, "Send your tractors here, even if it leaves you short in the United States, for we can run them more days in the year than you can." It was Charles II who said that there was no climate in the world where a man could be out of doors on more days in the year with advantage than in England. That holds for machines too. Although it does not hold entirely for Scotland, he was a Stuart, and, after all, he spent many days out of doors with profit.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I am talking about the Bill. It is that complacency which, if anything, upsets the whole House about the Government's proposals. I was saying that the Bill is a Bill to improve the production of food in this country, and that opportunity should have been taken to review not merely the long-term programme but the short-term programme. While the grass grows the steed starves. It may be little use, in five years' time, for the Bill to have reorganised the system of county executive committes, if, in the meantime, the people have run short of food.
Nor is it an easy world situation with which we are dealing. America reports that in areas which supply 40 per cent. of her whole wheat output, the sowing of the winter wheat has been seriously delayed. The Argentine has planted only half the acreage of maize which was planted there last year. The great stocks which, on the last occasion there was an 137 American drought, represented three years supplies in the elevators as against future world consumption, are down to supplies for a single quarter.
In this moment of urgency we sit talking about how to reorganise the agricultural committees, or whether to gas rabbits or shoot them. I do not think that that is treating the matter with sufficient seriousness. When hon. Members opposite complain that the Bill receives a certain amount of criticism, I say to them that they must expect that. That is what Parliament is for. The hon. Member for the Western Isles went to the length of saying that it is not generous to criticise the purpose of the Bill. I would like to know how much generosity the party opposite extended to us when they were on this side of the House. Of course, the hon. Member's facts, as well as his opinions, were wrong. He said that I had advocated and carried out a policy of restriction of production, which he ought to know is extremely fallacious. I do not expect great accuracy in these matters from the hon. Member for the Western Isles, who is abashed, quite rightly, by the attack which is launched against him, and fears to speak in reply. He knows that there are no facts by which that statement could be justified. It is not necessary to devote any more time——
§ Mr. M. MacMillan
All I said, in regard to the "generosity" of the other side of the House, was that, having hailed the Bill, and welcomed it as to 90 per cent.—they have said that the Bill is good generally—they might let us get on with it, and leave the Committee points which they have made until we reach the Committee stage.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
What I am advancing is certainly not a Committee point, nor was the statement about oats. In fact, when this Bill receives its Second Reading it will no longer be in Order to discuss that. I agree that Committee points have been raised; but it is not unknown for Committee points to be raised on the Floor of the House and then, after notice has been given of them, for them to be pressed upon the Minister in the form of Amendments.
We are dealing now with a great Scottish industry. This Bill is in fact mainly a codification and consolidation of many steps which have been taken. 138 I am sure it will be agreed in all parts of the House that many of these steps which have been taken were taken not only during the war but even before. The organisation of the milk industry, the milk marketing boards, was done before the war. Many of the things which hon. Members opposite now criticise, such as the food subsidies, were introduced before the war. I remember well when hon. Members opposite were sitting on this side of the House how bitterly they opposed the food subsidies, and how strongly and vigorously they denounced them. I remember how their leaders led them into the Division Lobby time and time again. Of course, a change of attitude takes place with the greater responsibility of government. I do not complain about that either, but I say that the danger of regarding this as a solution of the question of Scottish agriculture is very great. This is a good Bill, so far as it goes.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I will come to that if necessary. Nothing would please me better. I shall say, as a short excursus before ending my remarks, that the doctrine that property is a thing to be regarded as a trusteeship, and that if the trusteeship is not properly exercised, the community has a right, and the King has a duty, to move the man away from the trusteeship which he has been unable to exercise, has been the Tory doctrine since the beginning of time. Many a Tory died on the scaffold for it. The hon. Gentleman will certainly get no change on that point out of the Tories.
