§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. R. GIBSON
I beg to move,That, in view of the widespread and long-continued distress in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, now involving 2520 grave peril of a complete breakdown in the social economy of these areas, this House calls upon His Majesty's Government to formulate without delay proposals designed to arrest depopulation and poverty among the remaining inhabitants and to provide facilities whereby they may earn a decent livelihood.Whatever experience a new Member may have had of speaking elsewhere, there is necessarily a sense of diffidence in addressing the House for the first time. Accordingly, I crave from right hon. Members and hon. Members the customary indulgence that is extended to a Member who is making his maiden speech. The subject-matter of the Motion is of intense interest to Scotland in general and to Greenock in particular. Greenock is the natural gateway to the Western Highlands and to the islands of the Clyde, as well as to the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Greenock itself has a large Highland population, many of them speaking the Gaelic tongue and still attending Gaelic services on Sundays. Many were on service during the Great War and eagerly anticipated a home promised them in their native Highlands, but to them the words of Mackenzie MacBryde applied:'Well done!' they say, 'you are good and true,But we cannot give you a home.'For the hill we want for the deerAnd the glen the birds enjoy;And bad for the game is the smoke of the cotAnd the song of the crofter's boy.The distress in the Highlands and Islands and the pressing need for remedial measures are felt keenly not only in those areas themselves, but in other parts of Scotland and outwith Scotland where the descendants of Highlanders live. They live far afield throughout the British Dominions, and most particularly in Canada and New Zealand. Historically, the causes of this distress go back to the Civil War of 1745. At the end of that war a new system of land tenure was put into force in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The cultivators of the land found that the land had been handed over to the chiefs as their absolute property. The chiefs no longer had duties of a patriarchal type in relation to those who occupied the land, and they were thus able to deal with the land as their own private property. Towards the end of the eighteenth century there took place what are generally recognised as 2521 inhuman clearances from the holdings in the Highlands, and away in the far north the scenes were very sad indeed. Many deaths were caused through the cruelties which were perpetrated at that time.
Many of the population had to emigrate overseas because their holdings were taken from them in order that big sheep farms might be formed and the landlords might receive much higher rents than they received from the smallholdings. Later these big sheep farms did not pay. The price of wool and mutton fell, and the next stage was the conversion of the farms into deer forests. Bit by bit the land became impoverished. Impoverished land and depleted fisheries are now unable to provide in the Highlands and Islands a livelihood for the population who are inexorably shut out from large tracts of country that are dedicated to the deer. More and more the young people are driven from the Highlands and Islands, and the population which for a long time had been steadily decreasing is now rapidly decreasing. Let me take the seven crofting counties in Scotland—Argyll, Inverness, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland, Caithness, Orkney and Shetland, the last two being taken as separate counties. In these seven counties the aggregate population for 1891 was 360,367; for 1911 it was 341,535; and for 1931 it was 293,139. The fall for the first 20 years was 18,832, and for the second 20 years 48,398. These figures, taken for successive periods of 20 years, show how rapid the depopulation of the crofting counties has become.
Three successive Commissions have deplored the depredation of deer in the Highlands and the desolation ensuing from the encouragement of deer and deer forests. Already in 1884 nearly 2,000,000 acres had been devoted to deer, and Lord Napier of Ettrick's Commission in that year reported:Who would admit that Scotland should be made a wilderness, even if the inhabitants were provided with better lands and more lucrative occupations elsewhere? No one could contemplate the conversion of the whole extent of good pasture land, and of possible arable land, at a moderate elevation in the Highlands, into forests, without alarm and reprobation, and it is scarcely necessary to say that any serious movement towards such an issue would be arrested by the force of public opinion, attended by an amount of irritation much to be deprecated. We do not anticipate with any degree of 2522 certainty that the contingency to which we have adverted would arise, but considering the divergence of opinion expressed, the possibility of unfortunate results and the prevailing excitement in connection with this question, we may well consider whether Your Majesty's Government and Parliament may not contemplate such legislative restrictions as would restrain the progressive and immoderate afforestation of the land, and allay the apprehensions that are widely felt upon the subject.Then the report went on to suggest legislative action, but, in spite of it, nothing has ever been done. The Royal Commission of 1892 called for a check to the spread of deer forests and scheduled, in the crofting counties alone, no less than 1,782,785 acres of land suitable for the extension of existing holdings and the creation of new ones and of moderate-sized farms. Lastly, the Departmental Committee on Deer Forests appointed in 1919 declared thatthe withdrawal of so large an area from pastoral uses was, from a national point of view, much to be regretted.The deer is a selective feeder. It eats the tender grass and leaves the rough grass which overgrows the other, with the result that the land quickly becomes unsuitable even for deer. The deer then have to pass on and seek new pastures. Deer roam over a very large fraction of Scotland. I put it at no less than one-third of the country. In a hard winter, a few years ago, deer were knocked down in the public streets on the north side of Glasgow. From there to the Pentland Firth and from the West Coast to the German Ocean the deer attack the crops of the farmer and the crofter. The islands of the west are afflicted with the same pest. The owner of the deer forest is under no obligation to restrict the deer by fences, and farmers, large and small, are not permitted to shoot the deer, although it is no respecter of private property. It is an appalling fact that the Forestry Commission have to pay from 3s. 6d. to 5s. per yard for fencing to protect young trees from the deer. This is an impossible burden for any farmer, far less for a crofter. The landlord has no intention of ending the plague of deer. It was said of William the Conqueror by the English Chronicler that he "loved the tall deer as if he was their father." The Highland laird nourishes the red deer as if he was their wet nurse.
2523 The amount of land available for agricultural purposes is restricted by certain operations of the Forestry Commission. In sheep farming the sheep go on to the hill ground for summer grazing and are brought down to the low lying ground for wintering. Roughly, the sheep on three acres of the summer hill pasture require one acre of low lying winter pasture, but in many parts the Forestry Commission take over a large tract of hill and valley and plant the valley with trees. This at once puts out of commission a large portion of hill pasture for the sheep. An example was given in evidence a few weeks ago, before the Economic Council sitting at Oban, of some 45,000 sheep being cleared off a corner of north Argyllshire within recent years owing to the operations of the Forestry Commission.
The land in the Highlands is impoverished in many instances by bracken. If the land is being properly tilled the bracken will be kept down, but in the deer forests it is allowed to grow. On smallholdings bracken does not become a pest or a scourge, because the ordinary agricultural processes keep it down, and you find in many cases that, when a crofter desires bracken for bedding for his cattle or his horse, he has to go to the adjoining deer forests to get it, this being a quite general practice. About half-a-dozen years ago there came under my notice a book written by a Mr. Guthrie Smith in New Zealand—the name Guthrie Smith being known to legal history in Scotland. He had gone to New Zealand and he farmed sheep out there. The country was covered with bracken, but the working of the sheep on the land brought the bracken under control, and bit by bit his big sheep farm responded so well to the sheep and became so amenable to agricultural processes that it could be broken up into smaller farms, and more intensive farming methods could be adopted. That being successful in New Zealand, I see no reason at all why similar successful results should not be achieved by putting sheep on to very large portions of land now set apart for deer forests. Again, rabbits are a plague—that is quite common, even on golf courses. In the islands of Scotland in-breeding among the rabbits renders them tubercular, so that they are not even suitable as food. Further, 2524 while a landholder himself has the right to shoot rabbits, yet, if land is held in common, all the holders are not entitled to shoot the rabbits. They may appoint one of their number to shoot the rabbits, or they may appoint some third party, and in that way the rabbits may quite easily get out of hand.
I should like to bring to the attention of the House a recent Rating development that has operated very harshly on smallholders. Hon. Members will recall that a large farmer has his land and his house treated as a unum quid for assessment purposes—they are taken together—and in addition the large farmer has the benefit of de-rating. He pays rates on only one-eighth of his rental. This is for him only a temporary benefit because, as soon as his lease runs out, competition in the market brings in a new tenant who is willing to pay an enhanced rent. The benefit of de-rating then goes straight to the party for whom a beneficent Conservative Government intended it should go, namely, the landlord himself.
A smallholder is in a different position from a large farmer. He takes his land from the Department of Agriculture, with an obligation to build on that land a substantial house according to a plan prepared by the Department of Agriculture. The house is built with the help of a loan provided by the Department, and on that loan, of course, the smallholder has to pay interest and sinking fund dues. But the trouble is that the smallholder does not get the benefit of de-rating. The house is a "tenant's improvement," and the tenant has to pay on that house both owners' and occupiers' rates. Let me give an example that will bring the matter home. Take a smallholder with his little patch of an acre, or thereby, on which he pays, say, 30s. a year rent. Then he puts up his house, which is assessed at £12 say. What is his position for rating purposes? He pays owners' rates on that £12 and pays tenants' rates on £12 plus 30s., that is, £13 10s. Consider the case of a large farmer who has a farm with a rental of £120, which includes his house and his steading. He pays only tenants' rates. He does not pay owners' rates at all, and the only tenants' rates he pays are on one-eighth of £120, that is, £15. This little illustration shows how very hardly this rating matter bears on the smallholder as compared with the large farmer.
2525 However, with all the disabilities and hardships attaching to holdings, there are thousands of men in the Highlands and Islands, and many more in the towns and villages of the Lowlands of Scotland, who want holdings. Their number is far larger than the number of outstanding applications for new holdings and enlargements stated by the Secretary of State for Scotland on the 8th December, 1936, when he gave the figures as 2,911 and 2,975 respectively. Applications have been put in for holdings and for enlargements since 1911, and applicants are "post-carded" at long intervals asking them whether they still want holdings or enlargements. As only something like 86 new holdings and four enlargements were provided last year it is obvious that there is small chance of applications for either being successful. Recently, one of these postcards from the Department brought an answer written on behalf of the recipient. It read thus:I have received yours asking me if I still want a holding. I wanted one many years ago from you. I am now dead and have got one in the cemetery. Your obedient servant. …That illustrates what a tremendous number of people there are in Scotland wanting holdings and not able to get them because of the heavy dead hand of landlordism pressing upon a great portion of Scotland.
In the Islands and along the coast of Scotland other factors entail hardship and add to the distress. Piers are privately owned; they fall into disrepair and not a few have gone out of commission. The same applies to harbours. The consequent distress on the seaboard of Scotland and on the Islands where these piers and harbours have become derelict is obvious. Many smallholders depend partly on fishing, their holding not being of sufficient size to maintain them. Fishing is the sole mainstay of many islanders and of a large population on the mainland, but the fishing is very poor. A couple of year ago I "holidayed" with my family on the island of Gigha, which lies between Islay and Kintyre. The saithe and lythe, which are coalfish, were so scarce that the local lobster fisher was unable to catch more than a paltry dozen in an evening, quite insufficient to bait his lobster creels. I know this because I was out with him more than once, and he had to buy a 2526 supply of herring from Tarbet to bait his lobster creels. That condition of things is common along the coasts of Scotland to-day and in the Western Isles. It is entirely different from the state of affairs 35 to 40 years ago when I was a boy. Then, we could catch with four rods, manipulated by two fishers sitting at the stern of a rowing boat, off the island of Iona or the island of Arran, anything from 15 to 20 dozen saithe and lithe in an hour and a half. Hand line fishing is also in a very bad way.
I venture to digress here to consider the cause and the remedy for this fishing evil. There seems little doubt that the lack of fish is due to the havoc wrought by trawlers breaking up the spawning grounds in the shallow waters. Trawlers should, I submit, be kept far beyond the three-mile limit from the shore. The basis of that distance I understand to be the range seawards of a gun placed on the shore in the old days. But that standard is clearly obsolete so far as modern guns are concerned. An alteration of the three-mile limit would probably require international agreement. I strongly urge the Government to take the necessary steps to have the three-mile limit extended. I understand that in Russia there is a 16-mile stretch of territorial waters. In the interests of our Scottish fishermen we ought to exclude trawlers altogether from the stretch of water between the Inner and the Outer Hebrides, from the Pentland Firth, the Moray Firth, and from the arms of the sea on the mainland. I think that is essential in order to do something to restore the fishing industry in Scotland.
Let me pass to consider very shortly the question of tourist traffic. In the Highlands and Islands the tourist traffic is amazingly small in dimensions. It prospers in Iona and Gigha, in Islay and in Arran. In Skye there are notices warning off visitors, and you find the same thing obtaining in Sutherlandshire. In the island of Rhum, which is 28,000 acres in extent, one finds only five families there. They are the caretakers for sporting interests. They have schools, they have medical services and postal services for those five families alone. Formerly, 10,000 sheep were supported on that island; to-day there are no sheep, the whole place is devoted to deer. The landlord in Skye and in Sutherlandshire 2527 warns off the visitors. The landlord is unlike the deer, he firmly believes in the sanctity of private property.
