I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It might be right that I should say a few words about the past history of this question, but I do not want to go into great detail. It is nearly 70 years since the first Crofters Act was passed, in 1886. In this matter the Liberal Party at that time displayed their interest in this important question—and not for the last time.
I am not quite certain what it was that Mr. Gladstone said in 1884, but Mr. Gladstone's Government set up the Napier Commission, which reported in 1884, and it was in 1886 that his Government passed the first Crofters Act arising from the Report of the Napier Commission. This Act for the first time established the basic land rights of the crofter, and, while changes have been made by subsequent Acts, namely, the Acts of 1911, 1919 and 1931, the principles established in the Act of 1886 have been maintained.
Of course, great changes have occurred with the passage of time, and in 1951 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) very properly, in my opinion, set up an expert Commission of Inquiry—a very able and efficient body, in my view—to review crofting conditions and report. It has fallen to the present Government to consider this Report, and in this task we have had the very valuable help of the Highland Advisory Panel.
I should like to express to the members of the Panel my very sincere gratitude for the great assistance which they have rendered in this connection. I should also like to express my sincere thanks to the members of the Commission for their work, and to Professor Sir Thomas Taylor, the Chairman of the Commission, for his great labours in dealing with this matter. I think it will be agreed that the Commission has produced an interesting and valuable Report, and I know that it devoted very much time and labour to the task.
I am glad to say that, generally speaking, the Report has received a warm welcome by a wide public interested in Highland affairs, and that it has also received, in general, the approval of the Highland Panel. In view of these facts, I trust that, since this is a matter in which all parties have shown an interest in the past, the Bill will not arouse any acute party controversy in this House, but will be welcomed in general by all parties here.
Before I go into the detailed provisions of the Bill, I should mention that, in preparing it, the opportunity, has been taken to consolidate the law relating to crofting, which, it is hoped—and I think it is the case—will be of advantage to those concerned with crofting generally, and, in particular, to those whose duty it is to administer the crofting law.
If Parliament should approve this Bill and pass it into law, we shall be reaffirming the main principles of the Act of 1886; that is to say, first, the right of the crofter to security of tenure; secondly, his right to obtain compensation for improvements made by himself or his predecessors; and, thirdly, the right to have a fair rent fixed by a judicial tribunal. In explanation of that, I should say that the hereditary nature of crofting tenure will now be reaffirmed, and the House will be doing this in the light of the very full and thorough review recently made by the Commission to which I referred, under the chairmanship of Sir Thomas Taylor.
The changes which the Commission recommend are not designed to revolutionise the traditional form of tenure, but to strengthen and improve it. Indeed, the Commission's Report recommends in a number of places a return to the provisions of the original Crofters Act of 1886, notably by the proposal to set up a new Crofters Commission, which is one of the important proposals of the Bill. This Commission will devote its entire energies to promoting the welfare of the crofting communities.
The Commission of 1886 had both administrative and judicial functions to perform, and, owing to these judicial functions, it was laid down in the Act that one of the three Commissioners should be an advocate of the Scottish Bar of not fewer than 10 years' standing. This was altered under the Small Landholders (Scotland) Act of 1911, which transferred this function to the Scottish Land Court which that Act set up. This Bill proposes to re-establish the Crofters Commission, as advised in the Taylor Commission's Report, and, therefore, it is necessary to redistribute the functions, both administrative and judicial, between the appropriate authorities, taking into account, of course, the recommendations of the Commission, which this Bill follows closely.
The Report points out that conditions in the crofting areas vary greatly, and that one cannot apply any rigid system of approach to the problem. I suggest that it is right and sensible that we should approach this matter as a question of administration rather than as a judicial one. The conditions, as I see them today. demand sound and efficient administration, which is the aim, in particular, of the proposals contained in this Bill. This is also the view which is advocated and strongly recommended by the Commission itself; that is to say, it is an administrative rather than a judicial matter, and it is to this recommendation that we have adhered in the Bill.
On the other hand, the Land Court will still retain its important judicial functions, such as, in the first place, the fixing of fair rents and the assessing of claims for compensation. The new Crofters Commission will be entrusted with important and necessary administrative and executive powers.
Any points of law which arise out of the exercise of the functions of the Commission will go to the Sheriff for decision; for example, in the case of dispossession of a tenant on the grounds of not being "ordinarily resident" or in the case of any dispute as to the validity of a bequest of a croft. I should like to say to those who may criticise the Bill, and I know that there are certain critics, that in referring certain legal points to the Sheriff, delay will be avoided, because it must be borne in mind that the Land Court has to cover the whole country, and cannot therefore always be sitting in the crofting areas, but has to move from place to place throughout the country.
Our aim is to avoid delay. Without this new machinery, there might very well be a delay of six or more months before the Land Court, owing to its other duties. could attend or sit in a crofting area to deal with, for instance, a case of intestate succession. During that period, a croft might become more or less derelict, when serious damage would occur. Of course, where agricultural considerations are concerned, the Land Court will remain the proper tribunal. Therefore, under Clause 21 of the Bill, if the Commission should propose to dispossess a tenant on account of bad husbandry, the tenant's right of appeal to the Land Court is preserved.
I can assure the House that in this important and difficult matter of the distribution of the various functions between the Commission, the Land Court and the sheriff, a great deal of care has been taken to try to settle the matter in a logical and sensible way, and in a way which will work out satisfactorily in practice. The Land Court will continue to play its historic judicial role. I will not now enumerate all its functions, which are set out in the Bill and, in particular, as I just mentioned, in Clauses 2, 4, 5 and 6, Clauses 13 to 15 and Clauses 19 arid 21.
The whole case for this redistribution and for the functions to be performed by the Commission is fully argued in the Report, and, in the main, the Government accept the view and the advice of the Report. We are here dealing only with crofting. I know that, in addition, there is the very wide field of Highland development, but that is not dealt with in this Bill.
The Government share the view with the Taylor Commission that this crofting problem requires the undivided attention of a new administrative body set up specially to carry out these functions. I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, with your knowledge of this area—indeed, I feel that it should be you who should be making this speech rather than myself—like none of us, would minimise the difficulties. Our object in introducing the Bill is, if possible, to overcome those difficulties.
On the details of the Bill, Clauses 1 and 2 and the First Schedule provide for the constitution and for the general powers and duties of the Commission. The Commission is to consist of not more than six members, some of whom may be part-time members. It will be the duty of the Commission to carry out its functions in accordance with such general directions as may be given to it by the Secretary of State, and it will make an annual report to Parliament.
Clauses 3 to 14 deal with crofting tenure. In the main, these Clauses reenact the existing law, but there are certain changes to which I think I should draw attention. Clause 3 restores the original designation of "crofter" which was used in the crofting legislation of 1886 when it originated, and which continued up to the Act of 1911. This Bill restores that designation to all smallholders in the seven crofting counties. It also abolishes, in the same counties, the distinction which has existed since 1911 between "landholders" and "statutory small tenants." Both these classes now become "crofters." Clause 4 provides for the registration of new crofters by agreement between the parties concerned, or, in the case of new holdings constituted under land settlement powers, at the instance of the Secretary of State. Clauses 5, 6 and 7 deal with rents, records of crofts and renunciation of tenancies on the lines of the existing law. Clause 8 includes some amendments of the law in regard to the assignation of crofts. It prohibits assignation without the consent of the Crofters Commission. It allows the crofter, with the Commission's consent, to assign his croft for any reason and to any person, whether that person is a member of his own family or not.
Clause 9 prohibits the sub-division of crofts without the consent of the landlord and of the Commission. Clause 10 amends the law of bequest in the light of the Taylor Report's recommendation that the crofter should be given a right to bequeath his holding to any person subject to the consent of the Commission. This Clause, however, does not limit the right of any person to contest the validity of a bequest, and it provides that any legal question of this kind is to be determined by the sheriff.
Clause 11 is designed to deal with the Taylor Report's recommendation that the law of succession to crofts should be altered to ensure that succession questions are determined within a reasonable period. The Clause allows claimants to the succession to make application to the landlord within a period of six months after the death of the crofter in place of the four months tentatively suggested in The Taylor Report. The reason for making it six months instead of four months is to give a little more time in which, for instance, somebody in the Merchant Navy abroad can lodge a claim.
Clause 12 re-enacts the law in regard to the resumption of crofts with the substitution of the Commission for the Land Court as the controlling authority, as recommended in the Report. Clause 16 gives effect to the recommendation in the Report that
the Commission should be notified of all vacancies in crofts and should be given power to ensure that crofts now vacant or becoming vacant in the future are re-let in the way best calculated to promote the interests of the crofting community.
Perhaps I could put the case clearly, or at any rate fairly, in this way. In many crofting areas there is a need for a good deal of reorganisation and adjustment if the conditions necessary for stability and progress are to be created. Such adjustments can most easily be made when crofts fall vacant.
It is also of the utmost importance that vacant crofts should be re-let to suitable tenants who are likely to make good use of them. The existing law in this respect has proved to be inadequate. This Clause requires that all vacancies should be notified to the Commission and that the landlord must get the consent of the Commission to the re-letting arrangements, or, if that consent is withheld, he must get the consent of the Secretary of State.
Where a croft remains unlet, the Commission is given a power to re-let it itself, Where the Commission exercises this power in such a way as to leave redundant croft buildings on the landlord's hands, the landlord is given the option of requiring the Secretary of State to purchase them on the terms laid down in the Clause.
It will be seen from this that the re-letting of vacant crofts remains primarily a matter for the landlords concerned, but that adequate provision is made to ensure, as the Report recommended, that crofts will be re-let in a way which will promote the interests of the crofting communities.
Clause 17 deals with absentee crofters. As the Taylor Report says, the existence of a class of absentee tenants is generally recognised as being an unsatisfactory feature of the crofting system as it is today. The Report, therefore, recommends that the Commission should be given discretionary power to terminate the tenancy of any crofter who does not ordinarily reside on or within two miles of his holding.
The Report makes it quite clear that this recommendation does not apply to the genuine crofter whose supplementary employment may take him away from home for long periods. The recommendation applies to the tenant who is a crofter in name only and whose home is elsewhere. The Bill provides that the power to terminate an absentee's tenancy shall operate only where it is in the general interest of the local community that the croft should be left to some other person or persons. The absentee will not, therefore, be dispossessed automatically. Where dispossession is proposed in the general interest the absentee will have full opportunity to make representations to the Commission and, if he so wishes, to take up residence on his croft. If he is ultimately dispossesed, he will normally be given the opportunity to retain the dwellinghouse under a feu charter, unless the house is needed for the future working of the holding.
When the right hon. Gentleman says that the absentee landlord of a particular croft would not be dispossessed, in the ultimate sense, of a dwellinghouse, does he assume that he would be allowed to retain the house but not the croft, although only using the house during the summer months?
Yes. He would be allowed to retain the house unless it was essential for the farming of the land. The point is that where a croft is not properly farmed it may be taken over or amalgamated with neighbouring land, and the house may therefore have no purpose.
Clause 18 provides aged crofters with tile opportunity to give up their land and get their houses under feu charters if they wish to do so without retaining the land or having to farm the land. This will be a purely voluntary matter, but the Commission's consent will be necessary.
Clauses 19 and 20 deal with schemes for the reorganisation of townships. No crofter ordinarily resident in the township will be forced to give up his existing dwellinghouse and no such crofter, able or willing to cultivate a croft, will be provided with a croft of less value than he had before the reorganisation took place. The object of the reorganisation will, of course, be to provide better crofts.
Clause 22 deals with financial assistance to crofters. The Report recognised that there were many assistance schemes already in operation, but expressed the view that these schemes did not altogether meet the needs and circumstances of the crofting districts. Clause 22 also gives the Secretary of State a general power, to be exercised after consultation with the Commission, to make schemes for providing grants and loans to crofters for agricultural purposes. It provides that such schemes may be administered through the agency of the Commission.
Clauses 24 to 27 re-enact the law in regard to crofters' common grazings with the modifications necessary to give effect to the recommendations of the Report on this subject. Administrative supervision over common grazings questions is to be transferred from the Land Court to the Commission.
Clause 28 re-enacts the law in regard to cottars. With the exception of Clause 31 which deals with building loans and grants for certain small owner-occupiers, the remaining clauses of the Bill deal with supplementary and consequential matters. In recommending the extension of building loan and grant schemes to small owner-occupiers the Report drew special attention to the need for assistance of this kind in Orkney where lack of adequate buildings to house stock in winter was the immediate hindrance to a further increase in production. Grants for dwelling-houses are already available under the Housing Acts and the Clause is accordingly restricted to the giving of assistance in respect of other buildings.
As I said earlier, the Bill follows very closely upon the recommendations which have been made by the Taylor Commission. Its provisions as a whole are designed to provide a basis on which the crofting system can be soundly re-established. The Commission say that this revision of the law is, of course, only the first step to restoring and developing the crofting areas. The crofting areas eventually will require time and a great deal of effort, and the task of the new Commission, if and when it is set up, calls for great qualities of leadership and imagination in carrying out this work.
In addition to these qualities, it will' necessitate sustained effort over a period: of years. No one, of course, can expect the mere act of passing this Bill to produce immediate and far-reaching results. It will take time, but I believe that, with sustained effort and those qualities of initiative and leadership to which I have referred, a great deal can be achieved.
I would stress that if the Commission is to succeed it must also win the confidence of the crofters themselves. That is vital. It must enlist the crofters' own energies to help in solving these problems, because without their co-operation, I am afraid that success will not crown its efforts.
Money will also come into the matter. There is a Financial Resolution in connection with this Bill. We wish to do our best to assist, and if these areas can be restored we shall have made a major contribution to the economy of the Highlands and Islands and to the welfare of the people who have their homes there.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on having clearly explained what he expects the Bill to do. But I think he has narrowed it down rather more than we expected him to do, and caused our expectations to shrink a little bit more than we would have hoped. There is, however, no doubt now where we stand, and to that extent I am grateful to him.
People as near to this subject as the Highland Members are could talk on it for hours, even days—perhaps I should have said, for hours and nights. That is more the Highland custom. I am certainly well aware of two dangers. One is that if one talks too much, one can have many things used in evidence against one later. The other is that, in the Highlands, if one does not talk enough, what one does not say will even more certainly be used in evidence against one. People in the Highlands expect one to cover the whole field whenever the Highlands are mentioned. I fear that that is a weakness we have when talking on Highland affairs. A few years ago when I spoke here for a quarter of an hour—rather less than my usual wont—and sat down, a very new Member of the House, younger than I, said, "I am surprised, indeed, amazed, that the hon. Member did not mention Highland clearance in more detail."
I could have reminded him—to recast Lincoln's oration—that four score and seven years ago and many times since then, Highland Members have brought forth upon this Parliament a great deal of talk on the subject of the Highland clearance. I think that this time I will be still more up to date, and do what we used to say in the Labour Party in 1945, "Face the future," and look forward rather than back. Nevertheless, one has to fill in the general background to get these problems into their context and in perspective, and to bring to bear upon them the proposed—or more apt—solutions.
First of all, let me join the Secretary of State for Scotland in cordially congratulating Sir Thomas Taylor and his colleagues of the Commission on their work and upon producing a most readable and competent Report. Hardly anyone in the Highlands would not wish to be associated with that congratulation. Mrs. MacPherson, too, in her "Note of Dissent," showed courage and a good deal of common sense. Some Members of the House will feel warmly sympathetic to Mrs. MacPherson. It is extremely important that such points of view should be presented, even though Mrs. MacPherson presented them alone. That was all the more courageous of her, and it was done in a competent way.
I will not call Mrs. MacPherson's proposals anything like nationalisation of the land; all she asked for was extension of public ownership of land for certain specific purposes in a limited area. No doubt on aspects of the larger question of nationalisation, in relation to this Bill and the Report, we shall find ourselves most at variance across the Floor of the House. I have not abandoned my belief that until the nation has control and ownership of land it will not have full power to undertake a comprehensive and effective plan for Highland development or agricultural development.
I thought the Bill was in fairly broad terms until I heard the Secretary of State, who confronted us with rather less than I had expected in the effectiveness and adequacy of the instrument he is asking the House to approve. That makes it much more difficult for us, as an Opposition. It widens the scope of our criticism and probably will rather lengthen the Committee stage. On quite a number of points, we may get compromise and agreement with the Secretary of State. No doubt, however, there are other points on which we can get much good Scottish controversy and contentious argument.
I propose to deal with a number of special points rather than follow through the whole Bill. I shall look at Clause 1, the First Schedule, Clause 2, and one or two other points which can be dealt with on Second Reading. For example, there is a provision dealing with the voluntary renunciation of crofts by aged crofters in Clause 18. I propose to concentrate mainly on those three points relating to the Commission's members, and the money, and its powers.
We all know that the Highlands and Islands present, not a single, big problem with which any one agency can readily and quickly deal, but that we are faced with a complex variety of problems which vary from place to place. There are some, like transport, which all areas share in different degrees. Some of the problems are even narrowly peculiar to individual islands, counties and localities. Therefore, from the start we cannot talk in terms of a Highland problem against the background of one great, desolate area. There is, from region to region, relative prosperity and relative poverty, and all the states in between them.
There is, oddly, far more similarity between the problems of Shetland in the north-east and of the Hebrides in the north-west than there is between Shetland and the Orkneys. One would imagine these latter two had much the same problems, being nearer each other, but it is quite wrong to think so. If we go to Ross-shire we find the problems are quite different in different areas and nothing like as serious in the east as in the west of that county. The same thing is true in Inverness-shire. On the Caithness seaboard, there is a prosperous agricultural community. When we go into West Sutherland, however, we come up against some of the most difficult problems in the Highlands.
Scottish Highland Members of the House of Commons, having suffered common injustice or neglect from various Governments, tend to co-operate on many Highland problems. They have a fellow-feeling with each other and tend to find common ground, if it is only against the neglect and often the injustice of the enemy—or, should I say, of the "principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness." I will not talk in terms of "give us" so much as of "help us to give" in regard to Highland development, to help the Highlands to increase the contribution they can make to the wealth of the country. Those who have any responsibility as Highlanders want to look at the problem as a national question; and that is the way in which the House of Commons ought to look at it.
The Secretary of State, the Taylor Commission and all of us recognise the strategic importance of retaining the populations in the Highlands and Islands. Everybody is in favour of that, and of improving their standard of living. There are, too, political and social considerations, about which Parliament has already expressed its agreement. As long ago as 1936, the present Chairman of the Land Court, Lord Gibson, in a maiden speech in this House, moved a Motion which I had the honour of seconding and which was accepted unanimously by this House. It asked for something effective and urgent to be done to relieve the distress which was acknowledged to be widespread in the Highlands and Islands in those days. Many things, both good and bad, have happened since then.
Today, the Highlands do not talk in terms of such bleak distress as then. There has been a great deal of development since the war, and a raising of the standard of living. Because of the social security system, nobody in the Highlands can be said to feel the cold, hard edge of poverty sharply today as in pre-war years. Nevertheless, since that time, in 1936, when the House and Government agreed that something effective and urgent must be done, we have had to await the initiative of the former Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil), to take steps leading towards a policy to deal with the crofting problem as a whole.
There is a little more to the problem than the Secretary of State has mentioned. The Crofting Commission should be given not only the powers, but the money and the obligation to do something more than just look at the crofting problem. Crofting is not the whole life of the crofters. The Highlands and their people have much to give to the country as a whole, and it is worth while considering whether, as a matter of urgency, we cannot give this new agency power to try to develop more fully than is contemplated in the Bill the economic possibilities of the Highlands.
There is a limit to the acreage of forests which can be planted in Soho or Central Glasgow; we must look to the Highlands for the growing of much of the timber the country needs. In the same way, there is a strict limit to the amount of hydro-electric power which can be generated in Enfield or Central Glasgow to help industry and to save our coal supplies. For these things we must turn to the Highlands. We know that, properly developed, they can supply many of our other requirements. We realise the value of their dollar-earning industries, such as tweeds, textiles, whisky, tourism and the rest. The Highlands have a great contribution to make to the national economy and the nation's food needs; and we remember the extraordinarily fine contribution they made—and not least Orkney—in the days of rationing by their production of food, of pigs, eggs, fatstock and cheese.
I would advise the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, when next he wishes to lecture the snowbound crofters on their "improvidence" in not storing up tea at 8s. a lb., butter at 4s. a lb., and other commodities at top Tory prices, to remember that he is in equal danger of being cut off from Highland food exports in winter-time, and that he himself should keep a cow and a few sheep and poultry if he can afford to buy feedingstuff at present inflated "free market" prices.
A fundamentally important question concerns the people who will be appointed to the Commission. The whole success or failure of all that we are trying to do will depend upon the selection of the right people. I think we are all fairly well agreed that we do not want a band of lawyers, lairds, lackeys, or superannuated public servants, or many of the sort of people who have appeared so often—almost inevitably—on so many of these bodies. The Commission must be human and practical, and from the outset must command the respect, confidence and cooperation of the ordinary Highland people, who otherwise will say, cynically "It is just another of those bodies" and take very little notice of it.
The Commission must include representative Highlanders. It must include people, as the Highland Panel unanimously agreed, with knowledge of crofting and the crofting way of life; and there must be Gaelic speakers among them—let there be no mistake about that. This is a grass roots job in every sense of the term. Its members must include people whom the ordinary people in the Highland areas understand, and who understand the Gaelic language. As a member of a Fishing Committee, I remember the pride of one fisherman witness whose boast was that he and all his family had been brought up "at the point of the hook." That was a very eloquent phrase, but uttered by a very practical man. That is why I hope that the new Commission will find itself in contact with the earthy clay of the croft when it gets down to business.
