As I was saying before we were called to another place, in pursuance of this arrangement․I was dealing with the veterinary service․one of the Minister's deputy chief officers is now stationed in Edinburgh, and I have arranged to provide accommodation for him and his headquarters near me in St. Andrew's House alongside my own Department. I was pointing out that if I am to secure the fullest advantage from the new arrangements, I consider it essential that the Minister's staff, and my own, should work in close proximity to one another. I can assure the Committee that this meets with the cordial approval of my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Agriculture.
I should like to refer shortly to some other factors affecting agricultural production. Let me take the question of machinery. The use of machinery for agriculture increased enormously during the war. We all realised the benefits of this advancing mechanisation, and it is unfortunate that, at this critical period, progress has been temporarily checked. Much of our agricultural machinery came from overseas, and with the cessation of Lend Lease and mutual aid arrangements imports had to be drastically reduced. Now, owing to labour difficulties in the United States, fulfilment of our reduced import programme has been affected, and machines on which we relied may not be delivered in time for this year's vital harvest. There is, also, difficulty at present in obtaining spare parts for American tractors and other farm machinery already on our farms. This shortage is due to abnormal world-wide demands, coupled with the present production difficulties of the American factories. Some time must elapse before production and supply of parts become normal again, and while much has been done to arrange for manufacture in this country of parts in considerable demand, it is not practicable to cover the whole range of spares involved. Meantime, the utmost use will have to be made of available facilities for repairing broken and worn parts. A Scottish machinery station is being established, where field testing of agricultural machinery will be carried out under the varying conditions of Scottish farming. All this is designed to lead towards the production of an increasing supply of first class agricultural machinery suited to British conditions and requirements While we must face up to some difficulties in the field of mechanisation for the present, these will, I feel sure, be only temporary. We can look forward with confidence to increased mechanisation improving the efficiency of our farming and providing our farm workers with better conditions.
I should like to say just a word or two in connection with fertilisers. To ensure the continuance of the high level of cultivation during 1947, it will be necessary to arrange for a distribution of fertilisers, probably, in greater quantity than has been possible during recent years. I think all Members of the Committee will agree with me. The supply of the raw materials required for the manufacture of fertilisers, especially potassic fertilisers, is still inadequate to meet the known world demand, and the allocation of such supplies as are available is made․I am sure it is within the knowledge of the Members of the Committee․by the Com- bined Food Board. The Government have asked for an increase in the allocation of nitrogenous, phosphatic and potassic fertilisers as compared with the quantities which were made available to us during 1945 to 1946. Even, so, it is unlikely that the quantity of potash provided will warrant the removal of the restrictions on the use of potassic fertilisers, though there may be a better provision possible for use on potash deficient soil.
The world-wide shortage of grain, and the continued decline in our imports of all kinds of animal feeding stuffs, such as oil seed, beans, etcetera, necessitated a very severe reduction in the ration scales for pigs and poultry last May. A further ration cut for these and other classes of stock, which comes into operation in July, has resulted from the world shortages and from the reduction in our supplies of wheat offals following upon the increase in the extraction rate of flour. The rationing arrangements for all classes of stock during the coming winter have just been announced. The effect of these reductions in the issues of rationed feeding stuffs is difficult to estimate, and will depend, to a large degree, upon the extent to which home grown feeding stuffs on the farms will be available, and upon the use made of supplementary feeding stuffs, such as kitchen waste.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question? He has mentioned kitchen waste. Is it his intention to initiate any campaign in Scotland to get people to preserve kitchen waste as much as possible? I should like to point out, also, that one would have expected the Scottish Labour Party to be better represented here this afternoon during the right hon. Gentleman's interesting speech. I see only one Member of the Scottish Labour Party here.
I am not going to deal with that question at the moment. I myself might be accused of absence at a later stage when I shall have to attend to some other business, although I intend to come back and resume my place here. We do not know what duties hon. Members may have outside the Chamber, and sometimes duties outside the Chamber are just as onerous as those in the Chamber.
The question of labour is fundamental. I refer to the post-emergency problem of building an adequate permanent labour force capable of carrying the burden of the agricultural production which we have in view, after the present supplementary forms of labour, such as prisoners of war and others, are removed. In the first place we must look for recruits from within the industry itself, the youths and girls who would normally fill the vacancies. I am conscious of the necessity for retaining these youths in the industry, and the Government have, as the Committee will be aware, given to agriculture the preferential treatment of not calling up the young men for service with the Forces. But it is doubtful whether this step, in itself, will be sufficient to build up an adequate regular labour force;. This is emphasised when we consider the low ebb to which the regular labour force had fallen in 1939. Again, we anticipate that some men will leave the industry when labour controls are removed.
Recently we have announced a scheme for the formation of a resettlement force from men in Polish units,, and we hope that a proportion of these men may pass into the body of regular agricultural workers. The Government desire to attract British workers to the industry, and would welcome a movement of men and women from the cities for this purpose. What are the impediments to such a movement? The main one, I think, is the altogether erroneous conception that agricultural employment is something of a back-water, and a dull back-water at that. That may have been an apt description at one time, but it is not so today. Today the industry is calling for higher degrees of skill than ever before from its workers․it is a skilled industry․ by the progressive stages of mechanisation, and from the higher standard of technical knowledge required in the handling of stock. The term farm labourer, at one time in common use,.is really a thing of the past, and the more we can emphasise that fact, the more will we be doing justice to the industry and opening the door to a flow of workers from urban areas, which will be to the good of the country as a whole. The attraction of workers to the industry is more than a question of money wages, important as these are. It raises the whole question of the amenities of life in the countryside, better housing, piped water supplies to dwelling houses, electricity supplies and so on. These are not matters which I can enlarge on today, as they go far beyond the Estimates before us. I do, however, wish to make the point that when we are considering the general well-being of agriculture, and the attraction of the labour force necessary to maintain it, these wider questions must be in our minds Their importance is certainly recognised by the Government.
I will now say a word about prisoner-of-war labour. At the end of 1945, there were over 19,000 prisoners of war available for agricultural work in Scotland. Of these, over 10,000 were Italians, and 9,000 Germans. Having regard to the expected reduction in the Women's Land Army and in other sources of labour hitherto available, I estimated that to meet labour requirements in 1946, a total prisoner of war force of approximately 40,000 would be required. Application was therefore made for allocations, out of the 1946 intake of German prisoners of war, of approximately 30,000 prisoners․ 10,000 to replace the Italians, and 20,000 additional prisoners. Actually, having regard to the number of prisoners expected to arrive in Britain this year, it has not been possible to meet this demand in full, but a provisional target of 26,000 has been fixed. Assuming deliveries to be made as expected, there will therefore be a German labour force of 35,000 available for agriculture in Scotland this year. So far the number available is over 20,000. Accommodation has been secured for a further 8,000, and arrangements for the provision of accommodation for the balance of 7,000 are being pushed forward with all speed. It may now be confidently expected that over 31,000 German prisoners will be at the disposal of farmers by the grain harvest, and the balance of 4,000 by the potato harvest. Of course, while the services of these prisoners will be invaluable in securing the harvests, they will also be required and made use of throughout the year. In addition to the prisoners of war, the supplementary labour force will comprise men from the Polish forces, civilians, including men and women from the employment exchanges. and, for the potato harvest, school children.
We are all aware of the importance of research, and of the great need to extend. research work into the problems of agriculture. The Agricultural Research Council, in conjunction with the Technical Committee of the Scottish Agricultural Advisory Council and the Agricultural Improvement Council for England and Wales, are just concluding a comprehensive review of the whole field of agricultural research, and considerable developments, involving a large expansion of staff and resources, are being considered. Indeed, in many directions schemes of development have already been approved, and only the shortage of trained staff and temporary difficulties in obtaining buildings and equipment are limiting the progress that can now be made. At the moment I have under consideration the recommendations of the Committee, presided over by Lord Alness, which recently reported on the future development of agricultural education, and I shall shortly be having discussions on these recommendations with the universities and the three colleges of agriculture. While I am content with a division of interest between three universities and three colleges, I am anxious to secure coordination in advisory and extension work of such a kind that the service will, in real effect, be a national service even though it continues to be based on existing institutions.
I will now say a word about public works in the Highlands. Under the Congested Districts (Scotland) Act, 1897, powers were given, among other things, to aid the provision or improvement of piers, boatslips, public roads and bridges, footpaths and footbridges and, subject to the consent of the Treasury, harbours. During the war it was necessary for the Secretary of State to limit expenditure on matters of this kind to projects which were needed for war purposes, or which were vitally necessary for the maintenance of communications. Now that the war is over, it is possible to take a less rigid and more constructive view. In the past, the biggest sum ever voted in one year for the purpose of this scheme was £30,000. For the current financial year a provision of £60,000 is included in the Estimates. This increase is necessary to take account of the new level of costs. On the basis of this provision, I have asked Highland county councils to submit details of the schemes they wish to undertake, and to let me know the order of priority in which they place their various schemes. Proposals are now coming in, and, on the basis of the information provided, decisions will shortly be taken as to the schemes which can be put in hand this year. The information provided will also assist me to determine the financial provision which should be made in the years.ahead. The question of communication facilities is of the very first importance to the life of the scattered Highland and Islands communities, whether it. be the pier or boatslip on which a whole island or district depends, or the township road which is the sole contact between a crofting community and the outer world. I am well aware of the many deficiencies which exist, and of the claims which can be advanced very legitimately and with every right to sympathy. I can only say, with the aid of the advice of the county councils, I will endeavour to see that priority is given to the most urgent projects, taking account, as I must, of the situation, with which hon. Members are familiar, as regards labour and materials.
In regard to communications in the Highlands and Islands, the Committee will, no doubt, wish to know what is the position of the two subsidised steamer services run by Messrs. MacBrayne and MacCallum Orme. During the war, eight of MacBrayne's fleet have been on war service, and five of these are no longer available. The company were also handicapped by the closing of the Sound of Sleat, which cut off direct communications between Stornoway and Mallaig, and involved alterations in the steamer services in the Sound and to the Outer Hebrides. Special traffic, connected with the war, also placed a heavy burden on the services, and, in December, 1941, with a view to their more efficient operation, the Ministry of War Transport requisitioned the remaining vessels of both MacBrayne and MacCallum Orme, and the whole of the services were, thereafter, run as a single undertaking. Generally, it was found possible to maintain, with minor modifications, the passenger and mail services and cargo services operated by the companies before the war, except the Portree service, which had to be abandoned when the Loch Nevis was requisitioned, but has now been restored.
The vessels of the two companies were de-requisitioned on the 2nd March; and the prewar services have, I think it would be true to say, been substantially resumed. However, although it has been possible to do this, MacBrayne are still short of boats, and relief of vessels requiring overhaul presents considerable difficulty. The company are laying down a new vessel for the Stornoway service, which will release the existing vessel on that service for use elsewhere, but it will inevitably be some time before she can be commissioned. During the period of requisition, the freights and fare charges on the services generally were retained at a level only 10 per cent. above those-in operation before the war, and now that the vessels have been derequisitioned, it is necessary to consider how the greatly increased expenses of running the services are to be met. Before the war, MacBrayne received from the Government an annual payment of £60,000, and MacCallum Orme, a payment of £4,000. These figures included payment by the Post Office for the carriage of mails of £26,000 and £500 respectively. The extent to which the loss on the services should be met by an increase in fares and freight charges, and an increase in subsidy is, at present, under consideration by the Government, and it is hoped that an early decision may be reached. Such decision will require to be embodied in a new contract between the Government and the companies. In the meantime, it is obviously necessary that the services should be kept in operation, and, consequently, advances are being made, as necessary, to the companies to meet their current requirements in anticipation of the conclusion of a new contract.
I cannot say that off hand. I am not the Leader of the House and am not responsible for determining the time to be given for Debates, but I have no objection to any action which I take being debated, if there is time. Hon. Members may have points that they wish to raise in connection with the steamer services, and these will receive sympathetic consideration. I would, however, ask them to bear in mind the difficulties․and I know that those hon. Members who represent the Highlands and Islands recognise them particularly․under which the companies are at present labouring, as the result of the war.
Time is short, and I have not attempted to cover all the ground as I know that there are many hon. Members who wish to take part in the Debate. There is room for many speeches in the realm of Scottish agriculture. I would add this, my first word as Secretary of State in dealing With this particular problem—although it is not the first time that I have replied to Debates on agricultural subjects․that the world food situation as we find it today brings out clearly one thing. In the matter of winning food from the land, we do not work for ourselves alone
I was trying to follow the figures which the right hon. Gentleman gave with regard to prisoners of war. He also talked about children being employed in connection with the harvests. Can he give us any idea of the number of school children he is hoping to use in this way? Is he also aware that there is a big body of educational opinion against the use of children for this purpose?
That point, no doubt, will be raised during the Debate, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it will be dealt with by the Joint Under-Secretary when he replies.
The threat of famine in large areas of the globe brings it home to us that the national interest and the general human interest are not, in the long run two, but one. I am not sure how far the conclusions of international conferences, right though we may know them to be, would have carried conviction, if we had not had the experience which we are now living through. As it is, it stands out clearly, as one of our first national and international duties to produce from our fertile acres all the good food that we can. The formation of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the first of the organisations of the United Nations to take shape, expresses the approval of Governments to the idea of ever-increasing world production, and a new level of nutrition for all men. It is a most interesting development that the producers of many nations have, within the last few days, at their London Conference, banded themselves together in a parallel organisation. With these organs of international thought and discussion in being, we must surely have put behind us, for all time, the parochial view of agriculture which has been its bugbear in the past.
I think everyone will agree that the right hon. Gentleman has given the Committee a well-considered and comprehensive survey of Scottish agricultural affairs. He also spoke on the Scottish transport services, but I can leave that subject to be dealt with by others of my hon. Friends. I should like to digress for a moment to pay my tribute to the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, Mr. Thomas Johnston. He took a keen interest in Scottish agriculture when he was in this House, and I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman and the Joint Under-Secretaries are resolved to follow in the footsteps of one who, I think, earned not only the respect and confidence of the Members of this House but of the agricultural community throughout the country. Mr. Johnston laboured here for the good of agriculture at a critical period, and I, personally, wish to pay my tribute to him for the work he did in cooperation with the right hon. Gentleman. That job may be over, but I think it is true to say that the good work which they then did still lives on. I think in that work Mr. Johnston enjoyed the able, wholehearted cooperation of the farmers and farm workers in Scotland. He would be the first to acknowledge it, and I think the farmers also would acknowledge the help they received from him and also the valuable help they received from the city workers volunteers and others who came out into the country to help us in the vital business of garnering the nation's food. Looking back over the war years, I think we had a good administration at the top, supported by the genuine effort of alt concerned right down to the land itself. It is a story of cooperation in which our country played a not unworthy part.
