It may not be unfitting on this, the 36th anniversary of the landing in Gallipoli, which opened one of the most courageous and tragic campaigns in the history of the British Empire, that we should be debating Highland development. Many of those who took part in that very great adventure—men from New Zealand and Australia, and many from Scotland—trace their descent from the part of the country we are about to discuss, and they were very proud indeed of their Highland ancestry, of the traditions of the Highlands, and of what the people of the Highlands have done in developing the great Dominions and the Colonial Empire.
Indeed, interest in the Highlands reaches far beyond the bounds of the United Kingdom. It is a fact that the further we go from our own shores the greater the interest grows and the greater the affection also. This afternoon, I am quite certain that we are speaking to an even wider audience than is visible in this House, and, in these circumstances, I hope that anything I may say today may alone be directed to the best interests of the people of the Highlands.
In the public mind, the Highlands are generally considered to be that part of Scotland which lies north of a line roughly drawn from Dumbarton to Aberdeen, but in my references today to the Highlands, I am excluding all but the crofter counties named in the White Paper—Argyll, Caithness, Inverness, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland and Zetland and including the Western Isles. These counties between them contain almost half of the total area of Scotland, but, unfortunately, their population is less than 6 per cent. of the whole.
Unfortunately, that is not the whole story, for while the population of Scotland has grown since the beginning of this century and previous to that, and while the number of births in the northern part have exceeded the number of deaths, the population of the Highlands has actually decreased by almost one-fifth within the last 80 years. We therefore have evidence that the depopulation of the Highlands is not just a case of the population dying out, but of it migrating elsewhere. While, of course, we Scotsmen have no desire whatsoever to withhold the benefits of Highland culture and virtue from the people of other lands, I do not think that we can afford the continuation of this great exodus.
It would appear to me that our purpose this afternoon is, if possible, to find some remedy. Unfortunately, this is no new problem. It has been appreciated by many generations. It is more than 50 years ago since this House decided to take positive steps in connection with the matter in the hope that that would check and even reverse the trend. While I have no doubt that the measures that have been taken have done much to alleviate the situation, they did not provide any effective cure, so today we have to see if it is in any way possible to go further.
On first reading this White Paper on Highland Development—Command Paper 7976—I arrived at a very comforting conclusion—that the situation was well on the way to solution—but when I came to read it a second time, I began to have doubts, and the more I have read it, the more these doubts have grown, because, as I studied the document, I became aware that it contains very many ominous words and phrases—words and phrases, for example, of this nature: "This particular matter is still in the exploratory stage."; "the production of that may be commercially possible"; "this is proposed"; "early consideration will be given to that"; "this, that and the next thing will go on as general investment policy"; "the general economic position of the country"; "as circumstances, financial and supply conditions may arise."
So, very sorrowfully, I have come to realise that while much is studied out of which good may come in the future, and that while, it may be, this White Paper is evidence of the interest of the Government in the subject, as yet we are not much further on than we have ever been. In that connection—and I say this with all sincerity—I do regret that the Government did not itself make a day available for this debate—a day available at a much earlier date, shortly after the White Paper had been published, which, if my recollection is correct, was in July of last year. I think that if the Government had done that, it would have given a much greater feeling of comfort to the Highlands and would have stressed the Government's interest in the subject.
Be that as it may, I am not at all blaming the Government for the fact that we are no further on than we are at the present time, because this, after all, is a very thorny and difficult subject, and one which is very stubborn of solution. I say that the very worst service we can render to the Highlands today is to hold out too rosy hopes of speedy betterment, because if these hopes were long delayed, they might well lead to migration at a speed and on a larger scale than anything that has hitherto occurred.
The fundamental reason for the outflow of population from the Highlands can surely only be the economic conditions that exist, the poverty of the soil, the Jack of natural resources, the distance from the markets and the lack of adequate communications—conditions under which a life of unremitting toil cannot provide opportunities of advancement, amenities, comforts in old age and sickness such as are commonly available in the more populous centres of our country and even in the sparsely populated areas of the great Dominions. There must certainly be advantages in Highland life, but I do not think that to youth particularly these are outstandingly apparent, and they may be obscured altogether by the glamour and attraction which town and city have for many.
If these crofter counties are to retain their population, far less increase it, greater opportunities and greater amenities of all kinds must be—I was going to say provided, but perhaps it would be better to say—made attainable. If their attainment is to be made possible, then the Government have a very large part to play. I wonder if it would be unfair if I were to put it in this way: Unless the capital employed in any undertaking is sufficient for the purpose, while the undertaking may be able to make ends meet, it will probably not be able to obtain that steady increase in output and in prosperity which is desirable. As I see it, in the Highlands the amounts left over year by year after living expenses have been met have been too small to allow of any reserves to be accumulated such as would enable antiquated plants to be replaced by modern machinery, and, in consequence, they have fallen far beyond the rest of the country in modern methods of production.
Of course, it can be maintained that Government after Government has been pouring capital into the Highlands for a very long time. That, indeed, may be true, but I wonder if it has been sufficient even to supply the minimum of public services. Have we not been giving a little here and there—an amount sufficient to keep things going—to keep that part of the country out of the bankruptcy court, as it were—but never enough to enable it properly to keep its head above water? That seems to me in large extent what we have been doing and what we still are doing, and it may be a very wasteful process, that is, if by granting more, we can place the Highlands on their feet in the expectation that they would remain there. That is a subject which I suggest those who are most intimate with Highland conditions may with advantage to everyone of us devote a little of their time this afternoon.
The Secretary of State has now for a certain length of time been more or less in the position of a family doctor to the Highland counties, and, during that period, I have no doubt whatsoever he has been in consultation with many of the specialists, and I take it that this programme of Highland development is the outcome of his consultations.
Seemingly, the decision is that no major operation undertaken at great cost holds out sufficient hope of recovery to be justified. The drain on the financial resources of the other members of the family might be so great that after-treatment could not be carried to its rightful conclusion. If the patient were not to die under the shock, he would be left in a very perilous condition So the course which the White Paper suggests, as it appears to us, is to proceed with treatment which seems to ensure at least a prolongation of the patient's life, even though that may mean continued weakness Others may give their opinions as to these conclusions.
The right hon. Gentleman appears to have gone a little bit further than merely to persevere with the prescriptions laid down by his predecessors. He has asked the chemist to be good enough to prepare a new mixture. That mixture contains many of the old ingredients, but he has added here and there a drop of something new. The right hon. Gentleman is very conscious indeed of the effect on the patient of a good bedside manner. He talks cheerfully of the long-term effects of the new medicine, of its building up qualities and of the beneficial results to be expected, and above all he is full of hope and confidence as to the outcome of the treatment. I should like to examine this prescription for a little while and endeavour to assess its possible effects.
Fifty years ago the House came to the conclusion that agriculture, fishing and rural industries were the mainstay of the Highland economy, and that to assist these to play their part full help should be given in regard to land settlement and in the development of roads, piers and harbours. As far as these are concerned, the White Paper stands precisely on the old policy. There is, of course, the usual reservation that the level of aid available must depend upon the financial and economic conditions of the country. To that extent we are where we were, and I shall only make this comment.
In other days, many of our piers and harbours were in private hands. The owners have now to a very large extent been deprived by high taxation of the means to maintain them in any adequate state of repair. The central Government—I am not blaming this Government—have been slow to recognise that fact. In consequence, grave delapidation now exists to remedy which very large sums of money will be required. In this connection generally I warmly approve many of the recommendations made by the Advisory Panel. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to assure us that it is the Government's intention to be generous in this matter.
Harbours, piers and boat slips are essential to the economy of the Highlands, and it is quite obvious that the local authorities cannot afford to pay the cost of their upkeep. If it is our intention to maintain and improve the economy of the Highlands, if that is our honest intention, then, unpleasant though it may be, the Government must find the bulk of the money. I know, of course—the White Paper tells us—that work is proposed already at a cost of over half a million pounds, but I cannot find anything definite as to when that work is to be carried out, and the matter is one of extreme urgency. I also know that temporary work has been carried out in certain instances, and that in other instances grants have been offered.
I cannot feel that we are going to be in sight of a solution to this part of the problem until a definite decision on policy has been adopted in relation to the matter as a whole. These piers and harbours are together essential to communications, and much the same can be said of roads. Unfortunately, in that case the cost is a good deal higher. I am assured by one whom I regard as an outstanding authority in Highland matters that the depopulation in remote regions is due to the absence of communications. There is no need for me to stress that point further, because I am quite certain that many of those who will follow will deal with it. I should like, however, to express this comment.
We are told in the White Paper that the most important single improvement to Highland amenities would be the provision of adequate water supplies and drainage., Desirable as they might be, I should rate them far behind communications. I would place communications second only to adequate housing. I should be very interested if we could be told the amount of the total grant which has hitherto been given for these water supply and drainage schemes which have already been selected for grants, and which I understand are estimated to cost £3,700,000. I shall leave agriculture and fishing to those better qualified to deal with these aspects of Highland economy.
I want to turn now to the new factors which the White Paper tells us have been introduced in recent years. The first of these is the increased importance of home food production. Suggestions as to how the Highlands can help in that matter have often been made in the House, and no doubt they will be made again in this debate. The difficulties in the way of the Highlands participating to the fullest extent will be explained, and also how they may be remedied. I am certain that that will be done by Highland Members.
The next need is for a large-scale programme of afforestation. Here the White Paper tells us that the long-term policy extends to 750,000 acres of effective forests and the employment of 7,500 men in the woods alone—I suppose that many more will be employed in ancilliary trades. But can we be informed over what period of years this programme is envisaged, because as far as I can make out from the 30th Annual Report of the Forestry Commission for the year ending September, 1949, the total acreage acquired by the Commission up to that date was 808,000, and that only 407,000 acres are plantable?
It is reasonable to say, particularly when I observe that of the 164 forestry units in Scotland two-thirds are outwith the Highlands, that the White Paper must be speaking of some period considerably far ahead and is perhaps raising unjustifiable hopes. I also note that north of the Caledonian Canal, apart from the vicinity of the Black Isle, Dornock and Cromarty Firths, very few units have been established. Indeed, from Dornoch to Cape Wrath there are only two, and from Cape Wrath to Oban, including the Islands, there are only 12.
It may be that there are very good reasons for this, but, if not, may I suggest that the economy of the Highland counties will be greatly helped if more units are speedily established? Apart from that, and in the circumstances of the special needs of the Highlands, is it not practicable and possible to increase the rate of planting, even though that entails a slowing down elsewhere, so that the benefits may accrue earlier in the Highlands where the need is greatest?
I now turn to the development of hydro-electric power. When the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Development Act was placed on the Statute Book, many of us thought that it meant not only providing the Highlands with an abundant and cheap supply of electricity, but that there would be very considerable profits from the sale of electricity to the British Electricity Authority which would materially assist measures for the economic development and social improvement of the Highland areas.
The contribution that electricity could make to amenities and economic stability in the Highlands is very great indeed. It can make possible the development of rural industries which have hitherto been held down by the difficulty of obtaining coal other than at prices which made it as a source of power, completely uneconomic. The proper use of electric power might well transform the economic circumstances of many of our remote communities. That would be a brilliant achievement, and I trust that the opportunity to exploit it to the full is being taken, and that advice, both as to the possibilities and as to the technical requirements, will be readily available to the people.
Here I should like to recognise in a word or two the good work which the Hydro-Electric Board has already done, and to express the hope that its efforts will result in better opportunities and greater prosperity in the Highland area, but I would urge that we should keep our sense of proportion in this matter. We must not expect too much. In the first flush of enthusiasm, many of those living in isolated surroundings imagined that very shortly they would have a supply of electricity. One has to remember that to break down current from a high voltage can only be done at very great expense, while to connect a single house at a considerable distance from the supply line is so costly as to be beyond practical considerations.
The point to which I should like an answer most of all is what will be the chances of the Hydro-Electric Board being able to help the economic development and social improvements of the Highlands out of the profits made by the sale of electricity to the British Electricity Authority. Apart from that, the Board has no funds available, for it must over a period of years balance its revenue with its expenditure. Last year, in my own opinion, the Board did very well, coming out, as it did, with a profit of £97,000, but that profit accrued to the largest extent from its own consumers, who contributed no less than £3 million to the income, as against £130,000 contributed by the British Electricity Authority. In the course of time, we must all hope that sales to the British Electricity Authority will increase, but whether any great profit will result it is yet too early to tell.
The cost of construction of these hydroelectric schemes has increased very much indeed, and so also has the cost of coal. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman would care to venture an opinion where now the advantage lies, and, further, if he will be prepared to say whether at any time any great profit from this source can be envisaged, because on that a great many of our hopes depend.
The tourist trade is another of the new factors mentioned in the White Paper. Last year, I find, no fewer than 530,000 visitors visited the Highland area, but only 120,000 got north of Inverness, and only 52,000 reached Caithness, Sutherland and Orkney and Shetland. It seems to me that there is still room for considerable development there, particularly in the northern part of the area. I do not believe that many of the people of this country realise what great opportunities for good holidays the far North offers, and on this matter I can speak of my own experience, because I can say without any hesitation that never have I found better weather or more ideal surroundings for a holiday than I found over the period of years when I spent my holidays in Caithness. It seems to me that, with more publicity and increased accommodation, a very great deal might well be done.
There are, however, some unfortunate circumstances connected with this matter. There are the regulations of the Catering Wages Board, which do not help us very much. In fact, they have created the most absurd situations, and have, indeed, resulted in a very drastic curtailment of the hotel and catering services which have been available to the public up to now; so much so that the Scottish Tourist Board has expressed the opinion that so long as the industry is regulated and directed to the extent it is today from London, where there is no real appreciation of Highland conditions, then the industry will be unable to make its full contribution to our Scottish economy. This is a very serious matter, and it is one which the Government alone can put right. Therefore, I am making an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to exert his influence at least to the extent of securing that the recommendations of the Catering Wages Commission are accepted in full, and that as speedily as possible and before the summer comes upon us.
There is another direction in which the right hon. Gentleman's help will be of the greatest value to this industry. If we are to attract visitors to Scotland, our hotels and boarding houses must be up-to-date, and our hotel proprietors are not to blame in this respect. Since 1946, they have spent no less than £2,500,000 on improvements. They should be encouraged to do more, but last year 23½ per cent. of the applications to be allowed to go ahead with improvements were turned down by the Minister of Works. In view of the economic benefits that would follow on these improvements, could the right hon. Gentleman not see that, except in cases of obvious extravagance, permits for these purposes are granted? Here we have an industry making very definite progress. It should be encouraged to the utmost possible extent, and all unnecessary restrictions on its development should be removed.
The White Paper devotes a very considerable section, quite rightly, to the possibilities of industrial developments in the Highland area. I must confess that it seems to me that prospects of any such development on a large scale are very small indeed. If the basic materials have to be imported and the finished products exported, the Highlands do not seem to offer advantages sufficient to overcome the high cost of transport. At one time, many of us in this House had hoped that transport costs would be more balanced by the availability of cheap supplies of electric power in the form of hydro-electricity. It is too early yet, perhaps, to be definite on that matter, but the high costs of construction would appear now to rule out that possibility. With one possible exception, it seems to me that any increase in industry must depend on Highland products being readily available, and even then the high cost of outward transport must place industry under a very considerable handicap, which will be overcome only by high technical and manual skill and efficiency.
I mentioned that, perhaps, there was one possible exception. In the Highlands we have many natural harbours capable of development. There is Invergordon on the Cromarty Firth, in a development area, where there exists a harbour capable of almost infinite development. If there could be established in such neighbourhoods industries whose products were in sufficient demand in the south of England, on the Continent or overseas as to employ from time to time a tonnage capacity such as would warrant a call by foreign-going vessels, a considerable proportion of the transport costs could be eliminated and economic conditions established. What I have in mind, on a small scale, is something of the kind that used to operate, and no doubt still operates, in connection with the Bon Awe quarries, where stone is quarried, prepared and exported direct by sea to Glasgow and the south. I have no doubt that the possibilities of such developments should be and are constantly borne in mind both by the Scottish Department and the Board of Trade.
The conclusions which I draw from the White Paper are these. There is no fairy wand, a wave of which can solve this problem; nor is there any single sovereign remedy. In the main, agriculture, fishing and rural industries must remain the foundation of our Highland economy. Aid, technical and financial, towards the establishment of modern methods for old industries and in the creation of new local industries will almost certainly be required. Improved communications are altogether essential, and better amenities must be provided.
This, it may well be, can only be made possible as the result of loans granted by the State, or direct grants in aid from the national Exchequer. If that is so, while they should be made with prudence, where the benefits accruing are great they should also tend towards generosity. The preservation and the rehabilitation of the Highlands is not only of importance to the Highland area, but to the whole of the United Kingdom and, it may well be, to a much wider area. The problem will not be solved by relying on any single agency. It will be solved only through the combined and determined efforts of the Government, local authorities, public boards and the people themselves. It is a problem, as I said earlier, which is very stubborn of solution.
But given understanding, co-operation and goodwill, it is not insoluble. The change in the economic conditions of our country has presented to the Highlands a chance of bettering their economic conditions such as they have never had before, that is, if the various Ministries will but play their part and take their share. A display of greater energy in the North on the part of the Forestry Commission, and the easing of the restrictions imposed by the Catering Wages Board and the Ministry of Works would be a very helpful contribution. The growing recognition of the special problems of the Highland area, as evidenced by this White Paper, is indeed a healthy sign. But do not let us be mesmerised by the verbiage of the Report. We must not rest content, nor ever fail to recognise the pressing need for speedy action.
I am sure the Committee is indebted to the Opposition for directing our attention to this subject, and we are certainly indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) for what seems to me a very fair approach to this subject. He suggested that I occupy the role of a family doctor to this delightful, but frequently distressful, area. He went on to say that it appeared from the White Paper that the Government had not, apparently, decided upon a major operation. I know that that kind of metaphor is one with which, at any rate, the hon. and gallant Gentleman has a family association, but I am not sure that it was a very fortunate metaphor.
The truth is that this is not a patient suffering from a malady which would benefit either by conservative treatment or by surgical treatment. It is a great range of patients suffering from many different conditions to which there is no easy approach. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, the problems are very stubborn of solution and very diverse in character. I shall not attempt to address myself to all the subjects offered by the White Paper; I shall try, pretty broadly, to follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman to whose courtesy and thoughtfulness in letting me know his main trends I am indebted. Without wishing to abuse the patience of the Committee I would like to say a word about agriculture and fisheries.
I hold very much the same view as that held by the hon. and gallant Gentleman about industrial development in the Highlands. It is attractive to talk largely, and, I am afraid, pretty loosely, about the possibilities of industrial development there. It is attractive, because it would look like one great and competent doctor bringing in one great and certain prescription to it. Yet I must agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman by affirming what I think is undoubtedly true, although it may not be for that reason particularly attractive. The industries most likely to flourish in our Highland counties are those ancillary to the basic occupations of agriculture, fisheries and afforestation, or which are based, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested, on the natural resources of these counties and islands.
The point is not evaded in the White Paper. The Highland Panel, the experts who have studied this problem, and the Government have all admitted that this is an economic fact from which we should not seek to escape. That does not mean that we have any right to be careless about the possibility of attracting other industries or projects to the area. Perhaps I might mention in passing that within the last year, and, indeed, in part since the Report was published, there have been some slight developments.
The Government have been anxious, and continue to be anxious, to start up projects there, although the initiative must remain, and must continue to remain, with the firms themselves. Again, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested, we must be able to show persuasively that there is a commercial advantage in this, as otherwise we cannot hope for very much. Without giving offence, I hope I may say that the local authorities, as well as the local people, must recognise this fact, and must be anxious to display their co-operation with, for example, the Highland Panel, the Scottish Council for Industry, and the Government themselves.
The restrictions on capital investment which were a necessary concomitant to the defence programme have, unfortunately, made it impossible for the Government to fulfil what was once their intention of building advance factories in the Highland development area. Nevertheless, despite the present situation, we have decided that the announcement which we made last year of relaxations on capital investment building projects shall be applied to the seven counties. The effect of this, as the Committee will appreciate, will be that industrialists will be able to build factories which will provide male employment even though the project may not satisfy the previously rigid criteria about dollar earning and dollar saving. It is not a large door, but it is a door in the Highlands opened to industrialists which is not available in other parts of the country, and through which they might be attracted.
The Committee should note, too, that there is another source from which assistance may be given to industry in the Highlands. It is, of course, the Development Fund. As hon. Members know, there are qualifications. Any assistance given by the Development Commissioners is subject to proper limitations, which means that the project must be of direct or indirect benefit to agriculture, to rural industries, or to fisheries, and that it must be given to or through a non-profit making body. It works quite well. We had a recent example of a small firm in the constituency of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson). It was a hosiery business which went to Wick and which was loaned, not a large sum, but £1,000 through the Scottish Country Industry Development Trust for the purpose of providing machinery.
I want most emphatically to ask local authorities to note that the Development Commissioners are also authorised and prepared to make advances to local authorities for the building of factories for letting to industrial concerns suitable to the Highland economy. Here again we must plead for the initiative and the cooperation of the local authorities. The Highland Panel has made this point. Recently it invited local authorities to consider how they can take advantage of these arrangements. I am sure the Committee will want to associate themselves with that plea.
In spite of all the difficulties, there has been some very limited factory development in the Highland areas during the last 12 months. It is small and I think it has already been elucidated by question and answer. There is another fashion in which we have been able to give small but not insignificant help to industry and local authorities in the Highlands. That has been done, despite the tightness of our housing programme, by making housing available to key workers and other workers who are to be brought in and who should be anchored next to these developing industries.
One or two industries are moving which are dependent upon local resources. Again I do not want to exaggerate, nor do I want to suggest that this is anywhere near the limit of what might be done. Hon. Members are fairly familiar. I imagine, with the diatomite development in Skye, where we have just completed an access road. This is a project in which I have been closely interested, and I think it has reasonable prospects. We have another small one in Barra where, with the help of my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan), we have got something moving and where the promoters are showing some enterprise. In the shell grit industry in Barra we have completed additional loading facilities and there are employed 40 or 50 people, which is not at all insignificant in a small area.
Also we have recently turned our attention to a project about which I do not want to indicate any exaggerated hopes but which is at any rate colourful. Some hon. Members will remember that up to the beginning of the century we had operating at Sunart a project which covered zinc, some lead, and a distinctive ore which we call Scottish silver. The movement of prices in these things attracted me, and I should like to tell the Committee that we have entered into a contract with a private company so that exploratory work is being carried out upon this project. I am soberly told that the investigations already indicate—I will not put it higher—a successful development, and we shall keep pushing at this little thing, too. It would be very nice if Scotland came back into the hard currency business by producing some silver.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman reminds me that we may even produce gold at Tobermory, but I prefer to put my money on Sunart at this point.
I should like to mention two or three indigenous raw materials, not so spectacular as the Tobermory gold or the Sunart silver, but available in much greater quantities—seaweed and peat. Since the publication of the Report we have decided that the work of the Scottish Seaweed Research Association must be continued for an indefinite period. We have also decided that the Government must assume full financial responsibility for that from 1st July of this year. I have not yet had my estimate approved and so it is a little risky, particularly this week, to say too much about it, but I should think in the current year we will find between £50,000 and £60,000, which is the amount asked for this work.
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman, to clarify that point, whether this is for research or to provide funds for the actual operations of this seaweed industry?
No, this is for research, and the two new developments on research are one. We have made extensions to push towards the commercial stage the mechanical harvesting of seaweed, the whereabouts of which we know. Perhaps here I should thank the Royal Air Force for their co-operation in this business. Secondly, we are pushing towards the commercial stage of the chemical processing of the material once obtained.
