HC Deb 27 April 1961 vol 639 cc746-62

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Gibson-Watt.]

9.37 p.m.

Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)

The matter which I raise is of some importance. It concerns the integrity of the public service in the Scottish Office and the possible misuse of public funds.

I raised this matter with the Secretary of State for Scotland by letter on 15th December, following a practice which I have always carried out in the House of never raising anything on the Floor of the House by Question or in other way before writing to the Minister and giving him the facts and asking him to make an investigation. Four months later, as there has been no adequate investigation, I am compelled to come here tonight and to give details of this matter.

In November last, I received representations from my constituency about the wrongful payment of hill cattle subsidy to Borgie Mains Farm, Caithness. I caused inquiries to be made and I found that the whole of the agricultural community which is the biggest of all the populations in Caithness, knew all about this matter. All the farmers agreed that Borgie Mains Farm did not qualify for hill cattle subsidy; it was far above the standard. They asked that I should raise the matter in the House. I explained that I should require of them proof of the statements which they made and the view which they held, for that is the responsibility imposed on every private Member, and I got it.

Before I received it, I had a visit on 7th December from three Caithness farmers who came to London for the Smithfield Show. I asked them what they knew about it—and they all knew a great deal about it. In fact, one of them, Mr. Colin Campbell, of Stanstill Farm, told me that because Borgie Mains received hill cattle subsidy, he had demanded that the whole of his farm at Stanstill, part of which was awarded the hill cattle subsidy, should get the subsidy. He made his claim for it and supported his claim by stating that if he did not get it he would come to me.

It was apparent from what I learned from these men that this was not only a rumour and that there was something sinister behind it. A few days later I received all the proof. I had better read part of the evidence which came to me. It was a report by a senior inspector who made the inspection. It began by stating that the application for subsidy was received by the Department of Agriculture on 9th June, 1952. This is a typical Government Departmental minute. Below that statement is written, "Refusal. The holding is considered above standard. Please see attached report." I have the report here. It states: Hill cattle subsidy. Applicant Brigadier G. D. K. Murray, Borgie House, Castletown. The farm in question is Borgie Mains which is worked as a unit with Netherside…and the holding adjoins. An inspection was made on 15th September, 1953, accompanied by applicant and Mr. Rae. After going over the holding and having some considerable discussion, Brigadier Murray agreed that the hill cattle subsidy was never intended for farms such as his, although he feeds no cattle or sheep or sells milk. The holding is now well above standard to qualify as hill-farming land or livestock-rearing land. While applicant is quite reconciled to the fact that no subsidy will be forthcoming, some care should be taken in the wording of the notification to him to save repercussions. I suggest that it be worded as follows:—With reference to your application for hill cattle subsidy in respect of cattle at Borgie Mains and following an inspection made on 15th inst."— that was 15th September, 1953— by two of the Department's livestock inspectors accompanied by yourself, the Department have come to the decision that your holding is above standard and cannot therefore be classed as 'hill land' in terms of the scheme. It goes on: No further explanation is necessary and I am sure it will be accepted but if further elaboration is added it is possible he may take exception to some of the remarks as has happened in other cases. That letter is signed "J. Dean" and was addressed to the Department of Agriculture for Scotland in Edinburgh.

Nothing happened for eight months that is recorded in these papers, except that it is known that Brigadier Murray went to Edinburgh where, presumably, he interviewed the Permanent Under-Secretary of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland—

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Gilmour Leburn)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir D. Robertson

So soon? I have to make this case, and it is not the easiest case to make.

As I say, Brigadier Murray interviewed this man. I cannot prove that this visit took place—there is a hiatus of eight months—but I am told by men of standing, whose word I would take anywhere, that this visit was made. At any rate, if it was not made, something must have been made. Here is a man who agreed with two senior, well-qualified inspectors that his holding did not qualify yet, after eight months, the holding gets the full subsidy.

