HC Deb 28 April 1948 vol 450 cc500-20

Amendments made: In page 88, line 51, leave out the second "and."

In line 52, at end, insert: and in Section thirty-five, in Subsection (1), the words from 'in the case of a holding' to 'fifty pounds' and the words 'and in the case of any other holding an arbiter,' and in Subsection (2) the words 'in pursuance of the foregoing Subsection or'.

In page 89, line 16, at end, insert: such a large measure of agreement has been achieved. When the Bill becomes law tenant farmers will enjoy greater security of tenure than they have had hitherto. The Bill imposes on landowners a greater statutory responsibility for good estate management than they have hitherto had to bear by statute. We are providing that the ownership of agricultural land shall, henceforth, be a functional interest in agriculture.

It is true that some sections of the industry are not satisfied with all we have done. For instance, many farmers are not yet satisfied with the provisions for compensation for disturbance, which were discussed at great length in Committee. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State then said that he was not hidebound in this matter, and that if clear evidence could be given that the compensation provisions were inadequate, unfair, or harsh he would look at them again. No such evidence has been brought forward. My right hon. Friend has been obliged to leave the Bill in that respect in the form in which it was first introduced. On the other hand, the farmers have won important concessions in that the Bill, as amended in Committee, now recognises the paramount responsibility of the landlord for fixed equipment. The Amendments to Clause 28 were probably the most important Amendments made to the Bill.

The Bill, as it originally came before hon. Members, provided that in all new leases the responsibility would fairly and squarely be put upon the landowners for the provision of fixed equipment. As the Bill was introduced, we required that where direction had to be given for the provision of fixed equipment in the case of existing leases, the Secretary of State would have regard to the provisions of existing leases, and, if need be, would give directions to the tenant farmer, although the Bill recognised the responsibility was that of the landowner. We made the necessary Amendments in Committee that in all circumstances, if a direction is to be given for the provision of fixed equipment, the direction shall be given to the landowner.

Humanitarian considerations led to modifications in Part III of the Bill. We made those modifications this afternoon. We have responded to the request made to us in Committee and again this afternoon that the shooting of deer at night should be prohibited, and that the spring trap for killing of rabbits should be completely abolished. I know that there are some farmers who will regret both decisions, but it as clearly the will of hon. Members not ill-informed on these matters that we should make the Amendments.

We have also been asked several questions during the passage of the Bill about the depredations of foxes, and we have had expressed to us, both during the passage of the Bill and at other times, apprehensions that the Forestry Commission were not sufficiently appreciative of the damage done to crops by foxes and of the fact that the forests which are the property of the Forestry Commission provide good and safe harbour for foxes. Our experience of the Forestry Commission is that they are most co-operative in dealing with the fox menace. They employ trappers in all their forests. They have an interest themselves in keeping down foxes and for 20 years or more the trappers have been paid a bonus—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

1 am not clear that the hon. Member is dealing with the contents of the Bill. He is only entitled to deal with what is in the Bill.

Mr. Fraser

The Bill does deal with pests, including foxes. I think that I was in Order in saying what steps had been taken to deal with this matter because fear was expressed in Committee that not enough use had been made of the powers that we are continuing and extending under the Bill.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If the Bill does in fact deal with pests and foxes, the hon. Member may be in Order.

Mr. Fraser

I will not say very much about it. The Forestry Commission employ persons and pay them a normal wage plus a commission of 10s. for foxes and 5s. for cub foxes. The numbers killed have risen from 590 in 1944 to 940 last year. The Commission co-operate in organised schemes for the destruction of foxes by contributions to local clubs and associations.

In conclusion, may I say that I personally shall take a very great pleasure in seeing this Bill go on to the Statute Book. I have spent a lot of time in the consultations and negotiations that preceded the presentation of this Bill. I have seen something of the very hard work done by many other people in the preparation of this Measure. We expect much from the people who will accept the invitation of the Secretary of State to serve him on the new Executive Committees. On them there will be put a great measure of responsibility for this Bill. This Bill provides a new deal for farming, for in it we have a new conception of planning. Taken together with the guarantees given in Part I of the Agricultural Act of last year this Bill will make possible optimum farming production with a fair return to all concerned, resulting in agriculture finding its proper place in the social and economic life of the country. I have much pleasure in commending the Bill to the House.