With regard to peat, the investigations of the Scottish Peat Committee are progressing satisfactorily. If that sounds a little dampening or a little ungrateful it is just because I do not think that research ever moves as fast as anyone would like. The total applications for grants of £80,000 have been made for this year and I do not entertain any doubt that we shall get that money. The main possibility, that of using peat as a fuel for a gas turbine plant for the generation of electricity is being investigated vigorously and thoroughly.
Recently I had the pleasure of seeing one of the pilot projects in operation at John Brown's on Clydebank. It was a curious experience to go into that great shipyard in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Kirkwood), which is normally associated with great vessels and great marine projects, and to be shown by a bunch of energetic, well-qualified young men the business of feeding peat into—I think the technical description is a closed-cycle gas turbine. They are scientists, they will not put their figures on the table until they have been verified, but there was no limit to their enthusiasm and their confidence that they could get a good answer to that problem.
Perhaps, since my right hon. Friend is present, I will stimulate the competition which is always alive in him by saying that the other experiment which is going ahead in Leicester on the open-cycle gas turbine is moving very fast indeed. They are confident that by next year on a very small experimental pilot plant they will complete the process of feeding peat in at one end and running a small generator station from the process and the product at the other end. However, I must emphasise that it is an experiment. We are all greatly indebted to those concerns which are conducting the research, and I promise them, as I know the Committee would wish me to do, the most vigorous co-operation of the Government in this valuable project, because it does not end only there. If we can pull this thing off, we shall expose a subsoil in every crofter county which offers new possibility for cultivation and afforestation.
The hon. and gallant Member is pushing me rather fast. I should not like to commit myself at this stage, but if we can get to the stage where we can put a commercial proposi- tion into these semi-derelict lands, a whole world of new possibilities of attack open up for the countryside.
The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok asked questions about hydro-electricity. My hon. Friend the Joint Undersecretary will deal with those and with other questions which no doubt will arise at the end of the debate. Like the hon. and gallant Member, I associate myself in congratulating Mr. Tom Johnston and his colleagues for the tremendous amount of work they have done on this subject. Perhaps I should answer the main point at this stage. The supplies which the British Electricity Authority have been developing, since the publication of the Report to which the hon. and gallant Member referred, for the new defence work are notably the supplies from the Sloy and Tummel schemes. It it too soon to say what proportion of revenue overall will come from this source. The fact that in the past three years the Board have already given a supply to 37,000 new consumers, including several small industries, shows that they are making very substantial progress with their object of encouraging the economic development and the social improvement in the area for which they are responsible.
I also urge, as did the hon. and gallant Member, the essentiality of developing tourism in Scotland. I sometimes think that we are not as keen in this direction as we should be. I agree that the hotels have many difficulties, including those to which the hon. and gallant Member referred, and I would not say otherwise than that I would be glad to use any influence which I have in order to have reasonable amendments made to the restrictions, as long as we can carry labour with us; they are entitled to a square deal and they too are worried about this.
Despite these difficulties I hope that our Scottish hotels, particularly this year, will go to the end of their resources in demonstrating how distinctive and warm Scottish hospitality and habits can be for the tourist. We do not want them to be imitation Ritzy places, or even imitation English. Let them be Scottish, supplying Scottish food and Scottish manners at their best. Let them combine Scottish courtesy with that good Scottish virtue of a high regard for cleanliness, and we shall retain the people who come to our country.
Like the hon. and gallant Member, I share a great affection for the counties north of Inverness. At the risk of promoting a tremendous argument, I would say that the loveliest county in Great Britain is Western Ross, but I am bound to warn the hon. and gallant Member—[Interruption.] I knew I was risking a great deal, but that is my disinterested opinion. I am bound to say to the hon. and gallant Member that his fears about tourists north of Inverness are a little exaggerated, because I remember that his hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) made a public declaration to the effect that in August of last year not a single hotel bed could be got north of Inverness.
I beg pardon. I thought the hon. Member was speaking of the whole of Scotland north of Inverness. At any rate, what he said represented a substantial contribution.
The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok quite properly directed our attention to the question of roads. One could start as airily as he liked and could talk as broadly as he wished, but sooner or later any discussion about the improvement and development of the Highlands comes back to roads and communications. Here again the Committee must admit—they will not want to shirk the admission—that the defence programme has had its effect upon those counties, as it has upon the whole country.
The limitation of the capital investment programme has imposed severe restrictions on highway maintenance. All works of importance of new construction throughout the country have had to be postponed, except for essential communications, the improvement of conditions of the worst of our danger spots, or roads which are indispensable in terms of strategy or production inside the national investment programme. As the Committee knows, the general limitations of highway expenditure in 1950 would have precluded the announcement of any fresh work in the crofter counties scheme.
However, admitting the real and peculiar difficulties of the Highlands, we announced last year that as part of the programme for Highland development we were prepared to approve as an exceptional measure an expenditure of £750,000 over a period of three years on some of the most urgently needed road works in the Highlands. Details of these have been elicited by questions, to which answers have been very gladly given, so I will not repeat them now. Eight other crofter county schemes in hand during the year represented a total of £550,000, while Road Fund grants to the Highlands in the financial year 1950–51 totalled £632,000.
The ferry at the Kyle of Lochalsh has evoked a great deal of comment. During 1950 the Ministry of Transport proposed a scheme for the improvement of the ferry slipway at the Kyle, at an estimated cost of £25,000. Only three Scots contractors have offered to undertake the scheme, and although the estimated cost was put at £25,000 the lowest tender we received was £70,000, and not one contractor would tie himself to the time schedule of the Ministry of Transport. To say the least, that is disappointing.
We frequently have grumbles, quite legitimately, and we should urge them, but we have also obligations to ourselves which we must master if we are to make the best of our case elsewhere. However, an amended scheme has been put in hand to deal with the existing slipway. The Railway Executive have introduced a new passenger ferry boat for the service and are building a new vessel for ferrying people. It is hoped that this will be in operation by Skye week and will thereby avoid the deplorable delays and inconveniences to which visiting tourists were subjected last year.
The hon. and gallant Member asked about harbours and piers and—perhaps I am doing him an injustice—I think he suggested that nothing definite had been done.
I am glad to find that I was wrong as I did not want to do the hon. and gallant Gentleman an injustice. Again, not enough, but a very definite programme has been undertaken. One could go through it, but perhaps I may rattle off the fishery harbours on which work has been done, or is proceeding: Thurso, Lybster, Stornoway, Wick, Helmsdale, Dunbeath. The sum of £462,000 has been spent for which grants were available up to £247,000 and loans of £214,000. Assistance has been offered to Stroma, Thurso, Lerwick Out Skerries, Portnaguran, Kyle and Golspie. The cost was £376,000 and we offered grants up to £258,000 and loans of £107,000.
The first list I read is of work completed, or in progress. The second list is of work approved, upon which we have made definite offers by way of loan or grant. It may be that work has started in some cases and there is nothing to prevent work starting, except the adjustment of these terms.
These are not mean prices, they are commercially attractive prices and we should have an expectation that contractors and labour will be forthcoming, particularly from these areas where we have been repeatedly told from the other side of the Committee that there is unemployment.
In Appendix D is a list of "Transport piers and boatslips on which work is proposed." Can the right hon. Gentleman deal with that? There is quite a list there and it says that "work is proposed."
I do not want to start fumbling my way through the list, but I can see at first glance that work has started in some of them and I have referred to it. But perhaps the hon. Member will permit my hon. Friend to answer that point at the end of the debate. I will also leave the subject of water and sewerage to be dealt with by my hon. Friend. It is a subject which interests me a great deal and one on which our financial record is quite attractive.
I have made several references to the Highland Panel upon whose memorandum the Report was based. I have rather failed in that I have not acknowledged the great help we have received from the Panel, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) on which representatives from both sides of the House play a great part in exploration, recommendation, advice and information. As the Committee probably know, I have decided to extend the life of the Panel by another four years. I have made some slight alteration in its constitution and some slight alteration in its terms of reference, so that they will have an operative part to play in pushing this Secretary of State, or any Secretary of State, in the discharge of the Highland programme.
The hon. and gallant Member did not talk of agriculture—and he explained why—but I wish to say a word or two about it because it must remain the basic process upon which any Highland population is to be sustained. Equally plainly, the welfare of agriculture must depend primarily upon the condition and care of the land. I am, therefore, satisfied that it is basically to land improvement that we must look for an improvement in the industry and its reflection on the population.
Hon. Members will have noticed in paragraph 41 that we give some details of the progress made in the Highlands in hill farm improvements. I am glad to be able to tell the Committee that even since that was published, with its comparatively good figures, we have been able to make further calculations and the figures have further improved. Since the Report was prepared the number of schemes covered has increased by rather more than 30 and the amount of funds made available has increased by some £250,000. In addition, improvement schemes at present before my Department include 68 schemes dealing with crofting holdings and townships, some 36 of which have already been approved and upon the remainder I have directed that the most urgent consideration and advice must be given.
It is quite plain, also, that the recent Livestock Rearing Act, accepted and approved by both sides of the House, gives a further opportunity to extend the work of hill sheep farm improvement over the whole of the Highlands and enables us to give assistance to comprehensive improvements to farms where cattle rather than sheep are the primary feature. These schemes, I hope the Committee will agree, have a merit in that they permit a broad and whole approach to this subject rather than a series of piecemeal adjustments.
There is one further improvement to which I would call the attention of the Committee. Paragraph 42 of the White Paper refers to the increase in breeding stocks of beef and cattle in the Highlands. We put the increase at 66 per cent. since 1939. Again, we have had a chance to collate our statistics and the figure is very much better. The number of beef cows and heifers in the Highlands shows an increase of at least 75 per cent. over 1939 figures.
I am tempted to go a good deal further here because, although I am a layman, I scarcely apologise for saying that this is a subject which excites and attracts me. However, it may be more appropriate to consider the subject more closely when the Agriculture and Fishery Estimate comes before us. Even to a layman, in this extension of our hill animal population the determining and limiting factor must still continue to be the provision of winter feed. There is a great abundance of information, a great abundance of help available and a great deal of propaganda going on and some excellent pioneer men on both the east and west coasts showing us how to use methods of early hay, green corn and silage, but I plead with Scotsmen who have had such an excellent reputation in farming to take their courage in their hands and go ahead in the provision of more winter feeding.
It is not only that I believe it can be profitable to them, it is not only that it is beyond argument profitable to the hillside and to the land, it is not only that it is very acceptable to our country, which is a little hungry for proteins, but it would be a demonstration of our new determination and a new kind of activity in these matters.
I should like to say a word about my friend the pig. Many years ago the master, I think, certainly the friend of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) got me slightly in his clutches: I mean that very fine Scotsman, John Boyd Orr. He instilled into me an enthusiasm for the pig for which I have never found it necessary to apologise. With the help of some of my hon. Friends, and certainly with the assistance of the North of Scotland College of Agriculture and the Agricultural Advisory Committee for Uist and Barra I am determined to get the pig population in the Hebrides above the figure at which it stood just before the end of the last war. Here, again, I think that a profit can be made. A new element can be brought into that community life and, once more, the country will benefit. But I will not develop that subject at this time.
As I think the Committee knows, I propose to set up a commission to report on the condition of our crofts. This also arises from the Highlands Panel. I have already secured the agreement of a distinguished Scot to head the commission and we are in the process of choosing its membership. I will urge on them the need to report as quickly as possible and, therefore, I am not asking them to embark on a general inquiry into the Highlands at large. The commission's remit will be specific in its character and will relate to the use of land. I hope to be able to give very soon the commission's composition and the precise terms of reference.
Afforestation, too, is a most attractive subject. I confess that I share the doubts of the hon. and gallant Gentleman as to whether the greatest possible use is being made of the northern counties in this connection. I should be ungrateful were I not to admit how energetic and helpful the Commission is, and I know that the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not mean otherwise. I am bound to confide to the Committee, however, that I have not hesitated to indicate to the commission my anxiety that they should do more in these northern counties. I have visited the hillsides of Sutherland, and have met these first-class people who are not afraid of their job and are full of enthusiasm, and I cannot be persuaded that much of that land, which is not useful or valuable for any other purpose, cannot be harnessed to the nation's needs for wood.
I feel that I am boring the Committee, but I would say that I tend to look on afforestation in those counties as being as much a social service as an economic project. I will say no more than assure the Committee that as long as I and my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary are in this Department we will do our utmost to push this project. The Committee knows that we have set up a survey in Strathspey, and I hope that it will yield results.
The Committee also knows that my distinguished predecessor set going a very imaginative scheme in Strath Oykell. Things have hung fire a little there. The position is good on the agriculture side, but not so good on the afforestation side. I do not disguise my view that these schemes work best when we secure voluntary co-operation, but I must say—in no threatening sense—that unless we secure more co-operation on the forestry side in that great Strath I shall have to advise my friends that I think they will have to use their powers to push the scheme forward.
I have left out reference so far to herring. That topic will, no doubt, be developed in the course of the debate. We have difficulties here. The reasons why the Scottish herring industry has not overtaken those difficulties are familiar to the Committee. A good deal of development is going on in connection with our anxiety to secure alternative export markets. The herring Industry Board have men in the field and the laboratory. They are trying new methods of curing suitable for Africa, for equatorial areas and for the West Indies. I hope they will have great success. They are also going ahead in Scotland with a number of projects—quick freezing plant for kippers in Stornaway, cold stores, ice-making plant, oil and meal factories, gutting machines and varying methods of treating herring for oil.
But that is not the end. There is a great hive of research going on in Scotland just now, some of which is very exciting, about newer and cheaper methods of treating herring. Though the difficulties are many I have never been persuaded that when the whole world is hungry for proteins and we in our country are not so rich in them, we cannot relate economically and efficiently the harvest of our coasts to our fields and to our farms. It is mainly along that channel that research has proceeded.
I apologise to the Committee for having talked so long; I have talked too long. I understand why the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that he got a little tired about the reservations in the Report. He asked us if we did not think that there was some analogy with a business which had not enough capital available. I am sure that that is just and accurate. I am also certain that it is true—and I do not believe that the hon. and gallant Member disagrees—that there can be no area in the country where, proportionately, over so many years so much money has been dribbled.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to a Resolution of this House of 50 years ago. It is more than 150 years since a commission reported upon the Highlands and concentrated upon transport, and gave us the Caledonian Canal. Then along comes another concept, another drive. I suggest that we have frequently lacked a plan. I do not blame the Committee for being impatient. I do not beg mercy for this Government or any other Government in relation to this problem of Highland development. I am not promising "pie in the sky by and by," but I am saying that, without a plan, resources will again be vitiated.
I believe in this programme. We have a plan. I am confident that this Committee and its successors will keep this Government—and I hope that this Government will go on for a long time—or whatever Government there happens to be, close up against this plan. If we secure the co-operation of the local people, if they are not too afraid of new ideas, if they will be a little patient and not always concern themselves almost exclusively—quite understandably—about the next year but will extend themselves to think of five, 10 and 20 years ahead, I believe that we may make a substantial contribution towards arresting depopulation in that part of the country and towards restoring it to the real glories which it knew, which we all remember and take pleasure in, and that we can do something for Great Britain by making a real and proportionate contribution towards the restoration of this part of the country.
I would like to congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland on his excellent speech, and also my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), who delivered an equally excellent speech. I feel that they struck a high note. I am certain that their colleagues in the Committee will welcome the facing of these problems and the acknowledgment of the difficulties which exist without attempting to throw stones at either the Government or the Opposition.
I acknowledge that in the past there has been neglect. The sole reason I happen to represent the Highland constituency of Caithness and Sutherland is because I am most anxious to try to take some part in improving the position. I bitterly resent economic compulsion being applied to people who desire to live and to work in the place where they were born, but, because of lack of opportunity, have to migrate overseas. The last thing I would ever want to do would be to keep the enterprising lad or lass who wants to go away from going away. I would aid them to the fullest extent of my power.
But we must acknowledge the fact that the greatest affliction of the Highland area has been de-population over a very long period of time. We have lost far too much of our best blood, and while we are still willing to share it with the world at large, we must give those who want to stay at home in reasonable comfort and security the chance of doing so. I do not think that that has been done in the past.
I detected, I thought, in both the excellent speeches from the respective Front Benches a note which seemed to reveal that the speakers were a little too timid about the possibilities which exist in the Highland area. I agree that agriculture must, and always will, come first. It is by a long way the greatest employer of labour. I feel that the Highland area which, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, covers almost one half of the entire territory of Scotland, is capable of making a really massive contribution to agriculture; by way of the pigs, which the Secretary of State wants, and also by way of cattle, sheep, poultry, eggs and rabbits.
It is the only area in Great Britain, I believe, which is capable of such a development in agriculture. When it is realised that thousands of acres of land, which were cleared by our forebears by the sweat of their brow and primitive tools, have gone back to the jungle from which they were created it reveals how the policy of the 19th century, which may have helped our country as a whole, played havoc with the Highlands. I do not think that where our forebears got to in 1881 is the limit to which we can go in reclamation in the Highland area. With the modern tools available to us, with the prairie busters, the drainage machines and caterpillar tractors we can make tremendous inroads into the moor, bog and hill.
I feel that the greatest need is for land reclamation. I know that it is no satisfaction to the Secretary of State to say that no scheme of land settlement has been carried out since 1939. I am making a statement of fact. I am not complaining about it; it is a fact. But I know that the two county councils in my own area have long waiting lists of men, many of them ex-Service men, who are hungry for land; and I know that the land is there, if we use the resources at our command.
I applaud the schemes started by the Coalition Government, and continued by the last Government and the present Government, of grants and subsidies for reclamation, and for drainage. But the 50 per cent. that the owner of the land, or the tenant, is left to find is, I think, a most arresting obstacle in these days of high living costs and high taxation. I know that many enterprising farmers and crofters in my own area would like to take advantage of the Government grant, but they just cannot find the extra 50 per cent. Many Highland landlords are impoverished. They are not all well-to-do people who come from the South. Some of them are native to the soil, and have lived there for years, and the rents they receive are very small. I think they are almost the most afflicted people I know.
The Highland landlords, who are so often maligned by politicians. I am making a statement of absolute truth. On the estate in Caithness where my father was born, and where Lord Home was also born, serious economic problems have arisen, and the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Alex. Anderson) will be able to vouch for what I am saying. Nine of the foremost farms in Caithness are located there; and they are all rented at 1904 rentals. If those rentals were fair in 1904 it does not seem to me that they can be fair in 1951. It is only a matter of time before that situation must come to an end, because the estate will no longer be able to carry on. They cannot carry out repairs and maintenance at 1951 costs on those rents. What I am saying will not please my farmer constituents, but that does not matter to me, because I think it is a situation which should be dealt with by this House.
There has been a tendency to pass very desirable agricultural legislation, but it maybe that we have set up a system which is harmful to one section of the landowning community. I applaud what has been done by Lord Lovat, and Mr. Hobbs, the Canadian, at Fort William; and by my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) and his partners in Perthshire—I am sorry he is not in his place, because I wish to pay tribute to what has been done—and by three or four other people. They have taken this marginal land, and moor, and bog, and set to work, with modern tools and capital—and courage—and have been able to reclaim land and produce the winter feed which the Secretary of State for Scotland so rightly said is essential. I am fully confident that that is capable of tremendous expansion and that we can once again become the great cattle country we were in bygone days—and not so long ago.
In my constituency one may see the old cattle tracks which the hoofs of millions of cattle have beaten into the heather and the rock. Although they have not been used for nearly 80 years or a century they are still there. They existed long before there was a made road to the south. Cattle in their thousands came out of the Highlands; 150,000 head of cattle a year were marched from the north of Scotland and delivered at Falkirk Tryst, as reasonably fat cattle. A lot of them were sold at Falkirk and walked to Scotch Corner in Yorkshire and were handed over to the English drovers there. If we really tackled this job in an up-to-date manner; if we put in the finance which is required—because money is at the bottom of all for which I am pleading now, as it is at the bottom of so many things—I think we could become independent of some of those overseas suppliers who have been so difficult in recent years. Apart from that altogether, our economic situation has changed completely. We no longer have the gold or foreign currency to squander abroad on food that we can produce at home or on manufactured goods which we ourselves can make.
Is there any hon. Member who believes that exports can be continued at the rate they have been going on since 1945–46? I have just come back from a visit to the United States and Canada, where I found that many goods we have sent out have not been sold, and I am apprehensive about the situation. I am not a defeatist, but I wish I were able to bring better news to the Committee. I am very doubtful, now that the immediate post-war famine has been met, that we will be able to continue with the same volume of exports. I will not find fault with anybody for that situation, but I would point out that America is not only the greatest agricultural country; she is the greatest industrial country in the world. She will be a fierce competitor once her defence plans and production are completed.
That situation makes it imperative that we should produce all the food we possibly can at home. That is absolutely essential for the nation, not only for the Highlands. It is wholly wrong that this great, beautiful, derelict land, one half of Scotland, should remain as the Creator made it. I often think that we Scots have not made too good a job of our own country. Sometimes I think that too many of us have been too busy running away for too long.
When I look at our narrow corridor, our industrial belt, beginning at Greenock and going through Glasgow and the Lanarkshire towns and villages to Edinburgh, with the small fringe at Dundee, a smaller one in the Border district and a still smaller one in Aberdeen—that is all the industrial development we have in Scotland. Every hon. Member can conjure up in his mind the map of England with its industrial development. On the west coast, we begin at Carlisle, and go down through Lancashire and the towns of Merseyside, into Cheshire, North Wales and South Wales, the Bristol Channel ports, and Plymouth. Then we go up through the centre of the country from Southampton to Swindon, Wolverhampton, the Potteries, Coventry, Birmingham, Manchester, Bradford and Leeds. Down the east coast we have Blyth, Newcastle, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Darlington. Hull, Grimsby, Lincoln to London—every valley and estuary a thriving hive of industry.
I hope no one will say to me, as has been suggested somewhat mildly today, that these places had some natural advantage which caused various industries to spring up. Things just did not happen like that. Industries were started by the enterprise and courage of men and women who were born in these places and wanted to live there. Did London, with coal over 100 miles away, just happen naturally? Was London so dependent on coal? We have coal in the Highlands. We have a good deal more coal than we had 16 months ago when the Government decided that they would close down the Brora mine. Coal from that mine has met two-thirds of the demand of the northern counties during this winter of crisis. We have abundant coal in Fifeshire and other places. The argument that we must have coal is untenable. What we must have are willing people, and we have them. We will never make our full agricultural contribution unless we provide——
That is a proper question and I do not know whether I can answer it fully. I said earlier that I thought that too many of us had been running away for too long. I recall that at one time one-third of the people of Scotland lived in the Highlands area. Today less than one-twentieth live there. In my two counties, the population of Sutherland has gone down to 13,900—less than the population of an average English village—and the position in Caithness is very little better. At one time these places were self-supporting. People lived there for many years, and there are many who still want to live there.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has raised that political chestnut. If an answer had to be made with reasonable accuracy, I would say that the Highlands became de-populated in the 19th century because of unrestricted free trade. I do not want to be controversial. I do not want to blame the Liberal Party or the party opposite for their devotion to free trade; but I would say that the farmers on good land in the South close to populous markets had a hard task to make ends meet, and frequently they failed. But the fellows in the Highlands, faced with high transport costs, to which both Front Bench speakers have referred, and with soil which was generally poor, had not a hope, and they had to clear out. However, times have completely changed. We have no longer the foreign currency, the gold or even the exports to enable us to squander money overseas. We must begin producing at home.
