HL Deb 05 April 1967 vol 281 cc987-95

4.2 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, perhaps we might now return to the debate which the noble Duke has opened. I should like to draw attention to the fact that his Motion refers to: land use in the Highlands and the rural areas of Scotland, and this gives me an excuse, which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will appreciate, to talk about the Borders, since this, like many other parts of Scotland is a rural area, though it does not happen to be in the Highlands. However, I hope he will not object to my taking part in this debate and dealing with this matter. My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn is going to speak later. Perhaps I might draw the noble Lord's attention, during the course of my not too long remarks, to the Border area which is one, I think he will agree, of equal importance to the Highland area.

Curiously enough, we in the Border are suffering from some of the disadvantages of the Highland area. We have a depopulation rate which is greater than that of the Highlands. I was looking at extracts from the Border Development Plan, from the Government White Paper, and I noticed that in the Border areas, the Eastern and Western regions, our rate of depopulation rises to 10.1 per cent., whereas in the Highland Development counties it is only 5.3 per cent., and the total for Scotland is 4.9 per cent. So depopulation is a considerable problem in the Border area.

We in that area also have a shortage of labour in some of our more important industries, in particular hosiery and tweed making. We are greatly in need of more female labour. This makes for the problem that, if we are going to get more female labour, we also need more male-employing industry in this area. I do not forget, too, that, in spite of the fact that hosiery and the tweed industry employ a great number of people in the Border area, agricultural development in the agriculture and forestry industries still employs many more people than any other single industry in that area. Therefore one has to look at agriculture and forestry together as an extremely important part of the development of the area.

The noble Lord opposite is such a splendid replier on all types and kinds of questions put to him on the subject of Scotland, that I should like here to throw him a little bouquet, and to say that certainly the sheep-rearing industry, which as your Lordships may know I represent, are much more pleased over the Price Review arrangements this year than we have been for a long time. We are to get a considerable amount of help for an industry which in the last two or three years has been going so rapidly downhill as to cause a number of people either to give up or find themselves in the bankruptcy court. We are grateful that this position has been recognised, and that the sheep industry is to receive a considerable amount of help. Some of my friends who are arable farmers complain bitterly about this. They say that we have been favourably dealt with, and they unfavourably dealt with. I leave that criticism for the noble Lord to answer. Certainly the hill men have had a good chance in this Review.

Clearly, the need for all agricultural production is to have an assured market. What I always feel about the White Papers, about the discussions that we have on agriculture, about the National Plans that are put before us by the Government, is that they do not realise that the new methods of production in agriculture—the new machinery, the new fertilisers and the new feedingstuffs—have absolutely revolutionised this industry. When they say that we have to increase production, they put a target so low that, with little effort, we can beat it. If we beat that target, we are then in the difficult position of not being able to sell our produce because there is an overproduction or an under-consumption, whatever you like to call it, and once again we are in "Queer Street".

I would always ask this Government, and indeed any Government, to make up their minds how much imported food they intend to buy, and how much they want to have home produced. If they make up their minds on this point, and say to the home producer, "You must produce X amount of mutton and lamb, and other agricultural produce", we can do it, because of the revolution in the methods of agricultural production, and the increase which it is possible for us to bring about. But the key to the prosperity of agriculture in this country is where our markets are and, at the end of the day what prices we get.

What is criticised in the Agricultural Price Review is that although help has been given to sections of the industry which are, and have been, much in debt and badly "under the weather" in recent years, the price paid for the end product has altered little—a penny on mutton, and I think 10s. on beef; yet at the end of the day this is what controls the price of the produce. This is the criticism which has been made of the Price Review: that it does not look to the end product in the way that it should. However, so far as the Borders are concerned, we are grateful for the fact that our particular type of industry; namely, the sheep-rearing, stock-rearing and cattle-rearing industry, has been given considerable help in this current Price Review.

