§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
It is perhaps not inappropriate that today, when we turn to the consideration of the White Paper on industry and employment in Scotland, that my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the Committee should have put down a Vote covering the field of food, food production, and transport especially as last week Scotland staged a great national agricultural exhibition. I think that the Secretary of State who happened to be there will agree that in every way it was a magnificent exhibition and lived up to the new title of "Royal" recently conferred upon it by His Majesty the King.
What impressed me most at that great show was not the general, excellence of the stock on parade, or the wide range of exhibits that could be seen coming from the countryside and representing the crafts and handwork of the countryside, but the enormous crowds of city and towns-people that flocked through the gates of the show and thronged the stalls. I have never seen anything like it; and 1528 it was borne in upon me that the significance and importance of home food production in our national economy have at long last been recognised, by all sections of the community.
Being the first speaker on this Vote, I recognise how vast is the field which could be covered in this Debate. I know full well that many hon. Members will wish to speak and that they will wish to raise questions of a general nature affecting the Scottish countryside. For that reason I have no intention of ranging over the whole field of food or agricultural production and attempting to paint too big a picture. I would prefer to concentrate on what may seem to be rather a narrow field, but a field which is, in my submission, of the utmost importance, not only to the producer, but also to the consumer, and incidentally to our own country.
Looking at the agricultural picture, and speaking broadly, the basic fact is that in spite of a considerable expansion in British home food production—in which incidentally Scotland has played a very creditable part—the growing of all the food we can produce at home is still an absolutely sound policy in a world of food shortages and exchange difficulties. It is particularly silly, if indeed it is not criminal, to bring into this country any food at all that we ourselves can produce; and it certainly is absolute folly if we should allow ourselves to become dependent on foreign countries like the Argentine for meat when we ourselves in Scotland are especially equipped to produce it. In fact, we all know that on that particular commodity the real future of Scottish agriculture depends.
I said I had been to the Royal Highland Show. I do not know how many times people said to me, "You would not think we could have a shortage of meat when you see all these magnificent beef breeds on parade." They said, "There is plenty of beef here, but there is nae meat aboot the hoose." Of course, these people were looking at the shop window of Scottish agriculture. They could not know that behind it all is another story. But what they do know is that today as a nation we have the lowest meat ration in our history. They are puzzled that that should be so, and are wondering what we are going to do about it.
1529 That is precisely what I wish to ask the Secretary of State this afternoon; what is he going to do about it in Scotland? Are the Government satisfied that everything that can be done is being done to increase the production of meat in Scotland? Have we a long-term meat policy designed to exploit the millions of acres of hill and marginal land we have in the country, and if so will he kindly tell us what it is? That really forms the gist of what I wish to say.
There is very little information about it in the White Paper. In fact, many figures in the White Paper are already out of date; and except for a passing reference to the fact that there is a small increase of cattle under one year old, and a comment that the output of beef was disappointing, the subject is more or less ignored. Yet the shortage of meat today is on everyone's lips. We know that the meat position is desperate, and worst of all we know that this position will continue far longer than any of us would care to contemplate—including the Minister of Agriculture opposite. So the production of meat, and particularly beef is the black spot on the agricultural picture. Yet there is no country in the world better equipped, both in skill and in natural resources, than Scotland to produce—and to produce fairly quickly—a substantial addition to the meat ration of this country.
In my opinion what is wanted is what I would call a positive and correct policy. I wish to impress upon the Secretary of State for Scotland as strongly as I can that he has the greatest opportunity any Minister of Agriculture for Scotland ever had of putting Scottish agriculture permanently on the map, and at the same time relieving the desperate meat situation in the country. But unless he and the Government agree to place the production of meat upon a long-term plan, as is being done in Australia, so as to stimulate a drive for meat equal to the drive which has been made successfully for milk, he will see Scotland's most valuable agricultural asset which we have inherited over the centuries gradually fade away.
We have all the resources in our country. We have millions of acres of hill and marginal land. We have the greatest livestock skill in the world. The world comes to Scotland to buy our animals in 1530 order to produce in other countries. We have even got an Agricultural Survey of Scotland. We have the right kind of cattle, but we have no meat policy. There are certain kinds of assistance but the assistance is of a piecemeal, ad hoc, ephemeral character. If Australia must have a guarantee over 15 years' production, so must we. It is because there is no long-term plan today that our farmers are timid in launching out boldly on what is an extremely costly, even hazardous, enterprise, and certainly a very slow-yielding investment.
Consider our position today in terms of meat production. Sir James Turner of the Ministry of Food says:There is a gap of no less than 800,000 tons in our meat supply, of which 400,000 tons represents the fall in home production.The Minister of Food said on 26th May:The meat shortage in this country is entirely accounted for by the fact that we cannot as yet produce anything like the quantity of meat at home that we were producing before the war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th May, 1949; Vol. 465, c. 1575.]From figures recently published by the right hon. Gentleman's Farm Economics Department, we find that in Scotland production of beef has fallen from a prewar index of 100 to 73, mutton to 81, and pig meat to as low as 64. But, of course, production of milk has gone up to 117. It is not my intention today to spend very much time blaming people for the present position, because if I were to be honest with myself I should have to realise that I criticised the Coalition Government when I sat on the benches opposite in 1943.
When the meat ration was 1s. 2d. I warned the then Minister of Agriculture in a modest way that if in our live-stock policy we laid too great an emphasis on the production of milk when the war was over—and no one knew when that would be—we should face a meat famine. I believe that it was the intention of the then Minister of Agriculture to readjust the balance of our livestock economy, but there is no doubt at all in my mind that the milk accelerator was really pushed clean through the floor, and almost everything else was thrown overboard as a result.
As for this Government, certainly they have had to face difficulties. They have had to face exchange difficulties which I 1531 recognise, but it has taken them 3½ years, with an ever deteriorating position, even to tell us what the gap in meat is. It has also taken them a very long time—until in fact we got a slashing cut in the meat ration—even to look at the whole problem of readjusting the balance. Some hon. Members may think that I am against milk expansion. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is always a little bit apprehensive when I get on to this line, but let me tell him that I want to see as much milk produced in our country as possible in the right places, with economic units working where production can be done efficiently.
But there is no doubt that we are paying the price for the super boosting of milk everywhere and anywhere at the expense of meat. The high price paid per gallon and the ready money which comes to the dairy farmer are things we all know about. Milk means ready money and, of course, the farmer goes for that. Another reason is the extraordinary efficiency of the Milk Marketing Board. We must remember the monthly cheque. At the same time, we must remember the position of the beef producer who enters into a long-term affair. The cycle of beef production is anything from three to five years, and probably the farmer must borrow the capital to enable him to start his activities. All that time elapses before he gets any reward or return for his money. The absence also of a quick economic return is part of our trouble today, due to not enough protein feeding-stuffs. We have a price policy which has consistently put a premium on sheer weight as against quality on which Scotland's beef economy has been founded. Is it any wonder that the farmer says that milk is the thing and that the quickest way to lose money is to feed for beef.
So we find ourselves today not only at the mercy of the Argentine but, unfortunately, up against a problem which is incapable of immediate solution. Australia cannot solve the problem. Australia will have to spend millions of money on docks and railways and on recruiting the workers, and even then when all that is done one big drought may wipe out thousands of cattle. The Argentine economy is changing to such an extent that a well know estancia owner has written to this country asking what 1532 the possibilities are of coming over to Scotland to produce beef. In his letter I understand he said—significantly I think:What are the long-term prospects? Have the Government a long-term plan? Is it worth my while coming over?If we were prepared to spend even a fraction of the money which is to be spent in Australia, not to speak of this business of hunting for groundnuts in Africa, I am certain that the result would astonish the country. It would certainly put more meat on the housewife's plate, and that is what we want; and if that meat came it would, like our whisky, be of high quality because it would be "Scotch."
I should like to ask the Secretary of State what he proposes to do about this. Surely, it is not beyond the wit of our experts—and there are plenty on this subject in Scotland—to devise the right kind of policy. Surely the right hon. Gentleman recognises that here and now an immense opportunity is open to him. It may seem an impertinence for me to suggest to this Committee what I think should be done in the matter, because of the sheer magnitude of the problem which is perhaps as big as any as we have to face today. But sometimes we are told that we on these Benches are not constructive. As I have some knowledge of this problem, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will lend an ear to my suggestions because they are based upon practical experience.
In co-operation I have engaged in trying to find what I think is the answer to our Scottish problem. What we require are two joint or concurrent meat policies. The first should be a short-term policy covering the pig industry, which is a separate subject and from which everyone knows that we can get the quickest answer. The second should be a long-term meat policy covering both sheep and cattle—that is why I have referred to meat instead of to beef—based upon the full exploitation of the millions of acres of hill and marginal land in our country.
The first part of the policy depends upon whether or not the right hon. Gentleman can get feedingstuffs. I can say no more about that. We have threshed that subject to death in this House, but I will make a passing comment. It is very strange that France 1533 should be able to offer us pork fed upon American maize. It is equally strange that Southern Ireland should be able to place a contract for 500,000 tons of the stuff on a forward basis. This matter greatly affects the right hon. Gentleman. We want far more effective help to increase pig production in this country, but I see nothing about it in this report or the White Paper.
But it is the long-term meat policy that affects Scotland most. That policy must be a big one, its foundations must be broad and that foundation must be a guarantee to the British home producer on the same lines as that given to Australia. Why should they not have it? Is there any conceivable reason why the home producer should not have it? We should put home food production first. Why should we kick at spending British pounds here on beef production when as a result we would save precious foreign exchange for foreign meat? It defeats me to find any reason.
Next, once and for all, and even at a risk—because I consider that we are on a tightrope on this question of meat, and that we shall either get into a great expansion or see it fade away—we must have the production of beef placed on a proper competitive basis with the dairy industry. Milk today is showing more profit than meat production, and until meat production can compete on something like level terms with the dairy industry, we shall never get the answer to this problem. The Government have made a recent review of prices, and I am willing to admit that a certain recognition has been given to quality and that prices have been adjusted, but they are still poles apart, and, if this meant a little higher price to the consumer, I am certain, having talked to a good many people in recent weeks, that the masses of the people of this country today would be willing to pay a little more for their meat if they could get it and if they could have high quality. But the tragedy is that they cannot get it, even if they are able to get a little bit, it is almost uneatable.
There are three reasons for that. The first is the tremendous emphasis on milk; the second is our dependence on Ireland for store cattle, and the uncertainty whether we shall get them or not; and the third reason is the adjustment of the time lag—a quicker finishing of cattle. 1534 Give the home producer a fair deal in feedingstuffs, and the opportunity to finish his cattle economically in winter, instead of waiting for the next year's grass. Today, we all know that, when the grass season is over, the tap is turned off and the farmer keeps his cattle lying about until the new grass comes along. Is it any wonder that when the tap is turned off we are at the mercy of Mr. Peron? I do not know whether we are to remain at his mercy, but I think we shall be until this matter is adjusted. We did it before the war and I do not understand why we cannot do it now.
§ Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)
I have been following the hon. Gentleman's argument very carefully. Is he seriously suggesting that Scotland could provide enough meat to make this country independent of outside supplies, such as those from the Argentine?
§ Mr. Snadden
I never suggested that we could, but the fact of our home production having fallen by 400,000 tons places us at the mercy of a foreign country.
Having got the feeding end right, we should get down to this business of exploiting the tremendous potential reservoir of our marginal and hill lands in Scotland. This is the place where, above all, we can produce the raw material, the beef stores, to be finished down below on the best pastures and on the big arable farms. Obviously, the bigger farms would have a quicker turnover and get the job done more economically than would the small man. I do not think it is any exaggeration to say that millions of acres in Scotland are waiting for what I would call the pioneer's zeal and enthusiasm. I started doing this in partnership with two colleagues in a part of Perthshire which the right hon Gentleman probably knows, and I know something of the difficulties of such a project. The necessity to get the place dry by means of drainage is the first thing; roads need attention. We found the roads in a bad condition and had to spend a lot of money on them. In this direction, I would like the right hon. Gentleman to put some pressure on the county councils to look after their bits of roads leading up to these farms. We ourselves have built a new road at great expense and 1535 paid for it out of our own pockets, and would like the county council to look after their piece of road.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Is the hon. Gentleman asking a Socialist Government to put pressure on a Tory county council?
§ Mr. Snadden
I have not thought of their political complexion. There is the problem of re-seeding, which is a very difficult task, and there is also the difficulty of eliminating rushes. I believe we are as advanced in the technique in getting rid of these troubles as anybody else. There is bracken elimination, there is the problem of winter keep, and there is the problem of acclimatisation of cattle, which is very little different from the acclimatisation of sheep. These difficulties can be surmounted, and the stock-carrying capacity of these lands enormously increased.
Professor Ellison, who read an interesting paper on this subject in London, has estimated that 250,000 store cattle per million acres could be turned out on such land, and he was not contradicted. Personally, I think that is a conservative figure. We have 10 million acres of rough grazing, and 10 per cent. of our agricultural holdings are marginal holdings. We have got to turn to the uplands of Scotland for our raw materials for beef production, and exploit them to the fullest extent. Why is this not being done? The answer is that it is being done, but in a comparatively small way. Assistance is being given by way of certain schemes, most of them of Coalition Government origin and carried on by this Government.
I am willing to admit that the Department of Agriculture in Scotland, and particularly Sir Patrick Laird, have taken an interest in this matter and have done a great deal to draw attention to it—far more than has been done South of the Border. I admit all that, but I think that those in the Department of Agriculture will also admit that progress is painfully slow in comparison with the size of the job. One reason is the lack of confidence, the second is the shortage of capital, the third is the lack of incentive in the production of meat by home producers, and the fourth is the lack of guidance on the part of the advisory people. Although I realise that it is difficult to put over the 1536 results of research to others, there is a lack of guidance generally on this question.
We have however the guts of the raw material part of a policy in existing schemes, but all of them need revision. The hill cattle scheme, for example, is excellent in its conception. I have supported it all along, but, if that particular scheme is to get the right result, it will have to be spread over a far wider field. It will have to apply to all the marginal land as well as to genuine hill land, and, secondly, within that scheme, I would say that the new method of inspection since the agricultural committees disappeared is now bringing results. In some cases, the new method is forcing producers to sell off and that is exactly the opposite to what we want. In any event, the whole scheme is far too short-term for a long-term problem like this.
The great problem of winter keep, about which we hear so much whenever we discuss this question, would be enormously helped if something could be done to help the farmer to meet the huge transport charges on fodder amounting to 50 per cent. of the cost. Hay bought at £8 a ton, on the carse of Stirling, becomes £12 10s. a ton even to the Perthshire hill farmer. Immediately, the job becomes uneconomic because this problem is perhaps the greatest we have to face.
I would also ask the Secretary of State and his Department to consider some positive method of helping and encouraging the two great foundation breeds that we have in Scotland whose future lies in the development of our hill and marginal lands. I am thinking of the Highlanders, on the one hand, and the Galloways on the other. Just as we have our two lines of sheep in our country, the lack-face on the jagged hills, and the cheviots on the rounded hills, so we have the Highlander and the Galloway. If the Highlanders and Galloways disappear, we shall have no genuine hill store cattle in Scotland. It would seem that the Gallo-ways are, if anything, losing ground. We want to preserve these two great breeds.
The Hill Farming Act of 1946 has, on the whole, produced what I would call disappointing results. I think it was the hon. Member for Inverness (Sir M. MacDonald) who, if he is correctly reported in the "Glasgow Herald" of the other day, criticised this Act and said 1537 it was a failure. I would not go so far as that because it is too early to say whether it is a failure or not, but it is definitely disappointing in its results so far. I think the reason is that the Secretary of State's Department is too dilatory in dealing with the position. Here is an example: 795 schemes have been put in, of which 68 have been formally approved, 224 approved in principle, 34 are under consideration, 20 are delayed by questions and other difficulties, 140 are projected, and 309 are awaiting consideration.
There is also something wrong when we find such a lack of confidence owing to the activities of the Forestry Commission, on the one hand, and the Hydro-Electric Board on the other. Something must be done to strengthen the confidence of the hill producer. The calf subsidy was English in conception. It is unsuitable for Scottish conditions as it by-passes the breeder and hands out money on the wrong type of cattle.
The deer forest question has never been properly explored with a view to meat production. Many people, including the northern pastoral men away up in the North of Scotland, believe that much could be done in that direction. Has the Secretary of State considered the memorandum which was sent by the northern pastoral men? We would like to know the Secretary of State's answer. Let me tell him that out of the millions of acres of hill and marginal land I have described, many millions of those acres in Scotland are unimprovable. They are too high and too near the rock. The only way in which those acres can produce food is through stocking them with wether sheep. That is what the pastoral men are asking for, and that is what the right hon. Gentleman has rejected. The alternative is to leave that land unproductive in terms of meat, and, therefore, making no contribution to Scottish agriculture.
I have said that all these schemes were good in their conception. One might even have been content with them in normal times, but not now when the outlook in regard to meat is so desperate. I do not think that at any time in the whole of our history it has been so bad as it is today. The time has now come, if, indeed, it has not passed, when a far bolder approach to the whole question is necessary. If we fail to produce 1538 a long-term policy now which will exploit, as I said, to the "nth" degree our own great home resources, we shall have only ourselves to blame if for years to come we are existing on the miserable pittance of a ration which we receive today, a ration quite unworthy of a country like this, not to speak of Scotland.
I hope that when the Minister comes to reply, he will not just tell us that he is puzzled at the lack of recognition of the scope of existing schemes, or that he is surprised that I do not think the farmers of Scotland are doing their job, which was the answer I received to a supplementary question I put to the right hon. Gentleman some time ago. I think I know what they are doing, and something about the existing schemes. I hope he will not tell us that we had 29,000 cows on our hills in 1939, and that now the figure is quite different. There has certainly been an increase, but if he says that, I must remind him that a century ago 150,000 store cattle went annually to Falkirk. I must also remind the right hon. Gentleman that the production of meat is down by 27 per cent. as against pre-war. An answer like that may go down in this House, but it will not go down in the country. The meat situation is far too bleak and needs a far more realistic and far bolder policy than we have so far produced. There is an abundance of expert knowledge at our disposal in Scotland let us use it.
I think it was the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) who drew attention, when speaking on the Finance Bill last night or the night before, to the great asset we have in whisky. He said that whisky had been murdered. In exactly the same way meat production has been murdered. I imagine that the production of meat is probably of considerably more value than whisky, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to take the chance now, when the going is good, and produce a long-term policy which will not only put Scotland on the map in terms of meat, but will be welcomed, I am sure, by the whole country.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Woodburn)
I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) and it struck me 1539 that in many ways it was a phenomenon which most of us have experienced in our own lifetime—that a person who happens to be expert in his own particular direction is so close to his own expertness that he cannot see the whole field. Sometimes a person who has not that expertness, who approaches the problem with an objective mind, is able to get a far better grasp of the whole position than is possible to a man who is engrossed in his own expert knowledge. I am told that even in education a high degree of specialisation sometimes destroys the width of mind of the teacher.
I must confess that I was surprised at the condemnation which the hon. Gentleman made, by inference, of the splendid response which Scottish farmers as a whole have made to the demands of the country in regard to agricultural production because it is an evasion to suggest that the Department of Agriculture does the farming; it is done by the farmers. The hon. Gentleman suggested that in some way limits are placed by me upon the Department of Agriculture in assisting farmers. He produced not one shred of evidence to suggest that there is any limit placed by me on the activities of the Department of Agriculture to give farmers every help they can give them. If he has evidence, I shall be glad to give way to him.
§ Mr. Snadden
I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman has got things wrong. When I referred to the Department working within limits, I was referring to the existing schemes of legislation. They are working these schemes to the full, but I called for a great expansion of these schemes. That is not a reflection on the right hon. Gentleman in suggesting that he is limiting the Department's activities.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I am glad we are clear about that. The schemes are there. There are limits to them and these limits are physical—the physical limits of our land, of biology, and no one can get past that, not even the hon. Gentleman, as he very well knows. Indeed, in the course of his speech he answered a great many of his own criticisms, but I certainly gathered from him that he was suggesting that Scotland could produce from her own soil a tremendously increased quantity of beef by comparison with what 1540 was produced before the war. He talked—and I have seen it in the Press—about this mythical 150,000 cattle which used to come down in my constituency. I have tried to trace the source of this information and, as far as I can see, it is purely a myth. There is certainly no biological justification for believing there is enough food in the land of Scotland to bring that number of cattle to Falkirk, bearing in mind the conditions of that time, in any good year. The hon. Member also referred to milk and spoke of decreasing milk as against increasing beef.
§ Mr. Snadden
That is an important point and I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to deceive the Committee about it. I am not suggesting that the price of milk should go down; I was suggesting that the production of meat should be placed on the same profitable basis.
§ Mr. Woodburn
He wanted an alteration in the relationship and a changeover from milk to beef. Again, he suggested that farmers in Scotland have turned from beef to milk. There is no evidence of that at all. What has happened is that the dairy farmers in Scotland have greatly increased their dairy stock and have produced far more milk for the very reasons which the hon. Gentleman gave, but there is no great evidence that production of beef has been changed to production of milk to that extent. Constituencies in which the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) is interested in the Highlands have increased production of milk, of beef, of sheep and of every conceivable agricultural commodity without decreasing anything at all.
The hon. Member for Western Perth to my mind seems to be confusing the production of beef with the breeding of cattle. In Scotland the production of beef and the breeding of cattle are two separate things. The production of beef has largely come from the importation of Irish cattle, as the hon. Member well knows, and I think he was confusing the situation by appearing to mix that with the Scottish indigenous production of beef. These are two separate questions altogether. I admit right away that we are not able to produce the quantity of beef from Irish cattle that we did before 1541 the war, nor shall we be able to do so for some little time. As far as our own indigenous production of cattle is concerned, however, I will deal with that shortly.
The hon. Gentleman made reference to deer forests and my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State will reply to that point in more detail. I should, however, like to say this: I think hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to have had experience of the deer forests in their time, because I am quite sure that hon. Members on this side of the House—and probably I myself—suffered from some misconceptions about the possibilities of the deer forests. I can quite understand that the hon. Gentleman, perhaps in the romantic glens of Perthshire where deer forests are not very prevalent, may have visions of cattle spreading over the Highland hills, but that subject has been examined on behalf of the Government by the Scottish Land Court and investigated in every way by scientific experts, and a report made; and believe me, this picture of thousands and thousands of cattle feeding on the deer forests, especially in the winter time, is just romantic nonsense.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
In view of that astonishing statement, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has any realisation of the opinions which his own party has been expressing about deer forests, on platforms in Scotland for the last 30 years?
§ Mr. Woodburn
I have just admitted it. I was just pointing out that the party opposite suffered from that sort of romantic nonsense in its day and surely should not try to repeat it to me now, for I have had the necessity of learning from the facts. I have had a great deal to do with deer forests in the last 20 years and with the farmers who deal with them, and therefore I am talking from the experience of men who know the deer forests upside down—because there are upsides in deer forests and downsides.
§ Mr. Woodburn
We have to keep away from the romantic side and get down to real things. As I say, my hon. Friend will later be giving some facts 1542 about them. I am sure the Committee will agree with me that there is no more important problem facing Scotland than that of the countryside, and I certainly understood that we were going to deal with the countryside today. I agree with many of the things which the hon. Gentleman said, and I am not depreciating in any way the contribution he has made. It is common form for everybody to talk about farmers as being continual grumblers and, needless to say, we accept that even when a farmer speaks in this Committee he will do a certain amount of grumbling. When one considers the difficulties they have faced in the past, either from the climate or from the variations in economic conditions, one can sympathise with this reputed weakness.
In the past the countryside has become of supreme importance when the nation was in difficulty, only to be thrown on its own resources once the danger was passed. This was especially so after the First World War. Then, at the boom period, farmers were often forced to buy their farms at the peak price. They found themselves burdened with debt, which, when prices dropped, became a disaster to many of them. In most cases, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, it left them with no capital to develop their land and, in order to live, they had to extract everything from the land. We approached the Second World War with a countryside whose lifeblood had been drained by factors beyond its control.