When I was interrupted, I was saying that we will never be able to make our full contribution in agriculture unless we provide alternative occupations. Every farmer's boy and girl does not want to work and live on the farm, even if there is a job available. The history of every country in the world which may have begun to function in agriculture, has been that it has turned to industry and gone forward with both together. When I was a boy I remember that the justification for throwing the British farmer to the dogs was that we were the greatest industrial nation in the world. We were the workshop of the world, and we would supply the manufactured goods to the great primary producing countries overseas. They would for ever remain agricultural.
Has the United States of America remained agricultural? Has Canada? I was in Ontario 10 days ago. There is a great industrial empire, but Ontario is still a great agricultural community. South Africa at the time of the Boer War was a sleepy, slow-going Dutch Republic, and farming and wine-making were the only industries. Look at South Africa today. It is a great coal-mining nation. They export coal. South Africa is a great steel-making nation. They export steel, and they have an electric power industry and many secondary industries.
When we were discussing the 1948 Andes Agreement, we were told that 150,000 peons had left the land that year in the Argentine and gone into Buenos Aires into industry. I remember when the present Prime Minister of Australia addressed Members of this House in a Committee room early in the war. He said that in the 1914–18 war every Australian soldier who walked down the gang plank for Europe from Fremantle, Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide wore, and fought with, articles made in Britain, including the buttons on their tunics. But in the short space of time between 1918 and 1939, everything which the Australian soldier wore and fought with, including Bren guns—which gave us many a headache—and trainer aeroplanes, was made in Australia. That is the way of the world.
We will never achieve our ambitions in agriculture unless we provide alternative employment. I have worked very hard on this subject for a year or two now, and I am practising what I preach. I had no desire to go into industry in the North, but I went into industry in two instances, one in coal mining and another in a knitwear factory, because the plants were to be closed down. I could not let them be closed down. We have an unemployment rate which is almost four times the average for the rest of Scotland. We must solve that problem, and solve it quickly.
That is one of the reasons I went to the United States. I had been talking to the Scottish Council which has done such a magnificent job under Lord Bilsland—all voluntary and unpaid. The members of the Council give their services free. They come from all walks of life in the professions and industry. In New York I met their New York Committee, again composed of Scotsmen who earn their livelihood there. They are doing a splendid job, contacting American industrialists and endeavouring to attract them to Scotland.
I urged them to continue their good work and to continue to attract them to Britain as a whole, but to bear in mind that we in the Highlands had towns like Thurso, Wick, Fort William, Golspie, Dingwall and others, where we have not got a single industry. The reception was exceedingly good not only in New York but in Toronto and in Ottowa. I cannot claim that I did more than state our case and sow seeds, but I wanted to find out what the reaction would be. I found a deep affection and devotion for Scotland and, of course, for Great Britain. I must say in all frankness, however, that it seemed to me that we who come from the North came in for a greater share of the sympathy.
I was not appealing to them on philanthropic grounds to come to Britain and to the North. I asked them to come and earn profits and pay our taxes, employ our labour, pay our rates of wages, and get the benefits—and there may be disadvantages too—of life in the sterling area. I appealed to them on business grounds. I think it must make an appeal to a number of firms who enjoyed a considerable trade in our markets up to 12 years ago, but since then they have not been able to get in at all. Goodwill will quickly die under those conditions.
Three firms have undertaken to send representatives to make a survey of the Highlands, but they did laugh heartily when I said that there was a feeling in some areas of the homeland that some parts of Great Britain were too far away from other parts. It is only 600 miles from the Pentland Firth to the English Channel. One could travel two or three times as far in Texas and still be in that State, which is only one of the 48 States of the Union.
I had to tell how our people who live in the far North are heavily penalised by the transport system today and by the rates they have to pay. This is a problem which must be tackled. I know it is not entirely within the control of the Secretary of State for Scotland, but the imposts of the kind that we have to face in rates and fares make it difficult for the people in the North.
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's most interesting talk. But I wonder if he would tell us whether the people who live 600 miles from point A in Texas and wish to travel from point B, do not have to pay their fares?
They pay their fares but not at the rate that we do. There is no other country in the world where the rates for passengers are what they are here. This old system of 1d. a mile came into operation when there were 300 companies operating, every one of which wanted its pound of flesh from the person passing through its area. However, I will not pursue that at this moment, for I have said a great deal on it before. The problem which is raised here will have to be met or the railways will price themselves out of business and we will have coming to life again the transportation that the railways destroyed, namely, coastal transport. I, for one, will do all I can to bring it about. We have fine harbours and what we want is to get industry there. There are plenty of people in Glasgow who would have a shot at that, but we have to get the industries first.
It seems to me that very praiseworthy things have been done, but we have got to do a great deal more. In this task, which is so massive, we must face up to the fact that a machine and money are required, and unless we do so we will be performing a dis-service to the country of our birth which we are so glad to represent here. The burden which rests on the Secretary of State for Scotland at the present time is almost intolerable. The party to which I belong acknowledged that before the last election. They said that he must be supported by a Minister of State and reinforced by an additional Joint Secretary of State. Unless that is done, we shall get to the stage when we will break the Secretary of State for Scotland in the way we used to break the Minister of Agriculture.
I venture to suggest that what is required is a Minister responsible for Highland development, including agricultural development as well. It should be a full-time job for one Minister. That is my first proposal, and my second is that the money that is required should be found in Scotland. We have always been fairly good at looking after ourselves. I am certain that there is much money available for investment in Scotland today, and I do not see why an appeal for a Scottish development loan or a Scottish land loan issued in Edinburgh at small discount and at reasonable rates of interest would not be eagerly sought after.
I realise the difficulties of making heavy demands on Exchequer funds and the burdens we are carrying with the additional cost of defence. Let the bankers, the finance houses and the stock brokers get together in Edinburgh, Glasgow and other towns to see how this money might be raised. I cannot conceive of anything better than to find the money to help ourselves. I hope the Secretary of State will give that some thought, and I shall be glad to play my share in attracting the financial people to come and sit round a table and see if an issue of that kind is not a practical possibility. I cannot see, if Thomas Jones and Company, Limited, can float an issue for £200,000 to carry on a legitimate business and earn dividends, why we cannot raise a national loan for a national purpose. There could be a good return on the loan, and there would be a great return to the nation in food production. If there were any money still required, we would have to go to the Exchequer for grants or loans, but it may be that if we got busy looking after ourselves and with this full-time Minister, we would have the stimulus of industry coming in, because the moment industry arrives it is the greatest creator of wealth. No acre of land ever produced the wealth that an acre of industry can.
A fortnight ago I travelled up the Hudson River Valley from New York to Albany. Yonkers, where golf was first played 60 years ago, and Schenectady and those towns which were the acknowledged route from the New England Colonies to Canada in the old days, are now one mass of industry. They are thriving industrial towns. When I go up to Scotland by rail, what do I see? It is a beautiful country with bracken abounding and homes for the deer and game. It is not enough for us to rest on this programme of Highland development. That is dawdling. We have to be up and doing, and this lies in the hands of the Secretary of State and those of us on this side of the Committee who are interested in the matter. I earnestly hope it will be done.
I agree with the Secretary of State for Scotland in his final phrases that we must have a plan, and I say it must be a full and comprehensive plan. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), who opened this debate, and the Secretary of State for Scotland have both ensured that no undue optimism should be generated. We are all agreed that the problems which we face are very complex, are long-standing and will require money.
I thought some of the other things stated by the Secretary of State were very encouraging. I was particularly glad to hear that there is to be a Commission to inquire into the present state of crofting. That is a thing I myself have been urging, along with other hon. Members. I was very glad to hear the compliments he so rightly paid to the Sea Weed Research Station at Musselburgh, which is an extremely interesting place and worth a visit. Incidentally, it is more visited by those from abroad than by people from Scotland itself.
I was very interested to hear of the experiment which is being made in peat. There is also the very interesting experiment in the use of another commodity, of which we have a great deal in the Highlands, and that is wind. We should be glad if the Secretary of State visited this windmill, which we hope will generate some electricity from our native winds.
I should like to address myself to broad topics. There is a great temptation in a debate like this to concentrate on the difficulties of our constituencies, and there is also a tendency to repetition. The fact that we are having a debate today on the subject of the Highlands emphasises—we cannot stress it too much—that the Highlands differ not only from England but also from the Lowlands of Scotland. Some of the differences are differences of degree—climate and soil—but others are more fundamental. In many ways today our situation is more akin to a territory like Scandinavia or one of the developing Colonies than to the close-knit industrial civilisation of the Clyde Valley and around London. We have a system of landholding found nowhere else in Britain. We have our own economy and economic problems.
It should not be forgotten that, with the exception of my constituency, the crofting counties, along with Welsh Wales, have inherited the Celtic tradition which is still a factor in their life that cannot be entirely neglected. Because they are different they require different treatment in many respects from the treatment generally applied in Great Britain. There are many laws and regulations which probably suit London or the South perfectly well but which look very queer when we come to apply them in the Shetlands or even in the district of Wester Ross, of which the Secretary of State is so fond. There are the Catering Wages Act and parts of the Town and Country Planning Act. They simply do not suit our conditions.
My first contention is that so long as they are treated like any other seven counties, their land will to some extent be neglected, a great deal of their resources will be untapped and their population may well continue to dwindle. That is the situation today. The population in the landward areas and the Islands is dwindling and we have unemployment. While the rest of Britain is suffering from shortage of labour, we have men and women eager to work who cannot find jobs. That is a long-standing matter. No doubt it dates from the break-up of the old Highland society at the end of the 18th century. Ever since then there has been an era of malaise, and emigration has been the sovereign remedy.
The question is: Are we starting with a new cycle in the Highlands? Research has been carried out on the land by people like Fraser Darling. A tremendous amount of the land in the Highlands has been deteriorating for years, and certain recommendations have been made as to how the soil can be built up again. There are encouraging signs that a new cycle may be beginning. However we may criticise the Highland Panel, the White Paper, the Forestry Commission and the Hydro-Electric Board in detail, their mere existence is an encouragement. There is no doubt the Government have been spending money in the Highlands, and that some of that money is unquestionably going to prime the pump, and the only question is whether the water will flow. Are we really to get a new cycle of trade and an expanding economy in the Highlands?
As the Secretary of State said, we need a plan. The plan will probably have to cover 5, 10, or 20 years, and the policy embodied in it must have two cardinal features. It must be specially designed to suit the varying needs throughout the Highland area and must take into account the peculiar conditions of the North and of the crofting counties, and it must also be a comprehensive plan, otherwise we may waste the money which the Government are even now spending. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) may well be frustrated in his efforts to bring in new industry on the scale he envisages so long as the problem of transport and freights is not tackled. We shall not get full value from the land in the Highlands unless we provide a better road system.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Kirkwood), rightly said that getting men and women to stay there and to go there was our main objective in any policy today, but we shall not get them to return to the Highlands and stay there unless they have good houses with water and light and reasonable amenities. But again, it will certainly not be worth spending the amount of money we need for these things unless we have a reasonable assurance that we are building up a way of life which is expanding and which gives some promise of future stability.
The White Paper seems to begin very well. It pays a proper compliment to the Liberal Government's Crofting Acts, and it recognises the need for this new economy. But I am not certain that it lives up to the promise of its introduction. It seems to become rather a catalogue of suggestions. It is not very precise as to when those things will actually take place and we shall see the piers, the roads and so on, and above all—most vital of all—it does not indicate what machinery will be set up to ensure that the plan will be put into effect. Unless we set up the proper machinery, the plan will not be effective.
The essentials of such a comprehensive plan as I envisage include a policy for freights and transport, and recognition that transport in the Highlands is vital and fundamental and that it is an entirely different problem from the problem of transport in a built-up area. Assistance should be given so that it is no longer cheaper to send goods from London to America than to send them from London to some parts of the Highlands or the Western Islands.
I dealt with the roads in a recent debate, so I will not do so again in detail; but the answers given to me were not entirely convincing. On the question of trunk-roads, the Under-Secretary then indicated that there was no through traffic to Orkney and Shetland, for instance; but there is no through traffic to Penzance or to any other coastal town unless it is a port. He said that we have had great assistance from equilisation grants and road grants, and so on, but even so our road system is deteriorating.
Even if only 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. has to be found, looking at it from the point of view of the country as a whole, it is not sound economically to let the road system deteriorate in an area in which we hope to have a great expansion of agriculture and from which we seek a great supply of food. There is also the question of piers. There is a tendency at the moment to give big grants to the big harbours. That is good as far as it goes. I would emphasise, however, that in many cases it is the small pier which keeps the population on an island or in a district.
We have not had a house designed for the special conditions of the Highlands. Excellent though the present houses may be, they are not entirely suitable for the climate which they have to face. I thank the Secretary of State for the increased number of licences which he has given in Orkney and Shetland and other parts and for the understanding which he has given to our special problems in housing. There is one important point about the present housing policy in the Highlands. There is a tendency to concentrate new housing in the towns, and where houses are built in the country they are divorced from the land. Probably the most serious problem we have to face immediately is the drift from the countryside into the towns and this housing policy is not helpful. New houses are built in the towns and when they are built in the country they are too often divorced altogether from the land on which people have to earn their living.
That brings me to the third subject—agriculture, which merits a whole debate to itself. I want to make only two general points. First, I warn the Government of the very serious effects the continual rise in the cost of feeding stuffs is having in the Highland area. Secondly, I wish to draw their attention to the great possibilities of development which still lie in marginal land. They should not be too quick in removing the marginal grants from land which has been reclaimed or improved, because much of that land requires money to be spent continually upon it to keep it in good heart. The grant is necessary if the land is not to revert to a wild state. I am glad we are to have a commission of inquiry into crofting. The essentials of the system of crofting are that the crofter has a fair rent, security of tenure, the right to dispose of his property, by will if he so wishes, and a court to settle any disputes. Those essentials should be safeguarded. There is a demand today for more and bigger crofts. There is also great need for better use of crofting land and improvement of common grazing.
Not necessarily. It has been rightly suggested that by land reclamation one can bring more land into use for crofting. I certainly agree there might be difficulty in the more restricted areas where it is not possible to extend the total acreage.
Would not the hon. Member agree that in many crofting districts if one were to have bigger crofts, it would be necessary to join two or three together? If one did not do that, one would have to use other land not hitherto used for crofting.
There are certain cases where I agree it would be necessary to join one or two small crofts together. But there is a lot of crofting land which could be brought back to cultivation. If there is to be a commission, it should look into the details of how the best use can be made of the total amount of land available for crofting. It could also make recommendations for improving the output of crofting land. Much of our present agricultural legislation, excellent though it is, certainly does not fit into the crofting system. Advantage cannot be taken of hill farming subsidies and assistance in livestock rearing. Much croft land is under-used and underdeveloped and could benefit from better drainage, more fertilisers and so on.
Both croft houses and cottar property are falling into disrepair in the Highlands. Over a great deal of the countryside the Government bring up standards by putting the screw on somebody, very often the landlord. The crofter does not fit into that system. The crofting landlord does not keep his houses up to a good standard because rents are small and his funds are limited. Agricultural committees are reluctant to intervene and the crofter himself has no capital. Today the grants offered to the crofter are getting very inadequate at present prices. Furthermore, I think it is true to say that many of them are hedged about with conditions at which crofters look with considerable suspicion, rightly or wrongly.
I hope that this commission will look into this point and will be able to make recommendations not only on crofting land but on housing. I suggest that small houses should be provided in the crofting districts to accommodate elderly people. If that were done, crofting cottages would be freed for the use of those capable of working the land and it would bring more crofting land back into cultivation. In the end, it may be necessary to have some sort of public authority to buy and re-let crofts in suitable cases to prevent their being turned over to sheep grazing and the houses falling down. It may be necessary to have an authority empowered to build houses, create new crofts and administrate a very flexible system of loans and grants for the improvement of land and buildings.
I do not intend to say much about fishing, although it is a very important subject in the Highlands. It has been very fully debated lately. Like the Secretary of State, I hope that the herring season will be better, and I think we shall all welcome any extension of the powers of the Herring Board.
I also hope to see a great extension of industry, primarily of a light or cottage nature, because I would not like all the new industries in the Highlands to be concentrated in the towns. The villages, smaller towns and rural communities need them most. Through the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board we have for the first time a supply of power in the Highlands. In most industries power is a very small part of the total costs, and therefore we should be encouraging false hopes if we gave the impression that the existence of power alone would bring in industry. This Hydro-Electric Board might perhaps act as the foster parent of industry. I do not necessarily suggest that we should have something like the Tennessee Valley Authority, but I should like to see the Board given some powers to develop industry itself.
These seem to be the main features of a comprehensive plan, but account would also have to be taken of other things, such as lobster fishing. As to education, one of the most important problems in the Highlands is that the cleverer boys and girls tend to leave. Some system of further education which would retain them in the districts in which they are brought up would be very useful in reviving the life of the smaller communities.
The question remains as to who is to supervise the carrying out of all the suggestions made today, because undoubtedly they will take a very long time. There is, of course, the Highland Panel. It has done an excellent job, but it has no supervising powers or executive powers and I see the difficulty of the Secretary of State. It is not a democratic body. If it were given executive powers I expect it would come into collision with the county councils. Another suggestion is that there should be a separate Minister to do the work. It is a very attractive idea. His job would be to watch the plans and give them an impetus, but any Minister so appointed would be under the thumb of the Treasury in London and his path would be crossing the paths of many other Ministers concerned with what is going on in the Highlands under the present system.
I do not think we can be completely happy about the future of the Highlands until we can have a greater measure of self-government in Scotland. That seems to me to be an inescapable conclusion. This is a special Scottish problem which can best be tackled in Scotland. But whatever is thought about that suggestion, I urge the Secretary of State to continue work which he is only starting. He should gather up all the information that exists in this White Paper and in all the reports of committees and commissions that have inquired into Highland affairs year in and year out and supplement them, if necessary, by further inquiries as quickly as he can. He should then get an estimate from the Treasury of the amount of money which might be available for Highland development. Get them to give us the biggest sum of money they can, but get them at least to state a figure which will be available, and then draw up a comprehensive plan and put it in the hands of some body which will be charged solely with the business of putting it into effect.
We have had a most interesting debate, and I think the Opposition have shown a much healthier attitude to this debate on Scotland than they sometimes do with regard to our national affairs. I deeply deplore the fact that just because people want to score points they let their country down in the eyes of the whole world by casting aspersions on the activities of the population here, merely because they have a Government in power which they do not seem to like. We have had a welcome change today, and I hope this atmosphere will be continued and that tribute will be paid to whatever has been done for the development of Scotland in recent years, in contrast to what used to be the case.
Without making any reflection on the past, I must say that we have got to face the problem as we find it. We have inherited from the past both good and bad. The defects have to be put right. I think the Committee will welcome this Report, because it is on firm ground. I felt when I had the job of tackling this problem with the help of the Highland Panel and the Scottish Council—and tribute ought to be paid also to the Home Department for the tremendous amount of work they have put into this investigation—that it was quite impossible to go on in a haphazard way, patching up here and there without having any idea where we were going.
We had to survey the problem and find out not only what it was desirable to do but what it was possible to do. These various bodies, therefore, set themselves to find out what was conceivable in a five-year programme, and their Report was brought forward. Naturally it is not very exciting. It is not very romantic, in the picture it portrays, because it is practical, but it is practical achievements that we need in the Highlands; we do not want any more fairy pictures which nobody can achieve.
It is quite clear, and it was clear at the beginning, that if we are to make any progress in the Highlands, that progress must be developed on the existing economy of the Highlands. The economy of the Highlands is based on farming, fishing, forestry and tourist traffic in the main. Industry can only play a subsidiary or an ancillary part, and we have realised for many years that industry, if it is to be successful in the Highlands, must be connected with Highland products such as timber, wool and sheep.
I had some discussions with one of the Wilton carpet people, and I think there ought to be developed a carpet industry in the Highlands, in the homes. But one of the problems which has faced the Highland Home Industries organisation, which is doing such fine pioneering work, is that when people have an industry in their homes, they expect to have handwork prices paid by the public. When an industry is partly a hobby and partly an interest in the winter-time, some sacrifice has got to be made to render it possible to market these goods in the towns. Otherwise it cannot expand.
With regard to Shetland wool, when the exhibition was held in Glasgow it was so successful that some buyers wanted to place orders of such dimensions that it would have taken Shetland about 40 years to produce the wool. It is not possible to have mass production in the rural areas. Their's must obviously be a luxury industry or a rather selective industry supplying a small market. That was the defect in the pessimism which was expressed by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) about the American market. I do not think our country could ever compete with American industry in mass production, but there is a market in America and Canada for exotic materials which come from Scotland, and people will often buy things merely because they come from Scotland. It is this kind of industry which would provide us with an ample market for all we could supply to the huge population of America and many other countries. I do not think we need be too depressed about it. There is an untapped market on the west coast of America which has not been touched by our people.
If we are to have more industry, then obviously we must ask ourselves whether it can be economic. It cannot be economic merely to supply markets in London 500 or 600 miles away, but there are markets nearer home, and I think some of those markets have not been exploited. Let us take the tourist industry. I was greatly disappointed that the Highlands are not exploiting that market which is at their very door. For instance, in one of the main shops in Fort William I saw on one side, socks which were advertised as made of Harris wool. On the other side, plus-four stockings were advertised as coming from Bradford, of all places; they were ticketed "Made in Bradford"—in Fort William, one of the capitals of the Highlands. It seemed strange to me that we were inviting tourists to come to Scotland, tourists who want to go back with something they have bought from Scotland, and yet they are offered Bradford stockings in a Highland shop. I hope something can be done about that sort of thing.
We boast about our beef. The Highlands can claim to supply the highest quality beef in the world, but in hotels in the Highlands one often finds on the menu "roast beef à l'Anglais." It may be that the roast beef is cooked according to the English way, but if it is Scots beef, and good beef, why do they not say so on the menus? People coming to Scotland want to know how the Scottish live and not how the French live. I agree entirely with the Secretary of State that something ought to be done so that Scotland makes its own contribution to the culture and even the feeding of the world. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Kirkwood), that some of the stuff that passes for porridge in hotels is astounding. I do not know whether it is the wrong education that other people have had but I cannot recognise it as porridge. Some Scots call it oatmeal pudding, and it is certainly nearer that than porridge.
We hear much of the great mineral wealth of Scotland. That mineral wealth has been sufficiently investigated and we ought to stop romancing about its possibilities. It is true there are mountains of limestone in the constituency of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, but it is a material which, from the economic point of view, is deficient in its proportion of lime, and even if it were not deficient in its proportion of lime, the manufacture of limestone in Caithness would require that the finished product should be sent miles south to England to find its market, while it would be necessary to send coal up north to produce the limestone. Unless an organisation can be established capable of producing 50,000 tons of lime a year, it is not possible to make an economic proposition of a lime-producing plant and send the finished product all that distance.
The right hon. Gentleman's observations are interesting. Caithness will have a cement plant, I hope, in the not-too-distant future. If nobody else is willing to have a shot at it, I will. The argument which the right hon. Gentleman used, that it is too far away, is wholly untenable. In Scotland cement in the main comes from the Medway and the Thames. If it can be hauled up all that distance to the Clyde and to the Forth, to Dingwall and Inverness, and if we can go to Germany, as we did last year, and buy 50,000 tons of cement, the sooner Caithness cement is used the better.
I think the hon. Gentleman has missed the point. If he could produce economically 5,000 or 10,000 tons of cement in the Highlands to supply the Highland area, that might be an economic proposition; but the point is that there cannot be an economic plant unless it is producing at least 50,000 tons. We should have to bring coal north and send the cement south, so that there would be a double carriage problem involved, which would handicap the plant. Nevertheless, I should be only too glad if the hon. Gentleman can prove me wrong and I shall be delighted to see the development.
