§ 3.9 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON)
My Lords, this Bill has been designed to rehabilitate the hill farming industry. I do not know if your Lordships realize how large is the area of hill farming land both in this country and in Scotland. Something like 16,000,000 acres in the United Kingdom are hill and mountain grazings. That is approximately 34 per cent. of the agricultural land of this country. Over 4,500,000 sheep and about 320,000 cattle graze over wild spaces of which little or no use could otherwise be made. To put it another way, one-sixth of the agricultural land in England and Wales is comprised in hill farms and in Scotland rough grazings account for nearly 70 per cent. of the total farm land.
Now the importance of this system of farming is mainly threefold. In the first place, these farm lands provide valuable pasture for breeding beef cattle, which later move down to the lowlands for fattening. Secondly, a hardy indigenous race of mountain sheep is bred which, when crossed with lowland rams, produces Wether-lambs for fattening. But far more important than this is the fact that these sheep provide a basic stock which by cross-breeding spread their vitality through flocks all over the country. They are the basis of our original stocks for breeding. In other words, I think it is fair to say that home meat supplies are ultimately dependent on the maintenance of these foundation stocks of sheep and cattle in the hill lands of Britain. Thirdly, this hill farming provides a way of life for the inhabitants who depend on their flocks and herds for their livelihood.
For some time, their livelihood has been in an extremely precarious condi 216 tion. This is, unfortunately, one of the most depressed industries of which we know. Undrained pastures, overgrown with bracken, broken fences and tumbledown walls, empty houses, land reverting to its natural state, farms reverting to their owners because no tenants can be found for them—this is what the visitor finds. In the war years, unfortunately, hill farming did not benefit as other forms of agriculture did. There was no improvement during the war in the economic position of the hill farmers. Hill farms, which largely consist of areas of rough grazings with only small areas of land capable of cultivation, could not benefit to any great extent from the improved and secure markets for cereals, potatoes and other arable crops. Nor could these farmers obtain direct benefit from the improved markets for fat sheep or fat cattle. Only a small proportion of the stock sold by hill farmers each year is in a fat condition ready for slaughter. Almost the whole of the sales of this stock are of necessity made to other farmers in lowland areas, who use them either for further breeding or as feeding animals.
Normally, improved prices and secured markets for fat stock would be reflected in better prices and markets for the store animal. Unfortunately, during the war owing to the increase of tillage and cultivation this did not happen, and in fact there was less demand for the stock from the hill farms. So, in practice, the hill farmers hardly benefited at all. At the same time their expenses, as those of other farmers, rose sharply. Wages, which account for something like 30 per cent. of a hill farmer' expenditure, have increased by nearly 100 per cent. Unfortunately, enhanced prices were not available to compensate the farmers for that. This is the picture which has been painted in the two Reports which we received, one from Earl De La Warr and the other from Lord Balfour of Burleigh. These Reports show only too clearly the condition of hill farming today. If I may, I should like to congratulate both the noble Lords very sincerely indeed on these Reports. In fact, I think the greatest possible compliment has been paid to them by reason of the fact that this Bill has been largely drawn up to implement their recommendations.
So dismal is the picture which these Reports paint that it was apparent to the Government that no small palliatives 217 would be of any use. Help of a very substantial kind had to be given if we were going to rescue the industry. Either the industry had to be abandoned, and these areas of hill country allowed to go back to wild scrub with a few strong sheep and cattle grazing on ranches, or else a big effort, with a large amount of finance involved, would have to be made to put the hill farming industry on its feet and build it up again. This is what the Government decided to do and this is what this Bill is designed to achieve. The principle we have adopted—and I should like to emphasize this—is a voluntary one. In fact, this is one of the great differences between this Bill and the recommendations of the two Reports. The recommendations in the Reports had suggested that some measure of compulsion would be necessary. We, on the other hand, have taken the line that we could keep this on a voluntary basis, and in fact the principle that we have adopted is that we are going to help people who help themselves. We do think that these hill farmers, who are perhaps some of the most self-reliant, hard-working and capable people in these islands, if given a chance, can themselves rehabilitate their own industry. That is what we hope, and for that reason we intend to give what help we can.
If your Lordships will turn to the Bill, you will see that in Clauses 1 to 12 is set out the main plan for the rehabilitation of hill farming. Roughly the scheme is this. If the owners of the land and the tenants agree—or anyone else interested in the land agrees—on a scheme that will help that land, and benefit hill farming, then the Minister is empowered to advance—if he thinks the scheme suitable and efficient—50 per cent. or half the expenses of the scheme. That really is the essence of the whole Bill. It is purely voluntary. If the schemes are decided upon and agreed by the parties concerned, the Minister can advance 50 per cent. of the cost of a scheme. These schemes must be concerned with hill farming land, or land suitable for hill farming purposes. And here we run into a difficulty as one is apt to do when one tries to define very precisely an extremely varied matter such as hill farming.
In Clause 1 (3), we define "hill farming land" asmountain, hill, and heath land which is suitable for use for the maintenance of sheep of a hardy kind but not of sheep of other 218 kinds, or which by improvement could be made so suitable.Some of your Lordships may have different ideas and disagree with this definition, but I would urge that on examination you will find that the definition does in practice cover the farms which we intend to benefit. It is purely for the hill farmers; but I should like to point out that if a hill farmer owns both hill land and low land he would not be excluded from this scheme, provided the farms are worked in conjunction for hill farming purposes. He could own considerable areas of different kinds of land but would still qualify for the grant. The actual improvements for which the grant will be available, are set out in the First Schedule of the Bill, but the Minister is allowed, by order, to alter or modify this Schedule if occasion demands.
The total amount which may be used is £4,000,000 over a period of five years, though if Parliament agrees an extra £1,000,000 can be added. There are, of course, various safeguards, as your Lordships will note, to ensure that this money is well spent, and that the schemes themselves will be worth the money—in other words, that they will provide equivalent benefits for the money spent. Under Clauses 4 to 8, your Lordships will see that the Minister has power to revoke or vary schemes, either at the request of the parties concerned or in the public interest, or if by any chance he should decide that the work had been badly and inefficiently carried out. In the last case, he will have power to recover such money as has been spent by the Treasury on the scheme. There are also safeguards to see that there shall be neither increased rents nor increased compensation arising out of the receipt of Government money.
I turn now for a moment to what is probably the most controversial clause of the Bill, Clause 10, which relates to improvement grants in respect of work done for the erection, improvement or reconditioning of cottages. It is only fair to point out that this assistance will not add to the number of tied cottages, and in fact, may lead to a reduction. Cottages built under such a scheme will come under the Rent Restrictions Acts and will have a full grant of 50 per cent., which will be available immediately.