I am anxious about the First Schedule. I wonder what the Secretary of State has here in mind? If he wants to keep the choice for his Commission membership as wide as possible, as I am sure is his intention, if he seeks the best possible people, they must be assured that they will have a considerable degree of independence from Ministers and not be under the shadow of a fixed or limited period of appointment, with the chance of not being reappointed. We want, not second-rate, mediocre people, but members of considerable experience and status in the special range of suitability. If we are to get them they must be reasonably remunerated; we must not be niggardly. Subject to the usual conditions of being "sackable" for inability, and so on, we must give them security of tenure, and a sense of independence from a patron with the power of reappointment in his hands. Whoever the Secretary of State may be, I believe that that is most desirable.
We on this side are not happy about the Money Resolution, and would ask the Secretary of State to consider postponing it and re-examining the whole question. On all the calculations one can make from the Memorandum I am afraid that the estimated money provision is hopelessly inadequate and falls far short of what are, after hearing the Secretary of State, even our somewhat shrunken anticipations. Perhaps I can say that we are speaking against the Money Resolution now because we must put up all the opposition we can at this stage.
Obviously, we cannot be allowed to move Amendments later which would increase the money available, so we must do what we can before the Money Resolution is passed. Once that is through there is nothing we can do—but my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) will deal with that aspect in more detail. In all the suggestions we shall make now and in Committee there will be a considerable demand for things which it is not possible to finance with the amounts suggested in the Memorandum. We are concerned to get the right people, but they must also be armed with sufficient money to carry out their functions.
I now want to say a word about the need for extending the functions of the Commission. In Clause 1, the Commission is given a number of general functions, including "reorganising, developing and regulating crofting" and "promoting the interests of crofters." When I saw in the Clause the words "promoting the interests of crofters" I thought that this meant something very wide and that the Crofting Commission could really put a punch into Highland development.
Then, however, we turn to the disheartening timidity of Clause 2. There we find in subsection (1, a) "keep under review"; in paragraph (b) "make recommendations," and paragraph (c):
… collaborate so far as their powers and duties permit.…
It does not say with whom the Commission is to collaborate. One cannot just collaborate; one has to collaborate with something or somebody. Then, in paragraph (d) the Commission is asked:
… to advise the Secretary of State on any of the matters aforesaid and on any other matters … which he may refer to the Commission.
That is not exactly what one might call a galloping solution to Highland problems. The Government are certainly not overdoing it. They are being very careful and very small—c conservative, with all their provisions to keep matters "under review," to make "recommendations," to "collaborate within limited
powers" and to "advise" the Secretary of State. For the last 50 years people have been making recommendations, advising rightly or wrongly and collaborating rightly or wrongly with all sorts of people. Who would make a success of collaborating with the White Fish Authority at the present moment? It will not collaborate; perhaps it cannot collaborate.
The provisions of Clause 1 is that the Commission shall keep crofting "under review" has been the Government's stock answer for 50 years. The Government keep everything "under review." That is all it amounts to, arid that is exactly what it means, and it gets us nowhere.
Clause 2 talks about the Commission "making recommendations" relating to land settlement. Nobody needs to make any more recommendations in general terms on land settlement. We have had the Land Settlement Committee and recommendations from various bodies, including the Highland Panel, that a vigorous land settlement programme should be undertaken as soon as possible. That has been affirmed and reaffirmed from time to time. All the powers of land settlement and acquisition of land for that purpose have long been in the hands of the Secretary of State, but they have not been exercised.
On collaboration, we come to an important point in the Commission's Report, which, on page 9, deals with the question of auxiliary occupations and says:
… in the great majority of cases the croft by itself was never capable of providing a reasonable living for a man and his family.
That is indisputably true.
It had to be supplemented by some other forms of work, such as fishing, weaving or knitting.
Here we come to the really important paragraph:
The decline of the crofting system is attributable in great part to the failure of some of these auxiliary industries, notably fishing, coupled with the fact that men and women are no longer content with the modes of life which were acceptable to their ancestors.
All that is perfectly true, and we can all agree with it.
The important point is that the decline of the crofting system itself is attributable in great part to the failure of the auxiliary industries. Yet we are to give the Commission no powers to go outside the limited field of crofting into the fields where it will have to go if the crofting system as a whole is to be supported, sustained and restored. It is fundamental that we should give the Commission powers and clearly specified duties—as well as the means to carry them out—not only providing that it shall collaborate, even when we know with whom it is to collaborate and to what extent and on whose invitation.
We must give the Commission clear power to initiate and promote schemes and works of various kinds, even small local industries, as well as things like marketing, and the creation and restoration of village communications. The Report even deals with minor water supplies and matters of that kind. All these things were contemplated in the Report, and the functions of the Commission were not intended to be narrowed down in the way the right hon. Gentleman has done it. There must be power to initiate schemes as well as all the other functions.
One can suggest so many things which might help. One example is obvious, and it has often been discussed in the House. It is shelter-belt planting. The Forestry Commission is not interested in the planting of shelter belts and small plantations. But, from the points of view of rearing and sheltering livestock, from the viewpoint of amenity and of the ever-increasing employment, which forestry does more to give than almost any other industry in the Highlands, it is important to get on with small plantations and shelter-belt planting.
I preached this in the House for years before the war, and I heard Minister after Minister say that it was a good idea. I remember Lord Jowitt and Tom Johnston among others agreeing with me that we should do this, but no one has ever done anything about it. Tom Johnston was, for a short while, on the Forestry Commission, and I give him credit for what he did while he was there, but little has been done seriously during all these years about shelter-belt planting, which is essential in the North generally.
Nothing has been done simply because the Forestry Commission has not had the specific duty laid on it of going in. not only for big commercial plantations, but also for small plantations ancillary to agriculture. This is a task in which the crofting community can take part, for it relates to crofting. I trust that the Crofting Commission will have power to do something about it. The Secretary of State is the boss nowadays of the Forestry Commission; and perhaps he will do something about laying such specific duties upon it.
There are also such things as marketing, where the Crofting Commission might well come to the rescue of the crofting community. I do not know how far under the Bill the Commission will be able to do that sort of thing. It is left to the S.A.O.S., the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, their Crofter Supply Agency Subsidiary and all sorts of quasi-public bodies, partly publicly-financed bodies, private bodies, benevolent organisations and others to try to do something about it.
Everyone is talking about co-operation and wants to see it and is lecturing the crofters on it. To some extent we get help in co-operation already; but here is a body which is ideal for the purpose of promoting co-operation among the crofters in marketing and buying. I see no reason why the Commission should not undertake to try to equalise conditions as between the crofters in the north with all their special difficulties and the more fortunate people who grow their produce near the centres of consumption.
To one Glasgow gentleman who lectures the crofters about co-operation—that has annoyed me greatly in past years—I would retort that the crofters were co-operating as a tradition long before and since the Glasgow people began to destroy themselves with razors and through religious football matches. The crofters really cannot be lectured on that subject by smug people in industrial areas. I remember one junior Minister who, many years ago, visited my constituency for an hour or two and then went away and lectured the crofters at a distance on the subject of self-help. I am sure that the only man he ever helped was himself.
Crofting communities had to co-operate in their mutual interests, at peat gathering, sheep-fanks, at shearing and dipping, at the shielings and in most activities—and without changing money in this form of self-help and co-operation combined.
The crofters simply have to have cooperation to live. They are fisherman as well as crofters, and if ever a fishing boat goes to sea and the crew do not cooperate, it will probably never come back from the sea again. Of course the crofters will co-operate; they would destroy themselves if they did not co-operate and help each other in every way they can as communities.
I want also to speak in defence of the crofters, as so many people who do not understand the conditions say that crofters get doles and all sorts of additional and special aids which people elsewhere in the country do not get. What proof is there of that? I challenge any hon. Member to show that a crofter in the Outer Hebrides, or in Shetland, is better off by reason of any subsidies than a person living in the rich, prosperous, agricultural areas, alongside markets and sources of supply. It is absolute nonsense to say that he is better off. There is far less value for the same subsidies, which the farmer in the Lowlands—in Stirlingshire or Perthshire, for example—receives. Also, the crofters happen to be the persons who are themselves doing the work for these subsidies on the land with their own labour.
They suffer also from what the Taylor Report calls, the terrible burden of freight charges and the disabilities of distances, bad roads, climate, weather and inadequate sea services. At the end of it all they get exactly the same help from the nation as does the prosperous farmer on rich soil in the centre of Scotland. I hope that that will help to dispose of the charge that the crofters are being "feather-bedded." We are told that they are given loans and grants for houses, but so also does the person in the city receive help. He gets his modernisation grant and can get loans.
The crofter has to pay back on the same terms as practically anyone else over a long period of years, and very often he has used his own hands and skill in building his house. He has often to do without a water supply for his family and livestock; without electricity and without decent roads to and from his holding. He has to pay about £8 a ton for coal in Lewis which, in Lanarkshire, would cost £5 a ton. In Lewis, one of the main islands, 2s. to 2s. 6d. in the £ more has to be paid for essential foods and other needs than by people living in Inverness, let alone London or Glasgow. He pays more for what he eats and gets less and less for what he produces. With the destruction of the Food Ministry's services, he is worse off than ever.
I think that the case can be well established that the crofter is not a person who is asking or getting more than other agriculturists and citizens in other parts of the country. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take this question a little more seriously. Perhaps it is unfair to put it to him in that way; but I think his consciousness of the seriousness of the situation is not quite adequate. But I hope that against the background of the speeches which will be made on both sides of the House today he will think more seriously about making these provisions more effective.
In the situation in the Highlands and Islands, there are many places where help even from a fully effective Crofting Commission is coming too late. Some places will never again be populated. In island after island and place after place the population is dying away. In some, the population is becoming so old that it will not be accepted as immigrants, and in some cases they are getting into a state of real distress. There are islands, like those in North Orkney, where desperation point is near.
But there are hundreds of places which the coming of a Commission armed with money, properly equipped with power and getting willing co-operation without any Departmental jealousies or restrictive practices by established judicial bodies—whether county councils, statutory independent authorities or others—which still save, restore and repopulate.
We are stressing and emphasising these major points today on Second Reading and leaving over the many detailed points to the Committee stage when we hope to have some accommodation from the right hon. Gentleman in improving many of the provisions of the Bill.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look now at one point in Clause 18, which deals with the aged crofters? I am not quite sure how this is going to be interpreted. I am not quite sure, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, how far I am permitted to discuss by implication legislation which is still hypothetical; but unfortunately, the Bill does that.
That is what I feel, too, about this Clause. Clause 18, dealing with the granting of feus to aged crofters who have voluntarily renounced their crofts, refers to the question of freedom from burgh or county rates. It would seem to me that provision is being made here for—or perhaps against, which might be more benevolent—the implementation of the Sorn Committee's Report, which has not yet been before this House. It seems to imply that the Sorn Committee's Report will be approved here and that legislation will be approved by this House under which the croft house will be separated from the croft and rated separately from the croft. Otherwise, I doubt whether we need to go beyond the words, "or burgh rates"; because when we go beyond that we talk of the house of the crofter as if it had been separated at some time, in hypothetical future legislation, from the land.
The Bill is really assuming that the recommendations of the Sorn Committee will have been accepted and an Act of Parliament has been passed under which the aged crofter's house will be rated separately from the croft. It promises that a crofter in giving up the house will be no worse off than he was when the house was part of the croft. That is assuming that an Act to rate croft houses has taken effect. I should like that point clarified because it may cause a great deal of alarm. I know that the idea of the Taylor Report was to give an incentive to the aged crofter to renounce the land by giving him the benefit of the rate-free feu, but I doubt whether we can get a crofter to give up his land simply by saying, "You will not be more heavily rated after giving up your land, than if you remained on it—you'll be equally rated on the house, either way." It would be useful to have clarification of this today, otherwise we will be landed in all sorts of difficulties in Committee.
There are many points about which Highland Members could talk for a very long time; as I have already done, with apologies—but we feel strongly on these matters. If I have covered any points which other hon. Members intended to cover, I am sure they will forgive my being so talkative, because we are all talkative here. When we reach the Committee stage, I appeal to hon. Members opposite to believe that anything we have said on Second Reading and anything that we try to do in Committee is intended to strengthen the hands of the Commission while safeguarding the crofters—and to make it an effective and adequate instrument for the purpose which, I am sure, all Members of the House have in view.
We may have different approaches to the question and there may be arguments about such issues as how much land ought to be acquired, and how; but I think that there is little difference between us, on both sides, about, for example, the acquisition of land for land settlement, for the reorganisation of villages, and so on. Apart from these differences within the limited scope of the Bill, I am sure the Government will realise that everything that we on this side say and any criticism which we make is intended to be constructive, to strengthen the Bill, to strengthen the Committee's hands and to make more adequate attempts than were forecast by the Secretary of State to solve this age-old and long-neglected problem.
I should like to do one thing which I can do with more freedom now that I no longer am Chairman of the Highland Panel. I should like to thank my Panel colleagues, not only on this side of the House, but on the other side also, for the great deal of good work that they did and the unpartisan spirit they always showed in examining and "vetting," so far as I can apply that term, the Taylor Commission's Report. I thank the secretariat of the Panel, too, and the officials of St. Andrew's House, who made it possible for us to carry out those duties in accordance with the instructions of the Secretary of State. I would not have dared to have said these things to their faces, and to have complimented the Panel on its work had I still been a member and its chairman; but for once in my life may I discard modesty for truth and say a kind word to some of my own colleagues who would have been embarrassed if I said it at the Panel meetings to themselves?
First, I should like very much to thank the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) for the generous words which he expressed and which I and other hon. Members who served, and are still serving, with him on the Panel appreciate.
I should like to trace a little of the ancestry of the Bill. I do not think I should be disclosing confidential information that arose in the discussions of the Highland Panel if I were to say that it was under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for the Western Isles that the advice was handed on to the Secretary of State that something should be done about appointing an inquiry into the crofting situation as we found it throughout the crofting counties.
The hon. Member will also follow me, I think, in saying that the genesis of the Bill was really one of our colleagues, who is not a Member of the House, who came from Shetland. Time and time again he pressed the case of the unsatisfactory situation of the crofting communities. He mentioned particularly his own area of Shetland, and he pressed the case until we, also, joined with him. Under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for the Western Isles, we added our pressure and the Taylor Commission of Enquiry was set up. I am sure that my right hon. Friend and the Scottish Office would acknowledge that as being the situation.
The Bill is intended to refer only to the seven crofting counties of the Highlands of Scotland. It is extremely encouraging to hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent those crofting counties to see with us—and, we hope, to listen to them—other hon. Members whose origins also were in those crofting counties. They may not be representing crofting constituencies now, but we hope that they will be able to take their part in our discussions and will give us their own experiences and views.
As a member of the Highland Panel, I was very glad, first, to read the Taylor Report and then to welcome the introduction of the Bill. The Bill will do a great deal of good in improving the situation of the crofting communities throughout the crofting counties. I believe that there has been considerable misunderstanding among the very people whom we are hoping the Bill will help. For my part, I should like to assure those crofters whom I have the privilege to represent in this House that I believe that when the Bill has become law and the Crofting Commission has done its work—I hope, very much along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for the Western Isles—they will find that far from the Bill doing anything to damage their security of tenure or their ability to cultivate their crops or to make a living or a partial living thereby, the very objective of the Bill is to do something to improve the situation; and I am sure that it will improve it.
From my own constituency of Argyllshire, which has a very considerable crofting area, as the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) knows, both on the mainland and in the islands, I have not received a single complaint from any crofter that he is afraid of what will happen as a result of the Bill. I have, curiously enough, received some resolutions, and even this afternoon I have had a telegram from a crofting association in a neighbouring constituency. I beg its members to read the OFFICIAL REPORT after this debate is over, when they will see, on reflection, that all their fears are groundless and that, in the end, they will be far better off than they are now.
I was hoping that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State might be able to announce today the names of the personnel of the Commission, or, at any rate, to announce the name of the chairman. I beg my right hon. Friend and the Government, before they actually make their decision, to take the greatest care, as the hon. Member for the Western Isles said, in the selection of that personnel. If it is selected from the right people, I am certain that there will be nothing but success for the Bill. If it were to be a question—I cannot believe that it is—of "Jobs for the boys," we might just as well pack up the Bill now, for we would have no success whatever. This is the crux of the whole Bill. Coming from the west, I would hope that at least one member, but preferably more, will be Gaelic-speaking.
One of the grounds on which one has heard a considerable amount of disquiet about the Bill is in connection with the old people on the crofts. Paragraph 12 of the Taylor Report states:
We have thought it right, however, to record our unanimous conviction, founded on
personal knowledge and on the evidence we have received, that in the national interest the maintenance of these communities is desirable, because they embody a free and independent way of life which in a civilisation predominantly urban and industrial in character is worth preserving for its own intrinsic quality. We put this first because we believe that the crofters feel it to be true and are indeed often capable of expressing it, and because we are convinced that those who fail to recognise it will never begin to understand the Highland situation or make helpful proposals for its improvement.
I think that that is one of the most important passages in the Report, and I hope very much that the people to be appointed to the Commission will be indeed people who not merely have begun to understand conditions in the Highlands but who understand them thoroughly.
As regards the old people, I want to quote from paragraph 87:
Certain townships are at present comprised almost entirely of elderly men and women. It is not proposed that these people should be dispossessed of their homes, but it is obvious that a community so composed has no prospect of survival. If it is not to perish, conditions will have to be created in which it is possible for young men and women to settle there with a reasonable chance to maintain themselves and bring up a family under tolerable conditions.
That is another of the most important views taken by the Commission of Enquiry.
It is the situation of the old people that has, I believe, caused a certain amount of doubt in certain of the crofting areas. I think that if those concerned had read the Report thoroughly they would not have believed it possible that the purpose of the legislation would be to have a bad effect upon the old people's conditions.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, because I think it cannot be made too plain, through the Press and every other means, that such is the case, that there will be no compulsion, and that there is no intention of disturbing the elderly people, if it is found that it is to their benefit to remain there and other arrangements can be made to cultivate the crofts which they themselves are unable any longer to cultivate.
I again support what the hon. Member for the Western Isles said on the question of the duties of the Commission. I am sure that it is the intention of my right hon. Friend and his advisers that the Commission should keep in the closest touch with the Department of Agriculture, the Forestry Commission, with whomever is to be responsible for the roads and with everyone else who may or could be concerned with providing work in the crofting communities which will enable the crofters to cultivate their crops and so make a partial living out of them.
I say a "partial" living because it is only a partial living that can be made out of practically any croft. I am sure the intention to keep in touch with private interests that can help with the provision of work, as they have helped in bringing about opportunities of employment in Western Sutherlandshire. There can be a big expansion of forestry side by side with crofting, and forestry can bring a real means of livelihood to those very important communities which are so very large a part of the backbone of the Highlands and Islands today. For instance, it is upon the seafaring crofters in particular that we call in times of national emergency to man our defensive craft at sea.
Doubtless there are many matters of detail which will be brought up in Committee by hon. Members on both sides to help my right hon. Friend to improve the working of the Bill in practice, and at this stage I will content myself with saying again what I have already said, that I approve and welcome the Bill most heartily. I feel confident the House will give it a Second Reading without a Division.
I should like to start by expressing my thanks to the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) for his excellent work as Chairman of the Highland Panel. I hope that we shall continue to have not only his good advice but his cheerful presence as a member at least of the Panel for a long time to come.
No Measure specifically dealing with crofting has been introduced since the days of a Liberal Government, and naturally I welcome this sign that once again we are paying some attention to the needs of the crofting communities. I have a special word of welcome for Clause 31, which is important for Orkney and makes money available for good objects one had grown almost tired of bringing to the attention of the Secretary of State and the Joint Under-Secretaries. I am a little disappointed, however, on this occasion, as on others, to see that not very much money is being made available.
The Secretary of State rightly asked that this should not be made a matter of acute party controversy, and no one would want it to be, but I feel, as do other hon. Members, I think, on this side of the House, that it would be wrong for us to give the Government the impression that this Measure by itself will do very much to repopulate the Highlands or to put real heart into the crofting areas. There were two points that I noticed in particular in the Secretary of State's speech. He said that this was a first step. If that is true, that is encouraging. If this Bill is to be followed by other Bills dealing with transport, land development, and so on, then indeed we shall put the necessary confidence and heart into the people of the North. However, he said also that this rehabilitation of the North would be very long and difficult. I put it to the Government that this is a matter of urgency.
People are leaving the more remote parts of the North, the more remote islands in my constituency, month by month, and we have no time to lose. We shall be wasting our money and wasting our effort if we do not reverse that trend very soon. The hon. Member for the Western Isles said that in many districts the population was already below the survival level. I can confirm that, and I can confirm also his observation that in many others it was getting precious near the danger line.
This Bill is based on the Taylor Report. That is a good Report. It is a good Report because it went outside the legal aspects of crofting and dealt with the wider needs of Highland development. Unfortunately, the Bill by itself does not follow it in that. It does not go into these needs. As I say, no one will complain of that if the Government are going to introduce other Measures, but unless they do so I am afraid that the Bill will not lead to a great revival in the North.