The Scottish Hydro-Electric Board did their best to develop the Bonawe scheme, which is on the doorstep of their development, but so far have not been successful. I should be very glad to be proved wrong in this, but I can only say that I am giving the Committee the results of investigations and that my informant is a very good Scotsman and is one of the experts in the economics of the cement industry. But if he is wrong, it will be a delightful discovery even for him.
One problem, and one problem only, arises in connection with the development of agriculture in Scotland—an increase in population, both of livestock and of men. The two things go together. If we can increase the livestock we can increase the population who live looking after that livestock. An increase in livestock, whether of cattle or of sheep or anything else, takes time, and an increase in the human population takes much longer—25 years. That is the time required to produce a new generation. The first problem, therefore, is keeping in the Highlands the people who are born there and, secondly, if possible, attracting people back into the Highlands.
The best prospect of attracting people back into the Highlands lies in forestry, which has this great advantage; if it is developed in conjunction with agriculture, then as the trees grow so the families are growing, and 20 years after we plant the trees there is work for a new generation of people. In other words, the trees and the families grow together, and the population can increase at that rate—but not any quicker. Unless we can attract older people into the Highlands, the population there can grow only at a natural rate of increase, and to talk about quick development is to talk about something which is quite impracticable.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State did not have much time to deal with the Strathoykell development. He did say they were not moving quickly enough and I hope something will be done to speed up the matter. It is only one or two proprietors who are not prepared to co-operate and, so far as I have ever been able to discover, their refusal is on no sensible grounds. I think a great project of that kind may well be a demonstration not only to this country but perhaps to the world, of co-operation between agriculture and forestry; and such a project should be developed with every possible speed.
Anyone who has been there and has seen what has been done by one of the proprietors in turning a hillside from mere grazing land into land holding, I think, 100 head of cattle, will see what possibility exists of making proper use of grass development and in developing this type of specialised and planned agriculture. I hope, therefore, that we shall go ahead with this scheme, and I also hope there will be more demonstration farms. At the moment it is left to individuals such as Mr. Hobbs and Lord Lovat and the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) to demonstrate these possibilities.
It is only possible for them to make these experiments because they have plenty of money behind them, because it is a hobby with them and because they can afford to take risks. We cannot expect the ordinary Highland farmer, living from hand to mouth, to take the risks which these other gentlemen are able to take; and the problem is, therefore, how the Highland farmer is to know he can safely go ahead with such expansion.
It may be that Mr. Hobbs will make a success of it. It may be that he will be able to demonstrate that it is economical. He has the great advantage of having a distillery behind him which provides him with hot draff which he can spread over the land in the winter. That not only helps to feed the cattle and keep them warm, but the method also helps to destroy the bracken, for he spreads it on different parts of the hills and the cattle following the food trample and destroy the bracken. That is the most effective way of destroying bracken on the Scottish hills, but not everybody can afford to do what Mr. Hobbs does. Of course, every Highlander has not a distillery but, if the Excise would allow it, there are some Highlanders who would be quite willing to have distilleries of their own. It is not permissible, however, so we cannot reason from the specialised farmers of whom I have been talking to the general farmer in the Highlands.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland spoke to me some time ago about the question of insurance; and this is an idea which might help. After all, we might have six years of good weather, with the stock population increasing on the hills, and then have a year like 1947 which wipes out half the stock and ruins every farmer in the Highlands. The farmers cannot risk or bear such disasters. It seems, therefore, that there should at least be some method of guaranteeing farmers against ruinous losses of that kind. In considering the problem, it occurred to me that sheep farmers in particular are having a beanfeast in view of the present price of wool. The Wool Board has more money than it knows what to do with.
Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that the sheep farmers are having a beanfeast after the weather of the past winter? Let him go and ask them. They have lost hundreds of thousands of ewes and lambs.
But the Wool Board has a huge amount of money because of the price of wool. That belongs to the sheep farmers collectively, and all I suggest is that this is an opportunity to open a fund for the insurance and protection of farmers who have these heavy losses in bad winters. I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman would agree that that is very desirable. Providence is very good in helping people who help themselves. It is not enough that we should ask the English always to help us, and at the same time that we should abuse them as often as we like. As has been said, we ought to help ourselves, and I suggest to the farmers that they should consider setting up an insurance fund in this way.
Another point occurs to me. I do not know whether hon. Members have noticed what has been done in America, where large numbers of cattle and sheep which were threatened with lack of food were kept alive in the snow, when isolated, by the use of aeroplanes to take food up to the hills and to drop it near them. I do not know whether such a scheme is possible in our hills in view of our climate. It was rather a dangerous operation in America, but there is no doubt that the preservation of the life of cattle in very bad winters turns on the problem of being able to get food on to the hills. Shelters could be built where cattle could come down and get the food. That is a very important contribution to the solution of a great difficulty, and on the Government's demonstration farms at Tomintoul they are building such shelters. Mr. Hobbs has built them, too. The cattle come down out of the wind and go into these shelters and preserve their lives.
It is true that this requires capital and labour. All the time we are faced with the problem of capital, and I should like to say to the Secretary of State that it is not wise to discuss all these things simply in terms of money. It is true that our wide resources makes a ceiling to the capital resources available for the investment programme and that we must divide those resources according to what we can do in various areas. But the mere fact of saying that there is no capital to go to the Highlands next year does not mean we save that amount of money, because if we do not use the labour in the Highlands there is nowhere else we can use it.
If it merely results in men and women in the Highlands not being allowed to work, being unable to work, and falling back on unemployment benefit, then the reduction in capital expenditure will be pointless. There is no point in a theoretical division of capital expenditure which allows people to become idle. I am sure the Secretary of State will see that men in the Highlands are not prevented from making roads and doing other work in the Highlands simply on the theoretical ground of lack of capital, unless the labour can be used for something else.
Indeed, the main problem of the Highlands is not the provision of capital, but the spending of capital. The Secretary of State can give any amount of money he likes to the Highlands, but the Highlands cannot spend it because the spending of money means the utilisation of labour, and if the labour is not available to do the job then the money is simply not spent. This applies also to housing in the Highlands. We had to take contractors from Edinburgh and Glasgow into the Highlands to build houses because there was simply not the labour there to build the houses. All such measures hinge on the steady development of population to provide the labour to build in the Highlands and to create new opportunities there.
Four great organisations, in addition to the Government, are carrying out work in the Highlands. The Forestry Commission deals with the forestry side. There is the Department of Agriculture working through the agency of the farmers and in some cases directly doing the work on the agricultural side. The Scottish Council for Industry, against great odds, have done a fine job in exploiting possibilities of getting industry into the Highlands. There is the Scottish Hydro-Electric Board which is, perhaps, the greatest benefactor of all. The Hydro-Electric Board and the Forestry Commission have done a splendid job in building roads in the Highlands, and have done more for building roads than any other agency in the last 100 years; and these roads do not lead only to waterworks or to forests, but naturally they lead to crofts, and provide farmers with goods roads as well. I should not like to interfere in the affairs of Wales, but I think the objections in Wales to the Forestry Commission are very unwise when we consider the ancillary benefits of their work; for example, taking goods roads right into the heart of the countryside.
Roads are, of course, exteremely important, and so, of course, are piers. After all, the sea is the greatest highway of the Highlands. Some of the peninsulas cannot be reached otherwise than by sea, and the provision of slipways and piers is of great importance. They should not be regarded otherwise than as adjuncts of the highways on the mainland. They should be considered as continuations of the mainland highways, as entrances to the sea and exits from the sea. I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) in regard to that.
I have said all I want to say in regard to the general plan. I am very glad that this is going on steadily. I am very glad we are not going to stop building the crofters' roads or restrict that work. There are some villages in the Highlands that are now going to have roads which have never had a road in history. That is some progress, at least. It must be remembered that the Highlands are half the size of Scotland. That is one of the difficulties. Into this enormous area we could pour millions. We could pour £40 million, £50 million, £60 million, £70 million in some parts, and the people in some other part of the Highlands would not know it had been done. When I have seen some of the works done in the past for the Highlands, that achieved so little despite all the money poured into them, it has made me feel that if we are to spend money on the Highlands, to attract industry and amenities to the Highlands, it ought to be done in such a way that, cumulatively, it would provide a new economic life for the population: but, of course, the new economic life can be built up only as the population itself grows.
The Highlands are a desirable place to live in. All the millionaires did not go to the Highlands frivolously. They went there because they are a delightful place to go to, and they went for health. After all, if, sometimes, they went there for recreation, that recreation very often took the form of great experiments which, curiously enough, provided demonstrations for other people elsewhere. There is no denying that. It is patent. And people are doing it today. I myself had a man come to me who had made a lot of money and had bought an estate in the Highlands. He wanted to do something useful, and asked what he could do. The Department advised him what to do to make a contribution to agriculture in the development of livestock in the Highlands, and that man has done that work.
People do not live in the Highlands without wanting to live in the Highlands. It is a delightful country in which to live, and if we could provide opportunities for more people to earn their livelihood in the Highlands, and to live in that delightful community, then they would be only too willing to go there. It is true that the Highlander has refused to be civilised so far as 6 o'clock bells and factory whistles are concerned. He still loves a freer way of life——
I believe it is true that some people refused to have a new road because it would give easier access for the Customs and Excise men. I remember that during the Ross and Cromarty by-election—and the Secretary of State will remember—there were among the people of one village some who had lived in the Argentine, who had been captains of ships and travelled in many parts of the world; they had all come back to live there in the Highlands. They did not, I think, want roads. I remember in one case we had to scramble along a hillside, to see some people who chose to live in a remote and inaccessible spot because they wanted to live apart from what, in some contempt, they called "civilisation." Those people liked that life because it was a good life, and they lived in delightful surroundings. It is a great tragedy that more people are not able to live there.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mother-well (Mr. Alex. Anderson) and other hon. Members have done great service in studying many of these matters in great detail, and I am quite sure they will be able to give the Committee much guidance about the practical things that could be done in the near future. The chief difficulty the Committee will have is to know what to choose to do first, because it will be found that there are not the resources to do them all at once, and that, like everything else in our day, these developments must be rationed.
I should like to join with what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) has said about the way the debate has gone so far. All the speeches have been constructive. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) that there is no sense in our throwing stones at each other, and that the important thing is to realise that there is an immense task for us all to accomplish, and great problems to solve for which there is no one sovereign remedy. We share them all together, and as good Scotsmen, I know we want to see the job done. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will accept in that spirit any remarks I make about the White Paper that are critical, for any criticisms I offer—and I shall offer some—will be offered with the idea of being helpful.
I welcome the White Paper because it seems that the Government have knowledge of the problems of the Highlands and are keeping them very much to the fore. However, there are two main criticisms that I have to make. In the first place, it fails to convey that sense of urgency on the vital needs of the Highlands; second, whoever wrote it wrote it as though he had no great confidence in the Highlands ever becoming really prosperous. I believe that if the right steps are taken prosperity could come. It will take a long time; but it could come. I think one must have confidence in the project if one sets about it.
I have a third criticism, which is a rather particular one—that too little is said about land settlement in the White Paper. That is, after all, something that is absolutely fundamental in Highland development. The report of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland for 1950 says that there have been over 7,000 applications for settlement on the land since 1st January, 1940, and that 575 were received in 1950. It says that it was possible during the year to settle 35 applicants on holdings in the Lowlands and 19 on holdings in the Highlands and Islands.
I know that there are difficulties in this question of land settlement. It calls for a definite land policy, and I am very glad to see that a survey is now to be proceeded with to discover what crofting land will be suitable for settlement, but I hope that during the survey any land settlement that is possible will not be delayed. The White Paper says:
Fundamentally, the Highland problem is to encourage people to live in the Highlands by making it possible to secure there, in return for reasonable efforts, proper standards of life and the means of pay for them.
I do not think anyone will disagree with that.
But I think the problem goes a little deeper. It is essential to preserve a people and a particular way of life. As the right hon. Member for East Stirling has just indicated, it is to a great extent a matter of population. We want to see more people living there, but we want to see the population increasing by absorption and not by grafting on different communities. It must be essentially by way of absorption into the Highland way of life. The seven crofter counties are 3,000 square miles larger than Belgium in area, and hold only 300,000 people compared with the 11 to 12 million in Belgium.
A new approach has been made possible by certain new factors. The first is the increased importance of home food production. The Highlands can make a greater contribution than any other part of the British Isles. Secondly, there is the need for large scale afforestation, and we look for great things from the Forestry Commission in the future. Then there is the development of hydro-electric power, which could be of inestimable value. Last, but by no means least, there is the greatly increased importance of the tourist trade, which, I believe, could bring a measure of prosperity not sometimes fully envisaged.
The general policy of the White Paper divides the plan into four phases, as it were. First, there is the provision of basic facilities. I do not think there is any need to rub in the lack of an adequate piped water supply on the West Coast. I have already given the Secretary of State several examples of that in my own constituency. Roads, of course, are probably the most important of the lot. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) initiated a debate on by-roads in the Highlands and Islands recently and received from the Joint Under-Secretary of State an answer pointing out that certain by-roads and access roads could be taken on by the county council, and that the State was paying something like 93 per cent.
The hon. Gentleman gave the figure of expenditure of £10,000 and said that the local authorities would not have to spend very much. As the Secretary of State knows only too well, £10,000 does not go very far in road making in the Highlands, and I suggest that a survey be made of these by-roads and access roads with a view to seeing what the commitment is. I think that when the right hon. Gentleman examines it he will find that there is something like 2,500 miles of road, and that between £8 million and £12 million is more likely to be what would be required in the seven crofter counties.
We were very pleased to hear that the Spey Valley survey is being carried out. This is a very important scheme indeed. It is about the one place in the Highlands that I know where we can get increased food production on good land, with no transport difficulties. There is no question of access roads; it is right on the main line, which is a very good point. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that the survey is carried out properly, and I do not think we should be too proud to draw, if need be, on the experience gained in other countries. For example, I believe that the hydro-engineers of Holland and Italy are quite outstanding, and we should not be too proud to draw on any advice from them.
I do not want to say very much more about agriculture, but I should like to make one or two practical suggestions. First, I suggest that a combined horticulture and fruit-growing centre on a cooperative basis be encouraged, or started if possible by the Department, and that an estate settlement be established for the purpose. The Land Settlement Associa- tion of England and Wales, which is backed by the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust has an immense experience of this upon which we should draw.
In tackling the problem of crofts falling into decay it would not be a bad plan to look abroad. Norway has had a very similar problem on the land, and I think the Secretary of State could well study the system of State loans and contributions for cultivation and drainage. I think it is true to say that in Norway, in 18 years, 462,500 acres of marginal land were broken in at an average annual cost to the State of £405,500. That is a fairly cheap way of breaking in marginal land which might well be studied.
Winter keep has been mentioned as a great difficulty in keeping more cattle on the hills. I submit that the Government should do everything they can to encourage the making of silage, because with the wet climate hay making is a very difficult job, as the right hon. Gentleman knows only too well, and the wet does not matter in the making of silage. The right hon. Member for East Stirling mentioned Mr. Hobbs's scheme at Fort William as being dependent on the whisky draft. It is not nearly so dependent now on that, and uses hardly any draft at all; it is all silage.
Forestry work can be complementary to crofting, and if the Forestry Commission could establish some of their work near to crofting townships a great deal would be gained. Forestry must cooperate with agriculture and be careful not to take the eye out of sheep hill farms. It is very easy to do that. I am afraid it will have to be done in certain instances, but the Forestry Commission must not shut off the upper grazing from the lower good ground by planting a continuous belt. They could help agriculture enormously by building shelter belts.
I should now like to say a word or two about tourism. We have a very short season, and it is rather difficult to overcome this difficulty. We hope that we can extend it, and that we shall see a great extension by the encouragement of winter sports. I can assure the Committee that in the Highlands it is possible to traverse miles and miles on skis on the snow at this time of year. That is an asset which should be used—although we have recently read of snow coming here from Norway. Our tourist season can be extended by winter sports.
The Catering Wages Act has been referred to as a great handicap, and I need not say much more about that. Our case there is that we want a separate wages board for Scotland. My information is that the employees in the Highland hotel industry would welcome a separate arrangement for Highland hotels.
At the recent public discussion about that in Glasgow, the unions were very anxious to co-operate, but they have grave doubts about the desirability of a separate board. Their experiences have not all been too happy where separation has taken place. I must not be interpreted as dissociating myself from the anxiety of the noble Lord. I merely want to point out that there are real difficulties.
That may be the case. I am going on the experience I have had at many hotels in the Highlands, and the employees there are just as much against the Catering Wages Act as the hotel owners. Obviously, something must be done to put the situation right. The value of the tourist industry to Scotland is £12 million a year, £7 million of which comes from England and Wales. I do not think it is too much to say that we should aim at ten times that figure. That is a lot of money, which could be of immense value to the Highlands. Although we have goods to sell, we have a shortage of facilities. We are short of hotel accommodation in certain places, and I suggest that there should be courses to teach hotel people to look after guests in conditions in the Highlands and that we try to become more tourist conscious in Scotland.
I would like to say one thing to the right hon. Gentleman in connection with the Festival Exhibition in Inverness. This is a matter in which I think that the Scottish Home Department could help more than they have done. In this Exhibition something from all over the Highlands is to be shown. We are trying to get examples of the different activities of the Highlands, and, so far, the Scottish Home Department will not co-operate. The Forestry Commission and the Hydro-Electric Board are to be represented, but not Fisheries or the Department of Agriculture. Feeling is very strong in Inverness that they should be represented. I hope that he will consider that, and reconsider the decision he put in a letter recently sent to me.
We welcome the development of natural resources, but we would like to hear from the hon. Gentleman, when he replies, something more about the experiments with peat. I have heard of a man who experimented with peat before the war, and who, by a method of wetting and distilling, found that he could make a spirit on which he could run his car, which was very useful in war-time. There are tremendous possibilities in peat, and I think that a lot could be done in that industry.
I do not think that we shall ever be a very great and industrial country in the North. Personally, I do not think that that is what is wanted. Industry is important today to provide alternative sources of employment, and it is also important strategically. I think that light industries or precision industries, such as watchmaking, where transport costs are not high, have possibilities. The industries should, in the main, be based on the raw materials produced locally, such as wood and wool.
I do not think that the Government are doing all they could to help existing industries. There are two things in that connection which they could examine—freight rates and Purchase Tax. I would like to stress the question of Purchase Tax on tweed. In Scotland we specialise in selling high-class goods, and we depend on our market abroad. I do not think that we can maintain that market in the long run if we starve the home market. At present the high 66⅔ per cent. Purchase Tax on tweed is having a very harmful effect on the home market.
The White Paper says:
The North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board and the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) are in touch with a number of firms who require large quantities of electric power and who might be interested in establishing factories in the Highlands….
I hope that is true. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us something about that matter. I have great hopes of the Hydro-Electric Board. They supply about 7 per cent. of the total needs of industry, but that is sufficient for what we hope to use in the Highlands.
The Hydro-Electric Board has to bear in mind two factors which seem to be in conflict. It has to undertake the social work of bringing light and power to the remote regions, and, at the same time, it has to be run on economically sound lines. These two things seem to be immediately in conflict. A line has to be drawn somewhere. I would like to quote an instance of where the work of the Hydro-Electric Board has not been fully appreciated. I do this not in a condemnatory sense because I have a great admiration for what it has done; I simply quote it as an instance, and the fewer we have of this kind of example the better. Kilmorack is the only inhabitated area between Angus and Beauly which is not connected up for electricity.
In 1946, officials from the Hydro-Electric Board told a meeting in Inverness that they would connect free of charge any two houses within one mile of the main line; for any one house it would have been half a mile. In 1950, when considering connecting up Kilmorack they asked for a capital contribution of £10 and a guaranteed sum of £10 consumption a year. The crofters, numbering about 80, objected strongly. The Board explained that the expenditure would be about £18,500, and, later, they said that they would tell the crofters about certain grants which were to be available. I now have a letter from the crofters concerned who say that the only grant available is a 50 per cent. Government grant for wiring their houses for electricity, and that they will still have to pay the £10 contribution as before. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will look into this mater. The crofters in the Kilmorack area feel that they have been let down.
As the White Paper says, transport is the crucial problem of the Highlands. I spent an hour in talking about this the other day, and I will not labour it tonight, except to say that a year ago I raised the question of the difficult position in which the remoter regions found themselves through high freight rates, and I was told by the Joint Under-Secretary that a special committee was being set up to investigate them. This committee reported and made specific recommendations.
The Prime Minister told me, in answer to a Question, when I asked for a Royal Committee to inquire into the transport situation in the north of Scotland, that a charges scheme was to be submitted this year to the Transport Tribunal, and that there would be full opportunity of making representations to the Tribunal and for a public inquiry on behalf of users in the remote areas. We now hear there is practically not a hope of a charges scheme before 1954. In the meantime, circumstances have arisen in the railway industry which have made the Minister of Transport bring out an order, which was passed two nights ago by the House, to put up freight charges by 10 per cent. If we are to wait until 1954, how much more is transport going up? Will it always be as difficult as this to get special consideration for the remote areas, and transport rates lowered?
There is reference in the White Paper to air transport. I think that the Government might look more carefully into the question of operating flying boats, which will be the best means of getting to areas on the west coast of Scotland. The use of helicopters should, I think, also be inquired into with some vigour. Flying boats, helicopters and certain light planes could be used on the west coast. There are some places where only an helicopter can get, and I would like to see a helicopter running trial services on the west coast as soon as possible.
One point mentioned in the White Paper is the equalisation grant. That has, on the whole, been of great benefit throughout the Highland area; but in the case of Inverness-shire the Government appear to take away with one hand what they have given with the other. I would remind the hon. Gentleman of the position in Inverness, as a result of a loss through the repeal of the block grant in the Exchequer compensation for derating, which was about £12,000 a year and chiefly through the increased education costs of the county the burgh of Inverness have found themselves under an undue burden. The Exchequer grant which they used to receive in 1944 was £40,370; in 1950–51 it was £6,976—a considerable fall.
The proportion which they had to bear of the increase on education expenses, half of which was in the county, was, in 1944, £37,255 and in 1950–51, £95,774. It is a very greatly increased burden. The consequence is that the rates have had to go up from 10s. 10d. in 1944–45 to 17s. 9d. in 1950–51, and there is every indication that they will have to rise still further. Inverness has taken action in Parliament since the war to extend its boundaries, to obtain an up-to-date code of powers to administer its area and to further its powers to improve its water supply, but only to find its progress completely hamstrung by its rating burdens. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to go into this position, because the capital of the Highlands is working under very great difficulty.
I agree that the Highland Panel's existence is a good sign. It means that the Government have recognised that it is important to have a body of men who know what they are talking about to look after Highland affairs. I think that the Panel have done a very good job. I would describe it as a watch dog with a good sense of smell and a good bark, but with no teeth. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he intends bringing about an alteration in the constitution of the Panel. I should like him to explain a little more what is intended. What is needed in the development of remote areas is action. By that I mean action in the districts with advice and help from the centre. At present it is the other way round, with action being taken either in Edinburgh or London.
I should like to see some kind of Highland executive—I think that the right hon. Gentleman will come to this point of view in the end—backed with adequate finance and with powers to act. Until we get devolution to that extent we shall not have really proper development in the Highlands. The Highlands are a challenge to the whole country, and the question of whether we can develop them depends on whether we can arrest the drift to the towns. Money is certainly needed, but there must also be a will on the part of the people to live in the country.
