HC Deb 16 February 1927 vol 202 cc994-1025

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £50,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1927, for a Grant-in-Aid of the Forestry Fund.


I think this is an occasion when the Committee might have some more lenient Rules as far as afforestation is concerned, because we cannot get a discussion upon afforestation in this House. If we are to be limited by the ordinary Rules in this Debate, then the whole policy of the Forestry Commission and the practical part of their work will escape criticism and the attention of this House. This Supplementary Vote we are asked to discuss to-day is under the control of eight nominated persons, but the expenditure is not to be accounted for in detail.


I sympathise with the hon. Member, but I regret it is not possible to raise these questions now. He can raise them on the main Vote by inducing the proper authorities to get the main Vote put down on an allotted day. It is not permissible, however, to go over the whole ground on this Supplementary Estimate.


I should not attempt to ask you to allow me to go over the whole operations of the Forestry Commission, but I was about to draw attention to the Note appended to the Supplementary Estimate. It says: The expenditure out of this Grant will be accounted for in detail to the Comptroller and Auditor General. It is not to be accounted for in detail to this Committee as other accounts have been, and there is nobody in this House capable of answering for 'the Forestry Commission on this Vote. The right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury cannot answer. He knows nothing whatever about their operations. When their witnesses come before the Committee on Public Accounts, they intimate, quite rightly, that they are not responsible to anyone in this House. Desiring to abide by your ruling as closely as I can, I trust you will turn a blind eye if I stray in a minute degree beyond the Rules.


I am afraid I cannot make a precedent.


I support this Vote, and trust I am in order in giving reasons why I support it. I will not stray as far as to give reasons why I think, in the national interest, it ought to be very much larger, and why, in the national interest, the Government are not doing their duty in bringing pressure to bear upon the Forestry Commission to conduct forestry operations on a very much larger scale, and on a basis which can be criticised in this House. Let me quote, if I may, two sentences from the "Times" of the 11th January, which, I think, quite relevant to this discussion: The need for a consistent and progressive policy of afforestation in Great Britain itself is particularly urgent, more urgent even than it was when the Acland Committee presented their Report in 1918. This once well-wooded land, which to-day draws something like nine-tenths of its timber supply from abroad, has less forest land per head of its population than any other country in Europe except Portugal. On the Continent timber is grown on one-third of the total land area; in Great Britain the proportion is only about 4 per cent. The article proceeds to say that the operations of the Forestry Commission in this country are to all intents and purpose negligible. For these negligible operations, the country is being called upon to pay something like £500,000 a year.


Again I sympathise with the hon. Member, but I would point out that the Committee is not being asked now for more than £50,000, which is for certain specified items, which are put down on the Paper, and the discussion must be confined to those items.


Perhaps you could enlighten me, Sir? Could you inform me where this £50,000 is specified? The details are not specified in the Supplementary Estimate, but it is specifically declared that these details are to be accounted for to the Controller and Auditor-General, and this House is deliberately precluded from getting information.


I think that is not true. Perhaps the hen Member is being misled in his reading of the note in the middle of page 9. In this case, an unexpended balance can be carried over from the 31st of Match to the following financial year, but the items have to be specified precisely and have to be audited by the Controller at d Auditor-General. The particular items in this case are a sum of £7,825 for forestry operations and £6,000 for cottages and outbuildings for forest-workers' holdings. Those sums, added to the deficiency in prospective receipts, make £84,740 and the carry over from last year under this particular system was something over £15,000, which makes £50,000 The explanation is given on page 10.


May I say that there is no one in this House who can answer questions upon these figures? The right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has nothing whatever to do with it. There is no Minister of the Crown responsible to this House for the operations of the Forestry Commission. We can get no information, we can never raise a debate upon it, and a great service, which in every other country in Europe except Portugal, and most other countries in the world, is a progressive service in face of a world famine of timber, and is employing large and ever larger quantities of labour, is threatened with being starved in this country. Leaving that alone, I will endeavour to ask some questions, though I know the right hon. Gentleman cannot answer them, because he has not got the machinery at his disposal to enable him to do so. All I can do to keep within the Rules of Order is to continue asking a series of questions which I know will never be answered. Seeing that an additional sum of £6,000 is required for cottages, outbuildings, etc., for forest-workers holdings, I should like to ask for how many extra persons this is going to provide forest holdings. Each holding last year cost about £529, including outbuildings, and as the total amount in the Appendix to the original Estimate is £67,000, may we take it that all that is done by this great scheme of the Forestry Commissioners for providing small holdings for men to work on part of the year while they are earning wages in the forest for the rest of the year is to provide for the magnificent number of 134? In India there are 6,000,000 human beings making a livelihood out of the timber forests etc.; in Germany there are over 1,000,000—in Bavaria alone 75,000—and in one Department of France over 30,000—not touching subsidiary industries at all. Here is a Supplementary Estimate asking for an additional £6,000 towards a total of £67,000 which is asked for to bring Great Britain up to the scratch. I do not know whether I am entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, under heading "E," it is proposed to deal with peat lands. Will he tell us if the Forestry Commission have made any investigations as to the possible profits to be made from the afforestation of peat land? Is it the case, for example, that on 10,000 acres of peat land we could employ immediately 5,000 men, on draining, fencing, etc.?


The hon. Member is entitled to ask whether this Supplementary Estimate applies to peat lands, but he is not entitled to propose a scheme of afforestation.


I take it I am entitled to ask if this heading "E" deals with afforestation of peat land,, and if the right hon. Gentleman is able to give the House any indication of the numbers of extra men who are, or could be, employed in afforesting these peat lands; and, if so, what is the profit that the Forestry Commission expect to make at the end of 40 years when these soft woods will become available for sale? Can he tell us what wages are paid to foresters? Is it the case that it is 37s. a week? Is it the case that it kept so low as 37s. because the neighbouring landowners do not want it raised, seeing that if the wages paid by the Forestry Commission were raised the rate of wages on the estates of the private landowners would be driven up? Is it the case that foremen left in charge of important schemes involving thousands of pounds of public money are rewarded with the magnificent wage of 42s. a week, and is not that also due to the fact that private landowners are dominating the scheme? Is it not the case that out of the eight commissars six are private landlords, that they are all nominated, and that two of them are paid, one getting £1,650—


I have already pointed out to the hon. Member that that must be raised on the main Estimate; or it could be raised on the Forestry Bill, if it be brought forward.


