HL Deb 13 July 1939 vol 114 cc134-71

3.25 p.m.


had the following Notice on the Paper: To call attention to the recent report on the Highlands and Islands of Scotland by the Scottish Economic Committee, to ask His Majesty's Government what action they propose to take to meet the serious conditions revealed by this report; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, in asking your Lordships' attention to this matter, I do not propose to offer an apology, nor do I think that any of your Lordships who have read or have even glanced at the report will think an apology necessary. The situation must be conceded by any one who has studied it, and by anyone who has read the report, to be a situation of gravity. What is happening in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland? It is no small local problem that we are considering, but a problem affecting almost exactly half of the area of Scotland. In that area the population is dwindling. During the past 55 years, it has diminished by one-third. The schools are emptying, the young men and young women are leaving, the crofts are being deserted and neglected, the production of the land is decreasing, and occupation on the sea and livelihood from it is collapsing. The majority of the smaller industries which have existed are disappearing. One typical example of a formerly thriving village will, I think, bring this forcibly before your Lordships. In a small village on the West Coast of Skye, there were, 50 years ago, one hundred persons. Now it has a population of nineteen persons, five of whom are old-age pensioners. The crofts are still inhabited, but probably only by one or two persons, and they are therefore more or less neglected. For four years there has not been a single child in the school.

With that in front of us I feel that no one will challenge the right to inquire into the situation, and it was with that before us that the Scottish Economic Committee started upon the task of reviewing the situation. Before going further I should explain to your Lordships something regarding the position and the authority of that Committee. It is a Committee that was established under the instigation of Sir Godfrey Collins when he was Secretary of State for Scotland. He felt that to have an independent Committee of influential people in various trades and positions to advise the Scottish Office would be a great asset, and he therefore invited the Scottish Development Council to appoint such a Committee. The Committee were to work in close conjunction with the Scottish Office and with the Commissioner for Special Areas, and as far as possible the. Under-Secretary for Scotland was to keep in touch with their meetings. A good deal of the work of the Committee was done in conjunction with the Commissioner for Special Areas and for that reason took place in an arbitrarily defined area which is known by the term "Special Area."

It became quite evident to the Economic Committee before very long that many parts of Scotland which were not included in the Special Areas needed a great deal of attention and deserved their attention even more closely than the Special Areas. For that reason the Committee set up a special Committee charged with the investigation of the economic conditions in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, under the Chairmanship of Major Hilleary, and I should like here and now to give a very strong and emphatic public testimony to the devoted work of that Committee, who spent over two years in close investigation of the programme and have produced this report which is now before your Lordships.

As I have said, the problem here is that the population is decreasing, and not only is the population decreasing but the productive age of the population is decreasing. May I give you one or two figures to point that fact? The population of the Highlands and Islands, as compared with the population of the West of Scotland, in 1801 was 18.8 per cent.; in 1861 it had fallen to 12.4 per cent., in roll to 7.17 per cent., and in 1936 to 5.92 per cent. For a similar period the over-45 age group in 1861 was 23.87 per cent. in the Highlands and Islands, and in 1931 it had risen to 33.56 per cent. I think your Lordships will see from those figures that the population has not only diminished but that its productiveness has also diminished, and increasingly so. On the other side we have the fact that, in spite of the decreasing population, unemployment has increased. For the year 1936 the percentage of unemployment in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland was 34.5, a figure very largely in excess of that for many parts of the Special Areas. In 1927 the actual number of unemployed was 4,000, whereas in 1937, ten years later, the number had risen to 9,000, and that at a time when the number of unemployed in other districts was falling. I have made reference already to the Special Areas. Several years ago Parliament in its wisdom thought it right to make special provision for certain areas which were hardly depressed. The Highlands and Islands of Scotland were never included in those Special Areas and have therefore never been able to obtain benefits from the fund at the disposal of the Commissioner.

From that summary I think your Lordships will agree with me that it is a picture of sadness and decay, but I would claim that it is not a picture of hopelessness or despair. I say that because I think probably a good many of your Lordships, and many other people outside this House, connect inevitably the Highlands with the thought of holidays and recreation. Indeed, that is one of the great assets of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland: that they do provide for people a wonderful holiday and a wonderful place of recreation for tourists. That I should like to see enlarged and developed, and we must not, in any plans we conceive for the betterment of the Highlands, forget that great industry, the tourist industry. But if we think of the Highlands only as a place for holidays and for tourists, we are doing the Highlands a grave injustice, because they are a region which for many hundreds of years has given, and which wishes to give for the future, a full quota towards the responsibilities of citizenship both in men and in produce. If we allow the present postion to drift onwards, and if the difficulties before us are not faced, a withdrawal from that honourable position is inevitable.

The report which your Lordships have before you does not claim or recommend any vast extension of Government grants or subsidies. What it seeks to do is to put before you what the Highlander wants, and the Highlander wants work and opportunity. If I may, I should like to quote a few sentences from the report itself: The greatest requisites are 'work' and 'opportunity'—'work' for the purpose of production, and 'opportunity' for securing a remunerative price for the fruits of labour … The conditions of life in which work will be carried out in the Highlands must be made to approximate so far as possible to conditions obtainable elsewhere. Inequalities due to distance from centres of consumption must be minimised by attention to communications and freight charges. The application of modern methods and the utilisation of scientific discovery must be energetically pursued and demonstrated in the interests of agriculture, fishing and forestry. Industries appropriate to the area and in harmony with the Highland temperament must be established, and the great part which water power can take in this development must be examined to the full. That is a summary of what the report, in its fifteen chapters and eight appendices, tries to bring before the Government and before the public. It is not necessary to bring in the whole of these improvements or schemes at once. They can be done stage by stage, and in the present emergency I think it is perfectly right that we should concentrate on those parts of the schemes and plans which are brought out here to enable the Highlands and Islands to produce the maximum food supply.

May I give you a few illustrations based on the three main industries, agriculture, fishing and forestry? In agriculture no one could speak in a debate on the Highlands without paying a tribute to what has already been done by the Department of Agriculture in Scotland in providing both crofts and livestock; but there still remains a great deal which could be done, or at any rate which could be attempted, and one or two things which the report brings out appeal to me as things which should be attempted. In the first instance we might do something more to couple education with actual agriculture and fishing. For that reason it is suggested in the report that there should be training centres both for work upon the land and for fishing, for work upon the sea. Broadly speaking, those training centres in respect of the land would take the form of demonstration crofts. By "demonstration croft" is meant, not a college of agriculture farm trying a great many experiments, but a croft run well with the equipment and the possible assistance which would be available for those living in the locality, run by men of experience not afraid of making experiments, and also emphasizing what can be done and what can bring a great deal of help into agriculture, particularly in small holdings—co-operation.

I have in mind what has already been achieved in England under the Land Settlement Association, where men have been brought from the mines, placed upon small holdings and given an interest in the land. A great many of them have made good, and I feel that in the Highlands there is an opportunity for something of the same kind which would have even more hope of coming to fruition than the land settlement of miners on small holdings in England. The men would come with a knowledge of land and with a knowledge of agriculture. But they would not be left alone, as they are now in their crofts. It is not sufficient merely to give a man a new house and give him a croft: you must help him; you must lead him on by showing him in the demonstration croft what can be done, and help him to co-operate with the demonstration croft and with his neighbours, in various forms of agriculture which a single holding cannot carry out. Such things as grass growing, and the making of silage, all become possible if you bring various holdings together and help them to work together for the common good.