The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, spoke about forestry. He spoke of forestry working closely with agriculture. I am not going to speak about forestry, because on my own farm I live next door and march with one of the biggest forests in the country. The forest that I march with is in Scotland—Wauchope Forest—but it runs straight over into Kielder Forest, which is one of the largest in the north of England, and indeed in the whole country. One can run agriculture and forestry together. That is perfectly possible. But there are some snags, and I should like to draw the attention of the noble Lord to the snags in this matter.

In these vast forests there are great numbers of roedeer which are supposed to be kept down by Forestry Commission keepers, but owing to the size of the forests the numbers of deer are so large that it is difficult indeed for the keepers to kill a sufficient number. These deer do a great deal of harm to neighbouring farms, such as mine and others. They eat the young trees, they consume the crops, and do tremendous damage. I am for ever complaining about this, and the Forestry Commission people are very agreeable and nice people and do their best to keep them down. Equally, although we hunt and kill a considerable number of foxes, there are still thousands of acres of trees where foxes breed. In the spring time they come out and eat the lambs, and this is a grave disadvantage to anybody farming as near to Forestry Commission areas as many of us have to farm. Although as a hunting person I do not agree with shooting foxes, they have to be kept down in these forestry areas, otherwise one suffers greatly at lambing time. These are two of the disadvantages of trying to farm right next door to an enormous extent of trees and forest.

In the Border area two committees have been appointed to develop the area, and I have one or two questions I should like to put in relation to them. One committee is called the Border Development Committee, which is presided over by a distinguished industrialist from one of the great firms of hosiery manufacturers, Pringle of Scotland. He is an admirable choice as chairman, but I must point out that this committee, which exists in an area employing large numbers of women in industry has not one single woman among the 23 men on the committee.



I have drawn the noble Lord's attention to this before, but there is still not one single woman. I have suggested that the noble Lord might appoint a good trade union woman to the committee, since there are thousands of women in the hosiery industry who are members of trade unions; or that he might appoint someone who is knowledgeable on the subject of technical training, education and so on. I have had little response to my suggestions to him, and I hope that he will look at this matter again.

Although hosiery is one of the main Border activities, agriculture is equally important, and I would stress that there is not a single member of the Border National Farmers' Union on this Committee, and only one agricultural representative—and he comes from Northumberland. I do not want to denigrate the farmers of Northumberland; they are splendid fellows. But I live on the other side of the Border, and the noble Lord knows that this is a very big difference. The frontier we guard between the Borders and the North of England is traditionally a place of much fighting and so on, and although we do not fight now we occasionally have some argument. I suggest that we should see whether or not there should be a representative of the farming industry in the Borders appointed to this Development Committee.

We have another committee, which is presided over by a professor, Professor Johnson-Marshall. He has a small team who are making a survey of the Borders. I am told that this will take two years. In the meantime, those of us who serve on the county council have already been asked to take a major planning decision about developing a new town or a big conurbation near the town of Galashiels, in the Tweed Valley. I objected, and said so on the county council; and others agreed with me that we should have to take this decision without knowing in the least what the full plan for the Borders was going to be. Professor Johnson-Marshall's committee has not reported yet and will not, as I have said, report for about two years. This scheme which we are asked to approve meant changing the original planning scheme which was passed by the Secretary of State some five or six years ago and which included areas of scenic beauty which have been mentioned in this debate. Many of us thought that this was a very satisfactory plan. However, we have now voted for the alteration of this plan—I was very reluctant to do so—with the result that we are now taking an area of scenic beauty in order to build 1,000 houses. I agree that we must do something about the depopulation of the Borders, which is the reason why I was persuaded not to oppose the plan.

But I should have thought that we might first have been given a total picture in order that we should know what we were being asked to do and so that we could see what future was proposed for the whole area. The Border Development Plan is something which will cover the whole area of the Border, not just one county, and we should have liked to be given some idea of how the new plan is going to fit in. We were assured by the Scottish Development Department, whose officials came down and met us, that Professor Johnson-Marshall approved their proposals. However, it all seemed to me very much of a mix-up—a mix-up of authorities. Originally, the county council had a plan for the whole area which was approved. Then along came the Scottish Development Department with a different idea, which we were asked to approve. Then we are told there is to be another committee and that Professor Johnson-Marshall is to make another plan, which will not be ready for two years, and then we shall have to fit all the developments into it. At the end of the day, where do the county councils come in?

