HC Deb 26 March 1958 vol 585 cc480-99
Lord John Hope

I beg to move, in page 14, line 39, to leave out "council or town" and to insert "town or district".

This Amendment honours an undertaking to hon. Members that district councils should be brought into the procedure laid down in the First Schedule for the serving of copies of draft improvement orders, and so on, on any local authority or other statutory body which in the opinion of the Secretary of State may be affected by the making of the order. The amended definition serves this purpose.

Mr. Woodburn

If I read this passage correctly, the county council is no longer involved. Does that mean that the inclusion of the district council makes it unnecessary to include the county council?

Lord John Hope

No. The county council is still included.

Mr. Willis

This Amendment meets the point contained in our next Amendment and we thank the Government for having accepted it. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) who, unfortunately, cannot be present today, was very keen about this matter, as were a number of my hon. Friends. We were anxious that district councils should be consulted where they were affected.

Amendment agreed to.

Lord John Hope

I beg to move, in page 14, line 43, at the end to insert: subject to the provisions of paragraph 4 of this Schedule My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) withdrew certain Amendments during the Committee stage discussions on the undertaking by myself to look into the matter which he raised relating to the procedure in the First Schedule, with particular reference to the requirement placed upon the Secretary of State to serve notices of any proposed modification of an improvement order on any person who might be adversely affected by the modification.

The Amendments proposed by my hon. Friend had the defect of omitting from those on whom notices were to be served persons who might be affected by the proposed modification. This and other proposed Amendments give effect broadly to what was proposed in my hon. Friend's Amendments without the defect to which I have referred. The substance of the Amendments is to be found in those in page 15, line 7, and page 17, line 6. The remainder are consequential.

Under the Amendments proposed the procedure would be as follows. First, where no objections were made to a draft order, or if made, were withdrawn, and the Secretary of State proposed to modify the order, or secondly, where, following a public inquiry into the draft order, the Secretary of State proposed to modify the order. the Secretary of State, before deciding to proceed with the order as so modified, would be required to serve on every person on whom the draft order was served and on any other person who in the opinion of the Secretary of State might be affected by such modification a notice specifying the modification and allowing fourteen days for the making of representations. The amended procedure removes the distinction made in the Bill as at present drafted in respect of the first point I mentioned, where no objections were made to the draft order or, if made, were withdrawn.

I do not think I need say more, and I am sure the House will realise that this has cleared up what was an unsatisfactory position.

Mr. Woodburn

I am quite sure that the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan)—when he realises what has been happening in the last few minutes—will appreciate the trouble to which the Government have gone to meet the point which he raised during the Committee stage discussions. It seems eminently reasonable that people affected by the first order and those who might be affected by the draft order should have an equal right to know what is to happen to them, and therefore we welcome this change.

We commend this behaviour to the Government for future Committee stage proceedings. They should listen to proposals which are reasonable and sensible and then act promptly to implement them.

Lord John Hope

We shall take note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said. Of course we welcome reasonable suggestions.

Sir J. Duncan

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and to the Government for accepting the suggestion I made. I was unavoidably absent during the first few minutes of this discussion, but I have studied the matter and I knew what was afoot. I am sorry that I was not present to listen to my hon. Friend and to—

Mr. Willis

Cheer him on?

Sir J. Duncan

—cheer him on to accept my suggestion.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 14, leave out lines 45 to 48.

In page 15, line 5, after "fit", insert: and subject to the provisions of the next following paragraph".

In line 7, leave out from beginning to end of line 15 and insert: 4. Where the Secretary of State proposes to make any modification in the draft order by virtue either of paragraph 2 of this Schedule or of the last foregoing paragraph he shall, before deciding to proceed with the draft order as so modified, serve on each of the persons referred to in sub-paragraph (a) of paragraph 1 of this Schedule and on any other person who in his opinion may be affected by such modification a notice specifying the modification and stating that such person may, within fourteen days of the service of the notice, make representations in writing concerning the modification to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State shall consider any representations so made before he decides whether to proceed with the draft order as so modified.—-[Lord John Hope.]

Mr. Willis

I beg to move, in page 15, line 29, to leave out, "if and".

We had some discussion about this matter during the Committee stage and our previous effort to improve the position was not successful. Now we have put down another Amendment which should be acceptable to the Government. If the Amendment be accepted, paragraph 5 will still mean exactly the same as it does now. I have read this over and over again, and for the life of me I cannot see why we should have all these words … shall make the order if and only if … I hope the Lord Advocate will say that the Government are grateful for the improvement to the Bill made by this important Amendment.