With regard to transport, the MacBrayne Company has a subsidy of something like £50,000 a year from the State. That is nothing like the subsidy given in Norway to the coastwise shipping lines. I understand that Norway pays something like £1,000 a day to produce that magnificent service of coastwise shipping which I knew there in 1912 and is to-day, I understand, in no worse a position than it was then. Our shipping services could easily be extended but only if the land were available for agricultural development. The transport services in the North-West of Scotland are deplorable. There is no railway between Garve and Ullapool, and between Culrain and Lochinver. These have been discussed for many years now.
There is urgent need for remedy for the distress in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. From this side of the House I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that the logical remedy is, first, to exterminate the deer. The deer are a plague and a pest. Secondly, the land in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland should be nationalised. Unless that is done, it is very difficult to see how public money spent on improvement of land will not go straight into the pockets of the landlords. Let me take a practical example from the Island of Tiree, that magnificent island to the West of Iona, which might be called the granary of the Hebrides. A pier was erected there at the public expense, to the tune of £13,000. The rentals of five farms were straightway increased by something like 25 per cent. Smallholdings were constituted on one of the farms and the rents of the others were again increased. The last farm had a rent of £700; it was increased to £1,000. That is typical of the way in which the expenditure of public money on land goes at the present time to help and to enrich the landlord. It is almost impossible to keep public money out of the rapacious maw of the insatiable landlord.
The urge for remedies in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland is general; it is not confined to this side of the House. I find that at a meeting at Perth on 9th September, 1936, of the 2528 Black-Faced Sheep Breeders' Association, very strong things were said against the deer position in Scotland. I find that Lord Strathcarron wrote a very strong letter to the "Times" on 27th November, 1936, the day on which the result of the Greenock By-election was announced. The Duke of Montrose wrote to the "Times" on 11th December, 1936, calling for remedial measures on this very matter. Only last Saturday, the "Oban Times" whose Conservative principles are, I understand, impeccable, had a leading article on this topic, and the article said things which would have seemed strange to Conservatives, even 20 years ago. The leader writer said:The laud's the thing.''He said that the land was impoverished and then he said:The State must come to the rescue of the land.He went further. He said that the duty of the Government was to insist upon protective measures with regard to the land, and he drew as analogies the Factory Acts in the case of the employers, reserves in the case of banks, and the maintenance sections under the Housing Acts. The day has quite clearly come for the Highlands and Islands to be taken in hand for their own good, and not for the good of the landlords.
May I suggest a principle which has been adopted by Parliament as a result of the labours of a House of Commons Committee to inquire into transport in North-West Scotland? I find two House of Commons Papers dealing with the subject. One is No. 61 of 1928, 20th April. It contains a Treasury Minute and the relative contract between the Minister of Transport and David MacBrayne, Limited. The second was later in the same year and is No. 4, 1928, dated 16th November. The contract there was between the Minister of Transport and David MacBrayne (1928) Limited. Innovations were introduced. The contracts provided firstly, for reduced freights; secondly, for limited dividends; and, thirdly, for a Government representative being on the board of directors, It provided further for better, bigger and faster boats. I understand that that principle was received with universal approval in this House. The principle was surely of a semi-Socialist nature and is capable of wide 2529 application. It may be applied, in my humble submission, to road transport. Are not the roads publicly owned? Why should a private company come and break them up? The same principle should be applied to piers and to harbours.
As regards improvements, why not adopt the "principle of betterment" that is contained in the Land Drainage (Scotland) Act, 1930, under Section 2 of which a sheriff in Scotland can, after inquiry, fix the compensation payable to the landlord who has received facilities. By the application of that principle of betterment the hungry maw of the landlord might be prevented from taking benefits intended to create a national asset. There are other things that one might mention with regard to this distress. There is room for marketing schemes in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Orkney sends many eggs to the mainland and to the South. There is room for an egg marketing scheme in the Islands. Hydro-electricity might be craved in aid, in order to bring new industries to the district.
This question of justice to the Highlands and Islands is very serious for Scotland. There is a bitter feeling prevalent in Scotland that Scotland has been neglected all these years. That feeling is not restricted to Scotland but is common in the breasts of Scotsmen throughout the length and breadth of the world. There is also a disquieting feature. I would draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland to the feeling that it is only when extreme and illegal methods are adopted that any alleviation is obtained. I would draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the position in Luskintyre. There is, further, the conviction in Scotland that if Scotland had adopted the tactics of Ireland things would be better in Scotland to-day.
I have just come from a by-election and my finger has been closely on the pulse of the electorate in the West of Scotland. I know how deeply Scotland is feeling with regard to this matter, and I have to tell the gentlemen on the Treasury Bench this: If Westminster refuses to take the necessary steps to deal justice to the Highlands and Islands, a Scottish Parliament, sitting in Edinburgh, very quickly will. In Scotland, we have been celebrating the centenary 2530 of a distinguished Scottish statesman, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. He was a man of principle, and on this topic his principle was: "We should make the land of Scotland a treasure house for the people instead of a pleasure ground for the rich." In these days we find that a morganatic political mésalliance is without principle and is despised. Its days are numbered because its acts are without principle. It has given up principle for shuffling compromise. The true destiny of the people of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland is not to eke out a moribund existence on the eleemosynary largesse of money barons, whether foreign or native, but to stand on their own brawny legs and to contribute from their wealth and their efforts to the wellbeing of Scotland and of the world.
The outlook from Greenock to the North and the West is one of unparalleled beauty. I have travelled on the American and Canadian Rockies, on the Swiss, Austrian and Italian Alps, and over the mountains of Norway. I have stood on the spot there which the late William Ewart Gladstone preferred above all others, and which the Norwegians call to this day, "Utsingen," meaning "The view"; but none of those surpasses the view from Greenock. That view can, if the right type of legislative action be taken, lead to the most glorious and happiest regions in the world.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. MALCOLM MacMILLAN
I beg to second the Motion.
I have the very pleasant duty of congratulating my hon. and learned Friend upon his very able speech. He has established himself at once in the confidence and favour of the House, and as an authority on Highland matters which have not, in the past, been sufficiently before the House. I should say, from the effect of his speech alone, that those matters will certainly be brought before the House on many occasions in the future. I am sure that we look forward on all sides with pleasure to hearing him on many occasions.
My temptation is to begin to take the "Road to the Isles," as in the well-known song. I would, unlike the writer of that song, talk rather of the experience of one who remembers the corns and aches suffered by going over those roads 2531 on many occasions. We can imagine the discomforts and the very legitimate grievances of the people who have to go over those roads, if they can be called roads at all, every day and, which is worse, every night. Many of those ways are not, properly speaking, roads at all. Recently, in an open letter to the Minister of Transport, which I hope the House read, I said:The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but the roads in the Western Islands are not paved at all.I was good enough to give the Minister credit for good intentions, but they do not do much good to the feet of the little children who have to travel not only the legal three miles, but more than the three miles which the law lays down as the limit of the way to school. The roads in the Western Isles are best described by the people of the Western Isles themselves. I have here a petition, from which, with the permission of the House, I will quote. It says:We, the undersigned, would respectfully bring to your notice the following facts and reasons for framing a petition for a Kendebig-Scadabay road in the Isle of Harris.The existing footpath is approximately three and a-half miles in length serving the districts of Kendebig, Meavaig, Ard Meavaig, Kyles Skerribal, Drinnishadder, Plockropore and Scadabay, with a total population of roughly 300 people. This path is an exceedingly rough and stony one: in places but to slip would mean being hurled down a slope of jagged rocks and finding a watery bed in an adjacent loch. Yet at least on one day in every week wives and mothers have to strike this weary trail to carry home on their backs the week's provisions, or to meet a 'bus bringing the wool or yarn necessary for their only means of livelihood, the manufacture of tweed.Our food supply is perforce one which would wreck any constitution—salt fish every day of the week and salted mutton as a special treat on Sunday. We cannot risk ordering fresh meat, as we are entirely dependent on the clemency of the weather for its timely delivery by motorboat from Tarbert.We cannot benefit by the daily mail service and daily 'bus service which have recently become the portion of the more favoured areas, because we are cut off from all access to these privileges.In cases of illness it is at least a matter of hours before the doctor can be brought, and if the patient has to be removed to hospital it means heavy labour for the bearers and unspeakable torture for the 2532 sufferer before the road-end can be reached; it might even mean death to the patient through delay of treatment.That such primitive conditions should exist in a civilised country is a disgrace to any self respecting government, and, with all due respect to their good intentions, Members of Parliament who travel by car to meet their constituents at the road-end cannot fully realise the rigours and hardships that these men and women have to endure. Only experience brings realisation.Those facts were placed before the Department of Agriculture 20 years ago, but nothing has been done. So desperate was the need of the people in the Western Isles for roads that they even offered 25 per cent. of their labour free. At first they offered 25 per cent., and it was accepted greedily by the county councils, the Ministry of Transport and the rest; but the demand for labour was increased to 50 per cent. The people did not know what they were giving. The wages were estimated by the county council's engineers at the very lowest possible rate—5d. and 6d. an hour; and the wages paid were 2d. and 2½d., and sometimes even 1½d. an hour, for men working in winter conditions in the worst winter that had been known for many years. It is a disgrace that such conditions should exist. They do not exist in any other part of Great Britain, and, indeed, I hardly think that coolies in the most primitive parts of the British Empire would be asked to work for such wages and under such conditions. An example of the kind of things that happen was quoted by my predecessor in the representation of the Western Isles in this House. One twin was born in the island of Harris, and several hours later the other was born in the town of Stornoway, where the mother had to be carried over rough roads after undergoing a boat journey and being carried on a stretcher up a slippery and dangerous rock. That woman gave birth to the second twin hours later, after all that agony. There is only one district nurse in the Island of Scalpay and no doctor at all; that is the Island where three-quarters of the population—mostly young men—are unemployed. Roads in the Isles are a fundamental necessity for transport, on which will have to be based any prosperity that can be restored or developed there. Without means of transport and communication it is hopeless to try to set up any industry
2533 When I speak of roads, I include piers and harbours, because, in an island, the pier and harbour are the beginning and the end of the roads. If there are not proper piers and harbours, ships cannot come in. In their present state of decay, owing to the neglect of the county councils and the Government, they do not even admit of fishing as they should. The white fishing used to be an additional source of food supply and of employment for the people, but in many districts there is now no white fishing at all, and the poverty of the people is all the greater. I ask that this question may be considered, not only by the Secretary of State for Scotland, but by the Minister of Transport, because it really involves the whole Government and almost every Government Department. Regarding wages on our roads, the people of the Western Isles have as much right to decent wages, and as much need for them, as the people in any other parts of Great Britain. We want roads; but not at such a great sacrifice as is represented by wages of per hour, with deductions for insurance contributions arid so on. For generations road petitions have been coming in to Members of Parliament, and still nothing worth talking about has been done. A five-year plan with 100 per cent. grants has been talked about for something like a year, but I think the expression "five years" must mean that there is to be five years delay before the plan is begun. Nothing substantial has happened as yet; we are still waiting. I am not going to criticise that plan in all fairness until I know exactly what the plan is to be.
Turning to population problems, as my hon. and learned Friend has said, the position in the Western Isles has given rise to depopulation at an alarming rate and to an alarming extent. On the basis of figures given by the late Secretary of State for Scotland, I estimate that al; the present rate of depopulation there will in three or four generations be no one left in Ross and Cromarty at all. The population of Ross and Cromarty, in round figures, in 1920 was 71,000; after 15 years, in 1935, it was down to 62,000, a decrease of something like one-seventh. The number of children in the primary and secondary schools in the Island of Lewis was 5,524 in 1920; in 1935 it was down to 4,550, a decrease of nearly 1,000 2534 in 15 years. Emigration has been suggested as a solution, but to my mind emigration is a cowardly solution, the last refuge of ignoble minds that have not only failed to struggle, but have even failed to try. Emigration is not only cowardly, but at this particular time it is suicidal, because, if carried to its logical conclusion, it would mean the evacuation, not only of the Western Isles, but of the whole British Isles. With the present slump in the birth rate, which is going down much more steeply than it has for many years, and with the present position of the death rate, we shall soon reach a position in which only old people will inhabit the Western Isles, and there will be no children there at all. The figures I have given show that there would have been a still greater decrease in population but for the abnormal rise in the birth rate which took place immediately after the War, and in normal times we may expect the slump in population to be greater than it has been hitherto. We cannot afford depopulation of this kind, and, if it comes to the last calamity of a war, no one will be more anxious than the Government to discover more population, and not to give further cause for depopulation in. the Western Isles and everywhere else.