The school run by the Central Council of Physical Recreation at Glenmore is doing much in this direction. This kind of school will by experience of Highland conditions give young people the will and determination to find an existence for themselves in the Highlands. The success of Highland development will be the measure of the country's ability to grapple with this question of strengthening the remote areas and getting away from centralisation. We welcome the White Paper as far as it goes, but we want to see a very much greater development within the next few years.
I am sure Members will not blame the hon. Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) for succumbing to the temptation the White Paper offers, to discuss a great variety of topics; but he did so in a constructive way, and I hope he will allow me to offer my congratulations to him for doing so. Unlike him, I do not propose to deal with a variety of topics, but with one matter referred to in the White Paper. Before doing this, I should like to offer my tribute to the White Paper by saying that it seems to me to be a meticulously careful study of the Highlands and Islands and that portion of Scotland which the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) said includes the area north of a line drawn from Dumbarton to Aberdeen—I hope inclusively.
The White Paper deals in an admirable way with the potentialities of this vast area and its future development. I trust that the Secretary of State will allow me to say that it is a credit to him and to his colleagues who, with him, are the authors of it. The one topic upon which I wish to speak today is transport, an evil legacy of the past. I feared for a moment that the hon. Member for Inverness was about to steal my thunder, but instead of dealing with my aspect of transport, he flew away to deal with helicopters and other aerial contrivances.
The topic on which I wish to speak is concerned with paragraphs 22 to 34. Paragraph 22 states:
It has long been recognised that transport is the crucial problem of the Highlands.
This is acutely true, not only of the Highlands, but of the whole of Scotland, where transport of every kind for generations has been too expensive, prejudicial to trade and industry, to the amenities of the civil population, to its cultural requirements and to the tourist and hotel potentialities. I shall state the problem as it appears to me. I shall indicate its damage to the industrial, commercial and cultural life of Scotland. I shall point out its separatist consequences and suggest what seems to me to be a solution.
Today, high transport charges unduly increase the price of Scottish commodities in England, unduly increase the price of English commodities in Scotland, diminish the number of English and Welsh visitors to Scotland and diminish the number of Scottish visitors to the South. They have during the last few generations almost turned the north of Scotland and England into lands foreign to each other, to which the passport is an expensive fare. This has separatist consequences, not only industrially and commercially, but politically and culturally as well, which some people welcome and others deplore.
I shall state the case as fairly as possible to the denizens of the whole of this island of Great Britain. The English and Welsh suffer many disadvantages because they are discouraged from visiting the beautiful Highlands and Islands. They are deprived of full intercourse with the Scottish people from whom they have much to learn, and their southern lives are to that extent conditioned and limited.
But my concern is with the Scots who suffer co-relative disadvantages. They are forced to accept smaller profits than their English rivals in business for fish, agriculture, textiles and other commodities produced in Scotland. They are forced to pay more for products like coal and commodities manufactured in the South, and they are penalised by the high fares if they want to go to England, as the Festival of Britain will learn to its cost. The poorer people will be completely debarred from visiting the Festival of Britain, to their loss and certainly to the loss of the Festival. All over this island there is a flat rate for old age pensions and for Forces' pensions, but there is no flat rate for the price of the essentials of life. In the north of Scotland the prices of some commodities are dearer because of the doctrine of the "zones of distance" on which the transport charges are based. This is not only ethically wrong; it is economically unsound; and it should be changed.
Paragraph 22 of the White Paper goes on to make clear this damage, for it says:
Under modern conditions the maintenance of proper standards of life is impossible without reasonable communications, and the healthy progress of the traditional industries of agriculture and fishing, the introduction of suitable manufacturing industries and the attraction of tourists to the unrivalled scenery of the Highlands all require that the mainland and the islands should be accessible by modern transport.
Here the problem is plainly and authoritatively stated, and it should be said that since this Government—I do not want to be controversial in this speech, but it is right that I should say so—came into power in 1945, a variety of special Measures have been taken to deal with these conditions. Under the Trunk Roads Act, 1946, five new trunk roads have been made; under the Crofter Counties Scheme large improvements were carried out; and under the new hydroelectric schemes there are great possibilities of electrifying the railways of Scotland and possibly electrifying other phases of human endeavour in the country.
But the high cost of transport remains as a clog upon trade, industry and commerce. It penalises Scottish industry, and it penalises consumers, colleges, schools, tourists and the whole community life of Scotland. Transport charges are dealt with in the White Paper in this way in paragraph 34:
Transport charges are an important factor not only for new industrial development in the Highlands but also for native industries and the general cost of living. A new scheme of charges is now being considered by the British Transport Commission and the special circumstances of the Highlands have been brought to the notice of the Commission by their representative on the Scottish Economic Conference and by the Scottish Council (Development and Industry). The Scottish Council, the Scottish Board for Industry and the Advisory Panel have set up a joint committee to examine the effect of transport charges on Highland development.
I shall probably not have an opportunity of giving evidence before any of those bodies, and therefore I am putting the points which occur to me in the hope that they will come to the notice of those bodies for their favourable consideration in connection with freight charges in Scotland.
Thank you. These charges affect the whole realm of Scottish industry, including agriculture and fisheries, on which so many thousands of our families depend. In particular, I am interested in the fishing industry, especially in Aberdeen. It affects, as is well known, not only trawler owners, but skippers, crews, fish market porters and others who, with their families, all live on, by or out of the sea. Indeed, the new Fish Authority set up under the Fish Industry Act will have some difficult problems to face in this connection when they get going.
A variety of reasons have made this problem peculiarly acute in Scotland. The sparseness of population in the Highlands has been referred to. It is a startling and remarkable fact that one-seventeenth of the population live there while sixteen-seventeenths of the population live in the other half of Scotland. Even in the Highland area most of the population are in villages, towns and cities. Therefore, they require cheap transport. The principal industries are rural industries and, therefore, they require cheap transport. These industries are far removed from markets and from the large consuming centres, and, therefore, they require cheap transport. The nearest cities are Inverness and Aberdeen and they need cheap transport.
It is natural that the prosperity of this whole area, one half of the area of Scotland, should be affected by proximity to the cities I have mentioned, not only for markets to sell their goods, not only to buy agricultural implements, fishing gear and other manufactures, but also for the urbanities offered by cities with universities, colleges, schools, cathedrals, libraries, theatres and shops. Not only industrial and commercial prosperity, but also religious and cultural pursuits are part of the life of the people and need cheap transport. The White Paper truly says:
Proper standards of life are impossible without reasonable communications.
Unless these proper standards are maintained, life becomes intolerable, and people are driven from the land and from the sea.
The White Paper draws attention in paragraphs 1 and 2 to the progressive and continuing de-population of the Highland areas. We all know how that came about in the past. Today it is the duty of the Government—and the Government are discharging that duty—to maintain the people in their natural environment. It is a national duty and a national interest; to destroy them or to drive them away is to frustrate the nation, maim the body corporate, cut off the nation's right hand, and diminish its power of defence. In times of peace these communities feed the nation with agricultural produce and fish. In time of war the fishermen, hardy, courageous and skilled, by their special qualities render naval and maritime service of great value to the nation. This should not be forgotten in peace.
It is the duty of any Government not to starve out the industries in any part of the country, however far north, south, east or west they may be. If they be so starved, the workers and residents in those areas will naturally flood into the more populous areas of the south. That, of course, would be bad statesmanship and bad economy. It is not a mere figment of my imagination. Let me point to what appeared in the "Aberdeen Press and Journal" only the other day, which shows that there is a drift from the fishing industry, and it will continue unless fair transport rates are maintained. I quote from the "Aberdeen Press and Journal" of 18th April:
Aberdeen trawlers and other fishing vessels are being held up in port by a shortage of deck hands. Yesterday ships' husbands were running around searching for men to make up crews for vessels waiting to go to sea. Even fish salesmen were on the job, trying to get fishermen to sign on. 'The position is really serious,' said a trawlowner. 'In these times we cannot afford to have vessels lying about in port.'…A number of fishermen have also given up the sea and obtained jobs ashore…The number of young men entering trawling has been disappointing.
It is obvious that this is a very serious problem and that it is very gravely affected and enhanced by high transport charges. I have sufficient knowledge of the trade and industry and of the lives of the people in the north of Scotland to say that no scheme of transport charges will meet the situation except a flat rate for carriage which will enable the people there to live and do business at a cost comparable to the cost to the people of the south. All over this island there is a flat rate for Forces' pensions, old age pensions and wages and salaries, but there is no flat rate for the cost of living. This is a matter which should be taken into account.
I have had letters from people all over the north of Scotland on this topic, some of them representative people. I have one here from the Aberdeen Steam Fishing Vessels Owners' Association, Ltd., a
very important representative organisation, which says:
The disadvantage of the fishing industry by reason of railway traffic charges was explained in the memorandum of evidence presented by this Association and the Aberdeen Fish Merchants' and Curers' Association, Ltd., to the Secretary of State for Scotland and the opportunity was taken of meetings with the Minister to emphasise the progressive effect of percentage increases in relation to Humber Ports and of how impossible it was for Aberdeen to embark on a building programme when each stone of fish landed earned 3d. per stone less by reason of transport charges. This disparity has, of course, been raised to 3½d. per stone by the increase of 16⅔ per cent. in railway charges last September.
I have a similar letter from the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce putting another argument to the same end in much the same terms.
To meet the problem in the way I suggest would be discharging a duty not only to the Highlands and Islands but also to the whole of the north of Scotland, for in this matter we are all members one of another. The example of the Post Office is relevant. The introduction of a flat rate for postage and parcels throughout the whole island increased the income and prosperity of the Post Office. It would probably have the same effect on the railways if they introduced a flat rate. This contrasts with the railways parcels tariffs which are based on "zones of distance" which discourage goods traffic and are unfair to distant communities like those of the north of Scotland.
This is a very grave question. I should not have gone into it at such length but for its gravity and its seriousness to one half of the area of Scotland and to the consuming public in the south of this island of Great Britain who to some extent depend upon the produce of Scotland for their means of life. I hope the Minister will take this very serious matter into account when he replies and will afterwards take steps to remedy the grievance which I hope I have made clear.
I cannot follow the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) in his learned discourse on the subject of transport and transport rates, although I agree with him that it is perhaps one of the most important problems to be tackled in the Highland area.
I want to deal with the White Paper. I have, as is usual, to declare my personal interest in the subject. I happen to be one of those appointed by the then Secretary of State for Scotland to serve on the Advisory Panel for the Highlands and Islands. I trust that in any remarks that I have to make I shall not be found guilty of divulging confidential information which comes to us in the Panel and which I have no right to use in a debate. The White Paper has been thoroughly discussed by the Panel and it would be hardly right of me to say what criticisms were made of it there. I shall try to give my personal views.
There is one matter which requires a little more emphasis, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will give it that when he replies. The only authorities who are capable of carrying out any plan and any schemes which we may institute are the local authorities, the county councils and burgh councils. It is true that the Secretary of State receives a considerable amount of advice and recommendations from the Panel, but the local authorities must be the authorities to carry out any proposals.
I hope that when these schemes come to be executed he will bear in mind that each local authority in the Highland area has its own different problems. In each of the seven crofting counties transport, agriculture, fishing or whatever it may be will not have the same priority, and when the general plan is formulated ample discretion should be given to the local authorities to decide which subject has the highest priority in each county.
Some hon. Members have spoken of the desirability of having an organisation with more executive power, something between the Secretary of State and the local authorities, to deal with the Highland area. The Highland Panel could not have executive powers because it has not the financial responsibility. The Secretary of State has told us that he has in mind an alteration of the terms of reference or a re-organisation of the Panel, and he has extended its existence for four years. Could he form an organisation with executive powers? It may not be possible, but I should like the suggestion to be considered.
The North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, for instance, has executive powers, and the Scottish Council for Development in Industry has executive powers of a sort. Perhaps some means could be found of forming an organisation within these various bodies with some executive power for dealing with the Highland area. Maybe I am barking up the wrong tree, but this is constantly put forward in the Highlands and it would be a useful thing for the public in general if the Undersecretary could make some reference to it tonight.
I want to discuss the inclusion in the composition of the Highland Panel of Members of Parliament. Some people believe that no Members of Parliament should be in the Panel and that it should be left to local authority representatives and special representatives appointed by the Secretary of State, the Scottish Council for Development in Industry, and so on; but, if there are to be Members of Parliament on it, would it not be possible to have all the Highlands and Islands Members on the Panel? The hon. Gentleman will probably tell us that to have a proper party balance in the Panel his party would have to nominate hon. Members who do not represent Highland constituencies, because the Labour Party has not more than one representative in the Highland area.
I see no great difficulty about that. There are several hon. Members opposite who have Highland associations. I am sure that the Under-Secretary must have had Highland associations at some time, and one of the hon. Members representing Ayrshire comes from my constituency. I merely put toward the suggestion, but it might be an overweighted Panel, and it might be better to have no Members of Parliament on it. It is a point which might be reconsidered. Many members of the public feel that Members of Parliament ought not to be on the Panel at all because it might interfere with their Parliamentary duties or vice versa. However, even if a large number of Members of Parliament were on it, which I am not sure would be right, the predominating membership should consist of local authorities, because it is they who are responsible for carrying out the plan of the White Paper.
Among others, the right hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) spoke about the good work done by the Highland Panel, and those of us who are members of it are pleased to have his commendation. I would like to congratulate the officials, the civil servants, the secre- tariat and all those members of the Departments who attend our meetings and without whose information and hard work we could not carry on our discussions which result in recommendations to the Secretary of State. Since they have to carry out that work in addition to their ordinary duties, they deserve congratulations.
I could speak on every point raised in the White Paper and could go on for hours, but I want to be as brief as possible. Hon. Members spoke about high freight rates in a debate the other night, and I do not want to weary the Committee with repetition of all the arguments. But high transport charges are probably the biggest burden on life in the Highlands and Islands. The Cameron Report, which has not yet been made public, makes helpful suggestions for the solution of this problem, but there are other solutions which private persons might make. I will refer to one which may interest the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). I am pleased, and not surprised to learn that it was an Orcadian who has started to run his boat from Kirk-wall direct to Glasgow with cargoes of eggs. It is a worthy effort, to be encouraged in every way. If we get similar efforts of that kind, it will help to overcome the high freight charges and lack of competitive transport facilities.
In a debate on roads initiated by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland recently, the Under-Secretary of State replied in rather startling terms. I was so taken aback by the figures given in that reply that I promptly went to the Argyllshire Road Board and said, "You are the criminals. Look what the Scottish Office is prepared to give you—93½ per cent. towards making these unclassified roads or taking them over." I was told by the authority that this was all "moonshine." Can the Under-Secretary, in replying to the debate, clarify what he said the other night? It is referred to in the White Paper as follows:
The Department of Agriculture give grants for the construction of new local roads to be put on the County Highway list, for the bringing of existing local roads up to the county highway standard and for the improvement of unclassified roads already on the County Council list of highways.
It was pointed out to me that in my own county there must be hundreds of miles of these roads which farmers and owners would be only too glad to hand over to the county council if they could, taking advantage of that grant to put them in good order. But the county council say that that cannot be done. The regulations say that the present owner of that road must put it into good order—it is even said first-class order—before the county council will take it over. Since the owner does not get the advantage of these grants, I do not see the solution of this problem.
It is quite true that if the county council wants to make a new road to a crofting township, then it will benefit. But that is the only type of road which will benefit.
I think the hon. Gentleman was discussing existing roads, whereas these grants refer to roads not yet made but which can be made by the county council. I shall be grateful if the Under Secretary can clarify that, because I am anxious to know whether something can be done by my own local authority. It is a most important statement and I would like to be certain of the facts.
Exactly; that is the point I am trying to make. It is the county council who set the standard which the road must reach before they take it over. They say, "You cannot expect us to take over every farm road and access road throughout the county because A, B or C wants us to take them over. We will take them over if they are up to standard." But it is in order to bring them up to that standard that we want the benefit of the grant.
No, it goes to the county council in the end.
With regard to steamers and piers, some of the local authorities are doing well—I take credit for my own local authority, who have already gone ahead with certain of the piers on the list. There are some local authorities, however, who either cannot or are not disposed to press on with this work. As several hon. Members have said, piers are essential for transport purposes. Complaints continue to arrive in correspondence about delays in the shipment of goods. I send notes of complaint to MacBraynes and they say, "It is true, but we are short of steamers until we can get a new cargo boat." I think there is one being built which will shortly come into use, and perhaps then the cargo services will be speeded up. But there are always difficulties in the cattle and lamb sales period in the spring or autumn, when these boats have to be taken off regular schedules and put on special runs which also delay matters. Those are various transport problems among many others.
I come back again—and I beg the Committee to forgive me if I seem constantly to be pressing this subject—to the question of the helicopter. I wonder how many hon. Members have read the "Scotsman" of 7th April, in which there was a first-class article on the use of the helicopter as a carrier on the Scottish air routes? I commend that article to the Government Departments concerned and particularly to the Ministry of Civil Aviation. I quote the following sentence, which is well worth mentioning:
The helicopter is not an interesting freak but a coming medium of commercial transport. Nothing has done more to bring to earth the airy-fairy beliefs held about it than the Inter-Departmental Report of the Helicopter Committee.
I ask the Under-Secretary, and also the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan), because he is a member
of the Scottish Advisory Council, if they can keep on trying to persuade B.E.A. or the Ministry of Civil Aviation to try out a helicopter on the West Coast of Scotland.
It has been said that one of the principal reasons why one of these machines cannot be brought up to the Highlands of Scotland for use is that it would not be safe to use them over water. Only last week, the Navy were using helicopters in the search for the sunken submarine, when they were being flown over the water for hours at a time. The Navy use them frequently. In Korea, helicopters are used to evacuate casualties, and in Malaya they come down in isolated jungle spots for the same purpose—they could not be used in more dangerous places. Nowhere in the Highlands would it be anything like as dangerous, yet we are told to wait until we have the double-engine margin of safety. I believe that that double-engine margin of safety is about to be produced. I am told that the Bristol 171 should be flying within the next few weeks and carrying out its flying tests. The personnel are willing and anxious to demonstrate in the Scottish Highlands the capabilities of the helicopter.
I cannot press too often that the helicopter will be one of the biggest solutions to our transport difficulties in the remote areas of the Highlands and Western Islands. I do not need to apologise for continuing to raise this matter, for nothing like enough insistence is exerted in pressing for the use of the helicopter in the Highlands, or even in Scotland at all. There are safe enough airfields from which these aircraft could take off and which could be made their operating bases—for instance, outside Oban, near Stornoway, Tiree, Benbecula, and places of that kind, where there are big airfields from which they could be operated and where the personnel could be stationed. These places have the telephone and telegraph and all the communications necessary to start experiments, and I hope that something will result from this suggestion.
I turn now to agriculture, and in doing so I wish to take up the remarks of the right hon. Member for East Stirling, who suggested that the hill sheep farmers now enjoy a paradise; that is the effect of what he said. It has been said, however, by many responsible farmers that the past winter has been much more serious to the livestock herds, particularly the sheep flocks of the hill sheep areas, than was the winter of 1946–47. Only last week, passing through the hill areas, I saw not only one or two, but dozens of dead ewes and lambs lying beside the railway; and we have not yet begun to realise the full casualties of the disastrous winter through which we have just come. I am sure that the Under-Secretary knows full well, from his own reports, the seriousness of the situation.
The Secretary of State spoke of the appointment of a commission on the crofting schemes. I expect that other hon. Members, especially those on the Panel, have received, as I have, letters from the public condemning us for having dared to recommend to the Secretary of State an inquiry into the crofting system because, they say, we want to terminate that system. I should like to reassure every crofter, smallholder or anybody in the Highlands—I am certain that in speaking for myself I speak for other hon. Members and for every member of the Panel—that we had no idea whatever of trying to depreciate the crofting schemes. What we are trying to do is to improve them—to improve the tenure of security and the productivity of the crofts, and to see what can be done to make the crofter and the crofting industry not only much more flourishing even than it is today, but much more satisfactory. I am sure that the hon. Member for the Western Isles will bear me out. Those were the only ideas we had in mind when speaking about this matter. The sooner the Highland crofting public realise that, the better for their own tranquillity of mind.
In turning to another point regarding agriculture, I come to the old, old question of agriculture versus forestry. When I first came into the House, I was a strong combatant in this quarrel, but I very soon learnt that it is possible for agriculture and forestry to march hand in hand. Only last week, however, I received another long complaint in the form of a petition from certain farmers in my constituency about the carelessness of the Forestry Commission in their planting operations. It is still felt—the practice may still, perhaps, be carried out in certain areas—that in planting, the Forestry Commission still tend to cut off and to sterilise the tops of the hills. They plant only up to 900 ft., or whatever is the height, and anything above that is sterilised.
At the time when Mr. Tom Johnston was Secretary of State, many of us recommended that in making their plantations the Forestry Commission should leave broad rides or avenues where sheep and cattle could get to the high ground during the summer and where farmers could go to control them and bring them down in the wintertime. If there is any tendency by the Forestry Commission to revert to what I call their bad way of planting, I hope that the Scottish Office will do what they can to administer a reminder of these improvements.
I come now to what I call the minor industries in the Highlands. I was very pleased to hear what the Secretary of State said about a company now operating in lead, zinc and silver in the Sunnart area. An even more important industry is the slate industry, to which I have on many occasions pressed for encouragement to be given. The slate industry, particularly in Argyllshire, is being held up, like many other industries, by the high transport costs and the lack of communications. To my astonishment, however, I read in the "Scotsman" today that a shipload of slates is being sent from the Island of Luing to Lerwick. If it is a paying proposition to send slates from the Island of Luing to Lerwick, surely slates can be sent from Ballachulish and the other slate quarries of Argyllshire and West of Scotland, for the housing schemes in the West of Scotland. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland may know something about this, but if it is possible for Shetland, with all its claims to poverty, to build houses with Argyllshire slates, why is it not possible to build houses with them in Argyllshire?
I, too, know a good one when I see it, and I am horrified at what is happening. When I go into the beautiful town of Oban, I drive past a whole lot of Cruden houses which have not a single slate on their roofs but merely red tiles. I understand that the cost of the slates is such that it is uneconomic and I am told that the weight of the slates is so much that much more timber has to be used in the house to support the roof and that that is not economic. But Shetland can do it and surely we can do it on the mainland of Scotland. I ask the Under-Secretary to inquire into that and to persuade local authorities, our mainland local authorities, to do something about taking Argyll slates.
We have tried to persuade them and I believe that the total production of Scottish Slate Quarries, Ltd., is now being taken up. Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman saying that slate quarries are not producing to their full potential because their slates are not taken up by local authorities?
I understand that the slates are lying there waiting for transhipment. I know that there is the question of the ferry to be established before they can be taken across to the mainland, but they have actually shipped them to Shetland. I hope Shetland take the lot because the rest of the country does not seem to want them. It is a most important industry and used to employ a large number of people. It is very distressing to look at Ballachulish today, at that enormous ugly mound of rubbish in the village, and see the quarries standing almost idle.
I also wish to refer to fishing. A draft scheme has been sent out to the fishing authorities to replace the Herring Industry Scheme of 1935, as amended by the Herring Industry (Amending) Scheme of 1946. It was in the hands of the various authorities on 14th April and they were told that any objections have to be received by 12th May. Quite obviously, in an industry like the herring fishing industry it is not possible to consult with the fishermen—some of the fleets may be away—and get observations back to the Scottish Office by 12th May. It may be that they have to be sent to the Herring Industry Board, but I think it is the Scottish Office. The herring fishing organisation, with which I have contacts, ask that the time limit for sending in observations might be extended from 12th May to the middle, or end, of June. I do not ask him to answer now, but if the Under-Secretary can look into that I am sure that he will be able to ease the problem very much.
