HL Deb 31 January 1952 vol 174 cc963-1014

2.37 p.m.

LORD LOVAT rose to call attention to the need for improvement in the use of hill and marginal land, particularly in the Highlands of Scotland, with a view to increasing the production of beef and mutton; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, they say that we all have a blind spot in our eye. That can be interpreted in a great many ways. You can fail to find the thimble in a game with the children in their nursery; you can fail to see a wounded lion if you are walking up to that dangerous animal in short grass. Equally, as an earnest politician you can fail to find the best solution to a simple problem. I stand here to-day simply to urge upon this House the necessity of trying, to the best of our ability and with all the powers at our disposal, to increase the home-grown meat supply in this country. I have spoken on this subject before, and I am not going to say anything very original to-day. I think I know my subject reasonably well, and I should not be venturing to waste either your Lordships' time or mine were I not convinced that what I am going to tell you is substantially correct.

We live in an age of planning. I have referred to the blind spot in the eyes of private individuals. I think that applies just as much to the eyes of our national planners and the committees of experts that govern, direct and, indeed, finance, these ventures. Since the war, a great deal of time, trouble and money has been devoted to overseas development. Perhaps the best example of a planner and his experts is the ground-nuts scheme, which has cost the country the "thick end" of £30,000,000. There are many other schemes, equally fantastic, which have been promoted in a hurry, without sufficient experience or local knowledge, which have come fast on the heels of that deplorable episode in West Africa. To instance a few, there was the Gambia egg scheme which collapsed. Then there is a scheme in Australia, in the Peak Down district, where I recently heard some very depressing news of the Overseas Food Corporation's attempts to develop a very large but waterless district of Queensland, to produce, first, groundnuts, then pigs, and sorghum to feed them with. And now that all these schemes have failed, an attempt is being made, in face of a severe drought and serious bush fires, to raise cattle on a huge area of land which we have bought but which is considered unsuitable for this latest task which is there being attempted as I stand before your Lordships. The latest information I have had from Queensland is that the area is rapidly drying up; that there are only 17,000 cattle on an area of country which should carry at least twice that number; and that, far from being able to breed cattle there, we have to employ officials, at high salaries, to go out and buy bullocks and take them into the area to feed them where they cannot, in fact, find food.

Those are a few of the many examples of some of the errors of our ways at the present time. There are many others. I would even refer your Lordships to that remarkable effort which I heard about only a few days ago, a scheme to provide a factory ship to produce shark's fin soup for rich Chinese, a commodity which is apparently no longer popular in Communist China but which, before closing down, has cost the taxpayer approximately £500,000. Nearer home, the last Secretary of State for Scotland apparently thought it might be a good idea to introduce reindeer from Scandinavia, and those engaging animals are likely to swell the numbers of marauding deer which at present, in the severe weather, are overrunning the outfields and the hill pastures of a struggling community. If a reindeer appears in the Beauty district among the turnips he will find himself in the pot—with or without Father Christmas!

I wish to refer to the farming situation in these Islands. A great many people, economists and others, have given us details. They have broken down the population to the acreage and, alternatively, they have shown how, both in the arable and rural areas, a great deal of intensified and extremely valuable farming is being carried out, while higher up in the hills, and in the more isolated and remote areas, we find comparative lack of effort—in some cases, neglect—or land only lightly or improperly farmed. The cleavage is very remarkable. I will generalise to start with, and then come down to more exact details, but as this Motion refers to Scotland I will not do more than say, in passing, that in the British Isles, with a population of approximately 50,000,000, we find the people with their food resources grouped into only two-thirds of the total available territory in the sense of land mass. In other words, of the 65,000,000 acres which exist in the United Kingdom, the bulk of the population, plus their homegrown food requirements, can be found in approximately 45,000,000 acres, leaving roughly a third, or 20,000,000 acres, still to be developed and made better use of. I will say no more about the United Kingdom at the present moment, but I should like to turn to Scotland, which is. naturally, the country that I know best and the area under review this afternoon.

In Scotland, we have 19,000,000 acres of land, and of that 19,000,000 acres only 5.000,000 acres are in fact productive in the true sense of the word. The other 14,000,000 acres can be divided between hill and mountain—when I say "hill," I mean approximately 10,000,000 acres of low ground and moorland of which far greater use can be made than at present; and it is on this 10,000,000 acres that I wish to make my speech and call for the support of your Lordships' House this afternoon. Now, 10,000,000 acres seems a very great area of country, and so it would be if we had only a very small population. Even including these badly farmed acres—and in some cases they are not farmed at all—the British public of 50.000,000 souls can find only about half an acre a-piece from which to provide home-grown food; and that, as your Lordships will appreciate, is a very small amount of land with which to develop home-grown food or misuse in any way. I think I am right in saying that in France, on a similar calculation, they have four acres apiece, while in the United States it rises as high as eight acres per living person. The question now is: How, in view of the critical meat shortage, not only in this country but in the rest of the world, can we make better use of these comparatively idle acres?

The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has, I think perhaps wrongly, said that we can turn overseas to buy red meat. Whilst I am in complete agreement with Lord Woolton in his opposition to bulk buying overseas, I venture to suggest, with all respect, that he is entirely wrong in thinking that beef or mutton can be purchased more cheaply abroad than it can be produced at home. It is one of my jobs at the present time to visit the various cattle-raising countries in the world, sometimes as a judge of pedigree livestock, but more often as a trader; sometimes in the rôle of an agricultural visitor, or ambassador, if you like to put it, in a lesser sense. Wherever one goes, whether in South America or the Dominions, one clearly understands, in a way which is not, I think, realised at home at the present time, just how very expensive are the production costs and the price at the retail end of cattle and sheep in the world to-day. Conditions have changed in the Argentine. I saw in the newspapers only this morning that the Argentine are having a meatless day once a week. That is an almost incredible thought in a country where the people were once living on a ration of 2 lb. of meat a day in the cattle camps, where I have worked myself. In Australia, from which I fairly recently returned, they were so short of beef—they do not eat their merino sheep, because it is more important to get the wool clip off them than kill them off as mutton—that they are now seriously talking of importing beef from New Zealand.

In spite of these facts, there still seems to be a school of thought which considers that it might be possible to make bargains with the New World and Australasia to get beef at cheaper rates. In my view that is entirely wrong. It is a grave reflection on our own agricultural policy in this country, and more particularly in Scotland, that the only country to-day with a beef surplus that I know of within easy reach is the Irish Free State. That, I suggest, is a fact which is remarkable in itself, because, whatever one thinks of Irish farmers—and they are good friends of mine—I respectfully suggest that we in Scotland should be able to produce equally good beef under very similar conditions. In Ireland they have had a policy, which we have lacked; and it is on that point that I intend to talk, I am afraid at some length, this afternoon.

I have given your Lordships my opinion of world conditions; I have told you something of home conditions, and now I should like to suggest various reasons why we have not done better from what we have available. When I have given your Lordships those reasons, and stated what has gone on in the past, perhaps you will allow me to say what might be done in the future. I spoke two years ago about changes that have come over Scottish agriculture, and I do not wish to go into detail again. We were self-supporting until the 1870's, or thereabouts, when the refrigerator ship and the opening up of the New World produced cheaper foods from overseas. In consequence, the Highland population found that their way of life was not as agreeable or easy as it had been in the old lawless days. There were clearances, unfortunately, but there was also deliberate emigration to improve standards of living—and when men left the Highlands their cattle went with them. The sheep were driven in South, and for nearly a hundred years there was a policy of extractive farming, which is the only kind of farming that can be carried out in such circumstances, for sheep are not improvers of the land; on the contrary, if they are left long enough on any ground, whether arable, marginal or hill, they gradually, by selective grazing, kill out the grass, and they themselves become the victims of their numbers and are no longer an economic proposition.

After the sheep, came the era of sport in the Victorian age. It went on until the beginning of the First World War, and for a time there was hill prosperity, with grouse moors, deer forests and salmon rivers for seasonal employment, with the croft as a standby; the proprietors were able to keep their heads above water. But when the Second World War began there was already a sign of change. Conditions in the thirties had made it difficult, and the Second World War made it virtually impossible, to carry on in what was obviously a fool's paradise. Personally, I do not regret the change. Now the wheel has turned full circle, and we should think again in terms of breeding men, cattle and sheep—after all, they are complementary to each other. I submit that we are far behind with our planning of hill farming and hill production. The Balfour of Burleigh Report was an excellent piece of planning and research (I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, in the House to-day: perhaps he will supplement my remarks later), but that Report did not go far enough. It was an attempt in the 1940's to bolster up the hill sheep farming community. But the Report had come much too late in the day. It was translated into an Act in 1946. What that Report did, excellent though it was, was insufficient, because it was intended only to bolster up hill sheep farming. It did not point out, as it should have done, that the beef which we were still bringing in, in frozen form (in spite of the submarine blockade and largely through the tremendous efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton and the Ministry of Food) was virtually to end with our disappearing gold reserves.

That Report should have anticipated the scarcity which would come when peace was restored. The Report itself was, as I say, too late. It should have been implemented in the first year of the war and not been postponed until 1946—six years after the outbreak of hostilities. The Government, however, refused to be convinced that cattle and beef production were as important to the meat ration as hill sheep farming and mutton. I stand before your Lordships without any credit, but as a pioneer of a school of thought which maintains that, if lands become sheep-sick or bracken-ridden, it is imperative before you can get your sheep back into health, to cut down surplus herbage with cattle, and improve impoverished soil. Much useless herbage existed after the sheep invasion of the 1850's. When I first said this, I was told I was talking romantic nonsense, but now I think there has been a slight change of mind, and we are ready to grasp at any straw. While I am a cattle enthusiast, in the full sense of the word—I always was—I suggest that it was right that we should first get the cattle and then the sheep, and then run them both together. This is not as easy as it sounds. In the United States in the Middle and Far West, the hostility on this point between cattle and sheep interests was so great that your Lordships cannot visualise it. It led to repeated bloodshed. Yet the two animals are, as I say, complementary, and can live and work and thrive and improve in perfect harmony.

Scotland has had difficulty in its agricultural policy for several reasons. We are tied to the apron strings of the Treasury in Whitehall. Secondly, and more important, the Secretary of State for Scotland is probably the most hard-worked man in the Government to-day. He has to answer, and answer intelligently, on every problem—housing, education, sanitation, rural government, rates, taxes, agriculture and fisheries and everything else. He has to deal with the hundreds of problems which confront the running of even a small country such as Scotland, with only 5,000,000 people. Mr. Stuart has made a very fine start and we wish him every success in his new appointment. Unlike some of his predecessors, he was quick off the mark. He visited Orkney within a matter of hours after the gale which had devastated that industrious and highly-productive island. He has also had the wisdom to choose an adviser in the agricultural field who is himself a hill farmer. But they have a very big task ahead of them. They have to make a two-fisted attack on what has become a very dangerous and deteriorating situation.