What is wanted, what the Bill ought to provide for, is surely fairly well recognised, and is certainly conveniently and
lucidly set out in Principal Taylor's very good prose in his Report. I do not want to weary the House with repetitions and quotations, but I think it is fair to put three major points once again before the Government. First, let us take freight charges and transport. What do Principal Taylor and his Committee say about that? They say:
Diverse as the conditions are throughout the crofting area, there was one complaint which was universal. It related to the high cost of carriage both by land and by sea, and to the strain which it imposes on the precarious economy of these remote communities. … We strongly recommend that the consideration of this question together with the cognate question of transport services should be treated as a matter of extreme urgency affecting the very existence not only of the crofting townships but of the whole community of the Highlands and Islands. …
How true that is. How well known to those who live in or who visit the area, but so far nothing has been done to reduce freights, and there is no sign that anything is going to be done about them.
As to roads, the Taylor Report states that "the improvement of a road may make a difference between the survival and extinction of a crofting community." That too is true. It is no good legislating on the legal aspects of crofting without bearing in mind the words of the Commission that in its considered opinion practical matters like that will kill or cure a crofting community.
The Report also points out that one of the major handicaps under which the crofter lives is lack of capital. There are provisions in the Bill for grants and loans, but they are extremely inadequate and much too restricted. In marketing, too, the remote areas are at a disadvantage. Small farmers and crofters are widely scattered and ill-informed as a whole about the market and they are weak in bargaining. The Commission recommended that any new arrangements for marketing should be adapted to the special needs of the crofting areas.
Experience the world over has shown the need for co-operative buying and selling among small farmers. On the whole, that is the way in which successful communities of small farmers have best marketed their produce, and in the Highlands themselves we have examples of successful co-operation. Today the Shetland knitting industry, which is largely a crofting industry, needs help in the promotion of marketing schemes, but I cannot see that the Bill will be any help in that direction.
These three points and many others can be summed up by saying that we must think afresh about the Far North. We must stop looking at it through urban eyes. We must look at the real needs and adjust our methods to suit those needs of the North of Scotland. We want an executive body to meet these needs and I do not think the Bill gives us that. I am afraid that the Commission which it is proposed to set up will have neither sufficient power nor sufficient money. It is quite true that development is mentioned in the first or second Clause of the Bill, but I was very glad to hear what the hon. Member for the Western Isles had to say about Clause 2.
The opening words of the sentences in that Clause ring like a death-knell. They are that the Commission is
to keep under review … to make recommendations … to collaborate … to advise the Secretary of State. …
That is the essence of the language of bureaucracy and procrastination. It is the language which has been strangling the Highlands for the last 50 or 60 years. No one says, "Get on with the job. Do something." We have been overloaded in the Highlands with reports, advice and recommendations. What we want now is some work done.
I beg the Secretary of State to look at paragraphs 262 and 263 of the Taylor Report, which say something which I have said very often myself and believe to be profoundly true. Each crofting district has its own problem, and that being the situation the Taylor Report concludes by saying,
… no single measure of reform can be regarded as a panacea.
I was glad to find the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) agreeing with that view.
The Report adds:
The remedy in our opinion is to be sought in the creation of an ad hoc administrative organ with wide discretionary powers, flexible enough to do what is requisite in the circumstances of each case.
Is it too late for the Secretary of State to examine once again the powers which it is proposed to give to the Commission and see whether they measure up to the standards set up by the Taylor Report
and many other Reports on the Highlands? I am sure that he will find that they are insufficient and that the financial backing in insufficient too.
Another prerequisite to even a limited success for the Bill has also been mentioned this afternoon. It is that the people who are appointed to the Commission should be really sympathetic to crofting and wholeheartedly believe that a success can be made of the Highlands and Islands. We do not want a charity commission composed of members who believe it is their duty to keep the area going somehow. We want members who really believe that by investment and encouragement the North of Scotland can be made to play its part in Britain today.
There has been a tendency to appoint to commissions on various industries people whose impartiality is guaranteed by their complete ignorance of the industry which is under review. That will not do here. We must have people who know about crofting, who know the districts and who can make their voices ring down the corridors of St. Andrew's House and even into the recesses of the Treasury.
The Secretary of State should be advised that there is considerable suspicion about the Bill. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll that a great deal of that suspicion is mistaken, but it exists. There are people who are afraid that their cherished security of tenure will be whittled away. It has been suggested that the new Commission will be the old landlord writ large. Some of these suspicions are understandable and it will depend upon the personnel of the Commission whether they can dispel that suspicion from the minds of the crofters or whether it will build up into antagonism against the whole Bill. On the legal side, the Commission will have considerable powers over individuals. It must exercise those powers with the good will of the crofting community, carrying the community with it and making sure that it does justice to the individual concerned.
I shall leave points of detail to the Committee stage, but there are one or two major points which I should like to make or reiterate now. I believe that under Clause 2 the Commission should have power to promote such things as land settlement schemes, marketing schemes and local industries. In Shetland today, if we could secure some capital and encouragement, we could expand our hand-woven tweed and machine-knitting industries a good deal. It is in connection with that kind of thing that the Commission could be useful.
I recognise that the Clauses in the Bill dealing with vacant crofts and powers given to the Commission to dispossess absentee crofters are attempts to deal with real problems. I do not know whether the "two-mile limit" is not cutting matters rather fine, but if the powers are exercised with understanding and discretion I believe that they will do good. I warn the Government, however, that if the Commission is not careful it call build considerable opposition to these powers. One serious omission from these sections is the lack of any power to give compensation for disturbance. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that the power to dispossess is intended to apply to a man who keeps a croft for no purpose other than his own pleasure, but it seems to me that this provision might apply to a man who has four or five crofts. In the interest of a particular district the Commission might come to a decision that he should be deprived of one. I cannot see why in that case he should not have compensation for disturbance. Unless that power to give compensation is given to the Commission I believe that the Commission will be reluctant to make full use of the Clause.
I was glad to note the provision for the letting of vacant crofts and I am glad that the Government are paying attention to the needs of old people, but the proposed legislation in this respect is open to serious objections. It will divorce the house from the land. On some crofts this will mean the existence of two houses. When the old people have died it may be extremely difficult to re-let one of those houses. This provision will also encourage old people to go on living in isolated houses where it is difficult to look after them. It would be better to encourage local authorities to provide for these old people houses grouped together close to shops and roads. Personally I believe it is important to draw in the scattered crofts as much as we can. It is not possible to do it too much, but we can found loosely-knit villages to which it is cheaper to give modern services and where it is easier for the inhabitants to have a certain amount of companionship.
Under Clause 21, every crofter has to practice good husbandry. That is a delightfully vague phrase at the best of times but, when applied to a croft, it is peculiarly difficult to define. If the Government really want good husbandry, and want their schedule carried out, they must improve technical education for one thing. Also they must give the crofters some capital, an efficient marketing system and, above all things, they must enlarge the crofts. I do not believe it is possible to have good husbandry on four or five sodden, undrained acres of land with the right to run a few sheep on the hill.
Lastly, I come to the important but inadequate Clause 22 under which the Secretary of State may give grants and loans. I hope incidentally the Scottish Office will bring their useful pamphlet "Help to the Highlands" up to date because otherwise the present position will be confusing. The position of the new Commission, the Land Court, the agricultural executive committee and the local authority will also be confusing, and therefore some further explanation of the position of the Land Court would be welcome. It is much respected in many parts of the Highlands. It seems to have lost a lot of authority under this Bill, perhaps too much.
A net increase of £100,000 a year to make good the neglect of 50 years in the Highlands is totally inadequate.
If I may interrupt, these figures are mere estimates. It is impossible to tell what the actual expenditure will be and what the crofting communities will be capable of absorbing in the first few stages, so these should not be taken as absolute figures. We had to put something in the Bill.
I take that intervention to be encouragement, but I hope the Scottish Office will get a new estimator, because in the Shetlands we can absorb £100,000 pretty quickly by ourselves. Any time the Government like to give us £100,000 for the roads in places like Yell, we can use it up at remarkable speed. The amount of money which the Government propose to put into the film industry, into light entertainment, runs into millions of pounds, whereas, for the great undeveloped areas of Scotland, they are prepared to give only about £150,000.
Yes, but it is the only estimate we have to go on and it is an indication of the way the Government are thinking. I am also bound to say in all honesty that it is an indication to me—an opinion which is shared by people all over the Highlands—that St. Andrew's House has not grasped the size or urgency of the problem of rehabilitating the North of Scotland. I know that there are other grants as well and we do not look gift horses in the mouth, but we should be neglecting our duty if we did not make this protest. This money should be a capital investment, not an annual dole.
Secondly, why should not these grants be given for industry and for marketing as well as for agriculture? Every body knows that most crofters must do something besides farming because they cannot live solely on the crofts. Why should not grants be made available for light industry? Why should agriculture only be given grants and not light or cottage industries?
Thirdly on this point, would the Government consider whether grants might not sometimes be made direct to the Commission? There may be occasions when they have to take the initiative. We all know crofting areas in which what is wanted is some single major work such as the drainage of a burn, the making of a road or the setting up of a place of industry. No one single person can do that, the Commission must do it, but in that case they must be able to get some money from the Secretary of State.
I hope, too, that the Commission will not be afraid to exercise their powers in relation to common grazing because that again is a real problem. There are places where the common grazings are not developed as they should be because the local committee has fallen into the hands of old people who are not interested.
I sum up by saying that I think we should accept this Bill because it could—I do not say it necessarily will—help the north of Scotland. I sincerely hope it will. If it is to be successful, the Commission which is to be set up must be bold on the one hand and sympathetic on the other. I believe that the Secretary of State must look particularly at Clauses 2 and 22 and must bear in mind that in the north of Scotland we desperately want to make use of the help offered to us, but it must be help of which we can make use.
As the hon. Member for the Western Isles said, it is not true that crofters are unwilling to work or to co-operate. On the contrary, they will work and cooperate as well, or perhaps better than most people in this country if they think that by so doing they will make a better life for their families. We do not expect miracles at once, but we want to see a steady determination on the part of the Government to tackle this job, to tackle it quickly and to make the north a better place to live in. If that is done, the Government will find that there is plenty of co-operation and, in addition, they will find that there are reserves of skill and independence which are very much wanted in Britain today.
I think the whole House will agree that the speeches to which we have listened so far have been of a remarkably high standard and have shown remarkable knowledge of the problems envisaged in the Taylor Report. Some have expected more from the Bill than others, and the House will need to draw its own conclusions. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) has, in an excellent speech, highlighted the main points of the Report which, in my opinion, have not been carried into the Bill as they ought to have been.
In Recommendation 37, the Commission deals with one of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman as follows:
Consideration should be given to the question of freight charges and the cognate question of transport services as matters of extreme urgency affecting the very existence of the crofting townships and of the whole community of the Highlands and Islands.
That is enlarged on in paragraph 225 of the Report.
I do not know how the Liberal Party voted in connection with the denationalisation of long-distance road haulage, but I hope sincerely that they were with us in trying to retain for the Transport Commission the £9 million profit made by the long-distance road haulage in its last year under complete public ownership. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Government in framing this Bill, and certainly the Secretary of State in introducing it to the House today, ought to have had cognizance of the definite point of conflict between the Highlands reaching a state of doing well and continuing in the doldrums and getting steadily worse because of this impact of freight charges. We have heard nothing about it, however, and the House ought not to let this debate end before getting a reply from the Government spokesman of the paragraph in the Report which I have quoted.
I concur with the remarks of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland on the question of good husbandry. It will be very difficult to assess what standard should be applied on many Highland crofts. We all know of the conditions into which some of them have got, in some cases unavoidably, and I hope that we shall not have what we have had too often in the past under the agricultural executive committees, namely, charges of bad husbandry levelled against tenant farmers and smallholders because some landlord or owner has too much influence on an agricultural executive committee.
I am becoming seriously disturbed about this matter, and I ask the Under-Secretary of State to give some thought to it. We must not allow this practice to creep into the good husbandry arrangements for the seven crofter counties. It is too bad if an agricultural executive committee or any other Government body charged with responsibility for good husbandry is used by a landlord simply because he wants a tenant put out in order to increase the rent of the farm or holding.
The Secretary of State indicated that the Taylor Commission thinks that these proposals which they outlined ought to be the first step. But I do not think the Secretary of State gave any promise that there would be a follow-on by the Government, and we ought to have a reply from the Under-Secretary on that point. Do the Government envisage this as a first step, and what sort of legislation do they think should follow on? Whether this Bill is a success or not, whether or not it comes up to the expectations of the Government, what is their intention about the future?
I should like to pay my tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) for his good work as Chairman of the Highland Panel, and I should like to add that in the crofting areas that I know he is held in very high esteem. In fact, he is regarded with a measure of affection in those areas. I am sure that hon. Members in all quarters of the House will agree that the House is beholden to him for the good work that he has done over a very long period.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles, I do not want to deal now with detailed points which will need to be raised in Committee. The main point arising from Principal Taylor's Report is the establishment of a Crofters Commission, and my intention is to deal, in the main, with the purpose of this Crofters Commission, what I think it should do, and what sort of powers it should have. We must make quite sure that any powers given to the Commission are really used. I am not referring merely to the powers envisaged in the Bill. I know that many of us are hoping in Committee to amplify these powers and introduce some real home rule to the Highlands; that is my hope, at any rate. Whatever powers we give to the Commission, we must ensure that we have the sort of Commission which will put the powers into use and operate them in a realistic way. It must seize its opportunities for doing realistic work, and it must have vision when doing its work.
Anyone with any knowledge of the Highlands will agree that, quite apart from the Taylor Commission's Report, we have had quite enough tinkering, assessment, and reports about the Highlands, and by now we all know the problems. They have all been highlighted before. We welcome the Taylor Report, but we have had it all before. Most of us know it all. There has been no real improvement. Therefore, this new Crofters Commission has got to have teeth, and it must have the sort of personnel who are prepared to face difficulties, sweep them aside, do the job and make a success of it.
The Minority Report by Mrs. Margaret H. MacPherson says that even in the past
powers have not been used. The Minority Report says on page 90:
Section 17 of the 1911 Act obliges private landlords to report any vacant holding to the Department of Agriculture. It is generally admitted that this has not worked well. The Department of Agriculture was given further powers in 1919 and 1931 to render letting out-with the Acts null and void, and it can at the present moment take over such a holding and treat it as a new holding. These powers have never been used.
The last sentence is in italics. It is no use having powers with which to meet problems if they are not used. It is all the more deplorable that the Department did not use them. I hope the Crofters Commission will not be encouraged to refrain from using the powers which this House, I hope, is going to give them.
Although I am speaking of existing powers, I am also cognisant of other legislation which the Commission will possibly be operating. But are we giving the Commission enough power? Clause 2 (1, b) says that the Commission shall have power
to make recommendations to the Secretary of State with respect to the exercise of the powers relating to land settlement vested in him by virtue of any enactment.
That is much too weak. I know my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles thinks we have had too much talk about the Highland clearances and that we should look to the future, but I am afraid that sometimes we cannot get away from referring to the fact that their effect is still with us. We should always remember—and I hope the Secretary of State has this firmly in his mind—that we are to a great extent still dealing with the economic distortions arising from the Highland clearances. That was the start of it.
These distortions came in various ways. The crofting community moved on to the poor land, the fringe land, the marginal land, or on to the seashore, as well as into crofts which were too small. Many of our problems today emanate from that time, and I think we ought to give the Crofting Commission complete power in the seven crofting counties and possibly over areas adjacent to them to undertake a complete survey of the crofting possibilities of the whole of these counties instead of just dealing with the crofting areas.
But that is not enough. We are only tinkering with it, and the Commission ought to make as a primary first purpose such a comprehensive survey of crofting possibilities, because that would help to make crofting a better proposition. I hope the Secretary of State is going to broaden somewhat the work he has envisaged for the Crofting Commission. I do not want to talk too long on this subject, but in Clauses 19 and 20, which deal with the extension of powers, it is proposed that they should embrace the present crofting townships. I do not think that is enough. In other words, I hope the House will make sure that we give the Commission adequate power to right the wrongs of the Highland clearances.
There is one question I should like to ask. It is possible that we have the information already but have done nothing about it. I am quite sure it has been put in some pigeon-hole at St. Andrew's House without any assessment of the possibilities. The question is—what are the arable land possibilities of the deer forests in these seven crofting counties? I see that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland who is responsible for housing is grinning at this suggestion. Possibly he has shot a hind or stag at the appropriate periods of the year in some of the deer forests, but I have tramped over a fair number of them, and possibly have been on many occasions where I ought not to have been.
If one has eyes to see, much is evident when one is walking over these deer forests. "Forests" is a misnomer. There are no forests there now, and I hope that no lowlander will think we are talking about anything connected with forests. A few scrub trees is about all that can be seen in any of the deer forests. But studying those forests, it is quite evident that fairly large numbers of people in the past lived in areas within the deer forests. Signs of cultivation still exist. If one walks to where one sees such signs, one can discover where the dwelling house or the byre were without excavation.
While we may have this information, I do not think we have ever done anything about it, and the Crofting Commission ought to have a look at it. It ought to be empowered to do what it thinks right when it discovers arable land within the deer forests or within other ownership within the crofting counties. This would help to put crofting on its feet and help to provide a greater degree of summer grazing for the present crofting communities.
My second question—and I think this is important—is, what are the grazing possibilities for livestock in these deer forests? I know that certain owners have been trying out during the summer months the grazing of cattle in these places, but I do not know what the results have been. Remember I am not talking about the ranches now but about more isolated efforts by individual owners of deer forests. We should not forget that prior to the clearances a feature of Highland life was the summer grazings. The crofter removed from the crofting town-ship on the lower slopes to the shieling on the upper slopes. The family were moved there, too, and the livestock were taken to graze during the summer months.
Such a scheme would have many advantages if we could bring it into being. It would not deter the operation of afforestation which is going on at the same time in the same area. Afforestation, as we know, is only carried out to a certain height, and there is nothing to hinder proper paths for the stock being made through these forests to the higher slopes which can be used for summer grazing. That would mean that the mulch cows and other stock could be taken to the upper slopes and the grazing on the lower slope could be left for winter feeding.
Further, on the upper slopes the cattle would not need complete attention all the time. It need not mean either the removal of the entire family from the croft to the summer shieling as was done in the old days, though it was then considered a bit of an outing, was looked forward to and was economic. I still think there is something in the economic possibility of it, because it provides that feeding on the lower slopes which can be preserved for the stock kept during the winter after many other animals are sold off.
If the Crofting Commission is to look at the questions I have posed in a realistic way, it should not be deterred because grazing of the kind of which I am talking is a fair distance from the crofting township or village. If there exists a good valley a few miles distant, in a deer forest, where already the priority for deer is rapidly departing, and it can be enclosed and brought into use to keep people in the Highlands, that is the policy which we ought to adopt. I am certain that the crofters in the area would gladly use such land for summer grazing and ultimately, perhaps, for arable culture. I am sure that such a policy would be a fillip, even on the summer grazing basis. We should do immense good by reinvigorating faith in the Highlands on this limited question of summer grazing for a start.
As one who has lived there, I am sure that this is not a gamble. I should like to take the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) with me in this matter, because I think he would agree with me. He is dealing with similar problems, probably more closely than I am, in connection with his own work. I do not think a dozen miles would be too far to take cattle in the summer. After all, in some parts people are prepared to take them to the Islands for summer grazing. We talk about land hunger in Africa when we have land hunger in the Highlands because too much good land may not be used by those who ought to be on it. I pin-point the question of a start on summer grazings in the manner which I have indicated.
I do not think the Commission has enough power in the Bill in connection with survey and land settlement but, even if it has, we must link these problems with the provision of ancillary employment. We must link the provision of ancillary employment with crofting activities, particularly in new areas of the kind which I have been discussing. Ancillary employment is essential.
Immediately we talk about ancillary employment in the Highlands we think of afforestation. While afforestation is not everything, it is of immense importance and value in this connection. Of course, wherever we can we must strengthen the other natural employments of the Highlands, such as those mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles—inshore fishing, weaving and knitting. Let us do all we can to strengthen them, but let us also recognise that afforestation offers a big hope for the future.
The Forestry Commission has its own big schemes and so far, I think, little attention has been paid to working along the lines which we have been discussing today—as a reviving force for crofting communities and as a restoration of Highland and crofting life. We have known the importance of afforestation but have thought of it merely in connection with a certain afforestation scheme employing x number of workers for that purpose.
There must be a unity of purpose between the Crofters Commission and the Forestry Commission in the provision of ancillary employment. That same unity must exist with the Hydro-Electric Boards and any other employment agencies in the Highlands which can be included. We must give the Crofters Commission power in this matter and let the Forestry Commission know that it must work with the Crofters Commission to provide ancillary employment wherever possible.
We can think of many other things which will flow from that, such as the creation of new roads and the repair of old roads. If we are breaking into new ground, as I have suggested—ground in the middle of deer forests which is going derelict—we shall need new roads. It may be that afforestation is scheduled for the area in 10 years' time. Can we bring it forward and run a road today into the area, making problems much easier? That is unified working as I see it. We must also build jetties and piers wherever necessary as the extraction of timber continues in some of the inaccessible areas of the Highlands.
I am thinking of such areas as those now being taken over at Loch Sunart. There are no rail facilities nearer than Fort William. These are quite impracticable for the extraction of timber, which will go out by Loch Sunart to Glasgow. That is the only way in which it can be done. We cannot always bring in a boat, anchor her outside, or get on to a sandy part and ground her, and permit loading between tides. Ultimately we shall need jetties and piers. Can we do anything in that connection which will help the building of the crofting communities?
Another point which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles, and which is of great importance is the planting of the necessary shelter belts, especially in the new areas which I have envisaged. These areas may not come into operation but I hope they do. On this question we have a unity of purpose which we do not often see in the House and possibly not often among Scottish Members. There is a unity of purpose between both sides of the House, and that is all to the good. It means that we can get something done and can march ahead if we have the will to march ahead. Have we the will?