In his speech the Secretary of State referred to the setting up of fishmeal and other processing factories in various parts of the Highlands. In correspondence I have had with the Scottish Office—I am not sure whether with the Under-Secretary or Secretary of State—I gathered that the idea was to put up a processing plant in Tarbert on Loch Fyne, but nothing further has been heard of it. Has that scheme gone by the board altogether, in both senses, or is it merely that, owing to restrictions on capital investment, they have not been able to go ahead? I know that in that area of South Argyll the community are very worried that this processing factory was more or less promised but is not going ahead.
This debate has been carried out on a very high tone. We have been able to discuss this White Paper objectively in all parts of the Committee. It is of the utmost importance to Highland development. It is a plan which envisages development, maybe not by one Government, but by many Governments before it is completed. I feel that our present day needs in food production, for electricity production, for timber production, should ensure that very high priority is given to the schemes mentioned in this White Paper.
A feature of debates on the Highlands of Scotland is that a large number of Members want to speak but a small number of Members want to listen. It is an odd situation that when Members for the Highlands are discussing one of the most important parts of our diet, beef from the Highlands, most hon. Members go to eat it in another part of the building. It is rather a pity because almost every hon. Member who is now present knows the Highland problem intimately or has something useful to say.
It is interesting also that today hon. Members from other areas have come into debate. Indeed, one of the difficulties is for a Highland Member to reach his own constituency tonight. It is somewhat like the experience of James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, at the beginning of the last century, who found he had to go through Clackmannan on his way further north, but managed to dodge Aberdeen. On this occasion I have not had the good fortune, thinking in terms of time, of avoiding that detour. I was afraid we would have the claims of the distressed Aberdeen fishing industry—and Heaven knows, they are bad enough—added to the sad enough tale of Highland trouble when the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes)r rose to speak.
On behalf of my colleagues on the Highland Panel, I wish to say how much we appreciate the good will with which the various recommendations of the Panel have been received and the friendly way in which the work of the Panel has been discussed by hon. Members in all parties. On the other hand, I should like to see more practical direct evidence that we are deserving of it and that the Government are deserving of sharing the praise and thanks which have been given, by carrying out those recommendations. Members of the Panel, some of them hon. Members of this House and members of the local authorities, have worked very well together. They have gone out to meet the people in the farthest parts of the Highlands and Islands and have not merely invited representative people to come to them. They have gone out to the farthest islands, to the creeks and bays of the Highlands and taken evidence at first hand.
I am sure that the Committee will agree that the Panel have made very practical and, in my view, sensible recommendations. I do not say that all these have been carried out but there are limitations these days which make it more difficult for the present Government to carry out those recommendations than it was for Governments in previous years to have acted.
The Highland problem should not be looked on merely as one more problem. As a problem everyone knows of it and can recognise it, but it is not recognised properly by the Government and nation as a challenge and an opportunity. Highland resources have not been recognised as the important asset they are and the more important asset they could become to this country. The noble Lord the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton), who shares with me responsibility for that county in the House, rightly said that this is not a matter of producing beef, or sheep, or indeed, now—and I favour it—reindeer, but of preserving the whole way of life and culture of a section of our people on whose survival and prosperity the welfare of this country so much depends in times of war and peace.
I have listened today to a number of suggestions on how the Panel might be reformed or re-formed, regrouped, abolished, or replaced and the rest of it. I am bound to say, as did the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), who represent almost neighbouring Highland constituencies, that we have discussed it at different times and we feel that something more than advisory powers are needed.
On the other hand, we are in the difficulty that we canot ourselves create an overall body with executive powers. We immediately come up against the difficulty of whether we shall clash with or overlap the county councils, who are executive bodies with certain statutory responsibilities which they cannot dodge, and which we would not wish them to dodge—although some of them do so very effectively. How could there be another board or commission responsible for the Hydro-Electric Board's work and the Forestry Commission's activities, when that responsibility must obviously rest on the existing executive bodies? Perhaps the body suggested could not be fully executive, but yet one does not want it to remain only advisory. But what would such a body do? Would it be supervisory. If so, what is it to supervise? The work of the county councils, the work of the Hydro-Electric Board and the Forestry Commission? Where is its authority to begin and end?
It is extremely difficult to define what a supervisory body would be, if it falls short as it would, of being executive. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, it would not do to weaken the powers of the local authorities. None of us wants to do that. We want to have as many as possible of the Highland people themselves participating in the local government of the area. We would not wish them to shed any of their responsibility or democratic rights. Yet the problem which presents itself for solution is the provision of something more executive and certainly more effective than any advisory body can be.
I can sympathise with the Secretary of State, whose mind was working in that direction a few months ago, when he said that the Panel's responsibility was to be more supervisory. He was forced to the conclusion that the only thing it could really supervise was the carrying out of the programme in this Government White Paper, which is, again, partly the responsibility of the Hydro-Electric Board, the Forestry Commission, the local authorities and the rest. It would be interesting to have suggestions from those who think that they can define the limitations and responsibilities of a body of that kind if it is to be merely supervisory.
I personally have felt for a long term of years that we should have some form of development board in the Highlands. As a Highlander who has the responsibility of representing a Highland constituency and is a member and Chairman of the Highland Panel, I have come in contact with the problem from most angles, and we on the Panel have some responsibility towards, if not for, its solution. I should like to see what can be done, meantime, towards strengthening the remit of the Highland Panel. But I personally favour the idea of a Highlands and Islands development board.
Even if the solution of the Liberal Party so kindly offered by the hon. Member who represents, in impressive isolation, one of the three Liberal Parties—that of Scottish self-government—became a fact, we, in the Western Isles, are just as terrified of Edinburgh as of Whitehall. We face Glasgow, too, with a fear, not of the unknown, but of the too well-known, in its overwhelming industrial interests and attitude. We have had had experience of dealing with the Lowlands in past years, which was not altogether happy. If we had Scottish self-government, from which aim, with my strong natural sentiments, I cannot dissociate myself now, we should still require some form of Highland development board within the Scottish set-up.
I will not pretend that I do not think that along those lines we should have something much more effective and powerful than the Highlands Advisory Panel. That is not to detract from what I have said about the Panel, the members of which have worked well and loyally together. We have tried to avoid what we do not try to avoid here, political issues and controversy, and we have worked together as well as we could for the Highlands and Islands. In the Committee today there has been the same spirit. Members are anxious to help the Islands and Highlands in any way they can.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) came back as a local boy having made very good, determined to be as good as possible locally for the rest of his days. He was away for a long time—I should not care to ask him how many decades. But he came back full of good will and capital and sunk an even deeper shaft at Brora and produced more coal than had been produced there before. That is good and commendable.
I congratulate the hon. Member on his patriotism as a Highlander in coming back to the Highlands and doing what too few of the prosperous people do there—putting money into Highlands development. He is exceptional, and he proved it by suggesting that—since other private capitalists will not risk such a thing—we should call in the State in order to put Highland farming on its feet. He did not go quite so far as to suggest that all the Jones and Browns and the rest of the firms he mentioned should now apply their money to develop Highland agriculture; but probably that was at the back of his mind.
I occupied rather a long time in making my speech, and perhaps I did not develop that part of it as clearly as I might have done. What I had in mind was that it is usual for Governments to raise loans for the betterment of the country. It seems to me that a Highland Development loan or a land loan might well be raised for development of all kinds, but mainly agriculture, because I think what is required is beyond the resources of the farmers and crofters.
I agree that it would be beyond the resources of individual farmers but I was also thinking of others who, like the hon. Member, had done well but who, unlike him, were not willing to take the risks which one is expected to associate with the profit motive.
This White Paper suffers from the limitations of all White Papers, but it suffers particularly in that it was published a year after many of the recommendations were made and because we are debating it about a year after its publication, during which time many things, good and bad, have happened. Many of the schemes which were recommended are now under way, some are now being put in hand, and their total compares favourably with what was put in hand in less difficult times.
Nevertheless, the document before us is a good effort, and I join in congratulating the civil servants in Scotland who prepared it and who did so in a remarkably short time. Those men have greatly helped the Panel's work; and we have reason to pay tribute to them instead of, as is common in some sections of the Press nowadays, criticising the Civil Service. They have worked often by night as well as during normal day hours during the Panel's visits to the farther situated areas we have visited.
I cannot agree with those who were enthusiastic about the impending inquiry of the Secretary of State into the crofting problem. I do not yet know what are the full terms of reference. But the inquiry could be a dangerous voyage into unknown seas. I can speak for the Hebrides, and I think to some extent for areas like Shetland, when I say that among the crofters themselves there is no direct demand for an inquiry of the type that has been publicised as being about to be undertaken.
I would favour any measures that can be taken to use all the existing powers, with their reasonable extension, if need be, towards the fullest use of all the land that can be developed economically in the Highlands. I favour that, as I am sure all hon. Members do. But to go into a welter of new land legislation, or in the first place to carry out an investigation, without full use of the existing powers, is a waste of the time of the members of that committee and their official assessors and all concerned. This step will cause a lot of controversy and trouble in the Highlands, and a lot of misunderstanding which will be very hard to explain or deal with.
The Secretary of State may be letting himself in for a lot more trouble if he extends the scope of such an inquiry beyond the definite narrow issue of the better use that can be made of the land. In a wider inquiry all the questions of land ownership, tenure and rating, would be involved if the inquiry were to be realistic. A crofting inquiry is really a landholding inquiry and cannot be con- fined to the Highlands, but would relate to the whole of Scotland. If it relates to the whole of Scotland, and covers rating and de-rating and such problems as that, then we have no right to confine it to Scotland. We must look at the rating, de-rating and other aspects of the whole of agriculture throughout the United Kingdom. These are my own personal views and not the views of the Panel. I expressed them before the decisions were taken, and I do not wish to imply that they are shared by anyone except myself, speaking as the Member for the Western Isles and a Private Member of this House. I do not think it is a good thing when one committee starts to recommend that other committees should be spawned from some aspect of its own responsibility and activities, and I hope that the Secretary of State will think yet along the same lines.
What the people of this country want most urgently and have a right to expect from the Highlands is food. We can produce more food for the Highlands and Islands than we are producing now, both from the land and from the sea. That I do not think anyone would doubt for a moment, or deny. We have had one or two well advertised and spectacular examples of how it has been done in livestock, in beef, by private individuals who have received public assistance in the best sense of the word. We have had Lord Lovat doing it and Mr. Hobbs, and no one would wish to do other than encourage them in their work. But that is a very small part of the big total increase in the livestock population which has taken place during the last few years with the help of the Government.
I cannot say what is the total number of cattle but I should think it would be between 800 and 1,200. That is an important contribution; but it should not be overstated. It is by no means a major contribution. It is an important encouragement to others to do the same thing with State assistance and in favourable areas. But it is not enough to publicise these activities as a big step towards a solution of the problem and leave it to such efforts alone. We have to face this thing on a big scale, and, as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland said, that involves putting into effect immediately schemes which only the State can finance and be capable of carrying out.
One Scottish newspaper, the Glasgow "Daily Record" ran for a week or more a campaign to improve beef production. We should commend them for their activity and enterprise. It brought to light a good deal of factual matter, although the campaign did run on lines which were a little imaginative at times and certain aspects of the possibilities in the north, I think, were slightly exaggerated. It was, however, worth while as an attempt to shake the consciousness, or rather the unconsciousness, of the people who consume meat without being aware of whether it moves about on four legs or four wheels. But whether we would agree with the paper on the idea of a Scottish food corporation is really another question. Some would agree that it could be done, but it is still a matter of considerable doubt in the minds of hon. Members in all parts of the Committee.
I think we would all agree that the State Departments and the Ministers will have to apply themselves with considerably more energy to this problem of beef, greatly expanding production in the Highlands, particularly in the natural beef-growing areas of the north-west, where we could put on the hoof a great many more animals than we have at the present time.
I do not necessarily accept the picture of 150,000 cattle a year coming down to Falkirk from the north-west. They did not all come from the north-west. Many came from around Falkirk itself and Stirling, and many from the north-east. The figure is not, as a north-west estimate, at all accurate according to the records. But it is a fact that we had a very much larger cattle population in proportion to the population in the Highlands at that time than we have today. It is not a good thing that we should be in that position at a time when we are dependent on foreign markets and very uncertain agreements to secure a meat ration for the country.
If we had more cattle in the Highlands, and in the Islands also—although, of course, the prospect in the Islands is more limited having regard to the narrower limitation of winter keep—we could get back to the stage where, with intensive production of the old native breed crossed with a good type of Short- horn, we would be doing ourselves and the country a good turn.
I wish to say a word about the herring industry. In the early months of the year we find the Norwegians bringing herring into Britain, and we find on the west coast, where there is the longest herring fishing season in the world, that our boats are tied up and our fishermen are unemployed. That has gone on for decades. I have argued on these lines for years before the war and for years since. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Herring Industry Board are reaching the conclusion that, while it is possible for our own fleet and our own fishermen to be engaged in catching fish round our own shores, it is not quite so necessary or desirable, as some people would appear to think, for herring to be imported from Norway, or anywhere else.
If we are to encourage fishermen to fish all out, we must guarantee a market for their catch and an economic price. These things are fundamental to the success of any policy for the herring industry. The misfortune is that there never has been a policy for the herring industry in Scotland and there is not yet one. We have just set up a White Fish Authority. We have had the Herring Industry Board for some time, but do not let us believe that just setting up a Board or an Authority will, in itself, resolve the problem. The Board is a good instrument, if properly used and given proper powers. I am glad indeed that it has been set up, and most enthusiastic about it, because it is one more move towards an effective instrument of a new and, I trust, effective policy which we have needed for many years past in the white fish industry.
We must face the fact that the old markets for the great bulk of our cured herring—Russia, Germany and the Baltic countries—are gone for good, for reasons which I will not go into now. Through the Herring Board, Board of Trade, and various Government Departments, we are doing what we can to recapture those old markets, but they are never coming back on the old scale, and the question arises of what we can do with the herring. We are telling the fishermen to fish all out and we have been giving grants for new boats and gear. These fishermen are trained men who, in time of war, turned their vessels into minesweepers and became part of the Auxiliary Fleet. It is not a good thing from a commonsense or any national point of view to allow these men to leave the sea. I suggest that the Government and the Herring Industry Board would do the country as well as the fishermen a very good turn if they provided, so far as possible, a guaranteed market for all the fish which the men can catch.
We are importing fishmeal into this country and we have been importing oil. I should not like to say how many millions we have spent in trying to extract oil from groundnuts. It is very much easier to produce oil from the herring which are right alongside our shores, waiting to be caught by the men who are ready and willing to catch them; who, during the war, manned our minesweepers, and who in the event of necessity would be prepared to man them again. I do not accept it as impossible for the Government and the Board to consult together, and, instead of importing oil at an ever-increasing cost, to organise the fishing industry on a sensible and sound basis, from a strategic and an economic point of view—and a social point of view, too, because this problem of the Highlands and Islands is to some extent also a social problem.
Why cannot we go to the fishermen and tell them that we will guarantee that they get an economic price to make it worth while for them to fish, to enable them to renew their old boats and to buy gear even at today's exhorbitant monopoly prices? I wish something could be done about the price of new gear. Why cannot we say, "There is your price. Your job is to catch fish. After that, we will take responsibility and you can get on with your job." The fisherman is not concerned whether we process the catch for kippers, fishmeal or oil. If we gave this guarantee he would be guaranteed an economic price and an assured market. I maintain that the Herring Industry Board and the Government could do that. It is their national duty to do it urgently and now.
What is the sense of importing oil and fishmeal for agricultural and other purposes when we can produce it ourselves and, at the same time, keep alive an industry which is of vital importance to our country? To the white fish industry, as the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) has said, piers and jetties are absolutely essential. We cannot keep in existence these small communities round the coast if they have to continue in the old manner hauling up their boats to the beaches, and loading a couple of tons of stones and rocks for ballast, which makes the day's work far more tiring than it need be. I only wish that the appeal had been met when the Conservatives were in power and it was a lot cheaper to realise than it is now.
The county councils could do more. It is certainly not true that the Highland county councils are dominated by wicked Socialists. They are dominated by wicked Tories and almost as reprehensible Liberals. I wish that the county councils would come to the Government and make applications for more grants for these piers. The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. John MacLeod) ought to blush at this point, because he used to ask questions about this matter. I think that we all know the answer now. There was not one claim till very recently from the county council of Ross and Cromarty for a grant for one fishing jetty or pier for the Isle of Lewis apart from one place for which my predecessors and myself have been negotiating for 90 years——
I assure my hon. Friend that it has felt like even more than 90 years. There was for years no claim from the county council for Government aid, apart from one jetty in the Island of Lewis. That being a fact, the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty cannot deny it.
I should like to see the county council wake up to their responsibility. They are asked to meet 25 per cent. of the cost, I know, very often in areas which are heavily de-rated, and it is difficult for them to meet that cost. For the sake of a 25 per cent. grant in cases where the work would cost, say, £2,000 or £5,000, I do not believe that it is worth while, or nationally sane, to allow these communities to die out, while we are doing spectacular things, and have done many in the Highlands, on a greater scale than ever before under any Government I have seen in this House. The Treasury could stand the 25 per cent.
Neglect of the multitude of little things is bound to take the heart out of these small communities; and the Highlands and Islands are essentially composed of small communities. I wish that we could get on, for example, with 50 or 60 piers and jetties round the coast, and not merely concentrate entirely on spending large sums of money on two or three big projects. I reinforce the appeal made by the hon. and gallant Member.
On another topic, I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will stick to his pigs. I hope that he will not let them go, though I do not know whether there is any enthusiasm among his colleagues for pigs. In so far as he favours them, I favour him. I hope that he will stand by what he has said regarding increased pig rearing. The trouble is that he must do something practical. It is all very well to come to my constituency, to raise an eyebrow and say, "Why not more pigs?" He must also raise something in the way of funds to help the people to start breeding pigs. I have been into the problem and have tried to find out what sort of assistance is available to encourage people to breed pigs. I found that there was no assistance whatever.
I went to the Library, mistrusting official sources as any politician ought to do, and in the research department we tried to hunt out any references for help for the breeding of pigs. What does the Secretary of State propose to do about pigs? If one breeds calves, that is all right, and one gets help. If one grows anything, from beet sugar to beef, if one takes in marginal land or enters into a forestry dedication scheme, one gets a grant; but when it comes to pigs, they are regarded, as one might say, as infra dig. But pig breeding is a profitable industry with a quick turnover. We all want ham and eggs. That is one of our weaknesses, or one of our great national strengths. Let the Secretary of State do something about this. I think that it is time somebody did.
We are all anxious to encourage the Secretary of State in his good work for the Highlands and Islands, and we thank him for all that has been done by the Government in the last few years on seaweed research and development. The milling, as well as gathering, of seaweed goes on in the Islands only because it is not worth while taking the raw material from my constituency across to the mainland because it contains anything up to 90 per cent. of water. Since the raw material is on the local rocks—just as we are ourselves in the Western Islands at the moment—I suggest that something more could be done on the spot. The seaweed is there, and it is estimated that this industry, fully developed, could be valued at something like £15 million. That is Lord Bilsland's estimate. The industry can produce a wide range of products from non-inflammable and waterproof textiles to medicines, emulsifiers, plastics and so on.
Is there any reason why the Government should not take some action, so that we can follow through from the collection of the seaweed in the Islands to the production of the finished product in the same area? The manpower would be available on a full time employment basis. In comparison with our size, we in the Isles have the heaviest unemployment in Great Britain. I do not see why this thing should not be done. If the Secretary of State is worth his salt—and I am sure that he is well worth his salt—something can be done. I will not say how much more he is worth until I see the result of my appeal.
One of the difficulties which has retarded the development of tourism in the Highlands is the failure of Governments to supply the basic services for the provision of water, electricity, and so on, and the installation of sanitary arrangements. Many people in crofters' houses in the Islands, and on the mainland also, would welcome tourists into their homes, if they were not so diffident about having to ask people into homes without proper sanitation, water supply and so on. Otherwise, I should recommend them as being among the best boarding houses offering the best hospitality in Great Britain. But this lack of development cannot be charged up to us in the last five years. Anything that has been done in the provision of water supplies and electricity has been done during the last five years. Before that the people had to go—and too many still have to go—to distant wells, pools and ponds to draw water for cooking, washing and all their needs.
I do not want to go beyond my constituency for my last point. Surely, it is not beyond the ingenuity of this Government—and there is a great deal of ingenu- ity in this Government—to devise some means of relieving what is one of the most important indigenous industries, and one of the best employers—the textile industry in hand-woven tweed—from the unconscionably heavy burden of 66⅔ per cent. Purchase Tax on the products of the industry. The Treasury answer is that we have an international agreement under which we charge 66⅔ per cent. on imported hand-woven tweed. Surely not such a great deal of hand-woven tweed is imported. Within the country itself the loss by reducing the Purchase Tax to, say, 33⅓ per cent. could not be great.
With various Governments. I know that the Treasury answer is that to relieve the home hand-woven industry of Purchase Tax would mean that under this international agreement we should also have to relieve similar imports from other countries, but I do not think that that is a good enough reason. Here is an industry financed entirely by Scottish finance, run entirely by Scottish businessmen, employing entirely Scottish workers, and we find that because of a clause in an international agreement involving hand-woven tweeds many of these men are thrown out of work or are underemployed, and machines lie idle which could be in full production producing tweed for the home market as well as for export.
The burden of 66⅔ per cent. is shocking and overwhelming, and the Government should do something about it. At this moment there are nearly 1,400 men unemployed at Stornoway labour exchange alone. At a time of national full employment that is unforgivable, and I hope I am not going to be told again that nothing can be done about it. That is nonsense. This is either a planned economy or it is not. I fel very hotly about this, and I know that I have the support of my hon. Friends the Members for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin), Ayrshire, Central (Mr. Manuel), and others who regard this excessive Purchase Tax on one of our few Highland products as indefensible.
I wish to end by referring to the importance of transport in the economy of Highland development. Without proper transport, good roads and transport at reasonable rates, we shall not be able to develop the Highlands along the lines of the Highland Panel or any other commission which has been or will be set up. Unless we have access to the sources of raw materials, and to their markets, unless we are more able to compete with other areas by provision of proper transport facilities, we can provide all the electricity we like but it will not compensate for the exorbitant transport charges, the irregularity and obsolete working methods in these services.
The Minister of Transport has decided to make no concession in respect of the new freight charges for the Highland areas. I wish he would recognise that they are not asking for a concession, except a book-keeping concession. The fact of the matter is that in my constituency when we add the additional local freight charges to the ordinary transport charges of the rest of the country, we find that the cost of living is forced up by 1s. 10d. to 2s. in the £. That is accounted for by the additional freight charges that have to be paid over and above the mainland rates to places like Fort William or Inverness.
This area of the Islands suffers from certain natural disabilities, and we have got to do something about the excessive sea freight charges and, in fact, all the added disabilities from which that area suffers. In asking the Minister to overcome these difficulties by some freight concession, we are only asking him to balance up these inequalities so as to give us a fair opportunity for development; he would not be making any exceptional concession to the area at all. If the Highlands are to be developed, we must face up to that problem, because it is fundamental.
I should like to support the last two points made by the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan). The question of transport charges and freight charges is at the root of the Highland problem. On this question of the 66⅔ per cent. Purchase Tax on handwoven tweeds I should like to declare my interest. Before the war I started to establish a small hand loom weaving industry with the object of trying to create a local rural industry to employ the croft- ing community. I can assure the Committee that this tax is crippling further development of that industry in the Highlands. That industry is natural to the Highlands, and it should be encouraged. It is quite possible to have a special stamp covering the seven crofting counties for all tweed produced in those counties.