Through lack of a separate Minister of Agriculture, the agricultural prosperity of Scotland has been largely guided by advisers to the Secretary of State. I have sometimes, maybe harshly, criticised civil servants. I realise that that is an unfair thing to do, because they cannot answer for themselves, but I respectfully submit to your Lordships that one must have a Minister of Agriculture or an assistant Minister, in the form of an Under-Secretary of State, like Mr. Snadden, who knows his job. The late adviser was I think, a civil servant or a chartered accountant in his trade, while the Under-Secretary who answered to the Secretary of State, although an authority on mining, had no knowledge whatsoever of agriculture. In Mr. Woodburn's time agriculture struck a low note: it really hit the bottom and bounced. We have great hopes that that bounce may be perpetuated during the time of Mr. Stuart.

I have said that Highland planning has been of a piecemeal nature. For a few moments I should like to dwell on the misuse of land which at present is either lying idle or being only partially developed. Because it was not arable land, and because the population were either thinly scattered or lacking in financial means to improve their lot, many eyes have been turned in that direction. Perhaps the most active of many public bodies has been the Forestry Commission. No one has a greater respect than I have for the Forestry Commission. No one appreciates more the importance to the country of planting trees. Perhaps some of your Lordships may remember my father, who was the first Chairman of the Forestry Commission—not of the Scottish Forestry Commission but of the whole Forestry Commission. He, in fact, framed the standard of excellence of the rules and regulations by which the present body is governed and flourishes. I remember my father often telling me that in no circumstances would he allow or contemplate the acquisition for forestry of land which was lit for agriculture, unless there was some reason of paramount importance. The Forestry Commission to-day have rather changed from that original attitude of mind which existed after the First World War. They have more or less obtained complete powers of discretion as to what they want and where they take it. The farmer, and the hill farmer in particular, has suffered badly.

I think it is wrong that hillsides which have been cut down, either in the First World War or in the Second, should remain unplanted. Your Lordships will agree with me that if you travel through the Highlands of Scotland to-day it is possible to see enormous areas lying under stumps, now rotten, and still requiring fencing, retrenchment and planting over to grow timber where it grew before. The Forestry Commission have been extremely active. It is to their credit that they have obtained so much land and such good land without interference. I do not blame them for that, because obviously it is their job. I think the method has been satisfactory to them, but to nobody else. It is time, in view of the shortage of food that exists in this country, to see that they either plant their own woodlands or go to non-productive hills before they develop further.

The other problem which confronts us at the moment in the Highland area is hydro-electric development. There again, a great deal of land is required for the bigger schemes, and in order to promote a scheme there is bound to be flooding. The flooding occurs in the bottom of the glen, and in the bottom of the glen, of course, is found the all-important wintering which is necessary for sheep and for cattle stocks. This hydro-electric development, taken in the light of each individual scheme, appears to be of little or no significance, and the damage may not appear of paramount importance. But I suggest to your Lordships that the cumulative effect is very considerable indeed. Proprietors often have to accept the generous compensation terms which the Hydro Board naturally pay, but that is not the answer. If you cut off roads and communications, and remove from that area the shepherds and various people who work in the district, it stagnates and becomes entirely useless for all future development.

Speaking of my own district, let me give your Lordships two examples of the amount of land that to my mind might well be used for better purposes and for more intensive production. First, I should like to mention the Glen Affric power scheme, which is on my doorstep and almost completed, and secondly I would mention the Invergarry-Glen Moriston scheme, which is also in Inverness-shire, the county in which I live, and which is in process of construction. In the Glen Affric scheme, the head waters of the River Beauly were impounded. At the time, we were told that the cost of the whole scheme would be £4,800,000, and that it would be completed in the year 1950. To-day we see the scheme almost, but not quite, complete. Although I have not seen the final figures of the original estimate worked out, it is common knowledge that not less than £10,000,000 has already been spent, and the electricity generated is costing a very great deal more to the consumer than was originally promised. In addition, the rate contribution of the county, which previously promised to be somewhere in the neighbourhood of £10,000, has had to be withdrawn. I mention these things simply because I feel that the cost of generating power from Highland waters must always be calculated in proportion to the amount of good that it does the community as a whole. I submit that it is entirely wrong, with the present prices of labour and material, to spend a fortune in constructing enormous dams across shallow valleys, with no fall of the water—and, of course, the fall is the important feature in generating the maximum amount of kilowatts—when that valley could be better used for raising cattle and sheep.

I have spoken of the cost of the Glen Affric scheme. I should like your Lordships now to cast your eyes for a moment to what has happened behind the power station and the retaining coffer dams which hold up the water for producing light. Under this one scheme, no fewer than 30,000 acres of good hill grazing have been flooded out of existence. In the old days there were somewhere in the neighbourhood of 5,000 sheep of all ages grazing on those hills. In Glengarry, where in the old days the Clan MacDonnell could put 800 men into the field at a moment's notice, human life has now been completely extinguished. Formerly, this was an area where 50,000 sheep were to be found; it will now have been largely destroyed for agricultural purposes. So your Lordships can see that two schemes alone have done away with a potential of 55,000 sheep. Reckoned on a meat ration as one sees it to-day, 10,000 sheep are the equivalent of a week's meat ration for 1,000,000 people. Therefore, however important and necessary these schemes are, I feel that this piecemeal seizing of land which was not important until to-day, must cease. Before I pass on I would remind your Lordships that, with the exception of the United Kingdom, in every country where the population is thick upon the ground it is considered an offence against the State to drown land. That applies in Switzerland and in Scandinavia. They encourage hydro-electric development, but they expect their water to come off the steep hillside, from a lake on top of the hill, with the minimum of cost and the maximum of power production. But we have never taken that into consideration. We have never worried. No one has ever worried about the Highlands in my time. For nearly twenty years now, since my father's death, I have sat in the County Council of Inverness-shire and only once have I witnessed one single gesture of £100,000 being offered to us in various critical situations.

I should like to say one more thing about these grandiose public corporation schemes. What chance has the private individual or farmer against the weight of heavy-handed propaganda and tremendous borrowing, power? In hill farming we must have a little credit; we must also have a little confidence. At the moment I am told that farmers are having their overdrafts severely scrutinised by their bankers, and yet the hydro-electric hoard—I do not know about the Forestry Commission—have been granted an increase in borrowing power of £100,000,000. These are enormous figures, and no private individual, whether proprietor or tenant, can possibly compete against them. As a farming community we are inarticulate. Yet if we had only the slightest confidence, if we had over a reasonable period an assurance of guaranteed prices, and some form of hope of a policy which did not change every five years with every Government, we would gladly launch into a full-scale development programme.

My Lords, I should like to make certain recommendations. They really form an eight-point programme. As I deal with each point, perhaps your Lordships will allow me briefly to elaborate it. I have just spoken about the long-term policy. I do not know what is usually meant by a long-term policy, but in hill farming it could not be less than fifteen years. The present system has been based on series of five-year plans, but in five years you may have one bad winter which is enough to put you "down and out" for all time; and if you buy hill cattle as heifer calves they are only beginning to breed at the end of a five-year plan. How can you buy cattle and expect to make a reasonable profit out of their progeny if a subsidy or a price guarantee dries up just at the time when the animals are coming into production?

My first suggestion, therefore, is to provide a long-term policy which will give hill farmers sufficient confidence to launch a development plan—and may I say, in passing, that. I am talking of confidence because, speaking as a farmer and for the rest of the farming community, the egg man and the dairyman feel that they have had a very raw deal in the last six months? By a plan, I mean new houses in the glens, which must be built, better roads, country schools, and all the amenities which people living under difficult conditions expect to-day. Some of the attributes which I hope people living south of the Border can find in our national virtues, were founded on a three-point programme in the old days. There was the home, the kirk, and the dominie, which is a Scots word for the schoolmaster, who is, perhaps, as important as the other two. To-day in Scotland we see rural schools closing down. Anyone who lives in the country will tell you that there are boys who would grow up to be good shepherds and farm servants, and follow their father's calling under much better conditions, but if those boys are taken away to the bright lights of a small rural town they seldom come back. The closing of the rural schools is one of the most distressing features in the Highlands at the moment. And from a farming point of view, the school leaving age is absolute folly. The bus calls in the morning and the children go away; they do not come back until after dark, and they are completely divorced from their surroundings and the interests which are so important to them in afterlife.

My second point is this: I should like the Minister and the Secretary of State to consider reviewing all the hill farming subsidies. Subsidies are not an attractive form of payment at any time. I do not wish to tout for more money at a time like this, when we are economising in every department; but at least, if there is to be a subsidy let it be practical; and, above all, let it be a common-sense one, and let the right person draw it. The calf subsidy which was paid on calves of a suitable kind was misinterpreted and ill-used from its inception. I have always maintained that the breeder of the calf should be entitled to whatever bonuses were paid out with it. Yet, although I have urged this now ever since the subsidy began (and it is now about to be taken off), my plea has been disregarded, because the terms of the subsidy were drafted the other way. The Order was framed in a hurry, and in a most untidy and expensive manner, and it has had to continue until now it comes to rather a messy and unsatisfactory conclusion.

I am sure your Lordships will forgive me if I say that at the present time the arable or mixed farmer has not a great deal to worry about. I am aware that most of your Lordships are in that happy position. But in Scotland, on the 10,000,000 acres of land upon which I am concentrating, hill farmers living on the edge of the moor, under the worst possible conditions and in continual conflict with the elements, have to sell only their spare wedder lambs and the few calves that they get off hill cows—and, Heaven knows! there is not much left after the store sales are over in October. Yet, because our calves are not old enough to benefit by the subsidy, we hill farmers see them going off to the fat arable land where they are needed to convert straw into dung and where, if the farmers are losing money on their graded cattle, they can get it back in so many other ways—by growing crops of beans, oats, barley, sugar beet, potatoes and all the other things which are of importance to-day below the 1,000-foot contour line.

The calf subsidy has been abused ever since it started. It required a vast number of Government officials, driving around in new motor cars, to mark those calves all over Scotland—whereas the animals could have been marked in the market place on the day of the sale. Had that latter system of marking been adopted, I am told there would have been a saving of the work done by 500 Government officials. If there is to be a subsidy on calves, let it be paid to the breeder, and not to the feeder. If there is to be a subsidy at all—which I do not think essential—let it be paid on the hardy type of hill cow's calf, which can grow up into a heifer and which will be valuable for increasing the dwindling hill cattle stocks. Andy the number of available hill cattle, be it remembered, is dwindling lower and lower. That is a disturbing fact. We have been looking to the hill farms for the production of food ever since the beginning of the war, but now we have fewer hill cattle and hill sheep than we had in 1939—a great many fewer.