9.23 p.m.

Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)

I do not want to detain the House for any length of time. This Bill is generally accepted on this side of the House as having been very greatly improved by the Amendments which have been accepted by the Government today, and which have largely arisen as a result of the effort of Members on both sides during the Committee stage. The Under-Secretary of State seemed to cast some doubt upon the attitude of the farmers to certain provisions, but the majority of them welcome the Bill. They will, no doubt, accept the proposals to prevent the shooting of deer at night, for that would be a very dangerous thing if it were carried out extensively. The proposal to abolish spring traps is also to be greatly welcomed on humanitarian grounds.

The only point I rise to make—and I shall make it with some force—arises on Clause 12, which provides that it is expedient in order to secure the full and efficient farming of the holding that the amount of land required to be maintained as permanent pasture should be reduced, and … the Secretary of State may, after affording to the landlord and to the tenant an opportunity of making representations to the Secretary of State, whether in writing or on being heard by a person appointed by the Secretary of State, direct that the lease shall have effect subject to such modifications of the provisions thereof as to land which is to be maintained as permanent pasture or is to be treated as arable land. That is a very drastic power to give to the Secretary of State. I do not think this House is justified in giving that power to the Secretary of State, so long as the principal arable crop of Scotland, oats, is put in a different position from all other cereal crops. It is very unfair to direct the farmers of Scotland how much arable land they should put under the plough so long as we have the anomalous situation that oats are treated differently. The country is suffering as a result of that policy. I should be very grateful if whoever replies would give us some assurance that the Government are alive to the immense importance of the oat crop as the principal cereal crop of Scotland, and will do their very best to secure that that crop is placed on the same basis as other cereal crops from the long-term point of view.

I make that point strongly, because it affects us adversely in the North-east of Scotland. Farmers are, rightly or wrongly, deeply concerned because of the bitter experiences they have had in the past. I will not deny that some of those bitter experiences were at the hands of Governments which I supported. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, Hear."] I do not deny it for a moment. The oat growers of Scotland have always had a bad deal. We who represent oat-growing constituencies feel that it is time that the oat-growers had a square deal. We should be very grateful for assurances respect- ing the powers which are being conceded to the right hon. Gentleman.

9.28 p.m.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)

I compliment the Secretary of State and the Government on the work they have done in connection with the Bill, and not least the Under-Secretary for his great contribution to it. I note that the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), who has just criticised the Bill, is leaving us.

Mr. Boothby

I am not going.

Mr. MacMillan

I find it a little irksome to have to listen to the pompous patronage that we have had from the hon. Member, who put in only ten minutes' attendance at a single meeting during the whole of the Committee stage of the Bill. It ill becomes him to come here as a critic now. He has no right to come forward and criticise the Bill at this stage. He may have the constitutional right to do so, but he has no moral right to do so. If he wanted to protect the oat-growers of the North-east he should have done so during the Committee stage. It is extremely unpleasant to have to sit and listen to his rather smug criticisms at this final stage.

The Bill should be welcomed by all hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House, as well as on this side, without reservation. We have done work for the industry which has been neglected for the last 50 years. The Bill has caught up the leeway of generations. It has handsomely made amends for the neglect of those who like to come here and patronise the farmer from a distance without making any practical effort to improve his conditions on the land. Farmers, landworkers and people of the countryside generally who come under the provisions of the Bill for housing and social betterment, as well as for agriculture, will be grateful to the Government for bringing forward this Measure so early in the first term of office on the first majority Labour Government. That is why it ill becomes hon. Members opposite to make any criticism of this Bill at this stage of its progress.

I welcome this Bill for several reasons. The farmers are given something, they have wanted for a long time—security of tenure, while they fulfil the essential conditions of good husbandry and observe the other provisions which are laid down in the Bill—

Mr. Boothby

The hon. Member has made a most extraordinary suggestion that it ill becomes any hon. Member to criticise a Bill which has been put forward by the Government. I thought the whole purpose of this House was to criticise such Measures.