§ Mr. Gallacher
If a fellow is in the black market and misusing a property, is it not right that, in the name of the King, he should be directed out of that property into something that will he more useful for the King and his subjects? Is not that good Tory doctrine?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Gentleman does not seem to grasp the fact that one can divest a man of his property; but one cannot divest a man of his life without making a great deal of difference to him. Individual liberty is a thing of which a man cannot be deprived except at the cost of the gravest assault upon his individuality. The taking away of his property, and the moving of a man from his property, is quite different from moving the man himself from one place to another. Surely, the hon. Gentleman will agree 139 with that, otherwise, what is his objection to slavery? What is slavery but a direction of labour?
§ Mr. Gallacher
If a man is working on a farm and he is not doing the job, he is dispossessed, he is ordered away, and he is either directed to another job or left without one. What is he to do then? He is directed away from where he is, out of the job at which he wants to work.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Member, who said that his constituency included mining and agriculture, does not seem to have devoted as much attention to agriculture as he has to mining. Surely, when one says to a man, "You are misdirecting this farm, this piece of property; you will not have the power of misdirecting it any longer," one does not deny the man the right to work on the farm or elsewhere as it suits him under orders as a servant. In fact, it is said that if he does not like leaving agriculture then he can be a farm servant, an agricultural worker. In taking from a man a piece of property the trusteeship of which he is abusing, one does not take away from the man the liberty which, in our view, is his inalienable right. But if we went any further, I think that we might find ourselves in even wider fields than the wide field offered by the Agriculture (Scotland) Bill.
We welcome the Bill and we say that there are Committee points which we shall have to raise, but there are fundamental points which have been left out of the Bill which we think should have been brought in. We think that a short-term programme will be necessary for the people of this country in the next few months, because there is a spectre coming nearer—the spectre of hunger—which is one they have not seen for many a long year. Any agricultural policy which the Government produce ought not merely to have a long-term objective but should contain an explicit statement as to the steps being taken to avoid hunger. I do not see those steps in this Bill, and that is why we cannot give it our wholehearted support, though, so far as it goes, we welcome it and shall take no steps to divide the House tonight or to delay the Bill's passage in its subsequent stages.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)
For 20 140 minutes, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has been asking what sort of a time was this in which to bring in a Bill like this, and what sort of a time it was to discuss the relationship between landlord and tenant, or to discuss how to destroy rabbits, and, after 20 minutes, he said that this was a good Bill and he welcomed it. We have listened with very great pleasure and interest to the contributions to this Debate which have come from both sides of the House, and I congratulate hon. Members on the back benches opposite on the way they have treated this Bill, but I am very sorry indeed that I cannot equally congratulate the Front Bench.
There were one or two speeches from the back benches which gave a somewhat grudging support to the Bill, though, in the main, the back benchers on the other side accepted the Bill. The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut-Colonel Elliot), however, did not say anything about the Bill except the one phrase in which he said it was a good Bill. He said nothing else about the Bill itself, and no word at all about anything that might have been in the Bill, but went on to deal with the need for producing more food at the present time. Has anybody on this side of the House, or anyone speaking for the Government, ever said that there was not a need at the present time to maximise food production? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman does not give the farmers the credit to which they are due. They are not asking for this Bill and sitting back waiting for it before going ahead with food production. They are giving us the maximum production at the present time.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, earlier on in his speech, followed the example of his hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), who came in and made a speech which was notable for its cheapness and nothing else. The hon. Member asked if we were not setting up a Land Commission in Scotland because we had no "boys for the jobs." He asked whether the areas of the new committees in Scotland were not too large, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman associated himself with his hon. Friend on that question. I should have thought that both the hon. Member for Westmorland and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would have known that the areas of the new committees in Scotland are probably not larger than the areas of 141 the committees in England and Wales, where they have been doing that job of work throughout the war period, and are still doing it. I think that, in England and Wales, they had about 60 committees altogether throughout the war period. For Scotland, we had 41 committees, and we are now to have 11 committees. The agricultural organisations, the landowners, the farmers and the farmworkers have agreed with us that 11 committees could be depended upon to do this job in future.