§ Mr. Spence (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Central)
Would the right hon. Gentleman say what was the meat production immediately before the Second World War?
§ Mr. Woodburn
I will come to that. During that period farmers felt themselves the victims of chaos in marketing. They saw their potatoes going to be sold for £2 per ton and at the same time, when they reached the customers, the potatoes sold for £11 per ton. There were few markets for their beef, for their main customers were unemployed. It is not the beef eaters of London who eat the beef; it is the miners and steelworkers, and between the wars every possible attempt was made by the Government of the day and by the Marketing Board and other people to try to get people to 1543 eat Scottish beef. Farm wages toppled down from 47s, at the end of the First World War to about 25s. 6d. by 1922, and I am told that in some places they came down as low as 18s.
The first break in that hopeless outlook for agriculture came from the efforts of the Lord Privy Seal who formulated and initiated the programme of marketing boards and planned production. Fortunately, when another Government succeeded the Labour Government of 1931, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) became Minister of Agriculture, and because of his interest in agriculture he carried on and developed that policy, for which he got too little credit, perhaps, at that time. Ministers of Agriculture during the interwar years were the Cinderellas of all Governments. When the second war came the ideas of overall planning in agriculture, which had been propagated by our party, became the order of the day, and once again agriculture became the mainstay of the country in time of stress.
Both because of the policy of the present Government, and because it is essential for the life of our community, economic planning has been an overriding principle in all our developments since 1945. In Scotland today we are now in a position to co-ordinate all our activities within a comprehensive plan. The hon. Gentleman asked what the plan was. I think the best contribution I can make to this Debate is to try to draw for the Committee the pattern of what it is, at least in the mind of the Government, and what is the policy of my party in regard to this.
With the formation of the Scottish Economic Conference it has been possible for the Secretary of State to bring together all those persons and organisations that direct economic life in Scotland. They are able, in consequence, to carry out their activities to fit in with the general purposes of Scottish progress.
Scotland's problems divide themselves roughly into those which concern the industrial belt, which stretches across the midlands of Scotland, and those which concern the countryside and the Highlands. There will be, of course, another opportunity, I understand, next week of 1544 discussing the industrial problems in more detail. Today our discussion concerns the countryside. The prosperity of the Scottish countryside must rest on agriculture, afforestation, fishing, and the tourist trade. I rather regret the perpetuation of this out-of-date feud between agriculture and forestry which seemed to peep out in the later remarks of the hon. Member for West Perth. All these industries are complementary, and not competitive. Together they hold the promise of restoring Scotland to its former activity, and making it possible for a new and happier population to develop.
The Government have spared no effort to lay the foundations of a prosperous countryside—and there has been no challenge to that statement. They have done this, not in the spirit of charitable doles, but with the inspiration of the State's doing for the countryside of our own country what the Marshall Plan is intended to do for Europe. The hon. Gentleman says, "Why do not we spend as much in this country as we spend in Australia, as we spend in Africa, on development? Why should we give so much for groundnuts and not so much to Scotland?" If the hon. Gentleman really inquires into what is being done for agriculture in this country, he will find we are spending many times more millions on agriculture here than in any other country in the world. I think we ought to have that clear in our minds. America is giving us a great blood transfusion to help us on to our economic feet. We hope by our help to the countryside and to the Highlands to lay the basis of a self-reliant prosperity based on the activity of the indigenous population.
Agriculture is one of Scotland's greatest industries. The number of people engaged in agriculture is greater than that in mining. It is exceeded only by the number engaged in the distributive and building trades. We have 23,000 full-time farmers, 12,000 full-time smallholders, and 20,000 crofters. In addition there are about 100,000 persons regularly employed on the land. Today, instead of 25s. 6d., the agricultural worker has a basic wage of £4 14s. a week. His occupation today has become more complex, and today agriculture bridges the sciences of engineering and biology. Last year we placed the Agriculture (Scotland) Act on the Statute 1545 Book. This Act, along with the Act of 1947, forms an agricultural charter. The hon. Gentleman, who played a great part in Committee in the carrying through of those Measures, will remember that those two Acts form together a charter for the whole countryside. I think it can be truly said that this charter is the greatest single step ever taken by any Parliament towards establishing a secure and prosperous agricultural industry in Scotland.
The agricultural industry is no longer out on its own. It is part of a great national economic plan by which all our economic resources are harnessed together to provide the best result for our nation. The land is now the responsibility of the three great partners. The State accepts the overriding responsibility of ensuring that land is properly utilised. Owners of land are charged with the responsibility of efficient land management. It is a curious thing that it fell to a Socialist Government to be the first Government to recognise the part played by land management in the responsible conduct of our affairs. The farming industry has security of tenure so long as it maintains the standard of good husbandry. The farming industry contributes skill and the running maintenance of the farms. The owner maintains the capital and the equipment. The State stands by as a partner that helps with financial incentives.
The hon. Gentleman thinks there are not enough incentives. It may be that if we get back to the inter-war period ideas, the poor farming community will get an idea of what the rest of the community thought was good enough for the farmers. If the hon. Gentleman does not think the incentives enough today, he needs to study the history of the inter-war years to see what other people thought was quite good enough for the agricultural industry. We help with scientific advice and machinery, and provisions of that kind, and with an annual review of prices—and this is where we come to security—with an annual review of prices which ensures an adequate standard of life for the farming community. I remember it is nearly 20 years ago since I met the farmers of Ross and Cromarty who wanted to discuss what my Party's policy was in regard to agriculture. When I put before them our policy, that we thought it desirable 1546 that a farmer should know this year what he was going to get next year for his crops, and that we wanted to try to complete a scheme of organised prices, they actually proposed that I should leave my job, and should try to persuade the Conservative Government to bring that policy in immediately.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The point is that 20 years ago the Ross-shire farmers wanted me to leave my job to persuade the Conservative Government of that day to bring in that policy. When we went into the Coalition we were successful. I am not begrudging any credit due to colleagues in the Coalition.
The skill of the Scottish farmer is well known, but agricultural science has moved rapidly, and the best farmers in Scotland have not been slow to take advantage of scientific discovery. The keenness of Scottish farmers to know exactly what is the latest in scientific discovery is a remarkable thing. Today our land is a great factory based on the sciences of chemistry, biology and engineering. The State provides in the MacCaulay Institute at Aberdeen the basis of soil research, where agriculture can have advice about soil fertility, soil deficiency, and a remedy for many defects. The Rowett Institute, in which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities was formerly a distinguished worker, has made and is making great contributions to our knowledge about nutrition, and as a result of the research being developed at Moredun, the experiments being carried on by a well-known Scottish farmer in the elimination of cobalt deficiency have given a new prosperity to some parts of the sheep industry.
Scotland today, curiously enough, has also perhaps the leading experts in the world in poultry, and the Hannah Institute in Ayrshire, in which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) takes a great interest, is well known for its contributions on the dairy side. Research is also now available on our fruit production side, and today we are having the salvation of our soft fruits as a result of the scientific work at Kincraig and in Perthshire. The agricultural colleges, the universities and the research institutes are 1547 all playing their part, and the new agricultural advisory committees which I am about to set up under the 1948 Act will help to ensure that the results of the research are translated as early as possible into the practical work of the farmers.
The community has, of course, laid a great duty upon agriculture. It has asked that production from the land should be increased to 50 per cent. above pre-war and 20 per cent. above 1946–47. I thought the hon. Member for West Perth was unduly pessimistic and downhearted about this. I am glad to say from my information that Scottish agriculture is now running at approximately 30 per cent. above pre-war. Therefore, far from depreciating what the farmers have done, I give them every credit for the spendid response they have made. It is true to say that Scottish output in beef is 27 per cent. below prewar, but, as I have explained, this is due to fewer imported Irish cattle—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and a reduced rate of fattening owing to the absence of sufficient feedingstuffs. I can assure the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie), who comes from a dairy country, that that is the fact. That is the beef problem, although he is perhaps not aware of it.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
The right hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to me. I do not know why he should single me out. Although I do come from a dairy country and am particularly interested in dairy farming, I am also interested in seeing justice done to the beef producers as well, of whom there are a great many in my constituency.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I was merely suggesting that those are the facts, and that we should not carry on these Debates under any delusions. We should get down to the facts.
§ Mr. Scollan
Is it not the case that in pre-war days there was a regular service bringing Irish cattle over to Scotland—what they called store cattle—so that the credit for the Scottish-produced beef was really in consequence of bringing over Irish beef to be fed for some time in Scotland?
§ Mr. Woodburn
Yes, it was a very great part of Scottish agriculture. It was not only beef that came over from Ireland. The cattle performed useful service on the 1548 land here while being fattened. We have to admit that the beef is not there. That is the point I was making—the distinction between beef production and the indigenous production of cattle. We do show, however—and this is the point I want to make—an increase of 23 per cent. in home-bred young cattle, which indicates that the policy of the Government is beginning to produce results. Beef cattle have increased in the Highland area and this is important—from 78,480 in 1937 to 135,955 in 1948; and they have gone up in Scotland as a whole from 543,519 to 671,581. Thus, our cattle population as a whole has increased in the Highlands by over 40,000, and in Scotland as a whole by over 120,000.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The beef from these cattle is not down. It will be up very shortly, if the hon. Gentleman waits until it reaches the market.
We have increased the sheep population in the Highlands from just over two million by about 300,000, though in Scotland as a whole the sheep population has decreased by about 800,000, owing to greater cultivation. We cannot ask the farmers to plough up land and at the same time feed the same number of sheep. In the last year, however, we have added over 700,000 to our sheep population in Scotland. Already advantage is being taken of the hill-farming scheme to a very great extent. This is a point on which the hon. Member for West Perth went wrong. Sheep cannot be put on to the hills unless there is food on the hills to feed the sheep. Therefore, the land must be brought back to a state in which it can maintain sheep before we can put the sheep there.
Naturally, we depend very largely on the agricultural executive councils, who know their own districts well and who have the duty of seeing that every available bit of land is used. If there is any deficiency to which hon. Gentlemen can call our attention, we shall be very glad to look into it, because we also are very anxious that this policy should be pursued to the maximum.
§ Mr. Woodburn
They are just being replaced. Curiously enough, it hurt the Lowlands most. The losses have been made good far more in the Highlands. In the Lowlands they may not have recovered. That recovery will take about a couple of years.
The hill-farming improvement scheme has now been taken advantage of to the extent of £2¼ million. That is what the improvement works are estimated to cost. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that that was a mere bagatelle. I wish he would look back into history to see whether any other Government has done for the Highlands of Scotland what this Government has done. The number of poultry in the Highlands has increased from 1,239,775 in 1937—and I am giving these detailed figures so that they will be recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT, in case hon. Members may want to use them—to 1,820,982 in 1948. That is an increase of nearly 50 per cent. Taking Scotland as a whole the increase has been from 7,552,000 in 1938 to 9,284,741—an increase of nearly 50 per cent. over the number at the end of the war. Hon. Members are beginning to see the advantages of that, in both eggs and in unrationed meat. It is clear, therefore, that Scottish agriculture is tending to develop in those directions which are best suited to its soil and farming skill.
Before leaving the beef question let me say a word or two in reply to some of the points made by the hon. Gentleman. He referred to the Galloway. I am informed that the Galloway is suitable only for wet soils. He also referred to the Highland. The Highland is being bred, as he knows, with the Shorthorn—I think he is doing it himself—and with the Aberdeen Angus. We are trying to bring out cross-breeds which will be able to live out in the hills, and to get quality as well as the quantity. I am informed that the Shorthorn has rather too much bone. One farmer I visited is trying to breed Shorthorns with the Aberdeen Angus in such a way as to get a little more quantity and yet keep the high quality of the Aberdeen Angus. I believe the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) has been crossing the Highland with South or North Devons with some considerable success.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
With South Devons. It does, of course, pro- 1550 duce a very hardy stock of first-class beef.
§ Mr. Woodburn
It is most encouraging to find that in all parts of the Highlands different people are trying out experiments to get the best type of cattle out on to the hills. The importance of that is that it does away with the economic necessity of having great buildings and shelters for the winter, and leaves only the essential problem, which I thought the hon. Gentleman treated rather lightly, of winter keep. When speaking about the number of cattle in the Highlands he knows, probably better than I do, that the number that can be maintained depends not on the number that can be fed in the summer, but on the number that can be maintained during the winter and brought to fattening in the summer. I thought that in that respect there was a little confusion in his contribution.
So far as our main crops are concerned, it is interesting to note that farming has also responded here to a demand for an increase. They have responded to our demands splendidly. Oats have gone up from 815,000 acres pre-war to 930,000 acres so far this year. Barley has increased from 84,000 acres to 169,000 acres, which I am sure will delight the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby); if it does not give him immediate prospects, it will give him hopes in the future for his well-loved industry. Potatoes have gone up, because the farmers have been pressed to plant them, from 134,000 to 194,000 acres. Alongside this has been a great campaign for the conservation of grass, either in dried form or as silage for winter feed. There has been a great development in the direction of getting winter feed from our own soil.
Unfortunately, we have not the luscious grass which is to be found south of the Border. We are making the greatest use of our grass at the moment, with the result that with all the livestock feeding on it there is little margin left over for the winter. The possibilities of grass and hay drying are not therefore so great in Scotland as in more luscious parts south of the Border. But there has been a great development here, both in the form of dried grass and silage for winter feeding. There is every reason to believe that the 108,000 tons of silage 1551 made in 1948, which was an increase of 43 per cent. on 1947, can be greatly expanded to the benefit of agriculture.
I should like now to say a word about the Highlands, which is a subject very dear to my own heart. The Highlands form a great problem of their own, but they are also part of the nation's comprehensive plan. The Government have approached the Highland problem in two ways. In the first instance, they have contributed assistance to the day-to-day problems which arise. The second and more fundamental approach is to lay down a course of assistance towards progress in the Highlands, which will lay a foundation of prosperity on which Highland life can flourish. Much of this is steady, constructive work which attracts little notice, but in the aggregate, if it is successful, it will remake Highland life.
The Highlands benefit from the general capital investment of the State in agriculture, but in addition the Government have set themselves the task of making a comprehensive contribution to Highland prosperity as a whole. It is calculated that had the Highlands been able to retain their population about 180,000 more people could be living there today. This loss since 1871 is less spectacular than the Highland clearances, but it is no less tragic. The Highlands have made their contributions in wars, and their sons and daughters are playing important rôles in developing other parts of their own country and in many lands beyond the seas. Their gain has been Scotland's loss.
The first problem was to try and keep the people in the Highlands. We began by helping to provide homes and giving the people the means to live. About 2,500 houses are under construction by local authorities, and they are being built as quickly as the labour force there can do the job. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his negotiations with Sweden, was able to secure the supply of 1,000 timber houses. We were able to have all these allocated to the Highlands and I am glad to say that our efforts at speedy construction have been successful, and that the first of them will be opened in Lerwick next Monday.
§ Mr. Woodburn
No, Sir. It is additional. It has been an experimental operation as Members will recall, and I am glad that it has succeeded. The work has gone ahead almost like a military operation, as shown by the fact that these first houses will be finished within five months of the final arrangements being completed. This is probably the biggest and speediest single contribution ever made to Highland housing. I made a regulation recently, with the permission of the House, authorising grants to crofters both for building new houses and for improvements, and already 350 applications have been received within the space of a week or two.
Closely associated with the need of housing is the demand for modern amenities. The North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board has already brought electricity into homes in the Highlands, which in itself provides power for many articles of domestic enjoyment and use. Parliament authorised £20 million to help Scottish rural water supplies, and in 1948 16 schemes in the Highlands, costing £1 million, were authorised. A considerable proportion of that will be spent in the Highlands, where grants are up to 85 per cent. of the cost. The work here is already going ahead. The State has now assumed complete responsibility for five additional trunk roads, and although curtailment in capital expenditure on roads has been necessary, the Government have made an exception of the Highland roads and work on them goes on. The work that remains to be done on road improvement in the crofting counties, the whole cost of which is being met by the Government, is estimated to cost £8½ million.
While not in itself an essentially rural service, the development of the hydroelectric supply in the Highlands is making considerable contributions in the direction of good roads, and opening up the countryside. Consumers in the board's area are being connected at the rate of 15,000 a year, and the total value of the programme in hand and under consideration approaches £100 million. The profits on all these works are reserved by Act of Parliament for the benefit of the Highlands. To give some idea of the total agricultural subsidies being given to the Highlands, they should amount in 1949–50 to about £2 million out of the Scottish total of £7,920,000. I suggest 1553 that Members opposite should not depreciate what has been done. Parliament has taken great steps for Scotland, although the fruits of the generosity will not be forthcoming for some time.
This great plant for the Highlands which is rapidly taking shape is assuming the character of a great and hopeful adventure, which could reach a grandeur comparable in interest to the rest of the world with projects like that of the Tennessee Valley. We are able to harness all our developments to the common purpose. In the Strath Oykell area, and in other areas now being surveyed in the Highlands, forestry, formerly the rival of agriculture, is now working with agriculture to their mutual advantage. One of the problems of the steep hillsides of our mountains is that the rain is there today and gone tomorrow, but in the meantime it has washed much of the wealth out of the soil.
With our plans to restore the soil by fertilisers and cultivation, we are also taking steps to halt the rate of drainage by afforestation. Belts of trees will be planted along the hillsides. Each tree drains upwards of six tons of water every year. These trees will slow down drainage and provide shelter from the winter storms. Cultivation in the low-lying land will be aided, and in the summer the sheep and cattle will be driven up through gaps in the forests to feed on the uplands, while the low-lying land will help to contribute winter feed. The Highlands are one of the main parts of this country where a really substantial new addition can be made to the beef-producing population of our country. I congratulate the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) on the efforts he is making to breed cattle to live out during the winter. I and my Department take a great interest in his efforts in that direction.
An increase in cattle population of the Highlands depends on how many cattle can be maintained throughout the winter, and with the provision of winter feed many more cattle could be fed on the hills in the better weather. Experiments in breeding are taking place in several parts of the Highlands, as I explained, and cattle are being developed which can live out all the year round, providing good animals without the cost of elaborate buildings for shelter.
1554 The repopulation of the Highlands with cattle will itself contribute to the destruction of bracken and bring even more ground back into use. I remember one of the farmers in Ross-shire stating that when cattle were on the hills there was no bracken. If we get cattle moving on the hills we can prevent a great deal of this problem about bracken. Already science is beginning to discover that what the cattle did was not to cut the bracken but to break it, and when it is broken it bleeds and is destroyed much more effectively than if it is cut. In some cases it is quite uneconomic, however, to bring much of the marginal land back into use. No individual can afford to spend money to bring that land back into use. It could only be done by the State, and at the moment I am considering embarking on schemes which I hope will recover some of the lost agricultural land and give it new life.
There are other great resources waiting to be developed in the Highlands. The Government have just allocated £55,000 in order to commence research on the exploitation of peat. The Seaweed Research Association is developing ways and means of harvesting the crops of the sea, while investigations are taking place into mineral resources with a view to their providing still greater wealth. The division of labour divorced industry from agriculture, and the food that came from the land was taken for granted in the towns.
Even yet, it is not quite realised that when the farmer grows the crops, the town dweller has a responsibility to see that nothing is lost of the value thus created, and it is for this reason that the country appeals to the towns to help to harvest the produce of the land. I regret to say that some city administrators are not so conscious of their dependence on the land, but I hope they will realise their duty in the future. Adversity has brought the land and the town together. It is also helping to bring understanding that towns can only exist because our basis is provided for their life by work on the countryside. The nation has recognised its responsibility, and that is new in our history. We have given security and rights to those who live on the land and we expect and shall receive the food and sustenance which it is their duty to provide.
1555 The people of the countryside are now more conscious also, that they are members of the community and that their lives and prosperity are inter-linked with all of us in the prosperity of the nation as a whole. Our future is not entirely in our own hands as we are part of a great world economy, but it is the Government's policy that it is an essential part of our national economy that we should preserve a healthy and efficient countryside and that henceforth no plans for the nation can ignore the needs of the countryside. Town and countryside together, the nation will go forward to work out its own destiny and increase the general prosperity in which everyone is entitled to share.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Streatham)
The Secretary of State, in opening his speech, referred to my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) as being under the disability of being almost too great an expert; he was too close to the job. Let me assure the Committee that I do not suffer from that disability. I have no claim to farming knowledge, and I am speaking in this Debate solely because the members of the Northern Pastoral Club, who have been referred to by the Secretary of State and by the hon. Member for West Perth, have asked me to do so and because I think people in that part of the country have been made inarticulate in Parliament for many years—certainly for not less than the 10 years during which I have been here.
The right hon. Gentleman made an interesting speech, and it would be unbecoming if I failed to pay him credit for the work which he and his colleagues are doing for Scotland in agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman has this matter very much at heart, as I think all Scottish Members have, and I am sure we must have rejoiced at the figures he quoted showing the progress which is being made. I would just remind him that this is due primarily to the hunger of the people of this country, and when he said that no Government in history had ever done as much for Scottish agriculture as the present Government, surely no Government ever had such an opportunity. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Oh, yes. 1556 Hon. Members must remember that in the laissez faire Liberalism days of the 19th century, the farmer was thrown to the dogs not only in Scotland but all over the country. We had to get payment for our manufactured goods from the primary products of other countries, and many of the problems that we face today are the evils which arise from that policy. Our farmers on the best land had a very hard struggle to compete with dumped overseas products from cheap and sweated labour countries and from coloured countries. Certainly, these marginal land and deer forest problems could never have been tackled in the 19th century. Our best land had frequently to be worked at a loss, and secondary land could never have been worked without bankruptcy. The situation is entirely different from that of 1939. We have no alternative but to bring the marginal land and derelict acres back again to cultivation and to bear crops.
Every country in the world, including our great Dominions, is becoming increasingly industrialised. In the recent meat Debate we were told that one of the reasons why the Argentine had failed to give us the quantities of beef we had ordered or had expected, was because so many thousands of peons had left the land and had become factory workers. That is true in Buenos Aires; it is true all over the world. Canada is a great industrial country today; 50 years ago it was not. We are so severely restricted in Canada and the United States today owing to the lack of dollars and the lack of exports to buy agricultural products, that we are virtually out of those markets.
Therefore, this Government or any Government must begin to intensify food production for Britain if we are to maintain our population. I do not take a pessimistic view of it at all, but I have seriously thought since 1945 that with the increasing industrialisation of all these other countries, who were our customers and who may now be our competitors, we are going to have an appalling task in finding enough money to buy all the raw materials we require to maintain full employment in our factories and to keep something to spend on food.
Maybe the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Tuesday will have something to tell us on that important subject. I must make that point abundantly clear now 1557 because while I should like to give the Government the greatest possible credit for what they have done, I feel it would be quite wrong of them to preen themselves and say they have done something which nobody else has done. Nobody else ever had the opportunity, and they would be failing in their responsibility if they did not now take steps to increase beef production and all the other kinds of food production so urgently required.
We have heard something about the deer forests, and the Secretary of State has unburdened his conscience of 20 years ago by relating the romantic stories he used to tell in Ross and Cromarty and elsewhere about the Tory neglect of the deer forests. Now, apparently, he takes the view that nothing can be done about the deer forests.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)indicated dissent.
§ Sir D. Robertson
The Under-Secretary shakes his head. The Northern Pastoral Club, the organisation which represents the great cattle men in the north, in Orkney and Shetland, Caithness and Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty, Inverness, Argyll and Morayshire invited me to meet them on two occasions recently, and I am going to report to them tomorrow morning. There are 2,800,000 acres of deer forests, and the members of the Northern Pastoral Club are willing to restock these forests now if the Government will let them.
Mr. Scott-Elliot (Accrington)
Is the hon. Member aware that under the Hill Farming Act good work is being done in stocking deer forests with wedder hirsels?