Another most complicated situation is that dealt with by Clause 12, where a scheme is envisaged for common land. Immediately 219 one tries to deal with common land, as your Lordships know, the whole aspect becomes extremely difficult and complicated. Under this Bill, we have tried to keep the voluntary principle, and in order to try to start schemes on land where people have common rights the Minister has power to initiate schemes which he thinks will improve this land. Such schemes will qualify for the 50 per cent. grant. If, however, a commoner should disagree with such a scheme, and his disagreement is neither frivolous nor groundless, then the scheme will tall through. This will not stop the Minister from initiating another scheme if he thinks that that would do. On the other hand, if a scheme is proceeded with, and one or more of the commoners refuse to pay the appropriate amount apportioned to them, the remaining commoners could continue the scheme, dividing up the whole 50 per cent. among them or, alternatively, they could ask for the scheme to be revoked. We have a slight inducement to commoners who might default on a scheme after it had been agreed, in that the Minister has the right to stop payment of the subsidy to those who default.
As well as the grant for such schemes, the Government intend for the time being to continue the subsidies for both hill sheep and cattle. This is provided for in Clauses 13 to 17. This merely continues what is being done at the present time, and I think that the State has already advanced something like £11,500,000, through subsidies, in support of the industry. I think that your Lordships will agree that it will be some years before any real benefit can come from these schemes, and in the meantime the hill farmers must be kept in reasonable economic circumstances.
Clauses 18 and 19 deal with the control of rams in England and Wales. This has already been tried out in Wales with extremely good effect, and I think that there is general agreement among the farmers there that the level of the herds has been improved accordingly. Then we come to the question of heather burning. Clauses 20 and 21 enable the Minister to make regulations for the burning of heather and grass on land in England and Wales, and also to rescind any clauses in leases which might prohibit this burning. Clauses 22 to 27 deal with the question 220 of heather burning in Scotland. The Heather Burning (Scotland) Act, 1926, is repealed, and various rights are given to allow for heather burning in the appropriate season. I may say that the persons chiefly concerned in this have been consulted, and I understand that they agree with the provisions set out in the Bill. Clauses 28 to 31 regulate the valuation of sheep stocks, which for some time has been dealt with in a rather unsatisfactory manner. Here, also, I think that the parties have been consulted and that more or less substantial agreement has been reached.
Clauses 32 to 41 deal with general matters, but I would like particularly to call the attention of your Lordships to Clauses 32 and 33, which deal with advisory and local committees. It must be obvious that any scheme of this kind must be implemented through people with profound knowledge of the industry; otherwise it might be extremely difficult to operate. Your Lordships will see that under these clauses an Advisory Committee will be set up for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and a sub-committee of that Committee for Wales and Monmouthshire. Scotland will have its own Advisory Committee. Under Clause 33, the appropriate Minister may also constitute local committees, which will have the power of carrying out the intentions of the Bill. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture intends to use the county agricultural executive committees as far as possible for this purpose. They will have considerable powers delegated to them in order to implement these schemes, except in regard to actual finance and payments, which are reserved exclusively to the control of the Minister.
I am afraid that I have kept your Lordships rather a long time in going through the Bill, but I thought, if your Lordships will allow me, that I would also wind up the debate and try to clarify any point which needs clarification. I hope that your Lordships will recognize that this Bill is a sincere effort by the Government to rehabilitate this industry. We do sincerely want to put the industry on its feet, and I trust that your Lordships will give the Bill a favourable hearing and a speedy passage through this House. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Huntingdon.)221
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, first of all, on behalf of your Lordships, may I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, on the way that he has laid this Bill before us? May I also congratulate him on the Bill itself? There are certain items which all of us would like to see a little different, but that is usually the case with Bills that are brought before us. I really cannot do other than congratulate the noble Lord on the main provisions of the Bill, because he has been good enough to use a good many of the proposals that were put before his Department by the Committee for Scotland of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and also by the Committee for England and Wales over which I had the honour to preside.
We were all very glad to hear the noble Lord stress both the size and the importance of this section of the farming industry. When he spoke of 16,000,000 acres, he gave us some picture and some considerable idea of just how much of Scotland, England and Wales is involved. I purposely put Scotland first because that country is more interested than England in this particular problem. I think we were also glad to hear that the noble Lord was so fully aware of the state to which this section of the industry has been driven, and of the fact that the hills have not benefited—I was going to say to the same extent, but I think it is perhaps truer to say not at all—from the somewhat greater prosperity of lowland farming during the war. When I went round the country with my Commission I frequently found that some of these unfortunate hill farmers had been compelled to plough up considerable areas of hills and sow them with corn that had not got the slightest hope of ever ripening.
There is one point which I would like to stress and to which the noble Lord referred. He has mentioned the size of the problem and the importance of it. He only just referred to the farmers on these hills and mountains. I do not come from one of these districts, but, during the course of taking evidence, I think we visited every single hill district in England and Wales. We would go and stay at selected spots in a comparatively small area, possibly for a week at a time, motor round that district, stopping every twenty, thirty or forty miles, sometimes five times a day, meeting small groups of farmers, anything from twenty to fifty, who were 222 brought together either in the local schools, village halls or public houses, taking evidence from them and discussing their problems with them as informally as possible. Therefore, we had an opportunity of forming an impression of the calibre of these men. I do not want to use exaggerated language, but they were magnificent. When one considered the extent, up in those hills and on the tops of those mountains, to which they kept in touch with current events, their courage, and toughness, we felt that many of them were almost hewn out of the granite from which they tried to extract a living. It made me feel that, whatever the economic importance of this industry—and I believe it is of tremendóus economic importance—these men themselves, their wives and the human stock that they are rearing, alone make this problem worth tackling and tackling on a wide and bold scale.
Let me say one other word in general terms. I hope that none of us here to-day feel that we are met in order merely to do a good deed to a worthy body of men. As the noble Earl has already told us, these men are part of the very foundation of what in fact is itself the foundation of the British agricultural industry—namely, live stock. At the present moment and for the next few years the most important factor in the food shortage position of the world is going to be in live-stock products. Therefore we are deeply dependent on this section of the agricultural industry if we are going to produce in this country the amount of food necessary in order to feed the people of this country. Do not let us deceive ourselves by thinking that our food problems are going to, be over in three or four years. There may be a period in a few years when there is plenty of food in the world, but I leave it to those who know a great deal more than I do about the economic and financial position of the country to say whether we are going to have the unlimited supply of exchange with which to purchase that food, even when it is otherwise obtainable. So much for the one or two general remarks I venture to make.