The Secretary of State has power in the Bill to increase the number of committees if it seems necessary or desirable that he should do so. No doubt if representations were made that the number of committees should be increased, my right hon. Friend would give sympathetic consideration to them. At this time, when we are changing over from 41 to 11 committees, we find that in many cases, the chairmen have requested that the members of the old committees should stay with them awhile, and should serve on subcommittees. I am not aware of that request having been made in vain in any part of Scotland. In no part of Scotland have we closed the offices that were used by the 41 committees. We have maintained or retained all our contacts. We have got the offices, and we have got the staffs.
§ Mr. Fraser
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman says that we have got the typists. He does not take much interest In Scotland these days, and, therefore, cannot be expected to know.
§ Mr. Fraser
I refuse to believe that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman produces food in Scotland, or anywhere else. He may have the good fortune to own certain farms or land in Scotland, but that he produces food in any way I refuse to believe.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Gentleman might see the Inland Revenue who give me the allowance for a working farmer.
§ Mr. Fraser
They certainly will not prove that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is a working farmer. If I may, I will go back to the beginning of the Debate, because, in contrast to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, I would like to say something about the Bill.
The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) picked out a phrase which my right hon. Friend used, in which he said that this Bill would be a charter for farmers in Scotland. The hon. Member for West Perth said that, of course, the Bill is not a charter; it is merely a quid pro quo for Part I of the Act of 1947. In his opening speech, my right hon. Friend made it quite clear that this Bill had to be read together with Part I of the Act of 1947, and that it was necessary, in dealing with assured markets and guaranteed prices, to deal with the country as a whole. In those circumstances, Part I of the Act of 1947 was made applicable to the whole of the United Kingdom; but, for reasons that are well known to all Scottish Members, it was not possible to deal with the other provisions of the Agriculture Act, 1947—it was not possible to deal with the Scottish Amendments necessary to the Act along with the Amendments that the Minister found to be necessary for England in the 1947 Act.
I have been asked by several hon. Members whether some further guarantee could be given in respect of oats. From what I have heard from hon. Members in different parts of the House, it seems to me that they are not completely aware of the position. Oats, of course, are included with the other cereals, and are given the guaranteed price. All cereals are given the guaranteed price, and all are subject, under the Act of 1947, to the same possibility of quantitative regulation. The assurance as to a market has already been given regarding the other cereals. An exception was made in the past in the case of oats. My right hon. Friend this afternoon made it quite clear that oats are given parity with the other cereals for at least four years. I have been told over and over again that that is not enough.
§ Mr. Fraser
It is not quite a full guarantee. The hon. Gentleman says it should be 40 years, but it is four years more than has ever been given before.
§ Mr. Snadden
This is a very important point—almost the most important point. In this Bill there is being imposed a permanent control on agriculture, and in exchange for it the main cereal crop of Scotland is given an assured market for only four years. That is the difference.
§ Mr. Fraser
It is giving an assured market for at least four years for all the oats that Scotland can produce.
§ Mr. Fraser
Hon. Members are aware that in recent months I have been present at a series of meetings of agriculturists including owners, farmers and farm-workers, throughout Scotland. I have been in most parts of Scotland in recent months, and I have addressed a series of conferences. I have left myself open to questions. At some of them I have answered questions for not less than an hour and a half. I was not asked one question about the oats guarantee at any conference.
§ Mr. Fraser
I was not asked a question about oats or oatmeal. Yet we are asked to believe that farmers are most anxious about this position. I have met farmers in all parts of Scotland in recent months and have been asked questions by farmers about all sorts of problems, but they have not, up to now, asked one question on the oats guarantee.
§ Sir W. Darling
For oats there are two markets, the stock market and the human 144 market, whereas for all the other commodities there is only the human market. Does that make a difference?
§ Mr. Fraser
Yes. That is why my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture made the difference when he made a statement about the guarantee some time ago. I repeat that, although some farmers in some parts of the country have expressed anxiety about the position, there is no widespread feeling of anxiety in Scotland; otherwise it would surely have emerged at some of these conferences. Everyone responsible for agriculture in Scotland was concerned that we should give them the best possible guarantee, and that is why, without being asked at all, my right hon. Friend said that oats have the same guarantee as other cereals for at least another four years. I feel sure that the farmers in Scotland will be grateful to my right hon. Friend for that assurance.