I can only assume that this man, who is a man of importance—convenor of the county council, and duty-lieutenant of the county—must have some extraordinary influence that can over-ride the decisions of these inspectors. These inspectors are not men picked up off the street. They are men who have been making inspections for years all over the northern counties of Scotland. As I have said, they decided that his farm could not qualify. I do not think that the Secretary of State would make excuses, because there has been plenty of time in the four months during which I have been pressing him to make the investigation, but I would ask him to tell us what influence, what pull, this man has that caused this situation to be over-turned.

The letter that I read out was dated 15th September, 1953. The next bears the date 19th January, 1954. It is addressed to Brigadier Murray, and reads:

"Dear Sir,

Hill Cattle (Scotland) Scheme, 1951.

I regret the delay that has taken place in reaching a decision on your application for hill cattle subsidy in 1952 and 1953. As you know the Department have been considering the question of the eligibility of your land, and in all the circumstances, they have now decided that it should continue to be regarded as qualifying under the above mentioned scheme.

It is proposed to settle your claim as follows:

1952 Hill cattle. £273—39 cattle at £7 per head (the number of eligible cattle as shown in your agricultural returns at 4th June, 1952).

1952 Winter keep. £117—39 cattle at £3 per head (this payment is based on the number of cattle approved for hill cattle subsidy).

1953 Hill cattle. £420—42 cattle at £10 a head.

Payable orders for the amounts shown will be sent to you at an early date."

On the following day, 20th January, 1954, Brigadier Murray acknowledged payment.

These payments have been made annually ever since. If they are on the same scale as that shown in the letter it means that over £4,000 has been paid in respect of a farm that two well-qualified inspectors condemned out of hand as not qualifying under the scheme. Does the Joint Under-Secretary want to intervene in regard to what I have read out?

Mr. Leburn

I only wanted to ask the hon. Gentleman for information about the dates of the eight-month period which he says elapsed between the time of the inspector's report in 1953 and the next inspection, but I shall not press him.

Sir D. Robertson

I am most anxious to answer the hon. Gentleman's questions. The first report I read referred to an inspection made on 15th September. Presumably this letter was written a day or two days afterwards—I beg pardon. I was in error when I said eight months. I beg pardon of the House for that mistake. The period was September to January—four months, not eight. I regret the error.

I come back to Mr. Colin Campbell, to whom I referred as one of three farmers who saw me. He knew all about Borgie. It was because of the Borgie situation that he was determined to get a similar subsidy for his Standstill Farm, which is very near to Borgie. Mr. Campbell told me that his land was inferior to that at Borgie; that his calves got £15 less per head in the markets as compared with those from Borgie, and that his lambs got £3 less. Those are big differences to men who live by raising sheep and cattle. He also said that Borgie produces pedigree stocks—pedigree bulls that sell, sometimes, for £500 or more at Perth sales. That kind of farm is not entitled to the hill cattle subsidy.

Mr. Campbell made his application, and a very lengthy correspondence ensued. At an early date in the correspondence he said that if he did not get the subsidy for which he asked he would refer the case to me. I have in this file a series of copies of letters and copies of minutes that passed between the applicant, Mr. Campbell, and various officials at St. Andrew's House. The first is the application. The second is a letter from Mr. Dean to a Mr. Macdonald saying that the case was taking quite a long time because of illness and that Mr. Rae, the inspector, was ill. It states that: On 21st September, 1959. I examined the holding in the company of Mr. Morton, and Mr. MacKenzie, senior general inspector for the area, and the applicant. We did not disclose to the applicant our agreed opinion but we have decided that the unclassified part of the farm is well above standard for hill cattle subsidy and suitable for growing crops for sale to a material extent. A considerable amount of grain is used on the farm being fed to sheep and cattle and it is true to say that the place is well farmed compared to many Caithness farms but we still cannot agree to have the entire holding approved for hill cattle subsidy, or every Caithness farm would be eligible. So the original crime committed in respect of Borgie was that if this farm was admitted, all farms would need to be brought in. That is how serious the first crime was. Crime begets crime. That has happened in this case.