The Crofters Commission will need far more power than is envisaged in the Bill. One of the powers it will need is that of requesting the Forestry Commission to plant the shelter belts to meet the requirements of the Crofters Commission. That job would not be forestry work in the ordinary sense as the Forestry Commission sees it. Sometimes it would involve planting different timber. The shelter belt would be entirely different, sometimes, from afforestation work and possibly on a purely afforestation basis the Forestry Commission would not be very keen about the work. We have to make the Commissioners keen about it and to make them work with the Crofters Commission. Shelter belts must be provided, especially if we are breaking in new land.
Another power which the Crofters Commission would need in connection with new areas or new crofts is the complete power to restore land and bring it back into cultivation. We know that when good land has been enclosed in a deer forest, to some extent it has deteriorated. There may be very good land in it and if it were tilled, it would produce good crops. But there has been an encroachment by bracken or rushes, or both, arid the grass areas are getting smaller. One can still see verdant green patches in certain valleys and one may get a slimpse of them in a sheltered bay running down to the sea. I know of one in Inverness-shire.
However, the Commission need to have the money and the power to restore the land and enclose it before asking a crofter to take it over and get an economic return from it. The Commission must have the power to bring such land into cultivation. We all know about derelict crofts and why they exist. This power will allow land to be cleaned and cleared.
I am sorry that I have been so long, but all that I have been saying, and the reason this Commission is being set up will be completely nullified and the whole object will be killed unless some attention is paid to this point. All this activity will be of no use unless we realistically deal with marketing arrangements. I want the Under-Secretary to do something about this.
Whether it is for eggs, cattle, or sheep, or any other produce, the Commission should be responsible for marketing arrangements, whether it does it by direct guarantees, or whether we make it responsible for the holding of actual markets will need to be decided. A crofter should have a guaranteed price and know that it will be worth his while to produce his crops and rear his animals.
Today we are reaching the position where not only the crofting counties are feeling a blast but it is being felt through the whole of agriculture where it is not a question of guaranteed prices, but of minimum prices, because the fixed prices were swept away. The Under-Secretary knows what I am getting at, because farmers have been telling him far more than I can about this question. They have been hitting him very hard in recent weeks as they have hit certain of his colleagues. I was at a meeting the other week with one of his colleagues who had a very difficult time with a Tory chairman of a farmers' union in my own county.
However, the things about which the farmers complain have even added force in the Highlands, because the Highlands are further from the markets. There is a need to take up the leeway between the price which the smallholder or farmer in the more accessible southern lands gets and the price the Highland farmer gets for the same produce. Of course, freight charges also come into this.
In the past the crofter has been completely at the mercy of the dealer. I do not know whether there are others who, like me, have attended a sale day in a remote part of the Highlands where hundreds of cattle—mostly stirks—are brought in and there are only half a dozen dealers, or less, present. It is a nice little ring and there are these farmers depending on the sale of those stirks for their livelihood and that of their wives and children in the winter.
They get prices that are utterly ridiculous, because the dealers know full well that the crofters do not have the winter feed to take the cattle home, if they do not get the price that the crofters think that they should have. We must not return to that, but there are indications today that we are returning to it.
Things that we rapidly built in in the 1947 Agriculture Act are rapidly departing under this Government.
I have covered a good deal of ground, but it has been tied to the main point of the real powers that we give to the Commission. There are other points of detail which arise from the Taylor Report. I hope that we shall realistically deal with them when we come to the Committee stage and make a determined effort on both sides of the House to put reality and real life into this last chance for the Highlands.
When we were dealing with this in the Scottish Grand Committee, I said that this was the last chance we would have to deal with the Highlands under the present type of land ownership. If we fail, nothing can stop public ownership. It is a misnomer, when talking about public ownership in the crofting counties, to refer to land nationalisation. It would be the same as the Forestry Commission is doing with the public ownership of the land when it takes over, and there is not a single Member opposite against that. If we can get away from the fear of the word "nationalisation" and recognise that it is not land nationalisation, but only an extension of public ownership, we will have a chance.
If you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, want me to quote the various paragraphs in the Taylor Report dealing with this in relation to the Bill, then we can keep going for a very long time. I have kept off it, but I assure you that it is dealt with very adequately. However I do not want to get at cross-purposes with you.
We are getting a last chance to go into that field. It is up to the common sense of this House to give real powers to this Commission and to prove that this last chance will be seized for the Highlands and the crofters. If this last chance is seized, we shall have the satisfaction of knowing that we have put the Highlands on the road to real prosperity.
The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) has appealed to hon. Members on this side of the House to co-operate with hon. Members on his side in making this a better Bill. On behalf of my colleagues, I can give an assurance that we will. The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) made a similar point when he said that Highland Members of different political parties frequently cooperated.
That is quite true. We have every reason to co-operate. The neglect of the Highlands for more than 50 years has given us very heavy responsibilities and a very distinguished Highland Member who recently left us used to say that it was very difficult for a Highland Member to be a good party Member, too. That is also true. It is far better to be a good Highland Member than anything else. There is a tremendous amount of work to tackle in this the neglected half of Scotland, for that is what we are talking about—one-half of Scotland which constitutes one of the most underdeveloped areas in the British Empire.
I welcome the Bill because it is an attempt to do something for the Highland area and I think that it is something of value, but I must say that I dislike intensely the growth of bureaucracy which the Bill will help to bring about. At the end of the war the party opposite, when they were in power, created the Highland Panel. That Panel is an unnecessary body. Many other people—the majority probably—will disagree with me, but I have watched the members of the Panel for years trapesing about the Highlands at very great public expense and allowing wild men to let off steam all over the place. It may be that it was a good political dodge to take the heat off this House and let the wild men in Kinlochbervie and Wick and other places say what they like.
The Highland Panel recommended the formation of another Committee. The Committee which sat under Sir Thomas Taylor did magnificent work. The Report which it presented is absolutely first-class, but we who have the honour to represent the Highlands know all the essentials. We know the basic cause of the depopulation, and so on. The Committee sat for a year or two and then recommended to the Government the setting up of another permanent Commission. I would point out that all the powers in the Bill, or almost all of them, are already available though, as one hon.
Member has already said, they have not been used.
I must make these observations about the growth of bureaucracy because the Conservative Party is committed to cutting taxation. It is not the best way of going about it to create a fifth wheel for the coach. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said that he would like to hear the voice of the Commission ringing down the corridors of St. Andrew's House. So should I. It is high time that something rang there.
Other hon. Members talked about the kind of fellow whom we should appoint to the Committee. Some wanted Gaelic speakers and another hon. Member wanted someone with a crofting background. That would be about the most miserable background, and I do not think that we need Gaelic speakers. We want people with a love of the Highlands in their hearts and in their minds, people with creative energy and character and an ability to pull this area out of the decline in which it is now so that it can take its place with honour along with the rest of the country.
This should be done not only for the sake of those who still live there, but for the sake of Britain. We should use the land for Britain. We hear talk of an overspill of 300,000 from Glasgow and many more thousand from London, Birmingham and other parts of the country. We have available this area, some of it in Argyll at the back door of Glasgow and all of it carrying less than one-twentieth of the people of Scotland though not many years ago it carried one-third of the people.
I am glad to see so many Glasgow Members here today. They render magnificent service—
Dunbarton and Lanark as well. When I read all the talk about creating new towns at high cost, taking agricultural land for the purpose, I think of the number of lovely old towns and villages in which Scotland is rich. There are many in my constituency and in the constituencies of the other Members for the Highlands. Nothing is far away in this little pinafore island of ours. It is only 700 miles from the Pentland Firth to the English Channel. We have huddled in Glasgow, Edinburgh and a few other towns 75 per cent. or more of the population and, as a result, we pay a very high price in ill-health. It is well worth thinking about developing the Highlands when Glasgow Members talk about new towns.
Why not create the consumer market that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire wants? The fellow in Lochinver produces eggs, but by the time they get to Sauchiehall Street they cost a lot of money. The crofter would do better if he had a market nearer home. It would be a remarkable transformation, a blood transfusion, if we could get people from the Lowlands, from Warwickshire, or from London, to fill the empty spaces. They would need to bring with them the arts and crafts of earning a living; but would not that provide a solution?
What has been the basic problem in the Highlands since the well-intentioned efforts of the last century? The problem has been brought about by putting far too many men on far too little land. The crofters must be about the most gallant and courageous people. A man with a wife and children has as few as five acres. There are many crofts of that size in my constituency. What kind of a dawn breaks for such a man in winter-time? There is a tremendous strain on human relationships when a man and wife with children have to live in a but and ben. There is no industrial discipline. The man does not have to go out at a fixed time and he may have to hang about the house because it is too wet or cold or because there is nothing to do. That is not his fault.
The well-intentioned forebears of ours in this House put these men on the land and left them without any opportunity to earn a living in an ancillary industry, any chance to earn wages to meet essential outgoings. No Bill will ever succeed unless, marching alongside with agricultural development, we get industrial development. We have a record of 2,500 families from Highland farms that have uprooted themselves and gone away because they were unwilling to see all the children but one leave home. Parents do not bring children into the world to lose them. They want to live a happy family life. There are far more Highlanders in Canada today than there are in the Highlands, and there are far more in Glasgow.
This situation should be remedied. The opportunity is here now with the clamour of these great cities whose representatives talk about overspill. The experts want to put the overspill a little way outside Glasgow. I wonder how long the people would be isolated from Glasgow. How long would it be before a request came to the House of Lords or the House of Commons for permission to make Glasgow bigger? I spent an enjoyable and nostalgic holiday in Glasgow—an odd place for a holiday. I went to see many of the fields where I played football as a boy. Today, those spaces are built up. I hardly knew the place. That process will continue unless this House stops it, and the opportunity to make a beginning is here, through this Bill.
We have been talking about what the Commission ought to do. The first thing it ought to do is to encourage the use of the plough. We do not use the plough nearly enough in the Highlands. We have been taking the best out of the grass for generations and we have too few cattle. I am not a farming man, but no one can challenge that. Furthermore, our cattle are not nearly as good as they might be. Our farmers are grand people, there are no better at providing pedigree stock of a high quality. But in many cases the crofters are handicapped because they cannot afford to use good bulls.
It occurs to me that artificial insemination might help. Perhaps the Joint Under-Secretary of State can tell us whether there are any artificial insemination centres in my area. Perhaps he can also say whether the services of good bulls could be obtained to raise the quality of the stock, because it is mainly on cattle and sheep that our agricultural economy must be founded and continued.
I wonder whether the terms of Clause 22 envisage the provision of money for the purchase of stock, or are these schemes to be confined to the improvement of land and buildings? If that is the case, there is not much of value in that Clause to the crofting community. We must make it possible to add to the crofter's cattle, because he has not much capital to do that job for himself. I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us something about the provision of pedigree bulls and other stock.
Perhaps I can tell my hon. Friend now that while there are no artificial insemination centres in the crofting areas, the crofters themselves have received particular help with regard to bulls and rams. They get such service at especially low rates and it is a great help to them.
I should like to verify the other question put by my hon. Friend, which had to do with the production of capital, but I think that in the Bill it is covered in the loans for working capital.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I feel considerably reassured on that point, but I would remind him that in the Highlands we are essentially a cattle country. The evictions which have been referred to were partly to rout out man and his cattle to make way for sheep. But cattle should be restored, because they are a valuable economic commodity and would improve the ground.
There is also the question of pigs, although, at the moment, pigs are not a very good marketing line. I feel, however, that there is hardly a croft which I have visited that would not be an ideal place for pig rearing. There is nothing better than pigs for getting rid of bracken, and heaven knows, we have plenty of bracken to get rid of. In spite of the present poor price for pigs, I think that it would be very desirable that the Commission should do all it can to encourage crofters to breed many more pigs.
A bacon factory in that area would prove to be a great bulwark. Of all the thousands of bacon factories in Great Britain, there is not one in the counties of Caithness or Sutherland. That area comprises a huge peninsula with the sea on three sides. What a bulwark and a help it would be if we had a bacon factory there. It would mean that we were utilising the animals we raised and not finishing with them as the Creator left them. We could work on them and produce employment and wages in the area and keep our children at home. 11 is lack of work and wages which has brought about the depopulation of the Highland area.
At a brickworks in Brora a month or so ago a young Highlander, who is the managing director, and the fifth generation of his family there, said that very few men and women in the Highlands would leave if there were jobs available for them. I must confess an interest in the brickworks and in a mine in that area, but the mine and the brickworks have made no profits so that I cannot be accused of making any money out of them. We have crofters who are miners and when the Commission takes over it will be faced with this tremendous problem of the small crofts. Nothing it can do will speedily cause these crofts to become bigger.
I suggest that, first, the Commission should face up to the reality that crofts do not provide a part-time livelihood. They are a good spare-time livelihood. If the men who work these crofts could get another job—and, thanks to the efforts of the present Government and the preceding Government, there is plenty of work—it would be a good thing. The presence of the Hydro-Electric Board in the north-east has provided a tremendous amount of employment. No one need be unemployed in my constituency. There is plenty of work available. This seems to me to be ideal employment for crofters.
Why should not a crofter in one of these "pinafore" crofts leave in the morning for a job in the same way as an industrial worker? If the crofts are too far away from the job, why should not the crofter lodge where there is good work and wages and go back home at week-ends? That would be better than leaving the area altogether and taking his family with him. That seems to me to be the crux of this matter. If our Glasgow friends take the advice about overspill which I have given, and bring up some of their new industries to that area, work and wages would be provided for our people, and the country would begin to develop in a natural fashion.
There is nothing unnatural about making our own clothes in the Highlands—in Wick and Helmsdale and Lerwick. There is nothing unnatural about making our own bread, instead of obtaining it sliced from Glasgow; or in making our own ice cream instead of bringing it from London. There are a great many things which we could do. I am not suggesting that we should bring in Beardmores, but there is a great deal of light industry which would find a market in that area as well as outside. If that fact is faced, we shall win through in the Highlands.
No country and no large area of any country has ever held its population on a purely agricultural and fishing economy. We have the example of the "butter and egg" countries. When I was a boy the Liberals used to speak about us being the workshop of the world and about us selling manufactured goods to the new countries overseas. We threw our farmers and crofters to the dogs, while we built up a great industrial community. But the "butter and egg" countries did not remain exclusively agricultural.
I remember Mr. Menzies, the Prime Minister of Australia, telling us at a meeting upstairs that, during the First World War, everything worn by Australian soldiers who walked down the gangplanks in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane on the way to France, Belgium and Gallipoli, and everything with which they fought, was made in Britain; even down to the buttons on their uniforms. But between 1918 and 1939 Australia turned to making all kinds of warlike goods, including Bren guns and trainer aeroplanes. There a great transition took place in a country which originally depended upon wheat, cattle and sheep.
We must remember that every boy does not want to be a farmer and every girl does not desire to work on a farm. But in the Highlands they will never find any other employment, unless the Glaswegians and the people from Birmingham and London come to our help—and to the assistance of themselves as well. Do not let us make those cities any bigger. They are far too big already, but in the Highlands we have a great opportunity.
I would like to answer the hon. Member for the Western Isles, who spoke so well and with such knowledge of his subject. He referred to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State and mentioned the statement he made about laying in stocks of food. What my hon. Friend said was wholly correct. It was not a question of laying in tea at 8s. a lb., or butter at 4s. a lb. It was a question of laying in some essential foods; tinned stuffs and potatoes—and salt herrings, for they can still be bought in the North. I will not allow anyone to throw stones at my hon. Friend, but most of the people concerned in the recent food lifts in my area are my constituents and I am bound to say that in my opinion, and with the knowledge we have of the weather we experience in that area, it was foolish not to have in store a sufficient supply of food to see that they "got by."
I should like to let Members opposite know the facts. When H.M.S. "Glory" was stationed in North-West Sutherland, the area about which I was most apprehensive, it was found that practically no requests for succour were coming in. The people in the North-West had done what has always been traditionally done; they had carried a store of food. In these days it is not only the rich who can store food; all the necessities of life can be stored by the poor people; and the Assistance Board was there ready to help any of the older people.
I wish this Bill well. I believe that it provides a great opportunity, though I agree that we ought to take every opportunity to make it a better one. I congratulate the Government upon the spirit which they have shown in bringing in the Bill. I have covered the ground of my objections to setting up another nationalised board. I intensely dislike such bodies. I hope that when the Bill has passed through all its stages it will have been improved.
I believe that mine is the first voice from the Lowlands to be heard in this debate. Although my constituency may be in the Lowlands, there are many parts which, in effect, can be claimed to be Highland area. I am very happy to follow the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), because I want to say one or two things about his speech. He started by talking about the growth of bureaucracy and his dislike of nationalised boards—which dislike would, apparently, extend to this Commission—and went on to say that the powers that this Commission would have were already in use. It was rather difficult for me to see where the increase of bureaucracy was taking place when all the powers which the Minister was taking under the Bill were already in operation.
He then stated that what was necessary in the Highlands was to bring in people from the South—such as Glasgow, and even London. It is pertinent for me to ask how this is to be done. It is all very well for the hon. Member to make an appeal in this House, but appeals are no use. When the Labour Government were in power, they were, under the licensing system, able to say to industrialists, "You cannot build in London or in the Midlands, If you are going to build at all we will help you if you go to certain areas in the country." I am sure that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland would say that that represented an increase in bureaucracy, but, unless we are to plan in some such sensible way, the necessary industrial development in the Highlands will not materialise.
The hon. Member is not correct in his interpretation of my remarks. What I want is some of the industries in the South to come up to the Highlands. I want, not the bureaucrats, but those who can carry on the arts and crafts successfully, to come up to the Highlands. I have some right to say that, because I have done something in that direction myself.
I appreciate the hon. Member's last remark, and I have commented upon it before. I regard him as the type of person with the drive and energy to make a success of such a development. I shall pay him another compliment later, if he is still with us.
The fact is, however, that the bureaucrats do not run the industries. The bureaucrats have power only in planning for the development of these industries in certain areas. The noble Lord who was formerly the Member for Inverness managed to get his area designated a Development Area, but as far as I can see very little has been done there. I understand that certain difficulties have arisen with the Capital Issues Committee. That is the kind of point which the Government will have to face. In discussing some of the matters with which we are concerned the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland said that there were certain things that this House must stop. He is always asking this House to do something, but, at the same time, he thinks that it should not put any power into the hands of bureaucrats.
It is a pity that the Bill is limited to crofting counties. I would rather it had dealt with crofting areas. In the northern end of my constituency there is the valley of Glen Douglas, where about 300 families used to live. There are now very few left. At the moment, I am in correspondence with the education committee of the county about the closing of the school. I am also in correspondence with the Hydro-Electric Board about the supply of electricity, and with the Post Office about the supply of telephones. All these things are necessary if these areas are to be developed and the people are to have the requisite facilities and amenities to make life possible and bearable. I may rightly be regarded as a Lowland Member, but I have some knowledge of the problems that have to be faced in the Highlands.
I want to direct the attention of the House to the Commission itself. The first question we must ask is, "Will it have sufficient powers to deal with these problems?" The Taylor Report sets out these problems very clearly. In paragraph 7 of the Introduction it says that all the crofters
share in the evil results which flow from the wasteful exploitation of natural resources by land and sea, from deforestation and soil erosion, from years of neglect and improvident management.
These were the "good old days," and these are the conditions which we want to improve.
In paragraph 8 of the Report comparison is made between the Island of Lewis and the Island of Mull. I went to Lewis as a junior Minister, together with a number of bureaucrats from the office in which I was serving, with the firm intention of assisting the workers with insurance. We spent a few days there, during which we toured the island, and I was appalled at the conditions under which people were living. Many of those whom I met did not want to stay there. Many others, who wanted to stay, could not give me any good reason why they should stay. The crofts consisted of little bits of soil between great stony patches. It appeared to me that the people there were living in modern social welfare conditions, but that their actual living conditions were equivalent to those of a century ago.
The Taylor Report draws attention to soil conditions in Lewis and also in Mull, and states that the Island of Mull contains better land and great areas of under-stocked pasture. If the purpose of this Commission and if the conception of the Government is to improve the opportunities of the crofters, surely here is the classic example where obviously something can be done—in the Island of Mull. I want to ask whether the Commission will have the necessary powers to set about doing the job.
First of all, may I ask the Joint Under-Secretary if it will have the power to acquire the Island of Mull—to acquire the land? If, according to the Report, the Island of Mull has good arable land and is suffering because of a lack of population, and if our desire is that something should be done to help the people there, we shall be lacking in our duty if we fail to give the Commission the power to do the job.. I do not think it will have that power. I have examined the Bill with care and attention, and in the matter of giving powers to acquire land, or making financial provisions to help these people, the Bill falls short of what is necessary. I quite agree that there is something in Clause 2 about land settlement.
I am very happy to learn that, but what we are aiming at, and what I think is the general intention of the Bill and of hon. Members in this House, is a balanced population and a balanced economy. Afforestation is a very important part of such a plan, and I shall say something about it later, but the Forestry Commission has power to acquire land. Surely this Commission, which we are now to set up, should have more power given to it and even more duties placed upon it, because this is a scheme which we want to be imaginative in its conception. Surely the new Commission should have the power to go in alongside the Forestry Commission with a proper plan for the Island of Mull. I have taken the Island of Mull as an example only because it is mentioned specifically in the Taylor Report, and I ask the Joint Under-Secretary whether he can give us the necessary assurances that the Commission will have these powers.