Whereas many other industries are now turning from war to peace, agriculture has had to go back into khaki. There is to be no let-up for the food producer. The Lord President of the Council told us from the Government Front Bench not long ago, that if we do not get on top of famine, famine will get on top of us. We are facing a world shortage of food the like of which has not been known for a century. The immediate problem seems to be to do what we can in these islands to alleviate the conditions with which we are confronted and so assist not only our own sustenance but the national morale as well. The intensive cropping of the war years must be continued and even stepped up as against 1946. The continuous cropping of corn crops and heavy extractive potato-growing, must be carried forward to the debit side of our national agricultural account. Now, after six years of strenuous and prolonged effort there is no doubt which of our land is showing definite signs of wear. In some areas it is not particularly apparent, because of the good seasons we have enjoyed, but on the whole, in my own experience, I consider that soil fertility has been materially lowered. Much of the poorer land and the lands which have been well cultivated are now in a semi-exhausted state. Many of our fields are very barren, partly because of the shortage of labour, and also because of the severe handling to which they have been subject for six years of war.
The problem of soil fertility was always important, but now in view of what the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Boyd Orr) has said to the effect that the food shortage may continue for several years, perhaps beyond 1950, the question deserves the closest possible attention of the Government and their expert advisers. Exhausted land cannot be restored without a very much heavier application of limes and phosphates because, as we all know, farmyard manure is in very short supply. A survey made by the Agricultural Department in 1943 seemed to indicate that no less than 1,500,000 acres badly need fertilisers. How much more is needed today? Probably our lime requirements are not much less than 4,000,000 tons. The right hon. Gentleman gave some indication of the urgency of this problem. I wish to emphasise in the strongest possible manner that it is absolutely vital, the country having come through the strain of war and being faced with the problem of increased production on top of that, that the right hon. Gentleman should get down with his expert advisers, should go very thoroughly into this question of the maintenance of soil fertility. We want to know, for example, is lime to be in proper supply. I can imagine the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland who is in charge of housing․and who has just gone out․wanting a supply of lime for housing requirements.
I saw the Joint Under-Secretary on the other side a minute ago, and then he disappeared. I thought he had gone out of the Chamber. I quite realise that this question of the lime application to our land is of the very greatest importance. We have a pool for lime requirements for housing purposes. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman or the hon. Gentleman, who will wind up for the Government, to elaborate a little bit on what the Secretary of State said in this connection. We want to know if supplies are to be adequate in order to step up the application both of lime and of phosphates to our land. We want to know if these manures are to be made available in the proper quantities to meet the present extreme circumstances. We also want to know whether any steps are being taken to give publicity to this important matter throughout the country. It is obvious that we cannot continue on full production much longer without doing harm, and, in view of the urgency to produce everything we can. the maintenance of soil fertility has become priority No. I. I hope myself that this will not be lost sight of by the. Scottish Department.
I see our tillage acreage has gone up from 1,480,000 acres in 1939 to 2,011,000 acres in 1945, but, according to what the right hon. Gentleman said there has been a fall during 1946. We expected that because of the normal transition from war to peace. Owing to the food crisis, of which we are all aware, it would seem to me to be inevitable that we shall have to step up our production in 1947 to at least the 1945 level, causing a very heavy drain upon our fertility resources. If we are to step up our wheat production, which would seem essential in view of the world shortage of bread, it would seem to me that the Government must take immediate steps about encouraging the people in Scotland to grow wheat. There is room for a vast expansion of wheat production in our country. I understand our wheat acreage has fallen by over 80,000 acres; I think the figure is 87,000 acres since 1943. That is equal to a production of about 75 tons of wheat.
If we are to get increased production of wheat in Scotland it is necessary to go back, I think, to the previous acreage payment of £4 per acre instead of the present payment of £2 per acre. I am told that is. 9d. per cwt. has been added to the price, but I do not think that will meet the case because our yield per acre is less than it is in this part of the country, and is. 9d. will not bring in wheat in sufficient quantities.
I am also concerned about potatoes. Our potato acreage will, no doubt, have to be stepped up beyond the 1945 figure. I understand that there will be a total acreage of 225,000. The Secretary of State said that success will, in the main, depend upon the available labour supply. He talked about policy for 1946. I am interested, not only in 1946, but, much more, in 1947. I want to know what the policy for that year will be in this respect. After all, executive agricultural committees cannot be expected to serve directions unless an adequate labour supply is guaranteed. Will the Government guarantee that supply of labour? The hon. Member for the Scottish Universities said in London, I think last week, that 1947 should see the greatest harvest in the history of the world. I think it is vital that we should concentrate on our labour supply during that year. We now have German prisoners of war and Polish troops working on the land, but everyone realises that we cannot hold these German prisoners for ever. We cannot tell when they will go, but when they do go, where will the labour come from to gather the enormous potato crop of approximately a quarter of a million acres? My hon. Friend below the Gangway mentioned school children. Personally, I would rather that school children were not required for this kind of work, but the alternative is that we shall starve in 1947 if we do not produce the labour to lift this enormous potato crop. My own county of Perth is now the largest potato growing county in Scotland. It has ousted the county of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Forfar (Major Ramsay) from first place, and we are proud of that. This is an important question, and we want to know what the Government intend doing about it in 1947. It is only fair that our farmers should be told, because the expense of this crop is very great and the risks they run are almost unlimited.
I would like to refer to long-term labour policy. Do the Government in that policy․to which the Secretary of State referred today in words most of which we heard last time․intend to assume continuing responsibility for the future supply of labour? In my experience, mechanisation has produced a rather curious change in the style of working an ordinary agricultural holding.
In the old days, a farmer was able to work on his farm with little outside help. But the balance has changed. Things have speeded up; tillage has vastly increased; one operation tumbles on top of another, and few farmers are now able to get on with their work without considerable help from outside. Is this problem of the continuing responsibility of the Government in regard to the pool of labour to be left to solve itself, or has the Minister a long-term plan, more detailed than what he gave us today, to meet the case? If he has a plan we should like very much to be told about it.
Before I leave the question of cultivation, I would like to say a word or two about another matter which is of vital importance to the maintenance of a high tillage acreage. I refer to the general condition of agricultural machinery, which is essential if we are to grow the crops we must try to grow in 1947 Just as the land has been overworked in our war effort, so also have our tractors and machines. Today, we need more tractors, we need replacements for those which we have worn out, and we need more spare parts to keep in running order the machines we have working at present. I was a little taken aback when I heard the Secretary of State tell us of his difficulties, in this matter This is important, because you cannot produce food without this machinery, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to do his utmost to see that adequate machinery and spare parts become available because of the intense efforts made by our machinery during the war. With regard to the livestock position, owing to the tragic cut in our rations through the raising of the extraction rate of wheat to 90 per cent., and other causes which I will not go into at the moment, the situation will be felt very severely in Scotland. It will be felt most severely, in my opinion, by the small producer-retailer of milk, because he has not a big arable area on which he can keep his cows going. He cannot grow sufficient fodder without getting rations from outside. The cut will hit him, and it will hit our country very hard, because we are a livestock country.
Although we are livestock country, and although all we could do during the war was to maintain our livestock population, it is rather interesting to look at the effect of the cuts in imported foodstuffs which we have had to suffer during the war. We could not expect anything other than a fall in the numbers of sheep, pigs, and poultry. My fear always was that a devastating fall would also take place in other spheres of livestock, but we can congratulate ourselves that our cattle, both dairy and beef, have stood up to it very well. Scotland, in addition to contributing to the nation's food supply, is, after all, the great reservoir from which other countries replenish their supplies. Our reputation today is enormously high, and we should leave nothing undone to strive after even greater efficiency, and even higher quality. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) represents an area which has built up a reputation on the supreme quality of its cattle. We have for long, in Scotland, produced the world's best beef. Now, we lead Great Britain in respect of milk from tuberculin tested cattle. Thanks to the great work of Ayrshire breeders, South-West Scotland is ahead of any other area in Great Britain in the cleaning up of herds. In the main Scottish Milk Marketing Board area, more than half of our milk is tuberculin tested, and of our dairy cattle 22.3 per cent. have actually been attested. The time is obviously ripe for a final assault on bovine tuberculosis in Scotland. Our objective should be a tuberculin tested country, with milk and beef alike free from tubercle. We should have a national plan, and, since Scotland is already leading the attack, let us have, at all costs, an all-Scottish plan. The prize would be of enormous value to us, but up to date there is no clear indication of Government policy in this respect.
A progressive policy, proceeding area by area, in Scotland․and we are all ready to adopt it․should be announced as soon as possible. When circumstances permit․if it cannot be done at once, perhaps it could be two or three years hence ․the reactors from those areas should be wiped out and adequate compensation paid. Farmers other than dairy farmers should be allowed to come into these attested schemes. Before the war, the Government made a payment per head for all the attested animals; I think it was £1, but I have not been able to check that figure. Now, no payment is made in respect of those cattle. There is no inducement to the beef producer to free his cattle from infection, and become an attested producer, and there is therefore hardship on the dairy farmer, who, in order to protect his licence, must double fence his farm, look after his water supply, and in a number of ways protect himself and his licence against his non-attested neighbour. So I urge the right hon. Gentleman to bring all cattle into the attested scheme. On this very important point farmers want to know what policy is to be pursued. They are ready to cooperate, but the expense of double fencing and so on is great, and they cannot be expected to go ahead unless it is made worth their while to do so. Now is the time for an all-out drive against bovine tuberculosis in Scotland, so that the whole country may give a lead in becoming clean and free.
The right hon. Gentleman may say that the Department of Agriculture is not responsible for animal health and the running of the attested herds. That is true, but the answer is that it is a state of affairs which should be ended at once. In my view a change in this direction is long overdue. Scotland should control its own animal health. I am a " home ruler "In this matter. The present position does not make sense. The Department of Agriculture in Scotland, the one Department which should be responsible and which is qualified to do the job, has nothing whatever to do with it. Whitehall is responsible for animal health; the Department of Health looks after milk grading and the approval of dairy premises, then the various local authorities have different methods of carrying out the regulations, and they in turn send out armies of sanitary inspectors to urge on and ginger up the dairy farmers. The Department of Health for Scotland is the one Department really qualified to look after this business. The miserable dairy farmers pay so many pipers, and hear so many tunes, that they do not know which to dance to. It is a silly, untidy, unsatisfactory position, and the right hon. Gentleman should get down to it and clear it up.
I would like to say a word on the committees to which the Secretary of State has made reference. I see that in the Estimates a large sum is required to finance the work of the agricultural committees. By and large, I believe that during the war these committees have performed a very valuable service to the community. Their activities in the exercise of their powers have, in my experience, varied somewhat from district to district. To the progressive farmers they have sometimes been rather a nuisance; to the middle farmers they have on the whole been very helpful, and to the bad farmers they have been a perfect horror. On the whole, they have done a good job of work, and in the interests of the industry and of the country it is right that they should continue. The Secretary of State told us something about his plans for the future, and I know that another opportunity will arise when we shall be able to debate in detail what powers he should exercise, but I should like to ask him to consider very carefully, in the preparation of his plan, the vital question of the right of appeal on dispossession.
Because these committees were composed․quite rightly․of first rate farmers and expert officials, I have always felt that there was danger of creating a false standard of efficiency. Perhaps false is not the proper word; I mean an unduly high standard. One is always inclined to say, "If I can do the job, so can all the others."It does not work out that way, because we do not all possess the same degree of skill, the same amount of capital, nor do we possess the same quality of land. During the war farmers accepted the rigid discipline imposed by the war, but, if I know them, they will not tolerate it in the peace. Hence it is imperative that, where a case of dispossession arises, there should be a. right of appeal to an impartial tribunal such as the Scottish Land Court. It may be that that particular body would have to be strengthened in some way, I do not know but considering that only some 80 farmers were dispossessed in Scotland throughout the whole war, I should not imagine that this work would be too onerous for them in peacetime. I hope the Minister will bear this important point in mind when he is framing the necessary legislation.
My last point is this. Everybody knows that the greatest problem with which we are faced in the countryside is housing, as the Secretary of State has said. I know I must not talk about housing in this Debate, but there is one aspect of it which has a bearing upon cultivation to which I would like to draw the Government's attention. I refer to the procedure followed in regard to the allocation of agricultural land for housing purposes. I can see my hon. Friend looking at me with great interest, because I know that he is vitally concerned in this business. My experience up to date is that the development of the services for housing schemes constitutes a very heavy drain on agricultural land in Scotland. The agriculturist is as keen as anybody on housing, but development today is causing anxiety in the countryside. In my view it is going far beyond the erection of houses on prepared sites, and the result is that we are losing quite a lot of valuable agricultural land which we can ill spare, and which could have been used for this year's crop.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me․it is a very interesting point, but I suppose that to build houses you must provide the services. There must be drainage, sewerage, water. That frequently means cutting across other land. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman could give me any kind of suggestion as to how I could build houses without laying the services as well. If he could I should be grateful.
I cannot solve that problem; it is one which the hon. Gentleman has to solve. What I mean is that there does not seem to be very efficient planning in this connection. Work is going on now on land where no houses will be started for a very long time and which could have been used for this year's crop. I am only suggesting that where these plans are being carried out there should be efficient cooperation in regard to food production.
The other point I wish to make on this is that the agreement whereby the arrangements of local authorities are to be submitted to agricultural executive committees does not seem to be carried out as we had hoped. I have information․ and it is pretty good information․that the very first notice some of the secretaries of the agricultural committees get is from the farmers themselves when they hear or see the contractors entering upon their land. We want to know what procedure is followed. We would like to have this cleared up. What sort of cooperation is there between the Department of Agriculture on the one hand and the planning authority on the other? I would like the Secretary of State to tell us. Is the land utilisation branch of the Department of Agriculture consulted in this matter? Have the agricultural interests been consulted and taken into account?