There is a great virtue in that "if." That Forestry Bill has been on the Order Paper for a year and a half, and some of us have sat patiently waiting night after night to get at it, but the Government have never yet dared to bring it forward for discussion in this House. I do not wish to go any further, but I know perfectly well that within the Regulations under which this discussion is conducted, must be conducted, we can get nothing done, that this is a farce, that the right hon. Gentleman cannot answer, and that nobody need ask questions because they will not get an answer, and that there will be no means by which this House can ever discuss afforestation until the Forestry Commission are brought directly under the Government of the day, as in the case of every other spending Department. I, for one, object to any Department which is spending public money being a nominated body and out-with the control of this House, and I hope this is the last time an attempt will be made to bring forward an Estimate of this kind in this way.


I am, of course, smarting under the strictures of the hon. Member, but it is a great consolation to me to hear from him that though he has put his questions to me he does not anticipate any answer on my part, and has indicated that there is no obligation upon me to answer. What the hon. Gentleman has really complained of is not a matter for which either I or the present Government are in any way responsible. What he has really been complaining of is the constitution of the Forestry Commission. I do not want to follow the hon. Member in getting out of order, but perhaps I may give this much explanation. Whether it is a bad or a good thing that the Forestry Commission should be as it is, the fact is that the deliberate work of Parliament made it so. I can remember the Debates at the time. I have no particular opinion on the subject myself, but I remember the view being put forward, I think with very general consent, that in establishing this new body of Forestry Commissioners to carry out afforestation it was a very desirable thing to keep them outside party politics. For that reason, the Parliament of that day deliberately decided that there should be no Minister in this House directly responsible for the Forestry Commission itself, but that it should be an extra-Parliamentary body. My only duty and, as the hon. Gentleman has said quite truly, my only power is to explain the finance, and I am restricted to a very much narrower field than the finance of the Commission, being limited strictly to the reasons for the additional money now asked for in this Supplementary Estimate.

This Estimate has this much in common with the one we have just discussed about sugar beet, that in forestry operations it is extremely hard to forecast exactly the amount of money required from year to year. Take this £50,000. As you, Sir have already explained to the hon. Member, part of this sum arises from the fact that the unexpended balance at the end of the year is not surrendered but is carried on to the next year, and becomes part of the resources of the Commission for the following year. Every year a forecast has to be made of the amount of money which will be available after the beginning of the new financial year for the operations of the succeeding year. It is not always a very easy thing to forecast, because it happens occasionally, as it happened this year, that, after the Estimates are made up in the Autumn, favourable opportunities for purchasing suitable land for afforestation, which had not been anticipated, present themselves in the Winter following the framing of the Estimates. Then the Forestry Commission spent the money which was at their disposal but which they did not anticipate would be spent during those months, and the consequence of that was there was a smaller sum to carry forward into the following year and to reduce the amount that was anticipated by £15,260 or thereabouts. That has to be made good before the end of the present year, and forms part of this Supplementary Estimate. There is a further sum of £7,825 for forestry operations. The Committee may ask why those items come in now. One reason is that it is very difficult to forecast, because forestry operations, like agriculture, depend to a very great extent upon the weather. It so happens that this Estimate was formed with the intention of being as accurate as possible, and it may be that we cut the Estimate a little bit too fine and did not leave enough margin for contingencies. Bad weather supervened in the Autumn in the North of Scotland, and the favourable conditions which had been anticipated when the Estimate was formed were not realised, and consequently a larger sum is required for the current year.

Another reason is that in regard to the estates which are purchased we had an estimate of the amount of land required for forestry purposes during the year. Of course, we had to anticipate the proportion of that land which would be required for afforestation, and that land had to be acquired so as to provide a certain proportion of cultivable land upon which houses and buildings could be erected for the convenience of those employed in the industry. The estates acquired during the year include a larger proportion of land suitable for workers' holdings than was anticipated, and such land is more expensive than land for afforestation. This means that a larger sum was required than was anticipated when the original Estimate was framed and put forward.

In addition, there is a serious deficit in the receipts which were anticipated on the other side of the account and that, of course, goes to swell the amount which is required to make good the deficit of the present financial year. First of all, I should explain that in regard to large portions of this forest land it is the practice of the Commission to realise the livestock as soon as possible, and they have to make the best bargain they can. It so happened that there was a great slump in sheep prices, with the consequence that there was more than £8,000 less realised by the sale of sheep stock in Scotland than was anticipated. There is a still larger sum required for the sale of forest produce. This is one more illustration of the far-reaching consequences of the industrial disturbance of last autumn, because a very large portion of the forest produce is pit props; and in consequence of the temporary slump in the trade for pit props we had to make good some £10,000 that otherwise would have been realised by the sale of timber.

There is one other item which is still more directly attributable to the same source, and it is the sum of £2,700 for rents to make good the deficiency in regard to the reduced receipts from mining royalties in the Dean Forest, which otherwise would have come into the coffers of the Forestry Commission, but under the unfortunate circumstances of last autumn they were deprived of them. In spite of the deplorable ignorance which has been alleged in regard to this Vote, I hope I have been able to give to the Committee in rough outline the reasons why we are asking for this £50,000. I believe hon. Members opposite have not the slightest desire to hamper the operations of the Forestry Commission, and I hope they will let me have this Vote without a prolonged discussion.


I am glad the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has been able to answer some of the questions which are interesting not only to hon. Members on this side, but also to hon. Members opposite. I believe hon. Mem- bers who are supporters of the Government, and who are members of the Public Accounts Committee, will heartily reecho the remarks made by the first speaker on this side of the Committee, in regard to this subject, because it has come to be regarded as a very serious matter indeed that the Forestry Commission should be allowed to go on as it has done in past years. My first question is in regard to the £7,825, the detail., of Which appear on page 10 of the Supplementary Estimates. So far as I can understand that figure, it represents the total cost of growing timber. I do not want to criticise the figure, but I respectfully suggest to the Financial Secretary and his Department that it would be very much more convenient if it could be split up so that we could know exactly the cost of labour and other things, including material.