I maintain, and other authorities better equipped than myself maintain, that not only can the Isles maintain their own population, but a much greater population, and they have done so in past generations. In those times the people in the Highlands lived more prosperously[...] relatively to the prosperity of other parts of the country, than they are doing now. The standard of life in the Highlands relatively to the standard of the rest of the country has gone down tremendously. If local wealth were developed, if such home industries were restored as can be economically restored, and if more modern and economic methods of crofting and. marketing were introduced, we are confident that the Highlands could maintain a larger population. We are not asking for charity for the Highlands, but only for a fair deal. We want them to be self-supporting. A people without endeavour becomes a degenerate people. We are only asking that they be given a fair chance to make the best of things for themselves, and to make things better for their children.
2535 As regards their position in connection with unemployment insurance—and I would bring under the same category contributory pensions—the Acts were framed for places where it was possible to have regular employment, with regular payment of contributions. In the Western Isles to-day, apart from the towns, the only insurable employment for the crofters, who have to supplement their income, which is almost nil, is in road-making and work of that kind, and the only guarantee of regular work to which the Acts can apply in the Western Isles is in the fishing industry. That, however, is seasonal, and is at the mercy of every freak of nature. In one year there may be fish, and in the next year there may be none; in one week there may be fish, and the next there may be none; in one week there may be employment, and in the next there may be none. That applies to the women as well as to the men, and it applies right round the coast. Wherever they go in following their own insurable occupation, they Are at the mercy of the tides, the herring and all sorts of circumstances.
These Acts cannot possibly apply in conditions to which they are not adapted, for which they were not framed, and which were not visualised by those who framed them. It is true that they permit certain modifications for seasonal workers, but, as I have pointed out before to the Minister of Labour, they are not suitable to the conditions of the Western Isles, and under them many injustices against the people there are being perpetrated by the Ministry of Labour and the Unemployment Assistance Board. Many of them have their benefit disallowed when people in less favourable positions from the point of view of justice are allowed benefit. Many people are denied unemployment insurance who would have qualified had they been in a particular place in a particular season according to arbitrary rules set out by the Ministry of Labour and the Unemployment Assistance Board. People who have worked far more in a particular area are denied unemployment benefit, and many other benefits to which they ought to have been entitled if the Acts had been properly framed for the district, while others who have worked far less are allowed the full advantages of benefits under the Acts.
2536 The same thing applies to contributory pensions. I have had cases before the Minister of Pensions and the Secretary of State where people have had work for several weeks but cannot be employed for a sufficiently long period to enable them to qualify. That state of affairs should be remedied. Where the injustice is manifest and obvious, there is no party or Minister which can with any sense of self-respect oppose these alterations. The whole responsibility for the delay, which is a criminal responsibility, lies on the Government, and they have been guilty of it for a long time. It applies also to the unemployment position.
Fundamentally, the prosperity of the Hebrides is the fishing. On the prosperity of the fishing, regular work for the fishing girls—their age does not matter; we call them all girls—and men depends. The only opportunity for the average fishermen and fisherwomen of qualifying under the Unemployment Insurance Act is that there will be seasonal employment, which is the only employment there is, of a regular nature. When that fails, there is nothing left. When the herring fails, poverty prevails as far as the Hebrides are concerned. The Government found the fishermen very useful in 1914, when the fishing fleet became the backbone of British naval defence, but our people remember the refusals and delays of the Government ever since 1918, and they are becoming very cynical about patriotism and other things about which we may hold different opinions. We came to these people in the time of national crisis. This is the time of their national crisis, and who is going to help them? If it is a case of one good turn deserving another, it is time the nation turned to help the fishermen.
One immediate way in which the Government can help them is by at least an extension of the trawling limits. The least we can demand is extension of the 3-mile limit to 13 miles. The best we ask for is that the Minch should be closed to trawlers altogether. There is a bitterness under the quarrel between the herring fishing and the trawl fishing. There need be no such conflict and clash of interests at all. The Government should view the whole thing properly as a national fishing industry and tackle it as such. Along with this important and fundamental basis of the economic life of the Highlands, the herring fishing and 2537 crofting, there is the possibility of developing many other industries. For instance, a new industry called "Cefoil" has been established in the Orkneys and Shetlands, but there are many places in the Western Isles where a far better sea-weeds supply is available. Again, the best lobster grounds in Europe are in the Western Isles. They are not properly developed. Certainly they are not developed, as they might be, for the benefit of the lobster fishers and crofters.
Crofting by itself does not provide a sufficient income upon which to keep a family in these days when we expect a better standard of living than our forefathers had unless it is supplemented by regular guaranteed work and a proper income. That is what we are demanding. The crofts must be brought up to modern standards. They must be made more economic. There is no reason why poultry should not be developed, as an additional food supply against a time of crisis and in normal times, and there is a commission working at the possibilities of it elsewhere. There is no reason why sheep should not be bred to a much larger extent on land which is now given over to deer. If you realise what 10s. means to a crofter, any little effort on their behalf would be appreciated. If the Government only realised what a difference the old age pension made, they would recognise how very welcome any little effort on their part would be.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is regarded as a demigod on the strength of the old age pensions. I should like to see the Secretary of State regarded as a demigod. I should be pleased to worship at his shrine if he would throw us some of these little concessions. A poverty prevails there which cannot be equalled in any other part of Great Britain. Wages are paid which are the lowest in the British Empire. There is no regular work. The Unemployment Insurance and Contributory Pensions Acts do not apply and do not work there. Fishing is in decay. White fishing is abandoned. There are no piers and harbours worth talking about except under the Stornoway Harbour Trust. The deer forests are detrimental to the interests of the people and landlordism is detrimental to the tourist interest, which is one of 2538 the hopeful sources of income and prosperity. If landlordism is against that source of prosperity, it is against the people of the Western Isles, and for that reason we are against landlordism.
There are several other industries that could be developed. They have the raw materials for the Harris tweed industry at their doors. It has only to be manufactured. But a market has to be found, and again the possibilities of co-operative marketing can be investigated by the Secretary of State, who is an authority on the subject and who would find it very easy to control the industry on the same lines as he has succeeded in organising others. This industry must be restored for the crofters themselves.
There are holdings needed in the Western Isles. There are about 1,000 squatters in Lewis alone waiting for holdings, and thousands of others in the Highlands waiting for holdings on land that is occupied by deer. The first thing to be done is to satisfy that demand. The second is to consider the position of those whom the Department has already settled. The very necessities of life are denied to the people who are living in houses for which they are paying far too high rates of interest and have other liabilities. With the exception of a couple of towns there is no communal sanitary system at all for 40,000 people in Lewis and Harris. It would be a disgraceful, unthinkable thing in any other part of the British Isles. Yet this is the state generally in the Western Isles. Outside Stornoway and Tarbert and the few smaller towns in the Hebrides there is no such thing as a communal water supply. Many hon. Members who have come from the distressed areas, and have talked about them here, will begin to think that they are living in our Celtic dream of paradise if they compare it with the Western Isles as they actually exist. Without water supplies the problem of sanitation can never be solved. It is fundamentally necessary, if you are to have proper sanitation, to have a water supply. Rupert Brooke praised "The benison of hot water." In most parts of Great Britain we grumble if we do not have hot water, but in the Western Isles they are denied the benison of cold water. Here I wish to quote a letter which I have received from North Uist: 2539The following facts we beg to lay before you. In regard to water supplies, our domestic supply is obtained from shallow surface wells. These in many cases are merely dip hole wells and are unprotected by either wall or fence, so that it is impossible to keep such wells free from the contamination of animals or from refuse thrown about by the wind. In winter during heavy rains the water falls into them carrying impurities of all sorts, and the surrounding soil being of a soft nature soon turns into mud with the tramping of people and cattle. In summer these wells, not having their source from springs, soon dry up, and on this happening we are compelled to use loch water which in itself is merely a shallow stagnant pool, and these lochs are the common drinking places of cattle. Surrounding them are the houses of crofters with their steadings and conveniences, and their drainage with all impurities naturally fall into these basins of filth, so that it is quite obvious to anyone that our condition is worthy of due consideration"—that is putting it very mildly—and we earnestly appeal to you to give your support in altering our grievances.They have been very patient up to now, and they are patient still, but that is no reason whatever for continuing these grievances, and for continuing to neglect remedying all these grievances, which are legitimate. They are not asking for luxuries, but for fundamental necessities —things like water supply, roads and decent houses. It is regrettable that these conditions should be allowed to exist whatever Government is in power. I cannot but think that the Secretary of State for Scotland will give us that for which we ask—a new deal for the Highlands. I cannot but think that, knowing these facts for himself, and, no doubt, sympathising with the condition of the people who are enduring these grievances, he will give very earnest consideration to these problems and give of the very best in his position to remedy them, and give us something better in the Western Isles than has obtained up to the present. The people in the Western Isles never ask for very much themselves, but they are determined now, especially when they have begun to see with the light of political enlightenment which, until very recently, was denied to them. I am not boasting at all, but now they begin to see the position because they are able to visit the towns, and, in isolated cases, to send their sons to the universities. They say that if the minister and the doctor can send their sons to the university why 2540 cannot they do so, as they keep the minister and the doctor? The Government keep the doctor, too, by perpetuating these conditions of ill-health and the lack of sanitation, water supplies, by-roads and so on, and by not tackling these problems.
These people have been patient up to the present, but they are getting very impatient now, and I am encouraging them. There was once a famous rising in connection with the Land League, and the Government, unless something is done, may have to tackle another such rising again. We are not so very unlike the Irish to which an hon. and learned Friend referred some time ago. It will be remembered that the Irish rose up and challenged, not only the Government, but the whole British Empire. And Ireland won! I am not asking for methods of violence, and I am not threatening, as one Irish Member is said to have done, "with an awful countenance." I am sure that the Secretary of State for Scotland can beat me with his countenance, with all respect to him; but we must persist in retaining the rights for which our forefathers fought, and we intend to retain those rights. We intend to put up a pretty good struggle before we stop pestering the Secretary of State and Governments. But I do hope that he is going to give us new hope and a new deal, and that we do not appeal to-night in vain.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Sir MURDOCH MACDONALD
May I, like the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan), congratulate the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. R. Gibson) upon his maiden speech. He has chosen a subject which naturally, is very near to my heart, and he elucidated what he had to say in a very clear and convincing manner, but I cannot say that, if I were putting down that particular Motion, I should have used the words which he has used, or have put it down in that particular form, nor indeed would I have adopted the particular method that he used to support it. For a moment or two I almost thought that he was going to assert that Greenock was the capital of the Highlands, and that, very naturally, is a subject which touches me rather closely. We know the views of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for 2541 Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten), but now I see a new star has risen in the firmament.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
If you fellows had defended the Highlands in the way that you ought to have done, you would not need to do it to-night.
§ Sir M. MACDONALD
I do not know in what particular respect the hon. Member wishes to say that I or others like me should have defended the Highlands, butI can say with perfect self-confidence that I have done my utmost to defend and to help them on every occasion.
§ Sir M. MACDONALD
When the hon. Gentleman speaks he may say wherein I and others like me have been remiss. Certainly he has given no indication of it up to the present. The points put forward by the Mover and seconder of the Motion have almost entirely dealt with the Islands and not with the Highlands. The hon. Member for the Western Isles, very properly, stated that he would deal with the Islands. The area of Scotland is 30,000 square miles while the Highlands area is over 14,000 square miles and the Islands area about 3,000 square miles or, roughly, about one-fifth of the total area of the Highlands. Four-fifths of the area of the Highlands is on the mainland, and that has hardly been dealt with. In supporting the Motion and in seconding it the two hon. Members have made strong references to deer forests.
§ Sir M. MACDONALD
I can say with reasonable justification that I know the Highlands as well as anybody. My own county has something less than one-third, possibly one-fourth of the whole area of the Highlands, and I know it intimately. The suggestion that the deer forests can, somehow or other, at some future time be cultivated, is utterly beyond the question of the day. No one has ever suggested that the vast bulk of the deer forests could in any way be cultivated. There are reasons, climatic and geological, which prevent that, and nobody has yet suggested how those reasons could be overcome. It is all very well for hon. Members to say that deer forests can be brought into cultivation, but it is essential for them to 2542 have in mind some scheme whereby that can be done. Nobody has ever yet stated how it can be done.
The question of deer forests has arisen in my lifetime. When I was a child the whole of the deer forest area of the Central Highlands of Scotland was let to a well known sportsman of those bygone days for £50 a, year. One small portion of the vast area that he rented was let in recent years for £4,000 a year. Deer shootings were let long before I was born, but as a general statement it is accurate to say that during my lifetime the great increase in deer forests has taken place. There is a great swingback at the present time in the value of vast sporting estates. There had been a great and rapid rise in the value of the deer forests and there had been a tendency on the part of proprietors to turn other lands into deer forests. The Government of the day ought to have taken steps to stop that, but the unfortunate thing is that our legislation is always belated. As the Prime Minister said the other day, under democratic government we are apt to be a couple of years after the date. Legislation ought to have been introduced to prevent the turning of other lands, sheep farms, into deer forests, but that remark does not apply to the vast bulk of the deer forests area. It is right that all the areas that have been added as deer forests in recent years should be turned back once again to sheep farms.