I can assure the hon. Member that there is the very closest cooperation between all the Departments. There could be no wise planning in connection with the placing of houses and with safeguarding the interests of agriculture unless there were the very closest cooperation. Fortunately, or otherwise, I am the Minister responsible for all these things, and it makes it easier in Scotland, even than in England itself, to have that cooperation.
I could give the Minister instances from my own constituency in which the agricultural committee knew nothing of what was going on, until the farmer was told and the land was actually taken. Scotland has a very small arable area. We have only some 4,500,000 acres of arable land, out of a total area of some 19,000,000. We want our arable land to be of the highest possible quality and we can ill afford to lose any. It is our duty to protect it. I am asking the Secretary of State for Scotland to be literally the policeman for agriculture in Scotland.
Hon. Members who represent agricultural and rural constituencies on this side of the Committee welcome the opportunity of expressing their views in these matters. Scottish farmers realise that they face a period of fairly prolonged and sustained effort, and if they are taken fully into the confidence of the Minister and are told the truth about what is expected of them, they will be able to plan more intelligently for the days that lie ahead. They want us to help them to maintain the fertility of the land I ask the Minister to give them the labour they require and the machinery to work the land. Let him give them a milk production target which will act as a goal to strike at, and give them an incentive to achieve it. With the cooperation of the Departments concerned I am sure that the agricultural community in Scotland will give to the country their best in peacetime, just as they did during the war.
It would be an impertinence if I were to try to elaborate the speech of the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden). I venture to compliment him upon an excellent and authoritative speech upon agriculture. Many of us on this side of the House have had the feeling for many years that the trouble with the Department of Agriculture in Scotland lay partly in the fact that it has had only a very small part of the attention of one Minister. In the Gilmour Report of 1937 appears a description of the functions of the Department of Agriculture and of the Secretary of State for Scotland, which helps to explain a good deal of the neglect of, or of the incapacity to cope adequately with, agricultural problems. That Report stated:
There are questions in which the Scottish Office and the Department of Agriculture have a common interest. These include questions relating to transport in the Highlands and Islands. … The Departments of Health and Agriculture are both concerned with milk and housing questions, and other matters relating to health generally. The Department has a community of interest with the Fishery Board in the matter of piers and harbours in the Highland Counties. Broadly speaking, he [the Secretary of State] exercises all the functions which in England and Wales are discharged by the Home Secretary, by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, by the Minister of Health and by the President of the Board of Education. He has in addition duties corresponding to those of the Minister of Labour and the Lord Chancellor.
The Report ended by saying:
The Secretary of State is peculiar in that he discharges an assortment of heterogeneous and disconnected functions within an area which is territorially delimited.
In the inadequacy of the attention which has been given to the Department of
Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland lies a good deal of the cause of the neglect from which it has had to suffer, and because of which the people in agriculture and in fisheries have had to suffer, up to the present day.
It will not, therefore, surprise the Committee if I should get slightly mixed up between the transport and agriculture of the Highlands and of the Islands. Even if I were the Secretary of State himself I probably would not, in view of the description which I have just read, be able completely to disentangle them. I would like to ask Members of the Cabinet to come to that part of the country which I represent in the Western Isles. I recognise that it is necessary for all Highland Members to be, to a large extent, constituency Members in this House. It is a criticism of them which it is very easy to make, but it is a criticism which brings home to this House․or it should․the necessity for such Members to give practically their full time to what are distinctive and special areas, even in the sense of distressed areas.
Let a leading Cabinet Minister come along, if that is conceivable. Let him leave Glasgow at 10 o'clock at night, or preferably at 5 o'clock in the morning, on the Highland train, setting out for the wilds of Perthshire. He would go through Inverness town and through Inverness-shire itself. He would try for hours to get a cup of tea in the morning at Inverness station if he went on the 10 p.m. train. He would come up by Dingwall, through Ross and Cromarty to the coast. He would reach the Stornoway steamer at Kyle. But to reach the Harris steamer he would have to come up overnight to catch it at 6 o'clock in the morning. If hon. Members cared to go by road they would go through all those places which, to English Members and certain Lowland Members generally, are so romantic. They would see the beauties of the Perthshire Highlands and the unmatched majesty of the hills and lochs of Ross and Cromarty. On board the steamer they would see a brass plate, which ought to interest all members of the Cabinet, and especially the Minister of Agriculture. On this little brass plate are these words:
The deck forward from this mark X on both sides to the forward screen bulkhead, contains 801 square feet and is certified to accommodate 89 passengers, when not occu-
pied by cattle, animals, cargoes or other encumbrances.
The " other encumbrances " are not specifically mentioned but I wondered whether it might apply to the late famous cockroaches․[An HON. MEMBER: "Or to the Ministers."] The logic of the notice is that if there are sufficient cattle, animals and encumbrances to make the voyage profitable no human beings are permitted there at all. They are allowed only 800 odd square feet by this standard where these things nevertheless take priority. To a large extent that has expressed the attitude of the company to the people of the Western Islands and the North-West coast and their problems.
I want to say a few words about what I think can be done to deal with the problems there. To me this is not a new subject; if it bores hon. Members, it ought to bore me much more, because I have been saying these things for the last 10 or 11 years. I have seen Secretaries of State and Under-Secretaries of State, and their heel-followers and caddies sitting on the Front Bench and on the foothills of consolation below me to the Parliamentary Private Secretary's bench. I have prodded, persuaded and insulted them even to the loss of my own dignity, if not of theirs. I have seen the Collins, Browns, Elliots, Colvilles and Johnstons, and the rest, pass in this flashy and somewhat futile procession along the Front Bench and out into oblivion at Election time, or sometimes with more dignity shortly before Elections. What have the crofters of the Highlands, the fishermen and the people of our constituencies had as a result of this agelong, smug, official blarney from the Front Bench in past years? To my knowledge and experience they have had 10 years of increasing discomfort, depopulation, poverty, unemployment, bad housing, lack of water supplies, and lack of the means to make agriculture, fishing, or anything else a success in an area where it is already difficult enough, for climatic and other reasons, to live and make a living.
What are the things that prevent the making of a living or a success of agriculture and fishing? At the head of the list, I put the abominable transport facilities in the area, the exorbitant freight costs, and all the other things on the agricultural and domestic side, such as lack of water supplies, electrification, sanitation and domestic comforts of all kinds for the womenfolk, and prospects for the children. What has been done in those 10 or 11 years in drainage, in pasture improvement, in afforestation, as ancillary things to agriculture itself? What has been done in transport improvement, in technical education and advance in connection with agriculture and ancillary activities? What has been done in electrification, in water and sewage schemes, in the provision of facilities for leisure, village halls, adult education, and so on, without which we cannot keep the young people in the Highlands and Islands any more than we can keep them lacking such advantages, in any other part of the country? The answer is, just about next to nothing. I feel that, as far as pleading, writing and interviewing Ministers are concerned, I have practically wasted 10 years, and I am sure that, quite apart from all questions of political feeling, hon. Members of the Conservative Party who represent constituencies in the Highlands and Islands must have the same feelings about the last 10 years.
Yet, in spite of all that, the Government say, as past Governments have said, that they have as their policy and intention to keep the Highlands and Islands fully populated and stocked with fine, virile men and women, and all that sort of blarney. What have they done? The answer is the sort of thing one gets in a Ministerial letter․nothing. We have had bland and meaningless Ministerial evasions. I am not a new boy․or should I say? a new honourable boy․in the House. I recognise nowadays when a Minister is telling me " No," even if he does it in the polite and hard way in a whole page of phrases instead of in one word. I know also when the county councils are saying "No" and not discharging their responsibilities․and they are very largely to blame as far as Ross-shire and Inverness-shire are concerned. These county councils have a large responsibility for making life liveable for the people in agriculture and fisheries in those areas; but they are slowly strangling the life out of the Outer Hebrides and the rest of the area for which they are responsible because of their niggardly " rates-consciousness."I make allowances for the fact that they are heavily de-rated areas.
I am not any longer exonerating the Government from taking the initiative in promoting active schemes for the better- ment of these areas so as to make them places liveable-in for the people whom I represent. I do not know how long the Government are going to tolerate these cabals of benighted and knighted backwoodsmen who run the county councils of Ross and Cromarty and Inverness-shire retarding progress; but I do not want to see the pace of a Socialist Government set by the convenience of reactionary Tory and Liberal local authorities. I am not going to wait for roads to make agriculture possible in my area, and for other essential transport improvements, until a Tory or Liberal county council says, " We are prepared to put a ½d. on the rates and play our part and do our duty as the elected representatives of the people."I want to see the Government, as the central authority, take the initiative in these matters. If they can do it in regard to trunk roads, there is no reason, in principle or otherwise, why they cannot do it in regard to secondary roads and village roads as well. It is not along the great trunk roads that the people live, although those main and tourist roads in themselves are vitally important; it is along the village roads that the people live their live, practise their agriculture and bring up their families.
If the Ministers of the Cabinet conceivably had come on that journey to the delectable Highlands and Western Islands, across the waters of the Minch with me, one of the first things they would have been told in Stornoway or Uist or Barra would have been that, in the Isle of Lewis alone, there are today over 2,000 men unemployed. In all the Outer Hebrides there are about 2,500 unemployed, and that in my view is a conservative estimate based on the end of April. The position has been getting worse, and there are men who are still on their 56 days' demobilisation leave. Many things have served to depopulate the Highlands and Islands. The curious thing is that while they are expected to do their full share in looking after the nation in wartime, the nation and the Government have not faced their responsibility of looking after them as a national responsibility, in time of peace. That is a generalisation, which is proved by all the facts of depopulation and poverty, and the despair of many of the people of the Islands, numbers of whom stay there only because they are too old to go away and have no prospect of anything else- where, or are too old to learn new skills and be employed elsewhere.
Let me illustrate the devastation of that area with one or two figures. In 150 years of war, there are two examples which show what has happened. In the Napoleonic campaign, one man out of 23 of Wellington's troops at Assaye was from the Isle of Lewis; and one in 20 at Maida. In the 1914-18 war, out of a population of 29,600, no fewer than 6,100-odd men were in the Services, and of those 1,100 did not come back, heir losses in this war were twice those, in proportion, of the rest of Great Britain, and this includes civilians who were killed in the bombing raids. These figures are checked by the Lewis Association. When a nation makes such a demand upon a small area in wartime to take its part in shouldering a national responsibility, it is the nation's duty in peacetime, and the' first duty of the Government that represents and governs the nation, to recognise the rights of that area and its people.
After unemployment, disenchantment and disillusionment comes depopulation. In the period from 1921–1931, the population of that one island alone, Lewis, declined by 11.2 per cent.․-not 11.2 per cent. of old, young and middle-aged together, but 11.2 per cent. of the most virile and healthy stock. Thousands of the reproductive people have gone from that area, leaving behind them older people, an aged population, with a declining birth rate, and marriageable population. The inevitable further result is that more and more people come on to public assistance in one way and another; and are further regarded then by an uninterested Government as being a bigger nuisance than they ever were before. The Government say they intend to keep the Islands fully populated. They say that, and then they offer the able-bodied people there jobs as furnace men in Kinlochleven or industrial work in Dumfermline and other places; and even suggest that they might go to work in the mines. If the fishermen and all the agricultural workers in this part of the country went into the mines or industrial work elsewhere I wonder who would do the fishing and the agriculture and who would feed the rest of the miners and others? Yet I have heard that mentioned on a fairly high level as a partial solution.
I want now to return to the question of the steamer service. That is a service which, more than any other, affects the Western Isles in. their economic life. I recognise that the masters and crews and staff in general have been splendid; and I have no criticism of them to offer. In my own locality I think they have given first class service and have been courteous and extremely efficient. I wonder if any hon. Member has ever travelled on this service as much as I have. I remember on one occasion arriving at Oban, and going on board one of these ships at 6 a.m. on Monday and starting off for Castle Bay in Barra that morning, in a vessel with pretty rotten engines and intestines generally, finally to reach Castle Bay on Wednesday at 8 o'clock. It took from 6 o'clock on Monday morning to 8 o'clock on Wednesday night because they could not risk forcing the pace with a vessel which had more repairs and new parts on board than it had of the original engines. The engineer kept her going. Days went by till one imagined the engine oil flavoured the tea; while the bread and bacon got staler; and so we edged slowly on. And the weather got worse as we went. When we finally arrived I had to turn back on the next steamer because my meetings had to be cancelled; and arrived back on Saturday, on the same type of steamer, on my way back South. The thing which concerns us most so far as the steamers themselves are concerned is the accommodation. I am not one of the fanatics for speed and I think even "an hour, lost is well lost if one has better accommodation as the result. Both arc desirable; but one does not feel the voyage nearly so much if one has a certain amount of comfort.
I should like to draw the attention of the Minister of Transport to one or two points before I finish. There is a Government director on the MacBraync Company board whose fee is paid by the company. He receives £400 a year and meets twice a year with the company, I understand. Whether he ever makes a report or not is extremely doubtful. I will not mention his name but his age is about 76; and his salary or fee works out at £200 an hour twice a year. Even Members of Parliament justify their salaries a little more than that. I suggest to the Minister that there should be at least two representatives, either from the local authorities, or two in- dependent people who know the problem, the place, and the people, and who would look after the people who use that service and report upon the conditions of the crews, upon freight charges and such matters. They should also report on the catering and other provisions on board and ashore. For instance, at Kyle and Mallaig passengers go ashore on their way to and from the Isles, and they need a rest and a cup of tea or breakfast. I think that is little enough to ask the Minister to undertake to try to make arrangements of that kind and not to leave them in the hands of the rather elderly gentleman who collects £200 an hour twice a year and does, evidently, nothing effective about it.
Why is it necessary for the new Stornaway․I should say the foreshadowed and still very shadowy Stornaway steamer․ to take 18 months to complete? Why did MacBrayne's place that contract with Denny's Yard, already cluttered up with so many other orders? Why, since they were supposed to build the ship in 1939 did it take them until this year even to complete the arrangements for placing the order? The people of the Outer Hebrides will have to wait for another year before she is on the water. I want the Minister to answer that and tell me whether it is still possible for that contract to be switched over to a yard which will be able to undertake the work and complete it a little more quickly. I should like to know from the Minister what provisions, apart from the switching of the Stornaway steamer, are to be made for increasing the frequency of the services and their regularity in the islands of Barra and the Uists and Harris.