I should like to reinforce what has been said with regard to the wages of the foresters. If the wage of 37s. per week is being paid to these men by the Commission, I submit that that is open to very serious criticism, and should he dealt with at the earliest possible moment. I understand from the statement of one of the Commissioners that the Forestry Commission are pursuing, what they term, "a policy on an expanding basis." I am not at all satisfied wait the explanation which has been given as to what appears likely to take place, and I shall be very grateful if the right hon. Gentleman will endeavour to obtain figures to show how many forests have been commenced since the Estimate was prepared, and what acreage has been added to the existing forests since the same date. There is a further point with regard to Section L which I should like to raise, and it is as to the number of forest workers' holdings for which land has been acquired, and also the average cost per acre of the land obtained for those holdings as distinguished from land obtained for planting as forests.

I hope, in regard to what I am going to say about the general management of the Commission, that I shall not be anticipating something which would come far more forcibly from those sitting on the Government side of the House. The hon. Member for Ilford (Sir F. Wise) has put some telling questions on this question to one or the Commissioners, and I gather from the replies he received that the Chief Commissioner is frequently away from the duties for which he is paid, for as much as two months at a time, and the Commissioner who was cross-examined suggested that, although he received a salary as a Commissioner, if he cared to absent himself for six months no one in this House had the slightest ground to criticise him. I do not want to make more out of this incident than can properly be made, but I say quite definitely that not only the hon. Member for Ilford, to whom I have referred, but colleagues of his who sit with him on the Public Accounts Committee, are dissatisfied with the state of affairs revealed in that cross-examination. I am glad this Estimate has given me the opportunity of ventilating this serious complaint.

7.0 p.m.


I quite realise that this is not the proper opportunity to discuss the various points hinted at by hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway on both sides of the Committee. I am rather sorry for that, because I do not know any other subject which so directly affects the rural parts of this country as this question of afforestation. I am satisfied in my own mind that this Supplementary Estimate will be passed unanimously by this Committee. I do not agree with the statement that the Afforestation Department of this country is negligent or that its work is negligible. It is a new Department, and I think it is safe to say that no Department of this kind has done its work so well or so efficiently as this particular Department. My objection is that it is not large enough in its extent, and I cannot think of any Estimate we could pass that could be more useful than one to enable the Forestry Commission to carry on its work more extensively in the rural parts of this country. I listened to what the Financial Secretary said, and nobody could have performed his task with greater ease or eloquence or accuracy. He very properly said that he was not the person from whom we could expect to get the sort of information that we, who are keen on this afforestation problem, would like to be given. I should like to see, not only the Minister of Agriculture on the Front Bench, but also the Secretary of State for Scotland. There is not a single Member, representing a rural constituency, who is not keenly anxious to get first-hand information with regard to an Estimate of this kind. It is true there are very strict limits imposed upon us, but, within such limits we are, surely, entitled to get information which cannot possibly be in the possession of the Treasury. Therefore, I excuse my right hon. Friend because he was not able to give us such information as we should like.

I should like to ask, for example, where are those workers' dwellings which are referred to on page 10 of the Estimates. How many of them are there? and what is their cost? What was the purchase price of the land upon which they are situated? I should also like to ask how much of this money is going to be allocated to Scotland and what proportion to England. I should like to ask a good many more questions of that kind, but I think it would be useless to ask my right hon. Friend, and I would suggest that on all occasions such as this of an Estimate of this kind, which directly affects the Departments concerned, the burden should not be borne, by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, but that he should have by his side representatives of the other Departments who can give to Members of the House the information which we desire.

I should like to supplement the questions which were asked by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) and the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. W. Baker). We read of new forests being purchased. Are they purchasing any forests in the northern parts of Scotland, and, if so, are they working in co-operation with the Board of Agriculture, because we came to the conclusion long ago that it is no good expending money in the purchase of forests unless you can do it in co-operation with the Board of Agriculture, who are in charge of the agricultural districts. Take a man who is settled on the land in Scotland. I think I am quite within the limits of order in discussing this on account of one or two items mentioned in the Supplementary Estimates. There is little use in placing men on the land in parts of northern Scotland unless and until you provide them with a subsidiary occupation, and the experts, will tell you, and with truth, that there is no subsidiary occupation in the world so useful or so permanent or so durable in its value and extent as afforestation.

There are times, as everybody familiar with the country districts knows, when the smallholder is not able to work because of climatic conditions, when the harvest and seed times are finished. What more suitable occupation is there in view of the climatic conditions and land conditions than the subsidiary occupation of afforestation? Consequently, I should like to have seen the Secretary of State for Scotland in his place. I see the Under-Secretary is there, and perhaps he will be able to give an answer to some of the questions which have been asked. I for one support this Estimate. It will be noticed, as it deserves to be, that almost half the money which is wanted was lost by the Forestry Commission through no fault of their own, but owing to the declining rents and sales due to the mining stoppage. Accordingly, though on an estimate of this kind we are not able to express to the full our views on a subject which is so engrossingly interesting to those of us who have knowledge of rural conditions in this country, I think that the Committee would do well to Jet the estimate pass.