So I feel there is a great deal to consider in the new field of agriculture, if it is taken in hand, and again I should like to quote a few sentences from the report, in a survey made by Professor Stapledon, who is so well known to many of your Lordships as one of the greatest experts on the subject of grass land. In his report he says: From the impression I formed of thy climate and of the character of such very limited better grass that came under my eye, I formed the rather decided opinion that it should be possible greatly to extend the scope for wintering in the Island—both cattle and sheep—and that it should be possible to fatten lambs on the Island. In another paragraph he says: This procedure, properly adopted, would revolutionise the gratings on the quondam cultivated areas of the Island; they would provide wintering and productive grass in the summer. Turning from agriculture to the second main industry, fishing, undoubtedly this is an industry which has been extremely hard hit from many causes. I shall not attempt to go into it in detail, but here again the report suggests that much can be done to make up the leeway, because a great deal of the depression depends on the gear, the boats, the nets and everything having decayed and become out of date. The report suggests that much can be done by fitting out experimental boats, fitted with the latest equipment, and manned by local fishermen, under the guidance of one experienced in the working of the new and up-to-date gear. By so doing, we could not only demonstrate to the people the best methods in any particular districts, but prove to the local crews that these methods can be made successful.

The third main industry, indigenous to the Highlands, is that of forestry, and here, above all, in dealing with the Highlands I think one must pay tribute to the tremendous development already achieved by the Forestry Commission. Allowing for that, however, a good deal can be done in co-ordinating planting on the various estates in the Highlands, by producing some definite co-ordinating plan, by which it would be possible to give to the crofter extra work beyond his work on his croft, which would help him to make ends meet and assist him during the times when there is no work to be done on the croft itself. It would bring in the necessary money to the croft to enable the crofter to keep his family together and live in reasonably happy conditions. So I do recommend to your Lordships, and to the Government, that this particular aspect of forestry should be given careful consideration, and for this reason, that not only would it provide extra remuneration and extra employment to the crofter himself, but it would provide extra means of employing transport. Those transport agencies which work in the Highlands and Islands do so under very difficult conditions, because most of the traffic is going one way. If we can help to make the other end productive, and give a return load, so much the better for the transport agencies, and a development of these would also bring more work to the manufacturing industries.

Turning from those three main indigenous industries to the question whether it is possible to develop in the Highlands any new industries, one is brought face to face with the criticism of many people that it is sacrilege to bring industry into such surroundings. Well, there is that aspect, and we must respect it. We want to retain the beauty of the country and I should make bold to say that we should not conceive of transferring such an industrial estate as we see on many of the main arteries leading out of London, or any of the large cities, into the heart of the Highlands, even if the railway companies and steamship companies could deal with it. But that is not a question of practical politics. What we want to consider with regard to the Highlands is whether industry can be developed which can work in not only with the situation but with the character and individual nature of the population. There are such industries, and there are industries which can be induced to revive—the lime industry, the tweed industry, the slate and marble quarries, and products from sea-ware. This can be achieved by making much more use of the natural resources of the Highlands, and particularly the water power.

If water power could be developed to bring energy and heat into the districts of the Highlands, and if we could conceive a better central marketing than is possible at present, there is no saying what development could be achieved in these depressed areas. Already we have seen one very big and successful development in the British Aluminium Company's works, and another great scheme, the Grampian electricity undertaking, but anxiety, I think, on this heading is natural to the Highlands. There is the feeling that a big hydro-electric scheme, whose main scheme is the creation of electric power which will be transferred from the Highlands to other districts, is not the way of developing the Highlands, but if your Lordships will read this very interesting report, at page 13, and appendix 8 thereto, I think you will see that it is quite possible to have a hydroelectric scheme for the production of power which may be appropriate for a fairly wide area, and at the same time to create and develop a large number of smaller schemes which are devoted to domestic, agricultural, and local interests. In that appendix you will find that something like 80 different schemes have been surveyed which vary in size from an annual output of 1,000,000 units to 100,000,000 units. From that point of view again I urge that the Government should take this into serious consideration.

This brings me to another point, which I think should be attacked without delay, the question of communications. The difficulty of communications has hindered every possible advance in the Highlands. I do not mean that they are universally bad, but the difficulty of getting from one place to another does make the production of a particular article of industry more difficult for an industry in the Highlands than for an industry nearer the centres of population. It has been, I think, acknowledged from the very earliest times that the improvement of communications was one of the most important things in the life of a community. May I quote from Adam Smith: Good roads, by diminishing the expense of carriage, put the remote parts of the country more surely upon a level with those in the neighbourhood of towns. They are, on that account, the greatest of all improvements. I may include, I think, in roads, railways and other communications by air and sea.

I should like to illustrate the difficulty from a homely incident. A few years ago I took my holiday at the end of Loch Eilan. The nearest road was 9½ miles distant. It was possible to get to the house in which we were living by sea, but the only other access was a mountain path. That is all very well for a family on holiday, as lone as that family is in good health, but if you require the doctor, if you require to send a telegram, if you require anything beyond what can be got from the village shop, you have to go 9½ miles on your feet, or risk your life in a boat, and if there is a storm you will not choose that second alternative. The neighbouring house to us was occupied by another family. The very day they had to leave there was such a storm that the whole family had to leave on foot across this mountain path, to catch the train at Loch Eilan station. This is not a thing you can undertake without thought, and the whole of the luggage had to be left to follow them as best it could the next day. Those are the sort of difficulties that have to be faced with regard to communications at the present time, and I think we must look at the question of roads much more sympathetically in these districts than in parts where perhaps most of us come from. I have spoken in this House before on the question of the need for the improvement of road and other facilities, but there is something different with regard to the roads, particularly the parish roads, in the Highlands, requiring them to be put on a plane by themselves, because they are the very arteries on which the whole life of the population depends.

The question of freights is a difficult one, but on this same question would it not be possible to arrange some means of spreading the burden of freights? To go back again to that little illustration that I gave to your Lordships of this place where we had our holiday, the way we got our stores was by parcel post. The postman went every day those 9½ miles, backwards and forwards with his pony, and the parcel was delivered there after that journey at exactly the same price as if it had been delivered only two doors away round the corner in the heart of London. That is the kind of thing which I think we have got to get down to—to consider whether we cannot spread the burden of freights and increase the facilities of transportation, to allow the produce of the Highlands to be marketed in better conditions, and with more prospect of success. It is at the very root of the problem, and is what I meant by ensuring that the Highlander works under conditions somewhat similar to those obtaining elsewhere.

As I said at the beginning, this is not a local problem, it is a big problem, and planning is needed in order to achieve any improvement. The report is a working plan and in the forefront of this working plan there is suggested the appointment of a Highland Development Commissioner. That Highland Development Commissioner will be charged with the responsibility of going personally and deeply into all these intimate questions. He will be charged with the responsibility of getting down to the job at once, and working out his plans step by step. We cannot afford to let this heritage of ours in the Highlands and Islands dwindle away before our eyes, and I urge the Government to open their eyes as well as their hearts and overcome evil with good. Public opinion is behind us, and I say that emphatically, because at the Empire Exhibition last year one of the greatest attractions, one of the things which everyone wished to see was the Highland clachan, and since this report was published it has become quite evident that public opinion is behind it. The Highland county councils have, I think, almost unanimously passed resolutions in favour of it, and there have geen public meetings in Glasgow and elsewhere which have supported it.