On 26th November, the application was refused following the decision of these men that the farm did not qualify. Mr. Campbell, however, returned to the attack. He talked about his calves making less and he said that he was going to Edinburgh on the Friday and wanted to see the officials there and would then come to London to see me and bring the matter to my notice. At one time, I was a civil servant occupying a senior position. Had any man said that to me, I would immediately have said, "Go to your M.P." I would have ordered him to do so. That is what I should expect of any official. I am referred to a dozen times in these letters, but nobody ever suggested that Mr. Campbell should come to me.

All that happened was that a conspiracy was entered into to ensure that he did not come to me. That can only come about by buying him off. That is exactly what took place. I do not want to weary the House by reading all these documents, but I shall send them to a Scottish judge, because they are the most deplorable record of a conspiracy that I have ever read. Every move was an attempt to avoid this man coming to his Member of Parliament. People were much more concerned about hiding it, cloaking it up. They had to cloak the first crime. This was the second one.

One of the worst features of the case is that the civil servants concerned knew all about this in St. Andrew's House and in the large office in Thurso. It must be a demoralising thing for them to be in the Government service and to feel that they are forced to agree to things like this and for the men writing these matters to be forced to enter into these subterfuges. I have never known a more shocking state of affairs.

I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Scotland is not here tonight. He should have been here to deal with the matter. I wrote to him on 15th December, but I need not read the letter now. I clearly indicated that the evidence which I have given tonight was in my possession. I said that in view of these disquieting allegations, I presumed that he would think it proper to make immediate inquiries. All that happened was that I received a letter which, I am certain, the Secretary of State did not write. It may well be that the letter was written by the official who was the prime mover in this shabby business. I cannot imagine that it ever got to Ministerial level, either at the time or now.

I am deeply grieved that the Secretary of State had to write me as he did. I will not weary the House by reading the nonsense. I sent it to my farmer friends in Caithness. They said that they had never seen anything like it. I feel that way, too. Such action may, of course, have been deliberate. Perhaps some hon. Members would have accepted it, sent it on to the constituent and said, "I have done my best, but that is what the Minister says". I took a contrary view and on 20th March I wrote the Minister two letters, one in respect of Borgie and the other in respect of Stanstill, giving him further particulars, which he wanted. I gave chapter and verse.

At the same time, I put down two Written Questions to avoid publicity. I had been trying all the time to avoid publicity. A case of this kind is distasteful to me, as, I imagine, it is to most hon. Members. I do not like to be concerned in it, but it is my duty. I did not run away from it, as the Secretary of State did. I accepted the responsibility. The Answers which I was given to my Questions were simply nonsense. They are on the record, if anybody wants to read them, in HANSARD of 24th March.

Oddly enough, I came to you, Mr. Speaker, at that time when I got those Answers, because they were wholly wrong. I asked for an Adjournment debate, and I succeeded in getting it. Immediately I asked for an Adjournment debate, the whole attitude in the Scottish Office changed. Two officials were sent up to the office in Thurso. They thought that that was where all the trouble emanated from. It did not. It emanated because of the crime that was committed. The officers of the head office in Edinburgh are equally concerned.

These officials for whom I am speaking are good citizens. They do not like to be tarnished with things like this happening, but they are doing it under orders from above. These two inspectors went up to Thurso. One of them spoke of having a high regard for me, but he was probing to discover where the leakage to me came from and how it got to me. How could it fail to get to me if the men are of the quality that I know them to be? If any attempt is made at victimisation of these men, this House will have an awful lot to say about it. That is the story and it is one that must be dealt with. At this late hour, I can ask for nothing less than a public inquiry. I hope that it will come about.