Before I pass from subsidies, I should like to say a word about the cow subsidy which is given on every hill cow that lies out or is approved of by the powers-that-be. Now £7 on each cow was an acceptable price when hay was costing only £8 a ton. To-day, hay costs £16 a ton on the low ground. In the case of the crofters, the people of the Outer Hebrides and Western Isles—though your Lordships may hardly believe this—the position is very much worse. It costs £26 a ton to get hay into Tarbert, Harris and Lochboisdale. This affects areas which in the old days sent from 15,000 to 20,000 store cattle to the mainland every year. The cattle population of the Western Isles is falling like a plummet, and it will continue to do so because, apart from the cost of feeding stuffs there is increasing complication as regards freight boats and harbour facilities. I repeat, let the subsidies, if we are to have them, be for the hill man; and let them be realistic. If we are not to have a calf subsidy, let us have a subsidy for the cow; and if it is for the cow, let it be for the right sort of cattle. Back the hill and marginal farmers. These people must have help if they are to expand their production. I cannot emphasise too strongly that the only real farm expansion in the United Kingdom to which we can look is in the hill farms. Farmers on the low grounds are doing a splendid job, and so they should, in view of all the advantages they enjoy.

My third point is to restore the ploughing up grant on the hill and marginal farms. That is perhaps the weakest of the eight points in this programme, and I should quite understand if it could not be accepted by the Secretary of State. But if you are going to have more cattle and sheep on the hills, you must have more food grown on those farms for them, apart from what you buy. You need early fodder for your lambing ewes, and this you can get only by re-seeding and breaking up the old pasture. That last point is not perhaps the easiest one to argue. My fourth point, which is perhaps more important (I should explain that these points should not necessarily be taken in any order of priority), is that freight rates should immediately be looked into, since they affect the areas where this intensified production could best be effected. I think your Lordships should know how under nationalised transport some extraordinary anomalies have occurred. I should like to tell you what happens in Inverness-shire, where, in the bad old days of private enterprise, it was a common thing for proprietors to send lorries loaded with pit timber down into the mining areas in Lanarkshire and the industrial coal belt of central Scotland, and to bring back in those same lorries either bricks or cement or, it might be, feeding-stuffs such as hay. To-day, under nationalised transport, you are not allowed to use those lorries to carry loads back, if you send them down full. Conversely you can send them down empty and bring them back full. So much for planning. Owing to some extraordinary and incomprehensible feature in the law of the land, you cannot carry out the very simple trade policy of carrying loads both ways.

On the railways freight rates have been continually going up. Every time you inquire into the prices of freight you find that they have jumped again. So I ask your Lordships to recognise that if we want to produce more cattle and sheep we have to have an economic freight system for ferrying them away to the consumer counties. I do not suppose that any housewife, reading the Daily Mirror or some other South-country newspaper at her breakfast table, would believe her paper if she read that in the autumn months in the crofter counties of the Highlands it is almost impossible to sell your smaller type cattle or sheep. There is a glut in the auction towns of Oban, Dingwall and Inverness when late store cattle and late-weaned calves, born in May. go into the market and are sold in October (they are hardy little chaps and if allowed to grow would make fine beasts). They all come into the market at the same time and find no south-country buyers because freight rates are so expensive. From the arable farms in the south of England or in East Anglia, where there are no cattle of the beef kind, no interest is taken in the Highland auction rings and no demand is at that time shown from those quarters. Time and again I have seen small calves taken out of Inverness market at £7 or £8 apiece, which, of course, is wholly uneconomic to the man selling them. That naturally tends to reduce the cattle population, because if you cannot dispose of your surplus young stock at an economic rate you cannot increase the breeding females. In the far north we have problems which do not arise at Perth or Stirling, where you have a very broad arable low ground area within easy reach, with big farms and buildings to hold the cattle required for supplying manure. In the autumn, as I say, good calves have to be taken back because you cannot get a decent price for them.

Point five is, I think, almost the most important of any I have to put forward. Hill farming, whether you are dealing with cattle or sheep, depends very greatly on your winter keep, as everyone in this Chamber knows. That is the only limiting factor to an expansion programme. Has this problem ever been resolutely tackled? We seem to-day to have a tremendous grasp of non-essentials. You can have labyrinths of paper, thousands of officials and a wall—I hesitate to say a wall of stupidity, but a sort of cotton-wool wall of passive resistance. You press so far into the cotton-wool, and when you are well in and you think you are getting through, it springs back in your face. I have spoken at considerable length on these problems, but it is because I think that they are important. Action is now required

If we are going to step up our homegrown meat supplies, somebody should be man enough to tackle the problem of winter keep. That problem must be solved, but it has never been tackled at a high enough level, because I do not suppose that any farmer could "sell" the idea to the right person at the right time. If, for argument's sake, 90,000 hill cattle in Scotland are at the present moment lying out all the year round, and if we double that number—which is the target I am suggesting—it would be necessary to provide only 10 cwt. of hay for each animal to get it through the winter. An ordinary arable farm should produce at least two tons of hay to every acre, therefore only another 22,500 acres of arable land would he required in the United Kingdom, or in Scotland by itself, to double our present hill cattle population. A 22,500 acres more hay may sound a large amount of land, but it is not, because, if my figures are not wrong, it represents only 5 per cent. of the annual acreage under hay in Scotland alone. If some superior planner can be produced, like a rabbit out of a hat, and if he can get together with the Minister of Agriculture in England, and Mr. Stuart or Mr. Snadden in Scotland, I refuse to believe that, between the three of them, they could not find a way of transferring a further 5 per cent. of the Scottish hay crop into depots at various focal points throughout the country, on some reduced freight rate, so that it could be bought at a reasonable price by people living in the Highlands and Western Islands. It could easily be done.

How very ignorant we are, as a nation, of what farmers abroad do to get their cattle and sheep from one point to another! In East Anglia we see farmers burning straw on the fields—a horrible sight to Scottish thrift. Every time I see smoke going up on the stubble behind a combine on fat land, it makes my stomach turn over. That straw could be made use of in some way. We see herrings being thrown away at Yarmouth. These could be converted into fish silage or the waste combine stubble could be processed with the herrings and made into some sort of briquette. I do not know what the protein content would be, but it would be a useful foodstuff. Yet we throw away the herrings and burn the straw. In Patagonia, where they raise fat lambs, we find farmers—I am glad to say mainly of Scottish descent, although there are a few Welshmen among them—driving their sheep for sixty days to the frigerificos on the coast before they can sell them. From the Queensland stations—I mean the productive kind, not those under the British Overseas Food Corporation, bought under that master planner, Sir Leslie Plummer—cattle have to be driven on the hoof for 2,000 miles to the finishing paddocks in New South Wales and Victoria. Yet there are only 500 miles between Yarmouth and the Highland hill farms, and in the last ten years nobody has thought of an answer to this problem.

I am getting rather "hot under the collar," but I have almost done. I will give your Lordships one more point—that is, the amount of land which is being farmed by the Secretary of State in Scotland. If I have said anything to-day that has left any impression on your minds, I hope it is simply this: that farmers can do the job better than officials at home or abroad. Let the farmers do the job and they will get better results. Many noble Lords here this afternoon have their home farms, and I am sure they are splendidly run. But the tendency is not to make home farms pay but to run them in order to be kind to a number of dear old friends, by giving some one a managerial post, and so on. Let us face the fact that that is really not straight, practical farming. It is exactly the same thing as giving an official a job on a salary basis: you will never get a salaried official, however honest, to put his back into it in the same way as the hardworking, straight-going farmer, who works equally hard on Saturday and Sunday, and during harvest thinks he is doing a normal day's work when he works sixteen hours a day.

When farming was in the doldrums in 1931, the Secretary of State for Scotland rightly tried to bolster up the industry by buying up land, and at the present moment in Scotland alone the figure of State-owned land is imposing. Of the 19,000,000 acres which I said earlier were available on the surface of the country, no fewer than 1,400,000 are owned by the Secretary of State. This includes land owned by the Forestry Commission. The Secretary of State has a great many people on his books. He works 130,000 acres of land under his own arrangement, and factors or leases a great deal more to tenants. Finally, of course, there are the 900,000 acres under the Forestry Commission, although all that land is not all planted. I suggest to the noble Earl, Lord Home, who is to answer, that it would not upset anybody and I do not think it would tread on any toes of officialdom if the tenants of those farms and small holdings at present under the Department were offered the chance of buying their land. There is a tremendous land hunger among young farmers in Scotland to-day; and I am sure that applies equally South of the Border.

The Acts which have tightened up agricultural efficiency have made it so expensive for landlords to provide new plant, buildings and equipment, and all the specifications necessary to make a farm suitable for a tenant, that once the proprietors farm it themselves they cannot afford otherwise. That has had a boomerang effect. The young farmers are quite unable to find a lease and they cannot afford to buy them. I read in the Scottish Press only a fortnight ago that the Department of Agriculture were putting up rents of 2,000 smallholdings in the Lothians—which, I may say, in passing, is something no landlord would do. And I read more recently that a similar state of affairs is being expected by smallholding tenants of the Department in Dumfriesshire. If Mr. Butler is going to make cuts and economics, what could be a better way of saving, before he starts to "fish" for a Budget, than by selling to sitting tenants those smallholdings which, if they have been well farmed or, more important, well administered, ought to be in a good state and, with the present high demand for land, show a handsome profit? In addition, it would effect a cutting down on the vastly inflated army of civil servants at present in St. Andrew's House, whose numbers have grown from, I think, 900 before the war to a total strength, if one includes part-time workers, of 3,890 to-day.

I think I have said enough. I am going to keep one or two parting shots up my sleeve until I have heard the noble Earl's reply. I hope he will give my remarks favourable consideration. My figures have been laboured and my speech has been slow, but your Lordships will notice that I have deliberately avoided quoting percentage figures. I hope my noble friend Lord Home will not try and "sell" the story that in 1952 there has been a rise over 1946 figures of, say, 18½ per cent.; because if you had only one cow in 1939 and that cow had a calf in 1940, you would have obtained a 100 per cent. increase; and of course there are similar absurdities. I beg to move for Papers.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure I shall be saying something quite uncontroversial if I say that we have all listened with pleasure and profit to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, which carried special weight because he was speaking from personal experience as a hill farmer and with great knowledge of conditions in Scotland. I am sure he will not take it amiss if some of the other speakers in this debate address themselves to those inferior parts of the United Kingdom situated South of the Border. Indeed, I fear that what qualifications have as a speaker would not permit me to follow the noble Lord in his remarks, and I should be excluded from this debate were I not to deal with the other aspect of the problem. But during my time at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries I had the good fortune to be Chairman of the Hill Farming Advisory Committee, on which hill farmers from England and Wales are represented, and I also had the good fortune to meet a number of hill farmers, both in the West country and in the Northern counties, in their native haunts.