§ Sir D. Robertson
I am not aware of that, but I would not dispute it. I am telling the House what some of the greatest experts in Scotland told me only a few weeks ago. They offered to put 30,000 to 50,000 beef cattle on these deer forests and from 300,000 to 500,000 sheep. They made this offer in a memorandum which I forwarded to the Secretary of State. All they asked, in return, was that the State should bear half the cost of an insurance scheme for protection against storm losses. It would have cost 5s. per cent., and the farmers were willing to pay half if the State would pay the other half. Unfortunately, this proposi- 1558 tion was never seriously considered. As in so many other things, the Minister of Food was the nigger in the woodpile. The right hon. Gentleman wants lambs for slaughter; he does not want them to go up on to the hills for breeding. The farmers there characterised his action as being like cutting green corn, and that is how I characterise it, too.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I am talking about male lambs that are able to stand up to the winter and stay on the hills for a year without being put into corrals and barns. The female lambs, unlike the female of the species in other directions, are weaker. However, irrespective of whether they are male or female, the fact is that the Minister of Food requires them for slaughter. As a short-term policy I think that is wrong. In view of the agreement which has been negotiated recently with the Argentine, I ask the hon. Gentleman to ask his right hon. Friend to have another look at this matter. These expert farmers, who get their living doing this kind of thing, are anxious to do something for the country. Let the Government meet them half way. Keep the lambs away from the Minister of Food's knife. Let them get away on to the hills. The long-term problem is just as acute as the short-term problem.
Marginal land has been referred to, and I rejoiced to hear the Secretary of State say that he has in mind a scheme for bringing more derelict acres into cultivation. I spent some weeks in the North of Scotland recently where, going along the roads and looking across the river valleys, I saw moorland and hill land covered with heather, rushes or scrub and, here and there, an acre or so which had been cleared away round a cottage. If that land had not been cleared nothing green would have been showing. Such clearings showed what can be done. Cotters have cleared isolated patches of three, five or ten acres of land from which they are getting a living. I have already said why in previous generations this work was uneconomic. It would have led to bankruptcy. To do the work today State assistance will be needed.
We have the Government buying hill land for forestry purposes. Why not buy land of that description and restore it 1559 for farming and stock-raising purposes? If that was done no one could say that Government money was being used for the benefit of private landlords. Such land is producing nothing today, and it should be remembered that we are talking about more than half the total territory of the whole of Scotland.
§ Mr. Willis (Edinburgh, North)
Is the hon. Member suggesting that we should nationalise more than half the land of Scotland?
§ Sir D. Robertson
No, I am doing nothing of the kind. I am suggesting that as the State buys land for forestry purposes, they should also buy land for reclamation. I do not believe the job can be done by grants or loans, although maybe that is what the Secretary of State has in mind. Maybe he wishes to do something similar to what was done by the Duke of Sutherland, once removed, who spent £250,000 at Lairg in the '80's, where he did a great reclamation job. In a country so small as Britain half the area of Scotland represents a great part of the whole and it would be the greatest neglect, in view of our immediate and long-term problems, if we allowed marginal land to remain uncultivated.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Does the hon. Member suggest that this job should be done by the State? Is he advocating State farming?
§ Sir D. Robertson
No; the hon. Member is trying to make a party point. I am trying to make a speech without party bias.
§ Mr. Willis
If the State buys land and does this work, surely that is a form of national enterprise.
§ Sir D. Robertson
It is a form of national enterprise to buy land for forestry. Does the hon. Member deny that the Government are buying land for forestry?
§ Mr. Willis
No, I am in favour of it, but I am asking the hon. Member whether the Tory Party have suddenly become converted to the idea of the State acquiring half the land of Scotland. We should like to know.
§ Sir D. Robertson
The hon. Member is making a party point; I am dis- 1560 appointed in him, because I had a higher regard for him than that. I am against nationalisation in any shape or form. The Government and their predecessors have bought land in the Highlands for forestry purposes, and I am suggesting that some of this marginal, neglected, or, shall I say, uneconomic, land, should be taken in hand by the State. As an experiment let them take over 1,000 acres, and show the people what can be done. That might stimulate private enterprise to follow suit. On the other hand, it may be that the capital cost would be too high for farmer and crofters, though the work would still be worth doing for the sake of the people's food.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Is the hon. Member's argument that the State should acquire uneconomic and not economic land? What is the principle on which he is basing his argument?
§ Sir D. Robertson
The hon. and learned Member is, again, on a party tack. I have made myself abundantly clear, and I think I have come out of this a good deal better than my questioners.
Now I come to a subject on which I am on firmer ground—fishing, which is second only to agriculture as our oldest and greatest food-producing industry. My hon. Friend the Member for West Perth said to the Minister, "Where has all the fish meal gone?" The Minister of Food could tell him. It is lying at the bottom of the sea. In a mistaken effort to enable more fish to be carried to this country from Iceland, Bear Island and the Barents Sea, trawler owners were encouraged to cut off the heads of their codfish and throw them overboard. That represents 25 per cent. of the weight of the fish. Each week the heads of millions of codfish are cut off and thrown overboard and decay on the banks. It is wasted food, for it has the highest food value for bone meal. I raised this matter in the House some time ago. I thought the Minister of Food looked very uncomfortable and so he ought, because it was an amateurish attempt to do something in an utterly wrong way.
It would pay the Government to offer premiums to the fish industry to bring all the fish in with heads on so that the farming community could get cattle 1561 feedingstuffs of fine quality which they require. Scotland cannot make any increased contribution in white fishing owing to the over-fishing of the North Sea, and catches will become progessively less because boats will find it uneconomical and it will become a struggle for the survival of the fittest unless the Government at ministerial level really make an effort to protect the fishing banks of the North Sea. Government Committees of civil servants are dealing with this matter in an international sphere and they are making no progress whatever. There is still a colossal wastage going on. In every line fishing port, every seine net fishing port and trawling port——
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I am not disputing what the hon. Gentleman said of the dangers of over-fishing, but would he not agree that the Government have made every effort, as did their predecessors, to try to come to an agreement on the restriction of fishing at the point where it appears to be antisocial?
§ Sir D. Robertson
I am sorry I cannot agree with that. The Government are blameworthy for the time which has elapsed since the international conference was held, which was about two years ago. All these other friendly nations, who are sharing this common heritage of the North Sea and the near waters with us, are failing to get agreement on a problem that will destroy us all unless it is cured. It is right to protect salmon; it is wrong to protect cod which is so much more important. It is right to protect grouse; it is wrong to protect haddock.
I have asked the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries—we sometimes forget that he has any connection with Fisheries but I would not be blamed for that—to deal with this problem at ministerial level, and get his opposite numbers in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, France, Spain and Portugal around the table and hammer out an agreement. We are trying to do this with affairs which are infinitely greater than that, and if this were tackled by the Secretary of State and the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and not continually left to civil servants, who are unable to say "Yes," but, like Mr. Vyshinsky have to go back to their respective Governments for orders, we 1562 might arrive at a solution. Let the men who are in a position to say "Yes" get round a table and quickly we shall see them reaching agreement.
§ Mr. MacMillan
This matter should be clarified in fairness to the Government. How is the hon. Gentleman going to compel these other countries to ratify an agreement and convention once we have passed that agreement but which they will not ratify unless they have the sense themselves to see a little bit ahead?
§ Sir D. Robertson
I agree it is quite impossible to compel any foreign government today to do something they do not want to do, but I should have thought that the economics of this matter would bring it to an end, because it is not going to pay people to go fishing. I should have thought it far better to put that position plainly to these foreigners and tell them the sooner we get this agreement the better.
My final word must be about herrings. The situation in the herring industry is entirely different from that of white fishing. There is generally an abundance of herrings around our coasts, and particularly the Scottish coast, between May and December. We are not making a very good show of distributing them at the present time. At Lerwick the bulk of the season's catch has gone to Germany, yet we are short of food. We are buying all kinds of imported and inferior foods, and yet the finest food we produce in Britain, which is the herring—it is almost as good as Aberdeen Angus beef and may be better in some respects—is going to Germany. We are using our meagre resources in men and craft to fish for the Germans who are able to catch their own. That is because the Ministry of Food and the Herring Board throw up their hands and say that Lerwick is too far from civilisation and they cannot deal with these herrings in Britain.
During the First World War we were faced with a similar problem, but we organised a carrier service to bring the herrings from Stornoway to Mallaig, Kyle of Lochalsh, and Oban. It was a great success. Why not bring the herrings from Lerwick to the railhead at Wick and then send them to all parts of the country. The present policy is a shameful failure at the moment and the reason for this lamentable failure is that the Herring Board and the Ministry of Food 1563 have failed to carry out the programme of the Board made two years ago on the subject of quick freezing and cold storage. They are wallowing along in a pitiful manner, and they have set about converting the cold storage warehouses in the City of Perth. That cold store was built for security reasons, and for no other. It was a perfectly good reason in wartime, but in peace-time to take that store for the freezing of herrings which are landed at far north ports is just sheer lunacy. I am in the cold storage business, so I have to make that declaration. I was one of the first ever to freeze fish in this country, and that was many years ago. I claim to know something about cold storage practice.
To take this cold store in the city of Perth, which has lain derelict since the end of the war because it has no commercial use, and to foist it on to the poor, afflicted herring industry is shameful. The herrings are caught in drifters without ice, they are brought in on the following morning at some northern port. The herrings have not improved since they were caught, because they are slapped one on top of the other without the cooling and preserving that ice would give them. They never needed ice before, because in the past the curers liked their fish a little high.
The fish that is taken in the Minch are landed at Ullapool, Lochinver and Loch Clash; and there are no railways at any of these North Western ports. They have got to go by road haulage to Invershin, 50, 60 or 70 miles away and then by train to Inverness. From Inverness it takes six or seven more hours to Perth. These fish will be stale by the time they get to Perth. Some of them will be rotten, and then the Ministry of Food and the Herring Board are going to get busy and put more expenditure on them. They will cold store them and freeze them without a market in sight, and at some future date when there is a famine and the people are hungry enough they will issue these fish in the hope they will be eaten.
I hope the Secretary of State will listen to my words on this matter. I hope he will stand up and strike a blow for Scotland, because this may well not only hurt the people, but hurt the herring industry and it will hurt this new quick freezing industry which is showing so 1564 much promise. I strongly urge the Government to take steps to bring it to an end.
§ 5.40 p.m.
Mr. Scott-Elliot (Accrington)
As a Scotsman representing an English constituency, I always feel apologetic for intervening in a Scottish Debate but, in view of my semi-official position in connection with the committee on Hill Farming, perhaps I might say a few words. I shall not follow too closely what was said by the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson), in part because I do not understand about the fishing industry and in any case prefer not to discuss it today, and in part because I want to deal more specifically with certain features of hill farming, adding to what has already been said by my right hon. Friend.
§ Sir D. Robertson
The hon. Member seemed to indicate that it was improper for me to discuss fishery today, but if that is what he feels, then he is entirely wrong. I took the greatest pains to make sure that the matter would be in Order.
Of course, I understand that it comes within the purview of the Debate. It is simply that I am not capable of discussing fish. Perhaps I might suggest in all politeness to the hon. Gentleman that he does not know a tremendous amount about hill sheep.
That is how it works out. We are told in the report that schemes representing £2 million have been approved. My right hon. Friend went one better and gave the latest figure, which was £2¼ million. I wonder how many hon. Members realise how much hard work of all kinds is involved on the part of the promoters of the schemes, and on the part of area committees and officials of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, whether out in the areas or at headquarters in St. Andrew's House, in examining and carrying through these schemes. I want to say a word on this aspect of the matter.
I want to tell the House what I myself have been doing during the last two years. On behalf of my right hon. Friend I have been conducting a series of tours in various parts of the country. Last year I was in the central and eastern areas. 1565 This year, so far as we can, we shall be in the Highlands and in August we are going up to the north. I go out with the officials of the Department of Agriculture. Broadly speaking, my object is to see what is being done and to report to my right hon. Friend, and, in the next place, to give practical examples to show that my right hon. Friend and his Department are seriously concerned with the day-to-day working of the hill farming areas. Finally, and perhaps the most important point of all, I try to bring the farmers and the officials together in order that they may understand each others' problems to a greater degree, although they live, in most areas, in separate compartments. I feel that the officials might not quite understand the practical difficulties of the farmer, and I am equally convinced that farmers do not always realise the enormous wealth of knowledge that is stored up in the Department of Agriculture for Scotland and do not pay sufficient regard to it.
These tours are very well planned, and I want to thank those who have been responsible for planning them for me, and in particular the area committees and the hill farming sub-committees working under them. Incidentally, it is a very good example of the way in which this thing is working out. The hill farming committee contains one or more practical men such as shepherds. That is very good. We have a few landowners, but mostly farmers. We want the practical men who are doing the day-to-day work. We have seen many comprehensive schemes, covering most of the subjects dealt with in an appendix to the report.
There will be complaint at the delay that has taken place. We know that there has been great delay, but we know that it is totally impossible to do anything else than go slowly at it, so long as officials are so few in number. We simply cannot recruit and train men to examine these schemes, responsible men who can look with a practised eye at all the things that have to be examined. Until we get a sufficient output of young men from universities with the proper qualifications, it will not be possible to increase the technical staffs of the area committees in order that the work may more quickly be carried out.
It is a very serious matter, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend realises 1566 how serious it is. I have spoken to him about it and he has expressed to me his very deep concern. It is something that simply cannot be overcome, because the men are not there. There is one way of by-passing it to a small extent, and that is for those who are promoting schemes with the agreement of the area sub-committee to go ahead in cases that are appropriate. They must recognise that until a scheme is absolutely approved they may not get a grant, but where a clear hint is dropped to them by one of the technical officials that it would be a good thing, and that so far as he can see there should be no reasonable objection on the part of the Secretary of State, people can go ahead with their schemes. Indeed, in many parts of the country people are doing it. I can speak as one who has pushed ahead with a certain number of things myself, although I have not until recently been in a position to put in claims under these schemes.
We want many more schemes than have been put in. We cannot compel people to put in schemes under the hill farming plan. If the landlord or the tenant or both—very often it is the joint scheme that is being held back—do not make up their minds, it may be possible to stimulate their interest under the Agriculture Act. I do not believe in compulsion, nor, I think, does my right hon. Friend. We must try to get our results by co-operation. It is therefore necessary to consider seriously the question why people are not putting in schemes more readily. It may be due to frustration among those who have put in schemes and have seen how slow a process it has been to get the schemes examined. I have already explained why that is so. It may also be due to the fact that a certain number of landowners, and perhaps farmers, are a little lazy and unbusinesslike. It is also due to some extent to the fact that certain individuals simply cannot afford to put in schemes. That is an aspect of the matter that we may have to face in the future, although I do not propose to say anything more about it at present.
I am sure that we want a greater balance between sheep and cattle. I have seen many schemes where there is too much emphasis on one or on the other. By and large, it has generally been a case of the farmer not being sufficiently 1567 interested in having the right number of cattle on a hill. Recently I saw an example of the other kind of emphasis, in which a big landowner-occupier was engaged in putting only cattle on to the hill. We had to tell him that the provisions of the Hill Farming Act would not allow him to get a grant unless he put on sheep also.
Sheep and cattle are complementary. In the summer they will eat different kinds of grass. The sheep graze close and the cattle eat the longer grasses. Cattle eat down the grass so that the sheep and lambs can graze better. Sheep and cattle are not only complementary but the cattle help the sheep in many ways. Hon. Members should see some of my fields that in the past have been very rough, bordering on the hill, where I have had a large number of cattle. Those fields are almost unrecognisable today because they have been grazed down. They look more like permanent pasture.
Something more is needed in keeping cattle on the hill, and that is a method of keeping them in the winter. They must not winter on the hill, because they would eat the grass which the sheep need. Many hon. Members will know that it is a hard battle to keep ewes going through a severe winter and that they may lose 25 per cent. of their weight from the time they go to the top in November to the time they lamb in April. It is practically slow starvation. Therefore we have to stop the cattle from grazing on the hill, and take the lambs off the ewes so as to give the ewes a chance to put on condition. One has to keep the cattle somewhere else in the winter. It may be possible in some cases to winter them on low ground.
This is where I want to take up what was said by the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden). I did not agree with everything he said—I thought he was something less than fair to the Hill Farming Act—but he made a good point about winter keep. When I have met farmer members of hill farm sub-committees on my tour, I have asked them casually, so that they would not know that I was asking a rather leading question, whether if by some means more winter keep in the form of straw or something of that sort could be distributed 1568 to the outlying farms at reasonable cost, we should be able to winter more cattle. Almost invariably the answer has been, "Yes, I believe we could." I want to put this to my right hon. Friend. I do not pretend to know how it can be done, but I believe that we have the straw, that it is not being used, that it could be baled and that it could be distributed. However, there is the question of cost, and the further away the farm is from the centre of distribution, the greater will be the cost. In the national interest we should try to overcome the problem so that we may be able to winter more cattle.
I now want to speak about wedder sheep. I recently saw what had been a deer forest taken over by the British Aluminium Company, who are big landowners in that part of the country. They have bought the land in order to secure water to provide power for their factory at Fort William. They are very progressive landowners and farmers at the same time, and they are arranging some very big hill-farming schemes. This deer forest has not carried sheep for years. The company are proposing to put wedder sheep—either the wedder lambs when they have been taken off the ewe in the autumn or one year later when they have grown into still stronger and bigger sheep—out to summer in the deer forest. I do not suppose they can be wintered there because it is terribly hard land, but very large areas of the North of Scotland can carry wedder sheep in the same way, provided there is someone to give them a certain amount of supervision, although a regular shepherd is not needed.
This sort of thing would enable us to put a greater weight of mutton on the market. There would also be an increase in the wool clip. Wedder sheep grow a fleece of about double the weight of an ordinary ewe; their fleeces are colossal. Farmers should be encouraged to use these sheep, for they will get a good return in wool. A wool clip from a wedder hirsel is a very important consideration to a farmer. A wedder sheep may easily weigh 70 lb. I have kept one or two in order to experiment with them and not long ago one sheep killed at about 70 lb.
I want to say a word about research. I have mentioned before, the enormous 1569 need for doing away with disease. On a hill farm of about 1,200 sheep, it is necessary to keep about 250 ewe lambs every year. When these ewe lambs have grown into draft ewes of five or six years old they will probably number 170 or 180. The loss to the farmer will be realised. That may not all be due to disease but many sheep are lost by reason of disease. I endorse what has been said by my right hon. Friend about the excellent work done by my friend Dr. Russell Gregg at the Moredun Institute just outside Edinburgh. Splendid work has been done, but there is a long way to go yet.
I want to give examples of two diseases. One is scrapie, for which there is no known cure. Most farmers will say on oath that they have no scrapie among their animals, but I often cannot believe that. Those of us who know something about the sheep industry know the incidence of scrapie and the loss which can be caused in one year. There is also a disease known as bracken sickness. It is true that allowing cattle to trample down bracken is one way of destroying it, but that does not achieve very much. I do not know that the sickness is really caused by bracken. We have to find out these things. The disease can cause devastating results. I was talking last summer to a farmer in central Perthshire who put out 10 bullocks on his hill one day and next day six of them were dead through this disease. That man was in not a very large way, and one can imagine his loss.
I want to speak about the need to hold a proper balance between hill farming and forestry. Both are completely necessary. I told Lord Robinson in the Estimates Committee this morning that when I go on my tours I do the best I can to get over to the farming community the needs of forestry. There is a considerable amount of misunderstanding and far too much criticism of the Forestry Commission on the part of the farmers. It is not all justified, but some of it may be a little justified merely because of the way the Forestry Commission have gone in and taken over land and held the land from being farmed. I do not know but there is a degree of criticism, and we want to build up more goodwill between forestry and hill sheep farming to the greater profit of both.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)
I hope that the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Scott-Elliot) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the intricacies of hill farming. I learned a great deal from his fluent and interesting speech. I want to speak about one aspect of food production which has already been touched upon by the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson), our fisheries, and I shall relate my remarks particularly to Chapter 9 of the Scottish Report. In paragraph 109 we are told of the increased financial assistance which is available to fishermen under the White Fish and Herring Industries Act and the Inshore Fishing Industry Act, but later in the chapter we find that, taken all in all, very little advantage has been taken by the fishermen of this assistance. We find that in 1948 not a single new boat was added to the Scottish fishing fleet. In Appendix B we see that the number of boats available in the fleet is still very low on the whole.
One wonders what is the reason why the fishermen of Scotland are not showing their usual drive and initiative in building new boats and expanding their production. I believe that what was said by the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) and the hon. Member for Streatham is one of the main reasons, that they are finding that their excursions into the fishing grounds are becoming less and less profitable. Paragraph 103 of the Report says that a marked scarcity of fish on the usual grounds accounted for the decline in the total earnings which were 16 per cent. less than last year. I should like the Committee to be told whether the countries which did not ratify the International Fishing Agreement have now done so and whether it is considered possible to carry out this agreement in a practical way. It is of the utmost importance to the industry. I suggest that what is exercising the minds of all those engaged in this major industry of Scotland is a feeling of acute insecurity as to the future of the industry as a whole.
In that connection I want to speak for a few moments about some particular problems which confront my own constituency, the fishing port of Aberdeen, and which I think confront also all fishing ports in the North. When one talks about the difficulties, one has to look at 1571 the matter realistically and admit that one wonders whether it will ever be possible for the fishing port of Aberdeen and those in the North to compete economically on equal terms with the great fishing ports of the South, such as Fleetwood, Grimsby and Hull. One has to consider that these latter are close to the coalfields and live on the doorstep of huge consumer markets. There is also the important and vexed question of transport charges. The only physical advantage which Aberdeen has is that it is 24 hours steaming time nearer the distant fishing grounds than the Southern ports.
§ Mr. Boothby
May I interrupt my hon. Friend for one moment? Would she make it clear that she is referring only to the white fishing ports and not to the herring ports, because we can compete with the English?
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I would not venture to enter into the arena so ably held by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). However, I think one must admit that the Government, and through the Government the consumer, will always to a certain extent subsidise our fishing industry in the North. I personally think that is an absolutely justifiable policy. It may well be said that surely no one on these benches will make special pleas for industries which, owing to their geographical disadvantages, are uneconomic. That would be a strange policy to pursue, but I maintain that there are certain cases as they affect the North where it is a justifiable policy. As regards the fishing industry of Aberdeen, I would say that it is justified not only because presumably the Secretary of State wants to keep employment in the North, not only because he wants to keep going many important ancillary industries, and not only because he wants to stimulate the production of a valuable protein food. I would say that there are far wider considerations even than that, and those are considerations of strategic importance.
After all, in our island we have a peculiar situation. We are extremely vulnerable, we support 47 million people, we have to import a great deal of our materials, but in time of war we are subject to blockade by sea and by air which makes it absolutely vital that in time of peace we try to stimulate and keep going certain industries which otherwise 1572 would be uneconomic. To take an example nearer home, I would evidence the jute industry of Dundee which, the Committee will remember, before the war could not economically compete against what was then India in either scope or cost. Nevertheless, it was seen fit to keep the industry going for strategic reasons alone. The same applies very much to the fishing industry in the North East of Scotland. In that connection it is perhaps an encouragement to see that at least one of our major research stations, at Torry, in Aberdeen is getting on well, and from the Report I see that due tribute is paid to it and that the work is progressing so that it will shortly expand further. It has done a great deal, not only in research on the processing of fish for the home market but also for export.
When we talk of strategic considerations, we speak from the long-term economic planning point of view, as the Secretary of State has mentioned. We think, therefore, not only of the subjects I have mentioned but of the ships themselves and of the men who man them, who are so vital to us in time of war. I think it was Conrad who said that it is not the ships that count, so much as the men who are in them; the men who are the backbone of our navies in war—famous characters such as Iceland Ted and Bear Island Bert—men who, through their toughness and resiliency, have made the name of this country famous throughout the world. Therefore, when one makes this plea for some special consideration being given to an industry which has great physical and geographical disadvantages, one does not plead just to safeguard the interests of a certain port but because one feels that special consideration will give great benefit to the nation as a whole in the end.
