§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Ronald McNeill)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill, with one small exception, is identical with the Bill which was introduced last year, but which had to be dropped for lack of Parliamentary time. I would like just to point out to the House the very limited scope of the Bill. It is really confined to two purposes, and two purposes only. They are, first of all, to give power to increase the number of Commissioners from eight to ten; and, secondly, to enable the Commissioners to make by-laws with appropriate penalties for the management of the woods under their charge. I would like to say a word or two about each of those purposes. It is desirable to increase the number of Commissioners, first of all, because there has been a very considerable increase in the work that they have to do since they were established by the Act of 1919 and because that work is continually increasing; and I think in most parts of the House we hope that it will continue to increase for some time. Secondly, they have had an access of work, and more varied work, since the introduction of the scheme for providing forest workers' homes which was introduced by the party opposite, and with which personally I am in sympathy. In addition, by a recent Act passed in 1923 the care of Crown woods, previously under the management of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, has been transferred to the Forestry Commission, and that, of course, as hon. Members will see, not only increases the work but introduces a completely new element into the work.
When the Forestry Commissioners were engaged solely in creating new woods, in planting new woods, that was one type of work, but when they had placed under their charge ancient woods like the Forest of Dean and the New Forest, they then became responsible for mature timber—for the disposal of it, and for 406 the management and replenishment of those old woods. These additions to their work have made it very desirable that their number should be increased, and the intention of this Bill is to increase the number from eight to ten.
The second object of the Bill is, I submit to the House, far more urgent. It is important that there should be an increase in the number of Commissioners, but the work would go on, and I do not know that it would be in any serious jeopardy, at all events, even if the number were not increased. But the necessity for making by-laws is a very much more urgent matter. In the first place, as hon. Members will easily see, with these large woods under their management, a responsibility is cast upon the Commissioners, first of all, for preserving the amenities of the woods, for preventing, so far as they can, any careless damage to the woods; but what is most important of all is to enable them to take safeguards against the danger of fire. I have been assured by the Forestry Commission that the danger of fire is a very real and a very urgent one. It would be bad enough in the case of the old woods, where great destruction might occur, not only from the point of view of beauty, but of utility; but the younger woods which have been planted, which have now established themselves and have grown for four or five years—growing, as lion. Members know, when these young woods are planted, in a very close and dense mass—are liable, especially during the summer months, and especially, I am told, on the very light soils of the Eastern Counties, to fire, which in the course of a few hours might wipe out the work of years, and, of course, inflict On the country a very serious pecuniary loss. Therefore I am asking the House to pass this Measure to-day, so that these by-laws may be put in operation before the summer months come, when, of course, the danger would be greatest, if we were blessed with a few weeks of warm, droughty weather. Therefore, I submit to the House that a very serious responsibility is cast upon us to see that these necessities are met.
I should be quite content, myself, to leave the matter there, because I think that that is a quite sufficient case in favour of this Bill; but I notice that two 407 hon. Members opposite, the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) and another, have given notice that they are going to ask the House to reject this Measure. The hon. Member for Dundee put down, last year, a reasoned Amendment to the Second Reading of the Bill when it was then introduced, and, if it is any satisfaction to him, I am quite willing to give him the credit of having prevented the passing of the Bill during last year. It would be presumption on my part to make any appeal to him, but I hope very much, for the reasons I have stated, that he is not going to prevent the Bill from passing this year, and I think it would be not unreasonable to make an appeal to him when I point out this to the House: I think I know the reasons why the hon. Member objects to the passing of this Measure at the present time. Unless he has changed his mind, I think that probably the same reasons which actuated him last year are his motives this year. If that be so, this significant fact emerges, that there is nothing in this Bill to which the hon. Member objects. What he objects to is not what is in the Bill, but what is not in the Bill. He does not object to anything that we are proposing to do, hut he objects because we are not proposing something else. That is really, as I understand it, the attitude of the hon. Member.
He does not object, I think he will tell us, to the addition of two Commissioners to the present body. He does not object, I have no doubt, to by-laws being made for the safety of the woods. That is the whole of the Bill. He wants, however, to throw out this Bill because he wants to alter the whole scheme of the Forestry Commission. That is a perfectly intelligible view, and I do not object—I have no right to object.—to that view being held. All that I submit is that this is not the moment at which to bring that view forward, and I will tell hon. Members why. In the first place, with regard to the reasonableness of that view, I really am not concerned at this present moment, to express any opinion myself as to whether or not the Forestry Commission ought to be definitely under a Minister of the Crown in the way in which other Government Departments are. I do not think it is necessary for 408 me to express any opinion on that point But what I do want to point out to hon. Members is that the present experiment —because it was only an experiment—was entered upon in the year 1919. A very capable Committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Francis Acland, who was a very well-known Member of this House, was set up to inquire into the whole question, which had been brought forcibly to the national mind after the War, of afforestation in this country. Every party in this House was represented upon that Committee, and many of its members were probably as learned on the question of forestry as anyone who could be found in this country. They conducted a most painstaking investigation, going very thoroughly into all matters both in regard to the constitution of the Forestry Commission and everything else which came within the terms of their reference. That Committee laid it down most deliberately and emphatically that in their judgment, for reasons which they gave, it would be very much better that this Forestry Commission should be an independent body, independent of all political ties and political pressure; and they particularly recommended, and recommended strongly, that, while one member of the Commissison should be a Member of this House, no member of the Commission should he in receipt of a ministerial salary—in other words, that the Commission should not be, strictly speaking, part and parcel of the responsibilities of any Government Department.
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
Is not Lord Lovat still a member of the Commission, and is he not a member of the Government?
§ Mr. McNEILL
Yes, he is a paid Commissioner, but he is not a member of the Government because he is a Forestry Commissioner. What the Committee recommended should not be done was to make one of the Forestry Commissioners, as such, a member of the Government in receipt of a ministerial salary.
§ Mr. McNEILL
That is not the point with which I am dealing here. I am now dealing by anticipation, if I may, with the point that the hon. Member for Dundee is likely to raise, namely, that he thinks, and some other Members—I believe on both sides of the House—think, that this recommendation of the Acland Committee ought to be upset. The Act of 1919 was introduced in consequence of the Report of that Committee; the Government followed the Committee's recommendations, and adopted the constitution suggested by the Committee.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I think that two of them are paid, but it was specially recommended by the Acland Committee that the Member of this House should not be one of the paid Commissioners. As I was saying—
§ Mr. McNEILL
I should be very much obliged if hon. Members would let me finish, and then make their observations. I was pointing out that the Act of 1919, in setting up the Forestry Commission, followed these recommendations, rightly or wrongly. At all events, the Government had no better authority to go upon; they had the best advice upon which the House at that time could have acted. It may be that hon. Members opposite are greater authorities, that they are learning wisdom on the subject of forestry—[Interruption.] I think the inference from their action is that they think so. Otherwise, I do not quite understand how they can bring themselves to move the rejection of a very modest little Bill like this, which does not at all touch the question of the constitution of the Committee, but is, as I have said, merely for the subsidiary purposes which I have described. However that may be, I will not discuss 410 it at the present moment; I am only saying that the Parliament of 1919 acted upon the very best advice which could have been given at that time.
There is a further point which I think strengthens this case. It was laid clown then that this should be in the nature of an experiment, that is to say, a definite sum of money was set apart which was to be at the disposal of the Forestry Commission, for the purposes of the activities which were entrusted to them, for a period of 10 years. That was a departure from our ordinary financial procedure, and it was done deliberately, in order to carry out the intention of divorcing the Forestry Commission so far as possible from politics. If hon. Gentlemen opposite had their will, of course it would follow that an Estimate would have to be brought in in the ordinary way every year, either as part and parcel of the Ministry of Agriculture's Estimate or in some other way; at all events, the finance of the Forestry Commission would lose its independence, and it would, therefore, in the opinion of the Parliament of that day, lose its continuity of policy. As I have said, this was an experiment for 10 years. The 10 years come to an end next year, 1928–29, so that, whatever happens to-day, there will have to be a general review of the whole position in the course of the next year or 18 months. Therefore, I suggest to hon. Members that, however much force there may be in their criticism as to the constitution of the Commission, it would be not unreasonable for them to say, "We will defer our attempt to subvert the whole constitution of the Commission, as it has been hitherto arranged, until next year, when we shall have a review of the whole of the circumstances, and when the time will be a wholly appropriate one for discussing down to bedrock what the future constitution of the Forestry Commission ought to be." The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) speaking last year said he had no wish to hamper the progress of afforestation. If, in the circumstances I have mentioned, he is unwilling even to wait for his constitutional ideas for a few months, and if in the meantime he insists upon our taking the risks I have described, of loss by fire and other damage to these woods, it is idle to tell us or anyone else that he really has no wish to hamper the progress of afforestation. 411 We ought to be allowed to pass this Bill to safeguard what has been already done and to enable the Commission, however constituted, to do its business as fully and efficiently as possible. I hope hon. Members will see that there is some reason in what I have been saying on that point and will allow the Bill to proceed.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day six months."
The right hon. Gentleman has said, quite accurately, that no one has the slightest desire to crab in any way the activities of the Forestry Commission, but I do not think he has any justification whatever for the allegation that if we obstruct the essential part of the Bill, or the non-essential part as he chooses to put it, we are doing anything whatever detrimental to the progress of afforestation. If, for example, the number of Commissioners remained at eight and was not increased to 10, it would not affect in the slightest degree the growth of timber. This is the only opportunity we have under the present constitution of the Forestry Commission for raising the whole question of afforestation and the Forestry Commission being constituted as it is, not in correlation with the other policies of the Government, not for example having any connection whatever with the problem of unemployment, or being subject to criticism in this House or its expenditure, we are entitled, if we are going to be of any use here at all, to seize an opportunity of this kind and make the most of it. The right hon. Gentleman said the work of this Forestry Commission was of great importance. It is of tremendous importance, much greater importance than the Government by its lack of activity up to now seems to have apprehended. I have been at some pains to get at the facts. We are faced with a world timber shortage. We imported last year £52,750,000 worth of timber, the overwhelming proportion of which we could grow at home. We are importing £9,650,000 worth of wood pulp, which could be raised at home, a total of R62,000,000 per annum, 5,000,000 of it from the United States.
§ Sir ROBERT SANDERS
On a point of Order. I think it would be for the convenience of the House if you, Sir, would rule at once whether or not on this Bill, which has a very limited Title, we shall be in Order in discussing the whole question of afforestation?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I took the precaution to look up the ruling I gave in 1925, on this very same Bill I think, when the same hon. Member was moving its rejection. I then ruled that it was in Order to give some illustration in support of the claim than this work could be brought under the direct control of Parliament, which I understood to be the object of the opponents, but that it was not in order to make this, as it were, a Supply day and to discuss the administration of the Forestry Commission. I can only repeat to-day what I said then. Within limits, I think an illustration may be used to support the case for Parliamentary control.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The point I was endeavouring to make is that it is of national importance that the present methods of raising timber and the present control of the Forestry Commission by the. House should be claimed. I will obey your ruling, Sir, and not stray into technical matters, with which I am utterly incapable of dealing it any case, and I do not wish to go into details on the administration of the Forestry Commission, but I think I am entitled to show broad general reasons why in the national interest this House should take whatever steps are open to it to urge the Government to make preparations for the immediate reconstitution of the Forestry Commission. We are importing £62,000,000 worth of timber, the overwhelming proportion of which could be grown at home. I do not think that is in dispute. We are importing £4,500,000 worth of pit props. We are importing wooden manufactures, tool handles, bread platters and so on, all of which could be manufactured at home. Prices of timber are rising in face of tine world shortage. In this generation soft wood has risen in price as much as 270 per cent. Between 1890 and 1920 American soft woods have gone up 200 per cent., and wood pulp, which is the raw material for newspapers, has gone up 282 per cent. The body controlling this situation is undoubtedly the 413 Forestry Commission. The right hon. Gentleman very accurately said this Commission was set up as the result of the Report of the Acland Committee. Having said that, the right hon. Gentleman has not said enough. We have this Commission set up—a nominated body. I do not wish to make a personal reference to any member of the Commission, chat is not the purpose of the Amendment at all, but I think six out of the eight Commissioners represent a very definite interest—the landlord interest. Let us see how they operate. I take their own report—the Sixth Annual Report of the Forestry Commission. The average price at which they buy land for afforestation is £3 9s. 9d. an acre. That is how they treat the landlord. When they are subsidising landlords, making them a gift from the Treasury for preparing the land on which to grow timber, that timber to remain in their own possession, the State to have no say whatever about it, they give them £3 an acre. I leave the right hon. Gentleman, the watchdog of the Treasury, to give us some further enlightenment upon that indisputable fact from their own Report. What have these private landlords got? So far as I can make out from the figures, they have got since 1920 2180,000 by way of gift, and last year they got £31,000. The right hon. Gentleman should have something to say about these facts when bringing in a Forestry Bill.