This is a problem which is equally important to the consumer and the producer. I hope that in this discussion we shall not altogether neglect the consumer's angle. I am not at all certain that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, would not probably agree that our best hope of seeing a substantial improvement in the meat ration, and possibly the ultimate end of meat rationing, lies in a great revival of sheep and cattle farming, mainly in the upland areas of England, Scotland and Wales. The producer's view and interests coincide with those of the consumer. For there is scope—I entirely agree with Lord Lovat about this, although he referred particularly to Scotland—for such a revival in these upland areas, provided that favourable conditions obtain for the rearing of livestock. It is these favourable conditions with which I shall be mainly concerned in the course of my remarks. The first of them is perhaps only obliquely favourable; but it is important, and I was glad to hear the noble Lord. Lord Lovat, stress the point early on in his remarks. I hope that we shall not continue to look overseas for the extra meat we need. There is really no prospect of ever again importing anything like as much meat as we imported before the war. The higher standard of living in the meat-producing countries, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, referred, has reduced their export surplus; and the world demand for meat—another important factor—will keep the price at an extremely high level. This price factor alone will limit the amount that we can afford to buy from overseas so long as we have balance of payment difficulties, which I am afraid are likely to last for a considerable time.

The very fact—this is the oblique effect on production here—that we can no longer expect to import our meat from Commonwealth countries or from South America will give the livestock farmer at home an unique opportunity in the home market. He will be able to plan his farming operations—and planning in livestock farming is probably the one form of planning of which the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, would approve—over a long period of time, with a certainty of getting a good price for his animals, however long he may have to wait. It is important that rearers and livestock farmers should realise—I do not think it is always realised, otherwise it would not be worth emphasising now—that the war has brought about a great and lasting change in the condition of the home market. The home market is now, for the first time, certainly since the First World War, there for them to take. It is also important to remember that the present seller's market for livestock is not a passing phase, but a long-term trend which will guarantee the livelihood of the livestock farmers for as far ahead as they can plan.

I believe the increase we want in the number of our store animals will depend largely on the use farmers make of the Hill Farming Act and the Livestock Rearing Act. The hill farmers already deserve a great deal of credit for the good use they have made of the provisions of the Hill Farming Act. It remains to be seen whether the farmers lower down the hill will turn the Livestock Rearing Act, which was passed into law only last year, to the same advantage. I should like to ask the noble Earl who is to reply (I gave notice of this question to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington) whether he can give us some idea of the progress made under the Livestock Rearing Act. I do not want to ask for information that is difficult to get, because I hesitate to burden people who are already overworked. However, I think the essential thing one would like to know is: How many farmers in the different hill-farming and upland farming counties have already submitted schemes to the agricultural executive committees; and how many of them have been approved? It may be that I am asking too much, but it would be interesting to know what sort of area of land has been covered by schemes which have already been approved. I am sure that all Ministers who have been concerned with agriculture will agree that it is extremely important that farmers who are eligible for grant under the Livestock Rearing Act should submit their claims at the earliest possible moment. Perhaps a progress report of this kind will give a chance for people in the neighbourhood to realise whether those who are eligible are really pulling their weight, or not.

There is one point which is exceedingly important if we are to get the additional number of store sheep and store cattle. There can be no doubt that a great many small farmers who went in for milk during the war, when the price was high, would do well to switch over to keeping store sheep and cattle, for which their land is far better suited. It is very poor land as a rule, and is the type of farm which would qualify for grant under the Act. I have discussed this matter with many of these farmers, and I know that they can ill afford to lose the weekly milk cheque. However, I hope that they will realise that dual-purpose farms are not ruled out by the terms of the Act, and if they make this switch-over gradually they should be able to tide over the change from dairy farming to rearing. I believe that the biggest obstacle to this expansion of livestock farming in our upland areas is the farmer's fear—which I heard expressed again and again during my own travels in Wales and in Northern counties—that even with a 50 per cent. grant for his schemes of improvement he will be unable to cover his rising costs. I am very glad that the noble Lord supports me in that contention, because I think it is the whole basis of this livestock expansion programme. The programme will stand or fall according to whether the farmers concerned feel that they really can cover their costs and make a decent living.

I do not suppose that the upland farmers have been as hard hit as the lowland farmers in the higher cost of labour, but they have been much harder hit than their neighbours by the rise in the cost of fertilisers and feeding-stuffs. As time goes on they will feel increasingly the effect of dearer money on their loans from the banks. I feel that it is up to the Government, if they expect this great expansion to take place and the livestock programme to be carried out, to make it worth while for the farmer and the land owner to take the risk of investing more fixed and working capital and spending more on the maintenance of their stock. I am quite convinced that if the Government are not prepared to do this, we shall not get the improvement in our marginal land which is needed to carry this very considerable increase in the number of our livestock population.

I should like to say just one word about one of the largest items in the livestock farmer's bill of costs, which is no less important because it is a limiting factor in livestock expansion. I refer to feeding-stuffs. We cannot expect farmers to keep more livestock unless they can be reasonably certain of getting more winter feed and at a price they can afford to pay. I was very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, laid so much stress upon the importance of a larger amount of winter keep. At the moment, I imagine that they must be feeling extremely anxious about this problem, and they certainly have very good reason to do so. They must realise that imported feeding stuffs are scarce, uncertain and expensive, and that the amount we import is more likely to go down than up. At home, there has been since the war a satisfactory increase in silage and dry grass. Unfortunately, this has been more than set off by the failure to grow more coarse grain crops, owing to the alarming tendency for arable land to revert to grass because farmers must cut their expenditure.

To give one example of a tendency which is general throughout the country, I would point out that the tillage area in Wales fell by 73,000 acres between June, 1950, and June, 1951. That, I cannot help thinking, was one of the things at the back of Lord Lovat's mind when he asked for a restoration of the subsidy for ploughed land. I am quite certain that it is only resolute Government action which can stop this dangerous drift back to grass, and such remedial action will be effective only if it is taken in good time. There is a reasonable chance at least of getting another 500,000 acres ploughed and sown this Spring if the Government will offer a better price for oats and feeding barley. I wanted to make this suggestion now, because it is not too late before the price review for the matter to be considered by the Ministers concerned. But this offer must be made in time and before the ploughing up and sowing has to be done on the land.

I think everyone will agree that there is far too wide a gap between the world's price and the price for home-grown feeding barley. May I just give an example to illustrate this point? Between April and October of last year, imported barley averaged £32 15s. 0d. a ton, while the best price paid by the Ministry of Food for the home-grown article was £26 a ton. Many farmers sold their barley for only £23 a ton. We shall not get the extra acreage of barley required for our livestock unless the buying price for the 1952 harvest is raised, I should say, to at least £30 a ton. An increase of this order would also lessen the gap between the price of feeding barley and malting barley, which is at the moment one of the strongest incentives for farmers to grow barley for the brewers. I hope that all the Ministers concerned, responsible as they may be for England or Scotland, will give this problem of stimulating the production of coarse grains very urgent consideration before they make up their minds about the action to take after the review of farm prices.

Of course, there is another side of the picture which I think in fairness should be mentioned. If these upland farmers are to get the benefit, as we all hope they will, of large grants of public money, agricultural subsidies and guaranteed prices, I am sure that they would be the first to agree that the public is entitled to expect a higher standard of farming. The great majority of farmers are doing a splendid job, but there is a small minority—only a handful—of the farming community who are not pulling their weight. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe—whose opinions on agriculture we all respect—said in a letter to The Times earlier in the month that there are far too many indifferent farmers. Before the war, such farmers would have been removed by bankruptcy or given notice by their landlords. Now they have the security of tenure provided by the 1947 Act. Of course, the Act did not set out, and it was never the intention of the terms of the Act, to encourage or protect bad husbandry. But there is no doubt that a good deal of inefficient farming has sheltered behind it.

In my experience of farm surveys, there has been a certain amount of reluctance to place the weaker brethren in grade C, and too much tenderness towards grade-C farmers who have not mended their ways after a reasonable period of supervision. It is surely a tragic thing that young men with the best agricultural training the country can give, should be kept off the land by people who are not really up to the job. I hope that the Government will consider whether the Act should be amended or tightened up, or whether the desired effect can be obtained—because it is an effect which is desired by a vast majority of the farming community as well as by everyone else—by taking a rather tougher line in the administration of that Act. It is unpleasant to have to say anything disagreeable about people whom we all like and admire, but I think it is in the public interest that these things should be said.

I should like to end on quite a different note. I am sure that there is no one who knows the hill farmers or farm workers and the upland farmers—and, of course, I have only a superficial knowledge compared with that of the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, and of other noble Lords—whether they are North or South of the Border, who does not admire the spirit in which they face up to circumstances which would be far too strenuous and difficult for many ordinary men—the remoteness which deprives them of normal social contacts, the lack of urban comforts and amenities of urban life, the continuous struggle against the poverty of the soil and the harshness of the weather. These are the sort of things which they face up to with really remarkable courage and determination. I am quite certain that to whatever Party we may belong, we wish them the utmost success with their work and their patriotic effort to produce the meat which the nation needs. I should like to say this because I think it is important, and it is not always remembered. I do not think they need be in the least afraid of or lack any confidence about continuity in Government policy. I am certain there is not going to be a change with a change of Government. All Parties wish to do their best by the hill farmers, and all Parties can say, fairly and squarely and with real conviction, that they will not let these farmers down.

4.1 p.m.


My Lords, may I begin by congratulating very sincerely the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, and also the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, on the speeches they have made? I fear that they have not left much for me to say, but I appreciate greatly all that has fallen from them. I hope that something will be done, particularly for the hill and marginal lands, not only in Scotland but also in England and Wales—I think Lord Lovat wanted to include the two latter countries, and after all, this matter concerns all three countries. Every acre, whether marginal or otherwise, is capable of producing more than it is producing now. I have spoken to many of the best farmers in the country and asked them their opinion on this, and they have all said emphatically that the land could produce much more. I am convinced, then, that we can produce a very great deal more from our land. We all like our beef and mutton and other meat. But if we are to get it it means that money will have to be found. It is certain that we cannot get this meat without the expenditure of more capital, and I hope that that capital will be forthcoming.