In that connection, I would like to refer to a subject of which the Secretary of State is already well aware—namely, the great difficulties with which we in the Port of Aberdeen are confronted in the transport charges, and their effect on the industry. As the Committee knows, during the war price control was put on fish and there was also a flat carriage rate for fish. The two were considered interdependent and were embodied in the Fish Sales (Charges) Order. One does not challenge the repeal of this Order when the consumer is no longer in need of being protected by price control, but 1573 one does advocate that some method should be examined of equalising transport costs. I know quite well that this is a vexed subject because a flat rate can work both ways. In a free market it can adversely affect certain traders, and I know that our own Chamber of Commerce is much divided on its merits.
However, I would like the Secretary of State to consider one or two points. Aberdeen is the most important fishing port in Scotland. Of all white fish landed in Scotland it provides 74.5 per cent. and in the City of Aberdeen, of those people gainfully employed over 20 per cent. derive their livelihood from the fishing industry. Nevertheless, they are confronted by the extreme difficulties of being far from the coalfields, far from consumer markets, and having in normal times of peace to confront long haulage and high transport dues.
Take, for instance, the effect on the industry of the transport of coal. In 1948 the Aberdeen fleet of 193 trawlers and liners burned 6.5 tons a day on an average working year of 290 fishing days. In 1938 the fleet, which was then 279 trawlers and liners, burned 5.5 tons a day on an average working year of 320 fishing days. I am informed by those who know the subject that the increase in the amount of coal used for less boats and less fishing days has been largely due to the poor quality of coal—which is not the responsibility of the Secretary of State. The average cost f.o.b. trawler was 79s. 10d. a ton at Aberdeen as compared with 58s. 6d. a ton at the Humber ports, which is a disparity of 21s. 4d. a ton. This casts a heavy extra burden on each ship of £2,118. In other words, the cost is 41 per cent. higher in Aberdeen than in the Humber ports.
Of course we have certain local difficulties such as the bunkering facilities, which are admittedly poor, but these are being improved and it is hoped that by this means, the price per ton of coal will be reduced by 2s. 6d., but even with that reduction the price in Aberdeen is still 32 per cent. higher than in the Humber ports. Of course, the Aberdeen fishermen and owners have endeavoured to overcome these difficulties by trying to transfer to oil-burning ships. That, of course, involves the great cost of building, added to which there is a general feeling of insecurity in the industry and the high 1574 cost of the transport of oil. There is, in fact, a difference in cost between the northern and southern ports of 12s. 6d. a ton, or £795 a year for each oil-burning trawler, which means that these costs to Aberdeen for fuel alone, are 32 per cent. higher than in the South.
Then there is the cost of the distribution of the fish. It is calculated that of all the fish landed in the port of Aberdeen, 75 per cent. is distributed to markets in England and Wales. I shall not worry the Committee with long lists of charges, because hon. Members will not be intimately interested in them, but I wish to put before the Committee two main features which are of striking importance. The disparity of prices between the southern ports and the port of Aberdeen in the two years preceding the war amounted to a loss to the owners of £149,950, and to the fishermen of £37,610. Then, of course, there are other local considerations, such as the transport of ice in large quantities and the return of empty boxes, which in the Humber ports is 3d. or 4d, a box but in Aberdeen is 7d. a box. All these things added up amount to very real difficulties which must, naturally, affect any expansion of the fishing industry in what is the main port of Scotland and is, I am sure, the Secretary of State's major concern.
It has been proved that the high transport charges make it uneconomical for our boats to operate in the distant fishing grounds of the White Sea, Bear Island and the Norwegian coast. In any building programme, therefore, Aberdeen has concentrated rather more on the smaller boats. The Secretary of State will be aware from his visits to the city that many boats are in need of modernisation—many, indeed, are fit for scrapping—and that the new programme of building should be expedited. The only factor of any great advantage is that through fishing in near and coastal waters Aberdeen has secured a reputation of landing prime quality fish, to the great benefit of the consumer. I only hope that this reputation will continue when the policy of "fish at any price" goes by the board.
During the war, therefore, it was seen that the industry was kept on a firm footing, not only because of the peculiar conditions of war but also because of the equalisation of transport charges. But with the possible return to normal rail 1575 rates, a very serious situation is presented. It must be remembered that transport charges generally have gone up by 50 per cent. since before the war. If we add the transport costs for fuel and also local haulage rates, these figures, based on the 1937 earnings of our fleet, represent a loss per vessel of £3,346. In a memorandum on this subject, which I think the Secretary of State has studied, and which is supported by all sides of the industry in Aberdeen, it was said that with the co-ordination of road and rail transport it was expected that road and rail charges would come into closer alignment, and that a steep rise in both was shortly to be expected.
Although the people of the North of Scotland are second to none in tenacity, industry and vigour, these obstacles make it almost impossible for them to maintain the industry on a stable basis. They are very willing to do their best but against these factors they face a most difficult time unless the Secretary of State can give close consideration to this problem and give our people that reasonable degree of security which is all that they ask.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, to examine this problem at the highest Cabinet level with all the Ministers concerned—of Food, Labour and Transport. It has been said that the Fish Sales (Charges) Order is not to be rescinded immediately, but when it does go, the flat rate automatically goes also. We still have a little time in which to act, and I suggest that now is the time to get all sides of the industry together to see whether some agreement can be arrived at. I know very well the opposition of the southern ports, which do not see why they should subsidise those which are further afield geographically in order to compete with them. If this matter were examined at Cabinet level, I feel sure it would be possible to get all sides of the industry, North and South, to come together and, perhaps, to reach some agreement for the benefit of the community as a whole from a strategic point of view.
The Secretary of State will know that he has behind him all sections of the fishing industry in Aberdeen, including the owners, skippers and mates, fish merchants and curers, and the fishing section and the fish workers' section of the 1576 Transport and General Workers' Union. He has, therefore, the fullest support of what is really one of our major industries of Scotland. I trust that he will be able to give this matter his personal attention at Cabinet level while we still have time. Lastly, I would remind the Committee that when we talk of the fishing industry it is to these men that the country always turns for their fortitude, skill and endurance in time of need. They have never let us down. It is for us, therefore, in time of peace to give them a fair chance, for the nation is for ever in their debt.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodburn
My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary may not be able to deal with all the points raised by the noble Lady the Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Tweedsmuir) when he replies to the Debate. I should like, therefore, to assure the noble Lady that all that she has said has been under consideration. The Minister of Transport and the Transport Commission are conducting an investigation into the question of differential rates. One of the problems which arises is whether it is the Transport Commission which should indulge in subsidies of that nature or whether this should be undertaken by the nation as a whole.
The other points which the noble Lady has raised are very much in our minds. On the question of building boats, for instance, the noble Lady will know that a Bill is now in course of passage. I assure her that this matter has been under consideration and that, although quite a number of snags exist, we are pursuing it as best we can. I understand it will take about two years before the Transport Commission can possibly take over the task of rate fixing and charges, but I hope that before the expiration of that time they may be able to do something in the direction the hon. Lady has suggested.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I thank the Secretary of State for intervening to make that statement, which will be a great encouragement to the fishing industry in the North. I hope, however, that the two years of delay of the Transport Commission in getting these matters solved will not mean that, if the Fish Sales (Charges) Order is rescinded before that date, no alternative solution to the transport problem has been found.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk)
May I at the outset raise a point of Order? I should like to make a number of remarks on transport in Scotland. Will that he in Order in this Debate?
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who has expressed such genuine sympathy with the agreed and very real difficulties of the constituents of the noble Lady the Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Tweedsmuir), will be alive to the difficulties, which are manifold and as great, of the people in outlying places like the Western Isles.
§ Mr. Woodburn
May I assure my hon. Friend that what I have been saying about the investigations is not confined to Aberdeen, but concerns the whole Highland area.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I appreciate that, but sometimes the "whole Highland area" has been considered, even spoken of in terms of millions of pounds, and yet the little places are apt to be forgotten. I shall cite one or two instances of that, with your permission, Mr. Bowles, today. Before doing so, I wish to congratulate the Secretary of State on what I thought an excellent speech and an excellent exposition of the party's policy and the progress made under his Departments and under his guidance. It was a most impressive array of facts which were not disputed even by interruptions of hon. Members opposite. It was good to hear them, even though many of them were a repetition of things known to hon. Members on this side of the Committee. I do not wish to criticise any of the general statements made by my right hon. Friend; but rather to say that he has the wholehearted support of all hon. Members on this side of the Committee in so far as he has attempted to implement the policy of the Government in the agricultural development of the country, which has been neglected for so long.
The hon. Member for Streatham, Caithness and Sutherland or for Caith- 1578 ness, Sutherland and Streatham—although Streatham would not like it that way—told us that no other Government had the opportunity which this Government had and he gave us almost no credit for the astonishing and great things which had been done in agricultural development in the last few years. Surely that was most ungenerous and quite uncharacteristic of him. This Government certainly had the responsibility for doing these things which were left to them as a legacy of neglect, but to say that no other Government had the opportunity, is to talk arrant nonsense and to shed from his own party that responsibility which this Government have so gladly taken on. May I quote from that great Tory agricultural crusader, Lord Beaverbrook?
§ Mr. MacMillan
An ex-Tory; he has supported the Tories at different times, although I do not know just what the relations are at the present moment. His voice is in this editorial of the "Daily Express" as saying:In the Tory Party's Empire manifesto there is one splendid declaration. It appears in bold, black type on page 32.Here is the policy of wisdom, but of wisdom how long delayed. But if this is the self-same policy which the Empire crusaders preached day in and day out in the early 30's, it is the identical policy which the Tories fought and denounced for years. Look back to those years when the Empire crusaders stumped the country and fought by-elections and always the cry was 'The Tory Party put Britain first.' That was the call against which the Tories put their weight and a Tory Prime Minister took time off from State duties to fight it.The denunciation goes on:If only the Tories had listened in 1931 and adopted this policy.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)
Would it not be more appropriate if this was given in evidence before the Press Commission?
§ Mr. MacMillan
Even for the right hon. and gallant Member, that is an appallingly feeble gag. I expected something of note to emerge from such a colossal gesture as an interruption by him. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland in attacking the Government, incidentally to his attack on the Liberals, painted a picture that showed little gratitude for what the Government are doing in Sutherlandshire. People 1579 there acknowledge that the Government have transformed the face of that county agriculturally. The hon. Member forgot to point out that the whole decadence of that county, the whole agricultural deterioration, the rural de-population of Sutherlandshire, was to be laid entirely at the doors of the Tory landlords, who evicted the people from Caithness and from Sutherland. That is not so very long ago. I do not see why the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) should feel happy about that. Certainly, it made a little more room for the bigger farmers, but it was something to be ashamed of rather than something from which to draw credit or consolation.
Only the other day I was reading Donald McLeod's letters to the Press at the time he wrote his "Gloomy Memories." He told us of the burning by the Highland landlords in Sutherland of more than 250 of the crofters homes, without any thought of their future and of their settlement elsewhere. It is a callous history and I am rather shocked that the hon. Member should stand up here and, ostensibly representing Caithness, though without a mandate, not feel ashamed of the history of his party and of his party's Governments of the past.
On a point of Order. The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) made a joking start by attributing to the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) the constituency of Caithness and Sutherland. Having made the joke, would it not be proper for him now to refer to the hon. Member as the hon. Member for Streatham?
§ Mr. MacMillan
I am sure it would give Caithness just as great pleasure to refer to him as the retiring hon. Member for Streatham who is not likely to be the hon. Member for Caithness. I am not one who has forgotten to criticise the Secretary of State. Indeed, I have sometimes been accused of being more critical than hon. Members opposite. Whether I should claim that or not, I can do so without much danger of being contradicted even by the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) till he has recovered from moving one of his famous points of Order.
In these four years we have seen the condition of the people, especially in the 1580 Western Isles completely revolutionised in many respects. The old people in the rural areas are being looked after as they have never been looked after before, after a life in which they enjoyed very few of the comforts and benefits or wage standards of people in industrial towns. There is no hunger now in the old Tory sense of the pre-war days, no real hunger, and there is no poverty at the old level we knew not so very long ago in the rural areas of Scotland. The children are being cared for in a way they were never cared for in the days we can all remember when we were begging in this House for two or three shillings a week for them to be looked after while their parents were unemployed.
The conditions of the farmer and the farm worker have very greatly improved and there is no comparison with the years to which Lord Beaverbrook's "Daily Express" refers in the editorial from which I have quoted. The hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) seems to regard Lord Beaverbrook as something unmentionable. I can assure him on the authority of Lord Beaverbrook and his Press, that he regards the hon. and gallant Member and his friends as unmentionable in regard to agriculture. The right hon. and gallant Member for Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) once placed a malediction on the scientists and cursed them because they were "making two blades of grass grow where one grew before." I do not know whether he is willing to retract those words now, but he deserved, and got, not too much credit in those days, either from Lord Beaver-brook or the farming industry, when his active policy was to restrict production and keep prices high against the consumer.
I wish to say a word about the fishing industry. Here, again, wherever it has been possible to operate the Herring Industry Board schemes, stability and a sense of security and a good deal of prosperity have followed the activities of the Herring Industry Board. At Lerwick for some years, and now, at Stornoway, where the Board's schemes have got under way, they have revolutionised the industry and greatly enhanced stability and security. There are one or two exceptions to this picture of increasing prosperity—places where the Board has not gone, and I draw the attention of the 1581 Secretary of State specifically to these in order to get him to make an approach, and I do not see why he should not personally do so, to the Herring Industry Board.
Let us consider the Island of Barra and the Uists. The hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson). talked about the waste of good food that goes on. What a shameful thing it is to see great shoals of fine rich, nourishing herrings such as even Aberdeen could think of competing with, simply not being caught while we are being warned at the same time by Sir John Boyd Orr and other great authorities that the world can look forward to hungry lean years for possibly some decades. Surely, something can be done? These Uist and Barra men are anxious and willing to go out and catch the herring, the boats are there, as at Stornoway and other ports, but if they catch the herring how are they to dispose of them? There are no local buyers; there is no Herring Board scheme in operation out there. The men either have to go 100 miles to Stornoway with the Board's permission, with their catch of herring, and try to sell them to the Board at the port maximum price or else go across the Minch to Mallaig and find when they get there that they get only the fish meal price, which is little more than half what they would get if the fish were sold for human consumption. It seems shocking that we are not able to help these people to catch the plentiful supplies of the rich valuable fish which are seething in the water off Barra and the Uists and which the men are eager and willing to catch.
I ask my right hon. Friend to approach the Herring Industry Board and see if they cannot at least send the klondykes or fish carrier vessels to buy on the spot at the same price as at Stornoway and other places. We cannot just abandon this fishing community. Castlebay port used to be one of the most important of the West Coast fishing and curing stations. Across its harbour, one could walk dryshod over the decks of over 500 boats. They came from Stornoway, the East Coast, from England and elsewhere; and the curers used to come along with their salt and great loads of barrels and they sent out their products in hundreds of tons to Russia, Poland, Germany and the Baltic States. These markets have gone and Barra does not expect that 1582 we shall get the cured herring market back on the old scale. But some of the advantages of the new processing methods could be brought to bear on the problem of the Uists and of Barra.
I imagine that the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) intends to remind me that the old matje market should be revived, so I hasten to agree with him before he says that. He has done a great deal to try to revive that market and has in this House tried with the support of some of us, to persuade various Governments to try and revive it. No effort has been made, however. One of the directors of the Anchor Line shipping company, who was at Stornoway some time ago, confirmed what for many years the hon. Member has been saying, and with which others agree, that there is a demand in Canada and America for the Castle Bay matje herring if we could get them economically across there. That demand still exists and people, I believe, are willing to pay the enhanced prices.
It seems such a frustration of people and of Providence to find the water seething with fish but that the men of Barra are not assisted to get the full food price except at Stornoway with a permit from the Herring Industry Board, with the Food Ministry doing its worst to discourage even Stornoway and divert activities to the mainland's less suitable ports, farther from the herring shoals. I invite the Secretary of State to listen to this point and do something about it. To waste such valuable food is a shameful frustration of men who are willing and able to catch the fish.
The Government have been generous in the matter of assistance for new boats and gear by making loans and grants for this purpose. I only wish that all the islands had harbours suitable for new boats. I wish I could say that the men and even the insurance companies felt safe in putting new and costly boats into some of the neglected harbours on the West Coast. I ask my right hon. Friend to have a look at harbours and some of the smaller piers and jetties, especially in the smaller isles.
Another aspect in considering the waste of food is that when we make a trade agreement with Russia there is thrown in as a sideline the importation of crab into Great Britain—3s. 9d. for a three 1583 ounce tin. Yet I have seen thousands of crabs the size of a saucer or plate thrown overboard, thus providing the possibility of them coming up again and spoiling the lines and nets of the fishermen. Hundreds and thousands of such crabs are being thrown overboard while we are paying 3s. 9d. for a three ounce tin of Soviet crab. In the present condition of the world I do not think that any other country would tolerate such a waste of valuable food. Then, too, if one bought English crab in London one would probably pay 3s. for a small portion.
To utilise that herring and crab there is no need to use dollars; there would be no drain on gold, no question of foreign exchange; no demand for our coal or generating plant. These things can be obtained off our own shore. It is perfectly feasible to give some practical help and take what Providence is throwing at us in tremendous quantities while people are paying high prices for small quantities of imported crab and other foods.
I now turn to transport and roads. I do not intend to challenge the general figures which the Secretary of State gave us. I agree that there are great projects for trunk roads in the Highlands; that there are "projects for projects," great plans for more great plans. For years I have listened to figures up to £80 or £100 million. I know the plans are there, I know that these things will, in time, materialise; but what is the answer to a man of Eriskay, an island of 300 people who cannot use a wheelbarrow among them because the Scottish Office cannot make up their minds about spending a few hundred pounds to put some sort of road on which the people can wheel a barrow. There has never been a wheel on Eriskay—except one lorry which got bogged—and never will be at the present pace at which their problems are being approached.
I turn next to the Island of Scalpay in Harris. When the speech of the Secretary of State is heard there tonight on the radio how will a reference to the millions to be spent over so many years impress men and women who have to carry all their goods from the pier to their homes two or three miles away, like pack animals? While he talks in millions and the future, we have been pressing the authorities for years to give us a 1584 decision about minor but urgent assistance in terms of hundreds or a few thousands of pounds and we cannot get a decision even on that. The same applies to the need for a jetty for Bernera of Harris.
One can go to the Island of Vatersay, which is owned by the Department itself. Yet the Department is only planning the provision of a road for that hardy community of fishermen who have asked nothing but that the Department, as proprietor for over 40 years, should make a start on a road and a jetty, and on all the things which have been on paper for so lone, and which are still so hopefully on paper at the moment. But when are we to see a start made on these projects? When I go to Bernera, off Lewis, I am on an island of 600 people for which we have for 14 years pleaded in this House on countless occasions—from whence no fewer than seven men from one home went into the Merchant Navy and the Navy during the last war; an island from which almost every able-bodied man was shamelessly taken by a Government and nation which had neglected them for generations. The people on that island have to carry on their backs everything that comes into the island. They have to carry everything up and down the rocks and then two or three miles to their homes because they have not a bridge or a road which has been promised to them for three years, a complete survey for which has been made; but for which we cannot get an ounce of steel.
What is my answer to them? The £100 million scheme for the mainland is all right; but what about a decision now on this small thing? It is all very well to talk about the big and distant and slow schemes; but we must bring into effect these small things to meet the real and urgent needs of these small communities. I invite the Secretary of State to give us an undertaking that some policy statement will be forthcoming which will include a definite decision on the finance and the materials for the carrying out of these small schemes in the very near future. Can we have if, after four years asking, before the Recess?
§ Mr. Woodburn
My hon. Friend will agree that in an area covering half the land surface of Scotland it is easy to 1585 pick out some bits which have not been dealt with, and I invite him to look occasionally at the places that have been dealt with. No Government can deal with these projects; it must be done by labour in the Highlands. If there is not enough labour to do the work it must wait until the labour is available.
§ Mr. M. MacMillan
That answer is completely unrealistic; it is completely wrong. It is a stock Departmental dodge. I could get the labour in the Islands and would promise it to the right hon. Gentleman now. I am not responsible for carrying out the work, but if I were in his shoes I would see that the labour was provided one way or another where men are now idle. It is up to the right hon. Gentleman, and the Minister of Transport, and the other Government Departments responsible to see that these schemes do go on. Labour trouble will not stop them, if that is their only excuse. For year I have been promised these projects. Within this Government's term, I had a promise of 60 per cent., plus 25 per cent. of the cost of constructing a bridge at Bernera—promises from Cabinet Ministers—where conditions are such as would not be tolerated in Stirling and Clackmannan, or in the constituency of any other hon. Member, without a public outcry and a sensational scandal. These people have to put up with this because of their remoteness, and because of the utter failure to obtain a decision from the Departments and officials for which right hon. Gentlemen are responsible.
I have already said that I am conscious of the bigger things which are being done; but I wish attention to be paid to these places where people are living in small existing communities. Let us get a hundred small decisions implemented. Better action now than promises of great future schemes. Let us have something effective done now rather than the promise of some great things in 20 years' time. I am weary and tired of waiting for the fulfilment of promises made by previous Governments and by certain hon. Members of this Government. I shall not mince my words merely to satisfy the vanity of any Minister. That does not detract from what I said earlier, that I appreciate the things which are being done. I appreciate the difficulties of the right hon. Gentleman whose problems are a legacy from other Governments. But I have lived 1586 with these problems and with the people who have to face them. They are not being faced by the Government and I think it high time that they were faced. We have pledges of our Ministers to keep and they must be honoured now.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
I have a sincere sympathy for the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) in his plea that we should get a few small decisions, and that some action would be very much more satisfactory than a very large number of very large promises of action over a considerable period of time. There are so many of these bigger and better schemes costing £100 million on paper; but some of us could do with a few hundreds quickly in cash, and that applies particularly to the Western Isles.
Speaking as a representative of the Buchan fishing ports, I can say with all sincerity—and it is a serious and solemn statement to make—that the Castlebay matje herring is without any question the best herring in the world. I have to concede that to the hon. Gentleman. This herring is caught only at certain times of the year. It is very fat and very succulent. It has to be cured in a special way, and eaten raw it is quite delicious. I think that perhaps it is the most succulent fish of its kind in the world. It commands a high price in the United States, and I know that they are ready to pay that high price.
What the hon. Member said about the Anchor Line was interesting. On the continent of Europe they will also pay a high price for it; and I can never quite understand why more energetic action has not been taken by the Herring Board to revive the Castlebay fishing, and to make the differential price for this particular herring. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman would look into it, because there has been some difficulty about making a special high price for this herring; but if the Americans are willing to pay that high price, why should we not charge it? Then the fishermen would go and fish in Castlebay at the time when the herrings are there.
The other part of the problem posed by the hon. Member for the Western Isles would be solved by the construction of a quick-freezing plant, or some other kind of freezing plant, in the Western Isles. 1587 Otherwise it is impossible to get the herrings to the mainland in a fresh condition. It would be well worth while to put a quick-freezing plant at Stornoway as soon as possible.
I saw a film last night which filled me with a nostalgic longing for the Isle of Barra, one of the most beautiful islands in the constituency of the hon. Member, and which he knows that I know pretty well. The title of the film was "Whisky Galore"; and it was very beautiful, and very exciting. The hon. Gentleman may try to assure us today that this island is booming and full of food, although even he can hardly claim that it is full of whisky at the present time. But he knows that the island has not the prosperity it had, even in the years between the wars; and I think that the departure of the herring fishing is largely responsible for that. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to direct the attention of the Herring Board particularly to the Island of Barra, not on account of the film, but on account of the herring.
