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Scotland (Highlands And Islands Development)

Volume 350: debated on Tuesday 1 August 1939

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I promised to make a statement to the House on the subject of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

I should like to begin this statement by expressing once more the Government's appreciation of the work of the committee which, under Major Hilleary's chairmanship, carried out a comprehensive investigation into conditions in the Highlands and Islands, and whose report has received widespread attention. Hon. Members will appreciate that in examining the report I have had to bear fully in mind the exceptional circumstances in which the country finds itself, and the fact that under existing legislation much is already being done through Government' Departments and local authorities for the Highlands and Islands. At the same time, I appreciate the special problems of these areas, and I am glad to be able to announce that the Government have decided to take further measures to help them.

I have come to the conclusion that it is expedient to concentrate on projects which do not require the creation of new machinery. I am not, therefore, proceeding with the proposal of the committee for the appointment of a Highlands Development Commissioner, who would be partly an investigator and party responsible for carrying out schemes with the aid of Government grants. The Commissioner could not carry out the work without new legislation and a considerable staff, and his functions would in many respects overlap those of existing Departments. The position of local authorities has also to be borne in mind.

At the same time I am alive to the importance of ensuring that the problems of the Highlands and Islands are considered as a whole, and for this purpose I propose at regular intervals to hold conferences with the Departments concerned in order to review the situation, and I shall continue to keep in close touch with local authorities and other persons specially qualified to advise me on the needs of the Highlands and Islands.

My proposals in other resupects are as follow:

Roads and Piers.

During recent years the sums available for assisting local authorities to undertake works on roads and piers in the crofter counties have been progessively increased, and amount in the current year to a sum of £30,000. I propose that for the next five years this sum should be roughly doubled, which means that approximately £300,000 will be available over that period for these services

Land Improvement.

I propose to extend the existing scheme for the eradication of bracken so as to provide assistance for handcutting. This scheme will apply to Scotland as a whole with special conditions for the Highlands and Islands to meet the circumstances of that area. I propose also to give further assistance towards the draining of land and the application of fertilisers.


The committee recommend the establishment, with assistance from public funds, of a Central Marketing Agency with local branches to promote co-operation and to organise marketing arrangements. I have come to the conclusion that in the first place it is desirable to make use of the experience of the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society in fostering co-operative measures and I propose to place the society in a position to extend its efforts in the Highlands and Islands.

Veterinary Services.

Local authorities will be invited to consider an extension of the schemes for the provision of veterinary services with assistance from public funds.


Loans will be made available on favourable terms to enable lobster fishermen in this area to acquire new motor-boats or engines for existing boats. In order to encourage further the development of this type of fishing, I propose also that advice on improved methods of storing, packing and marketing should be made available by means of instructors and improved distribution of suitable handbooks.

Agricultural Training.

The committee recommended the formation of a Land Training Centre and of demonstration crofts. I am pleased to say that Lord Abinger has generously offered to gift Inverlochy Castle and other property in the neighbourhood for the purpose of a training centre and that this offer, for which I should like to express to Lord Abinger the Government's thanks, has been gratefully accepted. It is proposed also to arrange with the agricultural colleges to establish throughout the Highlands a number of demonstration crofts.


With a view to helping agriculture and fishing in the Western Islands, I hope to arrange for some reduction, by the existing steamer contractors to the Western Highlands and Islands, of the inward freights on fish and of the freights on out- ward consignments of feeding stuffs and fertilisers.


The committee have referred to the need for an organised market and for instruction in handcrafts, and suggested that the Scottish Country Industries Development Trust could assist. I propose to help the trust to make a survey and to carry out any subsequent arrangements which the result of their investigation may indicate.


The Forestry Commissioners with whom I have been in touch have already planted some 78,000 acres in the Highlands and are continuing to plant at the rate of 5,000 acres a year. They have also established nearly 200 forest workers' holdings. On the more promising types of difficult ground which are of doubtful value for afforestation the Commissioners have already done much experimental work. If these experiments are successful they may open up a field for further productive development of afforestation in the Highlands. It appears, therefore, that the best contribution which the Forestry Commission can make towards the solution of the general problem is to persevere with their experiments. Arrangements are accordingly being made to do so.