I welcome this opportunity of taking part in the debate, and I should like to join in the remarks which have been made congratulating the Government on bringing forward the White Paper, and the civil servants and officials of the Scottish Office who have done a great deal of work in its preparation. But we must also congratulate the Opposition for having given up one of their Supply days to discuss this problem. That certainly indicates acknowledgment that it is an important subject. It is a vital problem, and I think that the suggestion that there should be an Under-Secretary of State for Scotland responsible for the Highland region alone requires very serious consideration. There are so many diverse problems which affect the Highlands alone that it would occupy the full time of such an Under-Secretary.
We must admit that a great deal has been done already over the last 10 years within the Highlands, though I feel that much has been done through force of circumstances. Let us look at the introduction to the White Paper. In paragraph 3 acknowledgment is made of what has been done through the Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Act and the Congested Districts Board. As the White Paper says, that was brought about by social rather than economic considerations, and although my remarks this evening will be mainly on the economic and strategic factors we must not forget the vital part which these social values play in the national well-being. In the past the crofters fought a very bitter battle for security of tenure and we must make sure that security of tenure for the crofters and smallholders is not disturbed.
We all want to see an extension of the number of cattle and trees in the Highlands but, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), it is also important that we should maintain and expand a Highland race of men who in the past, unfortunately, to their country's detriment, went forth into the British Empire, taking their vast store of culture and enterprise which could have been so much better used in their own country. But the opportunities were rarely given to them in the Highland area.
The most important admission in the White Paper is, in my submission, in paragraph 4, where it says:
In recent years, however, new factors have emerged which provide the basis for a more constructive approach to the Highland problem and for treating it effectively as one of economic development.
Unfortunately, in a debate of this kind, when hon. Members have to bear the time in mind, it is very difficult not to repeat arguments which have already been made. First of all, let us look at the question of home food production. Here again, the change has been due to force of necessity. The necessity of the general agricultural programme of the country, and particularly of the hill farms, has, naturally, brought an expansion of agriculture to the Highlands, just as it has to any other part of the country. Of course, we think it is right that wherever possible that the Highlands should play their part in the national economy. The Highlander is a very proud man who does not like to feel dependent on others. In fact, I know of a crofter on the west coast who, at the beginning of the subsidy policy, refused to accept the subsidies. That gives an idea of what I mean. He thought the subsidy was from some form of National Assistance Board.
He was a very proud Highlander. It must be remembered that these people are fighting against tremendous odds, as the hon. Member for the Western Isles has said.
The programme of afforestation, too, arises from force of national necessity. I feel that the schemes which are being developed are being developed in these areas which offer the most economical approach. On the surface, that is a very wise thing, but looking at the problem from a long-term point of view I suggest that the social aspect is neglected in this case.
I turn now to the development of the Hydro-Electric Board, which is the third factor mentioned. The impression given is that they cannot get this electric power into the grid quickly enough. Admittedly, at a price, it has benefited the local inhabitants, and we welcome that, but I want to ask the Government what organisation has been provided for its use towards the potential development of industry near the sources of supply in the north? I say, virtually none.
All these new factors which are mentioned are of increased importance, but to my mind they do not constitute a comprehensive policy for the Highlands as a whole. Unless the adverse factors which practically all hon. Members have discussed are forcibly attacked the problem will not be solved. Unless the adverse factors affecting these developments are tackled we shall waste the wonderful assets which exist in the Highlands. By these adverse factors I mean the basic services. The Government have admitted that the Highlands should have special consideration. The present Foreign Secretary went to the Highlands and admitted that fact at a public meeting. But I say that they have not dealt with and tackled fundamentally what are two of the factors. These are, roads and communications in the first place and the question of freight charges, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for the Western Isles, in the second place.
I should like the Committee to bear with me for a moment while I read two letters which I have received recently and which I take at random. They give a vivid picture of what I mean about the lack of these basic services. The first is from an enterprising young man who came from the south after the war and settled in a remote Highland area. He settled in my constituency, at Scarraig, which is mentioned in the White Paper. He writes:
Meanwhile in Scorraig two more families are leaving shortly, reducing the population from nine families to seven. The rest get more discouraged all the time, and the complete evacuation of the peninsula is contemplated. (This is not propaganda; it actually is!) Everything has been promised—the road across the hill from Badrallock, the jetty at Badluachrach and the new pier on this side.
This is mentioned in the Appendix B to the White Paper. He says:
(This £14,500 scheme is supposed to have been 'passed,' whatever that means); even the telephone. But nothing comes, not even the latter. And yet there is nothing wrong with the place itself. Our own crofting and vegetable-growing venture has been successful, after years of reclamation (at our own expense!). But people find the continued isolation too hard to tolerate any longer.
That is a letter from a man speaking for a whole community. It is all for the lack of a pier or the lack of a road, or telephone—all these things which are taken as ordinary everyday things in the life of the population today. That is what I mean when I say we must tackle these little things. As the hon. Member for the Western Isles said, all these little things mount up. And it is the small difficulties which must be tackled first of all.
The other letter is from a chemist about the proposed increases by the Postmaster-General of the minimum C.O.D. charge from 4d. to 10d. This is what he said:
The new tax appears to be specially directed against the Highlands and Islands, where people living in isolated districts get practically all their supplies by parcel post C.O.D.
Hon. Members who know the remote areas will bear that out. The chemist continues:
Within recent years the minimum parcel post charges have been repeatedly increased, and as even small packets sent c.o.d. must be sent by parcel post this means that, for instance, a customer ordering a 2s. tin of health salts must now pay 10d. postage plus 10d. c.o.d. charge. Thus adding 1s. 8d to the price of a small article already burdened with Purchase Tax.
There are other letters, but I am sure that every hon. Member could produce similar ones. I repeat that the failure to tackle the problem of such basic services realistically is the cause of the lack of attraction of industry to the Highlands.
I should like to deal with the question of industry. I believe that it is imperative that at this time we should have the maximum distribution of industry within these Islands. We have only to look at the map of Scotland alone to see the absurd density of population that there is along one narrow strip of Scotland. The Secretary of State, when he made his speech from that Box, painted no rosy picture of the development of industry in the Highlands. If I may say so, I thought it a rather apologetic attitude that he took up. No wonder. Why? Because in the area scheduled for development in the Highlands itself there is not any development of industry taking place. He should apologise; he should feel very sorry about. The reason is because these basic services have got to be adjusted, and the Highland area must be given special consideration.
As I said, I am particularly interested in the Inverness to Tain area as men-
tioned in the White Paper, in paragraph 67. Why has there been no development in this area? Can the Government answer that question? I think that if they answer truly they will agree with me that it is because of the lack of these basic services. There is a point stressed in paragraph 67 which reads:
The White Paper on Distribution of Industry goes on to say that it is hoped that if the district is scheduled, its present comparative advantages, together with such inducements as may later become available, will attract industrial developments….
"Can the Government clarify such inducements"? What inducements do they contemplate? I have asked before in this Chamber what has happened to the grandiose scheme we have heard about from a previous Secretary of State for Scotland for the establishment of a new town in Invergordon.
I do not want to repeat the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), but I think they are most important. When we have to obtain our raw materials by means of sea communications, and can export our goods from our seaports, the Highland area can play an important part in the development of industry. I do not agree with the remarks made today to the effect that the development of industry in the Highlands must be based on the basic industries of agriculture and fisheries, and so on. That is what has been said. They can play their part. But look at these rural industries based on these basic industries. When we try to encourage rural industries the Purchase Tax, which I have mentioned before, is put on. We have it on handwoven tweed.
It is the same in every other specialised rural industry. We try to encourage in the Highlands the making of things for tourists. What happens? If one trades over a figure of £500—a ridiculous figure—one is immediately penalised with a tax of 66⅔ per cent.—and yet the Government are saying they are really trying to encourage the development of small rural industries in the Highlands. That is what the Secretary of State says on one side, while the Chancellor is trying to throttle them on the other. The Highland region must be given special concessions and consideration if the Government want to develop these rural industries.
I believe, for what it is worth, that the whole of the Highland area should be treated as a development area. I submit that for strategic reasons alone there is a strong case for the development and distribution of industries in the Highlands. For instance, would it not be possible to make component parts in our small centres and assemble them in the larger industrial areas, or in the larger townships within the Highland region? Have the Government looked into that?
I base the rest of my remarks on two most important factors mentioned in the White Paper. In paragraph 8 we read that
all planning can be implemented only to the extent that the general financial and economic condition of the country allows.
But circumstances have changed considerably since this White Paper was written. The ominous admission I have just read out seems to lay a chill hand on all hope of further development in the Highlands. Again, in paragraph 24 we read:
These works and other schemes to meet special needs will proceed as general investment policy and other circumstances allow.
That remark deals with one of the most essential factors in all Highland development—roads. In fact, intimation has been received by my own local authority from the Ministry of Transport that the amount of grant money for minor improvements and maintenance of classified roads for 1951–52 will be reduced. This, to my mind, is foolish economy. The Secretary of State admitted that this was due to the subsequent announcement of the defence programme—again after this White Paper was published.
What effect has the defence programme on this White Paper? It never seems to be a suitable time to spend money in the Highlands. Are the Government satisfied that the Highlands are making the contribution of which they are capable to the national defence programme which has been published? I say that they cannot be. I maintain that it is in the national interest to open up our Northwest seaboard, thus serving a dual purpose: for strategic reasons in time of emergency and for the development of our tourist industry in time of peace. That, of course, is apart from the other general benefits which would accrue. I submit that some of the money set aside for defence should be used for this purpose, keeping this long-term development in view.
At least one port should be developed on the north-west mainland, for strategic reasons. The one which I have in mind happens, by coincidence, to be in my own constituency. It is purely by coincidence, because it was used during the last war. I am talking about Aultbea. I stress the fact that I believe that it is imperative that we should have an alternative strategic port in the north-west in the event of an emergency. We should modernise the two existing roads from that port going north to join the Ullapool-Garve road, where, I think, we should have a new railway to develop this area, again taking the long-term view that we are developing the area and making use of the money set aside for defence.
It is in the national interest that we should develop this region at this time for strategic reasons alone, despite our wish, on all sides of the Committee, to see the country opened up. One road to the north joining the Ullapool road, and the other road should join on to the present railway at Achnostun. My second point is that, alternatively, we should link up all the dead-end roads along the west coast again, I repeat, for the dual purpose of defence and of developing our tourist industry and opening up, as the Secretary of State said, some of the finest scenery in the world.
We would then open up our deep sea lochs for the purpose of developing light industry. For example, why not build in these deep lochs small shipbuilding and repairing yards? Facilities could also be made in that region for stockpiling. I repeat that we must realise that this is all in an area which is very easily defended. The White Paper, although anticipating that works may be developed when circumstances permit, which is all very hopeful and of course, desirable, leaves me with no feeling of exhilaration that the Government have really brought forward a comprehensive, active policy to deal with these vital Highland problems.
I feel myself to be very fortunate tonight to have an opportunity to intervene in this debate. I was afraid that I would be crowded out, and I think that that would have been a pity. I am a member of the Highland Panel, I have had something to do with the preparation of this White Paper and I would like to thank the Secretary of State for publishing it, and all the officials who contributed to its composition. It was very good of the Opposition to give us a day to discuss this White Paper, which we have wanted to do for a long time. One of the disabilities, however, of being on the Highland Panel is that while one does a lot of work and reports direct to the Secretary of State, no one knows what has been done except oneself.
I am glad that the debate has taken the course that it has. We have had no narrow parochialism and no false sentimentality; no party advantage or capital has been made out of it from either side. I believe this is because we all realise that we are up against a serious problem. The White Paper represents some distinct advances. There is, first, the recognition after 200 years that there is a Highlands problem. A problem is something that can be solved, and I hope that if we all work together it will not be intractable. Secondly, it makes an objective, detached and scientific approach, for the first time, to the question of how the Highlands are to be run henceforth. That is something which should allay the disappointment of many Members who, naturally, feel that there is an absence of any urgency about this problem.
There was no urgency displayed about it over the last 200 years, and before people complain that we are not moving fast enough on this side they should at least have some knowledge of how the problem arose. Two hundred years ago, when Cumberland shattered the clans at Culloden, he not only spoilt the chances of the Stuart dynasty, but brought about the end of an epoch. Before that the Highlands had been reasonably happy. There was a stable pastoral economy ecologically suited to the regions in which the people lived, and a closeknit planned clan system was closely interwoven with it.
I differ from the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson). They were a happy people because there were no landowners. The land was the property of the clans and the chiefs were the trustees. But when the Hanoverian muskets roared over Culloden Moor, the clans system went and much of the Highland way of life which accompanied the system was disturbed although it might have ben difficult to have held on to it in a changing world. The clans disappeared and the land then became the property of the chiefs. In the old days it was most important for chiefs to have men capable of bearing arms, but as the years rolled on, the scheme was to replace the men with sheep, then the sheep were followed by grouse and the grouse by deer. Land owners who had prided themselves on the number of men capable of bearing arms on the land now advertised in the London Press that it carried so many brace of grouse or so many head of deer. The result was that the cattle to sheep ratio declined and so did the population.
These conditions brought about a deterioration in the pasture, which will take generations to recover and not just a few short years. Deforestation made an end to the natural timber resources, and we are left today with a derelict countryside as a result of the evils of the past. Yet people expect us to repair this in a few short years. We can repair it, but it will be a long, slow and costly process.
Whatever the wrongs of the past may have been, there are two great mistakes which we can make today. The first is to ask for a special official for the Highlands. We cannot divorce the problems of the Highlands from the problem of the rest of Scotland, for the best blood in the country comes from the North. The second thing which we cannot do, apart from that, is to see, in time of national stress, that no special consideration is given to the Highlands at the expense of the rest of Scotland. All that the people of the Highlands want is a fair deal for the first time in their history.
So we approach a new picture. Someone gives the kaleidoscope a turn and new patterns are apparent. The old chiefs are gone and the new chiefs in Knoydart, Uist, Ullapool, Lochinver and Laxford are coming to the fore. They are coming, because they feel that something can be made out of the Highlands. The landlords who battened on the misery of the peasantry for generations are today talking about the rehabilitation of the glens and bringing back the men whose parents they drove out.
There is a new pattern because there is potential development in the Highlands if we are prepared to put into that development the energy, money and enthusiasm that we are prepared to put into re-armament. A fraction of the money to be spent on that could make the Highland glens prosperous once more. The way of salvation for the Highlands lies in only three factors, the land, the sea and the indigenous resources of the land. Do not let us delude ourselves about a hive of industry in the Highlands. There are insuperable obstacles to that. There are few native raw materials. There are long distances to the selling point and—a thing which planners in industry overlook—in the Highlands there is no reserve of manpower, because it is an area where the population has been steadily running down. People talk about Inverness as a great industrial centre and development area. There are no unemployed in Inverness for there is no reserve of labour there.
We can, however, make much of the indigenous and native industries. What are we to do about the wealth of our land? It has been running down for a long time, and it will take years to recover its full productivity. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) reminded us, the Liberal Government introduced the Crofting Acts to curb the rapacity of Tory landlords. I only wish they had been as anxious to bring in factory Acts to curb the rapacity of Liberal mill owners.
The Crofting Acts made it possible to keep our people in the Highlands from being pushed into the sea. They were a sheet anchor of Highland farming, and they provided homes, from which subsidiary industries could be carried on. Today, however, they are not serving the function for which they were designed. They are not protecting the crofters. They are protecting the absentee tenant who lives in the south during the winter. They are protecting the lazy person, who is not prepared to cultivate.
The Secretary of State is quite correct in saying that a necessary preliminary to the best use of our land in Scotland is a survey of the land, its quality and its condition. That review must not be with a view to removing the advantages which the crofters' Acts give, but to strengthen them so as to make them a weapon or an instrument, by which we can once more revise that economy which enables men to live in the Highlands of Scotland.
We have also to face the question of how we are to restore fertility to our pastures, especially our hill pastures. The sheep-cattle ratio seems to be the key to the solution of a great deal of our trouble, and we must do something to re-introduce the Highland cattle which can live off the land for most of the year. That is dependent upon the provision of winter feed, and we do not have it now. I believe that it would pay the Secretary of State and the Government, if cattle are to be put on the Highland hill pastures, to see that concentrated winter feed is made available for them until our own silage is ready and we can provide our own feed. We should then have the cattle not merely grazing the hills in the summer and off them in the winter, to the detriment of the pastures, but on the hill all the year round.
We have also to strike a proper balance between the work of the Forestry Commission and the work of the agricultural industry. Man's fight with the forest is as old as humanity. Men fought their way across Europe to the Atlantic edge by cutting clearings in the forest. People have blamed the Forestry Commission for not going quickly in the Highlands, and other people have said that they must leave more of the Highland pastures.
It is the old fight over again. The Forestry Commission would like to come down to the good land of the Lowlands, and the land-hungry crofter and farmer would be glad to drive them up to the snow line. Surely we have between us sufficient scientific knowledge, tolerance and ability to strike a happy medium so that we can have our forests. I believe that in 10 or 15 years' time our forests will be the sheet anchor of the Highland economy.
Our second source of wealth is the sea. Here, again, is the same sad story of wasted resources. The seas round the Highland coasts have been sedulously over-fished and fished to death. They have been under-protected. They have been raped by every foreigner who could get a diesel engine into a boat. Our own people have not been without guilt when a fishery cruiser has not been present. There has been a steady over-fishing, a lack of proper protection and, quite deliberately, a distinct lack of courage on the part of British Governments, including the present one, to see that areas such as the Moray Firth and the Minch are closed to all trawling.
The herring fishing industry is going through difficult times and it may meet even more difficult weather ahead. The swollen population of the Highlands at the beginning of the last century was big because it was based on a potato and herring economy and not a modern standard of living. I believe that the day of the potato and herring diet has passed for ever in every corner of the world and that we shall never recapture the bulk markets in those commodities which we used to have. Therefore, the Herring Industry Board and the Government should be encouraged to take a much more courageous, a much more radical and a much more deep thinking view of how the herring industry can progress.
We are being driven to this conclusion, that we shall have to follow the example of herring fisheries in Newfoundland, in Alaska, in Iceland and in Norway. Since we cannot get our people to eat herring—they are eating 10 per cent. less today than they did in 1939—I wish every Scottish covenanter would eat one herring a day for the sake of Scotland instead of stealing one stone in 500 years. Then I would have no worry about the Scottish herring fishing industry.
We should face up to the fact that fishmeal and oil are needed in this country, that the price of fish oil is steadily increasing and that it has risen by nearly 50 per cent. in the last 12 months. Let us organise our fishing for fishmeal and oil as a primary objective. Let us pay the fisherman not 35s. a cran, which is not a living wage, but an adequate price for the residuals and let us use what is left as food at a higher price. Then we would get somewhere. Let us process as much as we can and let us eat what we cannot process. Then herring would become a luxury sold only in the swell hotels because it would be going into fishmeal oil and everybody would be crying out for it. That seems to me to be the only solution, but it will require courage, generosity and patience before results will begin to show themselves.
I am sorry to detain the Committee, but I want to say one or two words about the third point, namely, industry. I have said already that I do not think we can rely upon any great build-up of industry in the Scottish Highlands. We have let industry after industry native to the Highlands sink and deteriorate, but we can extend the traditional industries upon which the Highlands depend. How many men are employed in distilling in the Highlands today compared with the past? One of the disadvantages of the introduction of the patent still was that it turned a work of art into a commercial process, and the more we commercialise industry such as that the less manpower we need.
We can have a great woodworking industry, because timber will flow from our Highland forests at the rate of 1½ million tons a year. It can be worked and processed on the spot. We have deposits of minerals that can be used. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland talked about the possibilities of cement. There are other uses to which our minerals could be put. Most of all, we shall have to rely upon the use of our natural advantages, of afforestation and tourism. I do not attach too much importance to tourism, however, because I once spent a wet Sunday in August, when the midges were about, at the top of Loch Hourn. I would have loved to have a few Sassenachs with me to make them appreciate the Scottish climate. Then there is hydro-electricity and the seaweed industry. There is the use of peat for closed or open-cycle turbines. Once the experimental stage is passed, and if we have luck, any one of those projects could almost revolutionise the Highlands. If we could get a gas turbine that could use peat we could clear the Highland peat bogs, we could reclaim land as we went along, we could get power to the grid; we could even make cyanide for manurial purposes from seaweed, given the power.
I like to think that the Highlands are on the edge of a great step forward. I do not think the answer to the problem lies entirely in transport or entirely in industry or in any one fact. I think the people who live in the Highlands are not badly off compared with the past. Today they are reasonably well off but they are pitifully few in number. Our endeavour as a Government, as a Parliament and as a people ought to be to restore the men and women to the numbers there were when the Highlands were a real factor in the life of the country.
In the few minutes remaining at my disposal, I shall have to speak almost in telegraphese. I shall not be able to follow the points on which I disagree with the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Alex. Anderson). With some of his points, however, I wholeheartedly agree, and I am glad that he had the opportunity of making his speech because we recognise, however much we may disagree with him, that he has done valuable work on the Highland Panel.
The first point I want to raise concerns paragraph 42 of the White Paper, dealing with cattle. We all welcome the fact that there are more beef cattle and heifers on the hills in the Highlands, but I ask this question: Has the hill cattle subsidy for 1951 yet been published? If not, can the Joint Under-Secretary of State announce the figure tonight? The reason I ask is that the English figures have been published and show an increase of £1 per cow. Scotland should not be behindhand in getting announcements about this sort of thing.
My second point on agriculture relates to silage, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) referred. As far as winter feeding is concerned, silage is extremely easy and cheap to produce. There has been a lot in the Press about it as though it were a mysterious, expensive method of producing winter feeding, but it is not. I have made silage for nearly 26 years, both in Africa and in Scotland. It is the cheapest process possible. One has only to dig a hole in the ground and to see, when all the grass or whatever other material is used is put in, that it is sealed, is made airtight and has drainage.
That is perfectly simple, because almost the whole of Scotland is on some form of slope and drainage is an easy matter. A barrel of molasses can be added for every 25 tons to sweeten it; the sweeter it is, the better. All that has to be done is to stamp it down with any implement which may be available. This process does not seem to have been developed in the Highlands, and in my part of Scotland it is now only beginning. Silage is a cheap, efficient and nutritive crop, which can be most cheaply and efficiently produced.
In the one minute which remains to me I should like to refer to electricity. Much has been said about hydro-electric development in the Highlands, but I wish to raise a question concerning distribution. Ever since the beginning of the year, I have been trying to ascertain from the Treasury the amount that is to be allowed to the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board for capital expenditure. I asked a Question in January, but was told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the figure was to be announced in the Economic Survey. It was not so announced. I therefore repeated the Question on 10th April, when the Financial Secretary to the Treasury answered:
As all civil investment programmes are being re-examined in the light of the higher defence programme, I regret that I am not yet in a position to give the desired information."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 59.]
Here we are, well into the financial year 1951–52 and the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board is not yet able to define for its area managers the amount of capital that will be made available for generation and distribution. Surely the Scottish Office ought to look at this matter, because hon. Members opposite are planners. This is the Government of planners, but here is the most remarkable example of lack of planning I have ever seen. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will deal with it in his reply.
The history of all Scottish debates, more particularly debates on Highland development, is the same. They begin with a doubt on the part of the authorities whether they can be kept going all evening. On this occasion the Government moved a Motion that if the debate stopped we could go on to other Business. Then the debate finishes with people fighting for air on all the benches and a great many good speeches are lost for ever, or until the next occasion.