May I particularly congratulate His Majesty' Government on the comprehensive nature of the Schedule? So far as I can see, they have included almost everything that can be thought of. I am only sorry that there is no mention of assistance for installing the telephone. I really believe, not only for business purposes, 223 but in the case of illness and so on that the availability of telephones in these areas is one of the most important items. I quite realize that now there may be difficulties about labour and material, but I should like to say that I would appreciate it if the noble Earl in his reply could give me some assurance that, at any rate, in a comparatively short period his Department will consider inserting this item of telephones in the First Schedule.
I have only one or two regrets about this Bill. I am rather sorry that the Government have decided to drop all reference to any compulsory measures. Far be it from me on this side of the House to urge compulsion on the other side of the House. We are only too relieved to find that in some Departments there is at least some belief in liberty left, but I can See some important schemes being held up in a large area, where perhaps 70, 80, or 90 per cent. of the people would like to do something, by the mere fact of a very small percentage standing out. I should have thought it might have been permissible to have some power to bring in that small percentage. But I think one's main regret—I am quite sure the regret of everyone on this side of the House, and I know of some who sit on that side who share it—is about what I can only call this complex that His Majesty' Government have on the subject of tied cottages. I think I am speaking for the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, as well as for myself when I say that both our Commissions came to the firm conclusion that housing and amenities of living in these great hill areas form over 50 per cent. of the problem. It is no good having these schemes unless there is the labour to carry them out. Personally, at the moment, I see no sign of the adequate labour in these areas necessary for the carrying out of these schemes, and unless there are going to be houses this Bill is going to be 50 per cent. a dead letter.
Why, when. the Bill started in its career in a perfectly intelligent form, go and completely spoil it by this Amendment to Clause 10? That is going to mean that houses just will not be built in these areas. His Majesty's Government are making provision, I understand, in their forestry scheme for tied cottages. Why? Because they know perfectly well they are not going to be able to carry out that scheme without cottages. I am not going 224 to say a great deal about it. When you are dealing with a bad case of neurosis one knows that neither words nor arguments really affect the situation at all. We know we are dealing with something in the minds of noble Lords opposite that just cannot be touched by any argument, but I do think it would be wrong to let this debate pass without registering a very grave warning that, though not the whole, a very large proportion of the hopes they are placing on this Bill are being damned by their own action.
My noble friend referred to the Rent Restrictions Acts. Before leaving this subject I think it may be helpful to the House if we try to get the position clarified as to what, in fact, is the position. I would like to ask the noble Lord whether a cottage that is built on a hill farm by an owner who is in receipt of the 50 per cent. grant under this Bill, would be subject to the provisions of the Rent Restrictions Acts. I think the answer is "Yes." If so, would the owner, in the event of his employee leaving his employment, be able to apply to the agricultural executive committee for a certificate and then, if necessary, to the Court for an order to obtain possession? If he did so, would the Court be able to grant an order if the owner were unable to provide alternative accommodation? I would be very grateful if the noble Earl would answer those questions in his reply. It would not take us very far if the answer to this question is in the affirmative but it will certainly help. The reason why it will not take us very far is that all of us know the machinery of the Rent Restrictions Act is extremely clumsy. If your shepherd leaves you, perhaps tempted to a neighbouring farm by somebody who has outbid you, and you are left without a shepherd for two or three months at a vital period, the matter is not only going to be serious, it is possibly going to be disastrous to the farmer. Therefore, even if the noble Lord can answer "Yes" it is only of partial assistance. But still we are grateful for small mercies. At any rate, I think we all of us would like to thank the noble Lord for not having promised us the so-called "Bevin cottages" in villages that are ten miles away.
I close by making a few suggestions. I hope the noble Lord can give us some assurance that his Department intends to see to it that there is a complete and 225 thorough survey of these areas at the earliest possible moment. We all of us know that the Government, quite rightly, has very large plans for planting in these areas, up to millions of acres. It is right and proper and desirable that great areas should be planted, but it is important that we should know at the earliest possible moment what land is to be permanently used for agricultural purposes and what land is to be put aside for purposes of forestry. Secondly, the noble Lord has spoken about the Advisory Committees. I think we all welcome these Committees, but what the noble Lord did not give us an assurance upon was that there should be members of the hill-farming communities on the executive committees. These are the bodies ultimately that matter, and that is a point that particularly struck my Commission in going round these areas. So often we had these executive committees without a single representative of the hill-farming community. Perhaps the noble Lord can give me an undertaking to look into that matter. These are just a few continents and suggestions upon this Bill that I venture to make, but I close, as I began, by saying I hope that we shall see to it that this Bill—on the whole an excellent Bill—passes into law as soon as possible.
§ 3.47 p.m.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
My Lords, in rising to speak on this Hill Farming Bill I feel inclined to accord it a welcome now that it has come to your Lordships' House. I understand it has had a fairly rough passage in another place, but I am very glad indeed it is here now at last. I do not say that it is a perfect Bill by any means. I do not say that it cannot be improved, and I do not say that the draft is quite as it should be. Still I am prepared to accept it as a genuine attempt to give financial assistance to a very depressed industry. I am prepared to accept it as a genuine result following the very careful research of my noble friend Earl De La Warr, who carried out a research some years ago, followed by research by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh. I think this Bill embodies a good many of their recommendations.
I said it was a financial aid to a very depressed industry. I am a fairly large hill farmer myself and I remember, some years ago, the terrible depression which 226 we suffered. I can remember the day when ewes were selling at 12s. to 15s., lambs were selling from 5s. to 7s., and wool was selling at 4d. a lb. Never were such prices known before, and the depression was terrible. Now, thanks to the guaranteed prices of agricultural produce on low-lying land, prices are gradually beginning to climb back to a proper height. The low-lying land farmers have their guaranteed prices and their assured markets, and they are now making further demands for the hill sheep and the hill cattle which are the raw material upon which they work. As a result of the growing demand our prices are slowly and gradually climbing back. But we have to face very large increases in wages on the hill, and prices have not yet reached a stage that gives us any definite profit in hill farming. I think I may say that as a result of the depression landed proprietors and tenants have no cash at hand to go in for large rehabilitation schemes on their hill lands and in their houses, and because they have no cash at hand to do that they must seek Government financial assistance. It is because this Bill produces a definite scheme to that end that I accord it a considerable welcome.