I should like to stir your Lordships and the Government to think of this subject of the Highlands, not only as doing something for the Highlands, but as doing something for the Highlands as part of the whole British Empire. They are trying to do their share, and it is up to the Government to do their share for them in return. If I could I should like to summon the regimental pipers to give you a skirl of the pipes, and in default of that I am almost tempted to give you the strains of that great anthem of national independence— Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled, Scots wham Bruce has often led, but you might be shocked if I attempted to do so. But, while not straining your attention in that way, I would like to turn to that anthem for the summary of my speech and say: Now's the day and now's the hour. I beg to move.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, I should like at the outset to congratulate the noble Earl who has just sat down upon the signal service which he has rendered to Scotland by putting this Motion upon the Paper to-day, and by supporting it with what, if he will allow me to say so, was so persuasive and so constructive a speech. Any claim which I have to speak on this subject depends first upon the fact, if I may be forgiven a personal allusion, that as a Highlander born and bred I am deeply attached to the Highlands and, secondly, upon the fact that as Secretary for Scotland for six years I was brought very closely in touch with many of the problems which are dealt with in this report. Since that time the situation in the Highlands and Islands has gradually worsened, and it was not surprising, therefore, that the Economic Committee, in the circumstances to which the noble Earl has referred, proceeded to appoint a special Committee to explore the situation and to devise, if possible, ways and means to retrieve it. That Committee very carefully carried out their remit. They have now reported, and their report is before your Lordships' House for consideration to-day.

I have read the report—every line of it—and the two leading impressions left upon my mind from its perusal were these: First of all, the comprehensive, the temperate, and, I will add, the statesmanlike character of the document, and, secondly, the magnitude and the intricacy of the problems with which the report is concerned. The report is a very elaborate document, but from it—sticking out a mile, if I may be allowed to use the expression—two special recommendations emerge. The Committee are at pains to make it clear that these two recommendations are entirely distinct from, and independent of, the recommendations which they proceed to make upon the merits of the problem which they examined. These two particular recommendations, one of which has been referred to by the noble Earl, are that there should be appointed a Highland Development Commissioner, and that there should be established a Central Marketing Agency for the Highlands and Islands. The Committee urge on the Government that these two recommendations should receive effect forthwith. With all the earnestness at my command I desire to underline and emphasize that suggestion.

As regards the appointment of a Commissioner, there can be no doubt that is a somewhat revolutionary proposal as compared with, say, the appointment of a consultative or advisory council, but I think I am right in saying that this proposal that a special Highland Development Commissioner should be appointed forthwith has the full support of informed public opinion in the Highlands to-day. There cannot be any doubt, I am afraid, that the Highlands must be regarded as a distressed area, and the Commissioner, when appointed, should be armed with similar powers to those which are conferred upon Commissioners in Special Areas. He should, of course, be provided with an adequate staff, he should be at liberty to consult with all the various interests with which he is concerned, including of course the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, and he should have a free hand, after full examination of all the problems with which he is confronted, to formulate a policy and call upon the Government to carry it out.

These are no doubt difficult duties; and if anyone says that the appointment of such an official is totalitarian in its character, I would reply that if quick decisions are required—and celerity in this matter is really of the essence of the problem—then you will get these decisions from a Commissioner if you get the right man (and I have no doubt the Governmen can find such a man) better than you will get them from councils and advisory committees which will deliberate and debate for a long time before reaching any concrete conclusion in the matter. Therefore I would urge upon the Government with all the emphasis at my disposal that this particular preliminary proposal made by their own Committee—for it is, in effect, really a Government Committee—should receive full effect now.

The other proposal, which is also of a preliminary character, and which the Committee point out has no relation to and need not wait for further developments to take place, is that there should be appointed a Central Marketing Agency. To anyone who knows the Highlands that proposition has only to be stated in order that it should, be self-evident. Surely an organisation whose duty it would be to dispose of the produce from remote and scattered districts in the Highlands on a co-operative and co-ordinated basis is a business proposition which requires no argument to support it when compared with the scattered and unco-ordinated efforts which are being made to-day. I venture to add that that Central Marketing Agency might very well be armed net only with selling powers, but with buying powers also, which would be an enormous boon to the crofting community and which would no doubt involve the provision of a certain amount of working capital by the Government. These are the two preliminary proposals which I urge very strongly on the noble Marquess who is to reply to this debate.

When one passes from these two preliminary proposals to the report itself, I confess it is sometimes difficult to see the wood for the trees; but no doubt it would be for the Development Commissioner, if and when appointed, to go into the matter himself and to settle the character and, more important still, the priority of the schemes to which effect is to be given at his instigation. While the report may, present difficulties, as I say, in seeing the wood for the trees, there are certain things which are abundantly clear and to which, with your Lordships' permission, for a moment or two I would refer. As my noble friend has indicated, the pivotal industries in the Highlands to-day, as in the past, are agriculture and fishing. Forestry is an ancillary industry of great importance, but I do not propose to add a word to what the noble Earl has said on that subject.

With regard to agriculture and fishing, I should like to add a few words to what he has, if I may say so, so well said. Agriculture and fishing in the Highlands are to-day, I am afraid, both languishing. Both industries require Government assistance. The Highland agriculturist is faced with peculiar difficulties. He has to combat what is often an ungrateful soil, and sometimes a harsh climate as well, and whether he is engaged in large-scale farming or crofting—I care not which—each is a precarious occupation at all times, and certainly in the Highlands. I have always maintained that a croft or a small holding cannot prove an economic proposition unless an ancillary occupation such as forestry or fishing is followed by the crofter as well. So far as the agriculturist is concerned, his difficulties are so great that I venture to put it to your Lordships' House to-day they are unique, and their needs are also unique.

If that is so with regard to agriculture, the case is even more clamant when you turn to fishing. My noble friend has referred to some of the needs of that industry. The fishing industry in the North of Scotland requires improved police coast protection, and it requires assistance in the provision of more up-to-date boats and gear. The North Country fishermen are a fine race of men. We have only to think—and many of us do not have to think very far back in order to remember it—of the patrolling service, the mine-sweeping, and the mine-laving which were carried out in the Great War by Highland fishermen in order to realise the debt of gratitude which the nation owes to them to-day. I think that considerations of gratitude, apart altogether from considerations of justice, should compel the Government to lend a sympathetic ear to the claims of such men.

Apart from these occupations, there is the other matter to which the noble Earl referred and on which I desire to say a word or two by way of footnote—the question of transport. Improved transport by land and by sea with reduced freights is one of the most urgent needs of the Highlands and Islands to-day. Take roads, for example. My noble friend has referred to the difficulties of which those who have had personal experience of them are aware. One hears of luxury roads being constructed in the Highlands for the benefit of tourist traffic. I am one of the last to criticise or condemn that enterprise, but I do say this, that the fundamental and the fatal fact with which you are faced to-day in the Highlands is that there are substantially no roads to connect the remote localities, the scattered localities, with the trunk roads in the northern parts of the country. That is a serious problem, a problem which the county councils of Scotland cannot possibly grapple with unaided, because, when they have satisfied the State services, then, having regard to the limited rating capacity of these areas, there is very little left to be spent on rural roads, or on drainage or on any other social amenities. The Highlands to-day are treated by the Government for educational purposes as a necessitous area, and liberal grants are made to them on that footing. I venture to suggest to the Government for their consideration that the same principle should apply to the social services to which I have referred as is to-day being applied to education in that part of the country.

But, apart from agriculture and fishing, and apart from transport, there remains the further question to which my noble friend referred and on which I will say a word—namely, the development of existing industries. There is the tartan industry and the tweed industry and there is the manufacture of Army clothing and Army boots and Navy serge, apart altogether from the various other enterprises to which my noble friend referred. These are valuable and they are necessary both in time of peace and in time of war. And in that connection there is the development of tourist traffic, which has its own importance, and an early holiday time, which also has its own importance, I would say that all these industries deserve fostering and encouraging by the Government of the day.