§ Mr. Fraser
Surely, the only reason for a good guarantee is to give the farmers the assurance that they can go on and produce to the maximum, and the Government will take all that they can produce. We have said: "Go and produce all you can, and we will take all the oats you can grow in the next four years." Before the four years are up we shall be able to discuss whether we can continue a complete guarantee for a further period or whether we shall make it subject to some quantitative limitation.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Will the hon. Gentleman also discuss whether the Measure can be abolished as well?
§ Mr. Fraser
All that is wrong with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is that the Secretary of State has offered to the House something which the Opposition were prepared to demand from him. We gave him that without being asked for it, and that is all that is wrong.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I will try to make it clear once more. I am not asking about a guarantee during the period of shortages. What we want to know is whether there will be a guarantee for a period of surplus, as the Government are willing to guarantee to the English.
§ Mr. Fraser
We are not guaranteeing Scots or English. We are guaranteeing 145 commodities. The hon. Member for West Perth, and one or two other hon. Members, referred to Clause 7, which deals with security of tenure. The hon. Member said he thought that Clause 7 was about right, whereas the hon. Member for West Aberdeen said he did not think it was right; he wanted us to scrap it and to bring in another Clause between now and the Committee stage. The provisions of this Clause have been subject to many discussions with the interests concerned. The House will not be surprised to know that, generally speaking, the landowners thought we were going a little too far, and the tenant farmers thought we were not going far enough. We have listened very carefully to all the representations which have been made to us over a long period, and we think that in Clause 7 as it stands we are doing the right thing by the tenant farmer. We are giving reasonable security to the efficient farmer and we are giving no security to the inefficient farmer. I do not think anybody would like security to be given to the incompetent or inefficient farmer. No doubt, there will be a lot more discussion about Clause 7 in the Committee stage, but for the present my right hon. Friend believes that Clause 7 contains a good and workable proposition.
Clause 13 is another Clause to which the hon. Member for West Perth called attention. This Clause also has been subject to a lot of discussion. It enables a tenant farmer and a landowner to agree between themselves to the transfer of the owner's responsibility to the tenant farmer, providing that such agreement is made outside the provisions of the lease. The Clause as it stands is not very dogmatic one way or the other. We believe—indeed, it is clear from the provisions of the Bill—that the provision of general maintenance and fixed equipment on a farm should be the responsibility of the owner of the land, that ownership of the land should be a functionary interest, and chat the tenant farmer, generally speaking, should have nothing more to do with the provision of fixed equipment than to pay a reasonable rent for the farm.
We concede that in Scotland, here and there, it is for the general convenience of agriculture that the tenant farmer should carry out improvements to fixed equipment which would normally be, and 146 which we consider ought to be, the responsibility of the owner. It may be that the tenant farmer has the manpower. It may be that the owner of the land or the factor of the land may find it less convenient to carry out the improvements than the tenant farmer. Therefore, we think it would be wrong to make this whole business too rigid and quite inelastic. We prefer to secure in the lease that the responsibility for the provision of fixed equipment should be placed fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the landowner. But, having got that settled, if the landowner and the tenant agree between themselves that the tenant may carry out some of the work that is the landowner's responsibility, then I think it would be wrong for the Secretary of State to say in the statute that that must not be done. In the circumstances, I think Clause 13 represents a reasonable compromise which this House, after the matter has been fully considered in Committee, will be willing to accept.
I have also been asked some questions about the warning notices. One or two hon. Members on the other side said that they prefer supervision—that they prefer the provisions of the English Act whereby the farmer may be put under a supervision order. Hon. Members, however, will remember that, in the Committee on the English Act, there was a lot of criticism of the supervision orders. The Committee were never very happy about the supervision orders. Our farmers in Scotland were not very happy about the proposed supervision orders. They did not want any sort or kind of notice to be given to a fanner that would require to be recorded, and that could be regarded as a black mark against the farmer.