I have examined Clause 20, which deals with the reorganisation of townships, and I cannot see that this Clause gives the Commission the necessary power to do this job. It refers to the reorganisation of towns, which is all very well, but it is not only reorganisation that we want to see. We want some new towns as well, and it seems to me that the power given by Clause 20 falls very far short indeed of the power which will be necessary to do this job, which I think we want the Commission to do.
The Taylor Report also deals with Orkney and Shetland, and we all know what a thriving community Orkney is. It is natural that any person who has been to these islands should ask, "Why is it that Orkney is such a thriving community, and Shetland is in the doldrums?" That is the impression one gets from a visit to the islands. I know something about it, and I understand that land and soil conditions are different in the two islands. I also know that land ownership is also different, and I think that we ought to investigate this problem, and that, if the Commission is to make Shetland as prosperous as Orkney now is, it ought to have the necessary power to do so. If it is the case that the ownership of the land is the chief stumbling block, or one of the difficulties, the Commission ought to have the necessary power to overcome that problem.
It is the approach to these matters which is so important. In the Act which this House passed for the development of hydro-electric power in the Highlands, a specific obligation is laid upon the Hydro-Electric Board in connection with social welfare and the betterment of the people in the Highlands, but, in the Bill now before us, Clause 2 (1, c), which deals with this matter, is almost apologetic, because it says that:
For the purpose of their general functions of reorganising, developing and regulating crofting, the Commission shall, in addition to any powers expressly conferred on them … collaborate so far as their powers and duties permit …
There is a limitation on the Commission, instead of a direct charge and responsi-
bility being laid upon it for, as the Clause goes on:
the carrying out of any measures for the economic development and social improvement of the crofting counties.
Instead of laying a definite obligation on the Commission, this Bill is almost apologetic in that sense.
I wish now to deal with the composition of the Commission, and here let me say that I agree with the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland. It seems to me that if the people who are to be members of this Commission are to be Gaelic-speaking Highlanders, and if that is to be their only qualification, we might just as well finish with this Bill now, because it is not a question whether the person who is to help can speak Gaelic or not, although that may be an advantage.
My contacts with people in the Highlands tell me that it is not so much a question whether the people who will be sent to help them can speak Gaelic or not as whether they are going to help or not. Goodness knows, they are all very good lawyers. One does not need to explain to them the legal phrases of regulations, orders or Acts of Parliament, because, in my experience in dealing with them, I have found them all very well aware of what they ought to have and what they ought to get.
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the subject of Gaelic-speaking Highlanders. From his experience in travelling through Argyllshire and the Islands, he must know that there are some crofters who do not speak one word of English. Surely it would be an advantage to a Commissioner who was making inquiries if he were able to speak to the men and women in their own language.
When I visited Lewis, I found that the local officers of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance and the National Assistance Board were both very able people, well liked by the islanders, whom they were able to assist in many ways without being able to speak Gaelic at all. Why I say that a knowledge of Gaelic would be an advantage is because—and this is where I agree with the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland—they could bring some drive, imagination and ability to their task.
It is all right talking about a new wind blowing through St. Andrew's House, but it is not St. Andrew's House that matters, but Ministers sitting on the Front Bench opposite. I was interested to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), who complained bitterly about St. Andrew's House. I well recollect that when the Labour Party was in power the then Opposition, which is now the Government, did not accuse St. Andrew's House. It blamed the Socialists and the Labour Government. I do not think that any responsibility lies with the officials at St. Andrew's House, because they might want to do more than the Ministers. The fact is that the Ministers decide the policy, and, therefore, the responsibility must lie squarely on their shoulders.
It is essential that those appointed to the Commission should be men of ability and courage, able to speak out and to show that things are being done. If I had to select two gentlemen for the job, I could think of no better combination than the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn). I am sure that if those two men were given the necessary power and finance to do the job, we could forget all about the Highlands for a few years and that something would be done.
I am convinced that the Commission will be quite unable to carry out the work unless it receives the fullest co-operation and assistance of the Forestry Commission and of the Hydro-Electric Board. I suggest that it might be very wise to have as part-time members of the Commission people who are directly associated with the Hydro-Electric Board and with the Forestry Commission. I am quite confident that all these things must march hand in hand.
The reason we on this side of the House have appealed to the Secretary of State not to pass the Financial Resolution tonight, but, instead, to leave it in abeyance for a time, is this. If the Forestry Commission is to help the Crofting Commission, can it best do that by planting shelter belts or by afforestation in certain areas? A duty is laid upon the Forestry Commission, and it is only natural that its members will want to carry out that duty in a business-like way. If we are to ask them to play their part in the recuperation of the Highlands, then the Scottish Office should be in a position to assist the Forestry Commissioners to do the job.
What we should like to see in the Financial Resolution is not more money, but power given to the Secretary of State to make the necessary grants to enable the Crofting Commission to have shelter belts even though they are entirely uneconomic from the point of view of afforestation. I do not think that that is asking too much. At the moment, the Financial Resolution does not permit the Minister to do that. The same powers should be given for electricity.
On the question of the amenities which should be given to these people, I think it only right and proper that we should not lay the obligation for their provision upon the Hydro-Electric Board, because that would have the effect of the other consumers being charged more because the Board was doing something which we in Parliament had demanded of it. I think that the Secretary of State should be given, through the Financial Resolution, power to make a grant to the Hydro-Electric Board if the Crofting Commission wishes to extend the supply of electricity.
Quite frankly, as every hon. Member who has so far taken part in this debate has made perfectly clear, unless all these things go together, the Crofting Commission, by itself, cannot possibly be successful. I could go on to discuss water and other things, but, in my view, the three essential things are the setting up of the Crofting Commission, the arming of it with sufficient power to do the job which we are anxious that it should do, and the widening of the Financial Resolution in such a way as to enable the Secretary of State, where desirable and necessary, to help the Crofting Commission as regards the supply of electricity, water, roads or whatever may be necessary, so that in passing this Bill we can say to the Crofting Commission, "God bless you. We are giving you the necessary power to do the job which we are anxious for you to do."
It is very difficult at this stage in the debate for a Highland Member following other Highland speakers to cover any really new ground, especially when one agrees with practically everything that has been said.
I wish to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) on the good work he did as Chairman of the Highland Panel. I should like also to congratulate him on the speech he made today. I do not think there was anything in it with which I personally disagreed. Like him and the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), I believe that in order to understand the crofting problem we have to remember the background against which the crofting system exists.
Quite a number of people question why special consideration should be given to the crofting communities and crofting counties. Quite a lot of people do not think that they should be treated differently from the other rural areas in the country. However, it is well to remember that the Gaelic-speaking Highlands were divided from the rest of Scotland—from the English-speaking lowlands—for over 1,000 years. Up to comparatively recent times, their customs were markedly different from those of the rest of the country.
For instance, it is worth recalling that the use of the kilt, the dress of the Highlander, was first prohibited and then only subsequently permitted by Act Parliament. For centuries, the main lines of communication in the Highlands were only tracks, and, even today, there are nearly 200 communities in the Highlands without roads of any kind. Again, climatic conditions—and there has been recent experience of that—in the North have always made distinctive differences to the lives of the people there. As in the case of other human beings, the habits of the Highlander have been greatly influenced by his environment.
It is as well to remember the distinctive customs and habits of these people. The Commission pointedly referred to them, and we must not neglect them. We want to retain them and see them revived. Every report has recognised this distinctiveness of the crofting counties. The Taylor Report actually said that crofters were members of their own community. The Taylor Commission, like other inquirers, found that conditions varied greatly between one community and another. The Report speaks of the surprising differences that were found between one district and another.
The clearances have been mentioned. We must remember the great changes that swept over the crofting counties in the eighteenth century which have left their mark. When the clearances took place, families were moved to make room for sheep and deer from good wintering grounds to harsher lands around the coasts, and the men and women concerned had to make a new life for themselves and to clear new ground. These things have all left their mark and given rise to problems with which we still have to deal. There was insecurity of every kind. Was there ever such a strong case of an area which required legislation?
The Crofters Act of 1886 has been mentioned by the Secretary of State. As we know, it gave security and freedom such as the crofters had never known before. The Secretary of State for Scotland mentioned that a Crofters Commission was set up to administer that Act. The Small Landholders (Scotland) Act of 1911 extended the privileges of the 1886 Act to the whole of Scotland, but the consequence was that the Crofters Commission was converted into the Scottish Land Court.
With the creation of the new smallholdings, one unified policy was applied to the whole of Scotland. This was unfortunate, and that is why I would not agree with the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), who suggested that the Commission should go outside the crofting areas. The Crofters Commission was set up in 1886, and when the 1911 Act did away with it a lot of distinctive thought and effort which had been put into the holdings in the Highlands was lost.
When the hon. Gentleman says I suggested going outside the crofting counties, might I put it on record that I said that the expression "crofting counties" was a limitation? There are some parts of the crofting counties which are not crofting areas at all, and it would be better to refer to "crofting areas."
There we disagree. The crofting counties have distinctive characteristics. Although there are great differences between different areas within the crofting counties, the customs and traditions of the whole area have to be taken into account. The Small Landholdings Act recognised that fact, which has been recognised now for some time. The 1911 Act disturbed that position when the Crofters Commission dealing with these matters was amalgamated into the Scottish Land Court. I admit that the hon. Gentleman has a point, but the present Commission will have enough work to do to be able to solve the far more acute problems which exist in the several crofting counties.
Like hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side, I welcome the Bill, which establishes the new Crofters Commission. It will not have the same powers as the one set up in 1886, which was more of a legal body. Some people ask: "Why not add to the Scottish Land Court men of standing with the qualifications that we shall have on the proposed Crofters Commission?" I would refer to the late Mr. McIntyre Findon, who was on the original Crofters Commission and later served for many years on the Scottish Land Court; to the late Jim Cameron of Balnakyle, who served on the Land Court and whose untimely death occurred not so long ago; and to Mr. Colin McDonald—incidentally, all were Ross-shire men. Where could we find better men qualified for the job? I would pay tribute to the sterling work which they did for the crofters of the Highlands.
I do not agree with the view that the Land Court should be the sole body for the job. The Crofters Commission should be an independent administrative body and, as has been stressed already, must consist of men with tact, imagination and drive. Here I disagree again with the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West. There should be Gaelic-speaking men on the Commission because there are still people who are not bilingual and talk only Gaelic. The Commission could have an interpreter, but that is never the same as having a member who knows the language and can talk straightforwardly with the people, discussing problems on the crofters' own ground.
All the legal formulas should be in the hands of the Land Court, which has become a trusted and well-respected body with the full confidence of crofters and landlords, which is an extraordinary thing. I have yet to be convinced that it is right to bring the sheriff into the Bill. It is said that this will speed up matters, but I do not see why that should be so. I should like hon. Gentlemen to explain what the difference would be in regard to delay. In the Bill are three bodies to deal with legal problems: the Commission, the sheriff and the Land Court. Many crofters do not like to go to the sheriff because they sometimes have to go for very unpleasant reasons. Apart from that, the expense involved will be very much greater. We should take this point into consideration and not only the question of delay. It is much better that the Land Court should go into the region to deal with the problem in the same sympathetic way as in the past than that the crofter should have to go perhaps long distances to the sheriff court.
The task of reorganising townships will require very great tact and skill but, with co-operation and good will between the Commission, the landlord and the tenant, a great deal can be done. Many of the points can be dealt with more suitably in Committee, but, although this is not the time to dwell too much on detail, there are one or two matters which should be mentioned. Why does not this Bill give to cottars the same status as crofters? Then there is the problem of the absentee tenant. That will be one of the most difficult problems to be dealt with. The crofter's security of tenure is naturally cherished. The absentee tenant may be in the city but may still be playing his part in the life of the community by keeping his relatives there. Some absentee tenants have made some provision for the working of the croft by, perhaps, a member of the family.
It was recognised in 1886, and it is still the case—the facts have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson)—that crofts are too small and that illegal and disastrous sub-division of them has gone on over the years. Many crofts have been lying vacant for years. During the early autumn I had the pleasure of accompanying the Joint Under-Secretary of State and some of the officials from the Department when they visited Ross-shire. The Joint Under-Secretary will remember the glens and valleys which were lying derelict, with rushes growing in them and, as the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire has pointed out, pockets of heather and grass again encroaching on them. That is all due to the lack of a comprehensive drainage scheme. I hope that the Commission will see that such schemes are undertaken and the land brought back into production and thoroughly limed.
The crofting areas are ripe for change. With the development of hydro-electricity and afforestation schemes, changes are already taking place, and agricultural advisory bodies are providing scientific up-to-date knowledge which, I am afraid, is taken advantage of in only a very limited sphere. The day of the purely sporting estate has finished. We must all agree that those who are prepared to work the land should be given land to work. Land should be made available to enable the crofters to gain an economic living. These people are capable of being educated in all the most up-to-date and scientific methods of farming, if the opportunities, financial and other, are made available to them.
I do not think that it is generally known that, in the Outer Islands, a higher percentage of the population seeks university education than in any other part of Great Britain. I hope that the Commission will see that the closing of rural schools ceases and that pupils up to 15 years will be educated in their own localities, with special emphasis on the subjects which will enable them to work and play their part in developing their own localities. The powers of the Commission have already been mentioned. I, like others—and particularly the hon. Member for the Western Isles—believe that if the problem is really to be solved, those powers must be much greater. Nevertheless, I welcome this as a first step—as the Secretary of State called it.
Clause 2 (1, a) says that the Commission shall, among its other duties,
… keep under review all matters concerning the remunerative working of crofts, including the availability of supplementary occupations for crofters.
As has been said, we must do more than just keep this under review.
Agriculture and fishing must, with afforestation, be the main basic industries of the Highlands, but we must also have these auxiliary occupations for the crofters. Forestry is welcome. Hydroelectric schemes will be completed in 10 or 15 years. There is a lot of work to be done on the roads, and that will keep a certain amount of the population, but unless we can have light industries as well in the Highlands, we shall not keep the people there. Unfortunately, since the war, these industries for which we have hoped, and about which we have talked for a number of years, have not come to the areas.
It is because of this that I welcome this Bill even more strongly if it gives a certain amount of land to those crofters who need it. As the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland said, it is impossible to bring up a family on five acres of unfertile land in the Highlands areas. It is only right that we should see that these crofters get more land so that they can make economic units of their crofts. If we can do that, one of the major problems will have been solved. I know that there is a new drive and that there is hope in the Highlands today. Let us stimulate this feeling which is abroad in the North by giving our blessing to this Bill, which we hope will improve the conditions and standards in our native land.
It is quite evident from the debate we have had that there is considerable discontent on both sides of the House over this Bill. The Bill arises out of the Report of the Taylor Committee, but when we examine it we are bound to come to the conclusion that it does not carry out the recommendations of that Committee. If anything stands out from this Report it is, first, that the matter is of great urgency.
Here I have no particular cause for criticism of the Government, because they have produced a Bill within six months of the Report being issued. But the second thing which stands out from the Report is the fact that when the Crofters Commission is set up it must be given wide and adequate executive powers. Throughout the Report there is emphasis on those powers extending beyond powers merely of a legal character and dealing solely with agriculture. That emphasis extends throughout the Report, but does not find any place in the Bill. I want to reinforce the plea which has been made on this issue.
As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) pointed out, the Report emphasises the need for
the creation of an ad hoc administrative organ with wide discretionary powers flexible
enough to do what is requisite in the circumstances of each case.
Later, it says that
the time has now come again when crofting matters require the undivided attention of a responsible executive authority able to keep in intimate touch with the crofting areas and to devote its whole energies to stimulating their development.
The Report has much the same tale to tell in later pages and in summing up the whole of its conclusions. The Report says that there are obstacles which have to be removed—obstacles to progress which have to be dealt with. It recommends the setting up of a Commission and says:
Its purpose should not be limited to the preservation of the rights of individual crofters; it should also have the duty of carrying out an active policy designed to promote the interests of the crofting townships in respect of production and marketing and the encouragement of auxiliary occupations, especially of forestry.
It also says:
We attach particular importance to the creation of an effective administrative organ to do this work.
What do we find when we examine the Bill? I think that anyone reading the Report realises that what the Committee really wanted was something with much wider powers, as other hon. Members have said, but when we read the Long Title we find that it does not include these things at all. It says that the Bill is to
Make provision for the reorganisation, development and regulation of crofting in the crofting counties of Scotland; to authorise the making of grants and loans for the development of agricultural production on crofts and the making of grants and loans towards the provision of houses and buildings for crofters, cottars and others of like economic status; to re-enact the provisions of the Landholders Acts with respect to cottars.
The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum says that
The main purposes of this Bill are to provide for the establishment of a Crofters Commission, to amend and consolidate the law relating to crofting and to authorise the provision of financial assistance to crofters.
That is all the Bill does.
I think the Government would be misleading the House and certainly would be misleading crofters if they suggested that the Bill will bring prosperity to the crofters; it will do nothing of the kind. We have to be honest and to recognise that. It will do a very important job—no one will deny that—but it will not carry out the functions so clearly visualised by Principal Taylor and his Committee as being so necessary. As has been suggested, the crofter does not only live by his croft—17,000 out of 22,000 crofts are part-time and spare-time crofts, and simply to deal with the croft itself is not sufficient.
Reading through the Bill, one realises how limited it is. Reference has already been made to the very unsatisfactory provisions of Clause 2. Provisions for reorganising townships and acquiring additional land to enable that reorganisation to be carried out and the provisions to enable the Secretary of State to acquire additional land are all permissive. The Crofters Commission does not need to do a thing about it. It is quite obvious from the suggested financial provisions in the Explanatory Memorandum that the Government do not expect it to do very much.
As we have reasonable time, perhaps I might interrupt the hon. Member. The Crofters Commission has, in fact, great powers in regard to reorganisation. It can recommend to the Secretary of State any reorganisation it thinks fit and the Secretary of State has vested in him at present powers to effect land settlement. If the hon. Member reads the Bill more carefully, he will see that the Commission is being given great powers.
I have already read the Bill and I do not think that what the hon. Gentleman has said affects the point I am making. I said that all this is permissive. If the hon. Gentleman reads the Bill he will see that it is permissive and does not place any duty on the Commission to carry out these provisions. From the financial provisions of the Bill it does not look as though the Government expect the Commission to carry out a very great deal. Even the Secretary of State has had to tell us that this was a wild guess and apologised for these figures—
Well, not apologise, but defend these figures.
When we look at the financial provisions we find that £40,000 is the
cost of administration. The Explanatory Memorandum says that
Expenditure … on grants and loans for the purpose of aiding and developing agricultural production … is difficult to estimate … but it may rise to about £200,000 a year.
Then loans may be given to incoming tenants estimated from £5,000 to £10,000 per annum and assistance to owner-occupiers in respect of farm buildings is estimated to cost £25,000 a year.
As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland asked, do the Government really expect to bring prosperity to the crofters with an annual expenditure of £250,000 a year? Already, large sums are spent in the Highlands by the Hydro-Electric Board, the Forestry Commission, the White Fish Authority, the Herring Board, and the rest, but this sum is all that this Commission is expected to spend. Certainly, it does not look as though a great deal is expected to be done under Clauses 20, 21 and 22 if this is the nature of the expenditure envisaged by the Government.
The provisions of Clause 2 ought to be looked at again in the light of the Taylor Committee's Report, for they do not go wide enough. What is required, and what I feel sure the Committee had in mind, is an executive authority with very wide powers. These are the words of the Taylor Committee's Report—"very wide powers." They are needed to fill those gaps which are not receiving attention from existing authorities operating in the Highlands.
There are a great many of these authorities and nobody suggests that we want an executive authority of supermen to override them all, but I do feel that we want an authority with much wider powers than those envisaged in the Bill and I am convinced from its Report that that is what the Taylor Committee wanted, too.
A large number of authorities are operating in the Highlands, spending very large sums of money. We have the Forestry Commission, but it is not planting shelter belts and is not undertaking uneconomic planting, because the Commission's duty is to grow timber and not to provide an amenity or a shelter belt.
Other authorities are operating. We have the local authorities, too. Does not this raise the question whether these authorities have the necessary powers to enable them to do the work which must be done if we are to restore the Highland areas? We have heard a lot about ancillary occupations, and the Taylor Committee devotes 30 paragraphs to the importance of that subject. A large number of organisations are involved. We must accept, I think, that, apart from the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), who has recently interested himself in starting works in the Highlands, private enterprise, generally speaking, is not prepared to go to the Highlands to provide these ancillary employments and occupations.
Who is to do it? If there are to be ancillary occupations and industries in connection with forestry, who is to provide them? Has the Forestry Commission powers to do so? I do not think so. Who has the power? Has the Board of Trade, has anybody any power to do so?
There might be useful mineral deposits in the Highlands. There are some in the Orkney and Shetlands, as well as other deposits in other parts of the Highlands. Who has any power to work them, because if they are to be worked it will be as the talc is being worked at Balta Sound, as a part-time occupation, for a few days in the course of a month? That is what the Taylor Committee visualises. Who is to work the deposits? Nobody knows. Who has power to work them? I should have thought that these were all points which should have been considered. The Taylor Committee draws attention to them and says that something should be done about them. We therefore ought to have a Commission with much wider authority than we have in the Bill.
It has been evident from every speech in the debate, whether from this side of the House or from the other side of the House, that there is great dissatisfaction on both sides with the Commission's powers. In view of that, surely the Government will be prepared to look at the matter again. We should like to look at it again and to put down a number of Amendments in Committee to see whether we can widen the powers of the proposed Commission, extend and strengthen them. But we shall not be allowed to do so if the Money Resolution on the Order Paper is passed tonight, because most of those Amendments will then be ruled out of order.