Mr. MacMillan

I made no such suggestion. While conceding that the hon. Member has the constitutional right to make any objections he likes, I said that it ill became him in particular to criticise this Measure. He has neglected the Bill during the whole Committee stage for many weeks when he had the opportunity to protect the farmers and the oats interests of the industry on which he has laid so much emphasis, and it ill becomes him as an individual Member to come forward at the very tail end and make criticisms with pompous patronage. This Bill gives some thing to the farmers which the hon. Member and his hon. Friends failed to give—on his own admission the hon. Member supported the Governments concerned in their neglect and in their maladministration—security of tenure subject to the conditions of good husbandry. It will give stability to the industry in several ways. It will bring to the farm worker, his wife and his family the certainty that the Government are now giving priority and urgent consideration to the housing needs of the agricultural workers in the Highlands and Islands. Heaven knows, we have been saddled with agricultural slums under the Tories long enough—

Mr. Boothy

Rubbish. What has the hon. Member done about it?

Mr. MacMillan

The hon. Member has given a complete confession tonight. He may seek to ignore the neglect by the Tories of agricultural housing in common with their neglect of the agricultural industry generally, but I shall not allow him to withdraw that admission he made. I am glad that the provisions for dealing with damage by deer and the extension of the right to destroy deer when they are causing damage have been incorporated. There was no serious sustained criticism on this point beyond one morning's rearguard action by the Opposition. The hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) made an almost poetic speech on the prevention of invasion by insects and the suppression of insects already present, and I could not help agreeing with him in his comments on our having respectful regard to what he rightly called the "balance of nature." The Bill does much in the way of pest control also. All these provisions are sensible and useful and have been welcomed by the farmers and everybody in the countryside.

I must congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland on behalf of the Government Panel on the Highlands and Islands for having incorporated in the Bill two things the panel had very much at heart. That is, first, the inclusion for the purposes of the congested districts and provisions of these parishes mentioned in the Seventh Schedule. I am grateful in that respect. I must also congratulate him for having dealt with the other recommendations of the Highlands and Islands Panel in regard to the repair and rebuilding of houses in the Highlands and Islands. The panel is extremely grateful to the Secretary of State for it. On my own behalf I thank him for accepting an important Amendment which had the support of the National Farmers' Union in Scotland and hon. Members on the Government side and perhaps some hon. Members opposite.

I welcome the extension of the Land Court. It has a high standing in Scotland and is held in especially high respect throughout the Highlands. To my knowledge, at no time has a decision of the Land Court been seriously challenged by a community as being unjust to any member of that community. I know individual people feel hardly when a decision goes against them, but they do not have a sense of miscarriage of justice; for they know that the Land Court will give them a fair and thorough hearing and that they can appeal to it with complete confidence. Therefore, I am glad to see the extension of it here.

There are many things one welcomes in the Bill and, with the help of some Amendments made from both sides of the House, the Bill is a better one since it went through the Scottish Grand Committee. It has improved as it went along with the goodwill of hon. Members; and the hard work of certain Members opposite helped, too. Even the good will of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen is perhaps welcome at this late stage, after all.

9.36 p.m.

Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)

Some of my hon. Friends whom I see on both sides of the House have followed this Bill line by line through its 87 Clauses and 10 Schedules, and it would be appropriate if something were said on behalf of those who sat through the long sittings of the Standing Committee. I will not exaggerate and say that it has endeared itself to the hearts of the Scottish Grand Committee Members, but it goes on its way to another place with the general blessing of hon. Members of this House. It is true to say that its Clauses have been thoroughly discussed and improved, although naturally we on this side of the House have not had nearly as many concessions from the Secretary of State for Scotland as we should have liked. However, we have appreciated the fact that all through the long sittings in Standing Committee we have had him with us in constant attendance. Of course the farmer may take that as a bad omen because his fear is that, when this Bill becomes an Act, he will have the Secretary of State at his elbow for the rest of his working life. Be that as it may, we were glad that the Secretary of State recognised the importance of the Bill by attending so assiduously, and on behalf of my hon. Friends I would say that we were glad the learned Lord Advocate was also there. He met us fairly in all our arguments, and dealt with the technical points that were raised. We have appreciated the assiduity and courtesy of both the right hon. Gentlemen, and on our side it can be said that throughout this long and technical Bill a certain amount of fairly hard work has been put in.