I am particularly sorry that I have had to cut out my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) who has been bobbing—if I may use a vulgar but ex- pressive word—with tremendous assiduity all evening, but, alas, has not been able to get in. I am very sorry, but I am under an arrangement with the Joint Under-Secretary of State to allow him half an hour to reply. It is certainly not too long to reply to a debate which has continued for so long and been the source of so many ideas, but that also limits me in my turn.
There is no doubt that this debate has been marked by a singular amount of goodwill and lack of recrimination. Occasionally a spark of the old Adam flared up here and there, but, after all, it would not be a Scots debate if at any rate somebody did not let off a banshee wail now and again about clearances, or complain that the other side was not adopting that non-party attitude which his own side always adopted when in a similar position in opposition. History will need to deal with that. It has been a debate of great interest because it has been a general debate on the Highlands. I think it fully justifies the course we have taken of setting down this debate on the Floor of the House, where it could be taken at much greater length than is possible in the shorter but most valuable debates we have upstairs in Scottish Grand Committee. I think the experiment of the Supply Days downstairs and shorter debates upstairs is justifying itself very fully indeed. Of course, we shall have the opportunity of going in greater detail into some of these matters in debates on Scottish Estimates upstairs.
Could the right hon. and gallant Gentleman explain to the Committee why, since it is the Highlands that are being discussed and industry and other Departments might come under discussion, they did not also put down votes on some other United Kingdom Departments?
We put down the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Works and the Ministry of Transport. I think the right hon. Gentleman must address himself to his own Front Bench on the question why hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have found themselves adequately represented on this occasion by the Undersecretary of State. We on this side of the Committee make no complaint about it. We feel that the two Under-Secretaries, the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General are no doubt adequate.
I apologise; I should have said, Chief Whips do not talk in public. A Scottish proverb says: "Whistling maids and crowing hens are not canny"; and that holds for talking Whips also. I would say, in passing, that the Secretary of State informed us on this side of the Committee, and informed me personally by letter, that he would not be able to be here for the closing stages of the debate. I quite understand. He has an engagement in Scotland which he must attend. What is more, I understand that he is to address the Scottish T.U.C., which is now practically equivalent to the accolade, without which no Minister is complete.
The debate has been interesting because it has ranged over both the traditional and non-traditional activities of the Highlands. That is in a way the interesting point about this programme for Highland development. We have had other programmes and plans. The Hilleary Report, for instance, which we should never forget in these discussions, was also a very full and fair report. Here is a programme which touches both on the traditional and non-traditional activities of the Highlands. The traditional might be taken as agriculture, forestry and fishing; the non-traditional are hydro-electricity, mining and industry, with tourism occupying a half-way house; and with whisky also occupying a half-way house. I say that because whisky occupies a new place in our economy as something which we manufacture and give away to other people. Previously, we used to manufacture it and consume it ourselves.
Traditional activities will undoubtedly need to be further developed. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) explained that he would not touch on agriculture, or indeed on fishing, because we should have an opportunity later of going into those matters. But no debate on Scottish affairs, even a general one, would be complete without a certain study of agriculture, and we have had that from hon. Members on both sides of the Commit- tee who are well qualified to speak on that subject.
The new emphasis, which is turning towards cattle, is an old emphasis restated. The question of cattle is still rather in the balance because of the question of winter keep. Everyone knows that great numbers of cattle can be kept on the hills of Scotland in summer. Everybody also knows that the question of how many cattle can get through the winter on the hills is a matter which is in the hands of the good Lord and not ours, because in winters like the one through which we have just passed even the deer have been unable to live on the hills, whereas in certain winters cattle can be carried right through on the hills without any particular trouble.
There will, of course, be special problems in this particular departure. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Angus, South (Captain Duncan), emphasised again what has often been emphasised in the course of this debate, the importance of silage. Yes, but not for the hills. A bale of hay can be carried about, thrown over the cart-side, and cut up. It requires less labour, and the most expensive thing in the world is not silage, or cattle, but men's time. The real advantage of hay for cattle on the hills is the ease with which it can be transported or moved about. Silage cannot completely replace it.
In the same way most modern people speak contemptuously about turnips, that they are expensive to grow, that they are not much use when one has them and that they are 98 or 99 per cent. water. I am reminded of the old farmer who, when told that, said, "It must be wonderful water." The convenience of the turnip lies in the ease with which it can be moved about, its size in comparison with the animal. It is something which we cannot do without. In these agricultural matters we depart from tradition at our peril. We have to be sure that we are not embarking upon something which looks very attractive at the beginning, but which will not work out well at the end.
Many eloquent tributes have been paid to the new large-scale developers who are carrying on very interesting experiments. There is a recent one at Fort William which was referred to by the right hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) who said, with a certain amount of rueful regret, that the owner had a distillery to back him up. So far as I understood him, the right hon. Gentleman said, "How I wish I had a distillery also." But these are large-scale experiments which are not always on the line of development in the Highlands. I distrust this vast mass idea.
The Highlands, of all the parts of this Island, and indeed of almost all the parts of Europe, are the most ancient. They are the remnants of the old continent which was drowned when the North Sea came in and flooded over the plains to cut off Britain from the mainland. They are far older than the present shape of the Island. They go back to immemorial ages and they have qualities of their own. There is a certain breath which distinguishes the glens which people challenge at their peril; as Lord Leverhulme discovered when he tried to run counter to the wishes of the people of the Hebrides. We have to keep in mind the small man as well as providing development which is attractive to the big man.
The kind of development which has been discussed tonight and which is of great interest should not be entered upon too rashly, because there are imponderables in the Highlands which we neglect at our peril. I have a slight uneasiness even when the enthusiastic speak strongly about this large-scale forestry. I am a flock-master myself, a grazier. I do not go so far as the famous retort of Ibn Saud when President Roosevelt, wishing to be kind to him, was explaining that he would develop Arabia and encourage forestry. Whereupon Ibn Saud said with great bitterness, "The Bedouin hates trees."
That is the attitude of the grazing man towards forestry. He feels uneasy about it. Here are these forests, which cut him off from his familiar grazing grounds and harbour all sorts of vermin which attack his young lambs. They are uneasy and difficult things to live amongst. He is uneasy about the tree. This is a large-scale enterprise which later may be profitable. I do not share the view of the hon. Member for Motherwell on this development of the Highlands, but I think it is a capital development which will not give capital returns for some 40 years.
When I have a sheep which will give a lamb every year, and a fleece as well every year, I would think twice before I turned off that sheep-stock which will give 40 Iambs and 40 fleeces in that time, for a tree which will do nothing in the whole of that time.
If I am going into all the Highland theories, I shall not be able to finish in five minutes and I wish to keep within the limit. I am saying at present that I would hesitate before embarking upon a further programme of large-scale forestry development, which can give no return for many years, clearing off development which can, and does, give the greatest value at the present moment.
I would speak for a moment about the wool cheque on which the right hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire commented. It is quite true that if we had had a good lambing and a mild winter, we would be in the way of receiving a very considerable wool cheque indeed this year. But as is well known, with the winter we have had, some areas will barely balance out, even with the wool cheque. Others will do better. It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that the wool cheque is, in a way, safe, because of the profits of the previous year; and, as it is running over a five-year period, it may well average out at a high figure.
Unless, however, we refrain from removing all the reserves by taxation the moment they accrue, then we have to give them back again by way of grants and loans later on. It is the most uneconomic thing in the world first to take all the reserve away and think that one has got it, as current income, and then to return it by means of a complex bureaucracy, losing a good deal on the way. I suggest that in the Highlands, at any rate, although I should like to extend it to other marginal areas, if the wool cheque is being used for development, it should be allowed to be ploughed back into the land and not be taken away in the form of extra taxation.
It is extra taxation which is killing the Highlands. Taxation is getting a great deal higher than ever it has been, and it has been intensified lately, notably by the 66⅔ per cent. Purchase Tax which was complained of by several hon. Members. [Interruption.] There is no suggestion at the moment that social credit will or will not save the Highlands.
We are dealing with the question whether the money that has been earned in the Highlands should be allowed to remain there. I am putting forward a plea that we should devise some fiscal device by which a larger amount of the money earned should be allowed to remain, if it is ploughed back into the land. We have taken several steps against that. We are taking one in the present Budget. We are removing the 40 per cent. depreciation allowance. That is a bad thing.
We are clamouring for more mechanisation in the Highlands. This allowance might be allowed to remain in this area. If we desire development and mechanisation, surely it is a piece of great folly to remove an allowance which was given to encourage development, when admittedly it has not succeeded so far in accomplishing its object in the Highlands—the area that we are talking about. It may be that it has done it elsewhere, but it certainly has not done it in the Highlands. A great deal more capital equipment could well go into the Highlands. For the Government to remove the 40 per cent. depreciation allowance from agriculture and to slam a 66⅔ per cent. Purchase Tax on the tweed industry, and then for us to sit here in this Committee considering how grants or loans or finance corporations can be brought into existence, and money can be lent by the bankers and stockbrokers of Edinburgh, does not make sense. This is feeding the dog with its own tail. It may be a nutritious process at one end of the dog, but it can lead to a heavy haemorrhage at the other.
I can only say a few words on fishing. Fishing is traditionally a matter of boom years and blank years. If all the money in the boom years is treated as current income and swept away, then there is no money for the bad years. Unless we can devise some means by which boom money is not treated as current income but is allowed, under some fiscal device or other, to be ploughed back into the enterprise and left there, then we shall always be faced with this business. We find that we have first skinned the industry and then, somehow or other, we have to put back some kind of synthetic overcoat over it. I have heard it said that the fleeces are now so valuable that the Aberdonians run the clippers over the lambs before they send them to market and then give them overcoats to keep them alive until they are graded. I think that is an exaggeration, but it certainly is a faithful reflection of what the Government's fiscal policy is at the present moment.
I have dealt with agriculture, forestry and fishing. On the two half-way items, tourism and whisky, I would say again that whisky, which is one of our big dollar earners, is at present being produced at the rate of some 30 million gallons a year, of which only 2.6 million gallons goes to the home market. But only about 9.6 million gallons are going for export, so that a considerable stock, as I understand, is building up. We ought to have an indication from the Government of what their policy is towards this industry. Obviously it is a very important matter that a dollar earner of this importance should be kept going and should be able to look ahead.
Every Member who has spoken of tourism has mentioned the difficulty of the regulations under the Catering Wages Act. The Right Hon. Thomas Johnston has mentioned this with far greater force and authority than I can possibly do. We keep mentioning it, but we do not seem to get any further with it. I think it is a tragedy that hotels are actually being closed down at a time when we are trying to attract people to the Highlands, simply because of regulations which are perfectly sound when applied to hotels like the Dorchester and the Ritz, but are a different matter altogether when we attempt to apply them to a small hotel in Scotland.
As to railways and civil aviation, the two great nationalised bodies in whose hands tourism lies, I am not sure that the Government are applying the full amount of imagination, or even the full amount of administration, which they ought to this problem. That is why some of us on these benches have stressed very strongly the necessity for some Deputy-Secretary or somebody who does not have to spend his life in first-class railway carriages. When a man is appointed Secretary of State for Scotland he buys a pot of geraniums and puts it in a sleeper to make the place look homely because that is where he is going to spend most of the rest of his life. Nobody is as good after a night in a sleeper as he was before, and nobody is nearly as good after two or three or four nights in a sleeper as he was before.
Here is a simple example. Two of the most famous books in Scotland, I suppose, are Murray's Diary for Edinburgh, and Murray's Diary for Glasgow. I suppose almost every Scottish Member has got one or both of these books. We find every train in Scotland mentioned in them, but not an aeroplane. If I want to find out when an aeroplane starts and when it lands, I have got to get a complicated set of folders and work my way through them. This information used to be in Murray's Diary. It is not there now. I wrote and complained, and they said, "We were charged. It was an advertisement and we think we should have it put in for nothing." That the travelling public should be deprived of this obvious convenience because of some squabble between B.E.A. and the proprietors of Murray's Diary shows a lack of every-day administration which really ought to have been put right by this time. To take a wider sweep for a moment, there is a great opportunity in June——
I am only too glad to find that my protests have been effective. As everybody knows, for months and indeed years past this was not inserted in the Diaries. Everybody knows that to be true. My complaint was made years ago, and I have the correspondence which I will show to the right hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Kirk wood) if he desires.
I am perfectly well prepared to admit that Labour gets things done if properly prodded by Conservative Members. That was so on this occasion. In this connection I was about to say there is the visit of the delegates from all over the world to the fifth centenary of Glasgow University, which might well be, and would be in an imaginative system, an opportunity for some transport being placed at their disposal and their being shown some of the glories of Scotland which they could describe on their return home. I do not think there has been a single suggestion of that kind, and I think it is one imaginative approach which might be made to our problem.
I have over-stepped my time and must drastically compress the remarks I had intended to make. I would like to ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State to deal with these points on the three non-traditional activities of Scotland. On hydro-electricity, could he say something about the expenses of construction, to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) referred. Is the policy to dovetail the supply into the main electricity supply of Scotland, or is it to use it more for the purpose of local industry itself? On mining, could he develop further the interesting suggestions of the Secretary of State about zinc and lead and the possibility of silver production? The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the mining activities on the shores of Loch Sunart. It is one of the most interesting metalliferous areas in the whole of the world. It was there that the rare and hitherto unknown metal was discovered—strontium it was called after Strontian, the town—and that is rather interesting—the knoll of the fairies enshrined in the rather humdrum catalogue of the primary elements.
As to industry, I have dealt with that earlier but I would ask again—is it impossible to arrange for a larger proportion of the money earned there to remain, if some undertaking were given that it would be ploughed back into the industry? Because behind all these things lies the weight of taxation—the weight of local taxation and the weight of Imperial taxation. I have spoken of the weight of Imperial taxation, and the weight of local taxation is already tremendously heavy and is rising. The town of Inverness finds its rates this year, in spite of all the steps which have been taken to help it, rising from an average of 10s. 10d. in 1945 to 17s. 9d. in 1950–51. These are very heavy burdens, and unless some method can be found of lightening the burden of taxation, we shall not be able to retain industry in the Highlands or attract industry to the Highlands. I hold strongly, with my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), that unless industry can be brought in, then the burden of modern development will prove too heavy for the ancient and the traditional industries of agriculture and afforestation to maintain. I must draw to a close now and I apologise to the Joint Under-Secretary for having trespassed so much upon his time.
I have listened to and participated in many debates on Highland questions in the last six years, and I do not think we have had a more informed discussion than that we have had today. I cannot but think that the reason for our having a more informed discussion is that this Government and the previous Government—that is, the Government from 1945 to 1950—gave every encouragement to all those Members who wished to take an interest in Highland matters and to put forward their proposals. We entertained them to the best of our ability, to see what could be done, and did not turn down, out of hand, any that suggested a possibility of being of advantage to the better development of the Highlands.
I think that the interest of the debate has been contributed to in no small measure by the very grand work that has been done by the Highlands and Islands Advisory Panel, and by the publication of this Report. It has spotlighted the sort of thing which could be done in the north of Scotland over a period of years—and which the very expert people think must be done over a period of years if the Highlands of Scotland are to be regenerated.
It is true to say that most of the contributions to the discussion today on both sides of the Committee have been made in no party manner at all. I think most hon. Members have been speaking for themselves, and have not pretended to speak for their parties. Indeed, I doubt very much whether the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) was speaking for his party when making his winding-up contribution. It would be interesting to know if he was. It would be interesting to know if it is the policy of the Tory Party to give special tax concessions to industrialists and farmers and other people in the Highland area simply because they happen to be in the Highland area. They did not say that before. We wonder if this is now the Tory Party policy. We have never heard of it before as Tory Party policy, and I doubt very much indeed whether the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would now stand up and say, "Yes, I was speaking for the Tory Party and putting forward its policy." [HON. MEMBERS: "Come on."] I do not want to discuss with the right hon. Gentleman those tax proposals; though they were interesting, I doubt very much whether they would warrant any further discussion by me at this hour.
We have been told over and over again—very rightly told—that the well-being of the Highlands of Scotland is inevitably determined, in the first place, by the well-being of Highland agriculture. Several right hon. and hon. Members have said that if we manage to build up the stocks of sheep and cattle in the Highlands we shall maintain and preserve the human population. That has been said three or four times in our discussion today. That prompted me to have a look at the cattle stocks—the numbers in the Highlands today and the numbers over a period of years. I discovered that the total number of cattle in the Highlands, dairy and beef—because I think it is better to take them both together, and fairer to take them both together, for if I took only the beef figures I should present a much rosier picture than if I take the two together—in 1939, at 4th June returns, was about 201,000; and in 1950, about 249,000—an increase of some 48,000 animals between 1939 and 1950.
The figures for the period between 1939 and 1950 go up a little and down a little in different years; the numbers of the dairy animals go up and down and the numbers of beef animals go up and down; but that is a big amount, for we are up about 25 per cent. on 1939, and I think it is encouraging. So I am glad in a way that some of my hon. Friends, when they made reference to the experimental work that has been done by Lord Lovat and Mr. Hobbs—and we all of us say "Thank you" to them for what they are doing, and pay a tribute to what they are doing today—did point out, of course, that what they are doing, although very worth while, and although we are glad indeed that they are doing it, makes to this increased head of cattle in the Highlands a very small contribution.
Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that if these experiments were extended—I do not necessarily agree with the particular ones he has mentioned, but there are others going on as well—it would not greatly increase the number of cattle all over the country.
I concede that straight away. I will say in a moment why I express this pleasure that attention has been called to them. Lord Lovat and Mr. Hobbs—and I think the hon. Gentleman himself would assent to this—have conditions that do not obtain generally throughout the Highlands. They do not have sheep; they have taken the sheep off altogether and concentrated on cattle. It is perhaps a good thing that somebody should be doing that, but there are other people doing experimental work; throughout the Highlands there are big and small farmers, and innumerable crofters, all of whom have increased their cattle stocks in recent years. In some townships the number of cattle has doubled; I know one or two where the number of cattle has trebled since before the war. I think we ought to give credit to these innumerable small people, who shall always be nameless but who have made such a wonderful contribution towards giving us this greatly increased head of cattle in the Highlands.
It is our experience that many of those ordinary farmers, who are not farming in a big way at all, who have increased the cattle on the hillside, have also increased the sheep they have on the same hillside. They have discovered what the experts have been saying, and what the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) knows so well, that on many hillsides the keeping of a few cattle to eat the rough grass will enable more sheep to be fed, because the sheep will get through to the finer, smaller grass underneath, and the two are complementary on so many hillsides.
The number of sheep has also greatly increased in recent years. In 1939, the number was 2,255,000. By 1947, we had had the disastrous winters of 1941 and 1947, and the figure was down to 2,068,000. By 1950 it had gone up to 2,545,000; we had gone up almost 500,000 since 1947. That seems to me to be a considerable achievement for the farmers of the North of Scotland. They will go on doing that, and those hon. Members who say that by increasing the number of cattle and sheep in the Highlands we would increase the number of people seemed to be moving in the right direction.
Let me now try to answer some of the questions that were put to me. It is said that not enough money has been made available for township roads and piers. The largest amount ever made available from Government funds before the war was £30,000 in 1939. In the last few years we have made £120,000 available. I repeat what I said in reply to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) in an Adjournment debate the other night: our allocation of money for this purpose has not proved restrictive to local authorities. Although we are giving a 75 per cent. grant they have not come to us and been refused because the amount of money we had set aside was insufficient.
We have found it difficult to spend all the money, but because of what the Highland Advisory Panel have been saying to us, because of the pressure brought to bear upon us to increase the number of small roads that might open up the country and make new facilities available for people living in small townships, we have set aside £160,000 in the present financial year. In the financial year when the defence programme has meant imposing so many cuts on other services we have increased the money made available for township roads and piers. I think that it is more important and urgent that we should have these roads constructed than that we should have brand new or modern highways for the tourists going into the Highland area. Some people may think that what I am saying is heresy, but I believe that this work should be proceeded with without unnecessary delay.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) said that not enough reclamation had been done. He went on to talk about his travels through Scotland and seeing nothing but land that had gone back and a countryside which was bracken ridden, and so on. I think that he rather over-painted the picture. What he said was a condemnation of the landowners and farmers of Scotland. I do not think that they deserve the condemnation that he laid at their door. He said that a 50 per cent grant was not enough for this land reclamation. I cannot say tonight that we will make an increased grant, but we will read with very great interest the many proposals put forward in the course of the debate.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove asked me to take up some of the points made by his hon. and gallant friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), not included in which, if I may say so without offence, was the reference to Murray's Diary. As to hydro-electric development I cannot say what will be the investment. It is not for me to announce the share of capital investment which will be made available to the North of Scotland Board. B.E.A's share of capital investment has first of all to be determined, and that share has then to be divided between the 14 area boards and the North of Scotland Board.
I think that it was a little ungenerous of the hon. and gallant Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) to say that a Government of planners ought to have done something. It is amazing the way in which hon. Gentlemen opposite when it suits their convenience completely forget about the international difficulties and the defence programme. They say that we ought to increase the defence programme and spend thousands of millions of pounds more upon it. Before we start fiddling with the defence programme, we have to look at our economy and capital investment for other purposes. The hon. and gallant Member for South Angus seemed to think that we should, of course, make a cut elsewhere in our capital investment, but that the Highlands, for some reason or other, should not come into this at all.
The area boards want to know how much they are to be allowed to spend, and up to 10th April of this year they had still not been told what they were to spend. It is not a question of whether it is a cut or not, but how much they are to be allowed to spend. Surely a planning Government ought to know by now.
It has all to be worked out. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman were saying that schemes had been stopped because contractors had been sent back to Edinburgh and Glasgow because the Government had not made up their minds, his excuse would be valid, but the work is going on.
The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok asked me to say something more about hydro-electric development. It is the policy and hope of the Government that the work that goes on will be balanced as between the supply of electricity for the needs of the Highlands and feeding electricity into the grid. We have some big schemes like the Tummel Garry scheme and the Sloy scheme which are making a contribution to the supply of electricity required in the industrial areas of Scotland. We have many other schemes that will make no such contribution, and these two have to be kept in balance as much as possible. I could give details of the work going on, but I do not think that Members would want me to do so at this late hour.
I was pressed more than once to get on with the building of houses because it is important that the people should have decent homes in which to live. The number of houses completed last year in the Highlands and Islands was 1,894. That may seem to be a very small and inadequate number, but it is more than twice as many as the greatest number ever built in any year before the war. We were also told that too many houses were being built in the urban areas, but I find that 1,085 of those houses were built in the landward areas. That suggests to me it is not an insignificant contribution that has been made.
There have also been a lot of improvements made to crofter houses under the scheme. We have brought in Swedish houses and allocated them preferentially to the Highland areas because of the cost of building traditional houses, or of the difficulty of introducing non-traditional houses in these parts of the country. If we had not introduced the subsidy scheme for remote areas in the 1946 Act we should have found it difficult to build as many houses as were built even before the war. But because of this special subsidy we have been able to have this housing record since 1945.
Reference has been made again to the number of cattle that used to pass through Falkirk. I beg leave to doubt the figure of 155,000. There is no reason to believe that such a number ever passed through. It was some obscure newspaper some 152 years ago that mentioned sales of 155,000 cattle. We do not know how many of those cattle were sold once, twice or 10 times. All the experts doubt the figure.
An appeal was made to me to delay the date for objections in connection with the herring scheme. There is no reason why we should not do that, and I will gladly consider it.
I was also asked about the proposals to build a factory at Tarbert. I do not know whether it will be built or not, but it is not proposed to go ahead with it at the present time.
Perhaps I might conclude by saying a word about the fishing industry. It is a most important industry in the Highlands. We have made considerable contributions by State grants and loans towards building up this industry——