I appeal to the Joint Under-Secretary of State to delay the consideration of the Money Resolution. The whole burden of the debate has been the inadequacy of the powers. We may have various ideas, in different parts of the House, as to the powers which the Commission should have, but, obviously, we do not think they are sufficient at present. If we pass the Money Resolution tonight we shall have completed our debates about these powers, and I therefore appeal to the Joint Under-Secretary to consider postponing discussion of the Money Resolution. Such a postponement would not delay the discussion of the Bill for long.
The Government should bear in mind what has been said during the debate and, having given consideration and full weight to the volume of anxiety expressed about the powers of the proposed Commission, should look at the Money Resolution again.
This Bill can create either a Commission which will be concerned purely with legal technicalities or a Commission which can do a magnificent job for the Highlands. We on this side of the House want to see the latter, and if the Government are content simply to create an administrative machine concerned only with legal technicalities, important though they are—I do not want to underrate them—they will fail to seize this opportunity, which the Taylor Committee points out most emphatically is possibly the last opportunity which we as a House of Commons will have, of bringing prosperity to the Highland areas.
I do not share the pessimism of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis). Like him and others who have spoken, I feel that the scope of the Crofters Commission might have been enlarged and widened, but I am very happy about the Bill because it marks a distinct step forward in the recognition of the importance of Highland crofting. As far as it goes, I am quite satisfied with the Bill. I think it is a good Bill which is the door of opportunity for something which the Highlands have never enjoyed before. Moreover, I am all for starting in a modest way and for increasing our responsibilities and our opportunities if circumstances demand it.
Here is a very wide field and it is not desirable to attempt to cultivate the whole of the wide field at once. The Bill deals with a limited but important sphere, and I believe that the Secretary of State is well advised to act on this part of the Taylor Report which gives us an immediate opportunity of doing something for this very important part of the country.
I feel that the reception which the Bill has had in the attendance in the House today is disappointing. After all, we are dealing with half of Scotland. We are dealing with a splendid inheritance, a country which is rich in potentialities and has been rich in manpower for generations. It is from this part of Scotland that we have created the Dominions overseas. The United States owes much to the crofting counties. Canada is more Highland than the Highlands.
We are, therefore, dealing with a very rich inheritance which has a tremendous potentiality, and it is to the Government's credit that, after many years of discussion of Highland misfortunes and Highland troubles, we are taking an important step towards the creation of a public opinion which will lead to the kind of work which I am sure both the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and I wish to see. This is a part of the country which is well worth saving. It has immense potentialities and is of the greatest importance.
Comment has been made on depopulation, and I feel that the Bill will go at least some distance to arrest depopulation, which is one of the great problems of the area. The amenities of the towns and the attractions of a more agreeable climate are an inevitable lure and we are ineffectual in our efforts to counteract them. I take the view that we should not only attempt to arrest depopulation, as the Bill attempts to arrest it, but should go further and seek to promote a resettlement of the Highlands. When I was there recently I was astonished to find two men, one who came from Oxford and another who came from Bedford, who had decided, because they liked it, to make their home in the Highlands and who are engaged in the agricultural industry in that part of the country.
We need to publicise the Highlands, familiar or over-familiar to present residents of the Highlands though they may be, and to invigorate the area by making it attractive. I feel sure that it has sufficient attractions to justify a policy of ardent resettlement, of seeking a new population, and of advising the world at large, and not only our own country, that these crofting counties are, indeed, a land of opportunity.
We see what has been done elsewhere. The appendix to the Report makes it clear that the problem is not insoluble. In Norway, Sweden, France and elsewhere it has been dealt with by powerful and deliberate State action, adequately backed by capital, I agree. I am always astonished at the split mind of some Members of the Opposition. On the one hand, they are engaged in decrying capital and the accumulation of savings. On the other hand, they cry that the only solution of the problems with which we are faced is the provision of ample and lavish capital.
I have never been able to understand that outlook. I am always in favour of making profit, when development will follow, but I have never been able to discover what could come out of losses except the bankruptcy court. I have a little difficulty in aligning my mind with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, who wants more capital for the Highlands, and he is right—I agree with him; but in other phases of his talk he is discouraging those who attempt to amass the capital which is so necessary to realise his dreams.
Surely the hon. Member realises that what we really want is the diversion of the necessary material, equipment and labour to the redevelopment of the Highlands; that is what is meant by capital. I prefer that to the squandering of profit in luxury or in other parts of the world which, to me, are not quite so important at the present time.
The hon. Member, of course, has forgotten his own speech. I attended to him with more interest than he attended to himself. He was putting forward the important idea of the development of the Highlands in the ancillary industries, and he said—HANSARD will confirm me—that private enterprise is disinclined to undertake these responsibilities. One of the reasons is that capital is at a discount in the minds of the hon. Member and those who share his view. Capitalism is discouraged, private enterprise is not encouraged. The hon. Member cannot, on the one hand, blame capitalism for being diffident to undertake these responsibilities, when he tells it that once it shows its head and makes a profit, he will hit it hard on the head and make it impossible for it to continue.
The hon. Member must know that the decay in the Highlands has not arisen since the advent of a Socialist Party. It commenced a century before there was a Socialist Party, and it continued throughout that century. Some of the greatest migrations from the Highlands took place under an unregulated free enterprise, free to invest capital anywhere.
It is very interesting to you, Mr. Speaker, and to me, because we have a special knowledge of the problem, to have the history of Scotland told us by an hon. Member who, I think, came from Ipswich. [Interruption.] I am sorry; he came from Norwich. It is very interesting to have Highland history rewritten.
I return to what the hon. Member said. One of the disadvantages in the Highlands, he said, is that we cannot attract capital to that area. I was attempting to indicate to the hon. Member that one of the reasons we cannot attract capital is that there is a body of opinion which discourages the accumulation of capital and seeks to extinguish the system under which it operates successfully. The hon. Member cannot at the one time take that view and at the other time criticise the administration because such sums of money as might be available under a freer society are not available in the Highlands. I will not press it further, however, because even if the hon. Member lives in an atmosphere of mental contradiction, he lives happily in it and I have often enjoyed the society of his mind.
Where can we have a better opportunity than in these seven counties? Capitalism has found money for all sorts of development all over the world. We have enough money to develop the British Council, which is a favourite device of the hon. Member. We have enough money to develop new towns. We are spending literally millions in the Stevenages and East Kilbrides, when we are asking for relatively a paltry sum for this important development.
I agree with many speakers this afternoon in that we are taking perhaps too narrow a view of the importance and size of the scheme. I take no exception to the Bill, because it certainly makes a step in the proper direction, but if we are to have the large-scale development which we want, which the country demands and which is essential for the maintenance of the economy of this island, we must set about an ardent, enthusiastic policy for the redevelopment of the Highlands. I am at one with every hon. Member who has expressed that view.
This Bill is the first step which has been taken in my lifetime as a politician towards that direction, not that it is a very adequate or long step, but it is a step for which the House and the country as a whole should be extremely grateful. We are saying for the first time to the people of Scotland, "Your America is here or nowhere"—the words which Thomas Carlyle said long ago to the emigrants when they were about to leave. Speaking at the tail of the bank, he said, "Your America is here in Scotland or nowhere." His advice was not taken, and they went overseas in their tens of thousands and created new countries, republics and dominions, but had that advice been taken, and if we had had leadership in Scotland—I think we have it now—which would get that advice unchallenged and accepted by the people of Scotland, the problems of development of the seven crofting counties would be less serious than they are.
I do not say that they should have stayed behind. I agree—I have made my experiments elsewhere—that a man who cannot make a success in Scotland is not necessarily likely to make a success elsewhere. I went to the East, to Australia and to the far parts of the world, and I found that, on the whole, Scotland was as good a place as any. That is an example which might well be followed.
If we can retain, by whatever inducements we offer, men of quality, character and courage, we can revivify our country. What we want is a reinforcement of the passionate belief that Scotland is worth while. That idea has been rather discouraged in a quarter of a century when we have talked of nothing but internationalism. Hon. Members opposite have on many occasions eloquently explained that the workers of the world must unite, that nations should go, that individuals are unimportant, and that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. I have never taken those views. Internationalism has been the bane of Scotland, and not its blessing.
I return to the observations which I made about Thomas Carlyle. In this emergency—it is an emergency—what we want to find again is a man. We have been fortunate in Scotland in recent years in finding a man for the work we have got to do. We found a man in Thomas Johnston to put a new idea across to the people of Scotland, and he has carried it to increasing success. In Thomas Johnston we have found a saviour of our country, and in the Scottish Council of Industry we have found in Lord Bilsland a man of equal leadership and character in a different sphere.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now engaged in a search to find a man. If he succeeds, such a man of ardour, passion and confidence can be the chairman of the new Crofters Commission. What we need is a confident, heroic man of passion, courage and determination, who will set the heather on fire; then the Crofters Commission will be a success.
My right hon. Friend has addressed his mind to finance—which is, of course, important, but not of prime importance—in a practical way. I do not think that £150,000 is a great deal, but it is a good deal of money to start with, though not as much as I should have liked. I should have thought that my right hon. Friend would have been able to put up, as doubtless he will in successful years as the plans develop, a case for a much larger sum than that.
I have exemplified the new towns. I think it is preposterous that we should be spending on the accumulation of population in the most dangerous part of the country many millions of pounds, putting unfortunate English men, women and children into new towns in the southeast of England and even near the southeastern coast where they will be in peril of their lives in the next war, when in the seven crofting counties there are opportunities of ease and comfort possibly, and certainly of safety. That is the argument we can put up in favour of the development of the crofting counties, and we should support it with powerful, effective finance.
That we are putting money into the development of the south-east of England is folly ten times over. Investment should be made in the seven crofting; counties, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend has pointed the way, and I hope the House will enthusiastically support him in the direction he has given whither national capital and industry should go.
Unlike the hon. Member opposite I believe that finance is the key to the whole situation, and I pick up a suggestion which was received very indifferently when I made it before and will probably be received indifferently now when I repeat it, but I put it to my right hon. Friend because I know that he is susceptible to ideas, that he is not doctrinaire and hidebound. I put to him this suggestion to discuss with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
No, not the Forth Bridge.
What I want to direct my right hon. Friend's attention to, and the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is selective taxation. It is not a new idea, but it is possibly a new idea for the Highlands. These seven counties require development, and they require financial inducements to bring population into them to settle there. I direct attention to the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, where they have modified taxation. There they do not have the scales of Income Tax which are paid in this country, and the record of growth in the population of those islands in the last 25 years has been remarkable. What has driven people to live there? It is the fact that they can get a good life there and are relieved of a considerable portion of the taxation which the British taxpayer pays.
I would ask my right hon. Friend to look at the revenue he gets in the seven counties from Income Tax, Surtax and Customs duties, and I would ask him to suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that for seven years the seven counties should be free entirely from Income Tax, Surtax, Purchase Tax and Customs duties. I venture to prophesy that the influx into the Highlands would be of such a stupendous character that there would be no more Highlands problem left for us to discuss. I say that quite seriously, because this is an inducement which is in the hands of the Government to offer, and which would cost them nothing to give. The revenue they get from those counties is trifling, and they could without cost to themselves make a good inducement to the development of those counties which would make them the most attractive part of the United Kingdom.
As I see that this staggering idea of low taxation appeals tremendously to hon. Gentlemen opposite I will finish now, and I finish by saying that here is another serious matter. Last Tuesday, the Central Lobby of the House of Commons was crowded with people concerned with the question of the armament or rearmament of Germany, a very important matter, I have no doubt, in the international sphere. Now we are discussing a matter of far more importance to the United Kingdom. The development and the resuscitation of the Highlands is far more important than the rearmament of Germany. Yet how many people are crowding the Lobby of the House of Commons to give strength and courage to those who speak on this important matter? None.
How is it that we have failed to arouse even in the House of Commons itself a sense of the importance of this matter, which concerns a half of Scotland? We allow our time to be taken up with, and our Lobby to be filled with, persons agitating for alien schemes, but our own business does not command that attention. It is our business—and I speak for all my fellow Members from Scotland—to arouse this House to the importance of this great national estate, which is today being neglected, while we are spending time and money on hundreds of other things of much less importance.
We are not wholly satisfied with the Bill, but we support it gladly because we believe it to be the first step towards the resuscitation and the rehabilitation and the renewal of the Highlands, and we believe that in taking that step we shall be doing something to make an important part of the United Kingdom more prosperous and secure than ever before.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) has made one of his characteristic speeches full of wit and, to use a modernism, pep, ranging from Australia to America, from Carlyle to theories of capitalism, and from internationalism to setting the heather on fire. I wondered why that stupendous proposal of his for freeing the seven counties from taxation should be limited to seven years. Why not make the Highlands tax-free for eternity? Then the Highland problem would become a different problem.
Yes, but I think that unless the hon. Gentleman is careful he will find that the period may be cut.
I share with the hon. Gentleman his concern to arouse interest in the Bill, and I share with him, perhaps, the difficulty that I have not that day-to-day knowledge of the Highlands that so many previous speakers in the debate have. Therefore, I approach the subject with diffidence, but I want to disagree with the hon. Gentleman on one point.
As South Edinburgh takes an interest in the Highlands, it is equally desirable that Stirling and Falkirk Burghs should take an interest; but I do not like the hon. Gentleman's point of departure. The Highlands, he tells us, are well worth saving, as if we were going to undertake a kind of salvage operation. I think that the point of view put by my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) was the right one, that any investment in the Highlands should amply repay us. It is not a matter of saving something that is derelict, which seems to me to be the wrong point of departure.
I take up another point, not to differ from the hon. Gentleman upon it, but to emphasise it to the Government. Complaint has been made from quarter after quarter that the Bill is too limited, that there are a number of things which should be done which the Bill does not touch. The hon. Gentleman took up that point, but he assumed that these other things would be done, that the Bill was simply not taking everything at once but implementing those parts of the Taylor Report upon which it was possible to act now. The Secretary of State used one or two phrases which left that question in doubt. The hon. Gentleman was assuming the answer. I think that the Government should remove the doubt. Are there to be additional steps? If so, what are they to be? Or must we look on the Bill as being complete in itself, and so simply bewail the fact that those additional things are not provided for in it?
Like most people on this side, and indeed, I think, on both sides of the House, I am rather more favourably inclined to the Report than to the Bill. I think the Report is a very good Report. I think the Bill is not quite such a good Bill; but the aim that it has, the purpose of making a planned and deliberate and carefully administered and governed investment in the Highlands, seems to me something well worth doing and a very interesting thing for us to be doing in this second part of the twentieth century.
It is interesting that in this period of the atomic bomb and of extraordinary mechanical development, in these modern times, we should still be interesting ourselves in a way of life in which grazing committees, and the affairs of townships of crofters, that kind of thing, are important. These vary our national life, and comprise a life completely different from life in the south-east of England, or in Birmingham or Manchester.
There is no doubt, too, that both the Report and the Bill are based on the idea that whatever we are going to do in the way of reviving the Highlands will not be done simply because it will bring economic returns. It will bring those returns, of course, but the returns will not be so much economic as human and cultural, the returns involved in preserving a way of life. It is interesting that we should be dealing with this matter now. We have in the Highlands all sorts of paradoxes. We talk about the tenure of the crofters whilst at the same time electricity, which is the characteristic twentieth century illustration of mechanical ingenuity, is coming into the Highlands at a fast pace.
The Bill is too limited. If it is to be taken as the first of a series of actions it would seem to me, prima facie, before hearing the argument for doing this job in this way, that this is the wrong way of doing it, because all these things are bound together. The agricultural side of crofting is bound up with ancillary industries. I should like to repeat the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) about the Money Resolution. If the Resolution is pushed through tonight its effect will be to settle the questions which have been raised on both sides of the House. It will be a closure of the debate, and a statement that the Bill will not be widened to provide for ancillary industries in the way in which we would have liked.
One of the striking things about the Highlands today, and about the Taylor Report, is that while the crofts are being described as becoming unpopulated because of absentee crofters and an ageing population, and other factors, what is said about industries in the Highlands is full of promise. The Taylor Report stresses that point. The fishing industry, certainly, is no longer a part-time supplement to crofting, but the Taylor Commission stresses the point that the fishing industry is very far from being finished as an industry. It is an industry which, if developed on its own, can give a tremendous amount of help to the Highlands. The Taylor Report stresses the potentialities of lobster fishing, and remarks that weaving has almost sustained the population of Lewis as it is today. The tourist trade has hardly begun to be developed as it can be developed in the Highlands.
All these things taken together, plus the knitting industry in Shetland and various other possibilities, mean tremendous promise for the seven crofter counties. There are other things besides these staple industries. Fish farming in the rivers and sea lochs is nowadays a matter of practical possibility. It can be encouraged, and nowhere better than in the Highlands of Scotland. There are also a great number of mineral deposits which, if given proper conditions, can be usefully developed in the Highlands. When we have dealt with the staple industries we have not dealt by any means with all the potentialities in the way of industries ancillary to agriculture in the Highlands.
In the crofting areas it is always necessary to look upon the croft itself as the centre. The industries which I have mentioned will always benefit the crofts and will help the way of life of the crofters. It may be that through them we shall find the life of the scattered and distant communities in the Highlands beginning to reflect the progress and prosperity which was expressed in the Chancellor's romantic phrase about doubling the standard of living in the next 25 years. That phrase was romantic in the sense that the Chancellor put it neatly, but the idea is perfectly possible and practicable. If we keep in mind the tremendous importance of ancillary industries to the Highlands, it becomes a possibility that the standard of living in the Highlands can be doubled in 25 years.
I therefore join in the plea that the Commission should be empowered to do a good deal in the way of stimulation, initiation and the helping of industries in the Highlands. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) gave instances of the things which are possible. The Taylor Report contains a paragraph about the knitting industry in Shetland and makes the comment that it is a little beyond the Commission to go into a detailed diagnosis of the troubles that then beset that industry. A permanent Crofters Commission, however, could go into that kind of thing in complete detail. It would not have the limitation of time which is imposed upon a committee which is simply inquiring at the time being. If it became desirable to expend certain sums on helping the reorganisation of that industry, or on marketing or anything of that kind, it would be well worth while to give to a permanent commission powers to do so.
Horticulture is another possibility upon which the Taylor Commission touched in passing. Though it did not develop the theme at great length, I think that the Commission saw that that was one of the industries which could be considerably developed in the Highlands, but it cannot be done without a certain amount of initial help to the people in those areas. We can all imagine the tremendous expansion of the tourist trade which is possible, but there may well be hitches at the beginning unless some public body is prepared to make the necessary grants for the establishment, for example, of hostels or small hotels or the solving, say, of certain limited transport problems.
In a great many ways an extension of the powers of the Commission along those lines would be immensely beneficial to the Highlands. If it is envisaged that that extension of powers would take place through the medium of other Acts of Parliament and other bodies, it seems to me, without hearing all the pros and cons, to be a doubtful policy, because the heart of the whole matter must be the life on the croft, and the suggested Crofters Commission has that as the centre-piece of its work. If another Bill is passed and another body is set up and other provisions are made to help the industry, the tendency will be for whatever bearing these things have on the life of the croft to be rather mitigated and watered down.
I was impressed in reading the Taylor Report by a remark made about Orkney. I had always vaguely wondered how it was that, even allowing for the good soil, there had been such extraordinary prosperity in Orkney. The Commission pointed out that one factor in the creation of that prosperity was the presence of the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow during the First World War—a kind of casual brush at the Orkney Islands of the bigger things which were going on outside. This enabled the farmers to accumulate capital and therefore to build up the present prosperity.
If that kind of thing can happen as the result of a casual brush from something happening elsewhere, what can be done with deliberately thought-out investment where it is best needed? So if ancillary industries to agriculture, such as the great fishing industry, are prosperous they will lead to the infusion of a certain amount of capital which can be used not merely to strengthen themselves, but to build up agriculture.
One or two additional very brief points. The problem of freight rates is immensely important and urgent. In the course of the last week or two it has become even more difficult than it was before. I never liked the setting in which this problem arose, and I like it still less in view of the present discussions about the necessity of cutting out all un-remunerative parts of the railway system. I shall not just now attempt to formulate the policy necessary to deal with it in that setting.
I should like also to try to underline the extraordinary paradox in the Highlands where we have electricity coming in while piped water for stock as well as for domestic purposes, which is a much more elementary and urgent need, is nonexistent over great areas. That is only one of a large number of paradoxes with which we are faced in looking at the Highlands problems, and it suggests to me that an urgent and sustained attempt to give piped water to communities which have not got it now, and in which it will repay itself, would be well worth while. At the same time the great work which is being done by the Hydro-Electric Board is appreciated.
I do not want to say anything specific about membership of the Commission, but as the debate proceeded and this topic recurred again and again, I became more and more disturbed. It seemed to me that at the back of the minds of hon. Members was the general question which one finds almost a permanent one in Scottish administration, the general feeling that possibly we have not got the men to do the job. This feeling is often expressed in official quarters—that there is not a big enough range of choice.
I do not believe that. I believe there are ranges of choice which we have not begun to tackle. I believe there are groups of people who have not been asked to do public work of this sort which they could well do and would be willing to do. I hope, therefore, that nobody will take a defeatist attitude about the composition of the Commission. I see no reason why we should not have a good strong Commission, whether they are Gaelic speakers or non-Gaelic speakers—though I sympathise with the desire for the latter. I wish, however, we could have had an assurance from the Front Bench opposite that they would have a stronger Bill on which to work.