The Minister of Civil Aviation throughout the Committee on the Bill now under discussion, has said that the Government recognise that the Western Isles need special treatment; and that they are prepared to average out the cost over the rest of the country and the Western Isles; and to treat them, if need be, as a nonprofit bearing area. I do not think that any hon. Member will quarrel with my saying that if we intend to keep that area populated, then we should make life liveable for the people there by providing the essential basic services of transport in the islands as non-profit services; and good transport is essential to all economic progress today. MacBrayne's have the mail contract now, and a virtual monopoly; and are well subsidised, and I do not see why the Minister should not go a little farther and try to make the service a really efficient one on a nationalised basis. Quite frankly, I have found one Minister after another․and here I am coming right up to the present time․rather passive in this matter, but some action is necessary now to improve that service. I am speaking of people who know their own conditions and I am one of them and I go for long periods and live with them. It is much more difficult for right hon. Gentlemen 700 miles away to appreciate the difficulty than it is for someone on the spot.
I am in full support of the advocacy of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) in his-demand for better services there; and I believe they should have sweeping improvements in the services up there. I also agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) that there should be an adequate service in his area. We are at one on this need, whether Tories or Socialists or anything else. We have all recognised from sheer persona] experience on the spot that the people will not stay there unless there is made available to them what is part of the essence and economic life blood of an island and coastal districts of Scotland, namely, good, adequate and regular transport.
On freights, I have just to underline once again my long advocacy of flat rates within that area; and I hope the Minister will give that, not only sympathetic, but practical consideration. In a longish statement today, the Secretary of State mentioned the intention of the Government to make available an additional £60,000 for roads in our area of the North-West. Sixty thousand pounds does not go a very long way. The viaduct between Ben-becula and South Uist alone cost us well over £40,000. We might be able to build another half viaduct with the other £20,000, but why do the Government not face the facts and base their finances on the need of the people, and not on an arbitrary decision of the Treasury, who say, " Here is £60,000; we do not want any arguments; and it will have to do for a year. Manage on it the best way you can." We then watch it flung piecemeal to several scrambling county councils. Unless, as a Socialist Government, we relate our financial policy and the provision of Treasury grants to the needs of the people and a definite social and economic plan, we shall be in the same spot as we were under the Tories and the National Liberals before the war.
I want to know what the policy of the Government is about connecting up by viaducts and bridges the islands of the Outer Hebrides, which would solve many of the inter-island difficulties of intercourse and communication; and thereby make more attractive to any industrialists with new industries who want to go out there an area which is at present discouraging and difficult because of bad transport. I want the Minister of Transport to tell me what is going to be done about reconstructing the main road from Tarbert to Rodel in Harris. Before the war that road was supposed to have been going well ahead; but war broke out and the road ceased to go ahead and seems by present indications unlikely to do so for a good long time to come. I want a definite statement on that and if Sir Donald Cameron of Lochiel and his county council are wrong in this connection, let the House have a statement from the Minister saying so, because the local people need to know. We had a tragic accident on that road recently. A young man and his fiancee in a vehicle, because he moved perhaps a matter of inches, with no safety margin from the middle of the road, went over a cliff and both of them were killed. That can happen at almost any point on that road; and there are many other roads on the islands, especially in Harris, which are equally bad and dangerous.
I do not think the Minister has any conception of our roads on the islands. If General Wade had gone there in his day, he would have made a better job than the Ministry of our Highland roads. Let the right hon. Gentleman stop saying the problem must be left to the local statutory authority, which is the local authority and without whose sanction he cannot act. Perhaps an official road-dictator would be an idea for the Isles and North West if he could keep to his own job strictly. I have been given no hope as yet from the Scottish Office or the Ministry of Transport about the North Ford bridge which is the logical complement of the viaduct bridging job which started with the bridge between Benbecula and South Uist. It would link the four islands to- gether and bring the populations into closer proximity and permit intercommunication much more cheaply than now. I have not had an answer from the Ministries, giving any immediate hope about the Ness-Tolsta Road, which would open up the best land in the Island of Lewis. This would be of benefit to those wanting small holdings and it would complete a main circular road round the whole Island of Lewis. It would also be very much a tourist road; but it would be of great practical value to the prospective small holders. It may be under consideration; and I urge an early decision. We must recognise that the islanders go in for part-time agriculture. The crofter has not a full living from the croft.
There are other things the crofters have to do to live; and it is essential that they should have good roads and good transport. One especial appeal now. The Minister is keen about ferries. Let me present him with one on the Island of Lewis. Between the Island of Lewis and Bernera we have for years been pressing that a viaduct be constructed. For many years a community of several hundred people in Bernera have been isolated and cut off from the parent island of Lewis and inconvenienced generally. I hope I may have touched the Minister's heart although I have not touched successfully the Chancellor of the Exchequer's pocket, about this project, which in Lewis is the most deserving priority of all the many deserving cases. When people come to the end of the road on Lewis they have to get out of the car or the bus․and local people have to travel 30 miles on a miserable road․carry their goods down the rock and into a little boat. They are ferried across the Sound. On the other side they go through the same process, humping the goods up the rocks and then marching for two or three miles. The weather is not always midsummer in the outer Hebrides. I wish the Minister would go up there and see this miserable business for himself.
The Secretary of State has complained that the council have not asked for a grant. That is now remedied. The local authority, I understand, has now applied: and all that stands between the people and satisfaction of this demand is the financial help we have asked for so long. As for this miserable, inadequate grant business, if I believed we are going to measure the convenience and comfort and the whole future and prosperity of the people against money only, and not think in terms of human values and the gratitude we should all owe to the people who manned the Merchant Navy and the Armed Forces so gallantly and in such high numbers, then I would give up the struggle. But it is because I have some hope even now that the Minister of Transport, the Treasury and the Scottish Office will get their heads urgently together and take some action, that I make this one more appeal.
What does the hon. Member consider to be the main cause of the very high percentage of unemployment in the Western Isles? I must apologise to the hon. Member for the fact that I was not here at the beginning of his speech, but he gave very remarkable figures about the unemployment in the Western Isles Could he give the actual reason?
There was unemployment long before the war. During the war itself, apart from employment on the aerodrome and Government works for the older men, there was still heavy unemployment. Since the war that has increased. In 1936 the House agreed that the conditions in the Isles were conditions of distress and the resolution before the House was unanimously approved and accepted. That was the situation then. Since then the necessary public works schemes have never been properly undertaken. Such schemes are still waiting and would give us a short term employment programme and a breathing space in which to develop a long term policy. Another thing has been the failure over the last 20 years of the fishing industry; and a further reason, the neglect of the agricultural industry of the islands.
I am sorry that the Minister of Transport has departed. I was hoping to say a few words which might interest him in connection with what the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. MacMillan) has already said about Cabinet Ministers going on an imaginary journey. A report I sent to the Minister of Transport the other day extended an invitation to him to partake of a journey with me․an actual invitation which I hope will be accepted. It is now six years since the House had an opportunity of discussing this transport Vote for Scotland. I well remember the last occasion because it coincided with my entry into this House and this was the subject I chose for my maiden speech. That was in June, 1940. This․June, 1946․is the first occasion since then on which we have been able to discuss the same urgent problem of transport facilities, or lack of transport facilities, in the Islands and Western Highlands of Scotland. On Monday last we discussed very thoroughly a phase of agriculture which is the main agricultural industry of the Islands and Western Highlands․hill-farming. I do not therefore propose to go into that part of the island industry this afternoon, except to say that the question of steamer freights and steamer services have a very vital effect on our hill farming.
By question and by report to my hon. and right hon. Friends of the Scottish Office, and to the Minister of Transport, I have raised various points in connection with these steamer services, but we do not get much forrader. Two of the greatest handicaps on our farmers in the Islands and Western Highlands are the highly rated freight charges and the uncertainty of the sailings of the steamer services. I was dismayed to hear the statement by the Secretary of State this afternoon. It will be heard with the greatest dismay throughout the Highlands. He is considering the question of raising still further the freight rates for our steamer services. They are high enough in all conscience, even though they may be only 10 per cent. above the prewar rates. Yet now the Highlanders have been told that the Government are considering raising the freight rates still further. I do not see much point in spending a whole afternoon on Monday on the Hill Farming Bill, when the principal areas to which that Bill will apply will be unable to operate it because these increased freight charges will be an overwhelming obstacle. The hon. Member for the Western Isles and many other people interested in this question, and indeed the late Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Tom Johnston, are firm advocates of flat rates for all commodities, but principally agricultural commodities, for the coastal steamer services to the islands of Scotland. I hope that the Scottish Office will consider this question of flat charges for farm produce. It has been said that the subject is too difficult, that it must be done regionally, and cannot be done completely for the whole area of the Highlands. Whichever way it is done, I implore the Secretary of State to cooperate with the Minister of Transport, to see if they can arrive at some form of flat rate transport at reasonable charges for the farming community.
The other great handicap is the uncertainty of the steamer services. The Secretary of State referred to the two companies․the MacBrayne Company and the MacCallum Orme Company․ which serve the Western Islands. Every year since I have been in this House I have had experience of the difficulty of travelling about between the mainland and the Islands. During the war years, quite obviously, some of the boats were wanted for the war effort, and we had to put up with whatever came along, but if we grumble at the bad accommodation on the boats still running, we grumble still more about the uncertainty of whether you can leave a certain island on a certain day, or whether you can embark on the mainland with the knowledge that you will sail on a certain day. Time and again would-be passengers arrive at Oban or other ports of Argyllshire intending to take the boat for one of the Islands. Time and again, either the boat has not arrived, or the sailing is put off for some unknown reason, and yet no notification is ever given to those intending passengers. They arrive at the port of embarkation with no possibility of getting accommodation for themselves and, what is worse, no possibility of feeding the stock they are taking back to the island until a boat sails. I implore my hon. Friend to take that up with the shipping companies concerned. If they have old boats, let us have a slower schedule, but one to which the boats can keep.
I had an experience only the other day when I wanted to embark for the Island of Colonsay. I was recommended to go and wait in Glasgow until the' boat sailed but I had not the time for I was too busy here and in my constituency I went to the Island of Islay and waited there for a boat which I was told before I left London would sail on a certain day. When I arrived at my home, I was told it would not sail until the day following that originally given. I made all my arrangements to sail on the revised date but I had no sooner got down to other work when I had a telegram to say that the boat would sail on the original date. So everything had to be cancelled again, and I set off post haste intending to take the boat at midday on the Wednesday, only to receive another telegram to say it would sail at 6 o'clock in the morning and not at midday.
What happened when I wanted to come away from the island? I made arrangements to be picked up from the island two days later, on the Saturday. When I arrived in my constituency from London a telegram had been received saying that I could not be picked up on the Saturday but on the Monday. I was not picked up either on the Saturday or the Monday. In fact, I was picked up on the following Wednesday. That sort of thing may be a joke for a Member of Parliament but it is no joke for a farmer taking a number of cattle or several hundred sheep across to market on the main land when there are no facilities for himself or for looking after the stock at the embarkation point. I was rather dismayed when I heard the Secretary of State say that the boat which is now on the Stornoway run will be replaced by a new boat and that the present vessel will be available for service elsewhere. I have a vision of the old boat being sent down to Argyllshire to run another uncertain service down there ․but perhaps it will sink on the way. I wish next to refer to the Island of Lismore. I must apologise for going into details about these various islands but unless.we make these matters public nothing is ever done. My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles seemed to apologise for being what he called a constituency Member—
If I might interrupt, I did not apologise; I said that hon. Members were inevitably driven to be so, and that it was to their credit that they made themselves a nuisance in order to put this case across to the public.
I am glad of that correction because I agree that if it were not for Members of Parliament representing those remote constituencies saying what they can in the House of Commons, nobody would pay the slightest attention to these matters. Everybody says how thrilling is the song, "The Road to the Isles," but if hon. Members and the greater part of the British public knew how uncomfortable are the roads to the Isles, they would not be so fond of singing about them. The Island of Lismore is one of the most fertile on the West coast of Scotland. It raises a large quantity of livestock and its nearest point to the mainland is only just over a mile, while the distance to Oban is about seven miles. In a small boat it can be reached in a little over an hour. It has a service of one steamer per week. The reason why there is only one steamer a week is because the inhabitants of Mull say that if the boat which goes to Mull and Oban called at Lismore every day of the week, it would have to start an hour earlier from the Island of Mull. There may be technical difficulties as well, but Lismore is an important island, with 240 people living on it, engaged in very successful agriculture, and some attention should be paid to providing an adequate steamer service for that island. I see that the Scottish papers arc advertising that Mac-Callum Orme and Company are to run pleasure excursions to the Island of St. Kilda. That island was eventually evacuated simply because of neglect and the lack of steamer services. Instead of steamers to run tourists to the island of St. Kilda why not send them to Lismore and the other islands for the sake of the farmers and their produce? It would be of far more value to the country and, unless something of that sort is done, there will not only be St. Kilda but many other islands which will become only historical relics.
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that these services are run by private industry; and would he and his party agree that, in the interests of the people in the islands, they ought to be put under public ownership with a view to providing these services?
I am coming to that, but I wanted to draw attention to the one or two islands which get the worst possible steamer services one could imagine. All the other islands․Coll, Tiree, the mainland of Ardnamarchan․ all these I would mention too, but Colonsay and Lismore I mention particularly, because both are about the same size, both have good agricultural soil, and yet they have the most appalling steamer communications. The Joint Under-Secretary will, I am sure, know that there is a scheme to adopt a vehicular ferry between the North point of Lismore and the mainland. I implore him to get on with that. Let us have the ferry instead of discussing the matter and laying it on one side. We shall never get any forrader if we do that.
In the course of a question to the Minister of Transport in the House not so very long ago, I mentioned that the services today to the Islands are far worse than they were in 1914. I think it is inexplicable. Hon. Members have said to me often, " Why make these complaints to the Labour Government? Why did you not make them to the previous Government? " All I can say is that since I have been in this House there have been three Governments and I have made the same complaints to every Government with exactly the same results. I am against nationalisation of industries which are thriving concerns, and which I feel would be ruined by it, such as iron and steel; but there are one or two public services, particularly in remote parts of the Highlands and Islands, such as these steamer services which I would be quite pleased to see brought under some public corporation, such as the London Passenger Transport Board. I am dealing with these matters in no party spirit, for no party could make the sufferings of these people a matter for party slogans.