Mr. Hoy

I beg to second the Amendment.

6.0 p.m.

The Lord Advocate

If I could accept the view of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) that the Amendment made no difference, then I would accept it, because that would shorten the Bill. However, there is an important difference. Perhaps hon. Members will be good enough to read paragraph 5 of the Schedule. As I said when dealing with an earlier Amendment, paragraph 5 is mandatory. It says: … the Secretary of State shall make the order if and only if If the words "if and" were taken out, then the paragraph would read: … the Secretary of State shall make the order only if … It would not state that the Secretary of State must make the order.

This is a small and technical difference, but the paragraph is much stronger as it is. If the hon. Member is anxious to make it mandatory on the Secretary of State in these circumstances to make the order, it would not satisfy him if we accepted his Amendment, and in his own interests, I invite him to withdraw it.

Mr. Willis

In view of the Lord Advocate's explanation, and appreciating that once again we have failed to get this correct, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Further Amendments made: In page 16, line 28, leave out "person who may be adversely" and insert: other person who in the opinion of the Secretary of State may be".

In line 47, at end insert: subject to the provisions of paragraph 11 of this Schedule".

In line 49, leave out lines 49 to 52.

In page 17, line 5, after "fit", insert: and subject to the provisions of the next following paragraph".

In line 6, leave out lines 6 to 14 and insert: 11. Where the Secretary of State proposes to make any modification in the draft order by virtue either of paragraph 9 of this Schedule or of the last foregoing paragraph he shall, before deciding to make the order as so modified, serve on each of the persons referred to in subparagraph (a) of paragraph 8 of this Schedule and on any other person who in his opinion may be affected by such modification a notice specifying the modification and stating that such person may, within fourteen days of the service of the notice, make representations in writing concerning the modification to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State shall consider any representations so made before he decides whether to make the order as so modified.

In line 36, leave out from "1" to second "of" in line 37 and insert: or paragraph 4 or, as the case may be, subparagraph (a) of paragraph 8 or paragraph 11"—[The Lord Advocate.]

The Lord Advocate

I beg to move, in page 18, to leave out lines 13 to 15.

The House will remember that the present practice is that in certain types of proceedings, where the acquisition of land is involved, there is a limited appeal to the House of Lords. Normally. Scottish appeals to the House of Lords lie without any leave, provided that there is a final judgment, but in this particular type of case, since 1947 a restriction has been put on this type of appeal to the House of Lords, and the leave of the Court of Session has to be granted.

The Franks Report suggested that an alternative leave should be granted and that that should be given either by the Court of Session, or by the House of Lords. As neither of these types of leave would be needed in the normal case in the law of Scotland, it is suggested that in these cases, as in other cases, appeal to the House of Lords should lie without leave from anybody.

Amendment agreed to.

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

6.4 p.m.

Lord John Hope

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

It is a matter of regret, shared by both sides of the House, that insuperable financial difficulties stood in the way of introducing a more far-reaching Measure than this to deal comprehensively with all our land drainage problems in Scotland. The Bill now before the House is, nevertheless, worth while and the proposals embodied in it, as the House knows, have commanded wide support in Scotland.

Under the Bill, we hope to increase the rate of arterial drainage improvement work on agricultural land to the level of perhaps about 10,000 acres a year. Improvement work is at present running at the rate of about 7,000 acres a year, but without the Bill this rate of progress would almost certainly slow down. Limited as its scope necessarily is, the Bill has given rise to a very considerable volume of debate. There is no need for me to prolong it.

Some of the Amendments which we discussed at length in the Scottish Standing Committee were designed to turn the Bill into a more comprehensive Measure. Those Amendments we felt bound to resist. Many more Amendments, however, were put forward, from both sides of the Committee, with a view to improving the detailed provisions of the Bill. It was a most helpful Committee stage as well as having the distinction of being the last Committee stage to be undertaken by the Scottish Grand Committee in its old form.

We have been able, with the help from both sides of the House, to improve the Bill by accepting many Amendments and I now commend it to the House as a useful Measure which will enable local agricultural drainage problems in Scotland to be tackled.

6.7 p.m.