There is no doubt whatever that in the past we have been leaning far too much upon importation from overseas, especially in the line of meat—beef and mutton. There is no doubt also that if we can produce more meat—more beef and more mutton—from our own land we should greatly ease the situation, and we can produce more beef and mutton only if we have the money to rehabilitate the land. There are a great many hill farmers to-day who quote the words of our great war leader: "Give us the tools and we will finish the job." I would say: "Give us the finance and we will produce the beef and mutton." I think there is no doubt whatever that we should do something, because the hill sheep and the hill cattle are the foundations of the British live-stock industry. Our sheep on the hills and our cattle on the hills are bought by lowland farmers in order to cross them and produce the mutton and beef which the market desires, and it is essential that we should maintain these sheep and the cattle on the hills.
I think I am right in saying that there are at the moment in round figures about 6,000,000 sheep in the United Kingdom; in round figures about 2,250,000 are to 227 be found in England and 3,750,000 are to be found in Scotland. Therefore this Bill is of particular interest to Scotland, because most of the sheep in this country come from Scotland and most of the hill farming is done in Scotland. But the strange thing is that when you look at this Bill it is not until you come to page 25, Clause 39, that there is a marginal note where you see "Provisions as to Scotland." You have got to go searching all through these pages to try to find out what the Scottish conditions are. I have never heard of such a thing. This is the sort of thing that makes a great many Liberals in Scotland pray heaven that the day may come when we may have a Parliament of our own.
If we did produce a Bill I would say that we could greatly improve on the drafting of this Bill. I have never in all my life seen a Bill drafted so badly as this one. I will give a shilling to anybody who can take page 2, line 33 to line 40, page 3, line 31 to line 39 or page 9, line 9 to line 17, read them once, read them twice and then tell me straight out what it all means. You just cannot do it. That is only a sample of the drafting. I do hope we shall be given an opportunity to try to draft this Bill better than it is so that hill farmers can understand whether or not they come within the provisions of the Bill. Although this Bill provides for giving finance to a hill farm, I cannot see in the Bill any definition of a hill farm. Whoever drafted this Bill has fought shy of defining what is a hill farm. We know there is a high hill farm, we know there is marginal land, and we know there is low-lying land, but so far as this Bill is concerned there is no indication of where a hill farm begins from marginal land.
During the war I had great trouble over this very question of what is hill land and what is marginal land. There was during the war a provision whereby you could appeal to the Secretary of State instead of to the agricultural committee, for a definition of what was hill land which could gain the subsidy then given. When I went to the Secretary of State he said: "I have 7,000 applications to upset the rulings of the agricultural committee as to what is hill land and what is marginal land. There is no definition." He then said: "I cannot upset three quarters of these applications. I do not know what to do." In my case I lost, but that does 228 not matter. The point is that there is no real definition and there will be a great many headaches for somebody trying to define what is hill land as referred to in this Bill. However, I hope that whatever definition is given the lines will not be drawn too tightly and some play will be left to common sense.
Look at Clause 1, subsection (2), paragraph (a). The idea there seems to be that there may be various parcels of land grouped about here and there but if the area is suitable it can be dealt with as a unit provided it is used for hill farming purposes. The question I would like to have defined is: Is wintering ground included in that? Every hill farmer—it is a common practice—takes his hoggs, his six-month-old lambs down to the lower ground for four months of the year. That low ground may be on marginal land or it may be even lower on low-lying land, but it does form part of a hill-farming unit. That is a most important duty, and you cannot farm without taking the hoggs down from the high ground to the low ground for the four months of the winter. It is a very expensive movement of stock. To-day wintering ground costs anything from 15s. to £1 a head and if you move 300 hoggs to the low ground that is £300, which is a very big sum to a hill farmer. It is most important, of course, that the wintering ground should be clean, well drained and the bracken cut. We go on using the same wintering ground year after year because we know the ground. The whole point is whether in forming a unit the Bill allows winter ground to be included, even if it is on lower ground. It is most important that that should be so, because it will be very expensive to keep clean and to rehabilitate, and it forms part of the hill farm.
Now we come to the most important clause of all, Clause 10, upon which there has been more discussion than on almost any other clause of the Bill. I know that this raises the question of the tied house. That is a very old political question; I remember that we argued about it when I was a Parliamentary candidate some forty years ago. I know it is a question about which in Scotland we get; "a'het up." I am not trying to make anybody hot on the subject of tied houses, but I do not quite understand this clause. The clause says that the appropriate Minister will secure, when a grant has been made in respect of an improvement to a cottage, 229 that a condition shall be attached prohibiting the occupation of the cottage otherwise than by the "owner or a tenant thereof." Does that mean that if a cottage is really occupied by the proprietor or his tenant, the proprietor will be able to get a grant for improvements? So far as I make that clause out, that is exactly what it does mean. But what is a tenant? In Scotland when you take a hill farm, you take the land, the farmhouse and the farm cottage. Does the word "tenant" cover cottages occupied by the shepherds or the cattlemen? I imagine it does. Therefore, as far as I can make out, Clause 10 means that in the case of existing cottages, provided they are occupied only by the owner (that would be the proprietor), or his tenant (which would cover the occupation of the cottages by the servants), they will be eligible for the grant. If that is so, then I have no quarrel whatever with it and I am quite satisfied.
Then we come to the muirburn clauses. I think we are all generally agreed upon these, which are the outcome of a good many conferences. There is, however, one point, and that is that the fine for an offence against the muirburn regulations has been fixed at a maximum of £5. A fine of £5 is really nothing when compared with the damage that can be done by bad muirburning and I do not think that as a maximum it is enough. The penalty should be up to £50. I have seen acres and acres of land spoiled by men not doing their duty and not keeping a proper watch on their fires. Then it is provided that the tenant can instruct the proprietor that he wishes to burn heather, and if the proprietor says "No," the tenant can take it before the appropriate Minister for the Minister to give a ruling. I think the same privilege should be extended to the proprietor. He, too, may want some heather burnt somewhere and the tenant may refuse to burn it. In that case he should be allowed, in the same way as the tenant, to go to the appropriate Minister. Whatever the ruling of the appropriate Minister may be, there should be a penalty imposed on either a tenant or a landowner in the matter of muirburn if he does not obey that ruling.
Then there is a question of the Land Court. Some of the references are to be made to the Land Court, some to the Minister and some to the Advisory Committee. I feel that in Scotland they should 230 all be made to the Land Court if possible, and that Court should be used to the fullest possible extent. As it has some of the references made to it, it might just as well have all made to it. I do not think the Minister should be called upon to be judge and jury in any of these cases; I think it would be much better that they should go to the Land Court, where all parties can be properly heard.