9.58 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Gilmour Leburn)

I have listened with great interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) concerning the eligibility of Borgie Mains Farm for hill cattle subsidy. He has made some serious charges and I hope that before I sit down I can satisfy him and the House that they are completely unfounded.

The hill cattle subsidy is intended to encourage hill and upland farmers to establish permanent breeding herds of cattle on their farms. It has been very successful in doing just that. In the majority of cases, there is no difficulty in assessing eligibility, but, as the House appreciates, there is no clearly defined demarcation line between eligible and ineligible farms—such as altitude or acreage—and at the borderline it becomes a matter of judgment. I make it clear that there is no clear yardstick in this matter and that there is the borderline case.

In the past, my hon. Friend has pressed vigorously for the inclusion in the scheme of a number of Caithness farms which had been regarded as ineligible. As my hon. Friend will remember, on consideration we were able to admit one or two of these cases.

Sir D. Robertson

On what date was that?

Mr. Leburn

Some years ago.

Sir D. Robertson

Ten years ago?

Mr. Leburn

Some years ago.

I make no attempt to conceal this. Borgie Mains is a borderline case. I need hardly tell the House that in administering any subsidy scheme a line must be drawn somewhere so that decisions may be contained within the limits of the requirements laid down by Parliament. Inevitably, difficult cases arise, and Borgie Mains is one of them. Caithness as an area produces many problems in this connection.

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Gibson-Watt.]

Mr. Leburn

My hon. Friend and even people who, like myself, lack his intimate knowledge of the district know only too well the difficulties with which farmers in Caithness have to contend. In assessing eligibility we must take many factors into account. Caithness seems to produce more difficult cases than most other areas in Scotland.

The subsidy for cattle kept on hills and uplands was introduced in 1941 and until 1947 various schemes were administered by the war-time county agricultural executive Committees. Borgie Mains was accepted in its entirety as eligible for subsidy under these schemes. This was the judgment of the committee of farmers, landowners and smallholders who formed the membership of the Caithness Agricultural Executive Committee. I make it clear that the tenant of Borgie Mains, who now farms Borgie Mains and who is chairman of the present agricultural executive committee for the area, was not a member of the committee at that time.

With the passing of the Hill Farming Act, 1946, the subsidy was given permanent statutory basis by the Hill Cattle (Scotland) Scheme, 1947, and the direct administration of the scheme was undertaken by the Department of Agriculture. Having regard to the terms of the statutory scheme and the need for reasonable uniformity of standards over the country as a whole, the Department felt that it was its duty to review farms throughout the country which were receiving the subsidy. It was the intention in 1947 to vet all Caithness applications by inspecting the farms. However, shortage of inspectors precluded this and it was found necessary to base approvals for that year, 1947, on the recommendations made by the agricultural executive committees in 1946 under the old schemes.

In 1948, however, all farms had been inspected and assessed. As a result, it was proposed that 64 farms in the County of Caithness should no longer get the subsidy. Borgie Mains was one of those 64 farms. As can be imagined, this view was not acceptable to Caithness farmers. Representations were received from a number of the farmers who had been turned down and from the local branch of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland through their headquarters.

A meeting between the N.F.U. and the Department of Agriculture, was held in August, 1949. As a result, the 64 cases were reviewed after a further inspection. Following the review, the Department decided that 33 of the 64 farms should once more be accepted as eligible. Borgie Mains was one of the 33. Of the 31 applicants in respect of whom refusal of subsidy was maintained after the 1949 review, the majority accepted the position, but eight of them continued to protest through the N.F.U. My hon. Friend also became active on their behalf.

Sir D. Robertson

At their request.

Mr. Leburn


I understand that my hon. Friend, together with some of his constituents, had a meeting in July, 1950, with the then Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. Following that meeting, a further investigation of the eight farms was carried out by the Department's chief inspector. As a result, one of the eight was accepted as eligible. I emphasise that all this happened between 1941 and 1950.