The Secretary of State has referred to reviewing the subsidy to MacBraynes and to MacCallum Orme & Co. No private concern could make this steamer service around the West coast of Scotland an economic proposition. The situation is such that only by Government help could the service be developed. It might be that if it were properly developed and people went to live on the Islands, instead of leaving them, traffic and freights could be increased and it could be turned back to a private organisation, but I feel that this is a question which should be dealt with in the same way as the trunk roads. After all, these steamers are nothing more than glorified ferries from the mainland to the Islands. I gather that the Minister of Transport has set up a committee of inquiry to go into the whole question of ferries, and this is a question of rather luxurious ferries. I have been speaking so far about steamer services and what we consider are deplorable conditions not so much from the point of view of accommodation․although that is bad enough, but that we recognise is owing to the war․but from the point of view of uncertainty. I support the hon. Member for the Western Isles in what he says about the captains and crews of the boats. No one could praise too highly their courage, courtesy and skill. It is also a question of the uncertainty of charges made for freights.
There is a solution to this transport problem, and that is the air. There is no doubt that air transport must be the solution of Western Islands transport. I am not going into detail about "approved routes"In civil aviation. What must be dealt with by the Scottish Office is the provision in every inhabited island with a sizeable population, of a landing ground of some sort. Such a landing ground could be made on the Island of Colonsay and one could be made on the Island of Coll. Last year there was a fatal case on that island because the patient could not be got to hospital. These islands do not lie on what the Ministry of Civil Aviation call "approved routes." Nevertheless they are centres of population which require communication with the mainland, and I am quite convinced that for mails, passengers, and light goods, an air service must be brought in to supplement, and in many ways take the place of, the steamer services. Although I may not live to see it, I believe that in 10 or 20 years' time all our livestock will be carried by air instead of undergoing the appalling conditions on some of the cattle boats which serve farmers for the markets on the mainland. There is no question but that air transport is coming. Many people laugh at the idea, but the carriage of livestock by air has already been done in Australia for more than seven years, and there is no reason why it should not be done in the Western Islands.
Only yesterday, or the day before, I heard on the wireless the report of a new amphibious machine, a twin-engined machine with a seating capacity for seven. That is a machine which would suit the island traffic extremely well. In places where it is not possible to make landing grounds, such machines could land in harbours, or off the coast, in good weather. I am certain that both steamer and air communications will have to be thoroughly speeded up and developed if we are going to prevent the constant departure of the inhabitants from the islands. Many people would ask, " What do we get from the islands? What is the good of bothering about the islands at all? " Besides cattle and sheep we get a very fine breed of men and women. In the Outer Isles and throughout the islands in times of national emergency, we look for provision of reservists for the Royal Navy and other Forces from them but I am certain that unless something is done to remedy these transport difficulties we will lose that very fine body of men and women, and all the sentimentalism of "The Road to the Isles " will become a complete farce.
I would like to ask hon. Members to take a trip with me from the Islands to the Kingdom of Fife. There they will find not only a widespread coalmining industry, but quite an important agricultural industry. Today, the Secretary of State spoke highly of the agricultural committees, and the work they have been doing. I want to refer to a question which concerns the agricultural committees, the Secretary of State and a man engaged in agricultural production in Fife. Regulation 62 (4, a) was directed towards preventing speculation in land, but at the same time was intended to provide a measure of security for farmers who were being encouraged to put everything they had into production during the years of the war, to bring the country out of the difficulties with which it was faced. It would be a shameful thing if we encouraged farmers to put everything they had into the production of food, and if at the first opportunity someone bought the land and threw the farmer off his farm. Obviously that is something which should not be tolerated. If there was anything necessary in the way of further developing the land, it should be the job of the agricultural com- mittee to encourage the farmer, or farmers, and to assist them if necessary with any capital they may need for that purpose.
In the case to which I wish to draw attention, there is quite a possibility of a loss in production, although the Minister says, in a very long correspondence I have had with him, that as a result of putting the farmer off his farm and allowing a new tenant to enter, he expects to get greater production. I will consider that in a moment. In general, I would lay it down that in our land it should not be possible for anyone to buy " our land."The land should be under the control and direction of the Government acting in the name of the people and that the best of the land—
Then I would say that the land should be under such direction as would ensure that the best of it is used for agricultural purposes and the rest for other purposes essential for the community.
In this case, a farmer by the name of Thomas Ramsay worked for 10 years as manager of a farm on the estate of Mr. Dalgleish, where he had gone to work as a boy. When he had been manager for 10 years, Dalgleish began disposing of his land and asked Ramsay to take over part of it on lease and farm it for himself, which he did. He has now spent 10 years as a farmer, 10 years of the hardest possible work, cutting up and developing new land. When war came there was a demand for further cultivation. Ramsay is not only a farmer but a stock breeder, and he had used a considerable part of the land for raising stock, using another part for agriculture. As a result of the request made by the Government during the period of the war, a considerable amount of grazing land was put under the plough, and considerable agricultural production resulted. This man, who is now 54 years of age, is assisted on the farm by his wife, a son aged 23 and a daughter aged 20. Another daughter has just returned home after demobilisation from the A.T.S. This man and his family have been working on this land for 10 years, building up the farm and a home. Then the land is disposed of, and a lawyer in Edinburgh buys this particular section of the estate. Apparently the good lady of this lawyer takes an interest in agriculture, and is anxious to have her own farm. So last year Ramsay received notice that he has to leave the farm this season.
As I have already pointed out, the Minister, in presenting the Estimates, drew attention to the urgent need for agricultural production, and to the services rendered by the agricultural executive committees. I am dealing with a situation that came within the purview of the agricultural executive committee and of the Secretary of State for Scotland. In my view, it affects very seriously the question of agricultural production. I am absolutely convinced that if a man with the experience that Thomas Ramsay has had as the manager of the farm, and then as a farmer and stock-raiser himself, is put off the farm to allow a lawyer from Edinburgh, however competent he may be in the courts, to take possession of the land and leave that experienced man without occupation, it will not be to the advantage of agricultural production or stock raising in Scotland.
Of course, it is the business of the agricultural committee to see that farms are worked properly. The agricultural committee has never at any time found cause to complain of this particular farmer, but he is ordered off the farm, and the owner is proposing to take possession. The tenant makes an appeal to the Minister not to give sanction for his removal. The Minister says that action was taken on the report of the agricultural executive committee. That report is not divulged but it is quite clear that the committee has not at any time found anything wrong with the husbandry of this farm. But for some other reasons․I do not know from whence they come or what they are․the Minister thinks he will get better production from the new tenant. Will anyone tell me how it is possible to displace a man and his family who have the experience of this man and his family, and replace them by a lawyer and his good lady, however intelligent they may be, and by that means to get better agricultural and stock raising production?
I did not catch the gist of what the hon. Member said.
I do not think that anyone could seriously argue that it is possible to increase agricultural production by a process of that kind, unless it is argued that the new tenant can put in cash․extra capital. Perhaps they can say something like that. But, surely, if there was a case for changing the method of farming that land, if there was the need to increase the productivity of that land by supplying new capital, it was one of the duties of the agriculture executive committee to see that that was done, where there was good husbandry. In this case nothing has been said against the farmer, no directions have had to be given to him at any time, he has always carried out his work and has achieved good production, as can be testified by those who have had to deal with him. Yet we get a situation of this kind. Let me give just one testimonial by a neighbouring farmer, one who has known him for a considerable time. This neighbouring farmer claims that Ramsay is one of the best agriculturists in the country. There are so many documents that I have some trouble in finding this letter.
It says here:
In sympathy with Mr. T. Ramsay regarding the unjust treatment he has received at the hands of the Scottish Secretary, I hereby state the following facts. I have known Mr. Ramsay for the past 30 years and I can guarantee he is a first class agriculturist in all branches, especially stock. One has only to look round the steading at West
Grange and note the trophies he has won at the leading agricultural shows in Scotland. I am safe to say there isn't another display like it on any farm within a radius of 10 miles at least. Further, I have known West Grange intimately for the past 30 years, my late father having grazed stock there at that time. I can testify that said farm has improved beyond all measure since that time, especially the arable land; the grazing my father had was a rabbit infested poor pasture indeed. I can truthfully say West Grange has doubled its value under Mr. Ramsay's management. He was reared on one of the worst farms in Clackmannanshire, his forebears having farmed the Feerings Farm for over 300 years. In short, he belongs to the body of men who have made Scotland famous as the stock farm of the world. I am, yours truly, (Signed) John J. Kirk.
That is from a neighbouring farmer—
This point is very interesting and I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Member has said. Would he agree that all he has said is a most typical example of Socialistic bureaucratic tyranny?
No, far from it. This is one case where what is called Socialist bureaucracy has not functioned. It is not Socialist bureaucracy when a man has given his life to the building up of a farm and the owner of the land sells it, that someone else can turn him out lock, stock and barrel, and leave him without employment. What has that to do with Socialist bureaucracy?
What I demand is that we have a little bit of Socialism, so that a man like that can be secure in the farm for which he has worked so hard. This is the point I want to make. It is not merely a matter of cash. It may be said that the incoming tenant will pay him for the farmhouse and the materials and so on; but the incoming tenant cannot pay him for the life he has put into the soil. That is a thing for which he cannot be paid. Here is a man who has toiled, ripped up the green land and brought it into cultivation, given year after year feeding it and caring for it. After he has done all that labour someone comes along and says, " Put him out and let me in and I can give you more production than you are getting from this man."This is not a question of taking over new land and tearing it up, ploughing feeding and cultivating it, but taking over the life-blood of another man and his family. Is it possible that we should tolerate that?
I say to the Minister that there can be no justification for that, and if ever there was a case in which a farmer should have been given security, it is the case of Thomas Ramsay, of West Grange Farm in Fife. I ask the Minister to go into this matter again and ensure that this farmer with his long experience and great knowledge will be allowed to carry on the valuable work he is doing in the 54th year of his life, after working from boyhood as an agriculturist. He should not be thrown on to the streets but should stay in this useful employment. It will be a shame to the Scottish Office if he is turned out and I hope something will be done about it.
There is one aspect of this Debate which has been touched on both by the Secretary of State and by my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) which I want to go into in a little more detail. It concerns the value of research to agriculture. At present we are spending in Scotland on research and education in agriculture something like £450,000. I think that every penny of that money is well spent. The point to which I wish to draw special attention is the work that is being done in my own constituency and in Aberdeen. I hope I shall be forgiven if I seem a little parochial but we have a remarkable set-up there of three great institutes which are concentrating on research into the troubles of agriculture. These institutes have been built up over the years by Government grant and private endowment They have rendered a great service to the nation, and indeed to the world, as a result of their discoveries in matters of nutrition and of food production.
They are the Rowett Institute, the North of Scotland School of Agriculture, and the Macaulay Soil Research Institute. Belonging to these establishments are the Duthie experimental stock farm, the Craibstone experimental farm and the Glensaugh hill sheep research farm. These establishments, together with the team of experts who are running them, form an organisation of chemists for biological and organic research which is unique in Great Britain. The work includes research into both human and animal dietetics, into the effect of mineral deficiencies in the soil, into animal and plant diseases and into maximum productivity of crops. Alongside this work, of course, is the work of training those who are to work on our farms. I suggest there is one lesson in particular to be learned from what has been achieved. The scientists and experts and the members of the governing boards of these establishments are practical men. They approach all problems of agricultural research with three things in mind․the interest of the producer, of the consumer and of our own national economy. That is why the work that has been done"In Aberdeen has been of tremendous value nationally, because it is not academic dilettante work but practical research which gives practical results․results which can be translated into £ s. d. on the farms.
Hon. Members probably know that at the Rowett Institute a great deal of the trial and error of experiment was done to settle the basis of the diet on which this nation had to live in the war years. There was also a notable discovery which was perfected there. That was the introduction of iron into pigs' food in order to overcome anaemia which was proving a great scourge amongst pigs. The development and application of the Australian discovery of the introduction of cobalt into the fertilisers which are put on grazing grounds for sheep has had remarkable results. There have been a number of other researches including the successful one of the prevention of virus disease in potatoes. Probably one of the best known discoveries has been the evolution of what is called " college mixture."This is a mixture of grass seeds which has been found of immense value and has produced for the nation thousands of pounds' worth of extra fodder. But perhaps the most valuable thing produced by the Rowett Institute is my hon. Friend the Member for Scottish Universities (Sir J. Boyd Orr) who is now head of the Food and Agriculture Organisation. He has given a lead to the world today in food, and I wish to draw the attention of the Secretary of State to the fact that his spirit still lives in Aber- deen, and the tradition he set up of cooperative work and coordination between those three great organisations is still carried on today.
I want to refer briefly to the economy of our farms. On our Scottish farms, 75 per cent. of the food value produced is in the form of livestock or animal products. Therefore, the recent cut in animal feeding stuffs is to be regarded with grave misgiving in relation to what the future economy of our farms may be. So I appeal to the Secretary of State to direct that the whole of the brains and skill of these research establishments should be directed to finding ways and means of mitigating the impact of this restriction of feeding stuffs on the day-to-day economy of our farms all over Scotland. The stock we breed must be healthy, and it must be kept properly. We must see that the risks of infection from various diseases are minimised, and I feel that there is a great future for these colleges in the training of stock-keepers, of whom there is a great shortage on the farms.
If we take a long-term view of our future standards of life, the first thing we think about is what our diet will be, and, in our diet of the future, when the standard of living has risen, the first requirement will be more meat. That is one thing which will be essential to a standard of living higher than our present level So we ought to envisage a stock production in Scotland of nearly twice as much as that of today, provided that it can be balanced with the economy of out farms. It must never be forgotten that animals put fertility into the ground, while wheat and cereals take it out. The more animals we have on the farm, the more productive and fertile the land will be. I should like to end on this note. Food is our greatest problem. I therefore hope that the Secretary of State will allow no financial considerations to stand in the way of our experts harnessing science so as to bring aid to humanity.