In the deer forests areas along the little streams which pass through the valleys there are here and there small portions of land which have been washed by the stream coming down, and as a consequence they are now capable of cultivation. In by-gone years, when life was lived at a much lower stage than it is to-day, those little patches of land were cultivated, and the ruins of houses are still visible alongside them. In the early years of my coming to this House I asked myself whether it was possible to put men back again on to the land in some of these areas, and for that purpose I bought the biggest maps of Inverness-shire that I could get, the 6-inch maps of the whole county. I had 92 huge sheets. I looked at them in my office and wrote to my agent asking him to write to the 62 minor agents for whom he was responsible on my behalf throughout my constituency. I asked him to get 2543 them to write saying whether there was any land in their vicinity that could be recultivated and might be occupied for that purpose if houses were built and other amenities provided. The replies came back but there was no suggestion of settlement. I kept the maps for the purpose of handing them out if any man said: "I know where you could settle someone, provided a new home were laid down." I intended to ask them to mark on the map the suitable site so that I could send it to the Scottish Office.
§ Sir M. MACDONALD
It may have been six to seven years or more. I think I know of odd places where some such settlement might take place, but I am trying to give a fair picture to the House of the deer forests and I must confess that while I know of a certain number of places that might be selected for cultivation, they are few and far between. The vast bulk of the deer forests must remain as they are for ever until some scientific person comes along and suggests how the change can take place. I have not yet heard how that change can take place and how the ground can be made suitable for settlement purposes. Probably what has misled many hon. Members and a great many other people is the question of the grouse moors. Sheep and grouse go together, but sheep and deer do not as the general rule.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
The hon. Member must remember that we are not in Committee. He has expressed his views at some length and must allow the hon. Member to express his views.
§ Sir M. MACDONALD
In the case of grouse moors, which is generally lower land, no doubt an alteration could take place, such as has taken place on the Western seaboard, in the Island of Skye and in the Western Islands, and probably people could be settled on little patches of land which are suitable for cultivation. But these places are but few. Some parts of these grouse moors might be taken over, and also parts of the sheep runs made into smaller settlements rather 2544 than the big sheep farms which exist to-day. If that were done no doubt far more people could be accommodated in the country than is the case at the present moment. When I think of the crofting element on the Western seaboard I remember a question which I put two years ago to the Secretary of State for Scotland regarding the population in Skye, that is the school population. I was told that the number of children had decreased from 2,600 in 1913 to 1,400 at the time when the last available figure was given. Every croft in Skye was occupied as far as I knew, though there might be an odd one unoccupied, yet the school population had greatly decreased. It had decreased at a much greater rate than the decrease in the birth rate justified. As a result of correspondence I found that when the occupant of a croft died and the heir was being looked for it was often a man past middle life, who had probably worked in the south of Scotland. He goes to live on the croft as a home for his old age, but there are no young children growing up.
I think the Secretary of State should inquire whether the law of succession might not be altered. I do not want to stop a man who has worked in the south getting a comfortable home in the Highlands, but I am more anxious that the race should persist; and it cannot persist if such a tenancy happens to be the general tendency. It would eliminate the Highland race in a short time. From my personal knowledge I think too many instances of that kind arise. If a succession law was made that no man over 35 years of age should succeed we might reasonably anticipate that children would grow up and that the Highland race would continue. Except for a suggestion regarding fishing the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Motion made few proposals which would be a really serious contribution towards stopping the decrease in population. Let. me deal with that side of the matter if I may. I would suggest that the Secretary of State should earnestly consider with the Forestry Commission a vast increase in afforestation. When afforestation was being carried out in my constituency to the west of Loch Ness I had same correspondence with Sir John Sutherland, who was then the technical head of the Forestry Commission. I asked him what would be the effect on population of 2545 forestry, and I was amazed at the figures he gave me, the increase was so enormous. It was far greater than either sport or sheep would give. Knowing that Sir John thoroughly knew his subject after long years of experience I had no hesitation in accepting his figures, and I feel justified in asking that a vast increase in the amount of afforestation should be undertaken for the benefit of the Highlands and to support a larger population on the land.
I could have dealt also with fishing, but I think it is of little use asking for an alteration of the three-mile limit or a stoppage of international trawling. That subject has been brought before this House again and again in Debate but nothing has even been done, however desirable it might appear. It may be that dropping water will wear away a stone and it might be justifiable to insist day after day on this particular subject, but I feel that more constructive suggestions should be put before the Government. The Secretary of State should consider helping an industry which was choked by the trawlers before the three-mile-limit was introduced. The inshore fishing industry around the Western Isles was first-class. The three-mile limit was introduced, but the trawlers paid no attention to it, and only last year was a Bill passed by this House forbidding illicit trawling. But the passing of a Bill in this House is not enough, for whatever may be on the Statute Book, people need not pay any attention to it if there is nobody to enforce the law and arrest them. I understand that steps have been taken to make control more effective than has hitherto been the case. All these steps, however, have been taken after the industry has been choked. The industry needs resuscitation, and the only possible way of resuscitating it is by forming a fund with money from which local people could purchase boats and the necessary gear. Moreover, all these inshore boats are bound to be slow in going from the fishing-grounds to a point on the mainland to get rid of their catch, either at Kyleakin or Mallaig in my constituency. Fast transport ought to be provided for such inshore fishing, and possibly there ought to be provided at these places ice stations where the fish could be preserved so that when it reached the market it would be in a reasonable and fresh condition.
2546 With regard to public roads, about which the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. MacMillan) spoke, it is not only in the Western Isles that roads are bad, but also in other parts of the Highlands. The hon. Member was right when he said that the slowness with which the five-year programme is being pursued is almost a scandal. It is now two years since it was adumbrated and agreed to, but very little indeed has been done. I know it takes a long time even to make the survey, but for all that, very much greater progress could have been made than in fact has been made. This is a matter which the Secretary of State for Scotland might very well take up with his colleague the Minister of Transport. There are, however, roads other than those with which the Ministry of Transport has to deal. The Ministry deals with Class 1, 2 and 3 roads, but there is a great number of parish roads in the Highlands. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Dominions has a great number of those roads in his constituency. They are maintained by small local subsidies in the respective areas. That was right and just until the advent of the motor car. Formerly, the roads were reasonably good ones for the purpose of foot traffic, sheep, occasionally cattle, and sometimes a small vehicle or two moving at a slow pace;; but motor cars whisk around the twisting corners, scoop out furrows and leave the roads in such a condition that the cost of repairing them is far greater than otherwise it would be.
The Secretary of State for Scotland might very well approach the Minister of Transport and ask him whether, seeing that it is motor cars that are the trouble, other roads than those in Class 1, 2 and 3 might not rank for a grant from the Ministry. I have pointed out many times that, so far as the Highland constituencies in particular are concerned, a fundamental error was made in connection with the grants in the first instance. When the block grant was decided upon, it was intended that, where the population was small and the roads long, the weighting should be in favour of those counties where there was a small number of people per mile of the road. In fact, that is not exactly what has happened. One finds that counties with 100 and over 100 people per mile of the road get 50 people added. A hundred people are 2547 counted as 150, 200 as 250, and so on, in order to arrive at the rate; but when it comes to the poor counties, with a small population and long roads, what happens? A county such as my own has only 38 people added. One county in England is particularly badly hit in that respect, and I think the Welsh members should look after Radnorshire as I am looking after my own county. The weighting under the Local Government Acts needs readjustment, because I believe a fundamental error was made in allocating these grants which militates against the poorer counties, which were intended to benefit, and prevents them from getting the benefit intended.
Then the Secretary of State for Scotland might reintroduce a Bill which his predecessor introduced, that is to say, the Piers and Ferries Bill. There was a third item in that Bill—harbours. At the time, I understood that harbours were the contentious part of the Bill. If that is still the case, why not pass the piers and ferries part, which is non-contentious? The matter is extremely urgent. There is a ferry next to my town of Inverness, over a short strip of 600 yards of water into Ross-shire, the constituency of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Dominions. To-day there is no ferry, although there had been a ferry from time immemorial. What has happened The ferry is in private hands. In my view, no ferry ought to be in private hands, but ought either to be in the hands of a strong company or owned by the county council or a large burgh. I pressed the Provost of my burgh to take action, and, now that the ferry has been stopped, to put on an adequate service. What has happened has been a regular farce. The proprietor is evidently not a wealthy man. He obtained a suitable ferry boat to replace the unsuitable one he already had. It was towed up round the coast from somewhere in the South, and sank. He purchased another and again, in bad weather off the West of Scotland, it sank. After a still longer interval he got a third and endeavoured to get it passed through the Caledonian Canal, but after passing through one lock it stuck in the next and could not get any further.
§ Sir M. MACDONALD
here is a case in which power ought to be given to local authorities to step in, but apparently there is nothing in the law as it stands that would allow the burgh to do what I have been suggesting and to take over this ferry. Apparently a provision was included in the Act of 1908 allowing county councils power of that kind. In this case the county council and the burgh should jointly have a right of control over this ferry. That is why I urge the Secretary of State to reintroduce the Piers and Ferries Bill as quickly as possible, in order to put an end to a ridiculous state of affairs, which involves the great inconvenience to a large number of people. I have heard that children who live on the other side of the ferry have to go 25 miles round to attend school.
§ Sir M. MACDONALD
I have referred to the case of the ferries and, as regards piers, it is equally important that something should be done. If the Bill to which I refer, which has already been presented to this House and read the First time, were brought in again and quickly passed, situations such as I have described would be avoided and great benefit would accrue to the whole community.
My last words will be on the tourist industry. Some time ago the Secretary of State was reported as having expressed the hope that we Highland people would not become waiters. I do not know whether he was correctly reported or not, or whether I gathered correctly from the Press the effect of his statement and I am subject to correction. But I understood, at all events, that he did not want us to develop our tourist industry too much, lest we might become waiters.
§ Sir M. MACDONALD
The right hon. Gentleman himself comes from the Border and one of the slogans of the people there is, I believe, "Wha daur meddle wi' me."
§ Sir M. MACDONALD
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that all those who look after the tourist industry in the Highlands, all the gamekeepers and other people concerned in that industry, in any form, are just as independent-minded as the people of the Border. The fact that they are concerned with the tourist industry has no influence on their personal conduct. They help the general public who visit the Highlands to enjoy themselves when they come there, but their characteristics remain the same and they are just as independent as ever. Last year, owing mainly to political conditions on the Continent, there was a great influx of tourists into the Highlands. I think I heard the hon. and learned Member for Greenock (Mr. R. Gibson) referring to Skye, make the statement that the people there had notices up to the effect that they did not want visitors or tourists there. I do not think that is the case generally. The people of the Highlands, I believe, are delighted that their country should be the playground and the health resort of the people who live in and around the big towns of the South. It is necessary that the people from those areas should have an outlet and it is preferable that they should have that outlet in their own country, instead of spending their money in foreign countries. It is a financial advantage to all if they spend their holidays at home, and the Highlands are specially adapted to that purpose. There are many ways in which the tourist industry in the Highlands could be benefited, if the Secretary of State cared to give his mind to the question.
§ Sir M. MACDONALD
There is one suggestion which I would make and which would, I am sure, please the hon. Member opposite. As long as the deer forests and grouse moors exist, only the wealthy can enjoy them, but there is also fishing. There are hundreds of Highland lochs and I would like to see these taken over from the proprietors and made public under, say, the county councils. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling (Mr. Johnston) shakes his head, but I think the county councils would be the right people, and as soon as such powers were given to the county councils, the proper people would be elected to those bodies to see that those facilities 2550 were taken advantage of properly. We live in a democratic country and we shall continue to use democratic methods as long as we possibly can in developing the resources of our country. The fishing in the Highlands could be made to give pleasure to vast numbers of people who, to-day, when on holiday there, are debarred from fishing because, in every place, the sporting tenant has the sole fishing rights. In such ways as these—and there are a number of other suggestions which I could make but I do not wish to detain the House longer—I feel that the Highlands could be made far more use of and far more people maintained there, than is the case at present
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Mr. CASSELLS
I had looked forward to this Debate, having in mind the Debate on Scottish Estimates which took place in this House not many months ago, when, in my opinion, the Scottish Members taught the House a lesson in brevity. Each speaker on that occasion kept to a strict limit of 15 minutes. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same about this Debate. I appreciate, however, the opportunity which has been afforded us of dealing with Scottish affairs, first because I am a Scotsman and secondly because of the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. R. Gibson), to which I listened attentively. It is not so many years ago since my hon. and learned Friend in Hamilton Academy was teaching me the intricacies of Boyle's Law and the principles of Archimedes, and I think, after hearing his speech tonight, hon. Members will agree with me that we look forward to his future participation in our Debates. I often wonder when Scottish interests will receive the attention which they deserve. It seems to me that Scottish interests and Scottish independence are being flung further and further into the background. We have lost the Stone of Destiny, and we now find that we have lost Wallace's sword. Whether it will ever turn up again is 'a matter of mere conjecture.