I do not want to take the Financial Secretary to the Treasury into the mysteries of forestry, but to deal only with a matter which lies strictly within his own province, and which he alone can answer. Let me say, to avoid misconception, that I am a warm supporter of the general purpose of the Vote and would indeed gladly vote more money for forestry under proper control of Parliament. We know, however, that there is this question of the representation of the Forestry Commission in this House. I can say that without the least trace of disrespect to the most distinguished member of that Commission who has so often greatly assisted the House on former occasions. The presence of a member of the Commission is a different matter from the presence of a responsible Minister. I want to give an instance of the little difficulties which it causes, from a phrase in this Supplementary Estimate, which I may say causes me the deepest apprehension as to the misconception of proper Parliamentary control over this expenditure. If I may ask the Financial Secretary to turn to page 10, and to look at Paragraph 3—Forestry operations—he will find there this sentence, which apparently is intended to provide an adequate reason for the over-spending of the Estimate— The provision in the original Estimate will prove insufficient to complete the planting programme. I ask the Committee to agree with me and I think I may ask the Financial Secretary to agree, that this implies a most extraordinary misconception of the nature of Parliamentary control over expenditure. I want him to agree to this proposition, that this House does not vote a planting programme but votes money. If he will look at the original Estimate, he will find no planting programme. There is a sum of money for specific purposes. I do not know where to find the planting programme of the Forestry Commissioners. I imagine, if one wanted to find it anywhere, it would be in their Report, but the House does not vote the Report of the Forestry Commissioners. The House votes specific sums, with instructions fixing strict limitations for the year upon the spending Department. If one may compare great things with small, and compare the Forestry Commission with the Admiralty, the Admiralty comes before this House, it is true, with a complete and detailed programme for the year, but this House does not vote it. It does not vote ships, but sums of money. What would the Committee have thought if the Admiralty came to the House for £20,000,000 extra and gave as an excuse: "Oh, we were unable to complete our programme within the sums you voted." It is no less a gross misconception of the nature of Parliamentary control, as it appears to me, that which is to be found in this phrase of the Forestry Commission. May we press the Financial Secretary to impress on the Forestry Commission that a programme of planting has no authority from this House, that the sole and sufficient authority from this House is the voting of sums of money, and that they are bound to keep within the limits of those sums.

Major GLYN

There is one point in connection with the cottages and buildings to which I should like to draw the attention of the right hon. Glentleman. I am acquainted with some of the opera- tions of the Forestry Commission in Scotland. There they have been importing Belgian tiles, and they have been putting them on the buildings at the same time as the Empire Marketing Board has been asking everybody to buy British goods. I do think that is a matter upon which, if the Commissioners were under the direct control of this House, we should have something to say and to insist. Not. only that, but there was a very severe gale only three weeks ago last Friday, and these Belgian tiles were stripped off the roofs wholesale, and the wretched people were left with nothing but the stars above. I do not say the right hon. Gentleman is responsible for that, but the only occasion when one can draw attention to it seems to be this Vote of £6,000 which the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) has calculated will house 134 workers. It is to be hoped that the material used will as far as possible be local material, and that the construction of the houses will be more permanent than has been the ease in some instances, because everyone wants to establish people on these holdings, and one takes it for granted that the houses provided by the Commission are decent and proper houses.

There is just one other point. Owing to the gale recently in Scotland there have been very severe losses of timber in certain districts. That will mean that the market will be flooded with timber, and I doubt whether this Estimate will not have to be corrected in view of the destruction recently wrought, and the extra amount of timber which will be thrown on to the market. The chances are that the whole of the planting programme may require complete revision because one of the cheapest ways of carrying out afforestation is taking over blown-down areas and replanting them and marketing the timber. I hope this point will be borne in mind and that the House of Commons will really take control over the Department' of Afforestation, which is a growing Department, and one which every Member wants to see flourishing. It is high time that this House took control. Many people think that the Department of Woods and Forests deals with woods and forests. It does nothing of the sort, and even this House of Commons has nothing to do with the Forestry Commission. If we can bring the Forestry Commissioners into this House every Member is ready to forward the entirely admirable work which the Commissioners have done, and to let them be assisted by the House of Commons to do even more.


My grievance is that the Estimate is not large enough, and I feel tempted to move a reduction of the Vote because of that grievance. I wish we had millions to be devoted to this purpose, instead of the paltry sum we are discussing. I want to make an appeal to the Government to spend this money in my own constituency, in the Abertillery division. We have there some admirable land for afforestation. We have some very fine hills which used to be covered with beautiful trees, but they have all been stripped, and they are simply doing nothing there now but grazing a few sheep. We have thousands of men unemployed in my area, and they are receiving unemployment benefit and rendering no service to the country. They have been drawing their unemployment benefit for years, and I think the Government would be very well advised if they spent this money and a great deal more in my constituency in employing the miners on planting trees so as to cover the hills and provide for the future. That is one of the reasons why I am able with great pleasure on this occasion to support the Government, and I am only sorry that they are so niggardly and miserly in their expenditure on this very useful, national service. I do strongly appeal to the hon. Member for Monmouth (Sir C. Forestier-Walker), wins is a Commissioner of Forestry, and knows my constituency well. He is a Monmouthshire man and ought to have sympathy with my people, and I hope I may touch a tender chord in his heart and get him to spend some of this money in the Abertillery division.


I should like to express my regret at the contemptuous way in which the House has been treated in a matter of this kind. I do not blame the Financial Secretary in the slightest; I think he has carried out his duties completely, and has given as full an explanation of the actual figures as anyone might desire; but, surely, the question of afforestation is a very important one for the people of this country. The afforestation carried on in this country is of a microscopic character, and no information is given to the House about it. We are treated like a lot of school-boys or students who could not by any stretch of imagination be expected to take the slightest interest in a subject of this importance. All that we are asked to do is to set a side a certain amount of money in order that some degree—Heaven only knows how much—of afforestation may take place. I know to some small extent the work that has been done, and that work is very praiseworthy; but it seems to me monstrous that Members of the House of Commons should be kept in absolute ignorance as to the number of men employed, the amount of afforestation that has taken place, and the number of acres that are under afforestation now. Surely this information might be given to the Committee, in order that they might have that little added interest in The question, and might be treated as though they possessed some degree of intelligence. I thought it was only right that I should make some protest at the contemptuous manner in which Members of the House of Commons are treated on this question. I do not know whether we are under—

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Dennis Herbert)

The hon. Member must not use that particular phrase in referring to the action of Parliament. He may criticise it, but it is not in order to speak of the action of Parliament in that way.


That I quite understand, but I am only endeavouring to point out that it seems to me unfair and unreasonable that such a paucity of information should be given to the House when they are granting this money for afforestation. That is my complaint, and I hope the result of my complaint, and of complaints made by others, will at least indicate, to those who may have some influence in this matter, that in the future the House should be treated with a little more respect, and that information should be given to the House so that Members may at least be allowed to take some interest in this question, which is one of very great importance to thousands of people in this country.


