Nineteenth century Britain violently swung from being a predominantly agricultural society to being the “workshop of the world”. Such a dramatic shift led to ramifications in all British factions especially the countryside. The Scott Report otherwise known as the Majority Report was published in 1942. It summed up the complex changes that had been taking place in rural England during the preceding half-century, and set out a series of plans and recommendations for the government to subsequently follow. The Report has been sited as the most influential document concerning the English countryside of the twentieth century.
It has, however, not been without criticism. Many have been damning in their condemnation of the catastrophic impact it has had on the countryside in the following half century. Why is this so? The Scott Report was primarily the product of four men; Scott, Stamp, Hudson and Reath. The integrity of each has been called into question as much as the Report itself. Questions have even arisen whether the alleged author Scott actually wrote the report. Each contributor’s bias, some would claim, is clearly visible in the message the report conveys.
Hudson, for example, the Minister of agriculture, wanted to push agricultural issues higher up the political scale. Stamp, the author of many geography book, wanted to promote the importance of topography. Scott on the other hand viewed agriculture as a precious piece of heritage and thus wanted it to be treated as such. Reath, like the others, was keen on the formation of a committee that would tackle agricultural problems. Upon the reading of the Scott Report it is easy to draw many similarities between their aims/bias’s and what was actually contained within. The Scott Report is descriptive in its analysis of rural problems.
It is predominantly qualitative in its approach. According to the Scott Report the previous one hundred years bore witness to considerable changes in agriculture. Foreign competition from countries such as the United States, Canada, Argentina and Australia forced many of their British counterparts out of the market. “Many farmers ceased to grow their own fodder crops and numerous holdings were put down or worse allowed to ‘tumble down’ almost entirely to grass”i. The Report doesn’t only blame competition from abroad, rising taxation and the incidence of death duties also effected the state of the countryside.
Landlords according to the report took advantage of high land prices after the Great War to sell numerous estates. Tenants thus borrowed heavily and bought land with high mortgage repayments. The subsequent general world depression in agriculture bought with it low prices. “The result was the impoverishment of many farmers. “ii To meet low prices farmers endeavoured by one means or another to reduce their costs. “It was, therefore, only natural that in seeking to reduce costs one of the first steps that farmers took was to reduce their wages bill by cutting down the number of farm workers employed.”iii This was often done at the expense of ordinary maintenance work.
The ability of many landowners to make necessary improvements or to maintain their farms in a good tenantable position now changed. The less productive fields were allowed to go out of production and areas of agriculture that required less manpower became more popular. “The landscape of 1938 had, in many districts, assumed a neglected and unkempt appearance. “iv The Scott Report is very vague at this point. It contains few facts or figures that would be required as to ascertain such startling conclusions.
It seems that the report is littered with emotive language at this point as to convey its message, “worse allowed to ‘tumble down’ almost entirely to grass”v. Official Statistics such as comparisons between agricultural prices and general prices are merely not contained. One merely has to assume the trends outlined are true. The Scott Report then talks about the ‘drift from the land’ including push and pull factors. The ‘drift from the land’ was most evident in the years 1850-1950. The agricultural depression stated previously had a major effect on the countryside.
In the years 1921-1938 rural workers under the age of twenty-one fell by 41%. The continued depressed nature of agriculture led to repercussions in other rural occupations. This led according to the Scott Report a somewhat wholesale migration of agricultural workers to industry. This was due to a few principled reasons. Firstly there was great disparity in wages between that received in industry and agriculture. The Scott Report here displays statistics to exhibit the disparity in wages. These are however by no means concise. The report also communicates the fact that services in the country are bellow par.
According to the report the condition and standard of rural life was a major contributing factor to the mass rural drift. Housing in particular was a serious problem. According to the report many agricultural workers were living in cottages that should have been condemned as un-inhabitable. It also raised the problem of tied accommodation. “The worker in a tied cottage is liable to be evicted at any time he has a dispute with his employer or when, for any reason, the employer decides to replace him with another worker. “vi The Majority report is clearly not an advocate of such accommodation.
The drift away from the land according to the report was caused “largely, if not mainly, by the superior economic, social and educational opportunities in the towns and the unsatisfactory living conditions in many county districts. “vii Apart from the accommodation itself being bellow par, so were the services that were being provided in the village. “Thousands of cottages have no piped water supply, no gas, or electric light”viii. “In General, the services provided in the village whether of education, health or any other of the social services to be found in every town were of a standard far inferior to their urban counterpart.
“ix The Report then states failed government intervention in this area such as The Rural Water Supply Act 1934. It concludes that more needs to be done as to improve standards. Social life in the countryside is also briefly mentioned. It talks of the advent of the bicycle and motorcar and how this has meant dependency on neighbouring towns for amusement. Cultural life within the village itself is no longer centralised. Yet again there is no quantitative data upon which to base any of these generalisations. The Scott Report can be wholly seen as descriptive rather then quantitative.