But I am convinced that whatever you do in regard to these industries, until you have imported industrial enterprises into the Highlands you will never solve the problem which exists there to-day. The means are available and are at hand for the development of such enterprises. You have unlimited harbourage accommodation all along the coast, you have unlimited water power inland awaiting and crying out for development, and valuable opportunties are being missed to-day in respect of them. Switzerland and Norway, countries comparable in many ways to Scotland, have been pioneers in these matters, and, speaking for myself alone, I have no hesitation in saying that the fact that last year in another place the Caledonian Power Bill was refused even a Second Reading, was a calamity of the first magnitude. At any rate short of those industries you win never solve the Highland problem. That problem can be solved by the judicious introduction and support from the Government of suitable industrial enterprises.

Your Lordships may say that many of these proposals sound in money, and that money is, as we all know, scarce to-day. I have sought to show, ineffectually perhaps, that the claims and circumstances in which they are made are quite unique in this instance. I do not want to be misunderstood. I am not suggesting that a fairy financial wand should be waved here and now over the Highlands and Islands. Far from it. I humbly Conceive that the financial assistance which ought to be given should be characterised by what I might term gradualness, and that, so far from embarking on a policy of short cuts and of spasmodic grants, a long-term policy should be devised and should be pursued for the amelioration of these difficulties.

I venture to say that the Highlands and Islands of Scotland have deserved well of the Government and of the nation. I have already referred to the part which the fishermen of the North played in regard to the Mercantile Marine during the Great War. I might also refer to the part which the Highland soldier played in the War. None of us can surely forget the deeds of the first Division and of many Highland regiments to which I might refer. Therefore, with all the earnestness at my command, I desire to urge the Government not to be blind to the problems and difficulties of these men, not to be deaf to the appeal which is addressed to them to-day. With all the earnestness at my command I would appeal to the Government to give heed to the recommendations of this admirable Committee and so to assist in ushering in a new era of hope and prosperity and happiness in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, this debate is so important that it is necessary, I think your Lordships would agree, that I should endeavour to put the point of view of the Labour Party upon the problem which was so admirably raised by the noble Earl, Lord Elgin. Since this Motion appeared on the Paper I have consulted my noble friends and my friends in another place, and I will do my best to put our point of view as a Party on this very important matter. In the first place, let me also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alness, on his speech and perhaps he will allow me to say that I only wish he had been Secretary of State for Scotland at a more propitious time. He was Secretary during the War and immediately afterwards, and if he had had be opportunities later on to put his theories into practice I am sure the Highlands would have benefited very much. I hope he does not mind me saying so in that way. It is something that I cannot say of the noble Marquess, Lord Zetland, who will reply for the Government and as a member of the Government has a great responsibility for the neglect of the Highlands and Islands.

I must make this point, that the speeches of the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Alness, opposite contain a tremendous indictment of the Government. They did not say it in so many words, but they were really condemning the Government's neglect of these vitally important areas. Furthermore, I think that the scandal of the Highlands, if I may so use the word, has not been overstated at all. In a word what is happening is this. I say this advisedly. The finest race in the world is being gradually obliterated from its native soil. They are in a way the victims of civilisation, but only in a way and up to a point. It is a fact that young people in the Highlands have not the scope that they want to-day and they yield to the allurement of the towns. Better transport arrangements make it easier for them to leave the glens. That is one of the reasons which was not stressed by the noble Earl or by the noble Lord opposite.

May I say a word about what the noble Lord opposite stated about roads? I think the road policy that has been pursued in the Highlands of Scotland is perfectly abominable. I cannot speak with composure of the racing track that has been built right through the Pass of Glencoe up into Fort William, while the side roads and country roads that are badly needed for the crofts and the inhabitants of the glens are neglected in a disgraceful way. I have heard the complaint by Argyllshire men that tourists drive so quickly on this road that they get to Inverness before they know where they are and spend no money in Argyllshire on the way. Then there has been an abominable outrage on Loch Awe. In order to cut off a corner so that speed kings may get more quickly to Oban, by about ten minutes I suppose, they must needs build a causeway over the most beautiful end of the loch. At the same time a short distance away in the glens around Loch Awe there are only rough footpaths leading to the cottages in which von find the most beau- tiful children in the world, and those children are only able to get schooling once or twice a week when the school mistress comes to them. Yet thousands of pounds are spent on these veritable racing tracks which are not needed nearly so much. It is a policy which I do not think can be defended. Successive Ministers of Transport and successive Cabinets have a great deal to answer for.

I should like to pay a tribute to the great interest of this report, although I think the historical summary at the beginning is open to question and argument. This historical side is of the greatest importance. I do not think sufficient attention has been paid to the great days in the Highlands before the clan system was broken down, about the '45. That was a communal system. Land was held communally and modern landlordism, as we understand it, came in afterwards. The case of my Party is that, firstly the breakdown of the communal system of the clans, secondly the clearances, and thirdly the advent of modern landlordism and capitalism into the Highlands, are all contributory causes to the present distress and depopulation. The mere appointment of Committees or a Commission and the provision of money as advocated by the two noble Lords will not alone do what is necessary. The two noble Lords who have spoken, if they will forgive my saying so, made thoroughly good socialistic speeches but they did not carry their policy to a logical conclusion. The Party to which I belong realise the immense difficulty and complexity of the problem, and we are just as anxious as anyone else to save the Highlands and Islands and resettle and redevelop them, but we say that to do that, not only development loan money is required, but the putting of a great deal of our own socialist policy into practice.

If you had the whole of the soil of the country owned by the nation, you could tackle the whole Highland and Island problem on a great scale. You could do what you liked then to bring in industry. At present you have to encourage people to start such enterprises as the Grampian electricity scheme praised by the noble Lord, Lord Alness, and induce gentlemen in the City of London to raise money from the money market by mortgaging the water power of Scotland for all time. You are proposing to mortgage the natural and national assets of the Highlands in order to induce private capital to go there. We say that the provision of cheap electricity and cheap transport in the Highlands should be a State enterprise. We are all for spending money in the Highlands under proper safeguards and we would rather do that than lend it to our foreign allies, important as that is in these times. In other words, we would rather help our own people in the Highlands first or at least at the same time. But we do not want money used only to bolster up private enterprises of the sort suggested and praised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Alness.

I am sorry to have to disagree with him on that point and I hope he will forgive me for bringing this discordant note into the debate. Nationalisation of the land in the Highlands would not interfere with the tourist and sporting interests which are of great importance. It would help them. We believe that if the State had control of all the land it would be possible to develop fishing and other sporting interests and attract more people to the Highlands and the sporting industry generally; that I agree is a very great source of revenue which should be developed and should be very largely relied upon to keep people on the land there. My Party has one caveat to put in with regard to the appointment of a Commissioner. We are a little doubtful about the proposal that the powers of this Commissioner should override the powers of the local authorities. We have to be convinced of the necessity of that and we shall have to examine any proposal of that sort very carefully. I am authorised by my Party to convey that to the Government and I hope the noble Marquess will be good enough to take note of it. Apart from that, we support very largely the report referred to by the noble Earl and, with the safeguards I have mentioned, we are prepared to support measures, financial or otherwise, that will help to maintain on their own soil what I repeat is the finest race the world has ever seen.

4.27 p.m.