There are one or two points that I wanted to raise which I think have not been raised up to the present. There seems to me to be some inconsistency between this loss on sales of livestock and the expansion in the planting programme. The right hon. Gentleman explained that there had been a considerable drop in sheep prices, which, of course, is quite true, and I have no doubt that a certain amount of this loss is due to the fact that lower prices have been received, for such sheep as have been sold, than were anticipated. But it is explained in the Estimate that the greater part of the loss is due to larger stocks having been kept in hand, having been kept off' a bad market and not being sold. If that be so, surely it means that a great deal of land that would otherwise have been available for planting has been kept under sheep, and it seems very inconsistent that, while you are keeping that land under sheep for the purpose of selling them in a favourable market, more land should still be planted than was originally anticipated. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to explain how those two things are possible.

The next point that I wanted to mention was what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Young) said about the importance of financial control, and of seeing that money voted in one year was spent in that year and not in any other. I have rat at the feet of the right hon. Gentleman in connection with these matters of the control of finance by this House and by the Treasury, and there is no one who speaks on that subject with greater authority. I would suggest, however, that, in the peculiar circumstances of the Forestry Commission's activities, seeing that they are largely dependent upon climatic conditions, it is very important that an exception should be made—which should by no means constitute a precedent—having regard to the conditions of the particular problem which the Forestry Commissioners have to face; and that within certain limits, to be strictly laid down by the House, a certain amount of freedom should be allowed in their case. I would not even go so far as to call it an exception, but would say that they should be given some law, some latitude in the carrying out of their operations. From the point of view of public expenditure, if a certain amount of money is to be spent on planting a certain area, it is very much better, if conditions happen to be favourable in one year, that more money should be spent in that year in planting under the most favourable economic conditions, and that less should be spent in some less favourable year. If a limit is placed on the amount that may be spent in the favourable year, it may mean that more money may have to be voted next year to complete the operation, possibly under less favourable conditions. I hope, therefore, it will be borne in mind that, in regard to forestry, some latitude is necessary in order to adjust the operations to the conditions under which they have to be carried on.

With regard to the question raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon (Major Glyn) about the responsibility of the Forestry Department to the House of Commons, I must say I strongly take the view, having regard to the experience we have had since the Forestry Commission was started, that it is essential to have in the House a Minister responsible for the operations of the Forestry Department, and responsible for its financial control, who will speak with authority on the subject here. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson), the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston), and several other hon. Members above the Gangway, have asked some very important questions on issues arising out of this Estimate, but there is no one, I am afraid, on the Government Bench who has the intimate knowledge of the work of the Commission which is necessary to give satisfactory replies to the House. My right hon. Friend observed that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Under-Secretary for Scotland was sitting on the Front Bench, and expressed the hope that he might give us some information, but I am afraid that, even if he is willing, he will be unable to do so, because he and his Department are not in intimate touch with the work of the Forestry Commission.


I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Baronet, but I should like to point out that I do not in the least object to his excellent speech as long as he does not expect me to reply to it, but he is really quarrelling with an Act of Parliament, and, if he thinks it desir- able that that Act should be amended, the method would be to bring in a Bill for that purpose.


What I am complaining about is that a number of hon. Members here have made speeches and asked for information on matters arising out of this Estimate. For instance, I associate myself with the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty, and I u ant to hear information on the points he raised, which are of vital concern to me and to my constituents. If the right hon. Gentleman does intend to answer the points raised by my right hon. Friend and by other Members above the Gangway, I will sit clown in order to enable him to do so.


What I wanted to point out to the hon. Baronet is that his proper course would be to bring in a Bill to put the Forestry Commission on such a footing as he thinks right. When he does that, we shall be able to get a responsibility in this House which does not exist at present. Parliament passed the Act some time ago, and, if the hon. Baronet would like to see it repealed, he can bring in a Bill to replace it by another Measure.


I should like to point out, in the first place, that the opportunities of introducing legislation are very little, and, in the second place, that it is not for me to suggest, in a discussion on the Estimate, any action which requires legislation. was not suggesting at all that any particular Minister should be in control of the Department, or anything of that kind; I was merely indicating a difficulty that we have, and I think this is the only occasion on the Estimates where the situation arises that Members can get up in the House and make speeches which are completely in order, asking for information which is relevant to the Estimate, and yet there is no Minister on the Government Bench who can reply to the points that have been raised. It is quite true that the hon. Member for Monmouth (Sir L. Forestier-Walker) can give us information, but he cannot give it with Ministerial responsibility.

Before I sit down, I want to associate myself particularly with what my right hon. Friend said with regard to the development of rural areas. We must expect the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to look at this matter from purely financial point of view, and he would naturally wish the forests to be planted where they will give the greatest immediate economic return. There is no other aspect of the forestry problem that would appeal to him—I mean in his capacity as Financial Secretary to the Treasury. But there has always been understood to be another aspect which is of great importance, and that is that the operations of the Forestry Commission should be used to develop the resources of different counties in the Kingdom. It may well be that there is, for example, an ample amount of suitable forestry ground which is more easily developed in England and South Scotland, but it is extremely important that, in counties where it is desired to keep the population on the land, like the Highlands of Scotland, where it is desired to stem the flow of depopulation, the operations of the Forestry Commission should go hand in hand with those of the Board, of Agriculture.


I would say, at the outset, that the question I desire to submit is one that I hope can be answered, and it is put forward in that spirit. I am not here to ask a question to which a reply cannot be given, and for that reason I hope that an attempt will he made to respond. The Minister in charge of this Estimate told us that the first item of £7,825 was due, as stated in page 10, to the fact that the amount was insufficient to complete the planting programme because of the weather.