I want the people of this country to understand the position. There are two lines of thought regarding food. One is that there is a world shortage, while the other casts doubt upon that opinion. There should not be any doubt left in the minds of the people, if the matter is properly put to them. They will be behind any Government in efforts to provide the food which is so vitally necessary. I hope, therefore, that efforts will be made to ensure that the man in the street knows the position. For many years the population of the world has been increasing at a greater rate than the production of food: I believe it has been beating the food production rate by nearly 3 per cent. To me the outlook is a very dangerous one. How are the people to be fed? There is no doubt that at present many millions of people are eating the very grains—the coarse grains—which the cattle used to eat. That is one reason why we are very short of feeding stuffs. Take Iraqi barley. At present this costs £41 per ton. At one time we used to buy it at £5 per ton. Maize from Argentina used to cost £3 per ton. To-day that same maize costs over £40 per ton. Of course, this food is going to feed some of the people of Africa when required. That is only right; but the problem still remains. If we look for a moment at the exportable surplus from Australia and the Argentine we find that the surplus has gone down from 25 per cent. of their production to 15 per cent.—and it is getting less year by year.

As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said some months ago, the production of meat, in this country and throughout the world, can continue with the utmost confidence on the part of the producers. Personally, I do not think we shall catch up with the requirements of the human race in our lifetime. What is alarming to me is that even Australia is considering at the present time whether she herself can go on without importing meat. I read in the Press only to-day that the people there are having a meatless day. Those are surely pointers that meat supplies in future, apart from what we can produce ourselves, are going to be meagre. As regards finance, all the money in the world will not buy something that is not there. So we must certainly produce more meat here.

I believe that, given the tools, we farmers in this country can produce £200,000,000 worth more of food than we are now producing. That means about 30 per cent. I believe that that can be done. The saving of money to this country would be tremendous. I am sure that more money invested in this sphere would be money well invested, and I hope the Government will consider whether that can be done. I wish to pay a tribute to the farmers and the farm workers for what has already been done. They have done a grand job, and are still doing so; but, in spite of that, we are still not producing as much as we were two years ago. We are slipping back. More land is going under grass. There is a loss of confidence, and we have to restore that confidence. There is a difficulty so far as labour is concerned, for many men are leaving the land, and I regret to see it. I hope that something can be done about that also. In my opinion, we shall overcome our financial difficulties during the next five years. I do not think there is any doubt at all about that; but I predict that unless something is done immediately to increase home production, we shall be more short of food by that time than we are to-day. We all like a little beef or lamb. I myself like a dish of bacon and eggs, as I have no doubt many other noble Lords also do.

Feeding stuffs are the crux of the trouble. In 1938 we were importing from 8,000,000 to 10,000,000 tons per annum, but now we have dropped to 5,500,000. What I want to see to get us out of one of the greatest difficulties (it is one which has already been mentioned) is a move to persuade the farmers of this country—and they can be persuaded, I am certain—to plough up a further 2,000,000 acres of land. That is a lot. Half a million acres has been suggested. Let us go further than that, and ask for more. Let us ask the farmers to plough up 2,000,000 acres and make it worth their while. Let them have the confidence. It can be done. I do not want to force them. I do not want to say to them: "Now, we are going to have ploughing up orders again." I am certain we can get this done without that. I know farmers. I am a farmer myself. I speak farmers' language. Do not try to drive them. You can lead the farmers anywhere, and they will follow you, provided that they are given the right lead. I therefore hope the Government will give the farmers the lead which will enable us to get that 2,000,000 acres of ploughed up land, which would give us 2.000.000 more tons of feedingstuffs. With that added to the 5,500,000 tons we should be out of many of our difficulties. We should be able to get those eggs and bacon—and there might he just a little hit of pork thrown in. That could all happen.

I will not detain your Lordships longer. I have gone a little astray, but I want to conclude by saying this. The biggest battle in the history of our country is on at the present time—that is, the battle for food. That is the most important battle of all Thank God we are in time! We can win that battle, but there is not a moment to lose. In winning, that battle, we must make use of every acre of land in this country, including the hill and marginal land.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of your Lordship's House, I have very great pleasure in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, on his maiden speech. I am sure that I speak for all of us when I say that it was with great pleasure and interest that we listened to him. Lord Hungarton is himself a practical farmer, and as we listened to him we realised that he spoke from knowledge of farming affairs not only in this country but elsewhere. I am sure your Lordships would wish me to say how much we hope that Lord Hungarton will often be able to take part in the debates in your Lordships' House. As a Scotsman, I think another rather interesting event is worth noting to-day. For the first time in the history of your Lordships' House, we have had present—which I think is a great compliment to the noble Lord, Lord Lovat—not only the Secretary of State for Scotland but also the Under-Secretary, Mr. McNair Snadden, in addition to the noble Earl, Lord Home, on the Front Bench. This must be the first occasion on which these three Ministers of Scotland have listened to a debate in your Lordships' House together. It is a very good omen for the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, to know the interest which is taken in this subject.

I have listened with the greatest interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, for nobody has more experience that he has in this matter of hill farming. If I may occupy a short time, I should like to touch on a question which arises naturally out of the improvement of hill lands, and probably even more on the question of marginal lands, but about which the noble Lord did not speak so much, although it was included in his Motion—I refer to the question of drainage. Obviously, if you are going to improve hill lands and marginal lands for food production, the first thing that has to be considered is the question of draining them. The effect of draining the hill lands is, of course, considerable on the lands below, where we have not only the farming lands but also the large acreage that the Forestry Commission are improving, and in many cases draining with these big drains made by machinery. The result of this is that the water is run very much more quickly into the rivers, and the effect on the rivers below is bound to be considerable. The point whether the water does run more quickly is, I find, somewhat disputed. Some of the experts say that if you drain land it becomes more like a sponge, and is able to absorb more water, so that the effect on the rate of flow is not so great. On the other hand, people who live on the rivers—and here I mention particularly the owners in the west of Scotland—find that, where those drainage schemes have been carried out on the hill lands, the water comes down a great deal more rapidly. It is a well-known rule, accepted I think by experts, that the greater the velocity of water, the more mud and other matter there is carried down, which of course blocks up and forms new beds in the river below. Those beds forming below are apt to cause damage to the banks, and damage to the banks is a difficult problem.

It is difficult to find a remedy for this, but we are fortunate in having the noble Earl, Lord Home, to reply to-day, for he knows as much about the rivers in Scotland as anybody does. The effect of the velocity of the water is borne out by the Heneage Report. Perhaps I may read to your Lordships one paragraph from that Report, paragraph 83 (4). which says: Pending conclusive evidence to the contrary, the Panel are of the opinion that schemes which reduce flooding by channel improvement or by the improvement of control structures may result in increased flood peaks downstream, and such works should only be undertaken with due regard to the effects downstream and the benefits likely to accrue, particularly bearing in mind that the cumulative effect of numerous improvements to ditches, watercourses, streams and rivers may be substantial in the lower reaches. That was the finding of the Heneage Report: that these drainage schemes had a considerable effect on the streams lower down. I can only express the hope that the Department of Agriculture, when they are considering the approval of grants for drainage up on the hills, and the Forestry Commission, when they are carrying out their new forestry improvements by drainage, will give thought to the people who are responsible for the rivers below.

May I say one word about the Duncan Report? Scottish Peers will have read the Duncan Report, so I need not go into it in any detail. However, I think it raises one or two problems. Lord Lovat's Motion to-day has raised the question of the world food position, and I need not say anything about the importance of food production in this country at the present time. That has been urged, as strongly as they can urge it, by most of the leaders in Parliament in the last few weeks, so that one is concerned with what must be done to improve food production at home. The Duncan Report was published in December, 1949 (that is, over two years ago) and one of the findings was to the effect that the statutory powers of the Department of Agriculture are quite unsatisfactory. The Committee recommend that one authority should be responsible for drainage, that authority being the Secretary of State, acting through the Department of Agriculture. They recommend that the Department should prepare schemes for arterial drainage and stress the importance of the maintenance of those schemes.

The Committee go on to point out, however, that, under the present legislation in Scotland, £10 an acre on the land benefited is the maximum that can be spent, and that that sum is totally inadequate. So I think it is true to say that at the present time new schemes have ceased to be inaugurated. Some of the schemes that the Department have carried out have been very good; others, I think they admit, have been a failure. But these schemes that have been a failure have proved one thing—namely, that if you have not enough money to carry out the scheme properly it is much better left alone. I am told that where a scheme has been a failure, it is because the Department have not been able to carry out the scheme as they would have liked because the money at their disposal is limited to £10 an acre. The point I make is that until there is new legislation, it is impossible for the Department to carry out the schemes which should be carried out, and they are at a standstill. The amount of land mentioned in the Duncan Report as having suffered from inadequate arterial drainage is 140,000 acres. The Committee say that there are probably 200,000 acres altogether, but they have listed 140,000 acres in their Report as being in need of arterial drainage—that is not hill land, but marginal land and good land. It is suffering from inadequate drainage. It seems to me a sad thought that at the present time we are prevented from carrying out this work because there is no satisfactory legislation.

I want to raise only one other point with regard to the Duncan Report, and perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Home, will deal with it. As I have said, the Duncan Report recommends that there should be one drainage authority in Scotland, and that that authority should be the Secretary of State, working through the Department of Agriculture. The Duncan Committee asked the Scottish Landowners' Association to appear before them and to give evidence. The Scottish Landowners' Association said: In considering what machinery must be set up to carry out further large-scale drainage work, the Federation are of the opinion that the responsibility for arterial drainage work should be taken out of the hands of the Department of Agriculture and transferred to a Central Drainage Board. They go on to say: The Board would be charged with the responsibility of carrying out all arterial drainage work, and would act on the recommendation of the Agricultural Executive Committees. So they both came back to the agricultural executive committee. It was suggested to me on Monday, at the meeting in Edinburgh of Scottish Peers, that it would be interesting and helpful if we in Scotland could know whether the Secretary of State liked the suggestion of the Duncan Committee, that the Secretary of State should be the authority, or whether he preferred the suggestion of the Scottish Landowners' Association that there should be a Central Drainage Board. Perhaps the noble Earl will be able to tell us that. I will not take up more of your Lordships' time. I hope that I have not brought up something that has nothing to do with Lord Lovat's Motion. I think the two hang together, and certainly food production is very much included. I do hope that the noble Earl, Lord Home, will be able to tell us that the Government intend to take action under the Duncan Report. So far as I am aware, nothing has been done for two years, and I think the matter is one of national importance.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, debates in your Lordships' House on subjects like this are always, if I may say so, a help to the Government of the day, because experts who really know what they are talking about appear from all quarters. We are again greatly indebted to Lord Lovat this afternoon for bringing, as he did two years ago, his experiences to your Lordships' House, especially at this time, as it is on the eve of what is called the February Price Review, and also at a time when the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made his very serious statement about capital expenditure. To those of the noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, I should like to add my congratulations to Lord Hungarton on his maiden speech

Although farmers are often supposed always to be asking for something, whether, as in Scotland, for subsidies, or, as elsewhere, for higher prices for their produce, it is a fact that at this time food production should be regarded as a second line of defence. Your Lordships will all agree that if a country is overrun it is impossible for that country to carry on, so defence must be our first line. But I think exports and food production should be our second line, and I should like to ask the noble Earl, Lord Home, to put before His Majesty's Government the fact that it is most essential that they should consider the question of priorities, a word which seems to have appeared a great deal during and since the war.