My Lords, I should like if I may, first of all to offer congratulations to the noble Earl who initiated this debate and my thanks to him for bringing up a matter which to me, and others who live in the Highlands, is of great importance. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Alness, in a speech which, if he will allow me to say so, was of a brilliance which I cannot hope to attain, dealt with the general aspect of the question. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to come down to details. I am one who, for a considerable period of years, has had the opportunity, and as I believe the good fortune, to spend a very considerable amount of time in one of the Northern counties of Scotland, to serve on a local authority and, last but not least, to see the Highlands at all times of the year. The Highlands of Scotland can look an easy place on a fine day in August or September. I hope your Lordships will accept my assurance that they can look much less easy on a less nice day in January or February. The Highlanders are, on the whole, a self-reliant, independent and determined people. Why? Because they live a life which is rigorous, which is hard, which is difficult. Living that sort of life has produced the character which they have always had and which to-day they still retain.

I see two great difficulties. The first is that the country being as thinly populated as it is to-day, local conditions are very different from the conditions in almost all other areas in Great Britain, and they consequently require very special treatment. The second difficulty is the physical difficulty of distance from our markets. If I may be forgiven for putting forward first one small complaint, I would say that there is always the curious argument—at least it seems curious to me—if anybody complains about the heavy burdens which ratepayers to-day have to bear, that that burden depends upon the wishes and desires of the ratepayers as represented by their local authorities. In fact I am told that no less an authority than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, discussing this question of the burden of rates only the other day in another place, remarked—so I am credibly informed, though I speak under correction—that, after all, that was a matter for the ratepayers to decide. As I have said, our conditions in the Northern counties of Scotland—and I who live in the North-East speak specially for that part of the Highlands rather than for the Western areas—are so different; they require special treatment.

As I believe, and as I think every member of every local authority in Scotland to-day believes—though that is a sweeping statement—it does not depend upon what the local authority in any area say the rates will be. That has long ago gone by the board. My experience and the experience of many of my friends has been that the local authority, by exercising a policy of thrift and of economy so rigorous as to be tire-some to everybody concerned, can cut off in a small county a few hundreds a year and in a large one a few thousands, while day by day thousands and tens of thousands are poured out under Acts of Parliament as administered by the permanent officials who have, by the nature of things and by our system, to administer those Acts. There is the situation, and it is a deplorable thing that anybody should assume that the ratepayers are responsible to-day for the heavy burden which they have to bear. I speak very strongly on this point, because, serving on an authority in one of these so thinly-populated districts, I see time after time expenditure being poured out on things which I believe to be very desirable but in that area quite uneconomic.

I do not want to make a great complaint of this. We who live in the Highlands do not wish to be unreasonable upon this point. We perfectly appreciate that when Parliament passes legislation it must pass legislation for the majority of the people in the country; that we quite understand. But we do ask, is it really beyond the wit of man for the legislation to be so framed, and for the administration by the Government Departments concerned to be so managed, that the system is sufficiently elastic for it to be possible to suit, not only the thickly-populated areas in the South, but also the thinly-populated areas in the North? I admit at once that if there have been faults in this matter, they are not all on the side of either Parliament or of the permanent officials. Undoubtedly there are faults on the side of the local authorities, and I put forward a reason for that.

Just as we have to fight all the time against distance from markets, so here we have to fight against the difficulty of the distance we lie from the centre of things where these permanent officials who have to administer Acts of Parliament reside and have their offices. It is impossible, as I think your Lordships will see, for individual members of local authorities—voluntary people, part-time men—to be continually travelling the whole way to London, or even to Edinburgh, to take these matters up personally—and it is only personal contact which will put these matters right. So I put it to the Government, and also to the noble Marquess who I understand will reply on behalf of the Government, the question which I suggest humbly: Is it not possible for much closer personal contact to be made available between the permanent officials in the various Government Departments and the local authorities, who between them have to carry on all the local services?

I pass now to a subject on which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Alness, touched. He said that there were three main occupations in the Highlands of Scotland. I differ from him in that I say there are four. The first is the tourist industry, surely the most unstable of all the industries you could think of, because it is so essentially a luxury traffic. That we in the Highlands know it is unstable is beyond all doubt. Passing beyond that, the main occupations are the three which Lord Alness mentioned and which I always in my mind describe as the three "f's"—fishing, farming and forestry. In passing, may I say that I am not in complete agreement with my noble friend Lord Alness that forestry is a subsidiary matter? It is very important, and should become every year more important in the Highlands in the very near future. Of fishing I have no close personal knowledge, but I know what every one of your Lordships knows, that it is an industry that has been in the most dire straits for many years. I quite acknowledge and realise that the Government have been doing their best to help this industry, and I only pray that shortly they may succeed.

I turn to farming and forestry. The farming industry, as your Lordships also know, has been for many years all over the world in great distress, and particularly perhaps in the Highlands, where our winter is long, our growing season therefore correspondingly short and our soil not very good, with the result that we are forced, even though we may not wish it, to grow crops such as oats, which, when you have grown them, you almost invariably find impossible to sell. But oats is the only grain crop that we can grow, and we must have straw.

If Lord Alness will forgive me, I differ slightly from him in regard to the initiation in the Highlands of large industries. It may be right—I do not say that Lord Alness is wrong—but what I do say is that I have a great many friends in the Highlands who are eminently unsuited to the life of the industrial worker. I know many Highlanders whom I do not see daily clocking in and clocking out of an industrial factory. I believe their sense of independence and of self-reliance is too great for that type of work to come very easily to them. I believe that what most of these Highlanders want is to be, anyhow to some extent, their own masters. That is what the Highlander has been in the past, and it is what he wants to be in the future if he can. There has been a reference during the course of this debate to the Forestry Commission. It is very youthful in terms of years, but has introduced during its short life one system which I believe is most admirably suited to the Highlander as I know him, and that is what they call the system of forest holdings. Under this system the individual man is given a house, with a small area of land which he may work, and, in order to provide him with the necessary cash which he must have to live from week to week, he has to undertake to work for the Forestry Commission at a fixed wage for a certain number of days in the year—I think it is 150 days. This gives to the Highlander a possibility of being to some extent his own master and yet at the same time the opportunity to bring in from week to week the necessary amount of cash which he must have to live at the time of year when his crops may bring him in nothing.

Those who are in any way closely connected with forestry know well that that Commission has now, in the Highlands of Scotland and, of course, elsewhere, many acres of forest which were planted fifteen or twenty years ago and which will soon require to be thinned. They all know that that matter of thinning is going to involve a very large increase in the amount of labour required; that is certain. Would it not therefore be possible—and here is my small constructive suggestion, which I lay with all humility before the noble Marquess who is to reply on behalf of the Government to-day—greatly to increase this scheme? The Forestry Commission have instituted a number of these holdings which, considering the life of the Commission, is large, but which in relation to the population of the Highlands as a whole is diminutive. Can that not be increased? It is certain that more labour will be required by the Forestry Commission, so why not provide it? If I may venture to do so, may I point out that you cannot run a policy of forestry on a day-to-day system? It takes many years to grow trees, and if that Forestry Commission are to have a fair chance at all they must be allowed to have a very long-dated programme on which to base their work. So I venture to put forward my suggestion that larger power should be given to the Forestry Commission to enable them to increase these holdings and go ahead with forestry work on a considerably increased scale, and so provide labour of just the type which I believe the Highlands want.

I have taken a lot of your Lordships' time, but I would like, if I may, to refer also to two small matters. Lord Alness referred to the matter of large water-power schemes. I confess I am in agreement with the Committee's report on this matter. I am a little dubious about very large water-power schemes, and much more inclined to favour many schemes of much smaller size, designed to produce industry in the local areas from which the water comes. It will be within the memory of many of your Lordships that some few years ago large water-power schemes came before Parliament and were, in the main, turned down. One of the reasons, I believe, was that many people in the Highlands felt that the water-power was to be developed in order to produce electric power for the grid, which would be used for the industries in the South of Scotland, and that no permanent improvement would accrue to the Highlands where the power came from.