I think I have dealt with the principal points. Taking the Bill as a whole, if my understanding of Clause 10 is correct, I very much hope that all my colleagues on these Benches will see their way to support the Bill because I believe that in the end it will be to the benefit of hill farming. I am not out to defeat the Bill; I am out to give it all the support I can and to try to make it as efficient as it can be made in order that it may help this very depressed industry which we must preserve at any cost.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH AND QUEENSBERRY
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Huntington, has given a clear description of the Bill and a justification for it. He has shown that during the war hill farming came in for none of the advantages which accrued to better farms and was, in fact, rather worse off. The proposals in this Bill were at first received with great enthusiasm, but I am sorry to find that this is now becoming very mixed in a number of different places. It seems to me that they represent a thorough endeavour by the Balfour of Burleigh and De La Warr Committees, and by the Government and by all engaged in subsequent negotiations, to revive and to keep going an important section of farming, and to increase and maintain the production of meat and valuable breeding flocks on our hills on terms fair to the nation and to all those who risk their money and labour in the industry.
From various earlier writings and criticisms it might have been thought that there were millions of acres of neglected and derelict land which were really fertile and capable of producing good crops and stock were it not for a few obstructive and incompetent landowners and farmers. Fortunately it is now recognized that there is a very serious economic problem involved. We are in fact trying to deal with vast areas of poorish upland, varying in quality, altitude and 231 accessibility, and capable of producing only a limited quantity of meat and wool, the annual receipts from which are rarely capable of paying the higher wages of the shepherds and other costs. If Parliament and the nation consider that it is important to make full use of this land and that breeding flocks are needed, then the means to ensure that must be forthcoming somehow. A great many different remedies are detailed which, either combined or separately, can do much to improve the productivity and the results of hill farms. Many of these are being carried out, and have been for many years, by farmers and land owners in improvement schemes on their own, quite irrespective of this Bill, and I think it will be agreed that if it were not for the shortages of so many things and the necessity for licences, and the controls which continue under this Government, these programmes of reconstruction would be going on much more rapidly.
I would like to ask the Government whether, with their knowledge of hill farming, they agree that it is necessary for shepherds to live near their ground and near their sheep, and if they are satisfied about the future provision of housing for shepherds. This has been much debated in another place, and has already been discussed here today, and I think it is an unsatisfactory feature of the Bill. I am afraid there is an impression that the Government approach to the problem is almost entirely political and is not guided by requirements on the spot. The Government ask for co-operation in housing, and their supporters are very critical of the conditions of housing on these farms—but the Government are not accelerating the modernization of existing houses or the provision of new ones where they are most needed, which is generally some distance from the villages and even from the smaller groups up the valleys which are now being encouraged. The Government appear to be rendering a great kindness to owners of hill farms in relieving them of their responsibility for housing and putting it instead upon the State and local authority, but in practice local authorities are not able to provide these houses where they are most needed for outlying shepherds. It is a very serious burden upon public funds if they are obliged to do so.
232 I would like to say that if it were not for the cottages which have been provided, and are still being provided, by the landowners there would be no housing available and in this way a great service has been rendered to local authorities and the State. There are many other costly improvements envisaged in the Bill, but if the housing is not provided for there is a danger that they will be wasted. I do feel that with a little encouragement in place of the taunts and discouragement that are more frequent now, the Government could get a great many houses modernized and others built by people in the industry and even without a grant. But if there is a small grant towards this a great service would be rendered and there would be a great saving to the local authorities. I think the Government should remember that whoever has to do the work you are not nowadays going to get cottages in the hills modernized at less than £1,200 each, and probably more, or new houses built for under £1,800 each.
Among the disadvantages suffered in hill farming, in addition to those mentioned by the noble Lord at the beginning, is undoubtedly the fact that whereas by 1939 these cottages were being improved and modernized at an increasingly rapid rate, that was entirely prevented during seven years of war, and we have now the far greater difficulty and cost thrown at our heads. Among the recommendations, and one which is increasingly necessary, is the provision of roads to these outlying houses. I think it is very doubtful whether it is an economic proposition to spend £1,500 or more in making a road to a single cottage up a valley or along a hillside. But such roads have to be made now if the shepherds, in many cases, are to be persuaded to stay at the work, and therefore it becomes an urgent matter. The Government can get caterpillar tractors and bull-dozers for getting surface coal and other public works, but it is almost impossible for individuals to get them for this very important work which may seem of less importance. I hope that if this Bill passes the Government will pay special attention to that point, and that there will be some means of getting these roads made more speedily. In our own case we have only completed three roads during the past year to individual cot- 233 tages, but if the appropriate machinery had been available we would have much preferred it to have been twenty.
Reference has also been made to the shortage of labour which will be available for carrying out these improvement schemes. I would ask the Government if they will give their attention to this and if they are satisfied that enough is being done to encourage the provision of the necessary housing up the valleys where these hill farms are, so that there will be labour available. I am afraid that there will be a serious limitation for some years, and if labour is diverted to this work it will only mean taking it off other work of equal importance.
I am glad to find that there is now agreement as to numerous problems, how costly the work will be and probably how unsound—or, at best, speculative—it will be as a business proposition. I would like to suggest that there are still a large number of farmers and landowners who are prepared to do their utmost to co-operate in seeing that hill farming is improved. I do hope that some encouragement will come to them from these proposals. There is no justification for making extravagant claims, because in any case the amount of money voted for the purpose is limited as is, also the available labour. But a start can be made, and if the proposals are administered wisely, sympathetically and energetically, an increasing amount of good can result and subsequently they can be developed further. I therefore urge support for this measure. I would indicate that in Scotland we would call upon all concerned in the industry to co-operate in its success.
But I do feel it is necessary to say—and it cannot be overlooked—that there was some severe criticism of the Bill in another place and outside, to the effect that the proposals are one-sided and that the advantage is too much in favour of the landowners, and to their advantage out of public funds. That, to my mind, is not so, and the terms of the Bill should be as fair as possible to all concerned. I believe that every effort has been made to secure this end. But if Government supporters and a section of the farming community think otherwise, and if the Bill is not wanted, it seems to me better that it should be withdrawn. We do not want to have it thrown at us that we are taking a wrong advantage of public funds. In the agricultural columns of various publications, 234 wide publicity has been given to the views of a section—a section which I believe to be a small one—which takes this view. But I have found in conferences with the National Farmers' Union (I believe I am correct in saying this) that the majority of those in the agricultural industry favour the proposals and wish to see them acted upon.