The various proposals I have outlined constitute a programme supplementary to existing measures which is designed to facilitate and encourage enterprise in the Highlands and Islands. It is clearly desirable that after an appropriate period there should be a review of the results of the schemes which I have outlined. It is accordingly intended that they should in general continue for a period of five years. It is estimated that their total cost during this period, over and above the sums at present being spent by the State in the Highlands and Islands, will approximate to £65,000 a year.

On a point of Order. I would ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker. Under what Standing Order has this statement been made by the Secretary for Scotland? There was a question on the Paper which was not reached in the ordinary way, and it surely should have been dealt with by written reply as the question is long since passed.

I do not think it comes under any particular Standing Order but it is a practice and for the convenience of the House.

May we take it then that this is a precedent and that if a question is not reached in the ordinary way a Member may, by approaching a Minister, get that question answered orally instead of having a written reply in the usual way?

May I ask whether a clear distinction is being drawn between the answering of questions which are for the convenience of the House and questions which merely form an opportunity for Ministers at their discretion to read propaganda statements?

Is it not a fact that a statement of this kind, containing, if we could have heard it, matters of very great importance to Scotland can be given only in this way? Since we are not to be permitted any opportunity to discuss this matter in full, but for an explanation of this kind, what opportunity would we have had even of asking questions?

On a point of Order. Would I be in order in suggesting, in view of the extremely unfriendly atmosphere in the House, that we adjourn this matter to a meeting of the Scottish Members, organised by the Secretary for Scotland?

Has it not been demonstrated sufficiently by the obstruction to-day that we require a parliament of our own to deal with Scottish affairs?

With regard to the first item mentioned in the election manifesto which we have just heard read, would the Secretary of State be good enough to tell us whether the extra £30,000 that he proposes to devote to piers and harbours is in any part to be devoted to privately-owned piers?

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the Act which was passed two years ago making it necessary for a local authority to take over a pier before it receives assistance.

Would my right hon. Friend keep in mind, in dealing with the Islands, that on the Island of Arran the discontinuance of steamers running between Greenock and Campbeltown is going to cause great hardships on the west of that island, and will my right hon. Friend keep in mind doing something to prevent the steamers being cut off?

Is the Secretary for Scotland aware that it is quite impossible for us to follow up the lengthy statement which he has made? As far as I am able to judges—I have given the best part of my life to this question—I am entirely disappointed with this small crumb which he has given to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. It in no way meets the subject to talk about £30,000 when we have been asking for millions. [Interruption.] If it was Czecho-Slovakia it would have been millions, but with the Highlands and Islands of Scotland it is thousands. There are five regiments in Palestine and three of them are Scottish.

Is it not to be deprecated that Ministers should take up the time of the House in making long and important statements without an opportunity being given for debate by the Members concerned? Is it not clearly abusing the tradition of the House for Ministers to use an opportunity such as has been made to-day, to make what is regarded as a very important statement of policy?

Can I explain? There have been a great number of Parliamentary questions on this subject over a long period. The committee which examined this subject sat for several years, and following its report last winter there have been almost continuous Parliamentary questions. It was therefore necessary that I should make an oral statement as early as possible, and I have made it at the earliest opportunity.

I am not a Scotsman and I am therefore dispassionate, but is it not unreasonable that within two days of the House rising for the Recess a large question of policy should be raised when there is no opportunity for debating it.

There is nothing unusual in the procedure. At this particular time, after questions, it is the common practice of the House for statements to be made, and at that time discussion never arises. It is a usual occasion on which Ministers can make statements.

In view of the importance of this statement and the obvious dissatisfaction of the House with the fact that we are not able now fully to discuss it, would you, Mr. Speaker, consider favourably an indication that we would like to raise this matter as one of the subjects to be discussed during the Adjournment Debate on Friday? That would give great satisfaction to Scottish Members.

The hon. Member knows that I have to consider all sorts of applications for opportunity to raise matters for discussion on the Adjournment for the Recess.

The Secretary of State was perfectly right in saying that he had to implement a promise that he had made by making a statement before the Recess, but I suggest that the House should sit one extra day in order to discuss this important subject.