Looking at the Bill in principle, the policy enshrined in it has been uncontroversial for it gives stability, freedom from violent fluctuation in prices, guaranteed prices and assured markets. On the other hand, there is insistence upon a reasonably high standard of agriculture in return, and my hon. Friends and I feel that these are the obvious ways of promoting and sustaining a substantial agricultural industry in this small country. We accept that principle wholeheartedly. However, it is in the detailed application of the principle that the division of opinion has occurred. For example, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) mentioned, Clause 12 allows the Secretary of State to serve a direction upon a farmer to put down permanent pasture in order to crop. Then there is the Clause which deals with good husbandry, good estate management, the Clause that puts the farmer under a warning notice, and finally, the nasty Clause of dispossession.

The weakness in this Bill is that it will be difficult to enforce reasonably these Clauses so long as the pivot crop of the Whole Scottish farming economy carries the reservation given to it by the Minister for England and Wales. So long as that reservation is there—and up to date the Secretary of State has said nothing to refute it—this Bill can hardly ring true. What it does is to place a permanent control on the farmer, on the one hand, and, on the other, to give him stability for only a relatively short period. That in fact means he is to be subjected to price restraint during a time of anticipated scarcity and yet may be denied price support when days of plenty return. In other words, from a practical point of view his choice may be dispossession for not growing an uneconomic crop, or bankruptcy if he does grow it. One of the twin pillars of which we have heard so much—and the one which really concerns the Scottish farmer far more than the other is the pillar of stability—is quite definitely under suspicion, and I am not very sure that it would not be true to say that it is definitely rickety. That is the definite weakness in this otherwise broadly acceptable Measure.

The Minister must remove from the minds of Scottish agriculturists the anxieties they have in this respect. If he were to come out with a definite statement and assurance in regard to that reservation he would have the confidence necessary to work the Measure successfully. Looking at the Bill closely, it is very apparent that the Secretary of State although he has not given the pillar stabililty, has certainly devoted a great deal of attention to the other pillar, efficiency. Reading the Bill, one almost comes to the conclusion that the Minister is himself becoming the pillar. It is true that he can advise the farmer and the owner, but he can also direct, reject or finally evict, and under no less than seven different Clauses he can swallow the land himself. As a result, there is evident throughout the Bill a rather pathetic faith in the wisdom of some civil servant with a fat pile of papers before him to advise the Minister, who has a very great deal of responsibility.

That is why some Clauses have caused us a little anxiety. Take, for example, Clause 7, which has been mentioned by the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan). Clause 7, which deals with security of tenure, although it sounds feasible, does not seem to us to be satisfactory in its wording. We felt it was necessary to have it clarified so that people can understand what it means, but all we have been told is that everything is to be left to the Minister. I say that as the Clause now stands it will be a feast for the lawyers, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) should view the whole Clause with considerable professional equanimity. I want to see reasonable security of tenure, but I do not believe it is for the good of Scottish agriculture if the farmer just above the line of supervision, is dug in to such an extent that it is impossible for fresh blood to come into the industry. I am afraid that by this Clause very few farms will become available to young, energetic, men whom we want to see entering Scottish agriculture. It may be that because of the difficulty of getting any tenants at all, we are prohibiting new blood from coming in. The Secretary of State carries a very heavy burden of responsibility under Clause 7. Everything is left to his discretion.

The other Clause I had in mind, looking back over the Committee stage, is the very important Clause 13, which causes me some anxiety. While I recognise that the fixed equipment on our farms must be put into order, and put into order quickly, I am apprehensive about this Clause. My experience is that the majority of owners and owner-occupiers are anxious to carry out their heavy responsibilities under the Clause. Large sums of money will have to be spent, in the aggregate no doubt amounting to many millions, under penalty of dispossession. Under Clause 29 an owner can be made to spend one year's rent every three years without right of appeal. He has to meet taxes as well and, incidentally, he has to live. I questioned the severity of this burden on Second Reading. That was before the Budget. But now many of these people, who are small, provident people are to be hit on the head by the capital levy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer before they even have a chance to carry out the terms of Clause 13. Many others will be crippled by it.