When the hon. Member for Edinburgh. South (Sir W. Darling) was talking about finding someone with ability, I had the impression that he was trying to convince the House that he was the man for the job. The hon. Gentleman spoke about setting the heather on fire, about burning energy, and so on, but that was no criticism of the Bill. I rise to criticise this Bill because, if the Government are serious in tackling this complex job, which in the early stages will be an expensive job, it is ridiculous to have a Financial Resolution stipulating that the sum may rise if the measures already proposed are carried out. I wish there were some directors of companies on the benches opposite, because I would like to ask them whether they would accept the chairmanship of a company to deal with the development of the seven crofting counties with a promise from their fellow-directors that they could have up to £200,000.
A farm of 200 acres, with the land in good heart, with good mechanical devices, is worth about £50 or £60 an acre, and to put this area of several hundred square miles into good heart for good husbandry, the Treasury say they will spend up to £200,000 a year. That seems to me to be nonsense.
When I read this Bill after reading the Taylor Commission Report, the thought that passed through my mind was that this Bill was not one to implement the Report but was more in the nature of red tape to tie around it. The Government seem to have taken out of the Report the least ineffectual things and left undone the most difficult things that should be done. Even on my small experience—I have spent only three weeks in those areas—I consider the Bill hopelessly inadequate. This task will need a far greater sum.
There is a phrase in the Report pointing out that one of the great difficulties of the crofter has been that of credit for his purchases. He has had still greater difficulty in getting credit for capital development. That has been the position in the past, and I presume it will be the same in the future.
From what I read in this Bill, I presume that the Commission will be empowered to grant loans to the crofters. I know a few smallholders and small farmers, and the one thing they dislike being is what we call "a monkey on the roof"—that is, they do not like being in bond to the banks, and they will not like being in bond to the Crofters Commission.
It is futile to attempt to make grants to a crofter owning between two to three acres, or between 10 and 15 acres, with the idea that he can mechanise his methods of farming. I should have thought that a control commission would be empowered to set up a depot with repair workshops, where contractors, ploughs and all sorts of mechanical implements could be hired out to individual crofters. This would be preferable to trying to get individual crofters to put themselves in bond for a tractor or a hay tedder, or a drill or a disc plough. A holding of even 10 or 15 acres cannot take full advantage of modern mechanical farming.
The freight situation is very bad, according to people to whom I have spoken in the Highlands. Last time I was in the Highlands, I was told that in the nineteenth century there were hundreds of people in the locality, with a tremendous output which all went to market by horse. Since then we have had progress. This is the century of progress, of the internal combustion engine, when the motor car can do 60 and 70 miles an hour, and now the Highlands are crippled because of the high freight charges. What an amazing reflection. In the days of the horse the Highlands thrived. I used to go with my father to market; we used to call at about 14 pubs on the way, and it took us nearly all day to get there. Now we do the same journey in half an hour, and we are frustrated by these freight difficulties. That is shocking reflection on our country.
I am in favour of the appointment of a Gaelic speaker to the Commission because, as has been suggested by hon. Members opposite, the Commission will have a lot of administrative work to do. That will involve a lot of forms. When I read about the work that this Commission will have to do, I was reminded of a Welsh farmer who could not speak English, in the days when it was necessary to register whenever one killed a beast. This farmer had an animal killed by accident, and he notified the authorities that the animal had been killed. In due course he received a form from Whitehall and began to fill it in. He had an Oxford dictionary in the house to help him, as his knowledge of English was so poor. On the form was a phrase which referred to "the disposition of the car-case." He consulted the Oxford dictionary, and then filled in the words "Kind and gentle."
It is vital that whoever draws up these forms in Edinburgh and whoever is on the Commission should know the idioms of the people with whom they deal. We must be certain that the language used on these forms is understood by the people in the district where the forms are circulated.
I hope that the Money Resolution will be taken back. I find it very difficult to read some of these Bills. As I have said before in this House, I can understand why lawyers get so much money for dealing with some of the problems and litigation into which people are sometimes forced. But from my reading of the Bill and of the Report, I have come to the conclusion that if the Government are serious about aiding the Highlands of Scotland, they will have to take back this Financial Resolution or at least put something in the Bill which will convince people in Scotland that this job is going to be carried out thoroughly.
I cannot be convinced that this limited amount of £200,000 is adequate to do the job. We have been told that Colvilles are spending £20 million to erect a steel plant. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South said that Colvilles were doing it out of savings. Fancy telling us a tale like that? This sort of capital development does not come out of savings. It comes from bank loans. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South gets the chairmanship of companies because his name is good for getting loans from the banks. He is a director of a bank. The banks would go out of business if they did not lend.
Do not ask me. In England somewhere, I expect. He puts it where he can get the highest interest. My hon. Friend can be assured that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South would not dream of investing his money in Scotland. He would not get any profit.
The reason why we have this Bill is that the landlords cannot perform their function as owners. This Bill takes over their function of developing the land but leaves them the function of collecting the rent. I have every sympathy with the owners of some of this rough land in Scotland. I can appreciate that it is impossible for them to bring back some of this land into good heart and put it into good horticultural and agricultural production. The landlords cannot do it, so the State is going to do it.
I think the landlord should be eliminated. I concede the right of a person to own something if he puts it to good use, but in neglecting that function one forfeits one's claim to ownership. When we Teach the Committee stage, I hope that my hon. Friends will take the opportunity of moving appropriate Amendments in order to ensure that not only his development function but his function of collecting rents are removed from the landlord. I hope that all the crofting land will come into public ownership, together, perhaps, with other land. If the land is under the control of the Commission, it will have a much easier administrative job and less difficult negotiations to carry through. It will be much better if it does not have to deal with a few parcels of land and negotiate with owners who may be a little awkward. But we must wait until the Committee stage to see what will happen.
I do ask the Minister to give us an assurance that £200,000 does not represent the limit to which expenditure may rise, and that if the Commission finds that everybody concerned is willing to provide the necessary physical resources the Government will allow the expenditure to rise to £3 million, £4 million or £5 million.
I had considerable sympathy with the Secretary of State for Scotland when he wound up his remarks today by telling us that the Bill was an attempt to solve the Highland problem. I do not presume to be able to solve that problem, but I certainly know some of the difficulties which are involved. First, we must remember that there are 11 million acres of hill land in Scotland, much of which is in the seven crofting counties.
Since 1929, owing to the operation of the derating section of the Local Government (Scotland) Act of that year, we have been subsidising the crofting counties to a considerable extent. In addition, not so many years ago we improved their conditions very substantially. Yet we still have this great problem. Some of my hon. Friends trace it back to the Highland clearances. Notwithstanding all the suffering that was caused by the. Highland clearances—and it was incalculable—we still have the problem of the depopulation of the Highlands.
Twenty-five miles south of St. Andrew's House there is an area whose conditions are very similar to those of the Highlands, although the hills are not so high. It has a diminishing rural population. If hon. Members care to go to the Library and read the volumes of HANSARD for 30 years ago they will find that the representative of Caithness and Sutherland was submitting figures showing that his constituency was probably the chief sufferer from rural depopulation in Scotland. Today, we have very few people in the Highlands. I wonder whether hon. Members realise what would have happened if Cape Wrath had been directly to the east or west of the City of London. If it had, there would have been no Highland problem. The basis of the problem is a climatic one.
Coupled with that there is the savage survival of the crofting system. In my constituency there are many smallholdings, which are only crofts by another name. They are known as smallholdings simply because they are not in the seven crofting counties. If we are to retain the crofting system in the North of Scotland and in the Islands I suggest that we shall need a very generous Financial Resolution. The present attempt to ameliorate the conditions, earnest as it may be, will no more succeed than the attempts that the Tory Party has made, since time immemorial, to protect crofting interests, as we are told has always been its policy. The Tory Party has brought the Highlands to such a pass today that it will require many millions of pounds to provide them with the industrial pattern that is required.
Let us look at the Report of the Taylor Commission. In page 29, we find set out the problem of freightage, and, when we take into consideration what it requires to take a ton of coal from a colliery district to the North of Scotland, we get some idea of what it means to tackle the problem of repopulating the Highlands. There is one thing which I should like the Joint Under-Secretary to tell us. What will be the functions of the proposed Commission in regard to the activities of the Land Court? Will they impinge on the duties of the Land Court?
I have a great respect for the Land Court and the work that it has done for our Highland people, and we must remember that everything springs from the land. It is on the land that we require to build houses, and is it not perfectly true to say that the Scottish Special Housing Association had to be called into operation to build wooden houses in the Highlands? Will it be possible to build brick houses in the Highlands? If so, what will it cost to take the bricks there?
Is it not true to say that the Hydro-Electric Board has certain powers to enable it to improve conditions in the Highlands? Is it not logical to believe that any Commission that is appointed will require to work in very close co-operation with the Hydro-Electric Board and also the Forestry Commission and the fishing boards? Will this Bill be able to tackle that gigantic problem of the Highlands? I suggest that the House is wasting its time on this Bill. A start must be made, but not with £100,000 a year.
Is it not true that today the railways postulate a position in which their re-equipment will require an expenditure of £1,250 million over a period, and the railways must come into the Highlands? How much will be required in investment to repopulate the Highlands and industrialise that part of Scotland?
I am not going to follow the example of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling), who, first of all, told us that the revenue which the Chancellor of the Exchequer received from the Highlands by means of Income Tax and Surtax is negligible, and then suggested that if, for seven years, the Chancellor will suspend collection of these taxes, he will supply enough money to finance this great Highland problem. That is sheer nonsense.
The crofters have nothing to spend. Why should they be bled by the bankers in paying interest rates, and so on?
The logical view, as far as the Highlands are concerned, is that this is a material problem which commences on the land and in land ownership. We must begin on the land, and, to begin, we must settle the ownership of the land. We must bring the land under public ownership and control, and, from that point of view, I suggest that it would be far more easy for us in Scotland to tackle the Highland problem if we met in Edinburgh instead of London, so far away from the scene of operations. We shall not be able to deal effectively with this problem until the land is brought under public ownership and control, and until whatever Government are in power proceed to devote the necessary money to enable progress to be made from the industrial point of view.
Only last week in the "Scotsman," which is "The Times" of Scotland, there was a report in which it was stated that the Chairman of Messrs. Barrie, Ostler & Shepherd, big floorcloth manufacturers, in Kirkcaldy, had said that in the County of Fife they could find no room for expansion. Would it not be possible with a transport system adequate to the needs of the Highlands to transfer works to those areas? Apparently the Government are just as lax from that point of view as they are about the Lowland problem.
In my own constituency, two parishes scheduled under the Distribution of Industry Act are still in the same position that they were five, six and seven years ago, despite the fact that there is a pool of labour available. We are constantly being told that firms in Midlothian and Peebles will have to go to the North of Scotland, not to the Highland areas, and to Dunbartonshire if they wish to expand.
I suggest that the Government should first consider the point of view of land ownership, because, having done that, they will then be able to gauge what is required to be done for these areas. It is all very well to develop electricity, but, if we are only to convey the electricity down to the mid-industrial belt, that will not be of much material use to our Highland people. In the same way, if we collect all the waters in all the lochs and raise the levels of the lochs simply to utilise it for the manufacture of electricity, that will not improve the water supply which is absolutely essential for the building of either works or living places. Even if we have the drainage and the necessary supply of clean water necessary for that drainage, there is no use considering the building of townships or the placing of workshops.
I suggest that the Government should not only delay the passing of the Financial Resolution, but that they should also delay any further progress on this Bill and should tackle the problem from the point of view of doing something useful for the Highlands.
The Secretary of State will have heard most hon. Members who have addressed the House today say that they welcomed the Bill, but he will not have heard any hon. Member say that he thought the Bill adequate for the purpose which it sets out to achieve. The right hon. Gentleman explained the Bill very carefully, and we are all indebted to him for that. My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) followed him with what I thought was an excellent examination not only of the Bill but of the problem before us, and I think that the Secretary of State can have little complaint about the debate to which we have listened since then.
We are all indebted to the Taylor Commission for the thorough examination which it made of the problem of the crofting areas and for its Report, which we have had the privilege of examining. The problem with which it dealt is, of course, as has been said so often today, a centuries-old problem. However, it is one which the Commission has told us that we shall have with us for much longer. In paragraph 282 of the Report the Commission says:
These conditions being fulfilled, a smallholding population can be securely established in the Highlands and Islands making full use of their agricultural resources and deriving the maximum economic benefit therefrom. But time is running very short and if the chance is not taken now it will be gone for good.
That warning the Commission gave to us in its Report. I do not know whether it produced the kind of speech to which we have listened today, but from both sides of the House speeches have shown a sense of urgency that was pathetically lacking in the speech with which the Secretary of State opened the discussion.
The Report of the Commission contains a dissentient note signed by one of the members, Mrs. MacPherson. She came to the view, having examined exactly the same circumstances and conditions as did her fellow members, that she could not see that the owners of the crofting land had any useful function. She wanted all the crofting land taken within the ownership and control of the Commission. If one reads the Report, one cannot but reach the view that the whole membership of the Commission came to exactly the same view as Mrs. MacPherson, only they did not think it expedient to make it a recommendation. At the foot of page 39 one sees, in paragraph 119, these words:
In this way the substantial advantages of nationalisation could be secured without raising fundamental questions of political doctrine.
It would secure all the advantages of nationalisation, but it would not be nationalisation in the sense in which that word is normally used. The Commission wanted all the advantages of public ownership of this land, and it would have so recommended if the question had not been likely to raise fundamental issues of political doctrine. I can only assume that it would have been recommended
to the Government which set up the Commission.
What case is there for leaving this crofting land in private ownership? I hope someone will tell us. Perhaps an hon. Member opposite will show us the difference between the owners of this land and the owners of other agricultural land. The owners of agricultural land had duties of estate management imposed upon them in the Act of 1948. They have to provide fixed equipment and they have duties to perform in the agricultural industry. The owners of crofting land have no duties at all. They do not provide the fixed equipment. The Bill contains provisions which deny to the owners the opportunity to select the tenant for a given croft.
The owner of crofting land has but one function to fulfil, the collection of rent. He does no service whatever. He is not to be allowed to give any service, and if the Bill becomes law he can go on collecting rent for ever and ever, not for the seven years spoken of by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling). I am reminded that he also enjoys sporting rights over all the land. He will not be called upon to spend one single penny, but he will draw the rents and continue to enjoy the sporting rights. The Joint Under-Secretary will appreciate that we, on this side, would be glad to be given some reasons why this land should remain in private ownership.
As a Member of this House the hon. Gentleman will, of course, have read the Report. He will also have read it carefully, I imagine, as a member of the Highland Panel. He represents a constituency in which there are very many crofters and he will know full well that when the owner takes over from an outgoing crofter he always endeavours to get a successor to that crofter who will pay the owner the compensation which the owner has paid to the outgoing crofter.
What I have said is generally the fact. Under this Bill the owner is left with one function only—that of the collection of rents. If that general proposition is not to be challenged I do not think that it would be right to argue some side-issue.
As the general purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the recommendations of the Taylor Commission, it has attracted general support throughout the country and on both sides of the House. There are no politics about it whatever. We all support the general principle and purpose of the Bill. We are all fully convinced of the desirability of setting up the proposed Crofters Commission.
Many hon. Members have asserted the great importance of care in the selection of personnel. They must be the right persons for the job, a majority of them must be knowledgeable, and have some experience, of crofting conditions. I think that it goes without saying that at least one member of the Commission should speak the language native to a great many of the crofters. I do not think that that has to be argued at all, and although it is not provided for in the Bill, I think that the Secretary of State would have included such a member without being pressed. When he appreciates that there is so much anxiety about it, and that people who recall the provisions of the 1886 and 1911 Acts wish to see a like provision included now, I do not think that he will object to an appropriate Amendment at a later stage.
One hon. Member after another has argued that the Commission must have wide powers and specific duties, but in the Bill as it is at present the Commission has only two duties—to keep records and to make an annual report. No other duties appear to be imposed on it. If the House really wants to tackle the problem seriously—and we are concerned that this Commission shall do a job which, we know, must be done—it has been presented to us in very precise terms by the Taylor Commission—then specific duties should be placed on the Commission.
The Commission must have much more money. Throughout the debate there has been criticism of the inadequacy of the financial provisions of the Bill. The Joint Under-Secretary of State said, "But this is only an estimate." Of course it is an estimate, but it is an estimate put forward by those who are to give effect to the Bill, by those who control the purse strings. There are many loose powers to do things given in the Bill, with no sense of urgency about them, and there is no reason to believe that the powers will be exercised. If the Government think they are to be exercised to the extent of costing no more than £200,000, this problem will not be dealt with at all. I worked the figure out as no more than £180,000 for the whole thing.
The other night the Chancellor of the Exchequer went to the annual dinner of the N.F.U. to try to calm the angry farmers. The chairman, Sir James Turner, would not allow delegates to take a decision until they had had the Chancellor of the Exchequer to dinner. He went to the dinner and boasted that he would find £250 million for the farmers this year. Yet to deal with the problem of the Highlands the same Chancellor of the Exchequer is to find only £180,000.
If the Secretary of State would ask the Joint Under-Secretary to tell us, in his winding-up speech, what part of the £250 million he estimates is the sum which the crofters get, we will add that to the £180,000 and see what it looks like against all the subsidies going to agriculture generally. In any event, this £180,000 is not money to be used exclusively for the benefit of agriculture.
The Secretary of State must take back the Money Resolution which is due to have its Committee stage after Second Reading of the Bill. If he does not do so we shall be hamstrung from the outset. In every speech which has been made, from both sides of the House, there has been clear evidence of hon. Members' desire to strengthen the Bill, but if we seek to strengthen the Bill in the way in which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South wants it to be strengthened, we shall be in difficulties. The hon. Member will find that if the Money Resolution is Pissed, he will be unable to move his Amendment in Committee because to do so would be to seek to increase the charge.
The Secretary of State must take this Money Resolution away. He must give himself time to think over what has been said in the debate and then bring forward a Money Resolution which will enable him, together with other hon. Members, to put forward and discuss responsible and reasonable Amendments in Committee. I think that that is a reasonable request. We must not be driven into doing something in the next few hours which might make it impossible ever to solve the Highland problem.
We are told that we are now being given our last chance. If this is our last chance, let us try to do a good job. Let the Secretary of State do what he had to do with the Financial Resolution on the Housing (Repairs and Rents) (Scotland) Bill—take it away, think about it again and send a copy of HANSARD to the Chancellor of the Exchequer so that his right hon. Friend may see what hon. Members on both sides of the House have said. Let the Secretary of State then come forward, in a week or a fortnight, with another Money Resolution. If he wishes to satisfy the House and the Highlands that he is in earnest in this matter, he will have no hesitation in agreeing to take back this Money Resolution.
The new Crofters Commission must not be limited to dealing with the purely agricultural aspect of crofting. I know that if we look at the powers given in the Bill it can consider matters other than purely agricultural matters and can make recommendations to the Secretary of State, but that is not nearly enough. The Secretary of State cannot say that he has given effect to the recommendations of the Taylor Committee in this respect. The Committee wanted the new Crofters Commission to have laid upon it a duty to deal with a wider aspect of the crofting economy than the purely agricultural aspect of crofting.
This new Crofters Commission has to be in a position to interest itself in ancillary occupations. A little has been said about forestry. Many of the crofters, I hope, will secure employment in the great work of afforestation going on in the Highlands. I hope there will be more of it and that many of these people will get part-time employment in afforestation. There has been reference to shelter belts. It is in the interests of good husbandry to provide shelter belts, but the crofters cannot afford them. The purpose of shelter belts is not the production of timber, but to help agriculture. It is either for the Crofters Commission to do the work itself or to pay the Forestry Commission to do it, and it has to make good to the crofters land which they may lose by the planting of shelter belts.
The Crofters Commission must be in the closest consultation with the Hydro-Electric Board and in a position to advise on new schemes to supply crofters with electricity. It must be in a position to say to the Board, "When you get your transmission lines out we will be able to ensure that the crofters will be able to take a supply." In many cases, crofters cannot take a supply because they cannot pay their share of the cost. These matters have to be dealt with and money must be provided for them under this Bill. This is the only legislative vehicle open to us.
The Crofters Commission must be constantly in consultation with the Herring Industry Board and the White Fish Authority. It is obvious to every hon. Member that many crofters are also fishermen, part-time, and have a very great interest in the assistance given by those two authorities and by the Government, through those authorities, as their agents.
The Crofters Commission must be in touch, or able to get into touch, with the Board of Trade in the interests of crofters who have ancillary occupations in tweed-wear or knitwear. There is also the work on the west coast of making semiprecious stones into brooches and other decorations, the wool industries and the craft industries for making decorations and ornaments from hoof and horn—there is no end to what can be done. It is highly desirable that the Crofters Commission shall be able to help individual crofters in these matters.
The Taylor Commission has told us a lot about the way in which crofters in certain parts have been able to cater for tourists in recent years. I remember visiting the Isle of Skye and meeting crofters there who, I thought, were doing very well because they were on State-owned land. I found, however, that they were doing well principally because they had been able to get grants from a niggardly, parismonious Socialist Government to improve their houses, which they were able to let to holiday-makers in the summer time, and they were deriving a much greater income from that than from the crofts. These are important things in which the new Crofters Commission will be interested.
Mr. Thomas Johnston tells us that with the developments in connection with hydro-electricity—I have been seeing some of his fishponds and the work that has been done with salmon and other fish—there will be a great attraction in some or those areas for the tourist fisherman. A great many people of this kind are just those who might be attracted to live in some of the crofter houses if they have the proper accommodation. Again, there is opportunity for a very close tie-up between the Crofters Commission, the Tourist Board, the Hydro-Electric Board and other authorities who might have interests there.