The topic which this House is now discussing is the question whether or not there is distress in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and I wish to ask the Secretary of State categorically whether or not he admits that such distress does exist. I am perfectly satisfied 2551 that there can be only one possible answer to that query, and that answer is definitely that distress does exist. Once we get to that point, hon. Members on this side, and, I am sure, hon. Members opposite also, desire to know what is to be the Government's policy for dealing with that distress. If you take Inverness-shire, with which the last speaker dealt, or the county of Argyll, or the county of Dumbarton, which I have the honour to represent, and if you go through any of those three areas, you will find complete confirmation of the point made by the first two speakers, namely, that the beasts of the field seem at all times to have preference over the human beings living in those districts.
If you take, for example, the life of an ordinary Scottish crofter, what is it? He may be a married man with five or six children, and he has a small holding of his own. His family grows up, he is able to absorb one or two of them in his croft, but unfortunately a point of time inevitably arrives when there is no work on the croft for certain members of the family. They go to the city and look for work, and in many cases they are completely unsuccessful, and we find men from the crofts in Employment Exchange queues in our large cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, too proud, unfortunately, to go back to their own family circle and admit defeat, in so far as the search for employment is concerned. Should these circumstances be? The right hon. Gentleman is bound to admit that in a well ordered state of society such circumstances should never be tolerated. It cannot be said that this is a. state of affairs that has arisen within the past few years. As the first speaker very properly pointed out, it is due to an accumulation of circumstances, not of recent origin, but going back as far as 1715 and 1745, Government after Government in this House crushing and oppressing the Scottish people, depriving them of all the rights, privileges, and interests to which a properly cultivated and civilised nation is entitled.
These are generalities, but let me refer to the question of housing, which has not yet been touched upon. Two days ago I put a pointed question to the Minister sitting on the Front Bench, and I asked whether it was the intention of the 2552 Government to deal with the vexed question of decontrol. The categorical reply which I received was to the effect that this problem would not again come up for consideration until 1938. Is the Minister aware of the circumstances which presently exist, due to the almost universal decontrol of subjects? Is he aware that, with poverty and unemployment going hand in hand in Scotland at the present time, with house after house getting out with the control of the Rents Restriction Acts, there is no definite security of tenure and no limit placed on the shoulders of the landlord in so far as the rent which he is entitled to charge is concerned?
There is the most invidious position: I am not saying that all landlords are bad—that would be foolish—but that the tenants are entitled to have protection from the bad landlords, and what we find in all our Scottish areas is that a landlord will go to John Jones, who is unemployed, and say to him, "I want, not £10 a year, but £15 a year." John Jones says, "I cannot do it." There is a prospective tenant outside who is prepared to pay the £15 a year, and John Jones is evicted. The sheriff has absolutely no discretion in the matter, and the new tenant goes in, paying £15 a year. In a few months' time the same vicious circle starts again. The landlord is not even satisfied with the £15. He has another tenant who is prepared to pay £20; out goes the second man, and in goes the third man. The vicious circle is even worse than that. I can give the Minister cases where the landlords are not merely satisfied with that, but where they have actually got to the stage of turning to the incoming tenant and saying, "Not only are you to pay £15 a year if you are to get this subject, but you will go to a certain furniture shop and purchase your furniture there, whether on the hire purchase system or not."
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I must call the hon. Member's attention to the fact that we are dealing with the Highlands and Islands.
§ Mr. CASSELLS
But there are urban areas in the Highlands, Sir, and it is to those areas that I am making very definite reference. I trust that in the light of the information which I have given to the Minister, he will reconsider the answer which he gave me two days ago in the hope that something of advantage will accrue. Apart from this particular question of decontrol, housing in the Highland areas is not being dealt with as it ought to be dealt with. We have reactionary authority after reactionary authority coming forward and completely stultifying any effort made on the part of this or any other Government to deal with the housing problem. To take my own constituency, I will give two illustrations. On the shores of one of the lochs is a house no less than 120 years old, tenanted by a husband, wife, and five young children. It has a cement floor, no proper drainage, no proper ventilation, nor even a thatched roof on it, but a corrugated iron roof, held in position by an iron band, and no lavatory accommodation. What does the tenant do? He deposits his effluent from the dry closet on the shores of the nearby loch.
Take another case that came within my purview only a few weeks ago, of an unemployed man living in a single apartment. The only means of ventilation was the chimney. He was found suffocated. I lay that man's death on the shoulders of the local authority, which ought to have dealt with this particular matter but failed in its duty. There is a third consideration in dealing with this housing question. The failure to deal expeditiously with the erection of houses is curbing industry in our country. I have here a letter from a firm, dated 9th December, 1936, and I am informed by the individual who sent me this letter that a similar letter has been sent to the Minister. I will quote briefly from the letter. It states:I am again writing to you on the subject of housing at Rosneath. The position is becoming more serious every day. As you are probably aware, we have laid down a fairly large plant at Rosneath and sunk considerable capital in it. We are at present employing approximately 100 men. Of this total there are only nine householders in Rosneath or Clynder area. Others travel from as far as Old Kilpatrick, Dumbarton, Alexandria, Helensburgh, Garelochhead, Gourock and Cove. With the Clyde shipyards becoming busy, we are losing our men daily"—2554 I am sure that the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Kirkwood) will be able to corroborate that statement—and at the present moment we are in grave danger of failing to complete our present contracts in time. For your information we may say that our present contracts amount to approximately £50,000, to be completed by the 1st June, 1937.This is the point:The most serious aspect is, however, that we are unable to quote for new work, and during the last 10 days we have received invitations to tender for work from the War Office and the Admiralty, and several contracts from abroad. In each case we have had to turn these down.… You will realise that the shortage of housing at Rosneath has now reached a point where not only are we losing a great deal of potential business, but our very existence as a firm is imperilled.The Department cannot say that they have not had previous knowledge of this, because the letter states:I may say that as far back as 1929, I had a visit here from an official from the Board of Health, Edinburgh. … He expressed the opinion at that time that the need for houses at Rosneath was very urgent indeed, and I have no hesitation in saying that it is much more so to-day.There you have a concrete illustration of the fact that as a result of housing not having been dealt with as it ought to have been there is a possibility of this firm requiring to be closed down and unemployment in this area automatically becoming very bad.
Leaving housing, let me put this question to the Minister: Can the Highlands be developed? Let us have a fair, a straight and an honest answer to that question. Is the Government's attitude to be that as far as the Highlands and the Islands of Scotland are concerned it is to be a case of stand Scotland where she did? If the Government are prepared to lay their cards on the table and to give us a concrete proposal I am satisfied that hon. Members on this side of the House will give it the careful scrutiny which it will merit. Have the Government any policy? I am unfortunately driven to only one possible conclusion, and that is that the present Government have no tangible policy in regard to the Highlands of Scotland. I put a question two days ago with regard to a survey of Scotland. It was brushed aside. Deputations from all over Scotland came to this House asking for a Forth Bridge 2555 and a Tay Bridge. They were brushed aside. The right hon. Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Mr. T. Johnston) put forward the suggestion of a Mid-Scotland ship canal. It was brushed aside. I put a question to the Minister of Transport with regard to the possibility of the electrification of railways and it was dealt with in the same fashion.
Reference has properly been made to the tourist industry. Repeatedly I have raised questions in this House with regard to this industry, because I am absolutely satisfied that in the proper development of the tourist industry lies the salvation of the people of Scotland. If we had a Government of progress and understanding who were prepared to develop Scotland in that way, is it too much to say that our problems would disappear?
§ Mr. HENDERSON STEWART
Why does the hon. Member always turn the question to depending on the Government? Why is it not possible for Scotland to do some of these things herself without leaving it to other people to take the initiative?
§ Mr. CASSELLS
The hon. Member knows quite well—we all know—that there is a considerable body of public opinion growing up in Scotland which expresses complete dissatisfaction with the manner in which Scottish interests have been attended to. He knows quite well that as far as the particular point to which he has referred is concerned that requires legislation. If we take the report of the Commissioner for the Special Areas we find that in 1934—and I am using the case of England in support of my argument—the total income from the tourist industry in England approximated to £25,000,000. Scotland is far more favourably placed than England in so far as this industry is concerned. Take my own constituency, with Loch Lomond, a place which has been absolutely maligned and forgotten in the past. If Loch Lomond, instead of being placed in Scotland, and under the whim of the National Government, were placed in the United States of America it would be developed as it ought to be developed and remuneration would follow.
§ Mr. CASSELLS
No reference has been made to public health statistics as far as Scotland is concerned. Scotland is a land ideally situated, and has been most properly described as of the valley and the flood. It is windswept from east to west and from north to south, and on the average it is many hundreds of feet above sea level. Yet we find the astonishing fact that our death rate is proportionately much higher than that of the mother country, England.
§ Mr. CASSELLS
I can see that there are still some real Scotsmen present in the House, but what I want to point out is that the death rate in Scotland is 1.1 higher than in England. It is higher than that of Belgium, and even England's rate suffers in comparison with that of Sweden, 11.2. Germany's rate is 10.9. The rate which puts Scotland to shame is Norway's, which is 9.8. We want to know why, if that can be done in Norway, it cannot be done in Scotland. The only reason is that in Norway they have a progressive type of Government which is prepared at all times to deal with questions of public health as they ought to be dealt with.
Are we to take it that the Scotland of yesteryear is dead? I hope it is not to be said of Scotland that it is to be a case of "Lochaber no more." Are there no Ministers on the Government Front Bench in whom we can place confidence? I am beginning to doubt it. I am prepared to give them, even at this time, the benefit of any doubt that may exist. We have the Secretary of State for Scotland, who may be a bit dour at times, but I believe that if we put forward a real tangible case to him he will, like a real Scotsman, give it the consideration it merits. We have the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, another Scotsman. I would have thought that he at least would have been sitting on that bench to-night. [An HON. MEMBER: "He was."] He is not here now. He is a man who is primarily concerned with the control of the purse-strings of this problem. We have the Minister's deputy, the Standard 2557 Bearer of Scotland. Is he going to do nothing? Is the carrying of the Standard of Scotland to be a pure fiction?
We want the Minister responsible to carry this crusade of ours right into Scotland and to deal with Scottish problems adequately. The Scottish people are a proud people, and rightly so. We believe, and I also think rightly, that they are the salt of the earth. We are not prepared to allow this Government or any other Government to cast our glories of the past into the limbo of forgotten things. I trust that some good will accrue from this Debate and that the attention of the Government will at least have been drawn to the vexing position of Scotland. I trust, too, that the Minister responsible will do what I asked his predecessor to do, to rise like Wallace refreshed, cleaving with the broad sword of public opinion our views into the stultified and Sassenach outlook of the Government.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Major NEVEN-SPENCE
The hon. Member who has just spoken asked a very pertinent question—does distress exist in the Highlands and Islands? I have listened carefully throughout the Debate for some tangible evidence that it does, and I remain entirely unconvinced. Hon. Members opposite have followed the device of picking out an extreme case here and there, painting in a lot of purple patches, and then asking us to accept it as a picture of affairs as they are in the Highlands and Islands. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Sir M. Macdonald) performed a useful service when he debunked the wild statements made by hon. Members opposite on the subject of deer forests in Scotland. There is no subject about which more unutterable nonsense is talked and written than the deer forests of Scotland. It was refreshing to hear from him the statement of a practical man familiar with the problem. Anyone with an eye to agricultural land must know that there is a great area in Scotland that never can in any circumstances be turned into agricultural land. We know also that there is a considerable area of land, most of it second and third-rate land, which has at one time been cultivated, but no one can produce any practical proposals for bringing it into cultivation now.
I do not like the terms in which this Motion is drawn. It refers to the wide- 2558 spread and long-continued distress in the Highlands and Islands. I rather suspected there was a cat in the bag, and the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) let it out when he began to talk about the distressed areas. The hon. and learned Member who moved the Motion and those who sit with him seem to suffer from a complex. They have got what I might call the distressed areas complex. The distressed area is a very good stick with which to beat the Government. Therefore, they argue, the more distressed areas the better, and in their search for more and better distressed areas they have hit on the brilliant idea of adding the Highlands and Islands to their list. They are reckoning without the people who live in the Highlands and Islands. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. Cassells) spoke about Scottish pride. I wish that the hon. Members who have spoken on the other side had shown a little more of it to-night, for the one burden of their song has been begging from first to last. There has not been a single suggestion that any of the people in the Highlands and Islands will not do anything or are doing anything to help themselves.