Landowners known to me—and I have a wide experience among them—are as desirous as anyone of seeing this done, and a great many of them are obliged to farm these hill farms themselves, because they cannot let them. These people are not asking or expecting any more help than is their fair share, and it does seem strange that when they are working as active partners and taking all the risks which the industry imposes upon them they alone should be debarred from receiving any of the assistance which is to be allowed to others. My impression is that this Bill will assist the industry, but that it will depend for its successful working upon the co-operation of all in the industry and the representatives of the Government and the various Departments. I hope that it will now receive a Second Reading, and that when it has passed into law it will meet with success.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ LORD POLWARTH
My Lords, this Bill has already been dealt with by other noble Lords who have had far more experience in this industry than I, myself, have had. It has been dealt with not only from the standpoint of the landowner—as I believe is the suggestion of some people. In the case of the noble Duke who has just spoken I believe it is true that he, himself, has taken in hand hill farms for which because of their economic condition no tenant could be found and has made good going concerns out of them. I should be presumptuous if I suggested that I had had as much experience in this particular subject. Hill farming is perhaps the most incalculable branch of agriculture, the one least capable of being reduced to facts and figures. My claim to speak upon it is based partly on the fact that my father had the honour of sitting on the Committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Balfour of Burleigh, which investigated the condition of the industry in Scotland. Further, I have quite recently had thrust upon me both the ownership and the occupancy of a hill farm in Scotland. As a 235 consequence, I have been brought into contact, somewhat abruptly, with some of the factors affecting the industry.
There are three points upon which I wish to touch briefly this afternoon. The first is the question of marketing. Hill farming is, perhaps, the only branch of agriculture to-day the principal products of which are sold in an open market, subject to all the influences of the laws of supply and demand. The provisions of this Bill are mainly directed to the improvement of supply; that is, to producing more and better sheep and cattle off our hills. That is a very laudable object in these days of world food shortages, but it is no use producing more and better sheep and cattle if the demand for them is insufficient to bring the producer a proper return on his outlay. The trouble is that store sheep and cattle are an unfinished product displaying, as the Balfour Report put it, "considerable variety in their degree of unfinish." Therefore, it is impossible to get guaranteed prices for them. Something must be done to counteract the disastrous fluctuations in the prices of store animals which have been the ruin of so many farmers in the period between the two wars. I know that the Bill goes some way to help in this direction, by encouraging the reseeding and regeneration of hill pasture which, in some cases, will enable the hill farmer to fatten a proportion of his own stock and thus sell them at a guaranteed price. The trouble is that the same season of bad weather which will spoil the keep of the lowland farmer and discourage him from buying the store sheep of the hill farmer, may equally well ruin the keep of the hill farmer and make it essential for him to get rid of his stock at whatever price is prevailing in the market. I do not know what the solution of this problem is, but I think there will have to be a great deal more thought given to it.
My second point is this. The backbone of the hill farming industry, without a doubt, is the hill shepherd, and I say, without hesitation, that there is no finer type of man in this country to-day. He does not need to be spurred on to do his job with any extra meat ration—although if anyone deserves it I am certain that he does. He has no eight-hour day or five-day week. If your Lordships look at the schedule of agricultural wages, you will see that the shepherd is expected 236 to work what are called "customary hours." This means just as long as is necessary for him to see that everything is well with his flock no matter what the weather or the season; in fact, the worse the weather the longer and more arduous is this man's job. Surely nothing that we can do for the material benefit of the hill shepherd is too good for him. He must have water, sanitation, electricity, a road to his home, transport for his children to school and for himself and his wife to the nearest town. I have the honour to come from the Border country where, I believe, more has been done to achieve this end under the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts than in any other part of Great Britain. But now those Acts have been scrapped, and this Bill in its present emasculated form gives very little incentive to the owners of these farms to carry out these very improvements when they can have no certainty that they will have the use of the cottages for their own labourers. It is the farm workers who will suffer for this, for, if they have not the certainty of having the cottages for themselves, owners will not build or recondition. And who can blame them?
My third and last point concerns the relationship of hill farming to forestry. During the war, the Forestry Commission, with commendable zeal, bought up a number of these farms as they came into the market. Many of them, no doubt, were much better suited to meet the demands of forestry than they were to hill farming. But a certain number that were bought in this way were good hill farms carrying sound sheep stock, situated not far from centres of civilizations and, generally speaking, more suitable for the production of sheep and cattle than for the production of trees. I suggest that if a survey is to be carried out to determine how hill land should be allotted between hill farming and forestry it should comprise a careful review of those farms which the Forestry Commission have acquired but have not yet planted, with a view to retrieving these good hill farms either by putting them on the open market or handing them over to the Ministry of Agriculture or the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, to be put back to agricultural use.
Before concluding, I would like to tender a word of congratulation to the Ministry and the Department for one thing that has been of the greatest benefit to the 237 hill farming industry. That is, the pools of machinery organized by the Department with the county executive committees. They have provided such machinery as bracken cutters, draining machines, outfits for reaping and ploughing which the farmers have been able to hire. This equipment has enabled the farmers to carry out operations which they could never have done otherwise, and I hope that the scope of this scheme will be extended very considerably in the future. In conclusion, I welcome the Bill with modified rapture—modified because I think that it has been spoiled by this Amendment which the Government has brought in since the original publication of the Bill. I feel that as the Bill stands, many owners of hill farms will prefer to carry on with the existing schemes of assistance for bracken cutting, draining, liming and the various subsidies, without becoming involved in a scheme under this Bill—a scheme which would not give them any assurance that they would be able to house the labour that they require. I wish this Bill well, and I hope, when we have seen how it is working, that in a few years time we may perhaps get a new and better Bill in its place.
§ 4.31 p.m.
My Lords, I do not propose to detain the House very long, because this debate has gone on for a considerable time. There are, however, one or two points which I wish to raise on the Second Reading, in view of the Committee stage which will follow. May I first of all, congratulate the Government on this Bill? I welcome this Bill. I welcome it because if it is carried out in its entirety I believe that, it will go a long way to save the sheep industry from bankruptcy. I speak from the point of view of the south of Scotland; I do not know it elsewhere. The Committee presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, was extremely helpful in explaining to the country, and no doubt to the Government, the position of the industry. The noble Lord is also to be congratulated on the information which he has supplied. I am particularly glad to think that a great many of the Committee's recommendations have been adopted in this Bill. Generally speaking, subject to what my noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch has said, I think that Scotland will welcome this Bill and will do her best to carry it out.