Lord Alness also referred to the fact that Highlanders have been good soldiers. May I, as having been a member of the 51st Highland Division, remind the House that since the reconstitution of the Territorial Army in 1920, hardly a year has passed without that Division being at the top of the recruiting figures for the whole of the Territorial Army? Coming to later days, when it was considered necessary to double the Territorial Army the local units of that part of the Highlands with which I have to do doubled their strength in a time so short as to cause surprise to everybody. The noble Lord also referred to the fact that the Highland Division made a good name for itself in the last War. I am confident that it is prepared to make an equally good name for itself in the next one, and in these times, when the possibility of a great European War hangs just above our heads, I think there is good reason to help these people to exist and to be there when they are wanted in the time of the nation's need.

I would like to touch on one other point. I will ask your Lordships to look at the matter broadly, as one of national eugenics. Is it not good policy to foster and preserve people of this kind, who bring up their children and produce a good and virile population, and who are prepared always to meet difficulties, and to overcome them generally without help from anyone else? Are they not an asset to our nation if we are to retain our place as one of the leading countries of the world? I will not take up your Lordships' time further, but I would beg of the Government to see if something cannot be done, and I would put to the noble Marquess who will reply the two points which I have ventured to bring before the House to-day, in the hope that something may be achieved as a result of this debate, for which I think we are all grateful to the noble Earl who initiated it.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I desire to intervene in this debate just to touch on one aspect of the problem, which has only been lightly dealt with in any of the previous speeches, but which is one to which I attach great importance and interest. It is the question of transport, more particularly of sea transport, which is of vital interest to all of us who are fortunnate enough to live and work in the Outer Islands. The noble Earl, Lord-Elgin, has stated the case for this report with his usual clearness and readiness, and he has touched upon nearly every aspect of the question. I think no one should speak in this debate to-day without expressing the gratitude which we must feel to the noble Earl for the interest he has taken in this matter, and for the energy that he has put behind the work of the Scottish National Development Council.

To my mind the most vital needs of the inhabitants of, anyhow, the Western Highlands and Islands are two. One of them has not been touched on and the other has been touched on. I think those two needs are better housing and better methods of industry. To my mind the Highlander needs, if he can get it, better houses to live in and thereafter better conditions in which to carry out his industry, whether fishing, agriculture, or whatever it may be. For those who live in the far off Islands of the West Coast the first necessity, before any other premise can be carried out, before houses can be built or industry is functioning largely, or anything else, is to see that the transport conditions, which must be by sea, are good. Indeed I would lay it down that one of our chief requirements in the West is that transport facilities should be quick, and should be cheap; should be safe and should be regular. I emphasize these adjectives for more than one reason, for Scotland is reputed to demand cheapness and quickness. As far as safety is concerned, that concerns more those who are carrying or conveying goods to the different ports or harbours. Regularity is important because by it you enable the shipping companies to maintain their schedules, and the recipients of the goods to know how and when and where they are to receive those goods.

If I may develop a theory, not one of my own, but one often heard elsewhere, I think we ought to look at the problem from a rather different point of view, and consider the whole of the West Coast of Scotland, taking a longitudinal line from Cape Wrath down to the Mull of Galloway, and consider the whole of that area of sea-girt islands and coast, with long and dangerous passages between them. Think of that area on the map, and then imagine that a miracle has happened, and that those seas have dried up. You would then have in that area, leading to those islands, roads, presumably, and railways, which do not exist to-day, because that miracle has not happened and I hope it will not happen. Instead we have the sea, over which shipping has to ply. Therefore in examining this problem we have to consider, as far as the Western Islands are concerned, that the place of the railways and roads is taken by sea passages and ships operating there, the piers and harbours and ferries, and in some cases the canals, and, very important, the lighthouses.

My next point is this. I am under the impression—but I have been unable to check this information—that some time ago there emerged from the Ministry of Transport very large sums of money, I think amounting to £5,000,000 but I cannot be certain about that, for the purpose of main roads in the West, or anyhow in the Islands, and I know that large sums have been spent on the roads in the Islands, particularly concerning one scheme in the Island of Skye. My point is that while those sums have been spent on the roads no similar amount has been made available for the piers, harbours and ferries that concern sea transport. If sums as large as those which have been spent on the roads had been, or could be, made available for the improvement of our sea conditions in the West, I think we should have fewer complaints from the Islands, and a greater possibility of an improvement in the conditions in which the people can and must live and work in these Islands. For this purpose I would humbly suggest that what is required is some sort of harbour or development trust, presumably working under, or perhaps apart from, the Development Commissioner referred to in the report which we are discussing; and their task would be to examine and control, and as far as possible find the finance for, these facilities which I regard as so necessary on that West Coast. Such a board or trust would presumably interest itself in all those items of sea transport to which I have already referred.

There is, first of all, the question of shipping itself. It is no good relying on the demand for lower freights, and at the same time paying out large subsidies to shipping companies if, when that has been done, either the companies themselves cannot provide the necessary number of ships and services, or if, when those ships and services have been pro- vided, there are inadequate harbours for them to enter. Harbours and ferries have been the subject of a Government Act some time ago, but I do not think it is sufficiently realised that neither county councils nor private individuals can, in most cases, afford to do the necessary work to improve piers, harbours and ferries unless they have the aid of the Government behind them. There is also of course, the question of canals, with which I do not propose to deal. Whether any such board or trust would take over, and possibly improve, the existing canals is a question for consideration, but one about which I cannot pretend to know much myself.

Then there is the all-important question of lights and lighthouses. I think it is possible that some of your Lordships do not remember, although the noble Earl, Lord Leven and Melville, pointed it out, that in the winter in Scotland there are as a rule sixteen hours of darkness, and only eight of light, and yet through all those sixteen hours of darkness the ships which are conveying the produce, the goods, the mails, whatever it is, to those Outer Islands are always plying, and they are dependent for safety on the good lighting of that coast. I have in the past approached the Commissioners of Northern Lights to try to get them to do something more in the way of providing those guiding lights for either harbours or entrances, but I am told the difficulty is that finance is scarce, that finance for that purpose is largely provided for the largest shipping companies on the big routes, and for the small coastal routes it cannot be found. I would only say that in my opinion this is a genuinely important question, and not one for which a great deal of finance is required, because in most of the places which I have in mind a light could be provided for a sum less than £1,000, which may mean the safety of ships and goods worth a great deal more than that.

Finally, I would suggest to the Government, with all respect, that the time for action has come, and at any rate on this side of the question they might contemplate beginning by calling for some form of conference, presumably to be held in Glasgow or Edinburgh, of all those interests concerned, to see what steps can be taken and what money can be provided to put these matters right. I, of course, realise, as do all noble Lords here, that in a time of tension like this we would not for one moment suggest that money should be taken away from the rearmament programme for this purpose, but I do suggest that as soon as possible the Government should begin their investigation of this problem, so that the minute you can find the finance a working scheme may be devised which will bring help to the islanders and those who live in these faraway parts. As far as I am concerned, I do not press the noble Marquess who is going to answer for any detailed replies on the points I have brought up, but I do ask him to impress upon his colleagues in the Government the necessity for looking at this problem from a new angle, and for making a fresh effort to bring some hope and some encouragement to the people in these faraway areas.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, you will be sure that I have never felt so keenly as I do at this moment the disability of not having been born a Scot. Those who have taken part so far in this discussion can bring to it a wealth of sentiment and personal knowledge. My only reason for intervening is that I have had to come to decisions day by day and month by month for the past ten years on the practical issues raised by this picture that has been given to you to-day. I wish to put to your Lordships certain facts that are not in the report, and perhaps may be unknown or not available to you, but which I think it absolutely necessary to know if we are to get an accurate picture of the situation as drawn by the noble Earl. I have no desire whatever to whittle down the gravity of the position as he has stated it, but rather to lend point to his opening remark that the situation, though difficult and desperate, is not beyond repair and recall.