It is not doing any service to those areas to refer to them in the terms of distressed areas. It does no good to paint an imaginary picture of distress which does not exist, because it will only prejudice the real case of the Highlands and Islands. I claim to speak for roughly one-quarter of the area we are discussing, and I think that the two groups of Islands for which I speak are a fair sample of the rest of the Highlands and Islands—[HON. MEMBER7: "No"] —both from the industrial and agricultural point of view.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
You know that they do not represent the rest of the Highlands at all. The conditions bear no comparison.
§ Major NEVEN-SPENCE
The islands of Orkney and Shetland are part of the area known as the Highlands and Islands, and if hon. Members like to go far enough back in their history, they will find that they have been in the past in as unsatisfactory a state as it is alleged the other parts of the Highlands and Western Isles are in to-day. One of the 2559 difficulties I have in my constituency is that so few people seem to know where these groups of islands are. That is apparently due to the fact that they are almost always inserted on the map half-scale either in the Moray Firth or on the Atlantic seaboard. It is my job to keep them on the map full scale in their proper place. The Orkney Islands lie close to the extreme north point of Scotland off Caithness, and most of them are visible, but the chief port for the islands is Aberdeen nearly 10 hours away by sea. There are 30 of the islands inhabited, and they are, generally speaking, flat and moderately fertile. The chief industries are agriculture, lobster fishing, and herring fishing; and there is a smaller industry, but an important one, kelp burning.
Orkney is one of the most interesting counties in Great Britain. It is an object lesson from the point of view of agriculture for the rest of the country, not merely for the Highlands and Islands, but for the whole of Great Britain. It is extraordinary that if you go into the history of the county you find a tale of continually expanding prosperity going back for 75 years, which is as far back as any figures go that I have been able to get. Further, there has been a rapid and unprecedented expansion of prosperity in the last 35 years. I am sorry to have to inflict a few figures on the House, but I hope hon. Members will bear with me, because the figures are very striking and ought to be much more widely known than they are likely to be from any official publication. Going back to 1870, we find that in Orkney the area under cereals and root crops was 47,000 acres and the area under rotation grass was 22,000 acres, a total of 69,000 acres of arable cultivation. In 1935 the area under cereals and roots was 45,000 acres, a very slight decrease of 2,000 acres, and the area under rotation grass had increased by more than 100 per cent. having gone up from 22,000 acres to 46,000 acres, bringing the total arable area up to 90,000 acres. That is a net increase of 21,000 acres in the land under crops and rotation grass, made up of an increase of 23,000 acres in rotation grass and a decrease of 2,000 acres in the area under roots and cereals.
The first question that will occur to any practical agriculturist is, where has this 2560 enormous increase of 30 per cent. in the arable area come from, and how has it happened at the present time, when all over the rest of Great Britain more and more land is going down to permanent grass? Did it come from the breaking up of permanent grass? It did not, because if we look at the figures we find there has been an increase from 15,000 acres in 1870 to 18,000 acres in 1935. Therefore, the only place that this great increase in land under cultivation and under rotation grass—which is, of course, also under cultivation—must have come from the breaking in of rough hill pasture. That has been going on for years and is going on up to the present day. Any hon. Member who goes to Orkney, either by sea or aeroplane, will see the plough being driven through very unpromising hill land, and will see that land in the course of two or three years turned into permanent pasture. I want to emphasise that, although I have gone back pretty far, to 1870, the big change began in 1900, or round about then. What was the factor that led to that change? It was the introduction of wild white clover seed into the grass seed mixtures being sown; that, with the free use of artificial fertilisers such as basic slag and shell sand, has effected a complete revolution in the agriculture there. What was barren and almost useless land two generations ago is now verdant pasture producing astonishing quantities of beef and mutton and milk, not to mention eggs, and even honey.
I wish to emphasise that that change is still going on at the present day because I believe it has a lesson for the rest of the country. I want to look at this question from another point of view. What has been the effect of this improvement in agricultural methods on the stock-carrying capacity of that country? In the period mentioned, the cattle have increased from 22,000 head to 40,000 head, and not only is there an increase in numbers but there has been a complete transformation in quality. From carrying a smaller stock of very inferior native cattle they have progressed to carrying nearly double the number of the very best cattle produced in this country at the present day. That is not the end of the tale. During the same period the sheep stock has been increased from 25,000 to 75,000, an increase of 200 per cent. Extraordinary progress has also 2561 been made in the poultry industry. I cannot give figures which go far back, but in Orkney at the present day nearly 600 fowls are carried per 100 acres of arable land, and I do not think that anywhere else in Scotland can that figure be equalled. The fowl population is nearly 500,000, and the export of eggs is over 3,000,000 dozen a year, the value being three times the net agricultural annual value of the county.
Does that look like widespread and long-continued distress? I submit that it presents a. picture of the exact opposite, and I want to see how we can account for this and whether there is any hope of getting other parts of the Highlands and Islands to share in this prosperity. What are the secrets of this extraordinary transformation in Orkney? There are several heads under which they can be put. I am inclined to put occupying ownership in the very forefront. If there is one sound thing in agriculture it is that where possible the man working the land should be the actual owner of it. Sixty-six per cent. of the land in Orkney is owned by the occupier. Some of that land has been owned by the occupiers from a very remote period, but the big move for occupying ownership took place after the war, it is of comparatively recent growth. It was an eye-opener to me, and would be to other hon. Members, to see what improvements men set about as soon as they acquire their holdings.
Next, or possibly this ought to come first, I am going to put hard work. I know of no place in Great Britain where the population, both male and female, work harder or more consistently for the results they obtain. Another important point is that these farms or small holdings. in Orkney are family farms, the whole family working together. They are not big farms, the average size of the holdings in Orkney being only 30 acres—that is technically a small holding—and yet we have got out of a county of small holdings a most extraordinarily prosperous agricultural industry. I admit that these holdings would be better if they were of 50 acres, because then they would carry a pair of horses. I am strongly of opinion, though I am not going into it to-night, that in all the land policy we have followed in the Highlands 2562 and Islands in the past the greatest mistake has been in making the holdings far too small. Many persons have very often given up good jobs to come home to take these small holdings and have found their lives to be one long misery ever since. The holdings have not been big enough for them to make a. living. I hope that if there is any more breaking-up of land no holdings will be created smaller than 30 acres—I put that as a minimum.
All these things could not have been done if the people had not been highly intelligent and very progressive. The influence which education has had on agriculture in Orkney is worth noting. Many years ago, long before agricultural subjects were being taught in schools, or continuation classes had been thought of, there was in Orkney a teacher who was very much ahead of his time. He argued that if the bulk of his pupils were going to wrest their living from the soil the sooner they were brought into contact with the problems of the soil the better, and he evolved a scheme of education which made very full provision for doing that. He had classes of his own on agricultural subjects and ran experimental plots. It is not without significance that among the ablest farmers in Orkney at the present day are men who were taught by that teacher. I should also like to pay a, tribute to the education authority of that county, who have always taken very much the same attitude towards agricultural subjects. I must not forget the North of Scotland Agricultural College, and the work it has done in the provision of men and women lecturers in agriculture and allied subjects, who go to these distant parts of Scotland. They have been of immense benefit to these islands, and I think it will be found that there is not a farmer or smallholder in Orkney or Shetland who will not willingly testify to the very great benefit that this college has been to the Highlands and Islands generally.
Speaking as one of the Members for that part of the country, I must also pay a tribute to the Department of Agriculture for Scotland. I am a, farmer in the extreme North, in a much more isolated place than most that have been referred to to-night, and I am very conscious of the good work done by the Department of Agriculture, and of the benefit which we receive from it. I might mention the 2563 scheme for the provision of well-bred bulls. That has changed the character of the stock in the county of Shetland. The Department has also supported the breeding of heavy horses, which is a somewhat important industry in Orkney, by means of grants which have been of very great use. Moreover, money has been made available for drainage, without which you can get no improvement at all in agriculture. Finally there is the encouragement of shows, which have done a great deal to bring people together and to promote discussion and healthy competition. All those influences have been at work in the county of Orkney.
The problem of Shetland is very different, The situation of these Islands is even more remote, if anything, than the Western Isles. I do not know whether hon. Members realise how far out into the North Sea the Shetland Isles lie. More than one-half of Shetland is considerably nearer Bergen in Norway than it is to Aberdeen. There are about 100 islands, and the country is entirely different from Orkney. It is very rugged, hilly, barren and stony, with a rocky coast. You do not get farms but there is a very large number of crofts. Crofting is the main industry, on the land, but there is a very important fishing industry, which includes haddock and herring fishing. If there is no work for them at home, the men of Shetland do not sit down and moan and groan about it. They go to sea.
§ Major NEVEN-SPENCE
Seafaring. They go all over the world, earn good money and then come back and settle down in their crofts. As for the women, every moment they can spare is devoted to knitting. Conditions there, so far as geography and industry are concerned, are very like those in the Western Isles. I know Shetland very intimately from end to end, and I can assure the House that there is no evidence whatsoever of widespread or long-continued depression there. All the evidence is to the contrary. One hon. Member referred to progress not having been so fast in these parts of the country as in others; I do not think that is the case. The improvement which has taken place in the economic position of the people in the Highlands and Islands has gone ahead relatively a good deal faster than in other 2564 parts of the country. The real problem in the Highlands and Islands is not distress or lack of the opportunity of making a living; it is the lack of the ordinary amenities of civilisation.
What has happened there is that we have lagged behind while things elsewhere have been going ahead. The daily services which, in other parts of the country, we are apt to take as a matter of course, have not been developed there as far and as fast as they might have been. This arises from three causes: distance, small total population and scattered population. These areas cannot, out of their own resources, even with the large amount of Government help which they already receive, supply the people with the services which they demand and are justly entitled to demand in these days. The want of these amenities is the primary cause of the drift from the Highlands and Islands. A vicious circle has been established. The more people leave the Highlands and Islands, the more difficult it becomes for those who are left behind to keep up even the existing services. How to break that vicious circle is the problem.
The important subject of roads was touched upon by the hon. Member for Inverness. That is a very serious problem. We acknowledge with gratitude the recent undertaking of the Ministry of Transport to reconstruct the first-class roads and to pay the whole cost, but it is not the first-class roads which are the problem. We can get along with the ones that we have, although we are very glad to have them made better. The main question is the maintenance of existing parish roads and the making of the new roads for which there is a demand. The Ministry of Transport are not responsible and neither is the county council. It is a, matter for the district councils, but these councils can, by Statute, levy a maximum rate of only 1s. in the £. Therefore, they cannot raise enough money to keep the existing roads in repair, let alone make any new roads. That is one of the injustices. The problem is anomalous. It is possible to pick out one district where this problem does not exist at all, while next door there is a district where the product of a 1s. rate is quite inadequate to keep the roads in order.
2565 These roads are going back, at the present time. They are bound to go still further back if nothing is done. I have here a list for 111 roads in Orkney and Shetland which are badly needed. Some of the petitions about these roads are 30 years old, and the people who signed them are getting grey, but nothing has been done to solve the problem. These roads would serve in some cases as many as 27 houses and 97 people, and vary from that down to small groups of perhaps half-a-dozen houses. One maxim can be laid down with absolute certainty in the Highlands and Islands, and that is: "No roads, no people."
On a previous occasion I gave an illustration of a small township very near my own home, a place called Colvidale on the east coast of Unst. Within living memory, within my own memory, that place had a dozen families living in it, and was quite a good little agricultural district. There is not a solitary soul there to-day, and the roofs are off the houses. The only reason why that place has got into that condition is that there was no road to it. The main road was within two miles, but was separated by a barren place of rocks and stones. After years of application for a road, the people, one by one, shut up their houses and went away. It is necessary to have roads in these days where people are living, because otherwise you deprive people of the benefit of much development and modern improvement in transport, if they have to walk three miles in order to get to a motor car. I hope the Secretary of State will give this problem special consideration. I am about to plant another memorandum on his office. I am afraid that my memoranda are as thick as autumn leaves in Vallombrosa in the Scottish Office; I only hope that they will form a compost from which, in course of time, much good fruit may come forth.