What effect has the Forestry Commission upon the great national question of unemployment, in which the Government is supposed to be vitally interested? Again I take their own figures. They are employing 1,980 men in the summer, and in the winter 2,960. Let us take it at 2,000 men. In India 6,000,000 men are making a living out of the forests, and the Indian Government draws an annual profit of £2,000,000 from it. In Germany over 1,000,000 men are employed and in one department in France alone 30,000, and so on. The work of the Forestry Commission should be correlated with other Departments of State. This thing should not be allowed to continue working in a vacuum. Through the work of this Forestry Commission we could absorb thousands of unemployed men and give them work which would be economic and profitable to the State. I take the report by the Assistant Commissioner for Scot- 414 land (Mr. Sutherland), who declared that, allowing 4 per cent. for compound interest on the money, growing soft wood in Scotland, they could make a net profit to the State after a period of 60 years of £45 per acre. We have 500,000 unemployed. We have spent since the Armistice, £380,000,000 upon public relief, getting nothing in return—no social reconstruction whatever, not a tree grown, not a blade of grass, not a brick in a house for that £380,000,000.
You have a world famine in timber rapidly approaching, you have a country denuded of timber, you have your own Department saying they can make a profit and employ thousands more of your unemployed fellow citizens in raising this timber. Instead of developing this as a national undertaking, absorbing 5,000 or 10,000 unemployed on profitable economic work, you continue year after year, month after month and week after week paying out from the Imperial Exchequer and from the local rates, £75,000,000 a year without any return to the State whatever. I have a statement by a Scottish authority on the subject, a large timber importer, who has grown a lot of timber himself and who is now in Norway. He says that on 10,000 acres of a certain quality of peat land, not used at all at the moment, such as I understand they have on the Somme, where the French are raising timber, some 5,000 men could he employed, and they could make a profit on the growing of soft wood. As a matter of fact, the great firm of Bryant and May, match manufacturers of London, are up in Scotland now and have been during the last two or three years at Tighnabruaich, in the Kyles of Bute, buying estates and growing this timber for profit.
If we could induce the right hon. Gentleman to desist from reading us an unnecessary lecture upon the proprieties of dealing with afforestation, and face up to the economic facts, he might be doing a greater public service. On the 10,000 acres, allowing each man £2 a week, that would amount to £10,000 a week for the 5,000 men, or £500,000 a year. We are paying these men, on an average, £1 a week, or £250,000 a year, in dole. The value of the final crop that would be created in 60 years on that land by afforestation would be from 500,000 to £600,000—a huge profit. In 415 addition to that, the value of the land goes up, and there is the purchasing power of the wages paid to the men week by week and month by month fructifying all over industry. The people would be buying furniture, boots, clothes, etc. thereby diminishing unemployment in other directions, and at the end of it we should have a great lumbering industry, wood pulp industries and all sorts of subsidiary industries employing people economically, as is done in every other country in Europe to-day, except Portugal.
§ Mr. McNEILL
The hon. Member talks about other countries. Is he aware that the Forestry Commission are doing far more planting than is being done in any other country in the world, not excepting the United States?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Yes. We are planting more now. I will quote from a leading article in the London "Times" of 11th January of this year:At the present moment, partly because of past neglect and partly because of the extra wastage caused by the War, 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.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The quotation proceeds:This once well-wooded island, which today 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 four per cent.Well might the right hon. Gentleman say that we are beginning to grow a little more now—4 per cent. against 33⅓ per cent. on the Continent, and he thinks that is a satisfactory national position to be in.
A few words with regard to the financial side of the accounts. I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman or some of his supporters may say, "Yes, we could set thousands of unemployed to work growing timber, draining the land, making roads, paths, building timber houses and the rest of it, but where is 416 the money to come from?" As I have pointed out, the money is there now. It is being paid out without getting any national return for it. What do these accounts show? One hon. Member opposite on the 22nd of last month asked the representative in this House of the Forestry Commission what was the average cost of land bought by the Commission? I have already given the figures. He also asked the average cost of planting and the total administrative costs of the Forestry Commission since the Armistice. The reply was, that the total administrative costs amounted to £30.2,700. There may be justification for that. I do not dispute that in the initial stages of building up a big forest policy you may require to spend a bigger proportion of your funds in administration than you require to spend later on. Let us look at the figures. A sum of £302,000 spent upon administration. The cost of buying 165,000 acres, including buildings—including the houses, including the alleged standing timber, and sometimes the landlord has fobbed off bracken upon them as standing timber—was £288,000, as against administration costs of £302,000. For planting operations the cost has been £682,000. In other words, the purchase of the land and planting operations from the Armistice amounts to a total of £970,000, while the administration expenses amount to £302,000. The right hon. Gentleman made no reference to these figures.
In conclusion, I would impress upon the right hon. Gentleman the fact that we have no hostility to the Forestry Commission. We object to the principle of the business. We say that it is wrong that a nominated group of individuals should be spending public money and not be subject to the regular control of this House. We say that it is bail business to give a nominated group of individuals £3,500,000 and tell them that they have ten years in which to spend it, and that there is no control by this House over the way in which they spend the money. We say that that is wholly bad business. We say that it is bad financial policy, and I am surprised that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury should have even hesitatingly appeared to throw his blessing over the business at all. It is not merely the spending of the money without public 417 control that is bad; it is not merely the fact that we have a nominated group of individuals, six out of eight of whom are landlords, nor spending the money wisely in every case, but the fact is that we are spending this money and not correlating the expenditure of the money to other national interests.
When we have 1,500,000 unemployed in this country drawing money for nothing, wasting away physically—of course, no one wants to talk sob-stuff, but the straight fact is that they are wasting physically, wasting mentally and many of them are wasting morally—when there are young men in our cities who have never done a day's work and never had a job since the Armistice, not due to their own fault but due to our national policy, an evil policy as we think, men who are going to wrack and ruin and the Government sits supinely, every Government since the Armistice has sat supinely, watching this sort of thing going on, we appeal to the Government to make up their minds that there is urgent need for a change in policy and administration. Here is one way in which we could set large numbers of unemployed to work, profitably, economically for the State and beneficially fur themselves. We ought to wipe out this useless expenditure upon ambulance work. It is not merely a question of dole money and Poor Law relief, but we have to pay at the other end; we have to build hospitals, asylums, and we have to spend more money upon tuberculosis. Money is frittered away in all sorts of directions as a result of this stupid policy. The opposition this afternoon is directed against this Bill solely for the purpose of inducing, if it can, the Government to turn their minds in another direction altogether, and instead of spending this money on ambulance work to spend it on profitable, healthy, economic employment for our people. If they do that, we shall be doing something to justify our existence here.
§ Mr. WALTER BAKER
I beg to second the Amendment.
I am very proud to have the opportunity of associating myself with the Mover of the Amendment. On broad general grounds of policy, his speech could not be bettered and it would be foolish for me to endeavour in any way whatever to add to what he has 418 said. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to reply to my hon. Friend by anticipation. He was extremely well advised to give his reply in anticipation, because I do not imagine for one moment that either he or any other Member sitting on the Front Bench opposite could put up a case which would demolish the speech to which we have just listened. I had an opportunity a few days ago, in speaking in Committee, to make what I regarded as a very substantial point against the Forestry Commissioners, a point which I believe is a fundamental objection to the proposal now before the House. The right hon. Gentleman did not anticipate the point which I am about to make and therefore made no attempt to reply to it. He went on to refer to the desirability of divorcing politics from forestry. It is not the first occasion within recent weeks that we have had an opportunity of watching the Government in that endeavour. I think it was in December last that this House had an opportunity of discussing the appointment of the Commissioners in connection with the British Broadcasting Corporation. On that occasion as on this there was a great desire to divorce politics from the appointment of the Commissioners, but it so happened that the chairman of that Commission was and has been an important official of the party opposite. I submit that in that case also the divorce between politics and forestry is not particularly noticeable and that it is all fudge to talk about divorcing politics from forestry when we have Commissioners appointed in the way they have been in this particular case.
On the 16th February, speaking on the Supplementary Estimates with regard to the Forestry Commission, I called attention to the Report of the Public Accounts Committee and quoted certain extracts from it. I was anxious not to worry the House and I dealt with the matter as briefly as I could, and it may be that because of my brevity my point has not received the attention which I thought it would have received. I had certainly received the most definite assurance that, small as the audience in the House might be, statements made in Committee were always very carefully considered, so that they might receive their due weight. It does seem to me to be remarkable that after the quotation which 419 I made from the Report of the Public Accounts Committee, the right hon. Gentleman who was present when I made those remarks should have come to this House to-day and should have introduced this Measure without dealing with that particular point.
I want, if I may, to start with the final Report of the Forestry Sub-committee—a Sub-committee of the Reconstruction Sub-committee. On page 63 that Subcommittee laid it down thatThere should be set up a Forestry Commission consisting of a limited number of persons of whom at least half should be salaried whole-time officers.I do hope that those words "salaried whole-time officers" will be carefully borne in mind, because the whole burden of my criticism and of the case which was considered by the Public Accounts Committee centres round those particular words. The Report goes on:In the early years of the work, at any rate the task, to be accomplished will require the full time of at least three paid Commissioners.Then again the Report says:This is a big work which will for a considerable number of years need the whole energies and the whole time of the best men who can be found.I would point, out that in that quotation very great stress is laid upon the words "whole time" and the words "whole energies." There is one further quotation—There should be associated with them as unpaid Commissioners one or more persons who, though they may not desire to become whole-time civil servants, may nevertheless be-willing to give to the scheme during the critical early years the value of their influence and experience.Again, in that quotation, the words used are "whole-time civil servants." Then we come to the recommendations of the Forestry Sub-committee, and the recommendation which I wish to quote is as fellows:We recommend, therefore, that there should be set up a Commission of six members, three of whom should for the first year of the scheme be whole-time salaried officials, and the others unpaid, including the Parliamentary Commissioner.I want to submit to the House that Lord Lovat signed that Report. Although he made a reservation, that reservation had no bearing upon this question of full-time 420 being devoted to the work of the Commissioners. His reservation was merely inserted and designed to emphasise the importance of a single powerful and efficient forest authority.
The first quotation I want to make from the Report of the Public Accounts Committee is from page 337, Questions 4508 and 4509. The question was asked:What does Lord Lovat receive by way of salary—The reply was:£1,650 inclusive.The next question was:Is he a whole-time official?The answer was:Yes, he is there constantly; he is there full time.On referring to Quest on 4547, I find that the hon. Member for Ilford (Sir F. Wise) asked witness, Mr. R. L. Robinson:You are a whole-time officer?The reply was:No; so far as I know I am not any different from any other Commissioner, except that two of us are paid. There is nothing in my appointment to say I am to sit there eight hours a day on 300 days a year; so long as I do my work, and the work of the Commission goes forward satisfactorily, it does not, matter to anybody if I go away for six months.I submit to the House that it is quite impossible to reconcile the replies given to Questions 4508 and 4109 with the reply given to Question 4547 which I have quoted. If the facts are accurately represented by the last answer, I say without fear of contradiction that the recommendations of the Forestry Sub-Committee have not been carried out. The Commissioners are net devoting their whole energies and their full time to the work of the Forestry Commission and to the nation. In those circumstances, it is extremely difficult to see what justification there can be for increasing the Commissioners by two further members. This is emphasised by question 4511, in which the witness ways asked:Lord Lovat goes away sometimes for a couple of months at a time?The reply was:I am always there.The question asked then was:I am dealing with him; he is getting paid, is not he?The reply was:That is so.421 But the most important point to my mind is the letter which Lord Lovat addressed to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, because of this discussion. The letter is published on page 679 of the Report of the Select Committee of Public Accounts, and reads as follows—Forestry Commission,22, Grosvenor Gardens,
22nd July, 1926.