Mr. Woodburn

There is another interesting feature of this Bill to which attention should be called. It is that this is the first time that the Bill has been discussed by the House. The Second Reading debate took place in the Scottish Grand Committee and it is, therefore, desirable to put on the record some of the points about the Bill which are of general public interest.

The Bill arose from the recommendations of the Duncan Committee, which sat about seven years ago. The Government have spent those seven years in labour and, as was generally agreed on both sides of the Committee, the mountain laboured and brought forth a mouse. I quoted the Scottish poet who said that this mouse was a Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous, beastie. It has not commanded any respect from anybody.

The Bill is an indication of the failure of landowners to deal with their problems. We have felt that the Bill does not tackle that problem with any reliability. Farmers are hardly mentioned although they are the people who will be mainly concerned with improving agriculture. The Bill depends entirely on the initiative of landowners.

Farmers will take anything from a Conservative Government without a grumble the recent Price Review and legislation now before the House and abolishing security of tenure are examples. So long as it comes from a Conservative Government, farmers will welcome a Measure as a benefit, however much harm it does to the farming community. Many farmers still seem to feel that so long as they do not have a Labour Government, which will bring forward an agricultural charter and help them to pay their way for the first time in the history of agriculture, they will take anything from a Conservative Government.

This is another case where farmers are hardly consulted, even though improvements to their land will depend on the initiative of the landowners.

Lord John Hope

Better than nationalisation.

Mr. Woodburn

There are some farmers who would be very glad to have nationalisation, because their fixed equipment would be improved as it should be improved. They would be very glad to have their farms improved instead of continuing to have to put up with bad fixed equipment because owners have not fulfilled their obligations.

The Bill does not depend only upon owners in the plural. The majority of owners affected have to agree, even if one owner has called attention to the need for drainage. The flooding of the Clyde and the blocking of improvements by the Hamilton and Kinneil Estates were brought before the Committee as examples of where one or two owners in an area have been able to prevent essential work. In many of these cases the interest of the occupier is quite ignored, and there is nothing in the Bill which solves that problem.

There is also the question of the absentee landlord. It is quite true that, eventually, such a landlord might be got at, but many absentee landlords have not the slightest interest in the agricultural value of their land. They have long since ceased to depend on agriculture for their income and take no steps at all to improve it.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) suggested the setting up of central drainage authorities to get over the difficulty. We were told in Committee that some landlords prefer to have their duck shooting and plenty of water about rather than to have drainage which would improve agriculture. If we do not get proper drainage, one of the dangers will be that many of the outlying areas will go back to the wild and will only be suitable for duck shooting.

The Duncan Report said: It is in the interests of agricultural production that the drainage of the said land should be improved or that flooding or erosion to which that land is subject should be prevented or mitigated. That is a terrible thing from the nation's point of view, but the Government have shelved the responsibility by leaving the initiative to the landlord.

I am told that there are about 200,000 acres of land which the Department of Agriculture knows should be drained. All the information and knowledge is available. The Department says, "We know it should be drained, but we will leave it to the initiative of someone, when the spirit moves him, to suggest to the Secretary of State that it should be drained." The Secretary of State knows that the land should be drained. Why wait for someone else to tell him before he calls people together and formulates a scheme? If the Secretary of State does not move the owner, and that owner is not suddenly inspired to want some drainage done, the right hon. Gentleman, the farmers and the Department of Agriculture have to stand helplessly by looking at this watery land and wishing that some owner would take steps to have it brought to the attention of the Secretary of State.

This is the kind of lack of initiative on the part of the Government in tackling the problem that we regret. As the noble Lord said, this lack of initiative has not been confined to one side of the House. It is quite true that we pressed the noble Lord to go far beyond the very limited area of the Bill. There is a great deal of verbiage in the Bill which blurs the reality, and my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) and other of my hon. Friends did their best to get the matter cleared up so that the issue would be brought to the fore.

The owner is supposed to limit action to cases where he is of opinion that flooding or erosion … should be prevented. The Government have now altered that, fortunately. An owner may call the attention of the Government to flooding even if he is of opinion that certain things may or may not apply. The majority of owners must agree and then the Secretary of State must be satisfied. After that he may or may not make an order. The number of "mays" and qualifications that arise before anything is done is enough to deter anybody from starting on the job at all.