I am going to give you one or two facts of the change that has taken place from an economic point of view in the last ten years. The freight tonnage carried by the ships shipping in this area has increased by 27 per cent.—and when I give you these facts, as comparing 1938 with 1929, I would ask you to bear in mind any other area you like in this country or even in the world. The freight tonnage, I say, carried by the ships in this area has increased by 27 per cent. The livestock has increased by 18 per cent., the passengers carried have increased by 23 per cent., the motor vehicle passengers in the area have gone up by over 500 per cent., and the goods tonnage by 250 per cent. These are figures which, in railway language, are less worse than they were. The facilities provided by which this has been brought about represent a real transformation because the fleet engaged has doubled in its tonnage. Eighty per cent. of it has been renewed in the period of ten years so that its average age is ten years less than it was. Not only has the tonnage increased, but the shipping has far greater amenities and better speeds. The motor vehicles that serve the ports have also very greatly increased.

These are remarkable changes in ten years. I would remind your Lordships that 1929 was not a year of depression, but a peak year generally, and so the comparison is a modest one, to put it at its minimum. On three occasions the freight rates have been reduced, benefiting the shippers, the passengers, and the tourists. I am not pretending for a moment that the situation is satisfactory; I am only trying to indicate to your Lordships that it has undergone an improvement in certain directions much greater than is generally supposed, and certainly giving heart to those who think that improvement is possible. I believe that there is no other area that can show increases in facilities of this kind, or in the use of them over this period, to compare with these. The Islanders in particular enjoy their transport system with all its disabilities—and I do not wish to deny anything that noble Lords have said as to the possibility of improving it—at considerably below cost, for the total subsidy in this area, including, I admit, mails, amounted in that period to £485,000, whereas the dividends drawn by the operating concern yielded only £135,000. Therefore a very considerable portion of the subsidy has gone into the actual cost of transport itself. That amount of £135,000 yielded a modest 4½ per cent. on the actual capital employed. I agree with a great deal that noble Lords have said about the position of the harbours and piers and the necessity for keeping these in a situation to deal with the larger traffics and more efficient vessels; but out of the proceeds of the operation of the transport of these ten years some £36,000 has been spent on pier reconstruction, and provision has been made for additions to these improvements.

I would remind your Lordships that when we discuss the possibility of still further improving these facilities we have to remember that shipping expenses have been increasing, and are still increasing, as they are throughout shipping generally. Moreover, in this area considerable losses have been already incurred in the development of air traffic. A good deal has been said about the universal desire for improvement, but I would assure your Lordships from personal knowledge that not everyone desires improvement. I was going up and down in front of an out-of-date hotel that shall be nameless, with new plans in my hand, when a man rushed out, challenged me by name, and said: "Surely you are not going to do anything to improve this place. If you dare to touch a brick of it, I shall not come here again. I have been coming here man and boy for thirty-five years." That shows that the lot of the innovator and the improver is sometimes a hard one.

The question of road development is a difficult one, and your Lordships have put your finger upon an essential difference between improvement of great trunk roads and the improvement of access to small sparsely-populated localities. Some millions have been spent in the neighbourhood of Sutherlandshire, and I am not saying a word against that. It is progress, and it gives everyone an opportunity to enjoy that area, but many of my quasi-Socialist friends seem to think that you can have expenditure of that kind, with all the additional amenities it provides, and that everything else you have got will "stay put." The effect of that expenditure in Sutherlandshire has very naturally been to reduce the net revenue on the rail system north of Inverness to vanishing point, and the question has arisen whether this system of road expenditure, which is incurred without any public inquiry as to other interests affected or its necessity, contrary to all other kinds of expenditure—whether you can have that expenditure as against other types without reaching the ultimate dilemma that must be faced. The fact that net revenue north of Inverness has disappeared probably means nothing to the majority of your Lordships—it is a matter of indifference—but I am not quite so sure, when you think of what that railway meant in the Great War, that it will be a matter of indifference to the Admiralty or the War Office.

The criteria which are applicable to the steamship services performed jointly by the Government and the commercial companies are not applicable, as some people seem to think, to railway services. The railway services are adversely affected by the provision of new and improved roads, and they have to take, so to speak, the rough with the smooth; but it cannot be expected that they can subsidise an area of this kind by differential and unprofitable rates in order to offset the effect of the duplication of transport facilities on the existing lines. There is a statement in the report to the effect that the rates are too high to enable competition with regions more favourably situated from a geographical point of view to be carried on. But that ignores the important fact that it is railway rates alone that are tapered so as to result in a lesser rate per mile for the long- than for short-distance traffic. Similar tapering does not exist in the case of other forms of transport, and these other forms have a competition of a selective character. I do not wish to embark on that larger question, but if these revisions for which the railways are seeking, and which are going to be before the public in due course, are to receive effect, then the possibility of giving rates which discriminate in favour of one area against others, markedly, will be an easier one to face than it is under the present statutory restrictions.

This question of tapering and its effect on the geographical situation has been fully examined by the Royal Commission on the geographical distribution of the industrial population. When their Report is published it may, I hope, contribute something towards this very difficult problem of an area so distant as the Western Islands and Highlands. I would point out to your Lordships that when you are considering the differential charges in these areas you have to remember that uniformity has been put upon us in many inescapable ways, and that railway wages paid in these areas have to be the same as those in the rural but closely urban areas of Kent and Surrey. Therefore there are certain basic datum lines below which you cannot go without affecting the position if it is to be kept on anything like an ordinary economic basis. If we frankly face the situation that the whole of this area must be specially treated because of its great human, historical, traditional qualities we can enlist a whole lot of new factors, but it seems to me we are tinkering with the problem in holding on so long to rules and regulations and systems which apply elsewhere and yet expect to be able to revive this area without affecting other interests. I speak for no interests. I only speak because I have a knowledge derived from them, and I would beg your Lordships to pay attention, if you will, to these particular comparative figures I have given for the last ten years, in order that I may give the completest support to the noble Earl. They are indicative of the fact that this situation is not beyond repair and that still greater prosperity may still be the lot of the Highlands and Islands.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to take up more than a few minutes of your Lordships' time, but I want to give my strong support to the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Elgin. I think that anyone who knows the conditions which exist to-day in the Highlands and the Islands must welcome the report of this Committee. The Committee have given a great deal of work and thought to the best means of bringing back prosperity to this sorely distressed area, and I think we should all give them our very hearty congratulations. But may I put in one plea? It is that in any action which His Majesty's Government intend to take on this subject they will give very great consideration to questions of amenity. I ask them to remember that they are dealing with what is probably some of the finest scenery in the whole world.

We have an association in Scotland called the Association for the Preservation of Rural Scotland. It represents a very large body of opinion, and that body feels on this subject very strongly indeed. Our association has very carefully examined this report and has issued a memorandum upon it to the Secretary of State. May I say that we are in complete agreement with a great deal of what this report contains? We think that it is a vital contribution to the many industrial and economic problems which must be solved if the Highlands are to be regenerated and are not to become a completely derelict area. But when one looks at the recommendations with regard to water power, and when one looks at the schedule of possible schemes in appendix 8, one cannot help feeling a very grave apprehension as to the future of the Highlands of Scotland. If only part of this water power which is scheduled in appendix 8 were to be converted into power, the amenities of the Highlands of Scotland would be very seriously affected indeed.