238 My first point is a very contentious one; that is, the question of tied cottages. In my time, I have been on a great many hill farms, but I have never been on one where it was possible for the shepherd to live off it. Consequently, any cottage attached to a hill farm must, of necessity, be in the form of a tied cottage. The shepherd must live in the middle of his job; otherwise he cannot do it. Clause 10 of this Bill says if a grant is given to repair or improve a cottage then it can remain in the form of a tied cottage for twenty years. At the end of that time anything may happen to it. That is what I understand the clause to mean. If I am correct in my interpretation, the shepherd's cottage may find itself in the hands of some other worker at the end of twenty years, and may not be the shepherd's cottage at all. I would like the noble Earl to explain what that means.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
Would the noble Viscount mind repeating that? I have not understood him clearly.
What I interpret this to mean is that for twenty years a shepherd' cottage may be tied, but at the end of that time it comes under the Rent Restrictions Acts. If the shepherd moves or loses his job, or does not want to go on shepherding, or if he is ill or has made sufficient out of his remuneration for him to have six months' leave or holiday, he would be permitted, under the Rent Restrictions Acts, to remain in that cottage at the end of this twenty-year period. From my particular point of view, this clause is the only blot in an otherwise admirable Bill. I hardly like saying it, but it seems to me that this clause has not been governed by common sense and practice, but has been governed by political sense and prejudice. It is, perhaps, a hard thing to say, but every argument that could be brought was brought in another place, in favour of the tied cottage principle. Even one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the Party of the noble Earl opposite opposed the principle which is embodied in this clause.
My other point, which I broach with a certain amount of diffidence, is the question of the valuation of sheep stock. I believe that, as worded, the clauses and the Schedule will go a long way to help things in this respect. Sheep valuations in Scotland have been one of the most serious 239 questions, both as regards the landlords and the farmers themselves, for many years. The arbitration on sheep values has been in the hands of the farmers, and the farmers—I say this quite deliberately—have loaded the dice against the proprietors in those valuations. And, incidentally, they have loaded the dice against themselves, owing to the high valuations which they have placed on stock. I should like to give the House an illustration of what I mean. The noble Earl will forgive me if this is a personal illustration, but it is an illustration for which I can vouch. It is not second hand and is, consequently, of more value. I do not give it from any sense of grievance, but merely as an illustration.
About six months ago I had a hill farm which, after long consideration, and owing to its uneconomic condition, I decided to hand over to the Forestry Commission for the purpose of afforestation. At least if the land would not carry sheep economically, it would do its service to the State by being planted with trees which would be required for the future. Last May, the farmer left. The sheep were taken over by myself on an arbitration. A value was placed upon them in two respects. One was for acclimatization and heftings, and the value placed on the sheep was 22s. 6d. per head for three-quarters of them, and £1 per head for the other quarter. Then came the sales. The sales have only just been concluded. I am advised that on these sales I have lost actually an average of £12s. per head of sheep stock carried on that farm. Therefore to-day I have lost actually—or I have had to pay out of my pocket—£22s. on an average for every single sheep on that farm. How did that occur? First of all, because the arbiters, the farmers, have, as I say, loaded the dice against the proprietor and, incidentally, loaded the dice against the farmers themselves, because, if in that case there had been an incoming tenant, the incoming tenant would have had to take over the sheep at the values at which I took them over, plus acclimatization and hefting value at the same value at which I have had to take over. I have suffered that loss. Consequently, there is a dead weight of capital right through the south of Scotland owing to this method.
How did this arise? It really arose because of the fact that these sheep were 240 valued from the point of view of the top-price ewes and the top-price lambs and not from that of the average. In paragraph 1 of the Second Schedule to this Bill, the matter of valuation is mentioned.The paragraph says:The Land Court or the arbiter (in Part I and Part II of this schedule referred to as the valuer') shall ascertain the number of, and prices realized for, the ewes and the lambs sold off the hill…I have spoken on this matter this afternoon so that the Government may have an opportunity of considering the question. The Amendment which no doubt will be moved in Committee will be that it should be the average price of the cast ewes—that is ewes that are sold off the farm: not the sheep stock, not the breeding stock, but the ewes that are sold off the farm every year from the point of view of making profits. This is supported in Lord Balfour' Report, because first of all he says:It is undoubtedly the abuse of discretion by arbiters in the past that has brought the present system into disrepute.Then he goes on to make the recommendation that the valuation for a Whitsuntide valuation—that is different to an autumn valuation—shall be based on the average of the prices obtained for all the cast ewes and all the ewe and wether lambs sold off the hill in the autumn sales in the previous three years.
I am going to ask the noble Lord to consider very seriously indeed whether he could not insert the word "cast" before "ewes" in paragraph 1 of the Schedule. If he is able to do so, it will mean a great deal, not only to the landlord but to the farmers themselves, because stocks will not be passed from one hand to another, or from one farm to another under meretricious and false values. So far as acclimatization and hefting are concerned, I believe I was over-valued by about 7s. Everybody in the district says that I ought to have paid about 15s. instead of 22s. 6d. per sheep. That is neither here nor there, but it does mean that the whole valuation system should be looked into from that point of view. I would only ask the noble Lord just one question about that, and it is this: Paragraph 6 of the Second Schedule says:Ewes of all ages (including gimmers) shall be valued at the basic ewe value with the addition of fifteen shillings per head.What is that fifteen shillings? Is that the acclimatization value, or what is it? It is 241 not clear from the paragraph. I apologize for having detained the House in this discussion but the question of valuation is such an important one that I do hope the noble Lord will very carefully consider before Committee stage the suggestion which I have made this afternoon.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
My Lords, I am extremely glad that on the whole this Bill has had such a good reception from your Lordships. It is very satisfactory to me and will be to my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture that this Bill, which we hope will be a step towards the recovery of this industry, has had approval from your Lordships and indeed generally a welcome from all sides. There are reservations, I admit.
Now I should like to try to answer one or two questions which noble Lords have raised. I was extremely glad that the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, welcomed this Bill. With regard to his remarks about Scotland, I would point out that the whole of the Bill from page 1 to, I think, page 25 does refer to Scotland. The only reason why Scotland comes in on page 25 is that that is a particular clause which does not refer to England. I hope that the noble Duke's championship of Scottish home rule is based on a more solid foundation than that. Let me proceed to deal with the questions that he asked. I will first deal with the definition of the hill farming land. In a way, this is vague, but it is sometimes convenient to have a thing not too exact and precise. I think it would be true to say that any hill farmer would certainly know what land was suitable for a hardy type of hill sheep, and after all these farmers are the people whom we want to understand what the Bill means. With regard to wintering, this, of course, is eligible for the grant, provided that the farmer has both hill sheep land and wintering land as well; that is to say, so long as a farmer has some land which is suitable for that type of sheep he would qualify for the grant, irrespective of whether the grant was for a scheme including lowland areas as well as highland areas or not. I hope I have made that clear to the noble Duke.