If ever there were an example of circumlocution, this Bill provides it in ample scope. The amount of expenditure which might fall to be borne by people who become involved in this kind of drainage is also a deterrent to action being taken. One thing which I think many hon. Members of the Scottish Standing Committee realised was that one of the great defects of the Bill was the small part that the Government were to play in the matter of responsibility for drainage.

Everybody realises the good sense of having a comprehensive drainage system. Everyone knows that that is the only sensible way of dealing with the matter, because a river and a watershed cannot be separated into little sections. The hill drainage improvements might be very wonderful up on the hills, but the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Sir A. Gomme-Duncan) found that one of the results of that hill drainage was that when the rain fell it came down to the Isla much more quickly than it used to do. The hill lost its holding capacity and the water rushed down the hillside. The Isla flooded and it was very doubtful whether we did not lose more agricultural land in the valleys around the Isla in spite of all the money spent on hill drainage.

Land, after all, is a very variable instrument. There is no doubt that the good land in the river valleys produces far more for the money spent on it than do the hillsides. I well remember the flooding, brought to our notice by the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire, that took place in the Isla and then in the Tay, because when the Isla reached the Tay the Tay itself was flooded, so that it could not discharge its waters into the Tay and, therefore, went up the valley and caused flooding.

No one can take one section of a river or one section of land and say that the treating of flooding in that section solves any problem at all. It sometimes solves the problem of one person by passing on the problem to another person further down the river. Flooding may be an act of God, but when the disaster comes is very much intensified by what has or has not been done about drainage further up the hillsides.

One of the confusions about the Bill is that it can evidently cover field drainage as well as arterial drainage. We have always thought of drainage in terms of clearing the arteries so that the water can flow easily. If these arteries are not kept clear all the brushwood, fallen trees and other matter are carried down the river. They come up against the barriers, weirs, bridges and other obstructions and the water is unable to pass.

One of the things recommended by the Duncan Committee was that many of these weirs, bridges and culverts should be inspected, because many of them were built to deal with conditions that no longer exist. Perhaps a charge of gunpowder would clear an area of the danger of flooding and waste simply by allowing the water to get through.

In Committee we discussed two disasters which took place. One was in Morayshire and the other on the Borders. In the case of the Borders, the floods brought down brushwood and trees which had been left lying in the river beds or hanging over the river. When all this material came up against the culverts it formed an enormous dam which eventually carried away bridges that had stood for nearly 100 years.

The Bill as it stands does nothing to tackle these great problems. We know very well that when disasters of this sort take place the Secretary of State and the Treasury have to foot the bill. It seems only common sense that in framing this Measure the Government should have taken some action to insure themselves against sudden liabilities in the future. They could have done so by having a comprehensive drainage system coming right down the watershed and by taking all reasonable steps to prevent flooding whether of agricultural land, town land, villages, district councils, or anything else. One liability in which we in Berwickshire became involved was where damage was caused to houses and where the occupiers had to be rehoused. The cost to the nation was very much greater than it would have been if proper precautions had been taken earlier.

We ought to pay tribute to the late William Scott, who was a Member of this House, for the way that he placed his great skill and knowledge of the drainage of rivers at the disposal of the Department. He helped to a considerable degree. If all landowners had been as far-sighted and as wise in handling the dangerous waters as he was, the country would have been saved nearly £¾ million. In the constitutency of the former Secretary of State, over £300,000 was recently expended by the State in stopping this flooding.

The Committee was, therefore, justified in demanding that the Government should not rest upon this puny Bill. The Government assure us that the Bill will do something. We hope, after all the trouble we have taken, that it will do something. There were, however, so many handicaps and barriers in the Bill, so many obstacles that could be placed in the way and so much discouragement to people to take action, that we are doubtful whether it will make any great contribution to the problem. Our fear is that the Bill may become an excuse which prevents this and future Governments from getting on with the more comprehensive job. Once a Bill is passed, people are apt to sit back and feel that the job has been settled.

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends and on behalf, I think, of many hon. Members opposite, who spoke freely on the subject in Committee, I say that the Bill is not solving the problem. It is not tackling the job in the way that it ought to have been tackled. While, tonight, we will not oppose the Bill, it is on the basis not that half a loaf is better than nothing, but that in this case a slice of bread is probably all that we can expect, and we shall not refuse the slice because we cannot get the whole loaf.

The Bill is a disappointment. The Government have disappointed us. The amount of work done in Committee could have dealt with a comprehensive Bill in the same amount of time. The House has had its time wasted on something that is not worth while when it could have done a really worth while job.