DEAR SIR,I see that under Vote 15 the question has been raised whether my services as Chairman of the Forestry Commission would be regarded as those of a whole-time civil servant or not. To clear up any misunderstanding, will you allow me to make the following statement?When Mr. Lloyd George in 1919 asked me to act as Chairman of the Forestry Commission, I informed him in writing that I was prepared to undertake the responsibility for the organisation and direction of forestry work in the British Isles, but that in view of other interests, public and private, I could not undertake to give more than nine months' work to forestry in any one year.When the personnel of the Forestry Commission was reappointed in 1924, Mr. Baldwin asked me to continue as Chairman. I informed Mr. Baldwin's Secretary, Sir Ronald Waterhouse, in writing, that I was quite prepared to carry on for a limited period (not for the full five years), but only on the same terms as before, and that before taking tip the appointment I should have to go abroad for four months on private business.On the subject of remuneration, I should like to state that during my seven years' service on the Forestry Commission I have voluntarily abandoned £1,150 pay to which I was entitled. I should further like to point out, in justice to my successor, that when I made recommendations to the Treasury in 1919 on the subject of the Chairman's remuneration, I did so on the basis of nine months' work per annum. I consider that a whose-time Chairman should get (including bonus) more than a bare one-third of the sum made available by Parliament for the payment of three paid Commissioners.I hope that those lengthy quotations will put the facts on a very definite basis. The Government is asking us to-day to increase the numbers of the Commission because the work is on the increase and because it is essential that the work should be rapidly developed, both in the starting of new woods, and in the observation of the old, but the remarkable fact is that the Commissioners have never given the whole of their services to the 422 Forestry Commission. The quotations which I have given show that, at the maximum, Lord Lovat had no intention of giving more than nine months a year. Looking at the Estimates for this year, I find that only two Commissioners are paid and only two Assistant Commissioners are being paid at the present moment. In those circumstances, where is the justification for this proposal to increase the number of Commissioners? Leaving aside altogether the powerful case presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston)—I believe that case is unanswerable—on the general principle and the actual facts, and the details of the Commission now before the House, I say that there is absolutely no justification for increasing the number of Commissioners. Rather this House should demand that the Members should be prepared to accept what the Forestry Sub-Committee said should be their position, that of whole-time civil servants. Such men should be compelled to give their whole service and their whole energy to the work of the Forestry Commission. If they find that that is impossible, in view of other private and public interests, they should agree to resign those positions in order that other men might take over.
I have heard many criticisms made in this House with regard to the various estimates of national expenditure, but I believe that this is the first time in my hearing that a criticism of this character has been made. I regard it as being a particularly serious matter that a Forestry Commission should be conducted in the apparently loose way in which this Forestry Commission has been conducted in the past. Apparently, it is sufficient for the Commissioner to attend a periodical meeting of the full Commission, and of the sub-Committee of the Commission to which he is appointed. It may be that he will attend the full Commission at periods perhaps not more frequently than once a month, but there is nothing to show that the meetings of the sub-Committee should be held at regular intervals. If we are to have a rapidly expanding policy so far as afforestation is concerned, that type of administration is not good enough. We must find men who are prepared to tackle this job as whole-time work, and who will press 423 forward towards the national goal with the whole of their powers and interests. Having regard to the nature of the remuneration, I should say that the Government would have little difficulty at all in finding men willing to undertake the full-time job on the standard of the salary laid down. I venture to second the Motion.
Mr. HILTON YOUNG
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury reminded us that the Forestry Commissioners have recently taken over some of the ancient forests which were formerly in the hands of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests. I should like to pay a tribute of admiration to the Forestry Commission for their work. It is work which has to be conducted upon business and remunerative lines. But in the case of these ancient forests, I venture to express the hope that they will have regard to other considerations—considerations of their amenity value, and now unfortunately, of their scarcity value. A public word should be said to register what I am sure must be the opinion of all who care for the British countryside, that it is of great importance that these ancient forests should be preserved, and that their regulation by the Commissioners should not he strictly on the most rigid business principles of remunerative forestry. This observation is suggested by certain doubts that have been occasioned by recent dealings with certain parts of the New Forest.
Now may I come to what I think has emerged this afternoon as the principal topic. In my humble opinion the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has made a good case for this Bill. All that is in the Bill is good, and I can see no reason for voting against it. When we come to what is not in the Bill I find myself surprisingly in agreement with parts of the general proposition which has been put forward from the benches opposite. It is not because of the attack that has been developed on the work of the Forestry Commission. There has been no evidence produced to lead me to suppose that the work of the Commission has been anything but efficiently and strenuously conducted. Although I do not venture to pronounce on a matter which has been 424 considered by the Public Accounts Committee, it does appear to me, as regards the personal position of the Noble Lord the Chairman of the Forestry Commission, that his is a very obvious straightforward and perfectly honourable position —namely, that he accepts a salary much less than the full salary for the work, and that he does so on the distinct and express understanding that he is a part-time worker. That is a frequent arrangement in the business world.
The grounds on which I find myself in agreement with much that has been said by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) are these. I have learned to look on the financial position of such Commissions as the Forestry Commissions as thoroughly unsound and undesirable in the structure of Parliamentary financial control. That was brought home to me most definitely by the Supplementary Estimate of the Forestry Commission presented to the House the other day. I found there what seemed to me to be an extraordinary error in financial principle. A Supplementary Estimate was introduced, and the apology for the overspending was that the programme of the Commission could not be met on the amount originally voted. That showed absolute ignorance of the basis of Parliamentary control over finance. We do not vote programmes, we vote sums of money, and if the programme of the Commission could not be met by these sums, then the programme must be cut down or discontinued. I said to myself, "This is a very important matter; but how can we bring it home to the Forestry Commission, if we want to?" There is no way of doing it. I suppose the only thing we could do, if we were hard-hearted enough, would be to move to reduce the salary of the Parliamentary Secretary, but that would be very little satisfaction even to the most hard-hearted, because it would have no effect on the Forestry Commission at all.
§ Mr. McNEILL
As a matter of fact, the right hon. Member and also the hon, Member opposite are mistaken. Estimates are presented every year for the Forestry Commission, and, if the Treasury had chosen to bring the programme to a standstill, all we had to do was to refuse sanction of the Supplementary Estimate.
That does not really deal with the substantial point, which is this, that when you have a Commission constituted in this way you have not got all the regular constitutional methods of enforcing Parliamentary control over its expenditure. Look at the Forestry Act and you find an attempt made to make some sort of provision. It is provided that the Forestry Commission are to render accounts to the Auditor-General. That is only the start, the beginning, of the bridge; but the bridge is not completed, and an incomplete bridge is no good at all. For efficient Parliamentary control you want first, an accounting officer going through the accounts and reporting to the Minister and, secondly, a Minister who is responsible to this House. I do not know whether the Forestry Commission have an accounting officer or not, but they have no Minister who is responsible to this House, and so you cannot bring things home to them. There is nothing we can do to bring the Forestry Commission to book if we want to; and it is a great breach in the fortifications of Parliamentary control over expenditure. The truth is that in this matter the House has been divided between two desires. When a bit of business has to be done this House always has a great desire to get that business into the hands of what is called a business body and out of the region of Departmental red tape. There is a very sound instinct in that, but, on the other hand, this House also has the equally sound instinct of maintaining Parliamentary control over expenditure and the two ideals are not reconciliable. You cannot give a free hand to a business commission and at the same time retain Parliamentary control over expenditure.
This is a case in which we have erred rather on the side of freeing a business body too much from Parliamentary control; we ought to have made it more subservient to the machinery of Parliamentary control. Finally, to illustrate the importance of this position, may I compare a big thing with a small one. What should we think if it were suggested that the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty should be put in the position of the Forestry Commission, with no Minister responsible to this House and having only the barren duty of putting their accounts before the Auditor-General? We 426 should look on that as a most ridiculous and ignorant suggestion, neglecting all the forms of our constitution. Compare this small thing with that great one, and there is no difference. It would be just as bad for our Parliamentary control as what we have done in this case. The Financial Secretary has told us that these matters are to be considered at a certain date. It should be dealt with in this way, from this side of the House as well as from the other side, in order that when that time comes and the Forestry Commission is being re-organised, it may not be supposed that such opinions as these about this matter are purely party opinions.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) in his general discussion of the situation in regard to afforestation, except to make a few observations on one or two of the points he made. It is quite clear that this House is divided on the principle as to whether the Forestry Commission should be represented by a Minister in this House. The hon. Member for Dundee rather suggested that no other Financial Secretary would dare to make a suggestion of the kind, but I would remind the House that, during the passage of the Finance Act, 1909, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury then made the same proposal with regard to the Road Commission. I was struck with the view of the right hon. Member who has just spoken, that it is unsound to have a body of this kind unrepresented in this House largely because of the financial situation, and it is quite obvious that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer raided the Road Fund last year there was something wrong. There was obviously a lack of control somewhere. I am satisfied that the present Forestry Commission has done admirable work. Though unrepresented in this House, they have had the advantage of the hon. Member for Monmouth (Sir L. Forestier-Walker), who does his work admirably, but his presence does not give certain sections of the House the guarantee they want—namely, a Minister directly responsible, who will be able to deal with the Debate when the Estimate of the Commission is being discussed. I am quite certain that the House will view with great care any proposal to set up 427 a similar kind of Commission. Meanwhile, I am satisfied with the way in which the Forestry Commission is composed. The hon. Member for Dundee was rather unfair in his attack upon the Commission as a body. He taunted it with being composed of landlords, and, although he did not say so, implicitly he allowed the House to infer that the fact that they were landlords was a reason for suspecting them of base financial transactions in the purchase of land.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
May I say that I did not accuse the Commission of any malpractices whatever, but I remember the same right hon. Gentleman attacking a Miners Bill in this House and opposing it because of the fact that the miners were to be largely represented on the Commission.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I have no recollection of any such situation, and I am sorry if I misrepresented the hon. Member. What I really want to say is that I happen to know by name most of the Members of the Commission, and during the whole time I have taken an interest in afforestation and agriculture their names have been household words in the particular branch of sylviculture. It is admitted that, young as the body is, it has done an enormous amount of first-class work throughout the country. I hold no brief for the Commission, but I am entitled to say this in reply to the remarks which have been made. No comparison can be made between the number of people employed in the forestry service in India and in this country. The forestry service in India has been in existence for three generations and the conditions are entirely different. This Commission has been in existence only for the last eight or nine years and to attempt a comparison between the number of people employed in the one case and the other is rather futile. The hon. Member for Dundee read an interesting quotation from the "Times" of 11th January of this year. If any quotation be a justification for this Bill, it was that quotation.
Let me now come to the Bill itself. As the Financial Secretary has pointed out, it is very limited in its scope. There are only two points in it. The first is the question whether this House will sanction 428 the increase in the number of Commissioners. At the present moment there are eight, and the House is being asked to extend that number to ten. Obviously the House will agree to the extension if it is assured that there is work for the extra number of Commissioners to do. I was satisfied with the justificaton given by the Financial Secretary. He made it perfectly plain that the Commission is extending its scope into every corner of the country. In that connection I want to know whether the work of the Commission is to be extended to the part of the country from which I come, the Highlands of Scotland. We hear every day that the Forestry Commission are doing very useful and profitable work in certain parts of Wales and England, and I want to know whether the justification for the appointment of the two extra Commissioners is the fact that their work is being vigorously extended in the northern parts of Scotland. If that work is so extended in the north of Scotland, are the Forestry Commission co-operating with the Board of Agriculture? Everyone agrees that nothing could be better than afforestation in one respect. If you wish to maintain your rural population in more or less comfortable circumstances, giving them work in winter and in summer, you must have for them a subsidiary occupation. I do not think that any occupation so suitable for rural districts as this subsidiary occupation of afforestation, has been devised. It is extremely important, if these two new Commissioners are to be appointed, that special instructions should be given to the Commission as a whole to utilise their services in the north of Scotland, and to see that the work is done on those lines.
Let me come to the second point, which is a very interesting point to the general public. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury said it was the more urgent point of the two. It is urgent for the reason which he gave, but also from another point of view. Here you have a Commission not directly represented in this House, coming down and asking from this House certain extensive powers. They have the right of maintaining all lands which they possess against any intruder. They defy any Access to Mountains Bill, and they enumerate all 429 the things that they wish to have conserved in their own interests. It iii conceivable that any by-law which they may wish to pass will be very good, but it is equally conceivable that public rights may be interfered with. I feel bound to make that point. There has been too much of such interference recently and in the generations that have gone by. It is right that the House of Commons should see to it that no by-law is passed which is going to interfere in any way with the rights of the public, so far as the entering for the purpose of recreation or pleasure on any of the grounds which the public have hitherto been entitled to enter, is concerned. Under this Bill, all that the Commission has to do is to lay a draft by-law in either House. I think I am right in stating that.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
It does not matter for the purpose of my argument. The by-law has to be laid before the Houses of Parliament for twenty-one days. We all know that that is a very bad way of passing either a Bill or a bylaw.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I did my best, and I think I am right in the point that I am making. I am saying that these draft by-laws have to be laid before the Houses of Parliament for twenty-one days. I think there should be some method introduced of informing the House and those who are interested in public rights and in public access to commons and so on, when these draft by-laws are being presented. It is so easy to allow a by-law of a very iniquitous kind —I do not suggest that any such would be framed by the Forestry Commission —to slip through. I warn the Financial Secretary that the House will watch with the greatest anxiety the passage of these by-laws through the House. It is right that we should make a protest against interference by anyone or any body of men or any Commission with the public rights of the community.