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman himself was certainly very remarkable. I was glad that he paid a tribute to my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) for his work as Minister of Agriculture, which has always been under-estimated. My right hon. and gallant Friend was very rough to me once when he was Minister of Agriculture; but I have always maintained that he was about the best we have ever had. If only he had taken my advice about oats, he would never have gone wrong. But he left out oats. That was his trouble. However, he did very well by all the other marketing schemes; and when they are discussed I always think that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman should be mentioned, because he really was the architect of most of them, and it was nice of the Secretary of State to refer to him.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to paint a picture of rural Scotland as a veritable Eldorado on which it would be virtually impossible to improve. At one point he became absolutely lyrical in his enthusiasm, and abandoned the realistic, pedestrian atmosphere of this Committee to soar to the heights of imaginative poetry. The picture of those sheep, after those wonderful meals of turnips they had 1588 had in the low ground, wandering up through plantations of trees—especially arranged for their benefit by the right hon. Gentleman—in order to have a final look at the sunset before retiring to rest, will long remain in my memory. It was an idyll which the Secretary of State presented to us; and I was wondering whether there was going to be any flaw, or any tiny note of dissatisfaction. Not for a second. Right through to the end the sustained joyous enthusiasm and gaiety was kept up. I would, however, beg the right hon. Gentleman to abhor the vice of complacency. Scotland is a pretty good country we all know, but it is not as good as all that; and if the right hon. Gentleman thinks that it is we shall soon be looking for a new Secretary of State because it will not do at all. Complacency is one of the worst faults a Minister can have; and the right hon. Gentleman can hardly deny that his speech was not only complacent, but optimistic to a point that I have seldom heard in any other speech made by a responsible Minister of the Crown.
We have to face the staggering fact that in this country the production of meat has fallen very substantially as against the pre-war level when we want meat more than at any other time in our history. The causes are well known and I will not labour them. There was the necessary emphasis on cereals during the war; the tremendous emphasis on milk in the closing stages of the war and immediately afterwards—over-done as many of us think—and finally the lack of feedingstuffs; to which we on this side of the Committee have drawn attention continuously for the last three years, and which has at last been grasped by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench. But despite all these causes, the pick-up in the meat production of this country during the past two years has not been anything like as great as it should have been. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has any cause for complacency merely because the Scottish figures are a little bit better than the English figures, which are disgraceful. We ought to be producing a great deal more beef, mutton, bacon, poultry and eggs than we are producing at present, and we could do it.
The right hon. Gentleman introduced what is known as the calf subsidy the 1589 other day. I was critical of it at the beginning but I am now inclined to revise my view, because I think that it has given some encouragement, particularly to the smaller men; although, as the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) said, it is apt to get into the wrong hands, and I do not think that it can possibly be regarded as a long-term solution to the problem. It is an emergency measure. I am sure that it should be accompanied by a greater premium on quality, a greater incitement and encouragement to quality. In addition, we should never have allowed so many Irish store cattle to be diverted away to Holland and Belgium by the offer of higher prices. That was the cause of the trouble. The right hon. Gentleman is right in tracing one of the major causes of our present trouble to the lack of Irish stores. But they were there. They did not all die. They went to Holland and Belgium instead of coming here, because Holland and Belgium paid a higher price for them. We made a great mistake. We ought to have put our hands in our pockets and paid for them. It would not have cost any dollars, anyway.
The subject of marginal land has been raised at great length by experts on both sides of the Committee who know more than I do about it. But I have seen one figure which I think is pretty shocking. I do not believe that even the Secretary of State, in all his exuberant and joyous optimism, can be completely satisfied with it. There were 795 schemes put in and 68 formally approved. That is not really too good, whichever way we look at it. I think that many of the schemes will not turn out to be financially satisfactory. This is costing too much. The Secretary of State is putting too great a burden——
§ Mr. Woodburn
The hon. Gentleman says that, and then he proceeds to say that it is due to the carefulness and wisdom of the Department in not passing schemes which are not satisfactory. He says that those approved are very risky.
§ Mr. Boothby
They are risky only because of the lack of generosity by the Government. The Government are not spending enough money on the development of marginal land, in view of our present emergency, and in view of the money they are pouring out on other 1590 projects. Just think of groundnuts and think what we could do in Scotland, where we do not have any droughts—at least we do not have any Kongwa droughts. Just think what the Government could have done to the marginal land in Scotland with a quarter of what they have spent on scratching around in Kongwa and getting nothing at the end of it. I am not in principle against the groundnut scheme; but when I see the money which has been spent and compare it with the amount of money we are prepared to spend on the development of marginal land in this country, I think it is cock-eyed, if I may use the term, and out of proportion. Here is a field where it really would pay the Government to spend money, because it would give an immediate return in the most valuable form of all—food, which is what we want from every point of view at present. There would be no loss of gold or dollars. Therefore, it would have a direct impact on the fundamental problem of our balance of payments.
If Scotland were a Colony, the Government would spend more on it. I have often said that if Scotland had been a Crown Colony, a great deal more money would have been spent on it in the last 50 years than has been spent, particularly in the Western Highlands and Islands. They have been allowed to linger and maunder into a state which if it had been Kenya or the Gold Coast would never have been tolerated for one second. There would have been 20 Parliamentary Commissions going out to investigate and report. The Highlands and Islands and tae marginal land of Scotland have not been developed adequately over the last 20 or 30 years. There is no doubt about that. There was some reason for this when there was a glut of food in the world, as there was for about 20 years. There is no reason or excuse for it today when, so far as we can see, for many years to come we shall want all the food we can possibly lay hands upon—particularly food grown inside this country. Therefore, I say that if the Government took a bold view and pressed on with marginal land development, it would be a most excellent policy.
I spent some part of the Parliamentary Recess moving about in a very interesting country, the country of Denmark. I was amazed at the agricultural recovery which has taken place there in the last 1591 two or three years. They suffered things that we did not suffer. They were occupied for five years by the Germans, and we were not so occupied. Their livestock was seized by the Germans. They were indeed gutted of livestock, and that did not happen to us. I have no hesitation in saying that their agricultural recovery has been greater than ours, proportionately, over that period of time. This is even more remarkable in view of the fact that the average size of a farm in Denmark is much smaller than in this country, and the number of smallholdings is far greater.
I should like to recapitulate some of the points which struck us most there. I think all my colleagues on the Parliamentary delegation would agree with me about this, because we had a most interesting trip. First, we were struck by the general economy of the farms. It is fearfully good. Nothing is wasted. Secondly, the excellence of the farm buildings. They are better on average than those we have in Scotland. Thirdly, the quantity and quality of pigs and poultry which is greater than we see on the ordinary average Scottish farm. Fourthly—and this is important, I think—concentration on products most suitable to a particular district. They attach great importance to this, as I do. It is frightfully important, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth said, that the dairy country should concentrate on producing milk and dairy herds and the beef country, like the country I represent, should not try to go in for milk production on a large scale but should get on with Aberdeen Angus, which thrive best of all in their natural native country, which is the north-cast corner of Aberdeenshire. We ought to concentrate on maximum beef production in the beef-producing areas and maximum milk production in the milk-producing areas. That is what they do in Denmark.
Fifthly, we noticed that there was electricity everywhere. I admit that the Secretary of State had a case there. The hydro-electric scheme which we all support has already done tremendous good in the country districts of Scotland and it is likely to do a very great deal more good in future. Sixthly—and here again they are far better than us—they have made the most strenuous efforts to increase 1592 water supplies for all their farms, particularly in South Jutland, where the water is brackish and undrinkable owing to the incursion of the sea. There it is a very difficult problem which they are tackling with an immense vigour and upon which they are spending a great deal of money. Finally, we noted their system of co-operative marketing, which is really remarkable, and much better than we have here. There is far more effective co-operation between the producers than we have, except perhaps with regard to the marketing of milk.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Perth asked rhetorically what was the long-term policy of His Majesty's Government, and the Secretary of State gave us this rhapsody in reply. It was all right, but it did not really get us very much further on the question of the long-term policy. Has he any ideas about establishing a Meat Marketing Board on the lines of the Milk Marketing Board? And has he any views about getting a better regional distribution of centralised slaughterhouses and processing centres than exists at present? They certainly have a very much better system in Denmark than we have in Scotland. Of one thing I am absolutely certain. I do not want to be dogmatic, and I do not pretend to be dogmatic when I say that our present methods of marketing meat require the most careful examination and reconsideration, in the light of post-war conditions.
I do not think that the Lucas Committee found the answer to this problem. The general structure of the guaranteed price must in all circumstances be retained. But, if the Government will not give an adequate premium for quality, there is something to be said for letting the wholesalers bid for it. They know a good piece of meat when they see it and they might bid to a point which would encourage the farmers to go in for breeding the best quality. [An HON. MEMBER: "They did not do it before the war."] Before the war there were imports from the Argentine, but the circumstances are entirely different now. One thing is essential, and that is that the production of high-quality beasts must be encouraged in every possible way, because they are the necessary basis of a sound livestock economy in any country.
1593 Let me now turn to the wider issues. We are in the throes of an economic crisis of the first magnitude, and we are all agreed that one of the ways to get out of it is to get a tremendous increase in home food production. We cannot accept this drop of 400,000 tons as against pre-war in our meat production, and I feel very strongly that a fresh impulse is needed and a new concentration on the land, and particularly on livestock. I have mentioned marginal land, but even more important in some ways is water. The Secretary of State enumerated a number of schemes, but, as he knows, the state of our water supplies is a continuing scandal, and has been for years on end. It really is fantastic. This is the wettest island in the world, and if the sun shines for three weeks the whole population gets into a panic, as they are now. It is perfectly crazy. If there is the slightest wisp of good weather, there is a water shortage in about 900 villages. We cannot expect it to rain every day; but that is about what would be needed to keep the wells full over a large part of this country. I really think that we must get a real drive in this matter, and that this should not be made a party issue.
Then, there is the provision, always promised and never fulfilled, of adequate housing accommodation and transport facilities in the rural areas. I do not labour these points, but merely say that it is necessary for hon. Members on both sides of the Committee to draw the attention of the Government to them and prod them about them, that it is our business to do that and the whole point of having this Debate today.
I would like to say another word or two about the herring industry, which has been mentioned by the hon. Gentleman who spoke last and also by the right hon. Gentleman himself. It is on the question of co-operation, which is very important. I have preached co-operation between the Herring Industry Board and every section of the industry, as the Secretary of State well knows, for many years; but in order to co-operate with somebody you have got to see him. I have a complaint about the Herring Industry Board, and they know it, that they do not go down amongst the fishermen at the time of the big fishings, and get into contact with them, and argue things out on the spot.
1594 There was a very interesting dispute the other day over the quantity of herring going for manufacture into fish meal, which, as has been said, is extremely important for agriculture. What the fishermen will not do, and I sympathise with them, is go out and catch herring solely for the purpose of manufacture into fish meal, because it does not pay them to do so. If the quality of herring is so bad that they cannot be sold for anything else, they jib at going to sea to catch them, and they are right. It is a question of an equitable price. There was a deadlock, with everybody getting angrier and angrier and hotter and hotter, until somebody suggested that the Herring Industry Board should go to Fraserburgh, where the whole thing was settled in an hour or two, as I anticipated it would be.
The right hon. Gentleman should press upon the Board the necessity of getting into close touch with the actual operation of the industry, which they seldom do. I think that one or two members of the Board should be constantly visiting the great herring ports at the height of the summer fishing season, and should also be at Yarmouth and Lowestoft at the time of the autumn fishing. When these situations arise, sometimes as a result of gluts, they should be handled quickly by representatives of the Board, the leaders of the fishermen, and the curers, and the whole matter could be settled in ten minutes round a table; whereas, sitting in a board room in Edinburgh, which is about as remote from the herring industry as anything could be, there can be no direct contact between the Board and the industry, and misunderstandings are bound to arise.
Our country districts in Scotland need to be fertilised. This can be done through a great expansion of the agricultural and fishing industries, and it can also be done through a great expansion of the tourist industry. I will not say anything today about the effects of the Catering Wages Act on country hotels in Scotland because I think it would be out of Order. I was afraid it would, but I wanted to get that one in. To revert to agriculture, we all know that it is not merely our greatest industry, but also a way of life. A prosperous and healthy agriculture is the necessary foundation of any country which wishes to hold its own in the modern world.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk)
I think most of us would agree with a great deal of what has been said by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), although I could not follow him in his distinction between a Buchan and a Castlebay herring. For many years I followed the hon. Gentleman with a good deal of support in his campaign about herring, and he and I made, within a few weeks of each other, what I think were our first trips in a herring boat. He was at that time an important figure as a prospective candidate, and I heard about his trip, although, as I was an inconspicuous undergraduate, he would not be likely to hear about mine. Since then, I have taken a great deal of interest in his campaign about herring.
The hon. Gentleman touched on general agricultural policy and also on policy with regard to marginal land. I want to say a little about the second topic, but, first of all, I would like to comment on one of the most interesting features of this Debate. It is the way in which so much of the discussion has concentrated on the question of marginal land, and I think the reason for that is to be found in the policy outlined by my right hon. Friend in his speech. The general agricultural policy of the country is undoubtedly sound, and we can find very little, it seems to me, on either side of the Committee, to which to take exception; but, when the hon. Gentleman calls for greater production, which he has every right to do, the answer undoubtedly is that present plans in hand will achieve exactly that effect. There is very little doubt that we can increase our production in a very spectacular way by the exploitation of our existing resources in marginal land, and I found a lot with which to agree in what was said by the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden).
I found myself, however, picking out one or two difficulties in the policy which my right hon. Friend described. I should like, for instance, to have it made clear what is the principle on which we are attacking the problem of extending our agriculture in marginal areas. Do we intend to follow a long-term policy? Agriculture, and the extent to which we can push it towards the margins of cultivation, depends a great deal on other 1596 factors. It is sometimes economic to develop marginal land, and at other times it may be more economic to leave it undeveloped. I should think that at the present moment a forward policy with regard to marginal land, and in the case of Scotland particularly, hill land, is a policy that can hardly be wrong. For the next generation or so, I think we are fairly sure to have in that a sound and safe policy. The policy which is being followed just now includes a very great deal of help for marginal producers, a far greater degree of help than has ever been given in Scotland before, but one is still inclined to ask whether the impulse behind it is definitely the impulse of going ahead as far as possible, or whether there is some other limiting factor.
I wish to ask one specific question in connection with the relationships between afforestation and agriculture in marginal land. A month or two ago my right hon. Friend made a speech in which he said that the policy was to develop afforestation on semi-agricultural land. That phrase meant little to me, and means little to me now, but he explained it by saying that he meant rough pasture and bracken-infested land. That still leaves me in doubt. Rough pasture, after all, can have a great deal more done to it than simply afforestation. Afforestation may be one of its uses, but with the present interest in proper modern handling of grassland, which has been very strong in this country for the last 15 years, it is perfectly possible to turn a great deal of rough pasture into far better types of pasture land. I would not like to feel that our afforestation policy was in any sense one which meant that all rough pasture would or could be brought into afforestation. I think we ought to have some indication of what distinction is made.
I notice, for instance, a couple of paragraphs in the White Paper which talk about the agreement between the Forestry Commission and the agricultural interests on a couple of islands in the Southern Hebrides. One is inclined to ask on what basis the agreements were made. I do not doubt that it was a wise agreement in each case, but was it made on the principle of what kind of land—taking its geographical location into account—would be used for afforestation, and what kind would remain for agriculture? A 1597 statement of the principle involved in that distinction would be useful as, in fact, would be a statement of the principle behind our policy with regard to marginal land in general.
About a couple of years ago, a report was published on the subject of Scotland's marginal farms, and one of the conclusions reached by the authors of that report—who were experts in agricultural economics—was that many of our farm units in the marginal areas were too small to be economic. I should be glad if my right hon. Friend or my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary for State, when he replies, would tell us whether anything has been done to deal with that particular problem. There has been, from time to time—and there is just now—a good deal of support among various people for the idea of co-operation in agriculture. It seems to me, that in the Debate on marginal land which we had in the House a week or two ago, that idea was put forward from the other side. It is generally in the more backward areas that these ideas take a little longer to germinate, and I wonder whether my right hon. Friend is using, or intends to use, the publicity services of the Department—which have been extremely effective and extremely educative in general farming policy—to encourage the adoption of the idea of co-operation among the farmers of very small and uneconomic units.
I know, too, that the research services and the advisory services of the agricultural colleges have been less used by the farmers in the distant marginal and hill areas than by the farmers in the more accessible areas. As far as I can gather, that is probably due to the fact that these services, which have had to be expanded a great deal because of the demands on them, have been asked for by the bigger and more prosperous farmers nearer at hand, and have not been able, through sheer lack of manpower, to reach farmers in the outlying districts. But it seems to me to be very much worth while to extend these services into the marginal areas. There is a good deal of land which is not geographically on the margin but which is geographically, in many cases, our very best land, which is still not being used, land which has fallen into disuse and which, very largely, is unused just now because it is undrained. I think it is 1598 fairly clear to most of us that a programme of drainage would bring acre after acre into fruitful use, land which has been in fruitful use before but has fallen into disuse.
I wish to ask my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary two specific questions. I know that there are many difficulties with regard to drainage, particularly in these days when we are using heavy tractors with which to draw our implements, and there is far more pressure on the soil itself. But is as much research being done into that particular side of agriculture as there is into the questions of soil and the production of crops? Furthermore, in connection with the actual expenditure on drainage, which is apt to be heavy, is the limiting factor, where there is one—as there very frequently is—money or labour? I think it would be generally agreed that drainage is one of the key tasks that we must undertake in order to extend our tilled acreage, and I am sure it would be useful if my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary would give us a little information on those points.
I now turn to another agricultural question which has not so far been touched upon in this Debate. It is a question connected with the personnel in agriculture. I believe that most hon. Members would agree that in the course of time, a number of farm workers find the opportunity, and seize it, to become farmers themselves, but that they always become farmers in a small way. The point that I want to make is that in Scotland, at least, they never get beyond that small way. An ex-farm worker——
§ Lord William Scott
Does the hon. Gentleman really suggest that no steward, herd, or farm worker can work up a farm and really become a big farmer in Scotland, and that such a person has not done so in recent years?
§ Mr. MacPherson
I was not suggesting that none could do so; I am sorry if I put it in that way, but what I was trying to suggest—I accept the fact that my experience of the matter is not as great as that of the noble Lord—was that while a fair proportion of farm workers do become small farmers, the great majority of them never become big farmers. I certainly would not say that this was so in every case, but my impression is that there is a very considerable barrier for 1599 them between small farming and big fanning. I suggest that the Government should attempt, if, as I think—in spite of what the noble Lord says—my point is soundly based, to make a longer ladder. In point of fact, the bottom of the ladder ought to be broadened, because very few manage to make even the first rung of it.
Now I want to come—and I think I am in Order in this because previous speakers have already dealt with the subject—to the question of transport in Scotland, and particularly to the condition of our Scottish ports system. We have a number of ports which are, and have been, flourishing in Scotland and my constituency includes the second largest port in Scotland, the port with the second greatest turnover of imports and exports. I am, therefore, interested to learn what is to be the policy which will underlie the development of the Scottish port system, because a seriously thought-out policy is necessary. The development of the ports involves very heavy capital expenditure. What is, in words, a comparatively simple type of development, like the installation of a heavy or even a light crane, means a huge sum in actual expenditure.
The basic fact of the situation, as I see it, is that the Scottish economy upon which the ports system is based is sound, and we can add to that the statement in the White Paper that there is a definite intention on the part of the Government to develop the "so-far neglected resources"—I believe that is the exact phrase used in the White Paper—of Scotland so that we shall be in a position in which our economy is not merely healthy and sound but is expanding and developing. In particular, if one looks at the ports of the East Coast and the background of the industries which they feed, and from which the industries export, one finds factors such as the building of factories, in which we learn that since 1945 we have built factories in Scotland at the rate of 17 per cent. of the United Kingdom instead of in our ordinary proportion. Factory production is building up. In our coalfields we are beginning to shoot out our tentacles in the matter of undeveloped areas: and industrially we have some 1600 quite considerable developments, particularly in my own area.
That is a background which should mean that the plan for the East Coast ports particularly ought to be a forward plan; we ought to be saying that these ports will be increasingly used. It may possibly be that some among them will fall into less use, but it seems to me that in general we are in a situation where the sort of policy to follow is one based on the idea that our economy is sound and is expanding.
I want to ask, in particular, about the policy so far as it affects Grangemouth. A good deal of capital expenditure is needed in the Grangemouth docks. When the Working Party on the Turn-Round of Shipping examined the Grangemouth situation not so very long ago, their recommendation was for a second heavy crane to be installed in Grangemouth, and I notice that there is a statement in the White Paper that major developments are about to take place in the Grangemouth docks. In Leith the developments necessary have begun and in Glasgow——
§ Commander Galbraith
On a point of Order. I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, Mr. Mathers, but it seems to me that his argument is really now trenching on the Debate which is to follow a week today and it might be that if he continues in this strain a lot of the material which should really come into the Debate next week, will no longer exist for that Debate. I ask for your Ruling.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Mathers)
This is, indeed, primarily intended to be a Debate on rural areas, but it seems to me that the hon. Gentleman has kept himself within the Rules of Order because transport is definitely related to the items which are before us.
§ Commander Galbraith
Further to that point of Order. Is not the question of transport connected with the Debate only in so far as it affects the Secretary of State's salary? As far as I am aware, the salary of the Minister of Transport is not down for consideration.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The salary of the Minister of Transport is not down and to that extent the hon. and gallant Gentleman is correct.
§ Mr. MacPherson
Before you took the Chair, Mr. Mathers, I attempted to raise a point of Order to clarify that, but my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) raised the question of transport mainly in connection with roads, docks and ferries. I took it, therefore, that I was in Order. I had every intention of proceeding with this in the later stage of my speech.
§ Commander Galbraith
Of course, the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) was perfectly in Order because he was dealing with a matter for which the Secretary of State is directly responsible, but I do not think the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) was dealing with such a matter.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Is it not also the case that the noble Lady the Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Tweedsmuir) spoke quite at length on the question of freight charges on transport, which are not the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Scotland?
§ The Temporary Chairman
I am quite sure that the points made by the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) will not be lost on the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs and that he will realise the importance of limiting his remarks and not taking them outside the scope of the Vote which is before us.
§ Mr. MacPherson
That seems to me, Mr. Mathers, to be a very wise ruling, and I certainly accept it. I had actually intended to develop a good deal more in connection with Grangemouth Docks, but I will conclude with the point I was making, which was that the policy of equipping the docks, primarily with cranes—although, of course, there is a good deal of other equipment which is, perhaps, of less importance from the point of view of capital expenditure—has been recommended, first of all, by the Working Party on the Turn-Round of Shipping and then stated in a short phrase in the White Paper. I, therefore, want to ask the Joint Under-Secretary what is the position about the implementation of that policy because in Leith and Glasgow we are having developments, and it is not merely a stated policy but it has been inaugurated. I should like to know whether it is to be put into operation in Grangemouth shortly 1602 and, if not, what are the reasons. Perhaps I may ask that question and perhaps it will be possible for me to catch the Chairman's eye in a few days' time so that I may develop some of the other points I had in mind.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Lord William Scott (Roxburgh and Selkirk)
In an interruption in the speech of the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) I suggested that it was not altogether a fact that during recent years the agricultural worker has not had good opportunities of working forward, after becoming first of all a small farmer, and eventually going to the top of the tree and becoming a big farmer. In my own experience, not only in my constituency but also in the south-west of Scotland, I know of very many cases where an individual has gone right the way from the bottom up to a position as high as the average farmer in Scotland expects to reach.