6.22 p.m.

Sir J. Duncan

The only point from the long speech of the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) that I wish to refer to is his attempt to split the farmers from the landowners. He was quite wrong in trying that little bit of propaganda. Nearly half the farmers in Scotland are owner-occupiers. As for the other half, I believe that the vast majority of landowners are only too pleased to improve their land if they can. It is a pity, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman spoilt an otherwise good speech, with much of which I agreed, with his propaganda and political move, which did not interpret anything like the real feelings of the people on the land or of those concerned with the land in Scotland.

Mr. Woodburn

The hon. Member must have misunderstood me. What I said was that the farmers and landowners were like two fingers. close together, and that nothing could separate them. No matter what was done to them, the farmers would still cling to the landowners and to the Conservative Government.

Sir J. Duncan

I was referring not to that part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but to his reference to the farmers not having an interest in the Bill because it was for the landowners to take the initiative. As I was trying to point out, the farmers and landowners, to the extent of nearly one-half, are the same people. As for the other half, the landowners are in very close and friendly contact with their tenants and are only too anxious to help if they can.

I should like to point out to all concerned, particularly to the owners, that they must look carefully at schemes before they enter into them. As was made clear in Committee, those who enter into schemes face heavy potential liabilities. Nevertheless, I believe that within the small limits of the Bill, a few schemes—not many, but a few—will be put through and will be to the benefit of agricultural land in Scotland. I am sorry that the Bill is not more comprehensive I wish that it was.

I agree with the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire in hoping that the Scottish Office will persevere in negotiations, not only with the Treasury, but with the local authorities, to get a more comprehensive scheme. I believe that the biggest difficulty encountered by the Government in the negotiations is not the Treasury so much as the local authorities. I hope that in time, perhaps not during the next Session, but in the next Parliament, the Government will have ready a more comprehensive scheme to deal with the wider picture and the larger flooding to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.

I congratulate the Government on accepting Amendments which, in the main, were thoughtful and constructive and the attempts made by hack benchers to improve the wording or the meaning of the Bill. I am grateful to my noble Friend the Joint Under-Secretary for accepting my own Amendments as well as those of my hon. Friends. There is only one question which I wish to ask him before we leave the Bill.

Some drainage schemes have failed because of lack of maintenance. Under the Bill, for the first time, the authorised persons will be bound by law to maintain the works. This is extremely important. In the past, it has been a waste of time to spend capital on draining land and then to allow the land to go back to bog, but that is what has happened. In one case of which I have details, a scheme of land drainage was started under Defence Regulation 62 in January, 1945, and £779 of Government money was spent on it. The land is quite near to my home.

The land has now completely gone back to bog and rush because of the lack of maintenance. When it was first drained, it carried excellent crops of oats and potatoes for two or three years. Then, because of the lack of maintenance and the absence of any legal sanction on the occupiers to maintain the drains, the land went back and is now in exactly the same state as it was before 1945. That is wrong. It is a waste of public money.

I should like to know from my noble Friend whether, in such cases, it will be possible to start again and to have a new grant for the same land, but, coupled with it, the obligation to maintain. In addition to any new schemes that the Department has in mind, there will be some—and I have quoted one—on which money has been wasted, but where the situation can be retrieved if a scheme is entered into under the Bill.

I have discussed this matter with the tenants and the landlord of the property in question. On fencing and other items, they have spent about £2,000 of their own money. They are prepared to put in more money if the Government will come in, too. They would be prepared to accept the obligation to maintain. Could we not, therefore, include cases of the kind within the provisions of the Bill? If we did, I believe that we could extend the beneficent results of the Measure beyond what we have been thinking of and thus get more agricultural land into first-class production. That, after all, is the object of the Bill.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Lawson

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) described the Bill as a mouse of a Bill. I believe that that description would be accepted on both sides of the House. Even within its very narrow limits, the Bill is more timid than it need be; and it has one very serious defect within those limits. It seems to me that the Secretary of State and the Government have been over-scared that owners may not embark upon these schemes. They have fallen over backwards in their attempt not to scare away the owners.

The defect which I have in mind is that even after an application has been made for an improvement scheme, and the procedures described in the First and Second Schedules, which cover three pages of the Bill, have been followed—which must mean in all cases a substantial expenditure on the part of the Government—and even after agreement has been reached and a scheme started on expert advice to the Government that it is worth while, the Secretary of State leaves himself with no power whatsoever to compel the owners to carry the scheme to completion where he thinks it desirable that that should be done.