§ Mr. MCNEILL
I do not think my right hon. Friend has seen the proviso 430 What he fears is impossible, apart from the by-laws. There cannot be any bylaw to interfere with existing rights.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am very glad to be reassured on that point. The House is naturally very anxious when there is any suggestion of interference with public rights.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
So long as I have my right hon. Friend's assurance, I am satisfied. I see that in the Forest of Dean and the New Forest, members of a body called the Court of Verderers have all their powers retained. I wondered whether there was any differentiation here, but now I am reassured. We trust that the Forestry Commission will make the fact known as publicly as possible when they propose to put through the House of Commons a draft by-law which in any shape or form may interfere with the rights of the community. I do not think there is any other point which suggests itself to me. The Bill is a very short and succinct one and very limited in scope. I shall not discuss the major problems connected with afforestation. There may be another opportunity to do that. I would impress upon the Financial Secretary that he is getting the sanction of my colleagues on this side of the House for the extension of the number of Commissioners from eight to 10 on the assurance that the work of the Commission is to be prosecuted vigorously and with the assistance and co-operation of the Board of Agriculture, so that our rural population may be maintained in good circumstances, having the splendid subsidiary employment of afforestation available.
§ Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON
Now that we have had a spirited protest from Members on the other side, I trust that the Bill may be allowed to receive its Second Reading. I say that because I think that the points which the Bill raises are strictly limited in their scope, and because there will be ample opportunity within a short space of time of dealing with the whole general question in its varying aspects. I was somewhat at a loss to understand the objections raised by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, in view of the precise way in which the Bill is drafted and the 431 way in which the points he raised are dealt with. Before any by-law can be made, it has to lie on the Table of both Houses for a period of not less than 21 days, and objection may be taken to it in either House. That is as ample a safeguard as any Bill could provide. There is one point with regard to Clause 2, Sub-section (6), upon which I would like some explanation from the Minister. It relates to the question of fines. The fines, apparently, are all to be paid to the Commissioners. I hope that this will not be regarded as part of the source of revenue of the Commission The case against the Bill appears to be that no further powers should be given to a body which is not subject, so it is said,, to Parliamentary control. I venture to challenge the assertion that the doings and the work of the Commission are not in fact subject to Parliamentary control. In elaborating that argument, I think it would have been fairer to the House if an endeavour had been made to establish the ease that the Commission had failed to do good work up to the present time. That case was not established.
The Commission was set up to inert an anticipated shortage in timber, to increase permanent employment in rural areas, and to encourage land settlement. In all those directions the Commissioners have made substantial progress in the short time since they were established. What form of control is really meant, when the objection is raised? It is not clear to the House what form is sought for. At present there is control. The Estimates of the Commission have to be laid before this House and are considered by this House, and there is every opportunity of criticising the Estimates. Then again so far as Treasury control is concerned, there is control in respect of the work of the Commission, just as much as there is in regard to any other public expenditure. Above all, I feel it important that this question of afforestation should not be allowed to drift into a party question or party issue. It was to avoid any party issue that the Commission was set up on somewhat different lines from those which were recognised in the establishment of other bodies. It was felt to be most important that there should be continuity of policy. That was 432 one of the reasons why a 10 years' programme was set out, why a block grant of £3,500,000 was voted, and why, instead of a Minister being appointed from this House to reply to questions relating to the Commission, a Member of Parliament was appointed.
It has been suggested that an increased area of land might have been afforested during the last two or three years. I hold that Treat advance has been made. I imagine that the suggestion emanated from the fact that in the Coast Erosion Committee's Report of 1909, suggestions were made that enormous areas might be afforested. But no adequate survey had been made, and I believe that the figures which that Report contained were based more on supposition than on any definite data. There must be no stealing of agricultural land for afforestation. Land used for agricultural purposes will support more people to the acre and give them larger scope than will afforestation. We have, therefore, to balance matters carefully. While we most take every reasonable step and do everything possible to afforest land that is not being used now to the best advantage, we must also take care to see that land useful for agricultural purposes is not stolen for afforestation.
§ Mr. NOEL BUXTON
I want to support the argument of my hon. Friends on this side on strictly practical grounds, to limit myself to that, and to leave the financial aspect of the question to my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham). The Financial Secretary to the Treasury used the argument that if we were successful in the attitude we adopted, we should be hampering the work of the Forestry Commission. Suppose that our ideas were adopted by the Government, and that the Commission were paced under the Ministry of Agriculture. How would that hamper the work of the Forestry Commission? We hold that, on the contrary, the work is hampered by the non-responsibility of a Ministry allied in character. I might as fairly reply to the right hon. Gentleman that he is hampering the work of the Commission because in our view—I hold it by strong conviction—the work would be better controlled and more consistently advanced if a Minister were directly responsible for it. 433 There is a certain parallel which suggested itself to me, because the Financial Secretary more than once alluded to forestry work as an experiment. The Development Commission is instituted to deal with experiments allied to a great extent to the Ministry of Agriculture. If, for instance, the promotion of rural industries or what not is to be set on foot by the will of Parliament, it goes to the Development Commission in the experimental stage. It only belongs to the Development. Commission while it is still in the experimental stage. We hold that forestry has passed its experimental stage, it is established as a national undertaking, and should come under the control of the House.
Drawing a parallel from the work of the Development Commission it is high time that forestry came under direct control. The Bill by implication proposes that there should be greater activity in forestry work; but it proposes that greater activity with unchanged status for the Commission. It seems to me you cannot properly separate the two things. If you want more activity you most advance the status. It seems to me also that the subordinate status of the Com- mission has been responsible for what has really amounted to lack of activity in forestry work. We know that the. Acland Committee was very fully trusted by Parliament at the time. The work was set on foot with some rapidity, but after three years, in the days of the "Geddes axe" there was a sudden cessation of this extremely necessary development. It was not only a cessation for the moment. The failure to obtain seeds and to make extended and advancing nurseries led to inevitable delay, even when Parliament desired to restore the Acland programme. That shows that this system, even though the Financial Secretary thinks it is the best possible system, did not succeed if its object was continuity.
§ Mr. MCNEILL
I have expressed no opinion whatever on the subject of whether Parliamentary control would be better or worse. I think the question is irrelevant on the present Bill.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I was under the impression that the Financial Secretary had pointed to the opinion of the Acland 434 Committee and had said that this was the best plan for 10 years, but I wish to argue that not for 10 years and not even for four years was it the best plan. The recent tribunal urged, as the Acland Committee did, that there should be continuity. How are you going to get continuity? It may be arguable that you will get it by a Commission somewhat removed, though not altogether removed, from the control of Parliament. But, surely, in order to achieve continuity, what you mainly want to get is the attention of Parliament and of the public. Surely, experience, if nothing else, shows that to get continuity you require a Cabinet Minister to father your forestry scheme. We have a very similar case in regard to agricultural research. How would that research have fared in the days of the "Geddes axe" if there had been no Minister responsible for it who would put up a fight? That was before the time of the Labour Government, but look at what happened also in 1924. We found to our extreme regret that the Acland programme had been disastrously cut down. It was extremely reckless in our view to knock off activities which were developing and which required very delicate and careful forecasting. That was a recklesuness, to my mind, characteristic of a good many activities of Conservative rule in recent years. But the security against this sudden reversal was not greater because of the removal from Ministerial responsibility. It was far less. Things would have been far safer had there been a Minister to represent the cause in the Cabinet, and if Parliament, through the necessary control of the Minister, had been much more aware of what was going on.
There is also a parallel case in the rather remarkable exception to the assassinations committed by the "Geddes axe" which we find in the case of agricultural research. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton), who was, I think, influential in the matter, knows that a surprisingly large sum was saved for agricultural research which certainly would have been less if the matter had been under a non-Ministerial Commission. When we had control of the matter the difficulty of non-responsibility arose in an acute form, because the Commission—that is Lord Loyal; and his colleagues— 435 were of opinion that more might be done by associating forestry activities with small holdings. Therefore, the situation was complicated, because the Forestry Commission could not proceed with their work without getting into touch with the Ministry of Agriculture, and things were actually delayed in that year, because it was nobody's business in the Cabinet to see that the forestry question was dealt with as required. I have always been very much interested in the work of the Forestry Commission, and I felt very keenly the loss that was suffered at that extremely critical time. A somewhat similar situation existed 20 years ago when the public took up the matter of promoting small holdings. The House will remember that in 1906, in order to bring the Crown lands into more direct association with small holdings, the then Minister of Agriculture was made a Commissioner of Woods and Forests. That was done to bring those lands under direct control. That is another parallel, and I might adduce further parallels of the same kind. While the Financial Secretary started out by assuming that this view, strongly held by us, is not really in favour of or in line with advance in forestry, yet I think the arguments which he has heard from both sides of the House must have convinced him that the assumption does not go without saying, but that there is a great deal to be argued both ways. I only wish he could take an impartial view of the matter and adopt the attitude, which I think is best on purely practical grounds, that forestry requires the stimulus of Ministerial responsibility.
§ Mr. MCNEILL
I have tried to make it as clear as possible, that I am taking an impartial view on that matter. I do not wish in the least to prejudge the question as to whether or not there should be Parliamentary and Ministerial control. All I say is that you cannot deal with it at this moment. The right hon. Gentleman does not suppose that on this Bill we can discuss the whole of that question which the Debate has shown to be a very big controversial question. All we want to do is to get the power we are asking for in this Bill until we have an opportunity of discussing the larger question.
§ Sir ALFRED HOPKINSON
Before voting, as I wish to do, in support of this Bill, there is one small point on which I should like a definite assurance from the Minister in charge. The main part of this Debate so far has dealt with a point which, as the right hon. Gentleman has just pointed out, does not arise on this Bill at all. The question of whether the Forestry Commission should continue to do its work as at present, or whether that work should be put into the hands of a Department of the Government, does not apply in the least to this Bill. The Forestry Commission are now in charge of that work, and the Bill does not seek to alter that position in the least degree. All it does is to confer certain additional powers on the Commission, and I should not have ventured to address the House on the proposal had it not been for the fact that I happen to have a rather close personal acquaintance with two different classes of case, in regard to which questions under this Bill may arise. One is in regard to the New Forest. I remember many years ago the contest that arose between the Woods and Forests Department and the verderers of the New Forest. The Woods and Forests Department, having charge of the raising of timber, in the performance of their duties were overriding same of of the rights of the ordinary commoners and of the public. One thing which protected the commoners and, incidentally, through the commoners, protected the public, was the Vederers' Court. I may remark, incidentally, that nearly all public rights of this hind in this country have been carried through and maintained under the Ring of the rural commoner. In this case the Vederers' Court proved useful n protecting these rights, and I am glad to find that the position of the Vederers' Court is recognised in this Bill. No by-law can be made without consultation with them.
That is very good as regards the New Forest, and also as regards the Forest of Dean, and, if we were concerned only with those two forests, we might rest content. But let us take another case which is one of the most important in the country. There is a great scheme of afforestation in the Vale of Ennerdale, one of the most attractive parts of the Lake District. That has given rise to a considerable amount of doubt and 437 difficulty in the minds of those who are interested, above everything else, in the right of perambulation among the mountains of their native country now enjoyed by the public. I think that is a right which is prized by all classes. In the case of Ennerdale, partly through public subscription and partly through the generosity of individuals, a great part of the mountains all round has been given to the National Trust. Access to those mountains is largely through Ennerdale, not merely by way of footpaths, but over stretches of country where one may wander at will. We have been told that rights of this kind are protected. The public right of access to mountains is freely exercised at the present time, and ninny of us would like to see it protected by express Act of Parliament. Lord Bryce tried for years and years to establish that right, and it is one of the most valuable privileges or rights enjoyed by the community. I wish to know if the case of Ennerdale and other similar cases are protected under paragraph (a) in Clause 2 of the Bill. I am speaking of the right of ordinary persons such as clerks or barristers or Members of Parliament who want to get fresh air, and I wish to know if their rights in this matter are protected by Clause 2 (a). I do not think that such is the case. That Clause is drafted, and rightly drafted, to protect the rights of commoners. It reads:no by-laws made under this Section shall take away or injuriously affect any estate, interest, right of common, or other right of a profitable or beneficial nature in, over, or affecting any land, except with the consent of the person entitled thereto.6.0.p.m.
That seems to cover the right of common, that is, the right of people to turn out sheep on the land, but is this right or privilege of the public which I have described protected by this Clause as it stands? We cannot get the consent of every man who wants to go on the mountains, and we want something added to that Clause. I am sure that, if something could be added, it would be welcomed very much by the public, and with that assurance, that we shall have a chance of climbing the Pillar Rock again, as we have been accustomed to do, and as we hope to do again even after attaining four-score years of age, we shall be 438 satisfied. I only ask an assurance on that point, which is exceedingly small, but of vital importance.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The House always listens with pleasure to the hon. and learned Member for the English Universities (Sir A. Hopkinson) who has just sat down, and I would like to join in his plea that these new by-laws which this, in my opinion, unconstitutional body is to be empowered to make, shall not be used to hinder access to mountains on the ground that such access is not in the interests of the State. It is perfectly well known that access to mountains is not always by a definite right of way. I remember well that, some 30 years ago, High Street was all open to the public, but now it has been turned into a vast deer forest, and the opportunities of wandering over those hills have been lamentably cut down. It would be a great pity if we were to do for Ennerdale what has been done by private owners for High Street. This is only one example of what we are doing by this Bill. We are giving to this unconstitutional body additional powers as well as increasing their numbers and their scope.