There are so many things to be said that I must cut some of my remarks short. I follow up what I have said about the planting of shelter belts by saying that the Commission must be in a position to incur considerable expenditure in the enlargement of crofts. The new Crofters Commission must be in a position to develop new land settlement schemes elsewhere in the Highlands.
It is no good the Commission saying to the Secretary of State, "Go into Sutherland, go down to Mull, where the Taylor Commission said that land was available, or go somewhere else and give us some development schemes." It is far better that the Commission should have the money, the authority and the power—indeed, the duty—to go into those areas itself and to let out crofts of the size which it believes would give a living to the people who would be attracted to them—and who, for the most part, would merely be attracted back to the land of their forebears.
The Taylor Commission dealt at some length with the need to provide special assistance to crofters for land improvement. There is little evidence in the Bill that this is to be done, and there is no evidence whatever that the Secretary of State will encourage any large-scale
settlement. There is no provision for it in the Financial Memorandum. There is nothing about it in the Bill, except a few words in Clause 2, which says that the Commission may
make recommendations to the Secretary of State with respect to the exercise of the powers relating to land settlement.…
If this is to be the new codified law on crofting, the crofters should see in the Bill some evidence of the Secretary of State's determination and of Parliament's determination that these schemes will be proceeded with.
The provision for exceptional subsidies for land improvement must be more fully dealt with. We know that the ploughing-up, fertiliser and reseeding subsidies that are payable to the farmers in the Lothians are also payable to the crofters in Lewis, if they know how to go about it; but if it is necessary to give these subsidies in the Lothians or in my own native county of Lanarkshire, in those comparatively rich farmlands, they must be hopelessly inadequate for the crofters who are trying to scrape a living out of the peat bogs of the Western Isles. We really must be more generous towards the people who are working on difficult soil. There is no evidence of the Secretary of State's recognition of this serious matter, to which attention was called by the Taylor Commission. All these things make it necessary for the Secretary of State to withdraw the Money Resolution and to substitute for it another which will make it possible to have a worth-while Bill.
As to the provision of building equipment, the intention is expressed, but the estimate of the cost is so hopelessly inadequate that the Secretary of State must himself hope that the Crofters Commission will not do its job.
One year, yes. The Taylor Commission has told us about the difficulty in the way of crofters going in for pig and poultry production and for the intensified cultivation of smallholdings that in some other parts of the country produce fruit and vegetables. Very little of the crofting land is suitable for that sort of production. Some of it is, I know. In the northern strip of Sutherland the land is suitable for it, I know.
However, the crofters I spoke to, to whom I went to discuss such production as that of fruit and vegetables, said to me that I should show more sense. They said, "We have animals in the hills, or some of them, but we cannot leave them there in the winter, and we have to provide some food for winter feed and we cannot do it if we start growing red currants and black currants and gooseberries, and so on." They are quite right. Many crofts, even if the land is suitable, cannot be given over to the growing of fruit and vegetables because the land must be used for the production of winter feed for stock.
The Taylor Commission talked about pigs and poultry. There are two very serious obstacles to the development of that sort of production in the crofts. First, there is the provision of buildings, which is a costly business. We should like to know what kind of assistance is to be given for the provision of buildings. Then there is the purchase of feeding-stuffs and the transport charges.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) found the whole thing so paradoxical. The transport charges operate against these people. They find it very difficult to go in for this kind of production because of the cost of bringing feedingstuffs in for their poultry and pigs and other animals.
Even if the poultry and the pigs thrive there are real difficulties in the way of marketing the animals or the eggs. My constituents on smallholdings who go in for pig or poultry rearing get their feedingstuffs very much cheaper than the crofters can, and they can sell their eggs in an urban market. Recently, they have been getting from 5s. to 6s. a dozen for them, but the poor crofter has been selling his eggs to the local grocer for 2s. or 2s. 6d. Taking advantage of the service made available by the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, he has got from 2s. 6d. to 3s. If the crofter has to pay more for his feedingstuffs and much more for his buildings that he puts up, he is entitled to at least as much for the finished product.
The new Crofters Commission must be in a position to help these people by meeting the cost of taking the feeding-stuffs out to the crofts and of taking the eggs into the market, or by itself purchasing the produce at the point at which it is produced, and by paying a guaranteed price for it, and a price comparable to what the farmer on the rich lands and on the mainland is able to get in urban markets.
There are many needs like this crying out to be met, many jobs like this asking to be done, and they call for great energy on the part of the Commission, and they all make it absolutely necessary that the Commission should have funds at its disposal which will not be at its disposal if the House approves the Money Resolution. I hope the Secretary of State will pay great attention to this matter and not rush the Money Resolution through the House.
Again, I am sure that the Secretary of State would be the first to agree that the grant for the provision of water supply to which a constituent of mine would be entitled in Central Lanarkshire would be hopelessly inadequate for the crofter in the remotest parts of the West Highlands and Islands who wanted a supply for his croft. These crofters ought to be more generously treated. The North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board will find it difficult to get these crofters to take a supply of electricity unless the Crofters Commission grants some assistance.
All these things make it highly desirable that the Crofters Commission shall be not only aware of the great opportunities before it but also of its heavy responsibility. We must not deny to the Com mission the opportunity of discharging its responsibility by denying it the necessary funds for the purpose. There are very many important matters to be discussed in great detail in Committee, but the issues which have been discussed today could only be discussed on Second Reading, and it is always a good thing that discussion on Second Reading goes a great deal beyond the provisions of a Bill. Some of these matters of fundamental importance may well be barred during the Committee stage if the Money Resolution remains as it is.
In passing the Bill in its final form Parliament will be deciding whether the Highlands and the Islands will be given a fair chance to prosper or whether the Commission will fiddle whilst the last flicker of hope dies. An effort was made in 1886 and, of course, it achieved something. Another effort was made in 1911. It would be wrong to say that that was a complete failure, and it would be equally wrong to say that either or both of these efforts solved the problem.
The Taylor Commission has told us that this is our last chance. We have had reports from commissions for 150 years or more, back to the Thomas Telford Report in 1802. Now we are told by as responsible a Commission as ever examined the problem that this is our last chance. Let the Secretary of State decide now, by withdrawing the Money Resolution, that the Bill which we shall pass in 1955 will deal at last successfully with the Highland problem.
We have had a most useful and, on the whole, constructive debate on a peculiar problem affecting the economic and social life of a people whose historical development and romantic associations always stir the emotions of Scotsmen. I have some connection with the crofting areas, and I say that this is a peculiar problem because it is a problem which is quite apart from any other we have to tackle almost anywhere throughout Great Britain. It is confined to the seven crofting counties of Scotland where conditions exist which are quite different from anything to be found elsewhere.
I should like to reiterate the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and say that we are greatly indebted to the Taylor Commission for its masterly Report. During the Recess I have been able to tour some of the crofting areas, including the Island of Skye, and I have been able to look at some of these problems there with the Report in my hand. It was not long before I began to realise how very thoroughly the Taylor Commission had carried out its task. I should like to pay my tribute to its members.
One can say that it is obvious from the general tone of this debate that hon. Members from both sides of the House are agreed that, as a matter of general policy, we all want to make a great effort to improve the lot of the crofting communities. It is as well to realise that, quite apart from their agricultural contribution, they also make a contribution to important spheres of our national life, such as the Mercantile Marine, forestry work, hydro-electric work, local authority work and in many other ways. So they do not merely spend all their time on a croft.
In the main, this Bill implements the recommendations of the Taylor Commission. Although here and there it has met with criticism—which has to be expected whenever a Bill comes before this House—my right hon. Friend is gratified at its reception. I should like to think that I could deal with the majority of the points that have been raised, but I shall not be able to answer all the questions put by hon. Members during the debate.
First I want to turn to the excellent speech made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan). In commenting on it perhaps he will also accept the thanks of my right hon. Friend for the work he has done on the Highland Panel. That Panel has been of great assistance to the Government, in that throughout the process of considering the Report of the Taylor Commission we have at the same time consulted the Highland Panel. The hon. Member for the Western Isles raised major points and I thought he put it 'extremely well when he said that he would talk about three things which have proved to be possibly the most important points made today. The hon. Gentleman said that he wanted to talk about the Commission itself, about money and about the powers to be given to the Commission.
First and of great importance is the Crofters Commission. Its precise composition has not yet been decided by my right hon. Friend. All I can say now is that this debate has been instructive in the various views put before us. For example, there was the point about the necessity for having a Gaelic-speaking member of the Commission, and there was another point in regard to security of appointment. All these points will be taken into account. However, it is clear to my right hon. Friend that we must appoint a Commission which, above all, is capable of winning the confidence of the crofters and the landlords because, if that were not to be so, this Bill would fail.
The success of this Measure will depend almost entirely on whether or not we get that co-operation upon which its structure is based. For that reason, my right hon. Friend is now giving the most careful consideration to the composition of the Commission. There is no intention of setting up a Commission which will dictate from the outside. That would be fatal. Obviously, it must be a body which will be in full sympathy not only with the traditions of the crofting counties, but also with their aspirations, a body which is able to give help where it is required, a body which is able to provide leadership and even inspiration to the crofters. When I was in the crofting areas, I felt very strongly in some places the great need for a leader to help the crofters get on with the job. We have all that in mind.
The Commission, to be effective, should not be a very large body, and I think that the numbers mentioned in the Bill are correct. We have thoroughly in mind the question of Gaelic-speaking personnel. I was also asked where we should like the Commission to be established. We should like it to be in Inverness, but we cannot be certain that this can be done until we make sure that premises will be available. We will do our best to find these premises, but I can assure hon. Members that my right hon. Friend would like the Commission to be in Inverness.
We are not setting up a dictatorship but a body which will approach its task with sympathy and understanding. At the same time, I should say that it would be fatal to the whole purpose of the Bill to deny to the Crofters Commission the freedom and authority which it will certainly require if it is to do its job.
I turn to a point raised by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) arising from the Minority Report. I had hoped that I would not have had to deal with it, but, as he put a specific question to me, perhaps I should deal with it. The hon. Gentleman referred to the general question of ownership of crofting lands and the views expressed in the Minority Report. I do not want to enter into a long controversial discussion on the question of land ownership, but I think it would be a great pity if in our discussion of this Bill at a later stage we should become involved in a debate on the respective merits of public and private ownership of land.
The question which the Taylor Commission found it relevant to consider was whether or not the State purchase of crofts was necessary in order to carry out the reforms which they recommended. Ten members concluded that it was not necessary, and one member took the opposite view, and the Government agreed with the majority. We are satisfied that the recommendations made in the Taylor Report, and to a large extent embodied in this Bill, will give the new Crofters Commission the necessary authority to perform the task to be entrusted to it. We do not see any reason at all to fear that the owners of private estates will frustrate the work of the Commission, or that they will have any reason for wishing to do so. Wholesale State purchase of land is, therefore, unnecessary.
Anyone can see that if the Government had accepted the Minority Report and were to acquire all the land in the crofting areas, an enormous burden would fall upon the Government. It would be a colossal task to acquire that land, and it would involve a vast expenditure of money and effort. My right hon. Friend, therefore, sees no case for diverting resources in this way and thus delaying the application of constructive measures.
I am not clear what the hon. Gentleman means when he speaks of throwing an enormous burden of cost on the State. I presume that the State instead of the landowners would collect the rents. Therefore, it would be an investment.
It would require the complete acquisition of crofting land in all the crofting counties. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It would require taking over all these lands. I do not want to become involved in this matter. I am only making the case that it has not been found necessary to do this. In particular cases where the Secretary of State finds it necessary to acquire the land, full provision is made in the Bill.
Under the Clause dealing with reorganisation schemes, if the hon. Member will look at it. I will come to that a little later on.
The next question is whether the Bill gives sufficient power to the Crofters Commission. That point has been made pretty generally. It has been said that the Commission itself should have power to administer the loans and grants. A great deal has been said about Clause 2, but I would remind hon. Members that this Clause does not contain all the powers of the Commission. Very important powers are conferred upon it in many other Clauses. Where the Taylor Report asks for certain powers, those powers are contained, in an executive form—
—in later Clauses of the Bill. There is the control of the letting of crofts, and there are other powers given in regard to absentee tenants, assignation, and reorganisation. Many powers are given to the Commission in other Clauses, as we shall find when we discuss the matter in Committee.
The short answer is that marketing is covered in the Bill, although there will be no power to trade. Marketing is one of the questions that will be looked at.
The answer to the claim that the Commission itself should administer the funds should be obvious to most of us. The Secretary of State for Scotland has to be responsible to Parliament in order to carry out proper accountability. We know perfectly well that the Public Accounts Committee has a lot to say about that, and we must take that fact into account. Clause 22 provides that grants and loans are administered through the agency of the Commission, and that meets the whole substance of the Taylor Commission's recommendations.
In regard to any new schemes which are devised by the Crofters Commission, in consultation with my right hon. Friend—subject to the conditions necessary to ensure proper Parliamentary control of expenditure—the new powers give very considerable discretion to the Commission. All we are doing is to retain public accountability, which is very necessary. If my right hon. Friend is to account for the expenditure of public money he must be the responsible Minister. The Commission is to be the agent which will carry out the job. For that reason we have framed Clause 22 in very wide general terms.
The Money Resolution is very wide, and the matter can be raised at a later stage.
The question of land settlement was raised by several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for the Western Isles. The position in regard to land settlement is that the Secretary of State already has powers vested in him in regard to this matter. What will happen under this Bill will be that the Crofters Commission will give him their expert advice as to how he should use those powers. They can put up any plans they like and any ideas which they may have regarding land settlement, and I am sure that that is the best way to do it.
The Secretary of State now has powers to carry out such plans, and it would be quite wrong to imagine that we are going to pay insufficient attention to this question of land settlement. It is necessary, however, to emphasise that the main task ahead is to promote the development of existing crofting communities. In some cases, this may, involve the addition of new areas of land. We want reorganisation schemes, and there will be sufficient land settlement, but it would be a mistake to imagine that the solution to the crofting problem lies in land settlement alone. This Bill is intended to carry out the reorganisation of existing communities and to bring into effect land settlement where reorganisation schemes are found to be necessary.
While I concur in the view just expressed about the preservation and rehabilitation of the present crofting communities, surely the Joint Under-Secretary is well aware that there is a scarcity of land. I posed the question of summer grazings, and asked if, in the case of a deer forest, which may be adjacent, there is power for the Commission to go in and take control of a fertile valley and make it available for summer grazing in order to restore life in a crofting area.
Where the reorganisation of a crofting township is being carried out, the way in which it will work is as follows. The Commission will draft a scheme of reorganisation and submit it to my right hon. Friend. It may contain a plan for the enlargement of holdings outside the existing crofting township, but the Commission can put up any schemes they wish. It is for them to submit the schemes to my right hon. Friend, who now has the power to acquire. As long as that is clear, the hon. Gentleman will see that it is up to the Commission to put up their schemes to my right hon. Friend.
I should like now to say a word or two on the question of the aged crofter, which was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum). I think we must put on record very carefully what our intentions are in regard to the aged crofter, because we do not want any misunderstanding at all about the matter. I am, I think, in full agreement with the House when I say that we want to show him the utmost consideration and want to make it clear that, under this Bill, there will be no compulsion whatever on the aged tenant to give up his land.
The Clause in the Bill which affects him is Clause 18, which contains a purely voluntary provision. No compulsion of any kind can be applied to such a tenant. What will happen will be that, if he feels that he would like to give up his holding. he can apply to the Commission, and if he satisfies the necessary conditions, he may get the feu of his house. If he takes advantage of Clause 18, he must satisfy the conditions which are set out in subsection (1), and here is a point which may have been misunderstood by some.
It will be obvious that if the holding in which the aged crofter lives is one that would normally be preserved as a single unit, it would be impossible to allow the crofter to have a feu of his house and not of the land, because then we should be left with the land and no house which is necessary in order to work the croft. Therefore, the position will be that where the land can be put into other reorganisation schemes, the aged crofter will be able to get a feu of his house.
The hon. Member for the Western Isles asked me a specific question.
On the point about the house, are we to take it that if it is not possible to merge that particular piece of land with some other croft, it will mean the crofter will have to get out?
No. What would happen, in the event of the Crofters Commission not being able to meet the desire of the crofter to stay in his house because the land could not be amalgamated, is that the crofter would, of course, still continue to farm the croft. We should not be misled into thinking that we could allow an aged crofter to have a feu of his house unless the land could be broken up for use with other crofts, because we must have the house if the croft is to be retained as a single unit.
I was going to deal with the question of rating which has been raised in the debate. The Bill provides that an aged crofter getting his house under a feu would not be liable, so long as he or his wife continued to occupy the house, to pay more by way of rates than he would have paid had he remained a crofter. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has got this quite clear, and I will try to explain it.
The prospect of having to assume a new rating liability might deter old people from giving up their croft, when, apart from that consideration, they would be glad to do so. As the Taylor Commission recommended, it has been thought right to remove this possible deterrent.
The hon. Member who mentioned the Sorn Report wondered what the result would be if we did something with the Sorn Report in mind. That Report is still under consideration by the Government, and, whether the recommendation in that Report about the rating of croft houses is accepted or not, the Government think it right to provide that the aged crofter should not be involved in an increased rating liability by reason of giving up his croft in exchange for a feu.
If it is argued that in no circumstances should the aged crofter ever have to pay rates, then the answer is that the Taylor Commission framed its Report before that of the Sorn Committee, and it is fair to assume that all the Taylor Commission had in mind was that the aged crofter should not be liable to pay more in rates when he became a feu owner. That, in fact, will be the position under the Bill.
I am not prepared to drop out any words at this stage of the Bill. I think that we had better wait until the Committee stage comes along.
Several hon. Members have raised the question of good husbandry. The fear is that under the Bill we are taking some powers or doing something which may lead to the great disadvantage of the crofters. That is not so at all. What is happening under the good husbandry powers in the Bill is that we are transferring to the Crofters Commission the powers previously held by the agricultural executive committees. I think everyone will agree that that is a very sound and sensible thing to do. The agricultural executive committees have a very big job looking after Scottish agriculture as a whole. The crofting problem is in many ways a remote one, and one could hardly expect that agricultural executive committees could give to a matter of this sort the attention which can be given by a commission of what, we hope, will be experts who are elected, as it were, to sit on the spot. That is all that has happened in connection with the powers under bad husbandry.
I want to deal now with a point raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). He welcomed Clause 31 and the extension to owner-occupiers of the small loans and grants available to the crofters. That extension will do much good to Orkney. The Taylor Commission drew our particular attention to the progress made in the Orkneys in land reclamation and to the fact that there was great need for more buildings to house the stock to be carried on the land. The hon. Member will see that we have done that.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland also mentioned capital and credit. Under the Bill we are giving the Crofters Commission power to grant loans in respect of working capital. The hon. Member seemed doubtful about that, but it is a fact. I was also asked why there should not be compensation for disturbance. There never has been compensation for disturbance in connection with crofting tenure, or with agricultural tenancies where there has been dispossession. We do not see why there should be any alteration in that respect. No recommendation was made on that point by the Taylor Commission.
Questions about the Land Court were raised by one or two hon. Members, and there seemed to be some fear that powers of the Land Court were being taken away, to the disadvantage of the crofters, and that under the Bill we propose to do something that would be better left alone.
The Land Court is a highly-respected and excellent organisation. When I was in Skye everyone spoke highly of it. The crofters there felt that they could turn to the Land Court for guidance and get a sympathetic response. In framing the Bill, my right hon. Friend gave very close consideration to the recommendations that were made in connection with the transfer of powers from the Land Court. A study of the Bill will show that while the new Crofters Commission will take some of the administrative duties away from the Land Court the latter will continue to exercise its essential judicial functions. In fact, the Bill confers some new functions on the Land Court.
We have to recognise that when the Bill gets under way there will be an increasing pressure of work on the Land Court, and that its work is very much more likely to increase than to diminish. It will be found in the Committee that we have followed out a logical policy which can only be shown as we take each Clause, and that where we have taken powers from the Land Court to the Crofters Commission we have a very good reason for doing so. One thing is quite certain. The Bill will in no way diminish the authority or prestige of the Land Court, nor will it affect that Court's usefulness as a body which can adjudicate impartially between crofters and landlords.
I should like to refer to the general question of afforestation. I know the interest hon. Members take in this, and when I was in Skye I saw very clearly how very valuable afforestation was in providing enough auxiliary employment to save some township from extinction. It is difficult to see how quite a few crafting townships could survive without the importation of some ancillary industry. Others can be made very much more prosperous if the ancillary industries can be improved.
It would be wrong, merely because forestry does not appear in the Bill, to think that the Government are not giving the subject the closest possible attention. If there are no specific provisions about forestry, it is because the Forestry Acts already provide powers to undertake State afforestation schemes. At this very moment we are doing everything possible to work with the Forestry Commission for afforestation in the crofting areas. For example, in 1954, 5,600 acres were planted out in those areas and, as hon. Members know, large-scale surveys have been carried out since the war.
We appreciate only too well the need to do all we can to encourage the development of afforestation. We are hopeful that under this Bill we shall get good co-operation between the Crofters Commission and the Forestry Commission in endeavouring to marry them up to the greatest extent possible, although there are problems in some areas where the land is found to be unplantable. We are, however, fully conscious of the need for such work.
If shelter belts were included in a hill farming scheme they would rank for grant. We might get schemes by which shelter belts might be put on portions of common grazing lands in the crofting areas.