The pressure continued, however, and the position was again reviewed in 1953 by the then Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, and the previous decision was upheld. It was during the time of that review that the Borgie Mains payment of subsidy was held in abeyance pending the outcome of the review. In 1957, alter the making of the present scheme, one other of the eight was accepted as eligible.

If I may recapitulate, the position therefore is that Borgie Mains was regarded as eligible during the wartime period, was considered as ineligible in 1948 along with 63 other farms, but was re-assessed following the first review of the Caithness position that was carried out following local protests. It is fair to say that although it is a borderline case it is by no means the most borderline case in Caithness.

Sir D. Robertson

The Joint Under-Secretary is ranging way back to 1947, which has nothing whatever to do with this case. He has omitted to tell the House that it is under the Hill Cattle (Scotland) Act, 1951, that this complaint is based. It was not anything that was just drifting along since 1947. Another Act of Parliament had come in—the 1951 Act which we are discussing.

Mr. Leburn

But all the schemes have very largely been the same.

In a case of this sort there is obvious room for differences of opinion and I would not pretend that such differences have not arisen within the Department of Agriculture. My hon. Friend quoted the opinions of the Department's technical officers and he has been at pains to show that these gave the view that Borgie Mains should not be included in the farms eligible for hill cattle subsidy. But I assure my hon. Friend that other senior technical officers, in the light of conditions both in Caithness and elsewhere in Scotland, have expressed a contrary opinion.

It is very important to appreciate that recommendations and reports from inspectors on the spot are not automatically accepted, otherwise there would be no need for chief livestock inspectors and for decisions to be taken at the centre. It is also very important that we should have uniformity throughout the country and I assure the House that contrary opinions as to whether or not Borgie Mains was eligible were expressed, as opposed to those quoted by my hon. Friend. I need not stress to the House the necessity of doing all we can to achieve uniformity in the administration of these schemes throughout Scotland.

My hon. Friend mentioned the question of pedigree cattle being carried on Borgie Mains Farm. He suggested that pedigree herds should not be accepted for subsidy. I find it difficult to see the relevance of this suggestion. There is nothing in the Statutory Instrument to suggest that such herds should not have the subsidy and it has never been our practice to discriminate against them. Indeed, it would be quite wrong for us to do so, since it is to such herds that we must look for our breeding stock and on which we must rely for the maintenance of the quality of our beef which means so much to the Scottish economy.

In view of the raising of this matter by my hon. Friend, I have personally gone into all the facts of the case and I assure the House that I am satisfied that the decision that Borgie Mains is eligible for the hill cattle subsidy is the correct one and is strictly in accordance with the standards applied both in Caithness and throughout the rest of Scotland.

I should like to turn for a moment to the case of Stanstill Farm. It is not, strictly speaking, the subject of this debate, but my hon. Friend has raised it and I will try to deal with it. The facts are that in 1952 the occupier of this farm claimed hill cattle subsidy in respect of cattle kept on that portion of the farm which he then claimed to be eligible land under the scheme, namely, about 600 acres out of a total of 1,160 acres. His claim at that time was paid in full as were similar claims for the years 1953, 1954, 1955 and 1956. In other words, during those five years the farmer himself only sought subsidy for stock in respect of some 600 acres. In 1957, the occupier of Stanstill Farm claimed that the whole of his farm was eligible, but payment was restricted to the cattle carried on the hill area of some 600 acres.

In 1958, the occupier again claimed in respect of the larger area and thereafter continued to press a claim to have the whole of his farm treated as eligible. As a result of this, the Department's chief livestock inspector made a special inspection of Stanstill Farm in the spring of 1960.

I have to admit that I personally gave approval to the inspection taking place. Furthermore, in giving that approval, I also agreed—and I think I should admit this to the House—that during that inspection the farmer should not be attended by his Member of Parliament or a member of the N.F.U., because I felt it was right that the chief livestock inspector should be allowed to carry out his inspection in the best way he thought fit; but, of course, the farmer himself was given every opportunity to attend and to make what representations he wished.