The number of cases in which that has been done in two generations could be multiplied a hundredfold, but I would point out that under the legislation we have passed in this House in the last three years that will be far more difficult. We have endeavoured to give a very large measure of what is known as security of tenure to the tenant farmers of Scotland, but what we have succeeded in doing is something quite different, something very nearly approaching a fixity of tenure, and those who will suffer most from the errors we have made are the young men coming forward who very likely would make just as good, or even better, farmers than even those of our present generation. The other sufferers will be the agricultural workers who are capable of doing all that is necessary to make quite good farmers. But the legislation we have passed in the last three years has led to far more difficulty for them.
Turning to another subject, I should like to deal with marginal land. On this matter I am in complete agreement with what the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) said, but I think I am more or less in agreement with what every other Member on both sides of the Committee has said on marginal land, because we do seem, on this occasion anyhow, on all sides to be more or less in agreement on this particular subject. 1603 I do think, however, that the time has arrived when we have to declare rather more definitely what we mean by "marginal land." It has been quite obvious during the Debate today that quite a number of us have differing meanings in using the expression. I think we have got into the habit now of talking about all land which is not either hill sheep farmland, or which does not bear some relation to the rich cornlands of the Lothians, as marginal land. I think that the term "marginal land" has a rather more definite meaning than that of any farmland which does not happen to be either hill sheep farmland or the rich low cornlands.
I think it has been generally agreed that Scotland should be doing more in the production of beef. The only increased production of beef that could come from Scotland would have to be from that marginal land. What is stopping it at the present moment is not legislation—for goodness knows, Scottish agriculture during the last three years has had an absolute spate of legislation. What is stopping it is the fact that the vast majority of the marginal land pasturage is not good enough to keep the cattle. We have to improve that pasturage, because otherwise we shall get no real benefit from it, from the cattle point of view; and we have to improve it to such an extent that it will carry the stock. Stock put on it as it is now would be merely a liability and not an asset to Scotland. I think the farmers have been fully aware of the necessity of getting more cattle on to marginal land. Twelve years ago, on a similar occasion to this, I spent 20 minutes talking entirely about trying to get cattle on to the hill farms. I do not think the term "marginal land" was used much in those days. We must get cattle on to pasturage which is very much better than it is at the present moment.
One or two hon. Members have said that had we done as much for the production of beef as for the production of milk, there would be a much bigger production of beef in Scotland today. That is quite true. The fact remains that 100 years ago Scotland went out for the production of sheep. A great deal of money was made out of sheep 100 years ago, and for a long period. We have gone on paying for that ever since. One of the 1604 troubles of agriculture in Scotland is that we had far too many sheep on the land, and in a great number of cases sheep superseded cattle.
The Secretary of State said there was no evidence that there really was a day when large numbers of Scottish cattle—store cattle—were moved to the south of Scotland and into England. Well, there is very definite evidence of that, and if he—or the Joint UnderSecretary—ever cares to visit that high ground where South Ayrshire joins South Lanarkshire and Dumfries, he will see the old drove roads down which hundreds of thousands of Scottish cattle, born in the West Highlands, were moved South to form the stores for the Lowlands of Scotland and for all England. If any Scottish Member has any doubt about it I ask him to read that very excellent book "Rob Roy." "Rob Roy" may be a romance, but it is a very accurate romance, and it dealt with the times 200 years ago and a little more when Scotland produced the store cattle for Great Britain. Until about 130 years ago Scotland produced store cattle which for the last 100 years we have always got from Ireland. Scotland in those days long ago showed that we have the climate in the West Highlands to produce store cattle, and there is no reason why we should not do it now, in possibly a slightly modified form.
Whenever one asks any farmer why we have not more cattle on the marginal lands one learns that, apart from the grazing, one of the big difficulties is the very high price today, and for many years past, of the Irish store cattle. Irish stores are very, very dear indeed. Relatively, they are far more dear than the finished off cattle that go for slaughter. If only we can get the pastures improved, there will not be such a tremendous call as there is at present, and for some time has been, on the feedingstuffs. We in Scotland cannot produce those feedingstuffs which we require most of the year for finishing off fat cattle. Oil cakes and such like cannot be produced in any quantity, or in quantities worth mentioning, either in Scotland or in Great Britain. But we can produce better crops. There is no question about that. If we get better grass, there will not be nearly such a need for those feedingstuffs for finishing off cattle.
1605 I should like to hear from the Secretary of State whether he thinks we are now in a position to supply the agricultural community with all those necessities for improving our pastures. Have we sufficient lime? In the South of Scotland at present we draw much of our lime from Cumberland. Personally, I have no objection to Cumberland lime. I do not mind if it comes from Cumberland. I think it is quite good lime. However, I have a feeling that I should like to have Scottish lime. I am sure there is ample demand for it. In the old days there was a vast range of lime kilns throughout Scotland. I am quite certain that there are areas, in Lanarkshire particularly, where lime could very well be burned and ground again. I should like to know whether there are sufficient fertilisers so that we can really get on with the improvement of the pastures on our marginal land.
While I am on that subject, I should like to say to the Secretary of State that I do hope that nothing he has said concerning the Black Galloway as beef cattle will be taken as being rather unkind. I myself regard the Black Galloway as a very excellent form of beef cattle. The Black Galloway are hardy and can live under almost any conditions, and the Black Galloway, and the cross between the Black Galloway and the Shorthorn, are, in my opinion, as good beef cattle as any to be found anywhere in Scotland. In my estimation they produce beef every bit as good as the Aberdeen Angus; and they can live on pastures not nearly as rich, in higher altitudes and in exposed conditions.
There is one subject I should like to go into in some detail, and that is the subject of labour for the farms. At the moment, owing to housing and other difficulties, we are not getting any great increase in the number of our own agricultural workers, who are the best agricultural workers in the world, and for certain periods of the year we must, of necessity, rely very largely on the agricultural workers provided by St. Andrew's House through the agricultural executive committees. These workers are mostly European voluntary workers, some of whom are first-class, but some are as near useless as one could get.
The European voluntary workers seem to fall largely into those two classes, the exceptionally good and the exceptionally 1606 bad. The farmers who get the good workers are only too pleased, because they get very good value for money. The farmers who get the duds consider that the sooner they get them off the farm the better. Surely St. Andrew's House ought to be able to devise a scheme by which the European voluntary workers could be given a little more incentive? I gather that they are not themselves very highly paid, and that they all get the same amount, whether they work well or whether they do not. I am convinced that with a little manipulation and a little encouragement a far bigger percentage of them would be in the satisfactory class of worker.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
Is it not the case that with a little manipulation of wages upwards for our own agricultural workers, we would get more home workers, and so have less need to use these displaced persons?
§ Lord William Scott
I shall come to that in a minute.
The farmers pay a very big price for this European voluntary labour, and some of them have complained to me that the bills from St. Andrew's House do not come in until rather late. That seems a curious complaint, but it is one which I have no doubt can be remedied. The farmers say that the bills are sent in so late that it is too late for them to be able to query inaccuracies and produce the necessary evidence. I hope that that point will be noted. I also hope that some means will be found to give more incentives, so that this labour can be geared up to a high level.
I turn now to the question of our own home agricultural workers, to which the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) just referred. From time immemorial agricultural workers in the Border country and in Southern Scotland have received very favourable wages compared with the wages of agricultural workers in the rest of the United Kingdom. Those of us who have farmed in both Scotland and England know that, although we may have paid higher wages to workers in the South of Scotland, those workers produce so much more work in the course of an average week that it was, on the whole, more valuable labour.
I ask the Secretary of State to study the diets of agricultural workers in 1607 France, England, and Scotland in former years. He will find that over a large area in France the agricultural worker worked long hours but got almost no meat at all; they were almost vegetarian. In England the agricultural worker ate far less meat than has always been the custom for the agricultural worker in Scotland. I remember, when I was first elected to the House of Commons, being asked by a cattleman at a meeting in the South of Scotland: "What is the use of you talking to me about a home market for British meat when I can only afford to buy the imported Argentine stuff, although I am turning out the finest beef in Great Britain?" That was a difficult question to answer. What is the position today? On what are we feeding the agricultural worker in the South of Scotland, from whom we expect so much? He gets a shillingsworth of meat a week and a bit of cheese. The worst of it is that in the old days, not only did they get far more but far better quality meat, because the Argentine meat that we are getting today bears no comparison with the Argentine meat we imported 12 years ago. The Argentine seems to be able to send us almost anything. What are they getting in our part of the Border country, where we produce this magnificent beef, large quantities of which day by day go across the Border to feed various areas? A shillingsworth of meat a week, which is nearly always frozen meat from the Argentine. That just is not good enough.
I know that for certain periods of the year, during the harvesting season, or when there is a bit of hoeing to be done, the agricultural workers get a bit more. I want them to get extra rations at other periods. If that were done, I am certain that we should not require so many of these European voluntary workers. I myself do not care to use the European voluntary workers, but in the circumstances I have to do so. None of us likes it very much. If our own agricultural workers could have the same rations as the miners—because they are doing just as hard work—the Secretary of State would go down in history as a man who had really done something worth doing for Scottish agriculture.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
There are certain points on which I agree with the noble Lord. He emphasised one aspect which nobody else seems to have mentioned in this Debate, namely, the question of labour. We need far more labour on the land, and I believe we should concentrate more attention on this problem than we have done in the past. I am not so sure that I can agree with the noble Lord when he suggests that today the agricultural worker, with his Argentine meat, is getting less than agricultural workers in previous years. If I recollect aright, those who have studied closely what people ate, especially agricultural workers, in the time of Robert Burns, have found that meat did not figure very largely in their diet.
In this Debate we have not had from the Opposition any comprehensive indictment of the Government's agricultural policy. No Opposition Member has said that farmers are almost ruined after four years of Labour Government, as was prophesied at the General Election.
§ Mr. Hughes
I cannot help the hon. and gallant Member if he does not read the speeches of the leader of his own party.
In this Debate there has been a complete absence of the argument that agriculture is not enjoying prosperity. The other day, in answer to a Question which I asked, the Secretary of State for Scotland told me that the number of bankruptcies among farmers in Scotland the year before last was four. If only four farmers in Scotland went bankrupt in 1947, and if agricultural workers wages are higher than they ever have been in the history of Scotland, that is a fairly good criterion upon which to judge the success of the Government's agricultural policy. The farmers are more prosperous than they have ever been, and there is no reason for them to vote Conservative at the next General Election. Nor should the agricultural workers, who are getting better wages than they have ever had in the history of Scotland.
Some remarkable arguments have been used in this Debate. The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) appealed to the Secretary of State, a Labour Secretary of State, to put pressure upon the 1609 county council in his area because the roads were inadequate for agricultural purposes. In other words, the Socialists have to put pressure on a Tory county council because it is not doing its work efficiently.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Yes, and they are doing it. The hon. Member for West Perth produced a very good argument which deserves a great deal of consideration, that there should be a far greater attempt on the part of the Department of Agriculture to stimulate hill-farming activities. The argument—and I think it was accepted by the Secretary of State—was that the deer forests should be utilised to a far greater extent for sheep farming. It is true that a great deal of romantic talk has been heard in the past about the number of people who can be employed on deer farms, but we do not need to indulge in romanticism because our case is strong enough as it is. The constructive suggestions put forward by the hon. Member for Perth should be carefully considered. It is a new stage in Conservative propaganda when the hon. Member for West Perth and the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) ask the Government to take a greater part in agricultural activities. I do not know what the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) will have to say about this lapse when he reads about it in tomorrow's HANSARD.
I want to draw attention to the agricultural land which has been taken over by other Departments. The Secretary of State should take up a much more determined stand with the Secretary of State for War on this. We have had two glaring examples in Scotland of good agricultural land being taken over for military training purposes. I think it was the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) who protested against land being acquired in the Border, which meant that 22,000 sheep were taken off the Cheviots. I believe that in that case an alteration was made, although the scheme went through. This year we have had two glaring cases of land in Lanarkshire and Morayshire being acquired in spite of the strongest protests 1610 by local farmers and those interested in agriculture in the areas.
In the neighbourhood of Lanark 4,823 acres of land have been acquired by the War Office, in spite of the fact that it meant four farms would go out of existence and that there would be loss of meat equal to the rations for 100,000 people for a year. In addition to the loss of meat, 24,000 gallons of milk sold outside the farms will be lost per year as well as 2,500 gallons used on the farms. In Morayshire, according to the reports of a farmers' meeting at which 200 were present, it is proposed to acquire 8,000 acres and 1,620 acres of arable land affecting 35 holdings. Protests were made, not by myself who might naturally be supposed to have certain prejudices against the military authorities, but by a very respected military gentleman whose rank will, I am sure, appeal to the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan), that of brigadier. A protest was made by the Lord-Lieutenant of the County, who urged the farmers to fight the case on principle.
For the first time I find myself agreeing in principle with a brigadier and Lord-Lieutenant. Furthermore, the Earl of Cawdor made a very violent speech. He said that he spoke from experience of what had happened elsewhere when land was requisitioned, and he urged the farmers of Moray to go ahead and put forward as strong a case as possible. The Earl described inquiries as eye-wash and said they were unlikely to lead anywhere. I believe that he is quite right. We had an example of that recently in Lanark. No fewer than eight high ranking military officers arranged presumably to give evidence at the inquiry, but according to the procedure it was impossible for the agents of the local authority and the National Farmers' Union to cross-examine them as they did not go into the witness box.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Mathers)
I think that the hon. Member will realise he is dealing with a matter which does not concern this Vote. I do not object to him dealing with matters affecting agriculture in Scotland, but he should try to relate his remarks to the responsibility of the Secretary of State rather than to the responsibility of the War Office.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
That is the point I am making. This is the responsibility of the Secretary of State, because he appointed the inquiry and has the final decision. I want to know precisely where he comes in. Is the Secretary of State consulted before acquisition of land takes place? Is he the final authority in the matter? I am not at all satisfied that a sufficiently strong stand is made by the Department of Agriculture.
The question of water supplies has been referred to, but there is also the question of electricity. Electricity is one of the most urgent needs in the countryside, both for the farm worker in his house and also for working mechanical devices such as milkers. I urge the Secretary of State to do his utmost to stimulate the activities of the electricity boards so that electricity can be brought more speedily to the countryside. Then there is the question of housing. The Secretary of State told us with great pride about the Swedish houses that have come to Scotland, which is a very laudable project. The only trouble is that it is not 1,000 houses but 5,000 houses which are needed.
Here I would urge the Secretary of State also to have a few words with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to try to end this ridiculous procedure of these houses being brought into the country by the Secretary of State for Scotland and charged import duty at the ports by the Chancellor. Every problem in Scotland comes down to the question of houses. We should mobilise the building labour of Scotland in such a way as to lead to an acceleration and the development of housing in the country districts; that is our most urgent and pressing need.
In conclusion, I want to say a few words about fishing. I have agreed with practically everything that has been said in this Debate by hon. Members representing fishing constituencies. I agree especially with the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson), even when he said that one of the greatest iniquities of all was bringing cods without heads into this country. We have had too many cods without heads brought into this country, and I believe that too many cods without heads have arrived in Westminster. I think hon. Members have been quite right in 1612 stressing the importance of fishing as part of our national economy from the point of view of food production. We shall need more fish, and I urge the Government to organise to a greater extent than they have done in the past the distribution of fish which is so badly needed to supplement the meat supply.
On the whole, the agricultural communities of this country have every reason to thank the Government, and I urge the Government to go forward boldly with more imaginative methods of re-organising the countryside, and to leave the old methods which have been so strongly denounced by implication and otherwise by the Opposition tonight, so that when we go into the country constituencies of Scotland we can say, "We have not let you down. We have done a great deal to help you and we are entitled to a mandate to enable us to continue this work in the future."
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. MacLeod (Ross and Cromarty)
There are many points which I should like to raise on the question of agriculture and food, and I want to take up one or two of the points which have been mentioned and to stress them. There is the question of labour in agricultural areas. I believe that we shall not get the people to go back there, despite an increase in wages, until we have improved the amenities of our countryside. Neither shall we get the wives of the men to live in the houses there until they have adequate water supplies. In the Highlands we have welcomed the extension of the electricity supply, but again I should like to stress, as I have stressed before, the importance of water supplies in the rural areas. As to hill farming land, one of the reasons why full advantage has not been taken of the Act is because the cost of drainage is much too high; and in many cases in the Highlands a 50 per cent. grant is not adequate. We must get our lands in the Highlands dry before we can get any return from them. Even then they have to be limed adequately.
The noble Lord the Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Lord William Scott) referred to re-seeding, but we shall not get the lands re-seeded until they are properly drained. I am glad to say that at last that fact is recognised, although it has taken a crisis to show the real value 1613 of agricultural land in the Highlands For that reason I disagree with the hon. Member who opened the Debate. I think the small man in the Highlands, as well as the large farmer, can play a very important part. In playing that part he will be aided if he is given adequate assistance in draining his common pasture land in the Highland hills. A lot of these drains could be used so as to put some of the water into the lochs at the bottom of the hills, which would be of great assistance to the rural areas.
I should also like to mention the question of marginal land. Sometimes when the authorities consider what land is to be designated "marginal," they do not so designate certain lands, and here I am thinking particularly of land in my constituency which is of real agricultural value. It would be valuable if we could use more of this "marginal-marginal" land. I have in mind certain cases in which such land was not designated marginal land in the first instance, although ultimately it was so designated; I think the Under-Secretary knows of the case which I have in mind.
Apart from these points, there is the question of transport in the rural areas, which I want to stress. Although I am sorry the Minister of Transport is not here I hope the points that I shall raise will be in Order. I think they will be as they affect agriculture. I wish to refer to the lack of transport facilities in the Highlands. I shall confine my remarks to this vexed problem which is linked so closely to agriculture and food supplies, and, indeed, the general wellbeing of the inhabitants and visitors to the area. Transport is the key to many of the Highland problems. We shall never be able to develop fully our agriculture and food supplies in the North until transport facilities are brought up to date and developed. We cannot have adequate transport in the Highlands until we improve our roads and make a sensible attempt to open up our country. The Secretary of State said that work was going ahead, but I wonder sometimes whether work is going ahead in the right place. I shall raise this matter later.
Surely, it will be admitted that the first thing which was done by the proud pioneers who settled in our Colonies was to build roads and improve their trans- 1614 port. Yet the Highlands of Scotland today—and this is my point—have some 200 communities who have no roads whatsoever and, as the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) said, in many cases the inhabitants have to carry everything on their backs. I do not think that my fellow Highlanders would be flattered if I compared them to a Colony, as the bon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) compared them, but this question of the development of road transport in the Highlands must be tackled with the vigour and enthusiasm which we would put into Colonial development. Perhaps it is not inappropriate to refer to the Colonies at this time, when the "Colonial Month" Exhibition is taking place, as we all know that many Scottish people left our country to develop the Colonies. I believe we would be able to attract many of them back home again to visit their forebears if there were better road transport.
The other day the President of the Board of Trade said that the tourist trade was our most important dollar-earner, and that we must do all we can to encourage that trade. Many applications for grants for roads are being refused because there are not enough people in the district, but I believe that if the tourist trade was taken into consideration at the same time as the advantages to be gained by the agricultural industry, the desire for opening up these areas in the Highlands would be more fully realised. I have heard tourists in my constituency say that they do not wish to come back because they have wasted so many hours waiting to cross ferries which serve main roads. They carry with them unpleasant memories of hours wasted and heavy car repair charges.
I am handing out no bouquets to past Governments, but, to be fair, I must say that circumstances have changed and that the present Government are not taking this into account. It is true that further inquiries and reports have been made, but all this has been done before. There is a mass of information available on this subject. Take one—the Report of the Committee on Ferries in Great Britain. This came out a year ago. In December last I asked the Minister of Transport what he was doing about the Report. He replied that he was considering its recommendations, and hoped before long to let Members have more definite views. I 1615 hoped something would have been done before the present summer season, but so far as I know, the Report is still being considered, if it has not already been put into the appropriate or inappropiate pigeon-hole.
Last week I was at a meeting in North Kessock where practically all those present were members of the agricultural community. The question before the meeting was the withdrawal of the motor ferry from Kessock. It was a very irate meeting. Conditions have deteriorated there, so much so that for the first time in living memory no vehicular traffic can cross the ferry. Further, the passenger ferry has been withdrawn from the Kyles of Lochalsh. This ferry comes under British Railways, and its withdrawal is a poor example of the working of nationalisation. Who gave the order to withdraw the ferry at the height of the summer season? It was obviously someone who had no knowledge of the conditions in the Highlands.
Now I would like to touch on the question of freight charges. The charges made to the agricultural community for transporting goods and cattle are appalling. I do not altogether agree that this matter is not the responsibility of the Secretary of State. The issue is a vital one for rural agricultural communities. I was pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman say he was looking into the question, but I urge that something be done now because these heavy burdens are a tax on the existence of people in the Highlands. I agree with the hon. Member for the Western Isles that people in the Western Highlands have a far more difficult problem to face. There are 32,000 inhabitants in the Highlands who live from 20 to 30 miles from the nearest railway station. They have to pay up to 25s. a ton on freight, and it has been calculated that shopkeepers in those areas must charge 2½ per cent. over their legitimate profit, in many cases, in order to make an adequate living. I realise that the problem is difficult, but it must be tackled before the two years which the Secretary of State mentioned, if we are to obtain any development through hard-headed—or even "cod-headed," as the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) might call them—businessmen.
I started my speech with a reference to roads, and I would like to leave by road. I only wish I could go by road 1616 to some of the places in the Highlands about which I have been talking. I made my maiden speech in the House on the question of roads, when I specifically referred to the road around the north coast of Applecross. I do not wish to appear parochial, and I am sure the Committee will forgive me if I appear to do so, but I consider the opening up of the Western Highlands to be a development of national importance. The Minister of Transport refuses to make a complete survey of the roads system throughout the Highlands, but I am certain that this will have to be done one day and that full consideration will have to be given to the method of financing payment for these roads. At the present rate of progress it will take years before parish roads which are not eligible for grant are taken over by county councils. In these areas there are food supplies which cannot get out because of inadequate roads.
I press the Minister to make this survey. The Secretary of State painted a romantic picture today of the development in the Highlands, and told us that vast sums of money were being spent on agriculture and forestry; but much of this expenditure will be useless unless our roads system is improved. Many roads were built a long time ago, and are quite unsuitable for modern traffic. I hope that the Secretary of State will view this problem realistically to enable the Highlands to play, as people are now finding out they can play a vital part in the national economy. Until the primary question of roads, which I stress again, is tackled, they will not be able to play that vital part.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Pryde (Midlothian and Peebles, Southern)
The Debate has reached a very high standard indeed. The brilliant and comprehensive exposition of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is worthy of the attention of a crowded House of Commons, including Members not only from Scotland but from England and Wales also. No one should depreciate or underestimate the ability of the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) who initiated the Debate on behalf of the Opposition, and who is himself a practical farmer. I feel, however, that his thinly veiled innuendo was to make it appear that the present Government 1617 had failed to eliminate all the errors, mistakes and handicaps imposed upon Scottish agriculture in the history of the past.
We do not talk often enough here about the land, especially the land of Scotland. There are numbers of hon. Members who wax enthusiastic over coal, foreign relations, questions of currency, housing and other things, but when all is said and done everything springs from the land. If the land is not right, nothing else can be right. According to the Secretary of State 110,000 people are employed on the land in Scotland, which means, surely, that it is our largest and most important industry.
During the Debate reference has been made to fishing which relates principally to the Islands. I thought of the Good Book, which says:There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not.But even those things and everything else pale into insignificance beside the fact that for many years the trawler owners of the North of Scotland have been losing hundreds of thousands of pounds and yet, like the coalowners of the past, have lived on the profits out of their losses. For me, that is too wonderful for explanation. All I can say is that they must have been very great philanthropists indeed.
I should like to turn the attention of the Committee to a part of Scotland which has all the characteristics of the Highland country and yet is not very far from the city of Edinburgh; where we have every form of agricultural activity—rich corn lands, as the noble Lord the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Lord William Scott) has indicated; marginal land, dairy farms, and gallant men who run sheep farms in outlying places, sometimes at great heights where there are very few roads indeed. But let me emphasise the needs of roads and electricity in carrying on the great work of agriculture. It may be said that these things are not the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Scotland, but the Secretary of State represents Scotland and it is he, and he alone, who may take the initiative, especially in opening up the countryside.