One cannot help feeling that the Government do not care very much whether or not they do the job. The Secretary of State has all the power and he says that if they do not do the job, the Government will, first, swallow their money and after that, their property. One cannot wonder if people say that this is the thin edge of the wedge of nationalisation. I would point out to the Secretary of State that there is a most important point which concerns his own Department. Whatever happens under Clause 13, whether the owner can do the job or not, inevitably we shall see a steep rise in rents. I wonder to what extent that will affect the whole structure. If rents rise during a time of inflation, when costs on the farm are extremely high, we can have only one answer under guaranteed prices, and that answer is that they will be paid eventually by the consumer. Under our price review system, as the Minister knows, our prices are based upon costs. Under Clause 13 we can be quite certain that costs will rise.

I make one other comment on this part of the Bill. Under Part II, which has to do with supervision, I would like to say that the Minister upstairs in Committee endeavoured to meet us as far as he could when we put down an Amendment on this matter. However, we still feel that the Minister has made a mistake by not giving the right of appeal on a warning notice to the Scottish Land Court, and, in the case of dispossession, the right of sale, giving the sitting tenant the chance to buy his own property. I cannot help feeling that the Government have not very much use for the owner-occupier. We all agree that the owner-occupier system is the best system of tenure. There is nothing in the whole of this Measure to assist or encourage the owner-occupier.

Those are some of the things in the Bill which we do not like, but there are many good things in it which we can put on the other side of the account. For example, I welcome the cleaning up of the Agricultural Holdings Act. I hope that soon we shall get a consolidating Measure so that solicitors, farmers and people who have to deal with these matters will know where they are. I also welcome what has been put into the Bill in regard to land settlement in which I am particularly interested. I congratulate the Minister on what he said upstairs about education, demonstration and research. I have gone in for animal breeding for the whole of my life and I have exported to most of the countries of the world. In the sphere of animal disease research we in Scotland lead almost everybody. Today 33 per cent. of our cattle in Scotland are tuberculin tested. I ask the Minister to take advantage of that lead and to go all out in order to get our country completely free. Even if I differ with him politically, if the right hon. Gentleman can do that I shall be the first to tell him what a fine chap he is.

In conclusion, I want to say that this is a big Bill; after the Town and Country Planning Act it must be the largest for a long time and it is a very great experiment. I believe that its success will depend on three main factors: first, the size of the assured market—this is very important, the most important thing of all; second, the method by which control is enforced or worked; and third, the amount of labour which will be available to do the job. On the question of the market, while the world shortages continue I hope the country will realise that this Bill gives a guaranteed price which is much below the free market price and the real test will come when price restraint changes to price support, and when world prices fall below the home guaranteed price, based upon high costs, which cannot be reduced in many cases because many items are imposed by statute.

So far as the other pillar is concerned —efficiency—I believe that almost everything will depend on how the new area committees work throughout the country. They have a difficult job and I do not think it an exaggeration to say that the Scottish farmer is not prepared to buy bare solvency too dearly. If he is unreasonably ordered about, deluged with forms and harassed by a horde of officials, no guaranteed price in the world, however high, will prevent a revolt. I think the expression "efficiency" ought not to be used. It is an expression often abused. I sometimes wish the Secretary of State would not use it so often. I will give a couple of examples. A farmer's byre may be full of good cows and everything there looks fine, yet his fields may be dirty. Another man may show a high yield per acre, and a good profit and loss account, but he may be taking the guts out of his place all the time. It is very difficult to deal with efficiency. Under the new set-up the area Committee will be the people to judge. They are not farmers. They are mostly the Departmental officials and I hope when they come to tackle their job, they will look upon the farm as a combined operation and treat is as such.

From the labour point of view, as the right hon. Gentleman realises, we are facing two great anxieties in this connection. One is on the dairy farms and the other is on the hill farms. We are facing very serious problems. We must also remember that it is nonsense to talk about ley farming if there is not the labour available. It is possible that labour is the most important thing of all. If the Scottish farmer is given economic stability, if he is given the labour and the tools to do the job, and if he is left to work out his own salvation to the maximum extent possible, I think this Bill will be a success, and on behalf of my hon. Friends I would like to say we wish it well.

