HC Deb 08 March 1955 vol 538 cc155-6
67. Mr. N. Macpherson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland the points of disagreement that are holding up the preparation of legislation for land drainage in Scotland.

Mr. J. Stuart

The difficulties which stand in the way of devising legislation to deal comprehensively with agricultural drainage in Scotland are financial. They relate to the meeting of that part of the capital cost not met by Government grant and to the meeting of subsequent maintenance costs. In view of these difficulties, recent discussions with the agricultural interests concerned have been concentrated on the possibility of a useful measure dealing with the problem in a less comprehensive way. These discussions are proceeding.

Mr. Macpherson

Can my right hon. Friend give any indication of how long these discussions are likely to require, and whether legislation will be brought in at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Stuart

I am afraid that, like the right hon. Member who occupied my present office before me, I must say that it will take some time.I do not wish there to be delay but there may be an interval of time.

Mr. Manuel

Is the Secretary of State aware that these discussions with the National Farmers' Union and other interests in Scotland have been going on for many years? Is he aware that vast quantities of agricultural produce are being lost annually? Is he further aware that many schemes are ready, and that local authorities are prepared to start them and to go forward with urgent drainage work? Could he not give some promise that he will tell them what is actually holding up agreement?

Mr. Stuart

I have just replied to that question in the original answer—

Mr. Manuel

No, the right hon. Gentleman has not.

Mr. Stuart

Yes, I have. In case the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) did not listen to my original answer, I should say that, strange to say, the difficulties are concerned with finance and who is to pay for the beastly business.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the experience of the past—that limited schemes often lead to greater trouble than if there were no scheme and, therefore, the thing should be done from start to finish if money is not to be wasted?

Mr. Stuart

I agree. We want a comprehensive scheme and the Government are prepared to contribute. The difficulty—not for the first time—is to get people to contribute a share.

Mr. Ross

Does the answer of the right hon. Gentleman mean that he has given up all hope of getting a comprehensive scheme?

Mr. Stuart

No, Sir, General Election or no General Election, it does not mean that. It is very important to get a scheme, and therefore we are considering a more limited scheme.

Mr. John MacLeod

Would my right hon. Friend say what is the percentage of grant being offered to local authorities at present that is holding up this scheme?

Mr. Stuart

Perhaps my hon. Friend would ask me that question another day.

Mr. Rankin

Can the Secretary of State tell us if the Treasury is forcing a more limited scheme on him?

Mr. Stuart

We are all anxious to get a scheme agreed. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr.John MacLeod), I apologise for my failure to answer just now. The Treasury contribution is 50 per cent.