Those who have studied the Bill know that it contains powers to ensure that, where a scheme has been started, any necessary protective works that are involved must be carried through and maintained. We accept and welcome those provisions, but we thought that at the very least the Secretary of State would have been prepared to assume the further power which I have mentiond. He should have ensured that he would be able to say, where he thought fit, that a scheme must be completed. This would be, for example, in cases where, for perhaps some minor reason, there had been a change in the balance between owners who were in favour of a scheme and those who were against. A change of one owner might mean a change from a 51–50 balance in favour of a scheme to a 50–49 balance against. Circumstances could be such that a scheme could be stopped at any stage, up to the point where the Government paid the grant—and I understand that the grant will not be paid until a scheme has been completed. Circumscribed as the Bill is, and full as it is of all sorts of qualifications to ensure that the owner shall not be scared away, there is nothing in the Measure to enable the Secretary of State to do anything about it if a scheme were stopped immediately after it had been started, or even when it was half-way or three-quarters of the way through.

All that we on this side of the House ask is that the Secretary of State should take power to enable him to judge whether or not he should say that a scheme should be completed in circumstances where he thinks that is desirable. We do not ask that he should say that in every case, but that he should be enabled to exercise his judgment and, where necessary, insist that a scheme should be completed. The Secretary of State has not assumed that power, and, with all its other limitations, the Bill is more limited even than it need be in that respect.

Even at this late stage I would ask that this point should be looked at and that provision should be made in another place for this power to he given to the Secretary of State so that Government money may not be wasted. Once there has been a preliminary examination, or a scheme has been started, Government money must necessarily be involved. Both in respect of the spending of Government money and of the worthwhileness of a scheme—which I presume would not have been started if it had not been considered to be worth while—power to insist that in certain circumstances the scheme must be carried through should be vested in the Secretary of State.

6.37 p.m.

Mr. Mackie

I listened with very great interest to the gloomy speech of the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn). It was, indeed, a regular Jeremiad. He suggested that the Bill would do little or nothing to achieve better land drainage in Scotland. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's predictions will be completely falsified. I preferred the candid remarks of my noble Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State in moving the Third Reading, when he admitted that in the matter of financial provision the Bill did not allow anything like the amount of money that the Government would have liked to have seen forthcoming. I hope that the whole House accepts my noble Friend's candour in making such a statement.

It is obvious, of course, that right hon. and hon. Members opposite object to the Bill because occupiers are not able to apply for grants in the same way as the owners of land in Scotland. At the last Scottish Grand Committee under the old régime—and I regret the passing of that régime—a very important Amendment was moved by the Opposition to ensure that occupiers should be able to apply for grants and receive them on the same terms as landowners. I remember saying on that occasion, in response to an hon. Member opposite, that the structure of the Bill is based on ownership and that to introduce that kind of clumsy legislation would, in my humble opinion, have made the Bill very difficult to work.

In the earlier part of his speech, which I describe, I hope not offensively, as a Jeremiad, the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire complained that the Bill would do little or nothing to achieve what we had in view. He said that it would not matter, because tenant farmers and occupiers of land would take anything from the Government. They had taken the Agriculture Act, 1947, but had not said "Thank you" at a General Election, and they would take the agricultural policy of the present Government lying down. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his candour. He has thus declared, in the name of the Scottish Socialist Party, that he has abandoned all hope for his party in the rural constituencies of Scotland.

Mr. Woodburn

There are, of course, quite a number of intelligent and bright farmers who will vote for us.

Mr. Mackie

The right hon. Member did not say that. It would be out of order for me to go into detail in that direction, but the right hon. Member threw out the challenge and I am entitled to rebut it from my point of view. It is apparent that the right hon. Gentleman has abandoned all hope. He now says that he hopes that a few intelligent farmers may vote for him but that the unintelligent section of the community will weigh down those votes. I only hope the right hon. Gentleman is right, though he may be wrong. Only the ballot boxes will tell.

I, for one, support the Third Reading of this small Bill—much smaller in financial scope than my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary would have liked to introduce—in spite of the remarks of the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire.

6.41 p.m.