We discussed with them how best we could have the farmer put under supervision without issuing to him such an order; and after much discussion we came to the conclusion that it might be satisfactory to give the executive committee power to inform a farmer, who seemed not to be coming up to scratch, that they would like to put him under supervision, and to give him an opportuity, if he were so minded, of coming to talk the matter over with them, the committee retaining the right, if they were not satisfied with the farmer and the way he was managing his farm, after 147 having conversation with him to put him under supervision for a period. But they wanted to get rid of supervision, so we said, "We will give you a warning notice—nothing that has to be registered or recorded at all—and before we give you a warning notice we will allow you to come to state your case before the executive committee. We give you a warning notice which may be withdrawn at any time. It does not have to remain in being for 12 months." If the farmer improves, no doubt the executive committee will withdraw the warning notice.
I have been asked why the farmer is not given a right of appeal against a warning notice. This seems to be too small a matter to refer to any appeal court. After all, we must remember that these executive committees are composed of responsible persons in the industry. We have to give them some power. We have to give them some responsibility. They are good men. They are not going without due cause to put a farmer under a warning notice. They are a tribunal. They give the man an opportunity to state his case to them. They are more competent than the Land Court to decide whether a farmer should be given a warning. In any case, if we did not give the Executive Committees freedom to exercise such a power, it seems to me that we would not be prepared to give them any powers at all, and if we did that, it would be very difficult to recruit competent men for these committees.
I have also been told by hon. Members opposite that they are opposed in principle to State acquisition of land. There is no principle about that; it is only prejudice. There is no principle involved, because the State has owned land for a long time. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) say that he was not in agreement with the hon. Member for West Perth, and that he accepted the principle of the State owning land. Having had a connection with the Liberals at one time, he could not have done otherwise. There was interest shown in what the Secretary of State will do with this land, and it was asked whether he will farm it himself, or allow tenant farmers to do the job.
When the Secretary of State comes into possession of agricultural land because he has dispossessed the landowner, generally 148 speaking the tenant farmer, will go on running the farm. Where the Secretary of State acquires agricultural land, he will allow the tenant farmer to carry on, or invite applications from tenant farmers for tenancy of the farm. The Secretary of State is doing this at the present time on a fairly large scale. The hon. Member for West Aberdeen said that some figures my right hon. Friend gave in the course of his speech did not seem to tally with some figures he had given him in answer to a Question. They did not tally because, in one case he was dealing with management, and in the other he was dealing with farming of agricultural land. The farming of land is, of course, in many cases in the hands of tenant farmers, and the two figures would not therefore tally.
I have also been asked why we have no Land Commission for Scotland, as is proposed for England and Wales. There is need to create such a body in the case of England and Wales, but, in the case of Scotland, the Secretary of State is at the present time trustee for a considerable area of land. His Department are already factors of land on a very large scale.
§ Mr. Fraser
They are doing it very well, much better than the usual run of factoring in Scotland. The hon. Member for East Fife, who talked about his Liberal connections and land which had been acquired for land settlement, knows that the Department of Agriculture have been managing land, and have been making a good job of it. In the circumstances, is it desirable that we should set up another body to do this work? I did not know that these ad hoc bodies were so popular with hon. Members opposite. I thought that I had heard them objecting to the Coal Board. Hon. Members opposite have criticised the setting up of ad hoc bodies, to whom the Ministers concerned pass on responsibility, thereby making it impossible, or not easy, for the Opposition to get information from Ministers about the day-to-day working of these outside bodies. Anyhow, they will have no difficulty if we do not set up a Land Commission. I should have thought that questions of policy and administration were so interlinked that there was a lot to be said for the Department of Agriculture continuing with this responsibility.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
Will the hon. Gentleman give the House the benefit of his advice on this point? At present, the Secretary of State's farming activities cannot come under the jurisdiction, effectively, at any rate, of the agricultural executive committees, which are appointed by the Secretary of State, and which, therefore, cannot call into question any action of the right hon. Gentleman. On the other hand, if these farming activities were handed over to a Land Commission, that Commission would be subject to the jurisdiction of the agricultural executive committees, who could deal with the Commission just as they would deal with any landowner.