The right hon. Gentleman opposite tells us that we are not properly in order in discussing, on this Bill, the question of whether or not this body is unconstitutional, but I should have thought this was exactly the opportunity to register our protest against the growth of these unconstitutional bodies which are taking over from Parliament duties which Parliament has exercised throughout the centuries. I would draw attention to the fact that almost every speech to which we have listened to-night, with the exception of that of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton), speeches delivered by old Members of Parliament well bred up in the traditions of this House, have one and all pointed to this Forestry Commission as an unconstitutional development which was depriving Parliament of part of its rightful traditional power. It is idle to say that we cannot discuss this question now. If we can make our position sufficiently strong now, on this Second Reading Debate, so that this Bill is withdrawn, why, then the Government will have obviously to reconsider altogether the question of running the afforestation of this country by a Commission instead of by a Ministry. The 439 hon. Member for Cambridge will, I am sure, excuse me if I say that his speech is exactly the one we do not like to hear in this House. His speech was urging that not only forestry, but other items of the national administration should be withdrawn from this House, in the interests, apparently, of continuity.
The only really continuous thing in English history is the growth of Parliament and the control exercised by Parliament in every year over fresh fields of national enterprise. We do not want now to scrap all our old ideas and to substitute for control by Parliament control by nominated bodies. It is coming in America, where over and over again you will find big cities being administered directly by non-elected bodies. It has been growing in this country too, and we must check it all we can. I maintain that the Government must make an overwhelming case in favour of Commission government before they deprive the House of Commons of their rightful interest. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said that it makes no difference, and that Parliamentary control is as complete under the Commission as it would be if this Forestry Department were conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture. I think he must have made that contribution to the Debate with his tongue in his cheek, for, being at the Treasury as he is, he cannot really believe that that is the case, and, indeed, the hon. Member for Cambridge let the cat out of the bag, because he urged that Commission government should go on because it secured continuity. I presume he meant continuity whatever party was in power, and in that case, if this Commission government ensures continuity, it must obviously be depriving this House of part of its legitimate power. Indeed, everyone knows that continuity has never varied so far as the development of a thought-out policy such as that of the Forestry Commission is concerned. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Buxton) were Minister for Agriculture to-morrow, this forestry experiment of ours would go on, but I hope and believe that it would go on on different lines and that he would make himself personally responsible to this House and to the country for it and would not be content to leave it to a half unpaid, half irresponsible body of excellent private gentlemen.
440 The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) said what excellent gentlemen they were, and he pointed out that most of them were landlords. One of our chief objections to this form of Commission government is that naturally, when they are irresponsible, their private interests assume a much larger part of the consideration which other people would apply to their efforts. We appointed Electricity Commissioners the other day to develop electricity on lines parallel to these proposed forestry powers. Suppose those Electricity Commissioners had been selected because they were directors and managing directors of existing electricity companies, the House would have seen that they were not the most suitable people, although they might know most about the job, and that they would not be sufficiently impartial. I do not know the names of these Commissioners, and, while I am quite certain that they are the most honourable men in the world, yet the natural bias of their particular interest is bound to have some effect, and in the eyes of the people outside will give rise to suspicions, which in 99 cases out of 100 will be absolutely baseless. It is just that that makes public control so much better. There, if we suspect the Minister or the Ministry we have them here to question, but here, in this case, we have no one.
Look at this Report. We do not know how that money has been spent. I gather that 110,000 acres have been afforested and that a subsidy of £3 an acre has been paid by this unconstitutional body to various landlords in this country to induce them to afforest land which they would not otherwise afforest. I gather that nearly 300,000 acres have been bought, and bought a pretty considerable price, namely, £3 9s. 9d. an acre, and when hon. Members think of what most of that land is, they will see that it is a high price to pay, especially hon. Members who have experience of the Colonies, where prices are certainly on a far lower level. We do not know, in regard to those 300,000 acres from whom they were bought, or at what price, or what the rateable value of the land was before it was bought. We do not know, in fact, whether or not the purchases have been wise purchases. If it had been the Ministry of Agriculture dealing with small 441 holdings, we could ask questions about the price paid, the previous rateable value, the number of years' purchase, and so on, and we should know where we were, but here we do not know.
Then, if you take the acreage that has been afforested under subsidy, there too we do not know how much of that subsidy has been paid to private owners and how much to local authorities. They are lumped together, and we cannot distinguish them. We have not any definite figures to show exactly what that afforestation has cost, so that we do not know to this day whether the subsidy has been all used or how far it has been exceeded by the expenditure of private money. But my chief complaint against this Bill is that it does deal with subsidies, and that it does not secure that the whole benefit of the money spent by the taxpayer on afforestation shall come back to the public by insistence upon the purchase scheme instead of upon the subsidy scheme. I have no love for subsidies at any time, and when you subsidise the beet-sugar industry—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
This is more a question to be debated in Committee of Supply. I understand that Mr. Speaker ruled that the constitutional aspect of this question might be discussed, but that details of of administration must be left to be debated in Committee of Supply.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I was merely using it as an illustration of the difficulty we are in by having to deal with a Commission, irresponsible to this House, instead of a Ministry. If we had a Minister, we could make it clear that it was undesirable to subsidise afforestation, we could make it clear that a subsidy might, divert land from a more profitable form of cultivation to a less profitable, and that the tendency, whether of a subsidy or of a protective tariff, very often is to turn production into uneconomic channels and, therefore, to throw a heavier burden upon the taxpayer than he already has to bear. But the main charge is this, that here you have a body spending vast sums of public money on subsidising private interests in this country, free from the normal criticism that any Government. Department doing that sort of work would naturally meet, and, therefore, not merely liable to 442 greater waste and greater mismanagement, but liable to be misunderstood more by the masses of the people of this country.
It is just that sort of work which should not be done by private interests, by a private body of gentlemen, and I believe that every Member of this House with experience of public work, while appreciating the fact that we can get eight gentlemen together, or six or seven, who will do this work voluntarily, whether it is nine months' work in the year or nine days' work in the year, will realise that it is better to have paid civil servants doing that work, day after day, according to definite rules and definite precedents, than to place the responsibility upon any body of half-paid gentlemen, whose training has not been that of civil servants, whose interests are not essentially national, but mere class interests, and who are not, therefore, however excellent in information, perfectly fitted to do this work. Let us stick to the ways we know. Let us stick to the traditions of Parliament, and do let us realise that the right hon. Gentleman himself, by his interruption of my right hon. Friend here, has joined with the ex-Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the ex-Minister of Agriculture, and all the speakers in this Debate, in urging that we should revert to the normal practice. Whether we vote for the Second Reading of this Bill or not, we should definitely urge the Government to get back to Parliamentary practice, which is the only check upon waste.
§ Sir L. FORESTIER-WALKER
As far as I could understand the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down, I think my right hon. Friend is assured of his support, but I should like to correct a misapprehension he is under. He talked about the Forestry Commissioners as a well-meaning but an unconstitutional body. May I suggest to him that a decision of Parliament can hardly be unconstitutional, and the decision in 1919 was to set up this Commission for the purpose for which it has been in existence. The point which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman wants to raise should be raised, I think, in 1929, when we shall have to account to Parliament for what we have done with the money you gave us. When all things are considered, you 443 will find, I think, that we have spent the money you have given us, but we have delivered the goods, which, after all, is the most important thing. The right hon. Gentleman complains about there being only landlords on this Commission: Perhaps I may correct this impression. As a matter of fact, there are eight Commissioners at the moment, four of whom, I believe are landlords, and four are not. Therefore, it is 50–50. [HON. MEMBERS: "Names!"] Mr. Smith, Sir Hugh Murray, Mr. Robinson, and myself. I believe we are all landless, and, therefore, you may judge our capabilities as being very much inferior to those of the other four. Anyhow, we are able to hold our own when it comes to a vote.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norfolk Northern (Mr. Buxton) talked about the lack of activity. I do not think that is a fair statement to make. I look upon the Forestry Commission—I may be prejudiced—as a body which has done excellent work, and a work of which we are not the least ashamed.
§ Sir L. FORESTIER-WALKER
We shall carry out what Parliament has directed, and no one can say we are not doing it. When 1929 comes, I think, Parliament will find that we have done what Parliament set us to do. I suggest there is no possible argument in saying that we have lacked activity, because already we have planted more than half what we have been asked to do, and by 1929 we shall have planted the whole. Unfortunately, I was not in the House at the time, but I understand a remark was made about the paid Commissioner who appeared before the Public Accounts Committee, and was supposed to have made a statement that if he were away for six months it would not matter to anybody. I am afraid the hon. Member must lack a sense of humour. It is not suggested, I hope, that the paid Commissioner was away for six months. As a matter of fact, he had taken less than half the time allowed for holidays under the Civil Service scheme. Therefore, the charge that he is not doing the job for which he is paid should not have been made.
444 As to the objections which are being raised to this Bill, I will not deal with what the Reconstruction Committee suggested, for that has already been dealt with. But there are other reasons why this should not be a Government Department. It is well known to anybody who knows anything about the planting of trees that it must be a continuous policy, and a policy which looks forward a good many years. The head of the Board of Agriculture might be here to-day and gone to-morrow. There may be another type of Government some day, and the head of the Board of Agriculture in such a Government might have very different ideas from those we have. It would inevitably mean the separation of Scotland and England and Wales, because you would have to deal with the Board of Agriculture in England and Wales and with the Board of Agriculture in Scotland. That would have this very serious effect on the service generally. At the moment, the service is taken as a whole. Promotion runs right through it from one end of the country to the other; but, if you were to divide the work, it would have the effect of not giving anything like the promotion we are now able to give, and will be able to give. You would not be able to give opportunities to young men coming in, nor would you be able to offer the inducements which you would otherwise be able to do.
I think that hon. Members, if they will consider for a moment the work we have to do, will see that or the whole—we are modest people—we have nothing of which to be ashamed. We started at zero. We had to get together an organisation. We had to obtain land, and we had to set up schools. We had to assist the various universities. We had to obtain geed from the ends of the world, prepare nurseries, and buildings, and the hundred and one things involved in a great organisation like ours. During 1921 and 1922 we were checked by the Geddes Axe. Empire forestry conferences have been held, one in London in 1920 and one in Canada in 1923, and one will be held in Australia in 1928. One was also held at the Imperial Conference last year. The effect has been to stimulate the Dominions and Colonies, first of all by bringing to their notice the danger of ire. I would draw attention to the fact that whatever the 445 dangers may be from fire in Canada, it is probably ten times greater in a small and largely populated country like Great Britain. We are, by this Bill, increasing the number of Commissioners. The two Commissioners to be appointed will be unpaid. One, undoubtedly, Sir John Stirling-Maxwell, will come back to the Commission, and I think all who know his work will agree that his knowledge of forestry is unrivalled in Great Britain. The other will be a man who will have knowledge of the sale of timber, when that becomes necessary.
The by-laws which will be made under the Bill are by-laws which are quite necessary, and there are safeguards of the rights of the public. It cannot be suggested that anybody should be allowed to walk through your forests when they are young, if you want to keep your forests from being burnt. Undoubtedly, when the trees grow high, and there is not so much need for fencing, not only against humans, but against animals, harm is not so likely to be done. When, however, trees are young, and there is undergrowth, a careless individual throwing down a cigarette or lighted match might cost the country thousands of pounds in a few minutes. Then the question has been raised of representation of the Board in I his House. I am very sorry I am not a mere important person. I can quite understand that the sport of baiting backbenchers is a very poor one compared with baiting Members on the Front Bench. It is like rat hunting to fax-hunting. All I can say is that I always have been, and I know I always will be, only too glad to give any information which may 'be required as to the work of the Forestry Commission.
§ Mr. WILLIAM GRAHAM
I desire to refer very briefly to two points which have been raised in the course of this Debate, first of all with reference to the position of the two paid Commissioners, and, secondly, with reference to the financial arrangement as regards this House. One of my hon. Friends behind, in the course of a speech in seconding the rejection of the Bill, referred to certain evidence which had been laid before the Public Accounts Committee, and the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House on behalf of the Forestry Commissioners has, of course, completely cleared 446 up the position regarding one of the paid Commissioners, to whom reference was made. All that I desire to say here is that hon. Members will find a summary of the facts regarding Lord Lovat in the letter addressed to me as Chairman of the Committee, and which is included in the bound volume of our proceedings last year, at the end of the Report. I am perfectly certain it was no part of the desire of my hon. Friend behind to reflect in any way on Lord Lovat on personal lines. Our attack to-night is wholly upon the system underlying this Bill, and I ought to say quite clearly that, on the evidence tendered to the Public Accounts Committee, irrespective of party, they were satisfied that the position at the time of the appointment some years ago was as stated in his Lordship's letter. As a matter of accuracy in debate, that should be made perfectly plain and clear now.