In Peebles we have a diminishing agricultural population. Our farmers 1618 attribute that trend principally to the fact that the area and our farming communities and farms are so isolated. The people demand some form of recreation and relaxation, and the only way in which they can get it is by being provided with bus services and other facilities. We see the policy of the Ministry of Transport operating in the cutting down, or the threatened cutting down of railway services. It behoves the Secretary of State, therefore, to see that our roads are put into such a condition as will allow free movement for our rural population.
It is no good telling a Tory county council or any other political body, including Labour, that they must undertake this responsibility. In a county such as Peebles, where agriculture is de-rated to the extent of 87½ per cent., obviously the necessary income is not available. The income of a county council, whether Tory or Labour is from taxation. If the policy of de-rating is applied to any considerable extent the money which is required to enable the work to be done is not forthcoming. The task, therefore, becomes a national responsibility. For many years the farmers of Southern Peebles-shire, even long before the General Election of 1945, have been crying out for electricity. They saw the Clyde Valley lead in electricity. They saw the Lothians Electric Power Company lead in electricity, yet the great rich, valuable farmland of the Broughton area remained without it. Today the churches and schools still use paraffin lamps and candles, which I consider is a scandal in view of modern technique and ability. I ask the Secretary of State to give his sympathetic consideration to this question.
There is one matter regarding agriculture which I bring to the notice of the Scottish office. In countries such as South Africa agriculture is given preferential treatment in postal services; special cheap rates apply to agricultural products which are sent by post. Furthermore, free railway facilities are provided in order that sheep may gain access to grassland, yet, even with such handicaps to its revenue, South Africa is able to make a very valuable contribution to the food supplies of this country.
The House of Commons should consider an early possibility of providing freer movement for our rural population in districts such as Peebles-shire and the 1619 Highlands by giving priorities for agricultural vehicles at reduced prices to ensure that farmers who have long distances to travel may do so more quickly. Sometimes their farms are scattered over large areas in hilly country which is extremely difficult to traverse. Motor distributors should be recommended to allow priority to members of the farming community to enable them to take their produce, especially eggs, into the market and thus help in a material way the food production of our rural areas.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)
I always think of the Secretary of State for Scotland as a superbly good salesman and I always feel at the end of a speech of his that he has made a very good case. I hope that he will forgive me on this occasion if I try briefly to point out two or three ways in which the case he has put tonight is not quite as strong as he would like to make this Committee believe.
The first point is about the Highlands, led to, by what he said about the Government's contribution to the Highlands as a whole. "We are trying," he said "to keep people in the Highlands." He referred to the Swedish houses about which I have been concerned. I am very glad to hear that the Swedish houses are getting on well. They will make a big contribution in the places to which they have been allocated. It is not only houses that are wanted in the Highlands but industries, and I want to say a few words about one of the oldest industries in Scotland, that of the hand-loom weavers. I am always glad to talk about them, partly because my own great grandfather was a parish minister in Fenwick, in Ayrshire, and helped to get together the Fenwick weavers who started one of the first co-operative societies. I always remember my pride in looking through the dusty minute books of those weavers who, working with their hand-looms, got together and started co-operative methods.
In many parts of my constituency in West Aberdeenshire I have ex-Service men and others who are trying to make a living out of the hand-loom. They have had most awful difficulties, first of all about getting into the export market, 1620 then with the dwindling of the demand in the export market, and now with the most crippling thing of all, the 66⅔rds Purchase Tax. I know that the Secretary of State is not responsible for the Purchase Tax.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Would not the hon. Gentleman recognise, if he had studied the matter at all, that the Scottish weavers have contributed a very big share to the output of Communist ideas in this country?
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
We have a large number of weavers in my part of the country and undoubtedly there are very few Communists among them.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Is it not a fact that the weavers have contributed to the development of all thought in Scotland?
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
I am greatly tempted by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) to be led astray, but time is getting on and many other hon. Members want to speak. I recognise that this is not the Secretary of State's responsibility, yet it is a Government responsibility that employment should be provided in the Highlands and in Scotland generally. I hope that the Secretary of State will use his very powerful weight in the Cabinet to see that this matter is rectified as soon as possible.
The next matter is that someone ought to mention on 30th June the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act, 1948. This is a most important thing for, from midnight tonight, no one who has not already submitted his claim, or has certified that he has instructed it to be done, will be able to make any claim on the compensation provided under the terms of the Act for loss of development rights. I am not a betting man, but I would not mind risking a large sum of money on a bet that only a very small proportion of the people who have legitimate claims, will, by midnight tonight, have submitted them. Even with the extension that was given from the end of March to the end of June, there is abundant evidence to suggest that far too little time has been given to allow for the toil and trouble involved.
I have looked up the references to see what instructions have been issued about this matter, and I was surprised to see 1621 that since the passing of the Act no fewer than 27 statutory instruments and eight explanatory leaflets have been issued—I am talking now about the Scottish Act and not about the English Act—and five explanatory memoranda from the Central Land Board. That makes 40 documents. It is almost impossible for a layman, and very difficult for anyone skilled in these things, to understand them. To expect ordinary folk to grasp the significance of what has been done is asking too much. I believe that most people will only realise the injustices of this Measure—which nationalises development rights in Scotland, which refuses to compensate as of right and only by ex gratia payment in cases of hardship, which is nowhere defined in the Measure itself, and which leaves the basis of compensation to be determined by a Treasury scheme which has not yet been made—as the years pass and more development charges are made. In the meantime owners have been put to immense trouble and expense with no kind of guarantee that their just and reasonable claims will be met by the payment of anything more than a few shillings in the £.
I support those hon. Friends of mine who have spoken about the meat position and our miserably low meat ration, and I agree with them that there is very little chance of obtaining a quick increase in our supplies of meat from any overseas source and that our best chance is to look inwards to our own home resources. We ought not to allow our pleasure at the conclusion of the Argentine Agreement to blind us to the fact that last year the Argentine defaulted on over one quarter of the amount of meat she had agreed to send us for no better reason than that she was offered a better price by Holland, Belgium and other countries. It is a characteristic defect of Government to Government trading that there is no sanction short of war by which a bargain can be enforced.
Before the war, our home production of meat and bacon exceeded one million tons a year and it accounted for about half our consumption. Though we have now over two million more mouths to feed, last year our home production was only 779,000 tons or 41 per cent. of our consumption. As to Scottish production, I see from the White Paper on Industry and Employment in Scotland, in Table V 1622 of Appendix I, that comparing 1938–39 with 1947–48, we were 25,000 tons down on the production of beef, 20,000 tons down on the production of mutton and lamb and 11,000 tons down on the production of pig meat. I heard the speech of the Secretary of State and I realise that the figures will be better, but that was the official information we had before he spoke.
There is no earthly reason why we should not make Scotland the greatest meat producing country for its size in the world. If we could do so it would be very much to the advantage of Scotland because by reason of long tradition and inherited skill in the selection and breeding of livestock, and by reason of its climate, which produces almost better grass than anywhere else in the world, we have par excellence a livestock producing country. The short-term way to step up our production is by means of the pig, and there the problem is one of feedingstuffs. Where does the Secretary of State stand about the matter of feedingstuffs? He is a member of the Cabinet in a Government which has been almost criminally negligent in its failure to import the raw materials upon which alone large increases in our home production of meat could have been made possible.
The Economic Survey of 1948 pointed out in paragraph 158 that the shortage of feedingstuffs threatened to delay the livestock expansion programme. It was perfectly understandable since, in 1947, we imported slightly over 700,000 tons of coarse grains as compared with over 4 million tons in 1938. On 6th August, 1947, the Prime Minister said in this House that the maximum supply of feedingstuffs must be obtained, and the Lord President followed that up in the same month when he addressed the agricultural executive committees and said that large increases must come from imports, and that even scarce dollars would be spent on all that was obtainable, since this operation must lead to ultimate dollar saving.
There is not the least doubt that feedingstuffs were available, but hardly any were bought with dollars; in fact, the most we bought—and not with dollars—were during last year, when we bought 1½ million tons as compared with more than the 4 million tons before the war. 1623 If we had really set out to secure the maximum amount of feedingstuffs, as the Prime Minister said we must do, the meat ration need not have fallen to its present all-time low record. The long-term question depends on the production of beef and there, as my hon. Friend said, we must look to the price incentive. Representing a part of Aberdeenshire as I do, I must say that there must be encouragement for quality production, and we must look for protein feedingstuffs.
Before I sit down I want to make two practical suggestions. The first is regarding the extraction rate of flour. A reduction of 2½ per cent. in the extraction rate would not only give us a better and more palatable loaf which would keep longer, but would provide us with 170,000 tons of additional feedingstuffs for animals—the conversion rate of which is equivalent to 25,000 tons of pork, bacon and fats. And all that could be done at a cost of only 180,000 tons of wheat, which is available at the present time. My second suggestion is that in the agreements we make with Canada and other countries we should insist, as we used to do in the past, that we import whole wheat instead of flour, because we are paying the whole wheat price but are getting flour and losing the valuable milling offals, with a high protein content, for which we have paid.
I recognise that these are not matters for which the Secretary of State is directly responsible, but he ought to urge them upon the Government. For Scotland this seems to be a heaven-sent chance. Are we seizing it? I wonder whether the Secretary of State is really thumping the table at 10, Downing Street as hard as he might do and saying that Scotland must be allowed to make its contribution. Is he working in the closest association with his colleague the Minister of Agricultue and Fisheries? I hope he is, because I believe he ought to be doing it about this question of feeding-stuffs as there is a case where both their interests are parallel.
The Psalmist writes with approval of thosewho going through the vale of misery use it for a well: and the pools are filled with water.I believe that our present misfortunes can be turned to our advantage if we only look inward to the riches of our own 1624 fields, to our own soil, and make the most of our own natural resources.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
The hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) wondered whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had been thumping the table in Downing Street. If the hon. Gentleman had properly appreciated what has been done in Scotland in the past few years, particularly what has been done for the farming industry in that time, surely he would have come to the conclusion that my right hon. Friend has been thumping the table harder than any other Secretary of State for Scotland, and that he has had success. I have been astounded tonight, in comparing what we have been hearing from hon. Gentlemen opposite with what we heard from them on Monday and Tuesday when, hour after hour, relentlessly and undismayed by constant defeats, hon. Gentlemen opposite rose hoping to reduce the "rake-off," as they politely called it, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was taking in the form of revenue, thereby limiting, as it must have done, the generosity of the Government.
Today from the very start, with the speech of the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), we have heard a different story. He pointed out that the reason why we could not get a proper impetus in beef production was that there was no profit in beef. He said that the Government must give further subsidies to ensure that there would be profit.
§ Mr. Ross
He implied that. I advise the hon. Gentleman to read the OFFICIAL REPORT. He will find that what I have said is correct. The hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson), in his desire to see things righted for the inarticulate people of Caithness and Sutherland, suggested that the Government should buy up thousands of acres of land and rehabilitate it. Again, that will cost money and again it will mean higher taxation. But what hon. Gentlemen opposite were saying on Monday and Tuesday was politely forgotten in their demand that more money should be paid out in this way. The hon. Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Tweedsmuir) and 1625 the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. MacLeod) demanded transport subsidies. I ask hon. Members to recall all that we have heard in the Scottish Grand Committee from the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) about the "charity State" and the sneers that we get on the question of food subsidies. Here we come to the very essence and substance of the food subsidies. In Scotland the majority of them are paid to Scottish farmers.
§ Mr. Ross
Far too much has been said about what has not been done by the Government and far too little attention has been paid to what has been done and to the achievements of the farming industry in the past year. On the question of livestock alone, the increase is very good. This is all tied up with the question which was touched upon by the hon. Member for West Aberdeen—the difficulties over feedingstuffs which are not so easily explained as he glibly tried to explain them in a few sentences. We have increased our dairy cattle by over 12,000 in the past year. Despite all that has been said, we have increased our beef cattle by nearly 27,500.
In regard to sheep, I think it is a spectacular achievement, when we are recovering from the catastrophic events of the previous bad winter, that last year alone we managed to increase the number of sheep being reared on our Scottish hill sides by 706,000, or nearly three-quarters of a million.
§ Mr. Ross
The figure may be nearly a million below the 1938 figures. In 1939, the figure for sheep was just over eight million, and by 1947 that had been reduced to just over six million. The point to which I want to draw attention, and which we are supposed to be discussing here today, is the development in 1948, and the fact that there was an increase from 6,240,688 to 6,730,664 is an achievement to which we should pay due tribute. The same thing applies to pigs, and we have increased the pig population by 35,400.
As to poultry, despite all the terrible difficulties about feedingstuffs, in the 1626 supply of which we have done really great things in the past year, the numbers in Scotland increased by 1,367,000, and the result of that increase is well-known to the housewives in Scotland. Of course, we do not get away from the grousing; when people never saw an egg, they prayed for them, and, when they got them, it was a case of "Eggs again." I do not place too much emphasis on that kind of grousing, and I am sure the people do appreciate what has been done for them in that direction.
During the Debate concerning the increase in milk production—which reached the record figure last year of 139 million gallons, an increase of 12 million gallons over 1947—there seemed to be some regret about the over-concentration on milk and a feeling that too much was being done and that we should now stop and concentrate all our efforts on beef. I think that is the wrong way to tackle the subject altogether. We want all that milk, and we want more. We want beef production to be stepped up admittedly, but we should not forget the value of the 139 million gallons produced in Scotland last year to the people of Scotland, and especially the mothers and children of Scotland. The fact that we can point with pride to a rising generation healthier and better than at any other time in our history is due entirely to the fact that today milk is going for liquid consumption and not, as before the war, for manufacture into buttons and umbrella handles.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Does the hon. Gentleman really think that it was more than a decimal fraction—.0001 of the total milk production of Scotland?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Why, then, did the hon. Gentleman's party vote against the milk in schools Act?
§ Mr. Ross
I will leave that to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. The fact that the milk now being produced represents one-third of the total output of Scottish farms and amounts in value to over £20 million is not a reason for now clamping down and saying that that is enough. The fact is that we still cannot de-ration milk, and until such times as we can, I see no reason why this should not continue.
§ Mr. Ross
It is not de-rationed all the time, but only during the flush months. The fact is, of course, that we require more, and that we require even better milk. The fact that the Ayrshire farmers have managed to eradicate bovine tuberculosis in nearly 84.3 of their cattle, and that the farmers of Bute, a neighbouring county, have managed to eradicate 86.5, shows that we in Scotland are not only concerned about the quantity, but also about the quality of milk, and that we should continue along these lines and do a little pioneering work, especially in England, with a view to getting purer and better milk.
I trust that the Government, in listening to the plea of the hon. Member for West Perth concerning the desirability of doing something about beef production, will not do it at the expense of the milk production. We require both. By all means let us get this unbalance righted within the farming industry, but do not let us do it by bringing down the level of one to help the other.
§ Mr. Snadden
Assuming that is what I suggest, which it is not, I agree that today we are out of balance, but what I am asking is that we should get into balance again.
§ Mr. Ross
I fully appreciate that the hon. Member did not really mean that, but had he been present he would have heard his hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) say that we have concentrated far too much on milk. I do not think that is the fair way to put it. It would have been better to 1628 have said that we have not concentrated sufficiently on the production of beef.
I want to put a few other points to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. Too little has been said about the labour position in the farming industry. These achievements, which I submit are really achievements both of the Government and the industry, have come about during the past year with the employment of 6,000 to 8,000 fewer people. I think it is about 6,000; we lost about 9,700 prisoners of war, but we have some voluntary workers. I am concerned to know whether my right hon. Friend is satisfied that in the coming months, and particularly during the harvest months, there will be a sufficient supply of labour for the work to be done. Is there any hope that either this year or next we shall be able to dispense with the necessity, which I do not like, of relying on school children to pick the potato harvest of Scotland? I do not think that is the best way to do it, or that it is something of which we should be proud.
What is the Government's long-term plan for attracting adequate labour into the farming industry, and is my right hon. Friend satisfied that his programme of 5,000 houses for agricultural workers between now and 1951 is truly adequate? I feel that we must give priority to this fundamental question of housing the agricultural workers. The industry is becoming much more attractive, and I feel that many of the people who left it in the years that the locusts—and, in my opinion, the Tories—have eaten, did not leave it because they did not like farming; they left it because they had to for economic reasons. The economic state of the industry and the standing of the farm worker have increased immeasurably, but we still lack the decent houses, which, in my opinion, would attract the labour we require. I trust that, in tackling that question, we shall continue to make advances in the Scottish farming industry.
We have, as we have never had before, a settled hope and prospect of prosperity; it is no longer just a case of clinging' to something this year and not knowing what will happen next year. One hon. Member spoke of our spate of legislation. The legislation we have had for the farming industry is good legislation and I shall not object if we get more legislation provided it is as good as that which we have already passed.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
In the few minutes which I shall occupy, I want to refer to one or two matters which have not been dealt with as fully as they might have been. I must say that I think the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) was a little unfair to my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden). I am not so sure that the same charge might not be made of the Secretary of State. I thought the speech of my hon. Friend was a model of what we might desire in this Committee; it was fair, it was balanced, it was well-informed and it was impressively constructed, and, far from its being thwarted by the fact that my hon. Friend knows his job very well, it struck me that it was his very width of knowledge and experience that gave his speech the power which it undoubtedly possessed.
We had from the Secretary of State a long and, I admit, instructive catalogue of the activities that may be found in many parts of Scotland at this time. He painted a picture which was, no doubt, intended to suggest that he and his administration are not only the best that have ever been, but are reaching as near to perfection as anything could be. Yet the reply given to him by the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) can scarcely be described as a very friendly and admiring contribution. Indeed, the more often the hon. Member for the Western Isles speaks in this Socialist Parliament, the more critical he becomes of the Socialist Government. Very soon he will be following Lord Milverton in springing across the Floor of the House. We should give him a very pleasant welcome if he thought it proper to do that. One never knows.
I am not here to condemn or even to belittle what has been achieved in the last three years. I think it is quite remarkable what Scottish organisations, officials, farming, tourist industry and industrial organisations have gained for our country in these last three years. Everybody is entitled to credit for that. The Government are entitled to credit for what they have done. I think it would be quite wrong to suggest that nothing has happened; that is not true.
What the Secretary of State has done, however, is no more—indeed, it is a good deal less—than the present revivalist 1630 spirit of Scotland demands and expects from this Government at this time. I have been in politics for a long time, and I must say that I see more real life in Scotland—I am not talking about political parties—than perhaps at any time in my political career. One feels that in all directions there is an urge for an improvement of our affairs and particularly for the better management of our affairs. As I said in a Debate last year on the Highlands, I think it is very largely a matter of administration. This is not the occasion to develop that point but I am certain that until we get a more coherent and co-ordinated administration of Scotland, bringing to our country a larger control of its affairs—and I am not now proposing a Scottish Parliament but a more effective control by Scotland of Scottish affairs—we shall not succeed in obtaining those things which all of us desire.
I observe that the Secretary of State is the object of a constant, bitter attack from the nationalist movement. I observe, too, that he receives a constant stream of criticism from the local authorities. It seems to me, therefore, that in some directions he is failing to give to the country what it requires. It is too late tonight to try to answer the question, what does it require? I should, however, like to mention one or two things in the couple of minutes which remain to me.
It is interesting and no doubt instructive, to be told that there are so many hundreds of thousands of pounds to be devoted to this, that or the other thing, but as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock said, the fundamental consideration is the state of the men and women working in the industry; and there is no doubt that the conditions that those people have today are not adequate to encourage them to stay on the soil and to make it their career. Of course, wages are better. One has seen that. One has seen the improvement, for instance, in the clothes worn by the village children. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than that. But we know quite well also that costs have risen, and there are people in Scotland today who believe that they were as well off in the old days with the 25s. or 30s. a week as with the present £4. There are many who say that. I am not saying that this is a completely accurate picture of the situation. However, 1631 there it is; the cost of living has largely increased.
Moreover, there is no question that the farm workers in Scotland are underfed. They are not getting enough food. In Fife the farm workers and the miners intermingle and live in the same villages, and the fact that one group of people, the miners, have canteen facilities whereby they are able to get more meat, is a source of irritation and of a feeling of injustice amongst the farming people. Unless we improve that situation we shall not have the contentment on the land that we expect and wish to see. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock is quite correct in pleading for a better housing allocation for the farm workers.
I should like to ask the Secretary of State a question related to that. Perhaps the Joint Under-Secretary of State, who is to reply to the Debate, will answer it. What steps have been taken to ensure that there is a sufficient labour force for the potato harvest? I sometimes have battles with the hon. Member, but when he is entitled to a compliment I am ready to pay it, and last year, when I appealed on behalf of the Fife farmers for help, because they had not enough labour to lift the crop, the hon. Gentleman came quickly to Cupar and did his best for us. What is to happen this year? Are we to be put into the same panic again, or will he assure us there will be sufficient labour available? The hon. Member for Kilmarnock says he does not like schoolchildren lifting the potato harvest. There is only one answer to that—mechanisation. I wish we had heard more today about farm mechanisation, because that is one of the developments that we shall see in the course of the next few years. What is being done about mechanisation in Scotland? I wish the Under-Secretary of State would tell us. I am just back from Canada and America where I saw the enormous influence which farm mechanisation has in the agricultural industry.
§ Mr. Stewart
There are large and small farms. We are more highly mechanised than Canada, but we are not getting far enough ahead yet. There is nothing in this White Paper to indicate what is the 1632 production of farming machinery in Scotland. We see a lot of other figures about all kinds of engineering, but nothing about farming machinery there. Surely there ought to be something about it when this is a matter of such enormous and growing importance. Our machine manufacturers have exhibited at the Toronto Exhibition, and some of them have done very well. Let us hear more about that. How is it going? What is happening? What developments are afoot? What are the Government doing to assist the manufacturers?
I would have said more, but my time is very short, and we are waiting to hear the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). However, there is one more topic I wish to raise which affects the country districts of Scotland and the Highlands, and to which the Secretary of State made some reference. There is no doubt about it that the richest and most immediate source of increased prosperity for our people lies in the development of the tourist trade. Perhaps it is a pity that that is so, but it happens to be true, and certainly in the Highlands. We had a Debate on this subject only the other day, and I do not desire to repeat all the old arguments, but it remains true that unless the Secretary of State takes steps to increase the number of hotels in the Highlands and other country parts, and greatly to improve the transport in those parts, he will deprive Scotland—Scottish industry and the Scots people—of the food and raiment to which they are entitled by their efforts. I know of many men who have applied for permission to build what are called "motels," or small cottage hotels, but who have been refused. What a senseless policy that is. Surely a thousand of these tiny cottage hotels might be developed in Scotland within a year without causing any great anxiety to anybody or drawing greatly upon any funds. There is a source of dollar revenue which falls within the scope of this Debate, and I think that might well be expanded.
There it is. I think the Secretary of State will feel that he has had a fairly good day. He has obtained from different parts of the Committee, not least from his own supporters, a certain amount of spurring on, which is the purpose of this Debate. I give him credit for what has 1633 been accomplished, and I say in conclusion that we expect much more from him, but that he will not go down to history as a great Secretary of State until much more has been accomplished.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I desire to touch on an aspect of food production which I think has not been adequately dealt with in this Debate, if it has been dealt with at all. I refer to the mechanisation of farms. Before I do so, I should like, with respect, to congratulate the Secretary of State upon his admirable speech. It seemed to me to be a mine of information, a compendious survey, and a worthy successor to a number of similar speeches which he has made since occupying his present office. It indicated a period of successful work and progress, and hope for the future.