Mr. Willis

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Mackie) was enthusiastic about the Bill or not. I heard what he said, but it is difficult to ascertain what he really thinks about the Bill. Most of his speech dealt with something else. I had intended to congratulate him on being the second Member on the Government side of the House to become enthusiastic about the Bill, because up to the present only one Member opposite has been enthusiastic about it, and he is not here to see it obtain its Third Reading.

Why are we on these benches not enthusiastic about the Bill? The answer is that we do not think it will do very much. Neither do we think it is the proper way to tackle the drainage problems of Scotland. It will not do very much, because the amount of money being spent under the Bill. £20,000 a year, is far too small for the job in hand.

Lord John Hope

That point concerning the £20,000 was given an incorrect slant by the hon. Gentleman when we were discussing the matter on principle. That is just an estimate. It is not a limit.

Mr. Willis

The hon. Gentleman has given us an estimate and I have no doubt that the Treasury will ensure that the Scottish Office keeps to the estimate. Of course, I should like to think that they do not keep to it, but we can only accept the figure that has been provided by the Government, which is £20,000.

When we come to consider the figures given by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), who said that about 200,000 acres of land in Scotland could be improved as a result of drainage, and when we compare this sum with that figure, we reach the very interesting conclusion that under this Bill it will take 100 years really to increase the productivity of this land as it ought to be increased. That is an absurd way of treating a serious problem.

The hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) said that he hoped the Government would continue their negotiations with the local authorities concerned. We all hope that, but we also hope that the Government will do it in a more generous frame of mind than they have done previously. There is no doubt that the failure to reach any agreement to enable the Government to introduce a Bill capable of dealing with the problem in Scotland has been due, in the main, to the Government's attitude towards the financing of such a Measure.

The Government, only a year or two ago, had to foot a bill of £500,000 in the Spey Valley as a result of flooding, and £750,000 was involved in East Lothian and Berwick in 1948 because of floods. In this series of floodings alone we had to spend £1¼ million, and if we were prepared to spend that amount of money on drainage we could deal with more than 50,000 of the 200,000 acres about which my right hon. Friend spoke.

The fact is that in this Bill the Government are not measuring up to the job on hand. I do not think we can wait for another seven, eight, nine or ten years. We still have a great drift of population in Scotland towards the central belt. We still have areas which are going out of cultivation in Scotland, and a drift within Scotland—never mind the drift away from Scotland—from our agricultural areas; and that is a bad thing. In spite of the encomiums of the Bill by the hon. Member for Galloway, the Bill will not stop that drift. Certainly, it is nothing to feel happy about.

The Bill is not only a small one but, let us face it, a very small one. In enabling this small amount of work to be done it places so many disincentives upon the owners of land and others concerned that it is even doubtful whether it will achieve what the Government want it to achieve. I agree with the hon. Member for South Angus that at least it creates the ability to compel the maintenance of drainage work, and that is important, but, of course, it will apply to only a very few schemes. This is not really the way to deal with the drainage problems of Scotland. The Bill might do something here and there. It prevents a situation from arising in which one man could obstruct a scheme being carried out in a certain area. In a few circumstances it makes possible the maintenance of drainage works.

These are small things, and to the extent to which the Bill does that we welcome it. Nevertheless, we recognise that it is a mean, paltry, trivial Bill. It is typical of the Government's attitude towards a lot of things, and is certainly not the sort of Bill which we should like to have seen to deal with these problems in Scotland.

6.47 p.m.

The Lord Advocate

I thank the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) for the nice things that he said about the Bill. Like him, we are sorry that it does not go any further. The right lion. Gentleman said something about verbiage in the Bill, but I think that the House will agree that it is better to have verbiage in a Bill than to have too much verbiage in the courts; and if things are not made clear in the Bill one may have to go to the courts to have matters clarified.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) stressed the importance, of maintenance. That matter is stressed in the Bill. He asked whether, under the Bill, a grant could be given even though there had been a grant under a previous Measure. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent such a grant being given, and, of course, the land in question would be considered on its merits.

The hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) said that in the Bill there is no compulsitor upon the Secretary of State to make the operators carry on with a scheme once it had been started. That matter was fully discussed in Committee. One of the considerations that the hon. Member did not mention was the possibility that many interested parties might be reluctant to engage in a scheme if they felt that they would be bound to continue with it, whatever happened. Much was said in Committee about the desirability of getting those interested to come into a scheme.

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for saying that it is not proposed to divide against the Bill, and I hope, therefore, that the House will give it a Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.