The other point is, of course, very much more important, because it turns upon the kind of financial control this House has over the Forestry Commission. This has also been the subject of review from time to time by the Public Accounts Committee, and hon. Members will find in their report the questions and the answers on the subject during their sittings in the last Parliamentary Session. So far in this Debate we haves not been reminded of the precise financial arrangements which were embodied in the scheme in 1919. What Parliament then laid down was the desirability of having a Commission so far free from strict Departmental regulation that they would he at liberty to get on with the job of afforestation; and by way of recognising the importance of continuity of policy, and making provision for the time ahead, they were provided in advance with £3,500,000 over a term of 10 years, the money to be expended at the rate of £350,000 per annum.
We come very near to the heart of this problem when we notice the precise way in which the account is presented to the House of Commons each year. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton) was perfectly correct in his statement that we have a form of Parliamentary control in which that expenditure appears as a kind of estimate, but, of course, it takes the form of a grant-in-aid, and, as the House is aware, that involves no surrender of any surplus which may be 447 accumulated in the course of the year's working. In point of fact, during the past eight years the actual sums allocated for forestry have varied within limits from time to time, and there has been a certain carry-over to succeeding years, the usual financial arrangement being made on that point. What I desire to emphasise is, first of all, that there is something of the nature of a fixed allocation—the House is hound, of course, by the terms of the 1919 Act— and to that extent strict freedom in the matter has been modified.
In the second place, we come to the actual control by the House itself. The Commission are a body outside Parliament. They present an annual report, which gives a good deal of information regarding the work on which they are engaged, and the Public Accounts Committee review the actual expenditure, which is, of course, subject to the usual audit of the Controller and Auditor-General. But it would very often happen, I imagine, that this particular estimate would not be called on the Floor of the House at all. That, of course, is no reflection on the Commissioners, but a reflection upon the Parliamentary system, under which huge blocks of expenditure go through every year without a word of discussion, and there is, perhaps, a call to every Member of the House to consider whether we ought not to have a much better arrangement of our financial programme in order to make it perfectly certain that these things are discussed on the floor of the Chamber. More time should be given to things that matter and less to things that do not count in finance. That observation is, of course, addressed very largely to the Government side. That is the state of affairs regarding this estimate, and so it comes about—and I hope I shall not be misunderstood on the point—that on these, as on a great many other matters at the present time the only effective and detailed review or analysis is that undertaken by the Public Accounts Committee. That is characteristic of a great deal of our finance, and it applies to this problem of control of the Forestry Commission.
But all that does not excuse the step which the Government are proposing to-night. This Bill falls into two parts. One, which deals with by-laws, may be 448 urgent, and with the necessity for going on with that no Member in any part of the House has disagreed: in the other part, the Financial Secretary proposes to appoint two additional Commissioners. He defends this arrangement of the Bill on tae ground that if we are to review what was, in essence, a problem of 1919, of this question of financial control, or if we wish to bring the Commission under some public Department, and get its work subject to review in the House of Commons, this is not the time to do it. According to him, we must do it a year and a half hence, or at some later date. In comparison with our national expenditure of about £830,000,00C it is perfectly true to say that the expenditure with which we are concerned here is only £350,000 a year, but what is of vital importance is the principle of strict Parliamentary control, and we must take this opportunity, which is the first opportunity, of urging the undesirability of continuing for one moment longer than is necessary an arrangement which no Member has attempted to defend on financial grounds.
My suggestion is, therefore, that while the Government may very well proceed to pass the necessary by-laws I do not think there is such urgent need to appoint two additional Commissioners, and in view of the fact that the review of this scheme, which must be discussed in a year or two, should for all practical purposes he undertaken now, they might very well leave that part of their proposals aside, and say to the House, as I rather think the Treasury say behind the scenes, or the Financial Secretary might be tempted to say in public, that this financial arrangement is not one which can be continued. As to the question of elasticity, if hon. Members wish to preserve it it can be preserved, hut in existing conditions this House cannot part with the responsibility for public expenditure, and I venture to think that this is a doctrine which will be warmly supported by every member of the Public Accounts Committee, irrespective of his political faith, and irrespective of his views regarding afforestation. On a at ground, which appears to me incontestable, I think we are justified in voting against the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Colonel Sir GEORGE COURTHOPE
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Graham) has made, as he always does, a closely reasoned and very moderate speech. I hope the House will bear with me for a few moments while I deal with one or two points which he and his colleagues have raised. I would like to say at once, that I have no authority whatever to speak for the Forestry Commission, and I am not speaking for them. I am speaking merely as an interested amateur, a lover of forestry, who has had perhaps rather better opportunity than some hon. Members, of knowing what the Forestry Commissioners have been doing and still have to do. The same Act which established the Commission established also consultative committees for the different parts of the United Kingdom, and I have been chairman of the Committee for England since it was set up eight years ago, and that has enabled me to get a special insight into the work.
Before I say anything on the subject of control, I would like to say a word on the question of the two Commissioners. I think it is correct to say that representations were made—perfectly proper representations—that there ought to be a representative of Labour on the Commission, and Sir John Stirling-Maxwell resigned from the Commission in order to make room for Mr. W. R. Smith, who has been exceedingly useful. My recollection is that it was understood at that time that steps would be taken in the House to legalise the reappointment of Sir John Stirling-Maxwell as an additional Commissioner, because people of all parties recognise the importance and value of his help to the Commission. With regard to the other additional Commissioner no provision was made originally for a specialist Commissioner to deal with the important question of the conversion of the timber. Since the Commission were set up, the whole of the Crown Woods have been handed over to their care, and that involves not only the planting of new woods but dealing each year with vast quantities of maturing commercial timber. It is of the utmost importance to deal with it to the best advantage. As I understand it, that is the reason for proposing the appointment of a second Commissioner. I should have thought both reasons would have 450 appealed to hon. Members of the Party opposite as being singularly sound ones, and as the two Commissioners will not add at all to the cost of the Commission I should have thought objections might be waived.
As to the general question of control, I am most pleased to see the growing interest in forestry amongst Members in all parts of the House, and their desire to know more of what is going on, and as a House of Commons man of a good many years' standing I sympathise very fully with the desire that Parliamentary control of finance should he as complete as possible. At the same time, I beg the House to be extremely careful lest in their desire for closer control over the -expenditure on this work they should destroy the efficiency of the Commission. Let me remind the House how essential it is to success in forestry to have continuity of policy. Next year, I imagine, the House will be, considering the forestry programme for the next 10 years, because the present programme will come to an end within two years from now, and a new programme will have to be fixed by this House. Supposing that next year it was decided, as I hope it will be, greatly to increase the rate of planting commercial conifers in Great Britain. The- House must not imagine that such expansion of planting could begin at once; it would be at least five or six years before' there was any increase in the actual planting, beyond that for which preparations have been made already. To begin with, the markets of the world do not contain the seed to enable a great increase to take place. Special steps would have to be taken for collecting seed in our Colonies, along the Pacific Coast of America, and Canada, and all that cannot be done in a moment, and it may not be possible to do it in a- year. The seed has to be grown in the seed beds in nurseries, and it has to he transplanted before it is fit to go into the forest, and it is five or six years before it actually takes its place in a plantation. That makes it perfectly plain how important it is that those who have the handling of the preparation of this work should also have the handling of the fulfilment of the programme.
You cannot have successful afforestation if those in control are continually 451 being changed between the time the policy is framed and the time it is put into effect. I believe it would be possible to increase the effectiveness of Parliamentary control, over the expenditure of the forestry grant without necessarily having a Minister of the Crown at the head of this Department. There are other Departments like the Development Commissioners which are represented in this House by Ministers who are not the heads of the bodies concerned. A suggestion of my own would be that, instead of trying to insist on a Minister who will frequently be changed when a change of parties takes place and promotions occur being the head of the Department, a junior Minister should be a member of the Commission. He could answer questions in this House and be open to attack in regard to policy. But, he told not be the head of the body concerned who would be mainly responsible for the continuity of the policy which is so essential.
§ Sir G. COURTHOPE
It could be secured in two ways. First of all, by the grant of money to the Forestry Commission for a period of years. I think a ten years period was fixed when the Forestry Act was originally passed. At that time there was a Vote of £3,500,0000 to be spread over 10 years, and they were given the task of planting 150,000 additional acres in addition to inducing private owners of forests to increase their acreage. The second way is in regard to the unexpended balances which are not surrendered, so that the whole £3,500,000 is available for expenditure during the 10 years, however much any annual expenditure may fall short of one-tenth of the principal sum. I know it had to be varied. I think, as an interested critic, that it is very much to the credit of the Forestry Commission that they have been able to carry out their 10 years' programme in spite of the set back of the two years which have been mentioned. The head of the Forestry Commission is appointed for a period of 10 years, and you cannot have any greater security for continuity of 452 policy than that the man who was there at the beginning of the programme should handle it to the end. I think it would be a serious drawback if the Chief Forestry Commissioner happened to be a Minister who would frequently be changed with the change of political parties. Personally, I cannot see any objection to a junior Commissioner being a Minister of the Crown and being open to criticism and attach on his salary, and that would be better than a representative Commissioner who is an unpaid. Back Bench Member. But the time has not come for bringing up the question of financial control, and any variation in the system of the Forestry Commission which the Opposition may desire would be much more appropriate next year when the big Measure must come in preparing for the next 10 years period or even for a longer period. We are just winding up the first experimental period, and I hope the House will decide that the experiment has been a success, and will justify a very much larger allocation both of money and programme in the next ten years.
The hon. Member moved the rejection of this Bill drew attention quite rightly and properly to the very serious position of the cultivation of commercial timber, and he referred to the Report on that, position made by the Acland Committee dealing with woodlands. The situation in this country is far worse than was appreciated by the Acland Committee. At that time there were on the maps 3,000,000 acres of woodlands in Great Britain, and, although it was known that a considerable proportion of those woodlands gave a very small annual income or yield, yet they were treated as woodlands. Recently a survey has been made and I was chairman of a Committee responsible for carrying it out for England. I do not know the Scottish or the Welsh figures, but, so far as England is concerned, I assure the House when the figures are published hon. Members will be appalled how far short they are of the Acland figures. I think when those figures are seen and their meaning fully appreciated, the House will feel inclined to launch the Forestry Commission on its next period of activity upon a much more generous scale than has been the case in the past. This will be the time 453 to consider how the relationship between this House as the custodian of the public purse and the Commissioners responsible for maintaining woodlands can be regulated. I hope the Government and hon. Members opposite will take that view, and that nothing will be done to hinder the passing into law of this little Bill which I believe to be of real value to forestry in this country.
§ Mr. PURCELL
I think much of what has been said by the hon. Baronet who has just sat down gives us ground for opposing the proposals of this Bill in regard to the Commissioners. If we are to discuss continuity of policy, it is very clear that we shall have to consider the Admiralty which is continually changing its policy. The truth is that there appears to be less responsibility on the part of the Commissioners in regard to all the details connected with this great question of re-afforestation. The difficulty I find with regard to this matter is that we have not got a responsible Minister on the Front Bench who can reply to our questions, and I think that is a fault in the present system. Another point is that the system adopted by the Commissioners of part-time employment in connection with an enormous problem like this seems to be too niggardly and stingy when we are dealing with a national problem. The question of our timber supply and constant planting is a very important matter for this nation. I can speak with a knowledge of the Forest of Dean and certainly with some 38 years' knowledge of the timber trade generally, and I have concluded that it is a crying shame that the trees in forests generally, and more particularly in the Forest of Dean, should be allowed to get into the state they are in at the present time.
In the Forest of Dean, so far as good oak is concerned, there is scarcely another place can equal it. I am speaking with a knowledge of hard timber extending over a very long period. I am certain, if we really desire to resume our position in so far as really good oak is concerned, we shall have to extend places like the Forest of Dean, and, instead of having a sort of limit to the area of planting, it ought to be extended. The Forest of Dean is a good area for this purpose, and the soil is the right 454 type for the growing of oak timber. There is no question about that, and it has been so for centuries. The point is that we desire to get rid as much as possible of the horrible timber we have at this moment, which is being turned out as oak, and which, if you took it down to the Forest of Dean, would make the oak trees shudder like a leaf. That is a small point compared with what I want to say. If we desire to get back to the very fine timber which exists in some of the wonderful historic and traditional buildings in this country, we can only do it by improving our oak supply. The same thing applies to certain other woods, but I am more concerned with oak at the moment. I am surprised that the Commissioners have not seen their way to develop this on a much larger scale. It seems to me a matter for astonishment that they should leave the fringe all round the forest when it could be rescued if it was fenced in. It would be worth doing. I cannot help thinking, if we are going to do anything with regard to timber at all, that we ought not to be so niggardly as we are in regard to the wages of the people in our employment.