My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness mentioned also the subject of piers. I do not want to say much more on that subject, except that I endorse what he said. In this country, when a road comes to a river, you expect a bridge by which to cross. We do not expect that; our boats are our bridges; but we feel most strongly that where our roads end, as most of them do, by the sea shore, we ought at least to have a boat slip, and, where it is necessary for a steamer to call, a pier. It is too late in the day to 2566 be landing passengers and goods in the old way in small boats. I have done it myself; I know the difficulties and dangers; and I should be very glad to see the Piers and Harbour Bill brought in again. I hope it will be brought in again, because this is certainly a problem which should receive consideration. I wish to acknowledge the great help we have already received from the Department of Agriculture and the Scottish Office in this matter. Wherever a. good case is put up, help is given. But there is never enough money to do all that should be done, and, although improvements are being made, they are not going ahead nearly fast enough.
There are many other things that I might say, but I will only refer to the extraordinary failure of the Post Office—I am sorry that there is no one now present representing that Department—to provide us with the telephone and telegraph facilities we need. Shetland is not connected by telephone to Scotland even yet, and there are innumerable inhabited islands in Orkney and Shetland which are not connected to their county towns. A year or two ago, a number of men living on one of these islands had to go 16 miles by boat to the mainland of Shetland to get their mail. A gale sprang up, they were not able to get back for six weeks, and their wives and families had not the faintest notion whether they were alive or dead. I do not think that that sort of thing ought to exist in 1936. I believe it to be in the best interests of this country that we should keep these people in the Highlands and Islands on the land. They themselves wish to remain on the land, and I think they have a contribution to make to the national stream of life and to the national character which it is worth while to preserve. I feel that, if we could secure them a fair share of the ordinary amenities of civilisation to which we here are all accustomed, it would go a very long way to stop the present tendency to depopulation.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
I very much regret that my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) is not able to be present to take part in the Debate. He had intended being here, but, unfortunately, 2567 he is unwell to-day. I would like to add my congratulations to those which have already been offered to the hon. and learned Member for Greenock (Mr. R. Gibson) on the way in which he introduced this Resolution. Just 13 months ago he and I fought one another at the General Election, and, if he will allow me to say so, the manner in which he has moved this Resolution to-day will give great pleasure, not only to his constituents in Greenock, but also to his many friends in Dundee.
The hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland (Major NevenSpence) made the astonishing statement that there was no distress in the Highlands and Islands. I think that, before making that statement, he might have taken the trouble to go into the Library and look at the local index of unemployment. If he had looked at the figure simply for the town of Wick, he would have seen that that town has a higher level of unemployment than a number of the areas which are classed as distressed. The depopulation of the Highlands is a very old story, and it is something which no one can deny. If you take the census figures for the last 10 years, or for the last 50 years, in the Highland counties there is always a continuous decline in population. A number of suggestions have been made in this Debate as to how the situation could be met. A number of references have been made to the tourist industry. It seems to me, as a Lowland Member, that the publicity which is put out on behalf of the Highlands as a holiday resort still falls very far short of the publicity put out by a great many foreign countries. It seems to me that the people who are responsible for publicity as regards the Highlands have a great deal to learn from most Continental countries. But, over and above that, there is still the idea that a great many people have that the Highlands as a holiday resort are simply the preserve of the rich; and there are a good many things that you cannot help noticing when you visit the Highlands—the hon. and learned Member for Greenock referred to some of them—which help to bear out the idea that the Highlands, in the words used by Kingsley of the English countryside, are simply the yard where the gentlemen play.
2568 In the second place, there is the need, not only in the Highlands but also in the Lowlands, for better transport. References have been made to the fishing industry. I represent a trawling constituency, and I rather resent the strictures that are always passed on these occasions on the trawlers; but it is of course perfectly true that we are taking far too many fish out of the North Sea. I do not believe that the troubles of the inshore fishermen, at any rate on the east of Scotland, would be met if we simply enlarged the three-mile limit, and made it four miles or five miles. I believe it is necessary to go much further than that, and I hope the Government will give serious consideration to the suggestions which have been put forward from time to time by my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland to the effect that, instead of putting closing orders at certain periods on the distant fishing grounds of Bear Island, the White Sea, and those parts of the world, we should consider the advisability of closing certain areas in the North Sea. If by doing that we were able to give the North Sea a better chance to recover from the point of view of fishing, we should help not only the trawlers but the inshore fishermen as well.
I would like to support what was said by the hon. Member for Inverness (Sir M. MacDonald) on the subject of afforestation. I know that this is a very familiar subject, but some hon. Members may recall that it was considered by a Departmental Committee as long ago as 1911. That committee said in their report:The economic contrast between an area where the hills arc under wood and where they are devoted to grazing or sport is little short of amazing";and they pointed out that, while 1,000 acres under sheep required only one or two shepherds, the same area under forest would require the services of 10 men. Perhaps the Secretary of State, when he replies, will tell us whether he is entirely satisfied that everything possible is being done in the matter of afforestation in the Highlands. These are one or two of the more practical issues which we have to consider when we are confronted with a Motion of this kind. But, after all, some of the problems that have been referred to are not confined simply to one part of Scotland.
2569 In my view they are simply one aspect of that economic debility which for a great many years has been afflicting Scotland as a whole, and what we need is not just a new deal for the Highlands, but a new deal for the whole country. I am always a little suspicious of the people who describe themselves as planners, because very often they mean simply interference for interference sake, but it is vital in these days to have a plan in the sense of knowing where you want to go and where ultimately you want to arrive.
A supreme example of planlessness was provided by the way in which we have dealt with agriculture in the past few years by a number of sporadic ad hoc remedies adopted in order to meet this or that particular situation—things like the wheat quota and the sugar beet subsidy, affecting only certain parts of the country, which encouraged the very crops that we are least fitted to produce. The same thing is true of industrial depression. We have simply adopted one or two hasty measures in order to deal with one or two particular scheduled areas which were quite arbitrarily selected. When we consider problems which concern a, great area of this kind the same thing applies, and we have to decide, first of all, what are the kind of industries that we want to flourish in these areas. We have got, in fact, to have a long-term plan, partly for the Highlands, but also for Scotland as a whole. I welcome the establishment of the Economic Advisory Committee, because I think there was a great deal of truth in the remark of Professor Bowie, the head of the Dundee School of Economics, that there are plenty of good ideas, but they need to be quarried. They are not lying about loose on the surface. That remark was made with reference to the economic condition of Scotland by a man who has given as much attention to these matters as anyone living. I hope we shall not receive from the Economic Advisory Committee trivial recommendations dealing with some tiny aspect of this or that particular industry. I hope, when it gets into its stride, it will be used as an instrument to produce a comprehensive long-term policy for the economic rehabilitation not only of the Highlands but of Scotland as a whole.
§ 10.19 p.m.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
It ill becomes the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Major Neven-Spence) to throw the taunt at us that we are begging for the Highlands. It reminds me of the day of the Battle of Bannockburn. When Edward II was brought out to see the Scottish forces kneel in prayer, he said: "They kneel." Someone said, "They kneel, but not to you. These men will do or die." They won the battle. In spite of all the sneers that may be thrown at us, we will continue to stand up for the Highlanders and Islanders. But there is no comparison as far as Orkney and Shetland are concerned, the reason being that evidently the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland has never heard tell of the Highland clearings. Those clearings are largely responsible for the awful state of poverty and misery that exists at the present time in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The hon. and gallant Gentleman delivered his speech and then vanished. He ought to have had the decency, as is the general rule of the House, to wait to see if any one was going to reply to the speech which he had made, but he made his speech and then cleared out. He said that one of the complaints which he had to make about Shetland was that the people were going away and there was not a sufficient number of them left to continue to look after the state of the country and keep it in decent repair.
That is the kernel of the trouble of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The natives are being driven out of their houses just like dogs, driven out of the country and across the wide Atlantic sea to Canada, etc. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Inverness (Sir M. Macdonald) stated that the number of children attending school in the Island of Skye was just over 1,000. In the Napoleonic or Peninsular War, which lasted 20 years, that island alone sent 10,000 men to the British Army and to-day it, could not send 1,000. That is what has happened. It is because of these dreadful conditions that we stand here and appeal for these men. I am satisfied that not only the Highlanders and Islanders, but their descendants in every part of the British Empire will be thanking the hon. and learned Member for Greenock (Mr. R. Gibson), who has 2571 taken this opportunity to raise this very serious question. It is not only a serious question for the Highlands and Islands but it is a very serious item for the British Empire because—A bold peasantry, a country's pride, When once destroyed can never be supplied.We must remember too that—Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,Where wealth accumulates and men decay.There is no denying the fact, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will take action in this matter. I have paid him every tribute I possibly can, and he has a golden opportunity here to make a name for himself as the Secretary of State for Scotland. Here is a race, the Highlanders of Scotland, that defied Imperial rule in its mightiest day. We are the people descended from that ancient race, and here tonight we have had an individual who has had the hardihood to stand up in the House of Commons and say that we are begging. We are not begging. When we came here 16 years ago the language used to us was that it was sob stuff, and now they use a new term. We are begging? No, we are not begging. I have told these men time and time again. When I visited Lewis I was told that trawlers threw great stones at the small boats when they went out to sea. Trawlers coming within the three mile limit threw big stones and tried to sink them. I said, "Shoot them." That is my advice to them still, unless the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Government are going to take action.
I visit the Highlands and Islands of Scotland regularly and have done so for many years. I am in close contact with them, with the poorest of the poor, with the minister's wife and the doctor's wife, and they write to me regularly asking me to see whether I cannot do something to get their sons into positions, whether I cannot get some of my friends in Glasgow to take them into their offices. Why should these people be fleeing from their homes? The young men are very anxious to get into the big industrial centres and to secure decent jobs, because the conditions in their own localities are absolutely hellish, so much so that those who love 2572 their native land and are prepared to die in defence of it, are only too anxious to flee from it.
I remember on one memorable occasion when an outstanding Member of this House suggested emigration. I stood against that idea. Why should the Highlanders and the Islanders leave their native land, the heather of which has been bedewed with their blood in defence of their native land? They are anxious to get to Glasgow in order that they may go back, perhaps with show and swagger, to show that they are something better than the lad left at home. We must change that. We must make the conditions in the Highlands and Islands such that the natives will not desire to flee away but will remain there. If the present conditions continue it will be a serious matter not only for the Highlands and Islands but it will be bad for the British Empire. I hope that the Secretary of State for the Dominions, now that he represents a Highland constituency, will add his weight to that of the Secretary of State for Scotland and see that the Highlands and Islands are attended to on this occasion as they have never been attended to by any Government since I have been here. I have appealed to every Government along these lines. The conditions in the Highlands and Islands are a standing disgrace to the British Government.
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ Mr. T. JOHNSTON
In recent times it has been the practice among Scottish Members on a purely Scottish discussion to arrange among themselves to limit their orations to a maximum of 15 minutes. If ever that practice received justification it has been made apparent to-night, because for the first time we have failed to keep to that arrangement. At this late hour I do not propose to stand long between the Minister and his right to reply. It is obvious that the Government do not propose to resist this Motion in the Division Lobby. If that be so, the House will be committed to the terms of the Motion, which declare specifically,This House calls upon His Majesty's Government to formulate without delay proposals designed to arrest depopulation and poverty among the remaining inhabitants.The hon. Member for Inverness (Sir M. Macdonald) made a very long and 2573 pleasant speech, and in fact he offered the only argument that has been put before the House against the Motion. He argued that in Inverness-shire there was no room for the accusation that the deer forests could be put to more profitable use, and that as far as the Highlands and the Islands were concerned the bulk of the land now under deer could be put to no other use than that to which it is at present put. Very skilfully he proceeded to say that the land could not be ploughed. It is upon record in the last annual report of the Department of Agriculture that:Damage by red deer has been a serious problem for many years in Scotland, and proposals for legislative protection for smallholders and farmers from damage by deer have been made by departmental committees as far back as 1921, but owing to the difficulty of reconciling conflicting interests"—that is a polite way of saying that landlordism is very strong—no progress has been made.There are uses other than ploughing up the land to which deer forest land can be put. Some of it can be used for an extension of grazing and some for cultivation. There is the case of Lusskintyre. A previous Government could see nothing for the men of Lusskintyre but that they should be kept permanently in Inverness gaol. They were in and out of gaol, I do not know how many times. Another Government came in and acquired a deer forest at Lusskintyre compulsorily, seized it, took the men out of Inverness gaol and put them back with the right to cultivate farms at Lusskintyre. And they are there yet. The Minister, in answer to a question of mine, some time ago said that within the past few years land has been converted from sheep farms into deer forests because the private landlord could not make ends meet with his land under sheep, and was compelled to transfer it into deer forests. The State has a right to step in on a matter of this kind. It is all very well t[...] say that a private landlord, whose only interest is to make financial ends meet, cannot maintain his land otherwise than as a deer forest, but the Secretary of State, representing the community with wider interests to consider, the perpetuation of the race to secure, great social investments of capital to consider, wider interests of the community which the 2574 private individual cannot be asked to consider, ought to step in and take it over. If land cannot be used productively and for the social advantage of the community by private individuals, there is no case whatever for occupancy by private individuals, and the Secretary of State for Scotland, as representing the community, should step in and take it over. The hon. Member rather derided the idea that there was very much in this question of deer forests, but the last time I was in the Isle of Skye, going down the hill towards Sligachan, I saw, copied and photographed a notice stuck in a tree in the following words:Warning to trespassers and visitors. The soft-nosed bullet carries far and inflicts a nasty wound. Visitors are warned to keep away.It is common knowledge that lands have been closed, that roads have been closed and that everything possible has been done to turn vast tracts of the Highlands of Scotland into a wilderness, a sportsman's paradise.