The one matter to which I desire briefly to draw attention is, I confess, a mystery, not only to me but to a number of other people. I ask the Secretary of State to try to explain the inexplicable and to "unscrew" the inscrutable, and to give us an explanation of this mystery. It affects not only Aberdeen, in which I have a special interest, but the whole of Scotland, because it is a matter of general bearing. I shall put it briefly in the form of four questions which I should like my right hon. Friend to answer. First, what is the cause and also the effect on food production of unemployment in factories producing agricultural machinery? Secondly, what is his relation to a Royal Ordnance Factory in Scotland which has been handed over to an individual firm? Thirdly, do the Government retain any control over such a factory? Fourthly, can the Government do anything to keep it in production for the good of the nation? The Secretary of State will be aware of the particular factory to which I am drawing his attention, namely, the Tullos factory in Aberdeen.
The recent admirable Report on Industry and Employment in Scotland, 1948, touches on this. That report very properly points out that the total industrial population continued to expand during 1948 but is unlikely to continue to do so, and that therefore efforts must be concentrated on increasing production from existing sources. Two obvious methods are mechanisation and control of individual firms or individual busi- 1634 nesses, particularly, I would suggest, individual businesses which were formerly Royal Ordnance Factories and which have been handed over to individual control. Particularly is that so——
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am afraid the hon. and learned Gentleman is now going much too wide. The Debate is narrowed to matters connected with industry and employment in Scotland so far as they relate to agriculture, fisheries, food, transport and rural industries.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
I should not attempt to cover all of those subjects. I am content to keep to the first—agriculture. I am dealing with a particular firm because it produces agricultural machinery, and has, in my respectful submission, a direct bearing upon the production of food. That report to which I have referred, on page 5, says this:With about one-tenth of the British labour force, Scotland employs a higher proportion of her manpower (10.5 per cent.) than does Great Britain (8.6 per cent.) in the primary producing industries,of which, of course, agriculture is one. The history of the ex-Royal Ordnance Factory to which I have referred shows that it is obviously operating against the tendency indicated in that report. This particular factory, which produces agricultural machinery, for some unexplained reason now employs much less than its full potential and is actually dismissing workers. That, I submit, has a direct bearing upon the production of food and is a matter which, I hope, is within the scope of this Debate. On page 6, the report goes on to say:To turn to Scotland's future prospects, an important means of increasing production will be by developing resources which, for one reason or another, are now largely neglected.Here is a case where resources are being inadequately developed. This admirably equipped factory has no shortage. It is one of the best equipped factories in the country. It can employ 600 workers, and it did in fact employ 360 workers. What is the state of affairs there? Workers are being dismissed in large numbers, and so the productive power of the factory is being reduced, and the assistance which that production will give to agriculture is also being diminished. As the secretary of State knows, I have had some correspondence with him, and I have also had some 1635 correspondence with other Ministers. Though I am not laying any blame at the door of the Secretary of State—I know he has done his best—I beg him, in the interests of food production and particularly in the interests of the workers of Aberdeen, to take such steps as are open to him on the lines of the four questions I have put to him, or otherwise to attempt to solve this mystery.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)
It would have gladdened my heart to have risen earlier, but I knew that many Members were still anxious to contribute to this very valuable Debate. I regret that even now there are one or two Members who will have to return home with that saddest of things, a Scottish Supply Day speech undelivered. I think that today has justified the double procedure which we enjoy, the Committee Debates upstairs where shorter speeches can be made and the more ample Debates below, when it is possible adequately to develop a theme. After all, the opening speech was 37 minutes and the Secretary of State took 44 minutes—I do not think any one of us would have wished those speeches to be shorter. I am not an advocate of only a number of stabs at the subject in 10-minute speeches; there are times when the subject must be developed.
I am sure that we were very grateful both to my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) and to the Secretary of State for Scotland for the reviews they gave. The Debate has had the characteristic of our Scottish discussions, in that it has ranged rapidly from the great to the small issues. It has been none the worse for that. After all, as Henry IV of France said, the purpose of Government is to see that every peasant has a chicken in his pot on Sunday. The purpose of Government is that small things should be done well; large things are only a means to an end. I thought the Secretary of State was a little cavalier in his rebuke to my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth in saying that he was an expert standing so close to his subject that he was unable to take the widest view. But it was from his close and knowledgeable examination that the Committee so much benefited, as it also did from the speech from 1636 the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Scott-Elliot), who was able to give us an account, from personal experience and intimate knowledge, of the working of schemes under the Hill Farming Act.
The main application of the Debate has been the admitted present shortfall in meat production in our country, which, for the whole of the Kingdom, amounts to 400,000 tons, and which it is very desirable to remedy as soon as possible. The argument was that more could be done in the use of marginal land in Scotland, and I am sure that is true. The Secretary of State's dithyrambic description of the present state of affairs in Scotland, which we all greatly enjoyed, showed in some respects the zeal of the convert. He explained that it was all wrong to suppose that anything could be done with deer forests, and that all the talk in the past about deer forests had been so much romance. I wondered whether some of the other theories which he was advancing, and from which he has not departed, might not prove, in the evening of his days, as romantic, unreal and misty as the visions which he himself had at one time. As he himself said, he had then never seen a deer forest.
When we were rebuked by the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) for not having shown sufficient vehemence in our support and advocacy of the Empire crusade of Lord Beaverbrook, I said to myself, "Is Saul also among the prophets?" What was the attitude of the hon. Member at that time? Did he then, or does he now, line up the Labour Party behind Lord Beaverbrook? I interrupted the hon. Gentleman—and apologise to him for doing so—when he was reading about the third paragraph of a leader in the "Daily Express," because I was stung by the gadfly of reminiscence of many long battles I fought along those very lines, and the strong opposition I had to meet from the party opposite.
I remember, when I was favouring the home production of bacon as against Denmark's bacon, the vigorous attacks which I received from the present Minister of Defence. I also remember, when we were expanding sugar beet production, the solid Socialist phalanxes which used to swing into the Lobby in favour of cutting 1637 down or, indeed, abolishing its production on the ground that we could get all the sugar we required from Java. I seem to have heard that word lately, but not in connection with increased production of sugar for this country.
Then the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) twitted us with not having attacked the present policy of the Secretary of State sufficiently strongly. But why should we do that when we are adjured by the hon. Member for the Western Isles to support Lord Beaverbrook more strongly, when we are urged by the Secretary of State to forget all about deer forests and when even the hon. Member himself said that a lot of rot has been talked about deer forests in the past? I am tempted to look up the past files of "Forward," of which I have been and still am an ardent reader, and see exactly what sort of quotations I could get on that subject.
The fact is that we are moving towards, and have got a long way on the lines of, an agreed policy upon agriculture; and it is not, I think—the Secretary of State would not claim that it was—the result of a single Government or of a single school of thought. He paid me a compliment—I was most glad to have it—for the work I was enabled to do in developing the marketing scheme. I was all the more glad to have it because when I was Minister of Agriculture I had the honour of being burnt in effigy, and that in my own country, for the promotion of the Milk Marketing Board, a body to which now everyone gives the strongest support. The task of pioneers is always stony and hard, and I have had my share of the stonings that meet the prophets on their way along that road.
But here we are on a policy in agriculture which is more or less of an agreed policy, and that may well encourage us to proceed on our search for agreed policies on other matters. In this particular one of marginal land, we have not yet succeeded in getting full convergence upon it. It has not yet been fully agreed upon. The Secretary of State, as I have said, was a little curt with my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth when he dismissed altogether the part which the mountains of Scotland could play in their possible use as wedder farms. It is possible, as indeed the hon. Member for Accrington said, for a use to be made 1638 of the extreme hill lands in that matter. I would utter this caveat, however, that the danger in all these matters is that people go in for breeding stock on land which is fundamentally incapable of carrying milk animals. These are not areas which can carry milk animals. There is no drain in the world like the drain of a milking animal suckling its young; and it is that, among other things, which has gone far to reduce the fertility of much of the marginal land of Scotland and is responsible for a good deal of what is called the spread of bracken, which, in my view, could more properly be described as the death of grass.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
There is bracken and bracken. All bracken has certain similar characteristics. It is a hardy plant, deep-rooted, almost impossible to eradicate, with a certain rusty appearance at the top; but some of it can be put to great use. Some of it, on the other hand, is classified as a noxious weed. It depends to some extent upon the angle from which it is viewed. Viewed from the right, certain plants appear nobler and better than they appear when viewed from the left. Again, even in that I am sure that the convergence of view is appearing. I am speaking more particularly, however, of the hills of Scotland and those plants which are confined only to the hills and never leave those surroundings. That is often due to the strain that is put on land by the exhaustion of the fertility of the soil, caused, I personally believe, by the exhaustion of the minute-trace mineral elements of the soil faster than the rock by its natural decomposition can replace those elements.
I would remind the House of one figure in this connection. It is that at this moment, in midsummer, the output of ewe milk is probably greater than the output of milk from the dairy cows throughout the whole country of Scotland. Those who know the very great amounts of lime phosphates and feeding-stuffs of every kind which have to be fed into the land to enable a dairy herd to maintain its milk yield must be appalled at the thought of this enormous extraction going on during the ewe-milk flush in May, June and July, from the 1639 hills of Scotland with practically no replacement put in for that which is being taken out.
A big expansion of the use of marginal land would need to be paralleled, or indeed preceded, by a much more intense investigation of the quality of the soil which it is intended intensively to cultivate. Great danger might arise from the attempt to apply to the igneous rocks of the old Highland areas, lessons which have been learned in the South country here, where to tear up the herbage mat is to get at the fruitful soil underneath, whereas in our country to tear up the herbage mat, is often to get to soil which will grow only unnutritious grasses, weeds, rushes, and things which are of no use to anybody. The land will have been skinned, so to speak, and is not even as good as it was before being broken up.
Marginal land is undoubtedly a source of wealth which can be developed. I am not sure that it can be developed by the use of the schemes which have already been mentioned. My hon. Friend has pointed out that in many cases the schemes were not economic. I have had the opportunity of looking at some of them. In some cases they meant an overhead of an extra £10 per ewe. There is no hill ewe in Scotland that can carry another £10 of overhead expenses. To do that and to expect any return from it is simply an illusion. It would break and ruin the farmer upon whom it was put. There are many things, such as service roads, which may properly be a burden, not on the farmer as part of his agricultural production but upon the community as part of the development of our land. I know many hill farms, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth would cite many also, which are approached by hill roads constructed and maintained by the farmer at his own expense. Anyone knows, if he has to keep it up, the sort of burden represented by maintaining a hill road, and the sort of hole it makes in the profits or the prospective profits of any sort of farming enterprise.
We have a proverb in Scotland that there are three ways of losing money: gambling, women, and farming your own land. Gambling is the quickest. Women is the pleasantest. Farming your own 1640 land is the most certain. It may well be said that some of the enterprises into which farmers have been lured by some of these grants are as certain, are almost as quick, and are much less pleasant, than any of the three ways which have been suggested.
The Secretary of State spoke vigorously of the planning which was going on. There are some ways in which this planning may be carried to too great an extent. My hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) spoke of the evil anniversary of tonight, when the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act enters into its full vigour. I have referred to the development of hill farms. I know of a hill cottage at the foot of Windbrugh Hill on the road running over Limekilnedge. There is no other house for many miles around. It was my desire to place a dormer window in the cottage for the benefit of the shepherd living there. It would cost under £100 and therefore I thought no development charge was involved. It was being done entirely with my own money and therefore I did not require any sanction under the development agreement. In spite of that, I have had to submit a plan in triplicate not only to my county authorities but also to Edinburgh, showing the location of the dormer window and the size of the hole it was proposed to make in the room, and a site plan showing where the cottage was and its situation in relation to the mountainside. That is excessive planning. Those who would be inconvenienced by the sight of this dormer window are far less numerous than the clerks who will have had to deal with the application. This is an aspect of the matter to which the right hon. Gentleman might give his attention.
There are other obstacles, too. I have tried to improve another cottage. It is the second year in which my efforts to do this, again entirely at my own expense, have been in progress. The work is now beginning to approach completion, but I have had to root out the good wood floors and replace them with cement floors, although trees are growing all round the place in great numbers and I have a sawmill in which I should be very ready to cut up the appropriate planks to fit into the cottage. These are examples of planning which is not of 1641 such great advantage to agriculture as the right hon. Gentleman might have us believe.
§ Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)
Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say who compelled him to submit those plans in triplicate? He knows that the insertion of a dormer window does not attract development charge and is not subject to applications of that kind. He should not make such statements about the Scottish office.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I am perfectly willing to give the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) the correspondence which I have brought down here. There is a letter from the clerk to the county council saying that not only had he to see it, but that it had to go to Edinburgh. There is no doubt about this at all. Like the hon. Member, I could not believe it, but I had to believe the testimony of my own eyes. It is that no doubt which is referred to in paragraph 53 of the White Paper, where it says about the Town and Country Planning Act that:Attention has … been concentrated on drawing up the regulations prescribed by the Act and on making the effects of the Act and of these regulations known both to the local authorities who will administer them and to the public who will be affected by them.This was done. I am not misleading the House in the very slightest.
I have already trespassed more than I should have done on the time of the Joint Under-Secretary. I extend to him a most heartfelt apology. We have had not only a valuable Debate in itself but a valuable Debate in the temper in which it has been conducted. Admittedly, Scottish hon. Members when they are good are very, very good and when they are bad they are horrid. On this occasion they have been very, very good. All of us may therefore, I hope, take some small share of credit for the harmonious and fruitful progress of the Debate.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)
As many other hon. Members have said, we have had a useful Debate, and one in which tempers have not been so strained as on other occasions. May I observe that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman himself is in much better temper tonight than he was less than 24 hours ago?
§ Mr. Fraser
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman seems to have had a sleep since then. However, he has gone a little astray even this evening, because he said that the need to submit a plan for his dormer window was made necessary by the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. If he looks at his correspondence again, I think he will find that the need to do so did not arise from that Act. I do not know which Act provided for this being done, but I believe it goes back as far as 1932; in any case, I had to do something like the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has done before the 1947 Act was put on the Statute Book, and it is because I have had that experience, that I know this was not begun by the legislation of the present Government.
§ Mr. Fraser
Because it is not a bad thing that the planning authority should know what sort of windows the right hon. and gallant Gentleman or the hon. Gentleman are proposing to put in their houses.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman made some interesting observations on the drain on the grasslands of our hills by mother sheep, and seemed to be saying in his little explanation of the more serious drain by the breeding ewe than by a wedder, that the Secretary of State ought to look with considerable sympathy on the proposition made by his hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden). However, he did not say where he stood in this matter—whether he thinks that the Government ought to provide further inducement to the farmers in the north of Scotland to put wedders on the hills or the deer forests. Every time I have gone up to the north of Scotland in the last four years I have had discussions with farmers about the use to which the deer forests ought to be put. Some experienced farmers there have said that of course the Government should give some special subsidy to enable the farmers to put wedder lambs on the deer forests, and equally experienced farmers have said that the Government would be just throwing good money after bad in doing anything of the kind.
1643 It has been said tonight by Members opposite in reply to a challenge made by this side of the Committee, that they were not asking for more subsidies. If the other side of the Committee are not asking for more subsidies then I ask them what steps they want my right hon. Friend to take to ensure that wedder lambs will be fed on the deer forests in the north of Scotland?
§ Mr. Snadden
Could I answer that important point? What I said was that the only contribution which the many millions of unimprovable grassland in Scotland can make is through wedder sheep, because nothing else will live on that land, and it seems wrong that it should not be contributing something today. It could be greatly helped through a wool incentive because wedder sheep depend greatly on whether or not wool is prosperous. It might involve a guaranteed wool price, which the present Government will not give.
§ Mr. Fraser
That was exactly my difficulty. I listened with great care to what was in many ways an interesting speech from the hon. Gentleman, but he wanted this long-term plan—
§ Mr. Fraser
He wanted this long-term plan, completely ignoring the long-term plan of the Government, completely ignoring all the assurances and guarantees that have lead to this revivalist spirit in Scottish agriculture referred to by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart). The hon. Gentleman ignored all that. I say this to him, that if there are so many thousands of acres of hill land good for nothing else but feeding wedders, why do not those wise old farmers in the north of Scotland—his own friends and colleagues—put the wedders on it? My right hon. Friend is not stopping them. The fact is that on most of those lands—and particularly can this be said of the deer forest land—the danger of losses in wintertime is considerable. In any case, what advantage is there in it?
One hon. Member opposite, in referring to wedders, talked about putting on a breeding stock of wedders—which seems to show a slightly less knowledge of agriculture than one would expect hon. Members to have who participate in these 1644 Debates. But in any case I have not seen a breeding wedder. I should like to be shown one some day if any hon. Member would like to take me along to a farm. These hill farmers in the north of Scotland send the wedder lambs to market. Very often they are fattened on the lower lands and we get about 30 to 40 pounds of meat from each of them killed as a lamb. It is suggested by a lot of people that instead of doing that, the farmer should take these wedders and put them on to the deer forests and feed them there for three years. At the end of that time, if the sheep are still alive, we would get something like 60 to 70 pounds of meat from each of them. The shrewd farmers in the north of Scotland are not prepared to take that risk or gamble. It may be that if we could do without meat for the next few years that could be done, but we understood that the Opposition thought that the meat ration was small enough at present.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Gentleman twice has referred to the Joint Under-Secretary as "you." He must address the Chair.
§ Mr. Fraser
If the meat ration is too small now, how much smaller will it be if we are to take as many as we can of the wedder lambs in Scotland and put them on to deer forests, keeping them there for three years before we kill them to eat them? Manifestly, our meat ration will be very much less. As I have already said, my right hon. Friend takes no steps whatever to prevent the farmers who wish to do so from feeding their wedders on the hill lands. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Scott-Elliot) told us some of his experiences in this respect.
The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) in asking the Government to declare a long-term policy for beef production, himself, in the course of his cataloguing of his positive and constructive suggestions, did nothing more, I am sorry to say, than to say to the Government, "Give to the beef producers, the beef feeders, in Scotland more money and more feedingstuffs." That was the 1645 long-term policy. He mentioned the various subsidy schemes and wanted minor modifications and alterations but, running through his remarks all the time, there was the suggestion that there must be more money paid in subsidies to the producers. And, of course, he wanted feedingstuffs. He knows full well that we should be only too glad to provide additional feedingstuffs if we could get them. There is no point in my making the case all over again. We just cannot find the dollars to buy the feedingstuffs which hon. Gentlemen opposite are asking us to buy to feed the cattle in Scotland. We just have not got the dollars with which to make the purchases.
There has been a lot of discussion about the deer forests. As some hon. Members have said, we have something like three million acres of deer forest land in Scotland. My right hon. Friend admitted straight away that a lot of wild and woolly remarks have been made in the past about the deer forests. He expressed great surprise that these wild and woolly charges should be repeated by those who resented such allegations in the past. During the war the Scottish Land Court made a survey of the deer forests in the north of Scotland. They made an estimate of the capacity of the deer forests to carry cattle and sheep. They thought that some 7,000 cattle and 200,000 sheep could be carried. Of these, only 1,500 cattle and 110,000 sheep were to be wintered.
My right hon. Friend does not take the view that the capacity of the deer forests to produce food is that and no more. Indeed, we believe that it is very much more than that, but let us see how we are moving. In 1939, in the deer forests, there were 1,593 cattle and 50,426 sheep. Despite the loss of 40,000 sheep in the bad winter of 1947, we had in the deer forests in 1948 no fewer than 119,972 sheep. In regard to cattle, despite a loss of just over 400, we had 2,492 cattle as against 1,593 in 1939.
A lot more can be done, and my right hon. Friend will indeed say that a lot more must be done, but he will continue to appreciate the difficulties which very largely centre around winter keep. The hon. Member for West Perth talked about his own difficulties in his scheme on his farm in Perthshire, but his diffi- 1646 culties are as nothing compared to the difficulties in Western Inverness, Western Ross and Sutherland. The provision of winter feed is nothing like as serious a problem in Perthshire as it is in those parts along the West coast of Scotland—Argyllshire, Western Inverness, Western Ross and Sutherland. If we could have plenty of oat straw and turnips to feed in the winter, there is no saying how many more tens, if not hundreds, of thousands, of cattle we should be able to feed in northern Scotland, but my right hon. Friend has got the right conception in saying that we are moving to take these highlands and improve the fertility of the soil there, so as to marry agriculture and forestry, build shelter belts in order to drain the land in that way, and so push the cultivation further up the hill. By doing so we may be able to produce a few turnips or make winter grazings, or we might be able to produce a little oat straw to feed to the cattle in the winter months.
That is the kind of approach which my right hon. Friend is making to this problem, and he realises the difficulties, as the hon. Gentleman himself must do. If the hon. Gentleman is criticising my right hon. Friend, or if he is criticising Scotland, for having fallen down on the job, he must really allow my right hon. Friend to say that he is criticising his own colleagues and farmers in the north of Scotland, because he is not criticising anybody else. They know their job, and the agricultural executive committee is likely to be a body composed of men experienced in farming in northern Scotland who also know their job and who are doing the best they can to increase food production there. They have made some headway, and we ask them to go on and realise that there is no end to the increase in food to be produced from the land not only in northern Scotland but over Scotland as a whole.
The speech of my right hon. Friend this afternoon was an excellent exposition of what has been happening in Scotland in recent years, and presented a picture of which all of us ought to be proud. Nevertheless, it must not be thought that he is guilty of complacency in the matter. We are pressing on with our agricultural expansion programme, and we appreciate to the full that the Government, for their part, must leave no stone unturned to assist the farmers to get the best possible 1647 production of food from the soil of Scotland.
I shall now turn for a minute to the hill farming improvement schemes. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) said that 61 schemes had been approved, and that he thought that a very poor record. I merely give these figures because I think it better that we should know where we are going, and that the public should not get any false impression of what has happened under the Hill Farming Act. By the end of May of this year, the total number of hill farming schemes submitted in Scotland was 795. Many of those schemes were found to be on land which was not really hill farming land at all; indeed, 139 of the schemes, in the view of my right hon. Friend and his advisers, came into that category. The remaining 656 schemes, however, related to some 984 farms, covering an area of 2,225,000 acres and involving work estimated to cost over £2,500,000. So far, 292 schemes, estimated to cost £1,500,000, have been approved.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I took down the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland; it was he who gave the figures of 795 schemes, and 68 approved. They are the figures I wrote down.
§ Mr. Fraser
There is a mistake; I do not think that my right hon. Friend said that 68 schemes had been approved. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen certainly said that 61 had been approved.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I wrote down the figures as the right hon. Gentleman gave them. They were 68 approved, and the others in various stages. Those were the figures he gave the Committee.
§ Mr. Fraser
My right hon. Friend will no doubt check up the figure he gave. In any case, we shall see it in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow, but, if there is any doubt about what he said, that is all the more reason why I should make the position clear now. I repeat that 292 schemes have been approved. In the Highland area, with which so many hon. Members opposite are concerned, we have no less than 105 schemes already approved, which are estimated to cost £400,000.
1648 There is one other matter to which, perhaps, I should refer before we finish. My right hon. Friend has been criticised for not doing little things, but only big things. Let me mention one little thing of very considerable importance, particularly to the Highland area of Scotland. On 18th May my right hon. Friend announced the putting into operation of the new scheme of grants for the rebuilding, replacement and improvement of crofters' houses and farm buildings. This announcement has already brought forth some 350 applications for assistance under the scheme. They are for the erection or improvement of 130 houses and 25 other buildings, and the remainder are for the improvement of existing houses and buildings.
I wish to call the Committee's attention to the fact that, in this case, there is provision for grants of loans for steddings as well as for houses, so that at the present time we are taking a very special step to encourage the small man in the Highlands who is raising his cattle and his sheep to put his whole house in order, not only his own private house, but his farm buildings as well. In that and in many other ways I feel sure that my right hon. Friend can feel satisfied that he is making a contribution to well-being and prosperity in the north of Scotland, as in other parts of Scotland, which will go on the record as being quite unequalled by anything that any previous Secretary of State for Scotland has done.
§ It being Ten o'Clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress, and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.