The Secretary of State started by referring to the necessity of building up a labour force, and I was disappointed that he did not elaborate that point to a greater extent. He does not seem to have very clearly in mind exactly how this is to be done. In the Balfour of Burleigh Report the possibility of building up a flying squad to carry out improvements on hill farms was visualised, but the right hon. Gentleman made no reference to that. I hope the hon. Gentleman who is to reply, will develop the point a good deal more so that we may see how this labour force is to be built up, and how it is to be housed, because, for the future of agriculture in this country, an enormous amount depends upon the restoration of the fertility of the land.
The right hon. Gentleman said that, today, there is no such thing as an agricultural labourer; they all are or should be experts. Mechanisation is certainly turning agriculture into an expert science, and I was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman did not go on to say something more about the remuneration of these experts. It seems to me that, if we are to get a good labour force, we must be prepared to pay them as skilled men. Not only that, but other members of the community must not continue to insist upon the margins between agricultural wages and their own wages being maintained. The dignity and importance of the agricultural labourer must be emphasised and brought home to the community at large. On the other hand, the calling of agricultural worker does entail certain responsibilities. After all, a man who joins up as a soldier does not expect to work exactly an eight hour day. The conditions of work in agriculture are more varied and healthy than conditions of work in a factory. The same rigid rules cannot be applied, and I therefore hope that we shall encourage the agricultural worker not to insist on a rigid hourly basis, but to be prepared to work for longer hours in summer, and for shorter hours in winter on an elastic system, and to be prepared, if necessary, on smaller dairy farms, to give almost his whole time to his calling.
There is another subject to which the right hon. Gentleman did not refer, but which I consider is extremely important, and that is the position of women in agriculture. He did not mention at all the Women's Land Army, which has done such splendid work. There is an old Gaelic proverb which says that, where there are cows, there are women, and, where there are women, there is strife, and that has always been alleged as the reason why cattle went out of popularity in the Highlands. The fact is that, in these days, much of the loss of labour from the land has been due to the fact that there are fewer women interested in agricultural subjects, and fewer who are prepared to work on the land. During the war, quite naturally, the men who served in the Forces very often went away and married wives in the towns. I suggest that, in cases where these men intend to come back to the land, provision should be made for training these women in agriculture. There should be institutes available for the purpose. There is one at Craibstone in Aberdeenshire, and others could be set up to train women not only for the Women's Land Army, but as future wives for farmers and farm-workers. I suggest that the Government should give serious consideration to that idea, because I am convinced the suitability of their wives is an important consideration to the success of men engaged in agriculture. It is on the devotion of the wives to the land that the future of agriculture, to a very large extent, depends.
At the same time, it is necessary that we should look further into the future. At present, the county organisers have been doing a very good job of work with the young farmers' clubs. The use of the county organisers, obviously, must be developed to a very great extent, and I hope that, in the next few years, we shall see a great development of demonstration farms linked with sub-committees on a county basis. It cannot be expected that farmers should go long distances, shall we say, from the Border to Cupar in order to see demonstrations. There should be a development of farm institutes on an area basis. Provision is made in the Estimates for about £100,000 for the training of ex-Servicemen, part being for rehabilitation and part for training of men who have not been in agriculture before. I would like the Minister to say something about how that training is to be carried out, what hostel accommodation is available, what the length of the courses is to be and what response there has been so far.
Looking to the future again, it seems to me that it is necessary that short courses should be run in these institutes. After all, with progressive mechanisation of farms, it is essential that this training should be kept up, and that it should not only be a question of young men going for a year or six months' course, or even for a course of three or four years. There must also be facilities for farmers and farm workers for renewing their knowledge from time to time, just as we propose providing facilities for doctors to have refresher courses from time to time. In the past—looking back, perhaps 100, or even 50, years—a great part was played in agriculture by the schoolteacher and even by the minister. I wish to speak particularly of the schoolteachers, who very often, even today, take a great part in assisting farmers. It seems to me that, for two reasons, schoolteachers who wish to devote their lives to rural areas, should not only have a rural background, but a certain agricultural training. In the first place, it is essential that they should be able to give the correct country slant to teaching and, in the second place, there is every advantage in maintaining sympathy with the parents in the areas. They should show that they are masters of the subject and are men of the country.
The Hamilton Fyfe Committee suggested that there should be a four-year course, including a practical course for specialist teachers in agricultural subjects, but that would be unsuitable for teachers in rural schools. I hope that consideration will be given to shorter courses being incorporated into the training of teachers, not primarily to equip them to bring students up to the higher certificate stage, but simply to enable them to "Teach the land " so that the children will remain interested in the land and will not constantly be seeking to go to the towns. I would remind the Committee that the Constable Committee recommended that:
In so fat as may be consistent with 'these objects, it is desirable to foster the rural. school and undesirable to concentrate country children in urban schools."
Very little implementation has been given to that policy over the past 20 years, and I would very strongly urge the Government to concentrate on teaching country children in their own rural districts.
The Secretary of State referred to the possibility of training men from the towns. It is indeed necessary to get an adequate labour force on to the land quickly, and it may be necessary, and advisable, to take men out of the cities and to train them as agricultural workers. But it is plainly not the right way, in the long run, to set about it. In order to develop a healthy agriculture, we must take children from towns and teach them rural economy, and increase the number of agricultural institutes such as the Wallace Academy in the country for teaching them. Some deplorable figures were given to me in an answer by the Secretary of State regarding the number of children who take the school leaving certificates in agriculture. There are only six schools in Scotland equipped to bring children up to the higher leaving certificate standard in agricultural subjects. That is deplorably low, and, last year, there were only 14 pupils who took the examination. What is more, the lower leaving certificate has been suppressed for the period of the war. I hope that we shall see it brought back very speedily into operation.
May I say a word very briefly on the question of grants for hill cattle? The present arrangements are far better than the ones which existed before. They consist of a subsidy of £5 for breeding cows and 3os. for bullocks and heifers. The condition is that these cattle should be 16 weeks in the year on the hill. If we are going to build up a healthy hill farming industry, it is essential to have hill herds, and for the future prospects, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. Spence) in a most able speech when discussing the breeding of cattle on the hill for consumption in this country and for export, it is essential that we should start now, and encourage hill cattle herds in the interest both of hill sheep farming and of breeding stock. For that reason, I urge very strongly that the basis of this subsidy should be reviewed so that more incentive may be given to the hill farmer to have herds, not simply for summering, but throughout the year.
There is only one other subject to which I wish to refer and which is worrying farmers a good deal at the present time. It is the question of advertising for labour. We on this side of the House realise the necessity for the Essential Work Order. It is possible--and it may not be worth the risk—that, if the Essential Work Order were taken off, shepherds and workers on the more' remote hill farms would wish to relinquish their present situations and seek jobs nearer the towns. That is a possibility, but the present advertising rules are difficult to.justify The position at the moment is that 28 days must elapse before authority is given to advertise. The man who is going to leave the place, and has authority to leave, has to give three weeks' notice. It very often takes a considerable time before the advertisement gets into the paper at all and a further time before it is answered. The man who 'accepts the job advertised has to give three weeks' notice and, of course, has to get permission to leave, if he is not a man coming out of the Forces. It will be seen that the net result, however well this rule is administered, is that it is possible for a farmer to be without a replacement altogether for at least a month which is, roughly, the intervening period. On the whole, this order has been sympathetically administered, but it is impossible to avoid errors, and I very strongly urge that there should be closer coordination in this matter and that where, especially in the case of shepherds, there are vacancies, the farmer should be allowed to advertise right away, as soon as the vacancy occurs.
In conclusion, I would support very strongly the argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) regarding the necessity for having an appeal board to review the decisions of the war agricultural executive committees in cases of dispossession. I have a good deal of sympathy with tenants in a position similar to that of the case which the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) has referred to. That, however, is a matter of security of tenure —a subject which is in need of careful review, but as it requires legislation is outside the scope of this Debate. I hope the Government will give it their attention
I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) is no longer in his place. He gave us a most lugubrious rendering of the " Skye Boating Song."I was under the impression that there was an undertaking that we were only to have a ten-minute version on this occasion, not the half-hour one. I am also sorry that, on his own showing, he has not been a completely successful representative of the Western Isles, and I rather gathered that, although he had been their Member for the last 11 years, he has achieved nothing in that time. I do not think that was very fair to the Ministers with whom he had to deal, because I think if he counted his blessings he would find than quite a lot had been achieved.
I am now about to give a rendering of the Ballad of Sit Patrick Spens, and although I am sure it will not sound more cheerful than the contribution of. either of the hon. Members, it will at least be briefer. It was the hon, and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) who referred to the fact that it would be very doubtful if the Highlands and Islands would get the full benefit out of the Hill Farming Bill unless the transport problem were tackled. That is true, but the problem goes deeper than that. This question of transport in the Highlands and Islands has occupied the attention of a number of Committees in recent years, including the Hilary Committee in 1938, the Watson Committee in 1944, the Balfour Committee in 1944, and the White Fish Committee in 1945. Every one of those Committees drew attention to the profound effect which heavy freight transport rates have on the economic life of the Highlands and Islands. It has been conclusively proved that the steamer freights which producers in the Islands have to pay on imports and exports are the greatest handicap they have to contend with in the field of competition. When these freights are as high as they are now, they amount to a virtual tax on existence, and the more remote the area the higher the tax becomes. I myself live in the most remote Island of all, Unset, on which an airman was stationed in the course of the war. He wrote to his parents and said:
I always knew we had a far-flung Empire, but I never knew that any of it had been flung as far as this.
This state of affairs is a most serious obstacle to the development of agriculture, fishing and other industries like weaving in those distant places. The margin of profit in agricultural enterprises in places like Orkney and Shetland is very small, at the best. We have quite enough handicaps to deal with, due to matters like
latitude and climate, and what very small margin there is often becomes eaten up in freight transport charges. I remember what happened in 1931 when I myself suffered. When we sent our store lambs to the Aberdeen markets we got bills to pay instead of receiving cheques, because the lambs did not fetch enough to cover the cost of transport. I remember Shetland ponies being led to the edges of cliffs in 1931 and shot, because the prices they fetched in Aberdeen did not cover the cost of transport.
I could give endless details of the same kind. The handicap we have with regard to fishing, due to distance from markets, is already big enough without having to pay excessive freight charges. Freight charges must not be larger than the traffic can bear; otherwise enterprise is strangled at birth. One other point which I do not think anybody has mentioned is the tremendous handicap on building due to the high transport charges, which are so great that we are prevented from reaping the full benefit that we ought to get from Acts which are passed to help us solve these problems. All this has a depressing effect on the population, and it makes it very difficult to get any good system of land settlement going. People tend to leave the land, and in Shetland alone the population has gone down since 1871 from 30,000 to 20,000.
The general conclusion of the- Committees which have examined this problem is that there ought to be a scaling down of these charges, and that is urgently called for. It is impossible for the companies to do this on an ordinary commercial basis. They give us good steamers and good services, and we do not complain about that for the most part, but it cannot be clone commercially: of that I am sure. One or two hon. Members have suggested that we should have a flat rate. That suggestion ought to be considered because it might prove a solution. It is a point which requires careful examination by experts. We already have a kind of flat rate for commodities like flour, coal and artificial fertilisers. An hon. Member suggested that nationalisation might be the answer to our problems, but that would not make the slightest difference. If we nationalised the steamers tomorrow, we would still have this problem of the high rates to the Islands. it is a question of redressing the inequality which exists.
It is essential to make some effort to harmonise the cost of living in these remote rural areas with the cost of living in the more thickly populated areas. We cannot afford to let these Islands become depopulated. They make quite a big contribution to the country's larder in the way of store lambs and cattle, large quantities of eggs, fish, lobsters and so on. As one hon. Member pointed out. a great many of the men who live there are regular seafarers and served the country well in time of war. Many of them go abroad to the Colonies and the Dominions and do extremely well. What I have said about the effect of the freight rates on the population of the Islands refers to the period up to a few weeks ago. Since then, so far as Orkney and Shetland are concerned, a very serious thing has happened because the transport rates have suddenly been pushed up as high as 77⅔ per cent. That produces an absolutely impossible state of affairs, and let it be remembered that we have not the advantage of the enormous subsidies which the Western Islands have; £60,000 a year was the figure quoted, I think. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take note of the fact that all the local authorities have written drawing attention to this urgent problem. He may not be able to cope with it within his existing powers, but I ask him forthwith to set up a departmental committee to go into this question of the freight charges as they affect the counties of Orkney and Shetland.
I wish to say a few words on another subject which has been referred to; the right hon. Gentleman himself referred to it. That is the question of township roads. These are vital to the community. Along these township roads come the supplies which the people have to get and the produce they have to send away. Children have to get to school along those roads as well. I say "These roads," although, in point of fact, they do not exist at all in many places. Arterial roads arc all very well, but arterial systems are of no use unless we have capillaries, and the township roads are the capillaries of our road transport system. The more isolated the community, the greater the need for access to the main roads. I think nothing has contributed more to the depopulation of some of the remoter rural areas in Scotland than the lack of roads giving access to the main road system. I have here a list of 83 township roads wanted for the county of Shetland. Judging by the rate at which help has been given in the past in making these roads, 30 years would elapse before the programe could be completed. If we wait for 30 years there will be no people to whom to give the roads; they will have left the land.
The right hon. Gentleman knows the size of the problem. I would ask him to consider the possibility of having a five years' programme. Let us attempt to get this problem settled once and for all. The hon. Member for the Western Isles pointed out that far too much of our time in this place which we ought to spend on broader matters is in fact spent in dealing with local problems. It is one long battle to get the people we represent provided with the amenities which most people in the country take for granted, without ever being aware that they exist. These township roads are the concern of the right hon. Gentleman. In the past, the usual custom has been to make a 75 per cent grant, the remainder being found locally. It is becoming impossible to do that. These roads cost far more than they used to. A 1d. rate in the county of Shetland raises £60; a is. district council rate never raises more than a few pounds. not enough to keep up the existing roads. Better roads are needed now because of the road transport. I do not think it is fair to get the men who make the roads to contribute to their cost by accepting something below the prevailing wage. This is a problem which wants tackling basically. We might well consider giving a full grant of l00 per cent., and get the road question out of the way once and for all My to minutes is up. I have 16 other points with which to deal, but it would take me at least four hours to develop them fully. In view of the undertaking not to speak for more than 10 minutes I will continue this speech on the next occasion, only hoping, Major Milner, that the prospect will not prevent me catching your eye.