9.54 P.m.

Lord William Scott (Roxburgh and Selkirk)

I congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland on producing a very much better Measure than that which we Scottish Members dealt with in the Town and Country Planning Act. How good or how bad this particular Bill is will be known only by results, and it may take some years before we know the full result of the work we have done during the last few weeks. One result, I think, is bound to come from this Bill. Whereas we have been anxious to give security of tenure to the tenant farmer, what, in fact, we have achieved is fixity of tenure. Armed with this Bill there is no reason why the average farmer in Scotland—and by that I mean a good 75 per cent of the farmers—having once got into a farm, should not remain there till his last day, even if he lives to be over 80. I can see nothing to prevent at least threequarters of the farmers having got into farms, from staying there. It is quite impossible either for the Secretary of State or for the landowner to secure any change, however old or enfeebled the farmer may become. In the majority of cases he will be able to satisfy the standard which will be required. I think that is probably the chief defect of this Bill.

There are two other matters I want to mention. One is the question of oats, Scotland's one great cereal crop. It ought to have the same guarantees as are given to wheat across the Border. The other matter is this. Ask the farmers in Scotland today what is their chief trouble, and threequarters of them will say it is the shortage of labour due to the shortage of housing. That housing shortage is not a temporary problem. It is so bad now, and is getting worse so rapidly, that it will take years to put it right. We have not even begun to think of putting it right. This Bill, which deals with so many different farming matters, does not mention the most important one of all.

That brings me to a rather smaller matter, a question I asked during the Committee stage, to which I did not get an answer, but a half promise that I should hear about it later. That is the question of the actual eviction of those who, whether tenant farmers or owner occupiers, are dispossessed. In Clause 32 we are told how they can be given orders to quit the land. I am aware, of course. that in the interpretation of land, houses are included. I do not believe, however, that there is in this Measure at present a power of the Secretary of State to move either an evicted tenant or a dispossessed owner occupier out of the farmhouse which he and his family are occupying. The Secretary of State may be able to get a man off the land, but I do not think he has power to get him out of the house. I do hope that I shall, at long last, have an answer on this question before we part with this Bill tonight.

9.59 p.m.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)

I have been very much surprised to learn—only last evening—from reading a book, "Scotland's Changing Population," which has been published quite recently by the Scottish Council for Social Service, that only 7 per cent. of the people of Scotland are gainfully employed on the land. I think it is well that we should recognise, those of us interested in farming Scottish land, that although farming is our oldest and greatest industry, the farming community is a minority of the nation, and it is the more important that there should be agreement about the conditions which make for its prosperity. Sometimes those of us who believe in the future of Scottish agriculture tend to forget about that aspect, which weakens us, for we ought to stand together and agree about those things which are needed for the land.

I agree with others who have spoken, that this Bill, which we are now passing on its way, is a sincere attempt to create a framework for the development and improvement of Scottish agriculture. In Committee, my hon. Friends and I were sometimes twitted because it was said that on one day we took a very much pro-landlord line and on another day a very much pro-tenant line. In fact, I think it can be genuinely said that throughout we were concerned neither with the landlord nor with the tenant, but with the land of Scotland. Agriculture is a triune partnership—a partnership between landlord, farmer and tenant. In the very few words which I wish to address to the House tonight, I want to speak of the Bill mostly as it will affect one of those three partners—the land owner, because in the prevailing mood of our times his interests are those which are most often overlooked.

About one-third of the capital employed in agriculture is working capital supplied by the tenant farmer, and about two-thirds is maintenance and equipment capital supplied by the land owner. The bulk of the land owner's capital is, of course, represented by farm houses, steadings, cottar houses, fences, roads and so on, without which land would be as useless for agriculture as the barren and pitted waste of a training area which has been abandoned by the War Department. The interest which the land owner has received upon his capital has, even in good times, been very much below commercial rates. In bad times it has been lower still, because not the least useful contribution which the private owner of agricultural land has made has been to nurse his tenants and to nurse his land through bad times. There is little doubt that Scottish agriculture is under-capital- ised, especially in the provision of fixed equipment.

Mr. Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt this interesting speech, but this seems to me to be a good Second Reading point. I am not quite sure how far it is connected with this Bill now. After all, on the Third Reading we discuss what is in the Bill, and not the wider issues which are raised during Second Reading.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

I had no desire to transgress the rules, Mr. Speaker. I was endeavouring, in a few sentences, to paint the background of the more specific obligations laid upon the land owner by Clause 13. If it be in accordance with your wishes, as it obviously would, I must leave out those background remarks and pass directly to Clause 13, which lays very grave and onerous obligations upon the landlords of Scotland.