In Scotland, there are three competing interests for the land. You have agriculture, the Forestry Commission and the Hydro-Electric board. I was rather surprised the other day, after listening to Mr. Butler's statement in another place about the necessity for conserving our capital resources, that a proposition should be put forward to allow the Hydro-Electric Board to spend up to another £100,000,000. I felt it rather inappropriate that that should have come immediately after Mr. Butler's statement. There is no doubt that hydro-electricity is essential, and that cheap electricity is essential. I agree with that. But there is also no doubt that immense sums of money are being wasted by the Hydro-Electric Board. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, this afternoon, that the Loch Alfric scheme may cost two and a half times the original estimate. Frankly, that does not surprise me, because those of your Lordships who are associated with industry will know that labour costs, materials costs, and the cost of steel work and everything else, have gone up enormously. But I cannot help feeling that there is a lot of waste in the hydro-electric schemes. Only two days ago I heard that in the carrying out of the Loch Quoich scheme, which is somewhere near my land, of Knoydart, though only a small proportion of my land is being flooded, a very high dam is being built at the East end of Loch Quoich and they have now got to build at the West end another dam, which was not originally projected, to prevent the water running down over my land into the sea. Whether that is true or not I do not know. I am not accusing anyone of stupidity, as it is just a rumour that I heard. If it should be correct, however, it will be another instance of many more hundreds of thousands of pounds having to be spent, and further proof of what a great deal of money is being spent by the Hydro-Electric Board.

With regard to the Forestry Commission, I would endorse Lord Lovat's opinion that it is essential that they should plant up all their devastated woodlands before taking away land which can be utilised for stock. I think all noble Lords will agree with me that it is up to the Department of Agriculture and the other Departments in St. Andrew's House, together with the Ministers concerned, to make up their minds whether food production is the most important of the three or whether it is not. I suggest that the Forestry Commission and the Hydro-Electric Board might, perhaps, be given second and third places, for a time at any rate. Up to now, they have had a large amount of money—far more than the farmers have had. I hope that the roles will be to some extent, reversed.

One thing which pleases me very much is this. Governments come and Governments go, but they are all equally interested in the success and prosperity of agriculture. We have had two speeches to-day from the Opposition Benches, and I should like to say, on behalf of noble Lords on this side of the Chamber, that we agree with our noble friends opposite and they agree with us. I do not wish to pose as a prophet, but in July, 1941, when we were sitting in one of the temporary Houses of the Lords, I moved that an agreed long-term policy for agriculture is essential in the interests of the nation. That was supported by the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, whose passing we so much regret, by the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, and by speakers of all Parties. It was made clear on all sides that agriculture was not regarded as a Party political subject. I do not think that was by any means the first time when the opinion was expressed that agriculture should be kept out of Party politics. But it pleases me very much, having moved that resolution—which was passed nemine contradicente—to find speakers taking the same point of view to-day.

Lord Lovat has gained his experience in Scotland, and one cannot help thinking that it may be one's duty to put forward a few points arising out of one's own experience. I think that one of the most important matters brought up by Lord Lovat was the question of freight charges. I happen to own some land in the Hebrides and I also own land where I farm and raise sheep and cattle on the West Coast. I can assure your Lordships that the high charges for freights prove a tremendous deterrent to everyone affected—crofters, land owners, farmers and others in out of the way places. Lord Lovat's estate is situated in what, compared to mine, is a comparatively civilised area. He lives in a very urban district near Beauly. In order to get my cattle and sheep to the market it is necessary first to put them into a small boat, then on to one of Messrs. David MacBrayne's steamers by which they go to the Kyle of Lochalsh. From there, they travel by railway to Dingwall. They have either to walk or to be carried by lorry before they get to the place at Dingwall where the sale is held. Now all that costs roughly five shillings a head for sheep—five shillings to get each sheep to market. If it happens in my case, it must, of course, happen in that of other people whose farms are in distant places. Indeed, in a number of cases, the cost must be even higher. I am thinking particularly of people in the Outer Isles.

I hope that in the new negotiations which are shortly to take place between the Government and, for instance, Messrs. David MacBrayne, British Railways and other transport undertakings, the question of what has been called "Post Officeisation" of freights will be looked into very seriously. If you could put your sheep on some conveyance—much as you post a letter—not with a 2½d. stamp but upon payment of, say, half-a-crown, wherever you may be, for it to be transported to the market, I am sure that that would be an immense help to the outlying districts. I do not say that it is possible, but I hope that His Majesty's Government will go into the question very seriously indeed. It is a matter which is of great importance if we want to repopulate the Highlands and the outlying districts generally. At the present time, one of the chief deterrents is the high cost of getting stock to market. Another great deterrent is the high cost of getting hay and other feeding-stuffs to the farms. We have heard from Lord Lovat this afternoon that it costs £26 a ton to get hay in the Outer Isles. I quite believe that. If I may say so, the same applies in the case of coal and in the case of groceries also. I hope that the Government will look into this matter very seriously indeed. I put it almost first in the points which I desire to make to-day, with a view to increasing the stock-carrying capacity of the Highlands. I was surprised and horrified to hear what Lord Lovat said about lorries going one way loaded and not being allowed to carry loads on the return journey. I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Home, and his colleagues, will look into that. In my case the position is this. I have a small lorry which I use to fetch my sheep or cattle, if I intend to send them to sale by land instead of by sea, and on the outward journey I send hay with the lorry from my farms on the East Coast to Mallaig. It is rather depressing to hear that lorries cannot bring back return loads, as Lord Lovat has described.

There is one point upon which I must be very definite, and that is, that wintering is the key to the whole of the production of the Highlands. You can discuss the Forestry Commission, the hydro-electric schemes, or anything else, but the Highlands really can produce only the amount of sheep or cattle which they can winter. I think Lord Lovat is fortunate in that his cattle can spend the summer at Glen Strathfarrar and can then come down and winter at Beaufort. Some of us are not so fortunate. Our cattle have to go further from their summering to their wintering. It is necessary to have somewhere where you can winter your young cattle and winter your hoggs. For those English noble Lords who do not understand the word "hoggs," I may explain that it means lambs of the last season. I have been sending my lambs for wintering to farms which I have on the Black Isle, and I have come to the conclusion that it is better for me to send my calves of the last year to winter in the Black Isle rather than transport hay to them, because of the cost of transport. But not everyone has a farm on high land and also a low-ground farm for wintering. Of course, if one has, that is ideal.

But in the interests of those who have not such convenience for wintering away, I ask whether it would not be possible to make arrangements in the more accessible parts of Scotland for high ground areas to be let to lowland farmers, so that they could send their young cattle to summer there. Obviously, they cannot send milking cows, but young cattle could be sent up to the highlands for summering, and thus, the fields would be freed from cattle during the summer, and the owners of the land would have them to make hay. This means they would get it both ways. Of course, this is a question of planning, but farmers are conservative and allergic to planning, and I think it would be helpful if something could be done to encourage farmers to send their young cattle to the hills during the summer and so enable them to cut more hay in the lowlands and thus winter a larger head of cattle. With regard to sheep, it is very necessary to winter hoggs in the lowlands. I have tried wintering them at home, with unfortunate results. I have been farming at Knoydart for twenty years. I have made a profit in three years and losses in seventeen, so it is not a very attractive proposition. It shows what a hard time farmers in the Highlands have had during the last twenty years, even with subsidies of all kinds, and I quote my own financial results to show that.

As I have said, farmers are conservative. I have seen farmers and crofters in the Western Isles, where there is a very high rainfall, making hay, and it is a most depressing sight. Last year I made about 100 tons of silage and I wonder whether the Department could not encourage farmers in the West to make more silage. In the past they have been rather against the making of silage. I had one steward who told me that if we gave our cows silage, they would all slip their calves. Of course, that is quite ridiculous. But there is a certain prejudice against silage. There is also a prejudice against pigs, although this is not so great as it was and the number of pigs is increasing. I hope that many more farmers and crofters in the Highlands will keep a pig or two, if they can get something to keep them on. It is possible for a few people to combine and use their garden produce and waste swill to keep pigs. But people have an idea that everything is too strictly controlled. They have to get a licence to kill their pigs. I would suggest to the Government that they should go into the question of seeing how far these restrictions on pig-keeping can be dispensed with. Recently I returned from a business trip to Germany, where my host in Frankfurt, after lunch, said that he knew that we were very badly off for food in England, and could be give me a ham to take back? We did win the last war and it is rather depressing to take back a ham from the country over whom we were victorious. But they have no restrictions on pig-keeping in Germany and they can feed them, kill them, sell them or eat them. If the restrictions were relaxed, I believe we could have far more pigs bred in this country. I find in England and in Ireland that fodder beet, which originally came from Denmark, is an excellent food for pigs, and I hope that if the farmers in Scotland can be induced to keep some more pigs, they may be advised to try fodder beet.

I do not want to detain your Lordships much longer, but there is one point which I must mention. I have heard lately that bankers, no doubt on the instructions or on the advice of the Treasury, are getting less friendly towards farmers regarding their overdrafts. Many farmers have to farm, at any rate during part of the year, on overdrafts. I was rather disturbed to hear the other day that a Scottish farmer, who was just about to get his sheep stock up to 2,000 head and his cattle up to a good number, was told by his bankers that they were sorry, but his overdraft would have to be carefully looked into and reduced. In view of the fact that the Hydro-Electric Board have recently been given leave to borrow another £100,000,000, it is a pity that that sort of thing is happening. Luckily, it has not happened with my bankers and I am very much obliged to them. I hope that bankers who take a rather parsimonious view on overdrafts will reform their ideas.