I am very happy indeed to take part in this discussion. I agree with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) in what he said at the beginning of his speech. I also agree with the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) in the great tribute he paid to the farmers and farm workers of this country. I associate myself with that tribute and I leave it at that, because I have no intention of taking the amount of time that the hon. Member did in paying that tribute. I represent a. constituency which has within its boundaries the most famous fruit-growing area in the whole of Scotland, namely, the Clydeside. I want to say something in regard to horticulture and horticultural research. We have had from the Government a statement on agricultural policy, and this afternoon we have heard from the Secretary of State for Scotland something of that policy and how it will affect agriculture. Those who are engaged in the horticultural industry remember that this policy does not affect them. In fact, so far as prices are concerned these are only maximum prices; they are not fixed prices such as are accorded to the agricultural industry. We do want from this Government some pronouncement with regard to horticulture. Those who are engaged in this industry remember the period between the wars, and are perturbed at the moment that nothing has been said regarding their future.
The principal point with which I wish to deal is that of research in connection with horticulture. The Clydeside area has become famous for certain fruits, for instance, apples, pears, plums, gooseberries and strawberries. It is,true that great quantities of strawberries have been grown in Lanarkshire for many years. In 1927, out of a total acreage of strawberries of 2,670 in Scotland, 1,193 acres were grown in Lanarkshire. Certain hon. Members this afternoon have drawn attention to the decline in the Highlands, and the depopulation of the Highlands in relation to agriculture. There has been a steady decline in fruit production in Clydeside for a number of years. In 1927, 2,670 acres were under strawberries in Scotland; in 1945 there were only 1,026 acres; with 282 acres of strawberries in Lanarkshire as against 1,193 acres in 1927. That decline has not been due to war circumstances. In 1932, out of a total acreage of 1,824, 515 acres were grown in Lanarkshire, and the 1932 acreage represented a steady decline from 1927. The reason for this decline in the growing of strawberries is because of disease which has affected the plants. One other feature emerges, namely, not only is there a decline in the acreage but a decline in the yield. At one time it was possible to get six tons per acre; now, the average yield per acre is down to roughly 3o cwt. That is very important, and calls for a great deal of research.
We must pay tribute to the research already done in Auchencruive so far as strawberries are concerned. The main point with which fruit growers and horticulturists are concerned is that soil research is done at Auchencruive. They feel that the research ought to be done on Clydeside where the soil conditions might be very much different from those at Auchencruive. The difficulties are not confined merely to strawberries. There is a great deal of disease in plums and apples, and now it is also affecting the raspberries. While we recognise that the centre of Scotland is chiefly concerned with the growing of that type of fruit, many acres are grown on Clydeside. What has the fruit grower been doing? Prior to the war he was going over from the production of outside fruits to the production of fruits grown under glass. In 1942 there were 320 acres of glass in Scotland; of that approximately 200 acres were in Lanarkshire. That proves conclusively, I think, generally speaking fruit growing is concentrated in Lanarkshire.
Some hon. Members have questioned the statement that Lanarkshire is the most famous fruit growing area in Scotland, but there are records which prove that fruit has been grown in that area since the year 845. I think that fact is important, because it proves that this area is eminently suitable for the growing of fruit. The fruit grower, as I say, has been leaving outside crops and producing under glass. Clyde-side, during apple blossom time, is one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland and many tourists visit it at that time of year, but I do not think the fruit growers ought to be expected to have this show merely for the benefit of tourists. They look for some other return, and that is why they have been turning to production, mostly of tomatoes, under glass. This practice was followed a great deal in Scotland prior to the war.
I welcome the Government's proposals regarding the research stations which, I understand, are to be built, but I press that the research station for fruit ought to be on Clydeside. My figures have proved, I think, that it is the area in Scotland where fruit is grown extensively. Farmers in general do not want merely to accept instructions, or advice, on paper. They want to see results in practice. It is much better, I feel, for the farmer to go along to agricultural research stations to see how things are done. A farmer going to a research station and seeing the produce might say, "That is all right in your part of the country, but how would it be in my part? "Therefore, I want to see the fruit research station on Clydeside. Large areas of Clydeside have yet to be developed, as far as fruit growing is concerned. There are still many acres which could be taken over for the growing of fruit, and which, at the present time, are not being utilised at all. There is, further, the point that Clydeside is very near the two main markets, being less than 30 miles from Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Lanark shire itself is a development area. We can look forward to an unfortunate unemployment problem in Lanark shire for the next few years. Here on Clyde side, which has a fairly large population round about, we have something which could be used for—if I may say so —fruitful production. We are concerned at the moment to bring in light and heavy industries. Here is something lying at hand, which could be done. But before it can be done properly, a good deal of research is necessary. I want the Minister to realise the special importance of research in this case. Soil fertility was mentioned by the hon. Member for West Fife. I can assure him that, to this industry, the soil is very, very important. I am sure that the industry, with its own good intentions, and with the support the Government can give it, can look forward to big prospects in the future.
It is sometimes not difficult in Committee of Supply, when we are precluded from talking about anything which involves legislation, to become involved in the details of administration, and to forget the background against which the particular Estimates are being discussed. The background to the question of our Scottish agriculture tonight is darkened by two factors of immense importance which ought to govern and condition all political action. The first is a world problem, the problem of the universal shortage of food. The second is a domestic problem, although its repercussions reach, or may reach, far beyond these Islands: the lamentable failure of His Majesty's Government to grapple with the realities of the postwar, problems; the reckless way in which they are adding, immensely and improvidently, to the burdens which have to be carried by the taxpayer, burdens which are so detrimental to the encouragement of enterprise and initiative; their refusal to face the need for a wages policy—all these are drawing us inexorably and with increasing momentum into the outer eddies of the maelstrom of inflation. We are sowing the wind. He would be a bold man, or a very foolish one, who would say, with any degree of confidence, that we can avoid reaping the whirlwind.
Side by side with these factors, which few would deny and none can ignore, is a feeling which is widely held throughout Scotland that the Northern Kingdom is not getting its fair share or receiving its proper recognition in the arrangements which are being made for the rehabilitation of Britain. Far more than in England, a flourishing agriculture is the basis of the prosperity of Scotland. If agriculture can be developed and brought to a high pitch of prosperity and efficiency, the effects of that prosperity will be felt throughout the land; and against the gloomy background of a world food shortage and the imminence of inflation the need to make the most of our own natural resources becomes the more apparent. Here, then, is a golden opportunity, an opportunity such as has never occurred before, to bring these three factors together, and to wring from the Government such assistance as may be needed to revitalize our countryside. Here is a heaven sent chance for bold planning and imaginative administration. Now is the time, if ever there was a time, to ensure for those who live by the land an honoured place in our national economy.
Let me pass to one or two of those details about which I spoke. First of all, with other speakers, I want to take up the question of agricultural labour, because that is at the root of our immediate problems. According to the latest figures, we have, I believe, a labour force in Scotland of only 113,000. That figure includes prisoners of war, casual labour and women, and with that labour force we have to meet the whole of our requirements for an expanding agriculture. I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned in his opening speech the Essential Work Order. He recognised, and we all recognise, that that Order is necessary to keep the men on the land, because without it some of these precious men might drift away. On the other hand, we on this side say that the sooner that Order is removed, the better we shall be pleased. It gives rise to great hardship on both sides—both to farmers and to workers£ and we do not like to see men tied to a job which they do not want to do, and which they would not be there to do if they had a free choice.
The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) spoke about the increasing need for a labour pool, a mobile pool of labour to go from place to place as required. This has found mention in the Balfour Report upon hill sheep farming. it has occurred to me, and I have no doubt that it has occurred to the Minister, that we might make use of some of the Polish troops. There are 100,000 of them in the Second Polish Corps, and 60,000 of them are already in this country. The men who are coming from Italy will go into the Resettlement Corps. They make good farmers I know, because I have watched some of them at work. They are just the kind of men we want to help us, and they can do the job without putting one Scotsman out of work.
According to the figures which have been given this week, 5,000 Poles will be coming to Scotland. There is great resentment in Scotland about any coming at all, and, in view of that, is the hon. Member now advocating that Scotland should have a larger proportion than 5,000?
I very much regret that the hon. Member should talk about resentment in Scotland. I know what he means. I was in Scotland, doing a humble job on the staff, when we thought that we were to be invaded any day. The Polish soldiers were standing by, from dawn to dusk, ready to defend our Scottish shores against the invasion which we expected at any time. I consider that that is an interjection which the hon. Member ought not to have made. We are desperately short of agricultural labour, and yet here are these men who are precluded almost from going to their homes, wanting work to do. I am suggesting that they might well be used to help us forward with our agricultural problem in Scotland.
The Secretary of State spoke about 20,000 German prisoners of war being available now, whereas, according to the latest Press report from the Department, dated 4th May, the number is shown as 6,900. I know that the Department is very concerned at the moment that in many of the camps German prisoners of war are idle, so much so that in my own county the chairman of the agricultural executive committee is appealing through the Press to farmers and landowners to find between-the-season work, such as repairing and strengthening farms and roads, preparation of suitable stances for stacks in outlying fields to ensure adequate protection against vermin, burning of " lop and top " where trees have been cut down, hedging and ditching and so on, to prevent men being dratted elsewhere, thereby reducing the numbers available for harvest and other seasonal work. I would ask the Under-Secretary to explain the discrepancy between the two figures.
If it is a fact that men are idle in the camps, it adds force to the plea I have made to the Under-Secretary, and which I now make again, concerning the short. age of agricultural blacksmiths in Scotland. In the prisoner of war camps are a great many Germans who are skilled in this work. We are finding that many of these German agricultural blacksmiths, who are coming to us, would be quite good if they could speak our language, and if they knew our ways—apparently the German work is a little different from ours. They have to have a good deal of tuition from country blacksmiths who are working on their own. We have to pay them 2s. an hour, but they are not really worth it because of the language difficulty. I have three cases of this within a radius of a dozen miles of my home, and I know there are a great many other cases. I mentioned adequate protection of stacks against vermin. I was glad to see in the Estimates a sum of£62,000 for the destruction of rats and mice. In some places the work of destroying rats is being carried out very well, but in others it is deplorable. This ought to be tightened up.
I pass now to the question of organisation. We have all been inter- ested in the efforts made by the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary to build up a new organisation with the new area executive committees and the advisory committees and so on, but I am not sure that we are working on the right lines. I am not at all sure that in this case the English system is not better. I say that for this reason. Our area executive committees are to have about 14 members, and these members are to be appointed by the Secretary of State after consultation with various representative bodies. In England the executive committees are more or less on a county basis. The chairman is appointed by the Minister, three members are drawn from a panel of six names submitted by the N.F.U., two are selected from a panel submitted by the Farm Workers' Union, two from a panel submitted by professional bodies, two or four are representatives appointed by the Minister, and one, possibly, from the county council. I like the idea of the representatives being drawn from a panel. The Secretary of State, like Caesar's wife, must be above suspicion, arid these committees must not only be constituted fairly, but they must be believed to be fair by the agricultural community upon whose good will their success or failure will depend. I think that we ought to have liaison officers on the area executive committees, and I hope that the Secretary of State is going to appoint them. There must be, as the hon. Member for West Perth and other hon. Members have mentioned, a right of appeal, which might well be to the Land Courts, and most of us are agreed that the Secretary of State, who is responsible to Parliament for the administration of Scottish agriculture, ought to have the final word.
Few agricultural operations have yielded greater results than the ploughing up of old and useless grassland and its direct reseeding. In the Highlands and on the hill and upland farms, it has had an immensely beneficial effect upon the stock-carrying capacity of the land. I can think of one instance in Aberdeenshire where land formerly carried only one sheep to four or five acres. Now, as the result of direct reseeding, it carries two cows and two calves for six months in the year. In the spring of 1945, the agricultural executive committees made great efforts, by means of lectures and films, to encourage the direct reseeding of grassland and grants, in one case in my own constituency up to £7 per acre were made. That was £5 in ordinary subsidy, including the £2 grassland subsidy plus 50 per cent. of the cost of manuring. That these grants were not excessive can be proved by the fact that, in many cases, the actual work cost not less than £10 an acre, and, in some cases, £5 an acre. During the past winter and early spring, renewed attempts were made by the agricultural executive committees to get people to plough up more of this heavy grassland and reseed it. I know at least one district where the idea has caught on Farmers have booked their orders for the hire of caterpillar tractors and heavy ploughs, and all the other implements necessary for such an operation. It has been a great shock to those people, who have completed the job on the understanding that the grants would not be less than last year, to learn that the grants are now limited to £5 per acre, and that no assistance can be given in respect of manuring. It looks as if the executive committees concerned must have been wrong in paying half the cost of manuring last year If so, I think the Department should have noticed this and have prevented hopes being held out that grants on the same basis would be obtainable this year.
Another point is that because of our increased production of grain, we are going to grow more wheat straw than we have grown before. This wheat straw is not particularly useful as a by-product. We use it, as hon. Members will know, for thatching potato pits, and, to some extent, as bedding in byres and stables. During the war, it has been taken off our hands for paper making, because of the stopping of the importation of esparto grass. That grass is now coming in; but if this straw could be used during the war, cannot we cut out the esparto grass and go on using straw in the production of paper? I am not an expert on this matter and it may be that straw makes very poor paper, but I put it forward as a possible suggestion.
The recent cuts announced in feeding stuffs have been a lamentable, and for Scotland, which relies to the extent of 70 per cent. of its agricultural production of livestock and livestock products, almost a crushing decision. I would ask the Under-Secretary of State: Did the Minister of Agriculture consult the Secretary of State before making his announcement on 4th June? By that, I mean, was there a real consultation to the extent of his being asked for his advice? If he did so, why was not a joint announcement made by the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland? We have to go further back than that to trace the trouble to its source. It is clear that the Government knew long before the crisis of February, 1946, that the world was likely to be short of bread grains. What did the Secretary of State for Scotland do? Did he look ahead and ensure that, at any rate, in Scotland we would play our part? We could then have planted the wheat we needed
Let us look at the figures. In 1943, we grew in Scotland 170,600 acres of wheat. In 1945, the figure had dropped to 91,000 acres. The target for 1946 was 80,000, initially, and increased in February to 100,000 acres. Those of us on this side of the House who know about farming, all said then that it was too late to make much difference. That appears to have been the case. The acreage of wheat this year in Scotland is about 83,000. Why, if the Government had been warned last autumn, did the Secretary of State not set a higher target than 47 per cent.—because that is all it is—of the 1943 production? A great Minister, knowing his agriculture and knowing his Scotland, would have foreseen the need, and acted accordingly.