§ Mr. PURCELL
I know it is illegal to fence, hut von are asking for further powers with regard to by-laws. It seems to me that there ought to have been consultation with whoever is responsible with a view to a sort of joint attempt to rescue this part of the land. I will explain what I mean. In the district which I know best we run right into the forest and right up to the edge of some very fine young oak trees, and we have a main road running round it with a track which is torn up time and time again, and no care at all is taken with regard to the very fine trees in close proximity. That seems a piece of work to which the Commissioners might have given attention. I am not complaining about that. They are servants in the main, and I can see that they are horribly understaffed. When I hear hon. Members speaking about spending money on missions abroad, I ask: "Why could not you use a little more money on work which is being done for the improvement of the area of which I am speaking?" 455 I do not know much about the New Forest at all, but I daresay the same thing would apply. At the same time, the point seems to me to be that we can agree readily to what the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken said with regard to this matter, and that we ought to spend more and considerably more.
It has always been a source of discomfort to me that we should go far away for some timbers which we ought to supply here at home. We could employ men on very useful work, and in addition we could give to the public a better class of furniture than they are getting at the present time. The substitutes that are used in furniture, owing to the fact that we have not got a fairly decent supply of home-grown timber, is at present one of the greatest frauds that is being imposed on the public. I am satisfied about that, and it is generally agreed upon by people who understand furniture and the wood which is used. We ought not to he in the slightest degree stingy, and; instead of having Commissioners in this sort of slip-shod way, we ought to have somebody entirely responsible to the House of Commons, so that the question can be raised in the ordinary way here.
In addition, I think we should have better reports than we are getting with regard to this question. The last one I saw was supposed to be an annual report "and it was about the most meagre report made to any outside institution, let alone the House of Commons, I have ever read. No Commissioner could justify that; very meagre report on the work which is being done at the present time. We should take account of the stages towards maturity in trees. It cannot be said that is not known, for it is known. It should be made generally known to this House and to the public what is the rate of progress towards maturity of our hard-wood timber, in particular. In addition, we ought to encourage the classes of timber people who are concerned in shipment from abroad and see to what extent we can meet something of our requirements from home-grown supplies. I think we could in a space of a few years set up, from the State point of view and from the public and general point of view, a very profitable, important, and valuable asset. Above all, I plead for it, because 456 I believe, having seen the forests in Mexico and on the Continent and in other places, that we are a long, long distance behind—a tremendous distance behind. We do nothing of the kind here, and, because of that, I hope there will be greater publicity and readiness to give information to the House. It is information which is easily obtainable, and the Commissioners themselves should be on the initiative with regard to that. It is not that they are merely there to spend the money and to report that they have spent so much. They should be there to show us that the work they are doing at the present time is preparatory work, and, in addition to that, that they are accepting some initiative in preparing for the future so far as fresh plantations are concerned. I do not mean taking up other lands. There is much that could be done on available land and by getting the best scientific advice and doing justice to the people in their employ, rather than paying the miserably low wages that are paid at the present time.
§ Mr. RILEY
Judging from the narrow limits of the Bill at present before the House and from what the Financial Secretary said in introducing the Measure, it seems to me that it would have been wiser to have allowed this matter to stand as it is until the expiry of the 10 years, when the whole question could have been gone into, but the spech of the Financial Secretary in introducing the Bill, was itself, as it seems to me, a reason why this important work of afforestation ought rot to be left as a kind of subsidiary department in which there is no kind of responsibility. In explaining the Bill to the House, the Financial Secretary gave no account whatever and no information as to the progress which has been made in the past and as to what is being done and what are the prospects with regard to the work of the Forestry Commissioners. The only thing that he did—and he may say that that was his business—was to explain the two Clauses in the Bill, firstly with regard to the Commissioners and secondly with regard to the proposed by-laws. As far as I can discover, no single reason whatever was put forward by the Financial Secretary to justify the first Clause which raises the number of Commissioners from 457 eight to 10. I listened attentively, and I have sat for two or three hours listening, but I am still just as much in the dark as ever as to why it is now proposed to make the Commissioners 10 instead of the existing eight.
I heard him give no explanation of any and whatever or any pretence of a reason as to why in this Bill we are having put before us a proposal to increase the Commissioners from eight to 10. The only conclusion one can come to is the presumption that ten people are better than eight. No reason whatever has been given as to why it is being done. Therefore, the Bill is reduced, as far as the justification for it is concerned, entirely- to the question of Clause 2, which deals with the question of by-laws. I am quite willing to conceive there is something to be said for by-laws which are safeguards against the danger from fire and damage to such progress as is being made with the work of afforestation. That, of course, no one will dispute. I regard that as quite an ordinary and prudent safeguard to take.
I want on that point to raise an aspect which has been raised, but not exactly in the same way, by several Members, namely, the safeguarding of the existing rights of inhabitants in the neighbourhood of forests, and those who have, either by tradition or established common rights, the right to gather loose and fallen wood. How far are those rights going to be preserved l I know quite well that the Clause does provide that the by-laws shall be subject to existing rights of that kind. I quite realise that, but I am rather afraid whether the Government are going to take the necessary means to give publicity to those whose rights may be jeopardised by the by-laws which aye contemplated in this till. It has been said that these by-laws would have to be laid for 21 days before both Houses of Parliament. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies to tell us, in addition, that the Government will fulfil the obligation with regard to by-laws which is fulfilled by most of the local authorities, namely, not only that you have to have Parliamentary sanction but that you must advertise in the locality where the by-laws are going to run for at least four weeks in the public Press, so that everybody is aware, before the by-laws become enforceable, 458 what is going to occur. I would like to have some satisfaction on that point when the right hon. Gentleman comes to reply.
I want for a moment or two to deal with what I regard as the really important thing. It is not so much a question of by-laws or the number of Commissioners, but I think we feel on this side of the House that the question of afforestation is far too important and vital to be left in the way it is now being carried on. What, after all, is the position? I have gone to some little trouble to go over the Act of 1919, and the conclusion that one comes to is that for all practical purposes the work of afforestation in this country is to-day entirely a matter for the Treasury, and that everything that the Commissioners are doing is subject to the approval of the Treasury. I venture to submit to the House that neither the Chancellor of the Exchequer nor the Financial Secretary would claim to have any great interest in the question of afforestation, and therefore I do not think it is for the wellbeing of the interests involved in afforestation that an important work of that kind should be entirely under the control of, shall I say, the whim of the Treasury.
A plea for continuity in the work has been put forward to-day, and the argument has been used that one of the advantages of the present arrangement is that it secures continuity. This Department, however, is under the Treasury, and I venture to remind the House that, under the present Treasury, nothing that depends upon the Treasury can be sure of continuity. With a Chancellor of the Exchequer who may at any moment go back upon previous decisions, as was done in connection with Unemployment Insurance and Health Insurance, and raid the funds, what safeguard is there even that the£3,500,000 voted in 1919 will be safe if it depends upon the Treasury? I should like to remind the House, in view of the importance of the question, of the responsibility which attaches to the Treasury in the matter of afforestation. According to the Act of 1919, the Commissioners, subject to the approval of the Treasury, are entitled to make appointments, to fix salaries and to dismiss employes. All the powers that were formerly exercised by the Minister of Agriculture are now handed over to the Commissioners, over 459 whom and over whose work we have no control whatever. They have power to purchase, and I notice, in this Section of the Act, that, in addition to the provision as to purchase, there is the word "take." They can purchase or take on lease, utilise land and erect buildings, sell or exchange land, purchase timber from and sell to other persons, make advances and grants to private owners with regard to afforestation, and so on. These are some of the powers vested in these Commissioners, who are subject to the Treasury only so far as administration is concerned.
I submit, as others have submitted, that the question of afforestation, not only from the point of view of adequate timber supplies in this country but in its relationship to the question of unemployment, is far too vital to be left in this haphazard way, without any real and direct stimulation from this House through a Minister responsible to this House. The hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) referred to the unsatisfactory condition now existing as regards the density arid quality of the timber in this country. He pointed out that it was estimated that something like 3.000,000 acres of land in this country were under wood, but he also stated that further investigation showed that a large proportion of that acreage was weed of very little value, or hardly any value at all. I have gone to the trouble of looking up the figures, and I find that, in the case of the 3,000,00 acres under wood—which is only 4 per cent. of the entire area of the country—the yield per acre is only 15 cubic feet, such has been the neglect, such is the backward nature of forestry in this country. In Germany, the general yield is 27½ cubic feet per acre, but in the State forests of Prussia it is 53 cubic, feet per acre, and in Baden it is 90 cubic feet per acre, or six times the yield in this country. That is a very strong argument for a much more vigilant and virile attention to afforestation than obtains under the present arrangements.
I would add this further fact, to show how backward we are in this country in this important work. Only 4 per cent. of the land of this country is under wood. In the case of Sweden—which may be exceptional—47 per cent. of the entire area of the country is under timber; in 460 Germany, 25 per cent. of the total area is under timber, in France 18 per cent., and even in Belgium, a highly industrialised, small country, 17 per cent. of the total area is under timber, while in this country there is only 4 per cent. That being so, we say that something more is, required than a mere Committee of Commissioners subject to an administrative Department, if we are to come into line, make up our leeway, and deal with the question of providing useful work for the unemployed of this country. One last point. It has been said in the course of this Debate that a certain substantial progress has been made since 1919, when the programme was laid down. What are the facts? The Commissioners, in their Report, point out quite clearly that their programme was for a gradual afforestation of no less than 1,700,000 acres. That was eight years ago, and we have afforested about 200,000 acres. At the same rate, it will be 64 years before even the programme of 1919 is carried out. The Commissioners point out that, if the 1,700,000 acres were brought under afforestation, the scheme would provide permanent work for a population of 120,000 in this country. We do appeal to the Financial Secretary and the Government not to be content merely with the question of Waking by-laws, but to alter the whole constitution of the Commissioners and get the stimulus of this House applied to the work.
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
I support the Amendment for the rejection of this Bill, but not because I wish to hamper or restrict the work of the Commissioners in any way. The hon Member for Monmouth (Sir L. Forestier-Walker) represents a constituency that adjoins my constituency. Mine is an industrial constituency, while of his, I suppose, 95 per cent. is agricultural land. You can step from the hon. Member's constituency into mine, where we have thousands of idle men, and you can step from my constituency into his, where there are thousands of acres of idle land. We oppose an increase in the number of the Commissioners because we believe here ought to be a responsible Minister in this House, responsible for carrying out this very important work. I remember years ago a great agitation in the Trades Union Congress about the appointment of a Minister of Labour. That was re- 461 jected in this House for several years, but ultimately, through agitation, we succeeded in getting a Ministry of Labour established, and to-day the Ministry of Labour is one of the most important Departments in the State. We are going to continue to agitate for the appointment of a responsible Minister for the afforestation affairs of the country, until such a Minister has been appointed and is responsible to this House for any expenditure incurred by the Commissioners.
I remember that the Prime of Australia gave a lecture at the Empire Parliamentary Association's rooms some two years ago, and he there explained that even in Australia, they were going to prohibit the export of any timber from that country. He pointed out how afforestation had developed there, and mentioned that the chief forester was an Englishman who had been trained here We train the foresters, but we send them to other countries to give the services that they ought to be giving in this country. They have their saw-mills right at the base of the forests, and the return to the State is an excellent return for the money expended in that country on afforestation.
I suppose that the hon. Member for Monmouth looks after the interests of Wales as well as those of England and Scotland. My hon. Friend who has just spoken has pointed out that the production of the woodlands is far below the anticipation even of the Acland Committee, and I am sure that that is so in Wales. As I was coming into the House just now—and I hope you will listen to this, Mr. Speaker—I saw a placard. "Mr. Speaker Wins." I began to wonder whether it referred, perhaps, to a game of golf or a game of tennis, but when I looked again I found that it was the result of a horse-race at Chepstow to-day. There we have a delightful course for horse-racing, that, so far as Wales is concerned, would be far better under afforestation; it would be far better for the country and for the unemployed if the Commissioners had selected that piece of land in order to plant trees for the production of timber. There is a world shortage of timber, and before very long we shall find it very difficult to get sufficient timber for our pits, for building houses, and for various 462 other requirements. Knowing something about the industries of the country, I would point out that we are practically fully developed as far as the steel, tinplate, cotton, shipping and various other industries are concerned, and, therefore, in order to deal with the question of unemployment, we must now turn to the land. We must have the land developed, and we must have afforestation extended, because that will take thousands of people who are to-day walking the roads, and put them on the land where they can do some useful work.