That was a point we particularly emphasised. I presume the maintenance charges include amongst other things the rate of pay to which reference was made by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston). He stated that a labourer employed by the Forestry received 37s. a week and, on a farm, 42s. What I am anxious to know is if the weather prevented these men following their occupation, are these sparse wages continued? I should like a little further information on the question of the loss in receipts under Item C. The point made was that owing to the slump in the price of sheep this loss of £8,125 occurred. Is it not possible that in purchasing the estate and the stock upon it, it is the practice of the Forestry to maintain the sheep en the farm for a certain length of time, and that this might have been anticipated and the loss to some extent been reduced? There is a further point on the question of pit props. It is suggested that the receipts were reduced owing to the coal dispute. Is this an actual loss? Ought it to appear as a deficiency? I not the stock still there and will not the receipts subsequently appear on the account? In submitting it in this way, is it not suggesting that an actual loss' has occurred, while, actually, the assets are still in the hands of the Forestry Commission?


This is a deficiency on the Estimate. We estimated for the year that a certain sum would be required. For the reasons I have given it fell short.


I should like in the first place to support the plea that the Commissioners should be in some way represented by a Minister who is closely connected with their work. We quite understand that the right hon. Gentleman has no time to study the price of sheep while he is at the Exchequer and I do not wish in any way to criticise him. I am only criticising the system which compels him to answer these technical questions which it is obviously impossible for him to know anything about personally. I should like to point out to him. that it is the Government who are responsible for the proper ordering of business, and if he recognised the unsatisfactory position in which the House is placed when these Estimates come up he might have said he would draw the attention of the Prime Minister to the point, and at some convenient time possibly something might be done to remedy it. In the last year before the accounts we are now considering there was a very large Supplementary Estimate brought in dealing with this very question, running into six figures, and it showed how important it is that there should be a Minister who can answer—


Anything of that nature that the hon. Member suggests would need fresh legislation and he cannot pursue that subject on this Supplementary Estimate.


I was pointing out that we now have a Supplementary Estimate and that in a previous year we have also had Supplementary Estimates, and I submit that I should be in order in laying stress on the point because there is nothing new in this Department in having Supplementary Estimates. I hope the Treasury will bear that in mind, whatever it involves in the way of remedying the difficulty. In regard to the sheep, I should like to ask whether it is correct about it being a lost amount. The right hon. Gentleman stated that of course it meant that the Estimate in regard to the sale of sheep had not been realised, but we do not know how much profit they had expected to obtain on the sale of the sheep. It might not actually have been a loss but only a failure to realise the Estimate which had been put down originally. I should like to ask whether this Supplementary Estimate has anything to do with the school that is run in connection with the forestry industry and whether the number of pupils in that school are as many as they require. I think there is a sum for advances to the workers included under the Estimate, but I believe it will come under another heading. May I take it that there are no advances in this Estimate? I gather from the Report of the Public Accounts Committee that money is advanced free of interest for the workers to provide themselves with land or houses. I understand there is nothing involved in this Estimate for advances. I want to ask whether the reports the Minister has satisfy him that there are enough men coming forward to undertake this work. One of the things we are arranging for is the provision of a larger number of houses. In one of the reports presented to the Public Accounts Committee at their meeting last year we were told one of the chief difficulties of this branch of the work is to find efficient men. I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman has any information on that point and whether they are satisfied that they are getting the class of men they want which justifies them in spending this money.


I want, first of all, to join in the protest against the system under which we cannot get into touch with those who are really responsible. Perhaps as the result of to-night's test we shall get into telepathic communication with them, and get a reply in the same way. One thing I was struck with not make any reference to a statement was that the right hon. Gentleman did from this side in regard to the defaulting attendances on the part of some of those who are Commissioners. It seems to me a very dangerous thing that we have no direct grip of this, and that we should have anyone taking advantage of that fact by staying away from the business. The Government ought to say, "Until we get to know, there is no more money," or, "You are no longer a Commissioner." We ought to get on some basis to deal with those who are in that position. With regard to cottages and outbuildings, have any efforts been made on the part of those conducting this business to use home-grown timber, especially from the local areas, or have they done anything in the way of finding out whether the timber grown locally is giving a good, comfortable house and standing the weather conditions that generally obtain? I wonder if the hon. Gentleman in charge realised, when the question of pit props came up, that you could not have any loss in regard to them. The stoppage only meant filling up the stocks. I suggest to the Commissioners that a tree without sap is a much more valuable thing than a tree with sap. I have seen thousands of pit props underground, and when we were in a dangerous place we always looked for one without sap. Since the stoppage, these props, which were not having a ready sale, have been stored in a propel place and you are ping to make more if you watch that market than you would in the ordinary way. I take it from the note that the stocks have been accumulated and there will be no actual loss. If that is not so, I should like to have the position explained.


Of course, that may be so. I hope it is, but we have to get the money by 31st March.


I know, and in view of the time I think we can manage that. I think what gave the impetus to the need for this extra money was not only the question of unemployment. This question came before the question of unemployment. The denuding of the world's timber is making it more and more important. I am not quarrelling with the sum of money. Take the American timber business. Take the average daily paper in New York. It takes 2,000 acres of timber every year to keep it going. There is going to be a competition between industry and paper as to who is going to get the timber. That brings us into a very hot place in this country because for our building we depend largely on timber coming from abroad. I wonder whether the sum asked for here has been based upon a consideration of that or whether they consider that the sum ought to have been 10 times bigger to go on planting in damp places where we might grow hard wood. I should like to know if before they brought this Estimate forward they had gone into the whole consideration of all these things in the hope that by giving us a full survey of the business and giving us an expert opinion in regard to the forests, we might at the same time have something basic on which to spend even 50 times the sum asked for now.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

There are one or two observations I would like to make. I particularly address myself to the hon. and gallant Gentleman who looks after the interests of the forests. He must liken himself in this matter to Napoleon. Napoleon at the height of his power was famous for his military victories. Later, when the world was pacific again, he was famous for his code of law—the code Napoleon. To-day he is remembered in France with the most gratitude because of his forestry. He planted the great French provinces of Bayonne and Biscay.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman is rather remote from the Estimate. I hope he will get to it sooner or later.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I was on the point of reaching it. These forests now are one of the greatest assets the French people have and they are able, curiously enough, to undersell, in the way of pit props, the Scandinavian and Russian countries. You can get pit props in South Wales and Yorkshire, which were planted in these French forests a hundred years ago by Napoleon more cheaply than from Norway, Sweden or Russia. I welcome this Supplementary Estimate. I wish the £50,000 were £500,000. I believe these is no better investment at the present time than tree planting. The only blot that I see is that, as usual, excuses are made in regard to losses, which are said to be due to the stoppage in the coal mining industry. Hon. Members who have spoken have shown that that is fictitious and I hope the losses will prove to be fictitious.