It is unfortunate that seldom at so critical a juncture in our domestic affairs has Scotland's political leadership devolved upon men who are less versed in the ways and needs of the countryside. No one would pretend, let alone the right hon. Gentleman himself, that the Secretary of State has any intimate knowledge of agriculture. Everyone admires the zeal with which the Joint Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Fraser), is schooling himself in the ways and outlook of those who live by the land, but that he is new to the job, he himself would be the first to admit. No one would deny the determination of the other Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), to improve housing conditions, but his outlook, like those of his colleagues, and his upbringing and his sympathies are almost wholly urban. It is not the fault of these three political heads of the Scottish office—some of us say that it is their misfortune—but it has grave disadvantages for Scotland as a whole, and its consequences may be serious at this time.
St. Andrew's House ought not to be the Edinburgh Office of the Ministry of Agriculture. What Scotsmen want to know is whether they have a real Minister in charge of the greatest and oldest of their industries, or whether the Secretary of State is the local agent, in their respective spheres, of the Ministries of Food and Agriculture. It is up to him. He will not lack support—and I say this in all seriousness£ from these benches if he makes the voice of Scotland heard in the Councils of the Realm.
Before the Joint Under-Secretary replies, I should like to ask him a question. Has he made any financial provision for laying on the water to smallholdings which is now a statutory obligation?
The hon. Member said that we did not know the countryside. believe that the people of Scotland have more confidence in the people who are now in control at St. Andrew's House, than they had in all those great leaders of thought and opinion who were there before, but who allowed Scottish agriculture to get into the state in which it is now.
The hon. Member went on to say that he did not want St. Andrew's House to be merely an appendage of the Ministry of Agriculture in England. A little earlier he had been regretting that we did not follow the example of the Ministry of Agriculture in setting up new efficiency controls. If we were just office boys, we would have followed the example of the boss. But we have a mind of our own. We have a better way of controlling agriculture than that proposed for England and Wales. Although the hon. Member sought to criticise our proposals in controlling the industry in the future, let me assure him that I discussed these proposals at very great length with all the interests concerned, and there is pretty general agreement that our proposals are sound and that these committees will serve the purpose for which they are being appointed.
Two other hon. Members discussed the need for creating a labour pool for agriculture. That may very well be desirable for the present or the immediate future during this time of shortages of labour and food. Under those conditions there is something to be said for the creation of a central pool, from which labour can be sent out to the different branches of agriculture as and when it is necessary for labour to be supplied to a particular branch. However, hon. Members who asked for a labour pool did not surely envisage that this industry would remain so depressed when we get away from these shortages that a beneficent Government situate at St. Andrew's House or in Whitehall would have to organise a central pool from which labour could be drawn.
I think the hon. Gentleman must have got the point wrong. We are not going back to our prewar agricultural policy, and I was anticipating that we are going to have a policy which will make for improvement in the industry. I said that we could not cope with that policy with the permanent staff the industry has today, and, therefore, we require some continuing responsibility on the part of the Government to meet our postwar policy. It was to long-term developments I was referring.
That is what I appreciate, because the Government are giving the industry some assurances about markets and prices in the future, and it is because the Government are going to require the industry to attain certain standards of efficiency in the future that it will not need to bear on its own shoulders the responsibility for finding labour for the industry. I think the idea should be to make the industry sufficiently prosperous to attract labour. It will be a sad day for agriculture if in the future, when we get beyond the shortage of food, the industry cannot attract labour voluntarily.
The hon. Member for West Aberdeen asked me about the cuts in feeding stuffs that were announced yesterday. He wanted to know if the Secretary of State for Scotland had been consulted. He said if my right hon. Friend had been consulted why was not a joint announcement made. The answer is that the announcement that went out, was a joint announcement from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and from the Department of Agriculture for Scotland. There was the fullest consultations between the Minister of Agriculture, and the Secretary of State for Scotland. Indeed, the whole question of feeding stuffs and supplies was gone into very fully by our expert advisers, and the decision, since it was such a major decision, was taken by the Government and not by a single Minister of the Government. The need for the decision we regret very much. The hon. Member also asked me some questions about the supply of prisoner of war labour. He made certain assumptions, that there is an apparent discrepancy in the figures and I think he was wrong in his assumption. The figure of 6,900 prisoners of war to which he referred was the figure of Italian prisoners of war before the Germans started to come in. The number of 20,000 referred to by the right hon. Gentleman is the number of German prisoners of war available at the present time.
I have a copy of the Press " hand-out " from the hon. Gentleman's Department. It is dated 4th May, 1946, and it gives the total labour at 113,000 and the prisoners of war are given as 6,900.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to believe me that that figure was the figure of Italian prisoners of war, before the Germans began to come in. They are now coming in large numbers, and we have 20.000 German prisoners of war. By the grain harvest this year we expect to have 31,000 prisoners of war, and by the potato harvest, 35,000.
This happens to be 6th June and I am giving the position today. I am telling the Committee the number of prisoners of war available today, how many there will be during the grain harvest, and how many we expect to have at the time of the potato harvest.
Could we have the exact figures of the total labour force estimated for agriculture in Scotland, and the total figure of prisoner-of-war labour required by the end of the harvest?
I have not the total labour force figure before me at the moment, but if I can find them I will let the hon. Member know, either now or later. I have just given the prisoner-of-war force we expect by the end of the harvest. We expect 31,000 by the end of the grain harvest and 35,000 by the end of the potato harvest. The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), in a very interesting speech, called the attention of my right hon. Friend to the very grave danger of our cultivation interfering with the fertility of the soil, and asked whether we were keeping the question in mind. I can assure him that we are being advised by experts all the time, and that we do not want to give any directions to the industry to crop in excess of the capacity of the soil, or interfere with the fertility of the soil unwisely.
I may not know very much about agriculture, as was suggested during the Debate, but I have taken the opportunity of discussing this question with some experts, and I have considered the fears expressed by many agriculturists at the beginning of the war. Members who are more conver- sant with the industry than I am, will agree that most experts, at the beginning of the war, would not have admitted that we could have put under the plough the acreage that we did during the war, without seriously interfering with the fertility of the soil. We all appreciate that we are getting to the danger point, and that great care will have to be taken that we do not do the soil irremediable damage by giving instructions to farmers which would have that ultimate effect.
The hon. Member for West Perth also asked about fertilisers, and specifically mentioned lime. I think the position may not be so bad. During the war, farmers had difficulty in regulating the supply of lime, because of transport troubles and so on. We have, at the moment, a provisional estimate for 600,000 tons of lime for agriculture. The hon. Member expressed fear that other interests would make a call upon that lime, to the detriment of agriculture. I do not think he need have any great fear. We have, as he knows, deliberately encouraged the output of lime for agriculture, and we shall go on doing so. We hope that farmers will, as far as possible, level out their demand for lime over the year, and that the provisional estimate will be reached, if not exceeded. The hon. Member also asked about the labour supply position for 1947, whether the Government could give a definite guarantee as to the supply of labour for that year. We must assume a measure of responsibility. If we are to give directions as to cropping when there is a shortage of labour the Government must accept a measure of responsibility for the supply of labour. We shall do our best to see that it is forthcoming, although I cannot, at this stage, say from which sources the supply will be made available.
A question was put also by the hon. Member for West Perth about spare parts for imported agricultural machinery. He said that farmers could not carry out large-scale cultivation, if they had not the machinery necessary for the job, together with a ready supply of spare parts. I believe that adequate provision has been made in the imports programme, despite the many difficulties, for the supply of spare parts. Up to now, this has been the biggest headache for the industry. It was feared that with the dollar position as it is spare parts would not be forthcoming from America for the large number of American machines that we have here. I can give the assurance that we have that question very much in mind.
I was also asked about the dairy farming industry, and was told that farmers had to pay too many pipers and call too many tunes. It was said that dairy farmers did not know to whom they were responsible, as there were so many inspectors and investigators calling upon them. I and my right hon. Friend think that that is so, and my right hon. Friend is taking steps to bring that to an end. In fact, he is in the process of setting up an independent committee, with the following terms of reference:
To review the services at present in operation in Scotland in connection with the production of milk and the quality of supply, and to consider and report what improvements in those services are desirable and practicable.
My right hon. Friend appreciates the difficulties which are facing farmers at the present time, in connection with foodstuffs, labour, housing, and water supplies, and that on top of all those things there are different authorities to whom farmers are responsible. Farmers want to see these inspections and investigations canalised, and so does my right hon Friend.
My right hon. Friend is aware of the great need to canalise these inspections and investigations, and is hoping to get advice towards that end from this independent committee. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher)—who apologised for his. inability to be present during my speech—raised a question to which I ought to reply. He spoke at considerable length about Farmer Ramsay in West Fife, and asked why the new owner had been permitted to terminate the tenancy of the farm. As Members will know, the regulation to which the hon. Member referred was one which was introduced to provide against land speculation during the time of food shortage. I think "during the period of the emergency" would probably be the words used. In this case the farm in question changed hands quite recently. When a farm changes hands the notice to quit is not valid except with the permission of the Secretary of State, who may only have regard to the probable effect on food production of the change of tenancy. He considered this case very fully indeed and was satisfied—and indeed anyone who listened to the hon. Member for West Fife this evening must also have been satisfied—that food production was very likely to increase as a result of the proposed change in tenancy, and in the circumstances my right hon. Friend had not the right to withhold his permission for the notice to quit to be issued. The hon. Member was really arguing about the powers the Secretary of State for Scotland might have in controlling tenancies in agriculture. That, I am afraid, is a matter which it would be out of Order to discuss at any length tonight.
I think I ought to turn now to transport questions. The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. Macmillan), the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) all spoke about the steamer services to the Western Highlands and Islands and to the islands in the North of Scotland. Their questions, very largely, were addressed not to the Scottish Office but to the Minister of Transport. The hon. and gallant Member for Argyll made a rather surprising appeal to my right hon. Friend to nationalise and bring under common ownership the steamer services to those remote islands because, he said, they were an uneconomic proposition. But he went on to say that if the services to those islands were improved, and if the freight rates were reduced, the islands might well be repopulated and brought to a new prosperity, so that in course of time the services might very well become economic, at which date, the hon. Member suggested, we might transfer the control of those services back to private enterprise.
I did not suggest that the present occupants of the Government benches would do that, but whoever may be the Government at the time. I did not suggest that in 20 years the present occupants will still be sitting there.
In any case, we should be quite out of Order if we discussed whether the services should be nationalised or not. My right hon. Friend said in his opening speech that new contracts were being negotiated with the companies concerned. Those contracts will not, as far as I am aware, be the subject of discussion in this House before they are ready to be brought forward for ratification by this House, but they will come before the House for discussion and decision before they become operative.
They will be subject to rejection, I would not say amendment, if the House is so minded. That, I think, would be the best occasion to discuss the matter thoroughly. All that has been said in the course of the Debate today will be of the greatest assistance to my right hon. Friend in negotiating the contracts. There is undoubtedly a very great need for improved services and I am sure my right hon. Friend is obliged to hon. Members for the suggestions that have been made. My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles also discussed at some length the question of public works, roads and so on, in his constituency and other parts of the Highlands and Islands. He very much regretted that my right hon. Friend could merely indicate that a sum of t £60,000 was to be spent on those jobs this year, and asked what that sum meant. It means that we shall spend twice as much as was being spent annually before the war, and we shall spend it this year. He did not say £60,000 annually, he said £60,000 this year. That seems to be a good beginning. He also said that he had invited local authorities to submit schemes, and no doubt the local authorities are now preparing—indeed, some have prepared and submitted—their schemes. When they have done so I hope agreement may be reached on those which ought to be proceeded with, and I think it will be found at the end of the day that we are prepared to get down to the job of providing a reasonable and certainly very much improved type of services, whether by road, rail or sea, through the islands and Highlands of Scotland.
Could the Under-Secretary make some statement on the position in regard to the employment of children in gathering the potato harvest? The Secretary of State made a very definite promise that it would be dealt with by a spokesman for the Government and nothing has yet been said.
So many questions have been asked that a number may have been overlooked, and I do not mind dealing with the question of the supply of child labour. I have gone into it very thoroughly. There is a mistaken view about that we have a sufficient number of unemployed adults in the country, arid a sufficient number of prisoners of war, Polish soldiers and so on, available to gather the potatoes. It just is not so. We employ about 80,000 people collecting the potato harvest. Last year we employed 41,000 children. This year we expect to employ just over 23,000 children. The children are supplementary labour; we will not employ any child to the exclusion of an adult, and wherever adult labour can be found it will be employed first. It is very difficult to take all the unemployed labour into the potato fields. The big reservoir of unemployed adults happens to be in the towns and cities; many of them are less physically fit or immobile men and women, and to gather the potatoes they have to go to Fife shire, to Angus, to Aberdeen shire and the remoter areas of the countryside. First of all many of them are less physically fit, secondly many of them are immobile and cannot be transferred, and thirdly even if they could be transferred the amount of hostel accommodation is very limited indeed. Very nearly all the hostel accommodation that can be made available will be used by the Land Army, prisoners of war or soldier labour. I give the assurance on behalf of my right hon. Friend that wherever adult labour can be found it will be employed and the children will only be employed as a last resort.
If they want to. One must not assume that all the people in the Western Isles are keen to go anywhere. They are only keen to work in the Western Isles. My right hon. Friend said in his speech that they did not want to go to the mainland. These people will not go to Fife shire or Aberdeen shire to lift potatoes. Any of them who volunteer to do so will be accepted by my right hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) asked questions about water supplies and the Department's holdings. I believe that financial provision for them, and for other matters, exist in the money available in the Agriculture (Scotland) Fund. We have money to finance these projects. I believe that we have some responsibility under the recent Act. In some cases it might be wasteful to go ahead with schemes on our own estates, where larger local authority schemes are pending and would meet the need of the whole area.