I find this all very confusing from the point of view of local government. I have been a member for nearly thirty years of our local council, and I have always believed that the object of local government and local authorities was to work for and develop the area over which they, as democratically elected representatives, have jurisdiction. I know that there are many noble Lords opposite who are strong supporters of local government. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, himself was a higly successful and excellent Lord Provost of Dundee, and there are many other Members on the Government Benches who strongly support local government. Why, therefore, must we have these ad hoc groups put over the top of us—I am now talking as a county councilor—and given authority, when we are the people with whom elected authority resides but who have to toe the line when it comes down to our being presented with plans? I do not know what Lord Hughes feels about this, but I suggest to him that it is not right to undermine or overrule the authority of local authorities by appointing ad hoc bodies when local authorities would be well able to do the job, if asked. Other noble Lords will be talking about the Highland Development Board, about which I know only what I read in the newspapers, but I do not care for the idea of democratically elected members of local government handing over authority to either the Scottish Development Department from St. Andrew's House or to ad hoc bodies appointed by the Secretary of State.

I should like now to come to another point in relation to development of the Borders—and this again is a nail I have hammered hard—the question of transport. We have an important road transport set-up in the Borders. I would not suggest that it is adequate, but it is being improved all the time. We also have a railway, which is the subject of considerable controversy at present with the nationalised Railway Transport Board. At one point we were told that it was to be done away with. Then the Minister of Transport said that that was not so, and that a scheme was to be brought forward which would give us the plans for the railway transport of the country. That scheme was brought forward, and we all have that little map which shows the main line transport.

I was distinctly worried to see that the Waverley line, which is the line which links the Borders with Edinburgh, on the one hand, and with Carlisle, the South and London, on the other hand, is shown merely as a ghostly grey line (not one of those nice, dark black lines which mean that the lines are to be permanent), which according to the rubric on the map means that it is still under dispute.

I would beg the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, to use all the influence he can to try to keep the railway in the Border area, because if we do not, and if we are to bring 25,000 people into this area, we shall have only the roads. The state of the roads at present is quite good, but they are not motorways or anything of that kind. In any case, the roads pass over great hills and boundaries such as Carter Bar and Soutra Hill, which are under snow for a considerable part of the winter, and this makes the railway an absolutely vital link. So I beg the noble Lord. Lord Hughes, with his influence—and I am sure that he has influence with the Ministry of Transport—to speak up for the Border railway as part of the Border development.

My request to the Minister is that he will give me some assurance that county councils will not be overruled by ad hoc non-elected bodies, nor by the Scottish Development Department, and that taking action over and above the heads of the county councils will never happen again. That happened once and we toed the line, but I cannot promise that on another occasion I shall be so accommodating. I ask the Minister to assure me that we shall develop the elected bodies and allow them to exercise their proper functions; that the rural areas shall be developed in the best way possible, which in the opinion of the Border area would still be the development of agriculture and forestry in the first instance. The towns should be developed in conjunction with these industries, and we should have urban development around urban areas, and not urban development breaking in a large way into agricultural areas. Also, it is important that the Forestry Commission and agriculture work very closely together, as they do, but there are difficulties in connection with forestry and agriculture which cannot be overlooked.

I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, pay a tribute to the work of the Scottish Council of Social Service in the rural areas. I have had a long association with this body and it does a splendid job of work. It was very encouraging to hear the noble Lord say nice things about it. Also, when the Countryside Bill comes forward I hope that it will take into account the amenities and beauties of the Border area, in the same way as other areas. We are most anxious to see development in the Borders, and we do not want to hamper it in any way. We think that consultation with local authorities is the best way to get the good will of the people, rather than using these ad hoc bodies, which is apparently one of the ways in which the present Government think they will develop Scotland. I am afraid that I do not agree with them.