Under Clause 13 there will be deemed to be incorporated in every lease entered into after the passing of this Bill, an undertaking by the landlord, that at the commencement of the tenancy or as soon as is reasonably possible thereafter, he will put the fixed equipment on the holding into a thorough state of repair, and will provide such buildings and other fixed equipment as will enable an occupier to maintain efficient production. The point I wish to make is that if he is to honour that obligation, as honour it he must, he will have to charge a full economic rent. It has been stated that the National Farmers' Union of Scotland recognises the inevitability of a general increase in rents in Scotland, but I think it is clear, from the contacts I have made with farmers in Scotland, that they do not yet appreciate this aspect of the Bill. Agricultural rents in Scotland are little higher than they were at the end of the last century. Since the beginning of the late war, I am told that rents have risen by only 6 per cent., whereas the cost of repairs has risen by something like 90 per cent., and wages have gone up by 120 per cent, The present lowness and disparity in farm rents cannot, in the long run, be beneficial to agriculture, because it prevents the landowners from performing their job effectively. If a tenant is to be provided with reconditioned farm buildings, as has to be done under Clause 13, he must be prepared to pay a rent which will give the owner a moderate return on his capital and the ability to maintain the fixed equipment in good order.

About 70 per cent. of our Scottish farmers are farming under the landlord-tenant system, whereby the capital equipment and land is found for the tenant, who has to put his hand in his pocket only for his working capital. It is a system which has brought immense benefit to Scottish agriculture. I have never ceased to believe that farming the good earth is a partnership between the landlord, the farmer and the tenant. Their interests ought not to be in conflict. So long as the landlord and tenant system obtains in Scotland, let us try to make it work. Let us recognise the need for a rent which will give an economic return to the landlord, guaranteed markets, at reasonable prices, for agricultural produce, and a fair wage, a decent standard of living and an enhanced status for the farm worker.

10.9 p.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)

I should like in a word or two to associate my hon. Friends with the good wishes which have been offered to this Bill. I agree with what was said by the hon. Members for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) and West Perth (Mr. Snadden). I think I shall be expressing the views of Members on this side of the House, and perhaps of Members on the other side, too, if I offer congratulations to the hon. Member for West Perth on the splendid work he has done in Committee. He has exceptional knowledge of the subject, and he speaks with great modesty. The House always admires a man with these two qualifications.

It is recognised that there will be a severe shortage of labour, as indeed there is at the present time. There are provisions in the Bill, in one way or another, for developing research and assisting farmers in various directions. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman, in these circumstances, to pay special consideration to agricultural machinery. The right hon. Gentleman knows about this; much has been done, but as I happen to know a little about this subject I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if he will give to the development of agricultural machinery the continued and enthusiastic support which it deserves many of the greatest problems of Scottish agri- culture may be solved in the next few years.

We are on the eve of perhaps the greatest revolution that agriculture has ever known, because of the possibility of quite exceptional developments in agricultural machinery. Machines are being thought out, and are in prototype, such as may completely alter the face of farms in Scotland and, indeed, in other parts of the world. Methods of planting, manuring and gathering crops are now in a revolutionary stage. I foresee the time, quite soon, when the heaviest crops of all which have to be lifted in Scotland—potatoes, and especially sugar beet—will be lifted easily and efficiently by mechanical means, which will save an enormous amount of labour and cut down costs. As this Bill is designed to develop Scottish agriculture, I ask the Minister to believe that in the direction I have just mentioned lie great possibilities for the future.

10.12 p.m.

Mr. J. S. C. Reid (Glasgow, Hillhead)

Those Members who have so far addressed the House in this very short but interesting and useful Debate, have represented rural constituencies, and I think it appropriate that at least one city Member should hay a few words before this Bill passes to another place. Whatever may have been the position in the past, I am sure that all on this side who represent urban constituencies and, I hope, on the other side, realise the serious situation of the country in respect of food supplies. It may be that other direction might improve the matter to some extent, but whatever happens it is clear that for a considerable time to come our food supply is in considerable jeopardy.