There is one thing on which I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Inverness and that is the proposal he made that the Secretary of State for Scotland—and I would add, along with the Forestry Commissioners, the Crown Lands Commissioners, and every other public and semi-public board which is owning or controlling land in the North of Scotland—should get a public utility body formed at once to take over all the fishing rights for the State. If that were done the poor man could be given a chance to enjoy the sport of angling, and it would be possible to attract thousands and thousands of people to the Highlands of Scotland every year, certainly during the holiday months. Something on a big scale could be done quickly for the tourist traffic. If £80,000,000 a year can be obtained from the tourist traffic in Switzerland; if France can get more, if Canada can get still more, what are we doing that we allow a mere handful of people—many of them aliens at that—a mere handful of people for whom the nation should have no concern whatever, to put up notices:The soft-nosed bullet carries far and inflicts a nasty wound.Why should we be hunted off the land of our forebears? Why should the North of Scotland be a sportsman's paradise for 2575 a few? Why should our population, be continually declining? The hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland (Major Neven-Spence) said that we have given no evidence of poverty in the Highlands, but there are villages in the Island of Lewis I can name which do not receive a penny of income unless it be from public assistance. There are villages suffering poverty such as the distressed mining areas never knew. The people are in a condition of fear and hopelessness with the roads barred to them, the piers rotting, and the harbours silted up. As to co-operation, why we hardly spend 6d. upon it. Well, that is an exaggeration. We actually spend about £5,000 a year in promoting cooperation. In Hull every winter you are importing and kippering Norwegian herring while our people cannot get their herring on to the market. Cannot we do what lies in our power with very little expenditure—because these people are not begging—to promote co-operation to enable the produce to be marketed and to use what opportunities are within our power to prevent the destruction of a race? I am sure that if the Secretary of State for Scotland will take, even the suggestions offered to him by the hon. Member for Inverness, he will find that there will be no obstruction from this side of the House, and I hope that we shall take united action, as representatives of Scotland, even at the eleventh hour of the last day to stop the depopulation and impoverishment of the northern parts of our country.
§ 10.41 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Elliot)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling (Mr. Johnston) has just shown that a good deal of gear can be got into a little bulk, and I shall do my best to emulate him in that respect. I think it a pity that more Members did not have the opportunity of contributing to our discussion this evening. Many Members are interested in this subject and many Members have valuable contributions to make. I was particularly interested in the thoughtful speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Major NevenSpence), and I think that hon. Members opposite did him an injustice when they 2576 said that he asserted that there was no poverty in the Highlands and Islands.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I listened carefully to what my hon. and gallant Friend said and he recounted, as he had a perfect right to do, the remarkable conditions in his own constituency. He described how the land was continually being broken in on the hills, and how fresh, sweet pastures were replacing the rough lands, resulting in an increased output of cereals. He showed how the change was reflected in an increased output of livestock, of poultry and eggs and increased prosperity generally, among the people, and he said that that did not look like poverty and distress. I am sure we all envy my hon. and gallant Friend the conditions in his constituency, and it is up to us to learn from him and to learn from areas where the conditions described by other speakers to-night have been subdued. It is true, as he says, that in the past the conditions in Orkney and Shetland were quite as unsatisfactory as those in other parts of the Highlands and Islands. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) shakes his head, but he has only to read the novels of Sir Walter Scott to find a description of agriculture in Orkney and Shetland which depicts a state of affairs as bad as that which exists in parts of the Highlands and Islands to-day.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Scapa Flow did not bring the grass on to the hills in Orkney and Shetland, and what we are talking about is the process of bringing grass on to the hills, and none of us ought to sneer at the work of the folk in Orkney and Shetland.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I wish to compliment the hon. and learned Gentleman who has lately been returned by the burgh of Greenock (Mr. R. Gibson), first, upon his fortune in obtaining the luck of the ballot so early in his Parliamentary career, secondly, on his choice of a subject which has interested the House so keenly, and also, if I may say so, upon the felicitous speech in which he introduced that subject, a speech which makes 2577 us all hope that we shall often hear him in our debates in the future. I say this all the more sincerely since, in a previous incarnation long, long ago in Glasgow, he was president of the Students Representative Council, and I had the honour of being his junior colleague as vice-president of that august body.
The difficulties of replying to a Debate so general as that which we have had are considerable. One must say, in the first place, that this is a problem of an area which may properly be described as a special area, at least because of its peculiar physical characteristics. This is a very old area. It is an old problem, a problem of an enormous area of about 9,500,000 acres, with a population of only about 300,000 persons and a rateable value so low that whereas a penny in the pound brings in £291 in Sutherland, it brings in about £2,000 in Midlothian, and £45,000 in Glasgow. It is clear then that that area cannot be in a position to carry through from its own resources, all the extensive amenities and social services which the populations of to-day demand.
It is also true that great efforts have been made by the Central Government to deal with this problem. In 1935–36 there was over £1,500,000 paid in a single year to the Highlands and Islands by way of Government grants, and there was another £1,400,000 going in by way of pensions and unemployment payments. It is wrong to refer to that work as doles. The Highlands and Islands medical service, for instance, is a striking success. The Highlands and Islands medical services involve an expenditure of considerable sums there and also the maintenance of a very much higher standard of medical service than the area could afford for itself; and while it is true that in many cases considerable distances exist over which sick persons have to be brought, it is also true that those distances are being shortened each year, that the hospital services are being improved, and that new hospitals are being built. Grants are being approved of over £50,000 for additional general hospitals in Shetland, Lewis and Orkney, and grants have been made to places like Inverness Infirmary to bring it up to the standard of a full general hospital. There are, of course, other schemes which I have not time to go over to-night.
2578 That is not the end of the story. Reference has been made to our programme of roads in the Northern counties. In the five years preceding 1935–36 grants amounting to £627,984 were made to seven county councils, but the programme for the present is £1,765,000 for Argyll, £126,000 for Caithness, £942,000 for Inverness, £180,000 for Orkney, £351,000 for Ross and Cromarty, £644,000 for Sutherland, and £47,000 for Shetland, with a reserve of £119,000, which comes to a total of £4,250,000, all that to be expended by 100 per cent. grants with no contribution whatever to be asked for from those authorities on account of those sums. And not only so, but the whole of the sums which are saved to these local authorities on the first-class roads by means of that go into the smaller roads, and to meet that expenditure on smaller roads, 50 per cent. grant is made from the State in addition. I think that that indicates that the Government are at any rate bringing forward plans designed to deal with the depopulation and to improve the state of poverty which undoubtedly exists in many parts of the Highlands and Islands. It has been said by the hon. Member for Inverness (Sir M. Macdonald) that the programme is rather slow in materialising, but work has already started on that programme, and the expenditure here is over a period of no more than five years, and it is the Government's ambition and intention to carry it through within that time.
As for education, it is known that the Government grant runs from 62 per cent. to as high as 85 per cent. of the total expenditure in the Highlands, compared with a grant of 50 per cent. elsewhere and indeed less than that, as Members for Glasgow very well know. I think one hon. Member made a reference to housing. A considerable amount of work has gone on in housing, and over 6,000 houses have been built by local authorities and by private enterprise with State aid since 1919. Some 3,000 houses have been improved or reconstructed under the Rural Workers' Acts, and the Department of Agriculture has made loans to some 4,000 more persons for the improvement of their houses.
When we speak of distress and the danger of the collapse of the future welfare of a whole community we must be 2579 careful not to form an exaggerated view of the situation. It would be a great disservice to the Highlands themselves if we did so. We must remember that all that work is not without result. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. Cassells) referred to the vital statistics of Scotland. It is well worth noting that the vital statistics of the Highlands are very much better than the vital statistics of Scotland as a whole, and, therefore, it must not be taken that the Highlands are decaying. The adjusted death rate in the Highlands is only about four-fifths of the death rate for Scotland as a whole. The sickness rate among the insured population is less as well—only 70 per cent. of that for the country as a whole. Infant mortality in the Highlands and Islands is far below that for the country as a whole, 32 per cent. below. These are not the signs of a dying and decaying race. They are the signs of a race which has undergone and is undergoing hardships and requires that its lot should be improved; but we do no service either to the Highlands or their inhabitants to depict them in a scheme of unrelieved black and gloom.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I have not got them with me, but the right hon. Gentleman will know that the Highland population is susceptible to tuberculosis. It is not so much in the Highlands as when the Highlander moves into the crowded cities that the rate goes up. We should not consider that no far-reaching schemes have been brought forward for the improvement of the Highlands or that no far-reaching schemes will be brought forward. The tourist industry has been referred to often to-night. I have not time to go into the many suggestions which have been brought forward, some useful, some impracticable. The suggestion that all the lochs should be taken over by the local authorities leaves out of account the fact that many hotels already have fishing rights, and I do not think that the tourist industry would be improved if those rights were taken away from the hotels which have them.
I wish to refer to the great basic industry of the Highlands—agriculturebecause without a flourishing agriculture 2580 all the tourists in the world will not save what we desire to save, the race itself. To have the race engaged in the tourist industry would not result in the Highlands which our forbears knew and they would not be the Highlands which we desire to preserve. In those seven counties the sheep number 2,750,000, or 37 per cent. of the total of sheep in Scotland. The cattle are 210,000, a sixth of the Scottish total. These are more particularly the breeding areas for cattle and sheep. They export to other areas for fattening purposes. Had it not been for the steps taken by the Government to maintain and develop agriculture the Highlands' main industry would already have hopelessly crashed.
The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) in the absence of his leader, whose illness we were sorry to hear of, made, among some thoughtful suggestions, the extraordinary statement that there was planlessness in the system of agriculture. His ignorance of agriculture may easily be excused, representing as he does a constituency with no great agricultural development. It may well be that he does not know the intricate development of agriculture or the connection of the exporting areas of the north with the fattening areas of the south. He has not the slightest idea of the benefits which the cultivating areas of the east get from the beet sugar subsidy and the wheat subsidy. He has not the slightest idea that they have any connection with the exporting areas which send stock to the south to be fattened. I can assure the hon. Member that it is so, and if he gives a little more attention to the subject he will find that it will well repay his study.
The improvement in agriculture may be seen by the simple fact that in 1932 the price of black-faced sheep, first quality, in Scotland, was 22s. 10d.; in 1933, 24s. 4d.; in 1934, 25s. 6d.; in 1935, 27s. 9d., and in 1936, 28s. 6d. Cheviot lambs have gone up by 10s. per head from 27s. in 1932 to 37s. 5d. in 1936. These are the big facts which one has to remember. The industry of agriculture as a whole is an industry of the greatest interest to the Highlands, but it cannot be maintained unless we are willing to pay the price. Unless the sheep pay, nobody will take over the deer forests and they will extend right down to the Lowlands. The only thing I am sorry for is that when we do bring forward these practical pro- 2581 posals hon. Members opposite vote against them as often as they can. They voted three times against them last night, and every one of the Divisions was shared in by the hon. and learned Member who brought forward this Motion. It is no use for him to say he voted because yesterday's proposal will tax the food of the poorest of the poor, for when we brought in our cattle subsidy proposals, which were entirely subsidised by the Exchequer, his hon. and right hon. Friends voted against them with just as much vehemence as they do now when part of the subsidy is to be raised by an import duty.
We are not, however, content with the state of things as they are. We intend to examine the problem further. The Scottish Development Council, in consultation with the late Secretary of State, set up a Highlands Sub-Committee and that sub-committee is now engaged on its investigations. I hope that it will bring forward far-reaching proposals. They will certainly receive the careful and sympathetic consideration of the Government. The Government which has taken such vigorous and drastic action to maintain the great industry of agriculture upon which the Highlands depend, will not shrink from equally vigorous and drastic action in extending and developing that and other industries if it is so recommended in a well-thought-out plan by the Highlands Sub-Committee.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That, in view of the widespread and long-continued distress in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, now involving grave peril of a complete breakdown in the social economy of these areas, this House calls upon His Majesty's Government to formulate without delay proposals designed to arrest depopulation and poverty among the remaining inhabitants and to provide facilities whereby they may earn a decent livelihood.