Following this inspection, it was decided that the whole of the farm could not be accepted as eligible land, but that under the terms of the scheme approval could be given to the cattle being wintered away from the eligible portion of the farm. Here again, we have a question of judgment, a difficult question, as these questions of judgment often are, and I very much hope that my hon. Friend will not suggest that the decision was come to on any other grounds than grounds of merit, because, if he does, I should like to suggest to him that his logic is very wobbly. If bandying about the name of a Member of Parliament is to influence decisions in a matter such as this—to influence them in either a favourable or an unfavourable way—then every hon. Member and every Minister trying to administer a Government Department will find himself in a hopeless position.

My hon. Friend has made certain suggestions about the question of information. Tonight I do not profess to know how my hon. Friend has obtained his information about official reports, but, as he said, he sent a letter to my right hon. Friend. We have already been aware that my hon. Friend had received such information and my right hon. Friend is investigating whether an official has acted improperly. I should like to suggest that it goes no further than that. It is just to see whether an official has acted improperly. I suggest that my right hon. Friend would have been gravely failing in his duty if he had not at least investigated the facts of the matter.

I only want to say one other thing. I am a little shocked that my hon. Friend should attack one who is highly regarded in his county. I am sure that it should not have been done here, under the cloak of Parliament. I in no way resent my hon. Friend's attacking me, but I resent very much his attacking civil servants in a case of this kind. By all means put all the blame on me, and address the attack to me, but I am sure that this House does not sympathise with a Member who attacks civil servants.

Finally, I wish to assure the House again that I have gone into both of these cases most thoroughly, and I am satisfied that the right decisions have been taken in both cases.

Sir D. Robertson

Will my hon. Friend say who was the senior inspector who was called in to inspect this farm? We know that a Mr. Bean came up, and I am informed that he took the same decision about Borgie Mains as Mr. Rae and Mr. Dean. I do not know of any other inspection that was made. It seems inconceivable that any chairborne official in St. Andrew's House should be in a position to override inspectors who took this decision.

Mr. Leburn

That is the point of my case. There would be no need for chief livestock inspectors if no occasion arose to overrule other inspectors' decisions. We could have decisions taken by junior inspectors all over the country, but we must have uniformity. The chief inspector to whom I referred was the chief inspector of the Department of Agriculture at St. Andrew's House.

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

As the Joint Under-Secretary of State said, I have been personally concerned with these matters, particularly in the County of Caithness, in years gone by. He mentioned a meeting in St. Andrew's House in July, 1950, which was taken by the then Joint Under-Secretary of State. I was then Joint Under-Secretary of State.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State says that it is sometimes difficult to judge the eligibility or ineligibility of farms, or parts of farms, to qualify for the hill cattle subsidy under this scheme. He has made it clear that Borgie Mains has all along been a borderline case, although he says that there are other even more borderline cases. I do not know how one gets variations on borderline cases.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) has brought with him a file which shows what investigations and decisions and recommendations have been made from time to time. It pains me very much indeed that he should be able, on the basis of the information given to him in those files, to allege that the views of those who had inspected were rejected by someone who had not inspected. If this is so, then there is something here to inquire into.

The hon. Gentleman showed me some of the documents which he has, and, according to the information contained in them, the chief inspector visited and recommended against. If that is so, then it seems to me to be wrong that the subsidy should be paid. If it is not so, then it is up to the Joint Under-Secretary of State to have a public inquiry to show that somebody has been telling lies.