I come to the subject of labour. It is a matter of increasing difficulty in Scotland—and I may add I find it the same in England and in Ireland—to get farm labour. For years there has been a drift to the towns, which is caused to a certain extent by the present educational policy of closing rural schools. The noble Lord, Lord Lovat, has mentioned that, and I should like to support him strongly. If we send small children to the bright lights of the towns to be educated, they will be much more reluctant to follow their father's profession in agriculture. This is especially true in the Highlands. It is impossible to get people to live on certain parts of my own estate because there is no school, no cinema, and the amenities are not what the wives particularly would like. In one part I have to keep a wether stock of sheep and have to look after them from a long distance because I cannot get a shepherd to live there. The house has a bathroom and three bedrooms, a kitchen and a sitting room, but it remains unoccupied. Something should be done to improve amenities in the Highlands and Islands. No doubt the noble Earl, Lord Home, will say that it would cost a great deal of money. I realise that, but it would pay to invest a small amount in amenities.

I should like to add the weight of what experience I have to Lord Lovat's plea for a revision of subsidies. I think the hill calf subsidy of £7 has been most helpful, but for those who have to buy hay it is not enough. I hate to be here speaking as a suppliant for more money from the Government, but it is a question of producing food, and financial encouragement has to be given to farmers, because it is remarkable how even the most illiterate farmer will know by instinct that growing a certain crop or rearing a certain animal will pay better than growing another crop or rearing another kind of animal. As the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, said, we must encourage farmers by leading them, and if we can make the carrot or the piece of sugar a bit bigger we shall be able to induce them to try new methods all the more quickly. I am sure that the question of subsidies needs to be gone into very thoroughly. It is certainly most unfortunate and unfair that the breeder should not get the calf subsidy. Arising out of that, I very much hope that the heifer subsidy will be started again. I was talking to my farm manager in Scotland early this morning, and he told me that many heifer calves have been killed in the last year or so since the heifer subsidy was discontinued. We want the heifers to breed the future increased stock.

There is only one other point I wish to raise, and that in the past has been a very controversial one. However, as Lord Lovat mentioned reindeer, I might mention the ordinary red deer. The red deer has always been a very political animal, and most unpopular, but there are certain parts of the Highlands where, if you cannot get shepherds to look after sheep, and if the land is not really suitable for sheep, deer do produce a good deal of venison in the course of a year—I cannot tell your Lordships just how much, because I do not know, but I have a good idea of the surprisingly large weight of venison produced annually. I should like to suggest that the worst thing that can happen to the deer is that they should be poached at all times of the year, including times when they are out of condition. The meat is quite worthless when stags are shot in the winter. Lots of hinds are being poached from the roads round the West Coast, with headlights, rifles, tommy guns and so on, and they are poached at times when the meat is quite worthless. I should like to ask the noble Earl, Lord Home, to go seriously into the question of making a close season for deer. I am against allowing deer to plunder crops in the lowlands, and they must either be kept out or shot if they do so. But there are large parts of the West Coast where there are no crops for them to plunder, and at present they are being poached indiscriminately.

I feel sure that with a certain amount of wise planning, and with the support of agriculturists in the Highlands and the Lowlands, a great increase in food production can be achieved. Before sitting down, I wish to mention another country, which was originally my family's native land and where I farm—namely, Ireland. I mention that country only because it is most appropriate to the debate this afternoon. Ireland, like other countries, takes a nationalist view of its own resources and its own agricultural production—and it is quite right to do so. But in the past Ireland has been an exporter of store cattle. My farm tenants in Berwickshire, and people all over Scotland and England, have yarded Irish cattle which they bought. There is in Ireland at the moment a definite trend towards killing their cattle at home, to sell the meat either chilled or canned, and to keeping their offals, hooves, hides and so on, for their own purposes. That trend has started. As I go to Ireland quite frequently, and I know of new factories being opened there, I feel I should warn His Majesty's Government that this is starting, and that there are people in Ireland who say—I know that Irish people are most optimistic—that in three years' time there will be very few store cattle coming to England or Scotland. Being an Irishman myself, I know that the Irish exaggerate at times, but I feel that this is a trend which His Majesty's Government ought to look into carefully. Arising out of that, what part of the country is better able to produce and breed store cattle than the parts of Scotland which the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, and I have mentioned this afternoon? The Highlands really must take the place of Ireland for store cattle. If the Irish store cattle coming to this country are reduced in numbers, or even cease to come altogether, their place has to be filled, for the Lowland farmers must have cattle for fattening and making manure in the winter. I believe it is more essential than ever that Lord Lovat's policy for raising cattle in the Highlands should be proceeded with as energetically as possible.

I was sorry to hear—and I know of it myself—that small calves fetch very bad prices in the autumn, or do not sell at all. That is one reason why I send my small calves to my Lowland farms to spend the winter, then send them back to the West, and after the second or third year sell them off the good grazing in the West straight to the butchers. If each crofter and farmer in the West Highlands could keep a larger number of breeding cows, and could be certain of a market for his calves in October, it would be much better than for him to keep the calves through the winter, half starved, as they sometimes are, and then to retain them until the next summer before selling them. If consideration could be given to the question of creating in some way in the autumn, a market for these small calves, thus enabling each crofter to keep one extra breeding cow, I believe production would increase enormously. I am afraid I have spoken for too long. I have nothing more to say, except that I wish to support everything which noble Lords have said here this afternoon. I think the new Government, with new minds on this subject, have a great opportunity, which I hope they will take courageously and increase the production of food in the Highlands and all over the British Isles.

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure those of your Lordships who have not had the opportunity of speaking this afternoon would like me to voice congratulations to my noble friend Lord Lovat for the challenging, agreeable and informed way in which he introduced his Motion. We are particularly indebted to him at this time for introducing a Motion calling attention to ways and means in which we may increase our meat supplies. That very elusive object which does duty for the week-end joint is a regular reminder that our meat supplies are utterly inadequate. When we look to our traditional sources of supply abroad which used to supplement our home produce, we find that they are not only becoming less and less reliable, but that the produce is becoming more and more costly. In those circumstances, an expansion in the output at home of pigs, mutton and beef, not only is desirable, but becomes a national necessity.

Noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon have concentrated their attention upon two features—namely, the necessity to create more feeding-stuffs from our own fields, and the necessity to raise more meat. That would seem to be common sense, and, being common sense, it follows that it is the policy of His Majesty's Government. Although my noble friend Lord Lovat and your Lordships will understand that I cannot announce any new and practical measures this evening, I can say that all these matters are being given the most urgent inspection in preparation for the February Price Review which is about to take place. I hope none of your Lordships will feel, merely because I cannot announce any specific measure this afternoon, that any of these matters is being neglected.

The Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, refers specifically, of course, to the Highland area. I want straight away to give to your Lordships a slightly wider horizon, because certain inquiries and surveys have been made, and it has been roughly calculated that if we could bring into absolutely full production all our upland farms, then we could increase our cattle or our sheep by some 400,000 head, representing some 130,000 tons of high-quality meat. I think your Lordships will agree that that is a target which is well worth going for. Let me return for a moment, if I may, to the narrower picture of the Highlands, which, after all, is a great area of mountain, hill and glen and which is capable of considerably increased production. I would maintain this proposition, I think with your Lordships consent: that a first essential in these remoter country districts is to retain the people on the land. The noble Lord made some contrasts between the present date and the nineteenth century, but one of the greatest contrasts is the difference in the number of people in the Highlands between then and now. I feel that we cannot retain the people in these remote country areas unless they are assured of the basic services such as housing, water supply, electricity and roads. Unless they have them they will not stay, and if they do not stay, then no agricultural expansion policy can possibly succeed.

Now I want to give your Lordships a picture to show that the Highlands is not a place which is being neglected at the present time. I do not want the people who are in the Highlands now to feel that it is, because it is not so, nor do I want the people who may be thinking of returning there to feel it. So far as housing is concerned, since 1945 there have been 5,500 permanent houses and 1,200 temporary houses built—that is in the Highlands and Islands. Last year, 1,041 permanent houses were built and this year 2,000 are under construction and another 1,500 have received preliminary approval. I give this absolute assurance: that provided materials come in regular supply, there will be no slowing down. On the contrary, there will be an acceleration of housing in the Highlands. The noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, asked me about drainage. As the noble Lord knows, there is a 50 per cent. grant for the ordinary drainage on the farm. The noble Lord, however, was talking more about arterial drainage, and if he does not mind I shall say only this on that subject, because we are now in the middle of conversations about possible legislation for the future. These schemes of arterial drainage are extremely expensive and require great capital outlay. If we are to achieve success, there will need to be a co-operative effort by the Government, the local authorities and the agricultural community. It is on that co-operative line that we are seeking a solution of this very difficult and expensive problem.

Now a word about electricity, another of the amenities which, in these days, has become almost a necessity. The Hydro-Electric Board—and I will say more about the necessity for co-operation at a later stage in my speech—in the seven crofting counties is at present generating 100,000 kilowatts. That never meant much to me—I do not know whether it does to your Lordships—but, in more homely terms, it means that there are 78,000 new consumers, representing 270.000 persons, who have electric light for the first time, and three-quarters of those consumers are in the rural areas. May I give your Lordships the programme for 1952? It is this. Another 19,000 consumers will be connected, and that number will include 950 farms. I think that is a valuable point, because in these days when, as the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, has said, labour is particularly short, electricity can be of extra value.

I now come to deal with roads and freights. I know only too well that if there could be a big programme of road improvement, particularly on the unclassified roads in the Highlands, nothing could bring greater economic benefits to the Highlands and Islands, and the Government will never lose sight of that fact. At this particular moment, of course, road construction is one of the most expensive of all constructions, but even so, in the Highlands this year a maintenance grant is being made of £380,000, and the Department of Agriculture's programme on the unclassified roads is one in the nature of £325,000—nothing like enough and nothing like so much as I, or anybody else, should like to see, but still a good deal. The noble Lord, Lord Brocket, spoke about freights. Now freight charges are, of course, a matter largely for the Transport Commission, but strong recommendations have been made to the Transport Commission about the difficulties of those who live and trade in the Highlands. It has been represented strongly to them that it would be a very good thing if their new freight charges, when they are brought out, could include a graded rate to suit the Highland producers.

A point was raised about the closing of country schools. I have already brought this up with the Education Department, because I have always felt that taking away the children from the countryside is one of the causes of rural depopulation. The problem is not very large at the moment, but I am going to keep a close watch on this aspect of it. The noble Lord, Lord Lovat, said that nobody had ever come to Inverness-shire and offered him £100,000, arid it is not likely that I shall do so either. But he must not under-estimate the benefit which has come to the county areas from what is called the Exchequer Equalisation Grant. Apart from grants for specific purposes and specific services, £1,000,000 is going to the crofting counties this year from the Exchequer Equalisation Grant. There has been a slight digression from the main theme of this debate—which is, increasing our food supplies—but I consider it to be an essential digression because, as I say, I do not want, and the Secretary of State does not want, to see the people of the Highlands looking upon their area as one which is doomed and an area in which we are acquiescing in further depopulation. The people may surely feel that practical measures are being taken, and will continue to be taken, for the rehabilitation of their countryside, and they may pursue their agricultural and industrial pursuits in the knowledge that the essential services and the essential market links will be constantly improved.