That being so, I think it important that those who represent and dwell in city areas should give their good wishes to this Bill in so far as it improves the prospects of the agricultural industry, and thereby increases the production of agriculture in Scotland. I feel sure that for a long time to come we shall need everything—all the livestock and all the crops which are suitable to our land—that can be produced. This Bill tells only half the story. I want to add nothing to what has been said by my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), who has borne such a heavy burden so successfully curing the passage of this Bill. We on our side recognise the part he has played and so, I think, do other Members. The only other topic on which I would say a word is on the purely legal aspect of this matter.

The Government have determined that the landlord and tenant system shall remain as the chief factor in our national agricultural economy. I am sure that is right, but if it is it is obvious that all three partners must be enabled to play their part. There are many factors outside this Bill which will have to be attended to before we can say that that has been achieved. Legally, the Agricultural Holdings Acts have always been a bone of contention between landlord and tenant in connection with legal interpretation. We have reached a stage at which I think we can fairly say that the existing provisions are fairly well understood, and that litigation has not been so frequent as it used to be. We are now making a very great reorganisation of the Agricultural Holdings Act. Certainly, during the passage of the Bill its provisions on this matter have been very much clarified, and we are obliged to the Lord Advocate in particular for his services in that way, but I am afraid that there are still a good many obscurities and difficulties, some of which are inevitable and some of which might have been removed. There were some which we pointed out on to which apparently it has been impossible to devise suitable Amendments, and I am afraid that for some time to come there may be difficulty in working out these matters.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will produce a consolidating Act at the earliest possible moment that will go some way to resolve the difficulties, but not very far. I think that it might be appropriate if advice were given both to landlords and tenants that they would be extremely unwise to take any important step which might conceivably be affected by this Bill without taking legal advice. I say that in some way against the immediate interests of the legal profession because the longer the parties leave it, the more there is to do in cleaning it up; but I am quite sure that it is right that these matters ought to be discussed at a very early stage with those who really understand the legal aspects.

In conclusion, we on this side of the House appreciate that this is a very useful Bill. Any criticisms that we have now are not so much against the contents of the Bill, as in relation to matters which are left out, and which it would be out of Order to discuss. We hope that the Bill will lay the foundations of a prosperous period in Scottish agriculture, and we feel sure that unless we can achieve such prosperity the rest of the nation will suffer very severely indeed.

10.18 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Woodburn)

This brings us to the end of the passage of this Bill, so far as the House of Commons is concerned. I succeeded to the Bill when it was already in an advanced stage of preparation, and therefore I am quite unwilling personally to claim the credit for it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Westwood) played a part in the framing of the Bill in the early stages, and the Joint Under-Secretary of State played a very large part in the detailed work connected with the preparation of the Bill. Our thanks are due to them both, and to the wonderful staff work that lay behind the Bill in its final stages. Our thanks are also due to the farmers and landowners in the industry for the co-operative way in which they have agreed to compromises when neither side could get its own way. The Bill came to the House in the beginning with a very considerable measure of agreement among people in the industry.

I should like also to thank many of my hon. Friends who on many occasions were tempted to take part in the Committee stage of the Bill: there is no question that the speedy progress of the Bill has been greatly assisted by those who were constrained to remain silent when frequently they would have liked to make contributions. I think that is worth saying, because it is sometimes forgotten that people can facilitate legislation by remaining silent, while some people who make contributions may have exactly the opposite effect. On the other hand, those who have contributed to the discussions have undoubtedly played a very important part in improving the Bill.

It is right, as the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) said to pay special tribute to his colleague the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) who, probably, among the back benchers must have done more work on this Bill than is often undertaken by any single Member. To the right hon. and learned Gentleman I owe a debt because while he has been severely critical, as has been his duty, in the main that criticism has been of a welcome character, and frequently his criticisms have been of great value in discovering technical legal defects which we were happy to put right. Other hon. Members, by their wisdom and guidance in debate, have been of great help.

Agriculture is a problem about which everyone knows something but about which perhaps no one knows everything. We have had great and wonderful discussions and as my right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate, who has been of great assistance to me in carrying through this Bill, said, sometimes the same observations were heard time and time again, as though Members did not realise that we had heard them the first time. However, perhaps good things are none the worse for being said twice and we probably benefited on the whole. At this stage of the Bill it only remains for me to say "thank you" to the Chairman of the Committee and all those who played a part in furthering the passage of the Bill. We all hope that the work done on this Bill will bring great results to Scottish agriculture.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.