We must consider what the criteria are in deciding whether or not a subsidy should be paid. The first is that the cows have to be mother cows, and they have to be on the hill for a substantial part of the year. They have to be on hill land as defined in the scheme. To explain this to the House, I will read the definition in the scheme, which says: 'hill land' means land which is livestock rearing land as defined in subsection (3) of section 1 of the Livestock Rearing Act, 1951, that is to say, land situated in an area consisting predominantly of mountains, hills or heath, being land which is, or by improvement could be made, suitable for use for the breeding, rearing and maintenance of sheep or cattle but not for the carrying on, to any material extent, of dairy farming, the production, to any material extent, of fat sheep or fat cattle, or the production of crops in quantity materially greater than that necessary to feed the number of sheep or cattle capable of being maintained on the land. One can only form a judgment as to whether this criterion is fulfilled by personally inspecting the land and being qualified to do so. This is not a matter on which even the Minister can rightly reach a conclusion, nor is it a matter on which someone else sitting in St. Andrew's House can reach a decision. It is something on which only someone who has visited the premises can form a view.

When the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland came to see me on more than one occasion in 1950 and 1951, pleading for the admission of certain farms for subsidy, I invariably told him that I was incapable of judging whether a farm should or should not qualify. Being in office, I had to ensure that we had men in the employment of the Department who were capable of making this judgment. When I gave them a job to do it was my responsibility to take their advice. There is no other way of administering the scheme. I would not listen to any particular farmer who came to me to plead for subsidy because I had to tell him that I had been advised by my experts and that I could not sit down and negotiate further with him.

Can the Under-Secretary of State inform the House whether the senior inspector recommended against the admission of this farm on the basis of a visit, or on the basis of a written submission? When I bad responsibility for this matter, I thought that it was wrong even for the N.F.U. to argue about individual cases or the extent of the hill land on any farm. This is a highly technical business. If this is the kind of matter on which a decision can be reached after pressure being applied, then we should scrap the scheme altogether.

In this case, there seems to be evidence to suggest that the farmer from Stanstill Farm was given a subsidy in respect of an area of land, and that he regarded this as being inadequate. As a result of pressing his claim—this may be incorrect, but the evidence seems to point to it—it was not a question of enlarging the acreage of land on his farm that would qualify. It was merely a matter of saying that, instead of having so many cattle, he would get the subsidy in respect of so many additional cattle. It is wrong to administer the scheme in that way. One or the other.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland cannot be happy with things as they are. I am not happy. I cannot say how sad I am to think of the integrity of public servants being questioned in this way. I suppose I feel that even more keenly because they happen to be civil servants in the Scottish Office, with which I was associated for a number of years. I have nothing but respect and regard for the civil servants with whom I worked for several years. I never found any of them in whom I did not have the utmost trust. Because I have such regard, respect and trust for them and because I want to see our public service continuing to enjoy the respect of the whole nation, and regarded as a body of people entirely beyond suspicion, I do not want to see allegations such as those made by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland hanging about after they have been made publicly.

If the hon. Gentleman has ground for believing that things are wrong, he has a public duty—

Sir D. Robertson


Mr. Fraser

—to expose them. I am not saying that if, on the evidence these things are wrong, he should cover it up. Like any of us, the hon. Gentleman has a public duty to bring these things out into the open, after first giving the Minister an opportunity to put things right.

Sir D. Robertson

Which I did.

Mr. Fraser

The hon. Gentleman says that he did.

If that is not done, he has no choice but to do it publicly. Having done it publicly, and if these criticisms are not fully rebutted, it seems to me that the only thing to do is for the Secretary of State to order a public inquiry into the whole business. It may seem that either the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, or the people who informed him, will come badly out of the inquiry. That is a risk the hon. Gentleman takes in calling for a public inquiry. But if, on the other hand, as the hon. Gentleman has said tonight, people have taken certain decisions involving the expenditure of public money under pressure, it will come out in the public inquiry, and I think that the public service would be better for that happening.

That is how I feel about it. It is the only way in which anyone can feel. The hon. Gentleman said that he was willing to give the whole file to a Scottish judge. I think that it would be better for the Secretary of State to select the Scottish judge to whom the hon. Gentleman should give the file.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes past Ten o'clock.

Back to