It is the Commissioners.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I do not understand the method of bookkeeping of the Forestry Commissioners. Of course there is no loss made if the accounting is correct. This is where I think a saving can be effected. I see that a certain amount of expenditure figures under Sub-head L—£6,000—for cottages and out-buildings, etc., for forest workers' holdings. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, the Financial Secretary, or the Forestry Commissioner whether wood is used for building these houses. If it is not, it ought to be. Timber houses. are very comfortable, beautiful and. hygienic, and would be the cheapest material for buildings for forest workers. All over the world where forestry is engaged in on a. great scale it is used. The most scientific forestry is seen in Germany; I have visited some of the German forests, which are models of efficiency. The houses there of the forest foremen, men who are in highly paid positions, are very often made of timber. They are excellent houses. I believe the use of wood. has been adopted on a small scale in this country and I hope it will become the general practice.

There is undoubtedly a timber shortage coming on the world. The shortage of wood for pulping purposes and for paper-making is very large. Soon a time will come when there will not be enough paper to print the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL

Or the "Daily Herald."

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

No, the "Daily Herald" always gets it from Russia. The hon. Gentleman will know that they have the good sense to, buy in a labour market and it is a very good thing that Russian timber comes. in. There is also a large increase in the. use of wood for textile industries and in the making of artificial silk. For all these reasons—and I am supported by expert advice on this matter—there is a possible shortage of timber in the world. Therefore, I say to the hon. and gallant: Member for Monmouth (Sir Leolin Forestier-Walker), "Take courage." I regret that he is not in a position to answer authoritatively 'because of the curious constitution of the Forestry Commission; but he can go down to history, not because of the great military exploits which be has accomplished, but he will be remembered with gratitude because, like Napoleon, he planted the open spaces with trees.

Sir LEOLIN FORESTIER-WALKER (Forestry Commissioner)

I can only assure the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) that we are endeavouring to copy Napoleon as far as is possible. We are quite aware of the acute shortage of timber all over the world, but, if any complaints are made in this House as to why schemes are not larger, and no more money is spent on them, I can only assure hon. Members that they must blame themselves. Parliament laid it down, in the Forestry Act, 1919, that certain sums of money should be allocated for periods. The Forestry Act was the result of the Acland Report, which suggested that a Forestry Commission should plant 150,000 acres on an expanding programme over a period of 10 years. They provided £3,500,000 for that purpose, although it will be recognised that the pre-War price of planting is by no means equal to the present price. That is all Parliament has given us and, therefore, if any hon. Member is grumbling at the lack of money, Parliament is alone to blame.

If hon. Members can get a little more out of the Treasury, the Forestry Commission will be deeply grateful. A lot of questions have been asked me, and perhaps I had better take some of the latest first. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull asked about timber houses. We are not building timber houses, as one who has had very considerable experience in timber houses, I can tell him that there is no economy whatever in timber house building. I have lived for many years in a timber house. Most people in this country do not like timber houses; they think they are full of fleas, and they generally are. An hon. Member of this House, who is chairman of the English Advisory Committee, sent in a suggestion that we should try to build houses with what is called rough timber, which however practically costs the same as a brick house, and I think, of the two, a brink house is the preferable.

I have also been asked whether we were making experiments in planting peat land. An hon Member suggested that we should employ 10,000 men to plant all the peat bogs that we could. We are experimenting in several places in Scotland in planting peat land, but that experiment has really not yet given us sufficient knowledge. Until we have sufficient experience, we should be extremely foolish to launch out on any large expenditure or any large schemes. Another hon. Member asked about new forests in Scotland. We have no new forests in Scotland, as we have not, at the moment, obtained sufficient land for planting new forests there. He also asked whether we were in close communication with the Board of Agriculture in Scotland. I can assure hon. Members that we are in very close co-operation with the Boards of Agriculture, both in England and in Scotland. I am sorry to say that there has peen a remark made about the Chairman of the Commission, and also about the paid Commissioner. I can only bear testimony, as an unpaid Commissioner, to the excellent work which the Chairman has done and to the close attention he gives to his work.

I can assure hon. Members that even if he is away for a short time he keeps in very close touch with the work, and anybody who knows the Noble Lord will know very well that he follows the business very closely. As to the paid Commissioner, he is most assiduous in his work and knows it from A to Z. With regard to the question about land for holdings for the workers; that land has cost us £14 an acre, The land for planting has cost us about £4 an acre. We have now 2,955 forest workers. I was asked if they were paid at wet times. When the men turn out, and it is too wet to work, we send them back and pay them for half a day. If they do not turn up, they do not get paid. We have a sufficient number of pupils, although our work does not give us many vacancies As we extend our work we shall be able to employ and teach more pupils. We were asked if we had sufficient good men. Hon. Members know that good men cannot be picked up on every blackberry bush. We have had some difficulty, because good men are very hard to get, but we endeavour to get the best we can and I do not know that we can complain more than anyone else. With regard to the amount of land under our control, we have acquired 488,000 acres, of which 285,000 are plants able. We have planted 78,000 acres, and we have 108 centres for planting, of which are in England and Wales and 51 in Scotland. Thus, it would appear that Scotland has a larger proportion than it is entitled to. We have completed 240 workers' holdings, 192 being in England and Wales, and 48 in Scotland. We are in process of erecting 108 in England and 54 in Scotland, which makes a total of 300 in England and 102 in Scotland—altogether, 402 holdings. So far as I can make out, those are all the questions which have been asked me and I hope hon. Members will now give the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury the Vote for which he asks.