With regard to Clause 10, the noble Duke asked me what exactly a tenant 242 means. Well, of course, a tenant would include a cattle man in that sense of the word. If he is a person paying a rent, he is definitely a tenant. With regard to the other question which the noble Duke raised, on the question of muirburning, or the burning of heather, and the scale of fines, this is a very technical legal point on which I hesitate to embark. But I understand, roughly, that the situation is this. There is a scale of fines in relation to prison sentences which has been accepted for a considerable time. It was thought that if a large fine was proposed for this particular offence it might be read in law to mean that the man would also be liable to a much longer term of imprisonment than was intended, and, although some of your Lordships may hold the view that it might be wise that these scales should be adjusted, I think you will agree that this Bill is not the place for such adjustment.
To proceed to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, I was very glad indeed that he welcomed the Bill, although I cannot see how he could very well have done anything else in these circumstances. He asked me one or two questions, and, in spite of the fact that he is not here, I should like to give an answer to them. One is the question of committees. He wanted an assurance from the Government that members would be put on the committees who would have a knowledge of hill farming. I would point out that on that point there are Advisory Committees which will be in constant touch with the local executive committees. These Advisory Committees will obviously be almost entirely composed of people who have a knowledge of the industry, either hill farmers themselves or people with a very great knowledge of hill farming, so that the local committees will have at their disposal the advice of people who know all about the industry. Although I can give no undertaking as to the number, obviously my right honourable friend will have in mind that among the members of the local committees in the hill farming district there will be some people who know and have experience of that matter.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
Would it be possible that when members of the Committee visit a farm they could give notice to the farmer? As things are now, 243 members of these Advisory Committees go out and visit a farm without giving any notice at all. That denies a farmer the opportunity of meeting these people and consulting them. It would be much better to give notice, a day's or two days' notice.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
That, I think, is provided for in the Bill. I have not got the clause with me, but I think it is 24-hours notice they are obliged to give before visiting a farm. I quite agree with the noble Duke that this is an extremely important and necessary provision. Now to come to what is probably a more controversial clause—Clause 10 on housing. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and several other speakers, including the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, asked questions on this point. There were one or two other questions also, and I will try and deal with these all together. The noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, I think misunderstood the intention of the clause—these twenty years really have the opposite effect. What we try to ensure is that the cottage will not be tied for twenty years. Under this Bill we cannot be certain what will happen after that. We cannot really tie up the situation for longer than twenty years.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I am sorry, but I do not think we can in this Bill completely control events after twenty years. The houses will come under the Rent Restriction Acts, which is what the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, was asking. I would also like to point out, in reply to his question, that this Bill does not amend the Rent Restriction. Acts. It leaves them alone. Its purpose is to bring houses erected or improved under the Bill within the ambit of these Acts. The circumstances under which alternative accommodation need not be proved to the Court are set out in the First Schedule of the Land and Mortgage Restriction (Amendment) Act of 1933.
The other question the noble Lord asked me was with regard to telephones. The Government do appreciate very much the importance of getting telephones to these hill farms. In some ways it is far more 244 important that a remote farm should have a telephone than a cottage in an industrial area, but I think the noble Lord will appreciate the fact that the Post Office is very hard pressed at this moment. Obviously it is a very desirable thing that they should be installed and I would like to point out that the General Post Office will provide a telephone service at the standard rate of £4 per year for residential purposes to any home within three miles of an exchange. This covers a large part of Great Britain, but obviously will not cover a good many hill farms. All I can say is that we do have this in mind, and we should like to help where we can, but I do not think at the present moment, we can give any guarantee. Certainly telephones would not be covered by schemes under this Bill.
Surveys are being carried out. A pilot survey is being done in Wales for the purposes of hill farming and also we are considering this question of forestry which was alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth. This particular Act is not concerned with forestry or with the particular controversy there has been between sheep farming and forestry. The only mention of forestry in it is in Schedule 1 where it mentions "shelter belts." These "shelter belts" would not be the responsibility of the Forestry Commission, but would be carried out by whoever undertakes the work under the scheme and it would not presumably be on a very large scale. So far as I can see, there should be no future difficulties between these conflicting interests. The Forestry Act of 1945 recognizes the need for reconciling these dual interests. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture in another place said he is determined, if possible, to avoid any conflict in future between the two different interests. However, it is not a question with which this Bill is particularly concerned.
The noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch, also asked me various questions. I was very glad to hear his remarks and, on the whole, his welcome of this Bill because he obviously has great experience of this industry. Remarks coming from him are extremely valuable. We realize, like he does, that the labour position is very difficult, and it is particularly difficult to get things like roads built at this particular juncture. 245 They are vital to hill farming and if a scheme was presented which envisaged roads being built obviously it would be welcomed by the Minister and the grant would be available. I do admit that the preparation and expense would in many cases completely wreck the economic advantage behind it. That is an extremely difficult matter which we will study. I cannot say that anyone in the Government is entirely satisfied with the labour problem or the housing problem. We are doing our best with a great shortage of materials and in this case I think it is a generous grant of fifty per cent. which we are giving to the private landowner towards building his shepherd's house. We do hope it will meet with some response.
In replying to the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, I am very glad to hear machinery pools are working well. That is encouraging and I hope it will continue. Marketing is a very important point but it is a little bit outside the scope of this Bill. Coming to the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, I think that if he is going to move an Amendment on this valuation of sheep that would be the time really to go into it. The purpose of the alteration in this valuation scheme is to prevent such cases as those about which the noble Viscount told us, and where perhaps some injustice and a wrong valuation have come about. I will consider that question, and if the noble Lord is going to move an Amendment I think that would be the time to discuss it at greater length.
I hope I have on the whole answered the questions and dealt with the matters raised. I can only say again that it is our earnest intention to make the Bill work, but it can only work if we get the co-operation of the landowners and of the hill sheep farmers. The intention of this Bill is not compulsion; it is entirely voluntary. All we can do is to provide the finance and the encouragement, and no doubt in some cases the committees can be very helpful in working out schemes and carrying out work which the individual farmers may not be able to do. I would like once more to stress the importance of this Bill in helping to rehabilitate the industry. I do hope noble Lords in this House will give it a quick and speedy Second Reading and that it will now pass.
246 On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.