There are statistics pronged at random intervals but as a whole the document relies upon descriptive accounts. The Scott report is ‘penetrating’ in some aspects as it describes problems associated with the countryside. It does not, however, go into enough detail and glosses over many a subject. The Majority Report is quite ambiguous and vague when it describes how the countryside had fallen into disrepair. It does, however, set out clear unambiguous objectives for the future. The Report contains recommendations as well as a five-year plan. The Majority Report believes the establishment of a Central Planning Authority as imperative.
It also calls for the encouragement of industry and commerce after the war “we are convinced that industry must be afforded every facility to re-establish itself”x. According to the Scott Report agriculture should maintain its current position in society. It states excess mechanisation should not occur in agriculture. It is also an advocate of the ‘resuscitation of village and country life’. ‘The preservation of amenities’ will aid this, “The improvement of rural housing as an essential prerequisite to the re-establishment of a contented countryside.
“xi Facilities such as “electricity, gas, tap water and sewerage systems”xii should also be provided according to the recommendations. Tied accommodation according to the Report should cease, “it is better that employer and landlord should be distinct”xiii. The Report calls for services such as gas, electricity, water and sewerage to be brought under national planning control. The report believed a permanent advisory committee on village life and institutions should also be created. Village halls, playing fields and a properly elected parish council should also be associated with well run villages.
According to the recommendations access for all to the countryside should be a necessity. Many consequences came out of the recommendations stated in the majority report. One of these was the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act. The Act was in essence the basis of the whole planning system. Its aim was to protect the countryside. The 1947 act can be seen as a catastrophic consequence of the recommendations set out in the Majority report. Young people who didn’t own property merely couldn’t afford the increased prices for houses in the countryside.
Those in rural areas lost out on industrial developments due to it being prevented neither did The Central Planning Authority secure the proper balance of national interest. Agricultural workers’ housing needs were simply not taken into consideration in the post war years. Another consequence of the Majority report was the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. This aimed to allow the urban population fuller enjoyment of the countryside. It set up National Parks and as a result the Country Code. There were, however, many problems associated with the Act.
Provisions of the act left much in the hands of local authorities that were reluctant to implement the characteristics of the Act. Neither did the Act anticipate the upsurge in recreational demand that mass car ownership brought. More importantly the Act failed to achieve legal access to the land. The Act brought little fundamental change because of the restrictive clauses of 1939. The Act did, however, signal the first tangible step towards protecting areas of high scenic value. The countryside, as a result of the Majority Report, became a sought after area of beauty.
The fondness upon which one views idyllic rustic settings was not always engraved upon national identity. The Scott Report aided the notion that the countryside is a place of splendour and leisure that should be safeguarded for present and future generations. The Report can also be seen as positive as it increased organisation and efficiency in the countryside. The Second World War and the consequences it brought meant the government could no longer take such a laissez faire attitude to the countryside. The report did much to increase the standing of agriculture in the House of Commons.
Many changes occurred in the countryside after the war. Not all of these, however, had direct links to the recommendations set out in the Majority Report. For example counter urbanisation had little to do with the contents of the recommendations. Although the Report wanted to stem the ‘drift to the land’ the factors that affected this were not a consequence of the recommendations. The Report did not envisage the effect commuters and the elderly would have on rural areas. The Majority Report was heavily criticised when it was first published.
The Minority Report contained within the Report itself criticises the recommendations set out. “My differences with the Majority rest, not upon a negative attitude, but upon a different view of what positive policy is in the national interest. My colleagues seek their ends by measures which involve as little change as possible in the status quo; I seek measures which permit more dynamic adaptation. “xiv Dennison is quite bold and ruthless in is dismemberment of the recommendations. He sees the report as potentially dangerous and predicts many future problems. The Scott Report can be seen in both a negative and positive light.
The Report goes to great length to explain contemporaneous issues plaguing the countryside. It is penetrating to a certain extent, however, relies too heavily on narrative rather than quantitative data. It would have been far more influential had all the social and economic problems laid out in the report been predominantly based on national statistics. The repercussions of the Majority Report can still be felt today. Increased organisation and National parks have come out of the recommendations it set. Many of the recommendations however have merely been ignored or carried out to negative ends.
The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act is one such case. In conclusion the ramifications of the recommendations are still felt today and not always with positive consequences. Bibliography > The Scott Report Burchardt, J, Paradise Lost, Rural Idyll and Social Change since 1800, London, 2002 > Newby, H, Green and Pleasant Land? , Penguin, 1979 The Scott Report i Paragraph 45 ii Paragraph 47 iii Paragraph 48 iv Paragraph 50 v Paragraph 45 vi Paragraph 58 vii Paragraph 156 viii Paragraph 63 ix Paragraph 67 x Paragraph 157 xi Paragraph 162 xii Paragraph 162 xiii Paragraph 163 xiv Paragraph 71.