§ Mr. Fraser
If such a Commission were set up, it would be accountable to the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman has just said that the agricultural executive committees would be able to exercise jurisdiction over land that was owned and controlled by a Land Commission accountable to the Secretary of State, whereas they would not be able to do that if the land was managed by the Department on behalf of my right hon. Friend. I do not accept that view. I claim that the agricultural executive committees will be able to exercise jurisdiction over the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
Can the Under-Secretary say whether the committees will be able to serve cropping directions on the Secretary of State?
§ Mr. Fraser
Cropping directions will be served on the person who is managing the farm. I am not trying to get out of anything. The executive committees have their responsibility, and they are exercising that responsibility over all agricultural activity in Scotland, irrespective of who is the owner or farmer of the land. That practice will continue.
I have been asked questions about the accounts of the Department of Agriculture. The Department's trading accounts used to be published before the war. That practice was suspended during the war, but I have no doubt that it will be resumed soon. In any case, during the war the Department had to answer to the Public Accounts Committee for any seemingly gross expenditure or incompetent trading, and there was ordinary Parliamentary 150 scrutiny when the Scottish Estimates were debated.
I was asked about the increase in technical and administrative staffs made necessary by the Bill. The size of these staffs is no test whatever of the efficacy of the provisions of this Measure. I have seen some of these executive officers, who earn about £600, £700 or £800 a year, and I have heard the warmest congratulations to them from farmers, who have not hidden the fact that as a result of the advice and guidance of these officers the value of agricultural production in their area had gone up by thousands of pounds, perhaps tens of thousands of pounds. Who will niggle at a salary of £600 or £800, when there may have been a gain——
§ Mr. Snadden
We are not debating whether those salaries are right or wrong; I asked how many of these officers there would be?
§ Mr. Fraser
I cannot say. We have the staffs that were running the committees during the war years, and I do not know whether they will have to be increased or decreased in the future. We must not regard the size of staff as a test of the efficacy of the Bill. I was asked about the composition of the executive committees. The hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. J. L. Williams) asked whether they were nominated. Another hon. Member made it clear that, as regards the executive committees, they are not nominated, but appointed by the Secretary of State, after consultation with the interests concerned. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) said that he did not agree with that—he did not think it was sufficiently democratic.
The position is, as regards the advisory committees, that it is perfectly competent that we should ask the different agricultural interests to nominate those who sit on the advisory committees, but, as regards the executive committees, they are bodies exercising executive functions on behalf of the Secretary of State, answerable to the Secretary of State and not to the agricultural interests. However, we do not say that we shall appoint 12 persons in each area to each committee without reference to the views of the agricultural interests. We shall have consultations with them. The membership of the committees is largely an agreed membership, which seems to be right and 151 proper. All the agricultural interests accept the present position as being quite right. We have been asked what authority these committees have to function at the present time. They are given authority under the Defence Regulations—the same authority for the existing area committees as for the old war agricultural committees, which have gone out of being.
I am sure that this Bill will have the support of the whole of the agricultural community. It contains all that would seem to be advantageous to agriculture in the wartime regulations; and I repeat that the industry will thank us for giving Statutory backing to those beneficial provisions. It proposes to define more plainly than hitherto the respective powers of the landowner and the tenant. It gives greater security of tenure to the tenant farmer than he has hitherto enjoyed. It generally provides that the food production potential of the soil of Scotland shall be fully exploited, and I am sure the House will give it a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I did not want to interrupt the Joint Under-Secretary of State when he was speaking, but I should like to know why it is that the advisory committees which have no powers can be democratically elected and the executive committees, which have the major power, cannot be so democratically elected.
§ Mr. Fraser
Because those who serve on the advisory committees are responsible to the bodies appointing them, who are the constituent persons, but the executive committees are not responsible to any outside bodies. They are, like the others, responsible to the person who appoints them, and in their case it is the Secretary of State.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
I am sorry if I was out when the Under-Secretary dealt with this question, but if he did not mention it, could he say a word on this matter of rent in relation to costs in the assessing of farm prices?
§ Mr. Fraser
The rent as cost is taken into consideration at the present time, and there is provision in the Bill for the adjustment of rent.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.