The Committee is very grateful indeed for the information which the hon. Gentleman has given us. He has certainly added to the value of the Debate, because he is speaking with a great deal of knowledge of the actual matter we are discussing. I appreciate very much the difficulties which the Forestry Commission have to meet. We are limited very considerably, indeed, by the arrangements in the House to-day, as well as by the arrangements of the Treasury. I am very much concerned about the difference in price between the workmen's holdings and the land that is set aside for planting. That is the issue which emerges in this connection. I suspect—I may he wrong, but I should like the matter to be cleared up if that can be done—that the Forestry Commissioners will probably have discovered that some quite ordinary land, which is suitable only for planting purposes, in the process of the negotiations which have gone on has gradually changed its character and that the landowner has been able to get out of the Forestry Commissioners, if not the full high price, yet the £14 instead of the average £4 for ordinary planting land. Although I admit that the Commissioners always do their best to hold back these rapacious landowners, cases have occurred where too much has been paid because the land- lords have discovered what to-day is the general policy of the Forestry Commissioners.

8.0 p.m.

If afforestation is to be carried on successfully in this country, the land will have to be continuously divided, half and half, as between that which is purely under trees and that which is used by the workers to assist them in certain seasons through the processes of agriculture that they carry on upon the holdings allowed to them. Landlords are realising more and more that, although the mass of their land is probably only favourable for planting trees, by holding as tightly as possible to that land and pressing their claims upon the. Forestry Commissioners, based upon the needs of the workers, they are able to extract a good deal bigger prices than would otherwise be the case. If the whole truth were known, a part of this sum of £6,000 in Section I could be accounted for in the way I am suggesting. I would like to have more information regarding the estimates-for land for use for planting purposes. I should have imagined that, after the experience which the Forestry Commissioners have had, their estimates would not have been far out on account of seasonal difficulties. In some respects the Forestry Commissioners seem to have benefited very little by their experience. The hon. Member for Monmouth told us about the peat lands and the experiments carried on upon them. In 1924, when a discussion was going on in this House on this very question, I put a question to Mr. Acland, who is not now in this House, upon this very point, and his words were exactly the same as those of the hon. Gentleman, namely, that experiments were going on that, the qualities of the peat land were being carefully observed, and it was hoped, and so on and so on, that something might emerge from it. Apparently we have not got very much further in regard to this matter.

It is, after all, an extremely urgent question. There are great, areas of Scotland, there are the whole of the Western Isles, there are the tops and sides of the Pennines, where great peat areas are to be found, and the experiments that have been made cannot have been anything like thorough enough. That is probably due to the very narrow limits which are placed upon the Commission, and pro- bably the hon. Gentleman who represents the Commission will not object to me raising this matter prominently in the debate so that the House may realise his difficulty. I hope that upon this question of laying out funds for planting and replanting the Forestry Commissioners will be able to be more exact in their estimates. We know that in the long run the work has to be done whether the rain comes or not; the work of draining, planting, laying out the land and laying out the nurseries, and so on, must go on whether the season is good or bad. Surely the fact that a bad season comes sometimes and prevents men taking the young plants and planting them does not prevent the Forestry Commission from arranging its work regularly so that year after year it knows exactly the estimate it can place before Parliament. I do not consider that the information which we have got from the lion. Gentleman has made us any wiser regarding this.

The hon. Gentleman gave us an account of the number of centres in which the Forestry Commission is working and in connection with which, I suppose, this expenditure has been incurred. He classified the centres, I think, under the headings of England and Scotland. I think it would have been well if he had told us how that classification works out. There are great areas in the North -if England in which experimental expenditure should be incurred and which are largely neglected by the Forestry Commission. There are many stations around London in the home counties. It may seem an unjust charge to make, but I have a suspicion that the needs in regard to forestry, in so far as villadom round London is concerned, are carefully attended to. The growth of pine trees in the residential neighbourhoods round London are very much more carefully watched than the growth of trees, pines or others, on the sides of the Pennines. As I look at the Forestry's Commission's maps—and they are very valuable maps—on which the centres are marked, I am struck every time by the small provision that is made for the whole of that enormous Pennine area where so much valuable work could be done. As I have said before, in my own area, in particular in Lancashire and Yorkshire, where there are so many men who could work on afforestation if the discoveries were made that could be made by proper experimental stations, it is a great concern of ours that a better distribution of the centres has not been worked out by the Commissioners. I submit that for the consideration of the Commissioners, and I hope in the next few years to see more experimental stations in the North [...]t England.


May I ask the hon. Member who represents the Forestry Commissioners whether any draining has been necessary or any trouble has been given by the accumulation of water on adjoining lands?


There has been no difficulty so far as I am aware.

The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Commander Eyres Monsell) rose


I understand the Financial Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury will reply to the points which have been made.


I think my hon. Friend who represents the Forestry Commission has replied to practically everything that has been said in the course of the Debate. I may say there is nothing unusual in the form in which this Estimate is presented. A certain sum of money was estimated and that s rim was found to be less than was required to do a certain amount of work—what is called the planting programme of the Forestry Commission. Owing to circumstances which I have described, it was impossible with that money to carry out all the work. One alternative was to go on with the work and come to the House and ask far the money with which to carry it on; and the only other alternative was to scrap that service altogether. So far as I have been able. to gather, that could not have commended itself to any part of the House. I think the House wants the work of forestry to be carried out as far as possible, but, owing to certain changes on matters to which I have referred in my earlier observations, we cannot always exactly forecast early in the year how much money will be required. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. J. Hudson) seems to think that these operations should have been foreseen or that the cost should be averaged, but, if you suddenly get 20 degrees of frost lasting some weeks over a, year when you are preparing for planting, it throws the whole thing out of gear for several weeks and probably for enough weeks to get over to the 31st of March, which necessitates a supplementary sum with which to go on to the end of the financial year. I do not think there is anything else to reply to, because my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth, who is a Forestry Commissioner himself and has a wide knowledge of the operations of the Forestry Commission, has answered all questions which have been put by hon. Members.


Can the hon. Gentleman make a reply regarding the peat experiments and the fact that exactly the same replies have been given us today as were given two years ago?


We will not be able to give the result properly for nearly 10 years. We want a long time for that experiment. Trees do not grow in a year or two, and we want to know whether they will grow on peat or not.

Question put, and agreed to.