We all know that an ample supply of cheap electric power is essential for the redevelopment of the Highlands and Islands, but I am quite in agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Leven, that this power can be just as well produced locally in the various glens by means of smaller power plants. In those glens there is almost always an abundant supply of water to supply the power. Not only that, but it can be produced far more cheaply there and it can be produced without damaging very much the scenery. I want to give a warning against the promotion of these vast hydro-electric schemes such as the Caledonian Power Scheme for the Highlands of Scotland. Is it right, is it fair to the people that all rivers should be diverted from one watershed to another except, of course, for essential public services, such as the water supply of a town? The people who live in the area of a watershed have a perfect right to the water which falls in that area and the abstraction of the water from the area subjects them to a permanent injury. Moreover, it surely is not a good policy to take men away from where they live to find work. Surely the work ought to be brought to where the men live. May I ask the noble Marquess who is to reply on behalf of the Government to give this particular matter his very serious consideration?

I am not a die-hard; I am not an obstructionist. Like other noble Lords I want to see the Highlands of Scotland prosperous, regenerated, and I realise perfectly well that means of employment probably take priority of questions of amenity. If these large hydro-electric schemes are essential to the development of the Highlands, by all means let us have them as soon as possible, but if they are not, I ask your Lordships to remember just what they mean and what they entail—miles and miles of river beds dried up, miles of tunnels, hideous pipes, the flooding and submerging of vast areas of land, the conversion of some of our most beautiful lakes into vast storage tanks for water. Where will the river fishing be? Where will the net fishing be at the mouth of the rivers? All gone. As for the much debated tourist industry, that will be completely gone, I imagine, because there will be nothing left to come and see but the sewerage. In conclusion, I hope, like the noble Earl, Lord Elgin, and like other noble Lords who have spoken, that the Government will take appropriate action to deal with the state of affairs in the Highlands, but I do beg of them too not to allow more of our beautiful Scottish scenery to be sacrificed than is absolutely necessary because it is a very great heritage which we in Scotland possess to-day.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Elgin, has done a great public service not only to Scotland and the country as a whole, but also to your Lordships' House, in raising this very important matter this afternoon, and I hope he will also accept my respectful congratulations on the very clear and lucid way in which he has done it. If I may be permitted to dwell for a few moments on some of the most important points I will do so. Firstly, I will deal with the question of agriculture. It must be realised that the very large portion of the North of Scotland, and indeed of other parts of Scotland as well, can never be expected to maintain a large population who will get their living out of the land. The various forms of research into the composition and nature of the soil such as have been carried out by the Macaulay Institute will no doubt in the fullness of time make it possible for a larger population to find a living there. But those who wish to replace all the people in the North of Scotland who were there prior to a century or so ago seem often to forget that these people were living for the most part very little above the starvation line and very often below it. When one understands that their food consisted for the most part of oatmeal and water mixed together with an occasional addition in the form of blood soup made by bleeding their cow until that unfor- tunate animal became too weak to stand, I do not think anyone would care to suggest that a repopulation with conditions of life like that can be contemplated.

It must also be remembered that there is another kind of amenity apart from the one mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, and that is the amenity of amusement, which all classes expect to-day. It is absolutely futile to expect as many people to be prepared to live in remote parts of Scotland with very bad communications and practically no form of amusement. I will not say the craze but the liking for reasonable relaxation has spread throughout the land. Those of us who, although not in the Highland areas, have farms or shepherds' houses even a very few miles from a good road, are finding it extremely difficult to get people to occupy those houses, even although those houses are of excellent quality. If one takes, for example, the area of Strathspey, which is much more fertile than many districts, one finds that the population a century ago was very much larger than it is to-day, probably several times larger. There have been no clearances, no turning over of arable land to sport, or even to sheep runs; it is simply that gradually people have felt an irresistable urge for town life. In areas less favourably situated, I am afraid that there will be difficulty in persuading people to remain on the land, let alone come back to it.

In regard to fishing, I would only say I think attention might be paid to the way in which fishing grounds are often ruined by foreign trawlers. When one sees the very severe sentences imposed upon our fishermen by the Government of Iceland one is inclined to think that not enough is done in this country to protect our own people from the misguided activities of trawlers who destroy the fishing grounds. In regard to forestry, I am afraid I do not take at all a favourable view of the activities of the Forestry Commission. Undoubtedly they have done good work, but at the same time I do not think they have shown themselves as enterprising as they might have been. There is a great deal more that should be done for the encouragement of forestry in Scotland. It has to be borne in mind that, in only too many cases in the past, it has been extremely uneconomic to plant large areas. For a considerable number of years after the last War it was apparently cheaper in the coal fields of Fife to import pit wood from Russia than to bring it from Perthshire and other adjoining counties, only thirty, or perhaps seventy or eighty miles away. And when one bears in mind that communications in the North of Scotland are even worse than in Central Scotland, it must be realised that the system of forestry adopted must be one which, regarded from the point of view of economics, will have a market in which timber can be sold at least without loss if not with great profit.

As regards roads, I think all Governments have been a little too much inclined to allude with complacency to the fact that x hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent in some particular Highland county. Certainly the money has been spent in that county but very often not on that county as far as actual benefits to the people of the area are concerned. Vast sums have been expended in the improvement and construction of roads which are really only for the benefit of tourist traffic, a traffic the benefits of which, although great, have been somewhat exaggerated in the past. A great many areas in Scotland have felt a considerable sense of grievance at finding large sums spent on trunk roads used mainly by passing motorists, while very little is spent on the miserable tracks along which local people have to go themselves.

Then there is the question to which the noble Earl, Lord Elgin, rightly alluded, of ensuring that industries which are introduced are suitable to the localities in which they are placed and to the character of the Scottish people. The late Lord Leverhulme made a very creditable experiment in the Outer Islands, but, unfortunately, he did not understand the nature of the isles men and the result was dismal failure. No scheme which is going merely to give employment for a short time to a considerable number of people, possibly drawn from outside the area, and later employ only a few local men as unskilled workers, is going to be of very great use to Scotland. In the past there has been considerable resentment because many of the men employed on the roads and in some of the factories in the northern part of Scotland have been Irishmen with sometimes a few Englishmen. If industry is to be successful in Scotland it must be industry which is going to employ local people and not workmen imported from a considerable distance.

In conclusion, I would say that apart from the social and economic and national point of view there is the political consideration to be taken into account. Up to date, the policy of Home Rule for Scotland, with which I am in definite disagreement, has not been very successful, but I do not think there is much doubt that if the problem of the Highlands and Islands is neglected very much longer we shall see a recrudescence of that well meaning but misguided movement. At a time when acute nationalism is the greatest curse the world has to face, it would be a great pity if the vigorous but essentially harmless nationalism which we have at present in Scotland, which expresses itself mostly in Burns suppers and the like, is to be turned into a political activity. But there is no doubt that there is that danger. I hope therefore that His Majesty's Government will give not merely sympathetic consideration but their active thought to this report, not necessarily agreeing with it as a whole, but realising that something must be done, and that at an early date, if one of the most important parts of our land is not to be left in a state of miserable stagnation and the people in many cases in a condition bordering upon destitution.

5.29 p.m.


My Lords, I understand that it is convenient that the Royal Commission should be taken now, so our proceedings have to be interrupted for a time.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.