I now come to closer grips with my noble friend's particular theme. He seemed at one moment to be drawing an analogy between the fall in the number of animals in the Highlands and the rise in the number of officials at St. Andrew's House. As I listened to him, I could not help remembering the man and his wife who went to a lecture about tendencies in world population. After they left they hesitated a very long time before they added to their family of four, because they learned that every fifth child born into the world was a Chinaman. I do not quarrel with the noble Lord's figures at all, but when one is quoting figures it is probably a good thing to make sure that one draws right conclusions. Therefore, although I am not going to claim much for the figures which I am giving now, I tried to select them to enable your Lordships to draw conclusions as to the tendencies in our meat production in Scotland and the possibilities for the future.

The first year for which official statistics really became reliable—if they ever are reliable—was 1870, and I am going to compare the years 1870, 1939 and 1951 because they are revealing. In Scotland in 1870 there were 6,750,000 sheep; in 1939, there were 8,700,000; and in 1951 there were 6,800,000—in other words, they were hack to the 1870 figure. In England and Wales there were 21,700,000 in 1870; 18,000,000 in 1939, and 12,500,000 in 1951. In the North of Scotland—that is, the hill areas—there were in 1870, 3,700,000; in 1939, 4,100,000; and in 1951, 3,700,000—curiously enough, the same figure as in 1870. We notice two interesting tendencies here. The first is that much the greatest fall has been in England and Wales; and the second is that in the hill areas in Scotland the flocks have retained their strength to a remarkable degree. There was a substantial fall between 1939 and 1951, largely owing to three very hard winters. Through the ewe subsidy we are able to measure the strength of the hill stocks, and in spite of the harsh winters in the period, the number of ewes and gimmers between 1941 and 1951 rose by 96,000—very nearly 100,000. The hill sheep, on the whole, showed greater resistance than those on low ground.

Now, should we have two good breeding seasons the number of sheep in Scotland should rise from 6.9 million in June, 1951, to 7.5 million in June, 1953. As the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, said, the main areas of our hill farming land have been devoted to sheep grazing. I think it is being generally recognised that specialisation on sheep over a long period leads to a deterioration of pastures. A judicious percentage of cattle run with the sheep and eating down the coarse grasses has been shown to improve the quality of the pastures, so that more sheep can be carried. We shall get more beef and, if the pastures are improved, we shall get more mutton. We hope that these schemes will be extended, and we will do everything we can to encourage them, because, as Lord Lovat has said, sheep and cattle are complementary to each other.

I should like now to say a word about cattle. In the seven crofting counties in 1870 there were 213,000 grazing cattle, and in 1951 there were 251,000. In Scotland as a whole there were 1,041,000 in 1870, and 1,600,000 in 1951. We are not satisfied with these figures: far from it; we want more, and there are two ways of getting more. The first is to encourage the small man to breed and keep on the croft one or two more calves. It is true that the true bull farms can seldom carry calves as well as breeding cows, because of the shortage of arable land and general lack of shelter. But, with encouragement, more can be bred. A second promising development is that of the cattle ranching system which has been described by Lord Lovat this afternoon. He is hopeful, and I think he is right. Being a sensible man, however, he realises the difficulties. There are many problems still to be solved. First, the rancher must have plenty of land and enough capital. Secondly, there is the problem of wintering out. I am not going to make any comments on the possibilities of some new method of helping farmers in the matter of wintering out greater numbers in the hill country. But the noble Lord has put forward certain proposals which we will examine now. I hope he will bring them to the notice of the Hill Lands Commission under the Chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and get the benefit of their consideration. Under their terms of reference, the Commission are specially charged with the task of: … recommending any extension of existing powers and services and of furthering the speedy development of the area for cattle rearing. It would be appropriate, therefore, if the noble Lord would consult the Commission and put his views before them. I have no doubt that Lord Balfour of Burleigh will not be unwilling to turn to the Highland area rather than the sterling area, which has occupied so much of his time in recent months.

I now give the list—I can hardly do more—of legislation which is designed to assist hill farming in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, in a maiden speech the excellence of which, I am sure, derived partly from his Scottish parentage, has called attention to the fact that it is very necessary that for this class of farming, as for any other, policy, when announced, should give a sense of confidence and continuity to the farmer. Well, my Lords, we have already a number of Acts on the Statute Book. There is the Hill Farming Act of 1946, which is, of course, aimed largely at helping the true hill sheep farmer. It was extended in 1951 by the Livestock Rearing Act. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked whether I could give him any indication of progress made under this Act. I have been looking at this matter almost exclusively from the Scottish angle, but I will do my best to give United Kingdom figures. The number of schemes approved in the United Kingdom under the Livestock Rearing Act and the Hill Farming Act together is 4,200. The number of holdings affected is 5,200. The acreage is 3,600,000 acres, and the cost is £9,900,000. There are under consideration something like another 1,000 applications. Those are the figures for the United Kingdom. In Scotland, under these two Acts there are 1,025 of what we call "live" schemes. Therefore, although times are very difficult for landlords and tenants of this kind of farm, they are making every effort to improve and re-equip the farms on the upland areas.

In addition, of course, there is the marginal agricultural production scheme, which helps land normally unremunerative which the landlord or tenant cannot hope to bring into full cultivation himself. In England, the amount of money spent under the marginal agricultural production scheme has been £1,300,000, and in Scotland £750,000. In addition to these Acts, which are aimed at assisting the hill and marginal land, there is of course the hill sheep subsidy, the hill cattle subsidy, the latest fertiliser subsidy and the lime subsidy. So I think it is true to say that the potential of the hill and marginal land is fully recognised. I repeat, that I cannot announce new policy and new measures to-day, but, if they are needed the Government will not hesitate to bring them in. They are at present considering the whole agricultural policy.

The noble Lord, Lord Brocket, as did other noble Lords, including, particularly, my noble friend Lord Lovat, drew atten- tion to the question of forestry and to the claims of the Forestry Commission and the Hydro-Electric Board upon good agricultural land. I should say one thing in general about forestry; and it is this. It can make a very real contribution to the rehabilitation of the Highlands, but I am fully aware of the problem that my noble friend has put to me. The Secretary of State and I have seen the Forestry Commission. We are examining the problem with them, and I think they will be able to consider the possibility of switching a proportion of their planting in the next ten years from the best land on to the bad land in the West Highlands. If planting can be done in conjunction with the crofting communities, to help the crofting communities in those areas, then we shall get the maximum social and economic advantage.

So far as the Hydro-Electric Board, the Forestry Commission and agriculture are concerned, inevitably if they operate at all they must have some land. The point is that there should not be an unseemly scramble, and that agriculture should not always get the worst of it. Therefore, I personally have been looking at the co-ordination machinery which will be necessary to achieve fair results. As the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, knows, the Highlands Panel has produced a plan for the Highlands, and it is charged with the duty of keeping the Secretary of State constantly informed as to how matters are progressing and what further steps are necessary to be taken. In the Scottish Office, we have various departments co-operating in dealing with various aspects of Highland development. The question which we have to examine is this: Is it necessary to have some new piece of machinery, a new committee, a sort of General Staff, who would coordinate the different plans in different areas? I am doubtful about the wisdom of putting in just a new piece of machinery. Therefore, I have decided that I myself, as Minister of State, will at regular intervals meet the heads of departments, and all concerned with Highland development, and in that way we will keep the Highland development and the Highland plan under regular review. I hope, too, at regular intervals to bring the Highlands Panel and the Scottish Council (Development and Industry), under Lord Bilsland, into regular contact with each other. I am sure that the more they consult with each other the better it will be for the Highlands, because the Scottish Development Council can make some valuable suggestions.

There are two small points that I wish to make before I sit down. The noble Lord, Lord Lovat, said that the Secretary of State is a very large land owner in Scotland. I can assure your Lordships that that is not of his own will: we know too much about being landlords to want to own more land than we need. But we are exploring the possibility of getting rid of as much land as we conveniently can. The noble Lord, Lord Brocket raised the question of deer. We hope to be able to bring in a Bill to deal with the problem of deer-poaching Whether or not it will include the "close" season is a matter for decision. We have left it to the agricultural interests, the National Farmers' Union and the proprietors concerned, to try to work out something that is satisfactory to both sides, so that agricultural interests will not be harmed. I have done my best to cover the ground of all the questions which have been asked by your Lordships in this debate. I will only assure you once more that on this question of growing more of our own feeding-stuffs, and growing more of our own meat at home, we are at one with all your Lordships in trying to bring about that obviously desirable end.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, before asking leave to withdraw my Motion, I should like to congratulate the Minister of State on his charming reply, on the great skill with which he marshalled his facts and, above all, for the extremely good news which he modestly confined to the last part of his speech when he said that he himself as Minister would coordinate the conflicting claims of the rival parties in what I described as the piecemeal exploitation of remote areas. Speaking as a Highlander, as one of the few who can still live in the home of his fathers, I am very glad, and, on behalf of the farming community, I should like to say: "Thank you very much indeed for this welcome piece of information." I will temper that by saying that I do not, however, entirely agree with him on some of his own figures—although I do not intend going into those in any more detail because it is getting late—about livestock.

I made the initial mistake of confining this debate to the Highlands in particular, confining it too much, perhaps, to Scotland as a whole, and not allowing for the rest of the uplands of the United Kingdom. I feel that the noble Earl perhaps painted too rosy a picture when he implied that sheep stocks had not varied much throughout the past hundred years. As it happens, they have not varied much in Scotland, because Scotland has not had sheep for very long. If we are to remain a nation of meat-eaters (which, pray God, we shall become again), I see that according to my own figures there were 30,000,000 sheep in the United Kingdom in 1874, whereas to-day there are only 19,250,000. Scotland does not carry the blame for that very large discrepancy which, as the noble Earl, Lord Home, said, falls down on the English side of the Border. But what he did get wrong was the cattle population which I referred to and which, I repeat, existed before the days of Departmental calculations.


I agree there. I merely quoted 1870 as a start.


We have records showing that in 1850 155,000 surplus store cattle were sold in one day in the tryst at Falkirk, cattle which were driven out of the crofter counties, where to-day we have only about 45,000 breeding cows. I should like to thank noble Lords for giving me their support this evening. I hope that, now that we have a really bold policy put forward, it will be carried into practice. Hill farming has been a problem, I am told, since the days when Moses was reconnoitring the marginal lands of Canaan with scouts, who were sent out with the instruction: Go forth and bring in the fat and the lean. That problem certainly has not been solved in the interval. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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