§ Mr. SCURR
I think all of us on this side of the House, as well as a number on the other side, are somewhat suspicious of any legislation that was promoted by the Coalition Government, and this is one of the legacies which we have had from them. In our judgment the Financial Secretary has not put forward any argument at all to show why we should have 10 Commissioners instead of eight, unless it is the idea that the land-owning interest should be increased. At present we have four landlords, one representative of Labour, and three others, one of whom is a Member of the majority party in this House. That already gives at least 50 per cent. to the land-owning interest, and as this legislation is being promoted by a Conservative Government., they naturally desire to increase the land-owning interest. I feel that for some years past there has been a gradual tendency in one way or another to take away from the effective control of the House of Commons over expenditure. We know how little opportunity there is for the private Member to raise any question of importance at all. It comes as the result of the organisation of our party system. Owing to the fact that the Government desires to drive its legisletion through, it keeps its own side quiet, and on the other hand the Opposition, have their broad points of view, and the consequence is that the private Member is deprived of any opportunity of effective criticism. We have seen the growth of the system whereby millions of public money are voted without discussion. Now we have a very important piece of work being done absolutely in the dark. It is impossible for us to obtain any information from time to time as to what is going on.
463 For example, I should like to have information on this point. Consultative Committees may be appointed by the Forestry Commission. If they have been appointed I understand they are to consist of persons who have a knowledge of forestry with representatives of the Department, and representatives of Labour. How many representatives of Labour have been appointed, and how have they been appointed? Has it been in consultation with the Agricultural Workers' Union or the Trade Union Congress or any other accredited Labour organisation? Then we are told there are to he representatives of the local bodies? Have any of them been appointed? Further we find that organisations interested in the promotion of forestry may be represented and also woodland owners. If these consultative Committees have been appointed what work have they done? Where are we to find what their recommendations have been? How are we to know what they are? How are we to know whether the Forestry Commissioners themselves have accepted or turned down their recommendations? Further in regard to the by-laws themselves, here again Parliament has no effective control. Clause 2 (2) says:—Before any by-law made under this Act comes into operation, a draft thereof shall he laid before each House of Parliament for a period of not less than 21 days on which that House has sat, and if either House before the expiration of that period presents an Address to His Majesty, praying that it shall be annulled, no further proceedings shall be taken thereon, but without prejudice to the making of any new draft by-law.Really, that is no protection at all. We know that order after order is laid on the Table of the House, but what opportunities are there to get any effective discussion in regard to them? It is a very nice little gesture on the part of the Government to say that there shall be some Parliamentary control, but once they have been laid on the Table for the 21 days, under no circumstances will they be discussed at all. The one thing the Coalition Government wanted to do was to get away from any trust in the people, it wanted to get away from any effective control by the people, and the Government by producing this Bill is 464 continuing that system and even worsening it by increasing the number of Commissioners. It is simply carrying on that bad work and destroying the effective control of the House over the expenditure of the Department. The figures that have been given show our neglect of afforestation as compared with other countries. Probably effective debates on reafforestation would do a great deal more good than some of the questions to which we address ourselves, but there is no real opportunity to do it. It will not be done under this Bill. I am certain the representative of the Commission in this House will he only too pleased to give any information he has at his disposal, but, however desirous he may be of doing it, the opportunities are few. I have no doubt if I met him outside, he would give me the fullest possible information he could regarding the progress of the work, but that is only given in a private capacity. It ought to be given on the floor of the House so that we may be able to criticise or approve it, and so that we might know whether the Commissioners are doing their work or whether it could be improved, and also that we might direct the expenditure of public money. I support the rejection of t he Bill.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
This is a Bill to amend one of the Acts passed by the late Coalition. I have listened to various portions of the discussion, and the one outstanding fact, with which I think the hon. Gentleman who represents the Commission agrees, is that only 200,000 acres have been reafforested since the Act was passed. Apparently the Government imagine that the way to remedy things is to appoint two new Commissioners. Eight have not been able to do the job properly, so we will make them 10. That is not quite the right way to do it. II is the system by which the work is being carried out that is all wrong. The Commissioners may be the most intelligent and the most authoritative persons on the question of afforestation, but those who control them and limit their activities are those who hold the purse-strings at the Treasury. Although the Chancellor of the Exchequer has occupied many positions in his lifetime, and now represents a district that contains one or two big forests, I do not think he would claim to be an authority on afforest- 465 ation. I am certain the Financial Secretary would not do so. It conies to this, that every other piece of public work in the country is in the hands of people whose business it is to find out what needs to be clone and themselves very largely determine when and how it shall be done. Afforestation is one of the most important pieces of work that ought to be undertaken in any case, whether there are unemployed people or not. I suppose before 1919 there must have been dozens of Motions calling attention to the need for afforestation, mainly for the purpose of finding work for the unemployed. I do not belittle that a bit, but it is an industry that ought to he fostered and kept going. I have in my lifetime had something to do with timber and wood generally. I wonder whether anyone in the House, I wonder whether any one of these Commissioners has taken the trouble to inquire how much oak and sycamore and chestnut is being planted to replace the enormous quantity that is cleared out year by year. Going through the country in these days, you can come across wide stretches of land where there is nothing else but the roots of trees which have been cut down. No attempt has been made to grub them up and plant others in their places.
The party opposite ought to be the first people to want the sort of work done that we are asking should be done. We often hear about the work that is waiting to be done in Australia arid Canada. The emigrant in those countries is expected to grub up roots, and generally get the land into a condition for cultivation. Some of the land I have spoken of might be dealt with in that way, but in this country very large tracts ought to be dealt with on the lines of reaffoiestation and trees planted in order to replace those which have been removed. When I hear that only something like 200,000 acres have been dealt with, that in itself is the very biggest condemnation of the work of the Commissioners. I do not want to condemn them as individuals. Probably under the circumstances they have done as well as any eight men could do, but what is the use of appointing two more to perpetuate a system which has so thoroughly failed? No one has attempted to answer that, and the extraordinary thing is that the 466 Ministers in charge of the Bill appear to think there is nothing to answer in the criticisms which have been made and that all they have to do is to trust to the deadweight of their majority to get the Bill through. I hope that some hon. Members on the other side who are continually telling us that they wish to support industries in this country and that they wish to support the use of British goods, will think a little why it is we do not use more British timber. There are some people in this House who imagine that most English timber is not worth while for furniture and such things. As a matter of fact, English walnut, oak and sycamore is the best of wood for making good, substantial furniture, and furniture that is worth while. These woods are becoming very scarce in this country. I am speaking of something I know.
Hon. and right hon. Members opposite, who are always talking about using British goods, bring forward this trumpery proposal to perpetuate an even more trumpery Act of Parliament, which has been a fraud on the people of this country. No one on the front bench opposite has attempted to justify, explain or defend the present position. You set up a Commission to do a certain job, and at the end of eight years it has not begun, I was going to say, even to tackle the job, certainly it has not made any effective contribution to re-afforestation or afforestation. I cannot understand the mentality of hon. and right hon. Members opposite when they continually argue that we are always willing to allow all kinds of goods to come in from the ends of the earth, and that we have no pride in what can be done in our own land. Here is a chance for them in their belief in British goods and in their desire to support British industry to help forward that work by throwing out this Bill and compelling the Government to set up a Department whose business it shall be to set about giving to future generations a supply of really good timber for the use of the nation.
How often do hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite tell us what a horrible thing it is that the unemployed should be living on doles, charity and Poor Law relief. We are always charged with never putting forward any concrete proposal. People like myself are told 467 that the only thing we think about is handing out other people's mooey to people who will not work. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Someone said, "Hear, hear!" This particular business of afforestation has been advocated by the Labour movement ever since I have had anything to do with it, as a means of helping the unemployed. It is work that practically any of the unemployed can undertake, under decent supervision. When we train men at home and then send them abroad, one of the first things they have to do, as I know from personal experience, is to help clear the land. Clearing the land means getting rid of timber, grubbing up roots and so on.
In this country—those who travel along the roads of this country will know that what I am saying is true—there is any quantity of wooded land now lying more or less derelict, with the stumps of trees, the clearance of which would provide useful, honest, decent work for a very large number of the men who are at present living on doles. When this question was before the House on the last occasion it was said that there was great difficulty in regard to sending men away from their homes. If the Government would chose single men, it would not be necessary to send married men away from their homes. They might set up a very large number of temporary settlements where single men could live, and where the men who were put to this work would be getting the sort of training needed in the case of those who propose to go abroad or those who might later on take up permanent work.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am afraid the hon. Member is now getting out of order. He is dealing with the kind of subject which I said must be kept for a Supply Day on the Estimates.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am sorry that I have at last offended. I am in earnest when I say that afforestation and re-afforestation is most excellent work which would ultimately pay very well if many thousands of single able-bodied men who cannot get work and are living on doles were organised and put to it. This Bill makes no contribution towards the furtherance of afforestation work. Even the amount of work which the Commission has done fails, because to a large 468 extent it has been done in little patches and not on any big scale. It is time that whatever Government is in power this question should be dealt with in a more effective manner. On the financial side, I have often wondered how we can tell what Estimate there is for the coming year. No one comes to the House and makes a statement to us as to what the Forestry Commissioners propose to do during the next financial year. We have to wait until an opportunity of this kind occurs, or until someone is lucky enough to get the question raised.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
There may be an Estimate, but, the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the opportunities that we have; of discussing the Estimate is very remote. The number of Estimates that we can discuss is very limited.
§ Mr. MCNEILL
That may be true, but that condition of things would not be in the slightest degree altered by changing the constitution of the Forestry Commission. There would be neither more nor less opportunities for discussion than at present.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
If one, Minister was responsible and his salary came up before the House he would perhaps do the work so effectively that we should always want to be praising him and getting him to do more. It makes all the difference when someone is responsible for a Department and we can put questions to him day by day and either condole with him or congratulate him on the work he has to do. If the right hon. Gentleman was standing here, I am sure that he would see the matter as I see it. We do not get the Parliamentary opportunity to which we are entitled of discussing such an important question as this. The sort of hybrid arrangement by which the Commissioners draw up schemes with the fear of the Treasury before their eyes and with the Treasury as partners, and as sleeping partners with them except when it comes to handing out money, is a very bad arrangement. It is an arrangement which none of us would agree to in connection with any other Department in the State. Afforestation is not work which should be left in that condition.
469 Clause 2 of the Bill provides thatBefore any by-law made under this Act comes into operation a draft thereof shall be laid before each House a Parliament for a period of not less than twenty-one days on which that House has sat, and if either House before the expiration of that period presents an Address to His Majesty praying that it shall be annulled no further proceedings shall be taken thereon.…That sort of arrangement is quite illusory. The time when we are allowed to discuss it is generally after 11 o'clock at night. The Government is usually too busy to allow us any other time. It is a great farce to make such a provision and to allow such a slight opportunity for Members who are interested in this subject; it is no safeguard. I have read the sort of by-law that can be made and the conditions that can be laid down. There are many things that we wish to criticise and object to, but the provision for enabling us to do this is a provision which is practically no provision at all, and leaves Members of this House without any real control.
The fact is that there has been no control of the Forestry Commission, because this great industry has been in the hands of a Commission of this kind, and the House of Commons has had very little interest in the subject. We on these benches support British industries and we want to put into practice the theories which hon. Members and right hon. Members opposite preach. We believe that Britain is as good a country to develop as any country in the world. We believe that the land which has grown some of the finest timber in the world can continue to grow it, and that our people, instead of being driven abroad 10,000 and 16,000 miles away to do exactly the same work, should be allowed to do it here, and for these reasons we object to this Bill. Making the number of Commissioners 10 does not mean that we are to get a better service from the Commission than we are now getting. None of us on these benches has attacked the Commissioners for the manner in which they have carried out their work. What we are attacking is the system which it is proposed to perpetuate and which we think is quite unworthy of the big job which we consider needs to be done. That big job is to 470 make it possible for a very much larger number of men and women in this country to live on the countryside.
§ Major CRAWFURD
Hon. Members in all parts of the House who have listened to the whole of this Debate will be anxious that we should be able to bring it to a conclusion before, under the Standing Orders of the House, we have to pass to other business. I only rise to make a suggestion, which I hope will have the effect of expediting business and bringing general agreement. It has been the main complaint, in the course of this Debate that the House of Commons has no control over the expenditure on afforestation. The hon. Baronet the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) made a plea for continuity of policy, which he said was obtained under the present system. I am quite sure he will argument that the same argument could be agree put forward on behalf of the Board of Education, the Admiralty, the War Office and many other Departments of the State. I think even he recognised that some change was desirable, because he suggested that hon. Members on this side should wait until next year, when there will be a more important Debate. The suggestion I would make is that, before the Debate ends, the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of this Bill might give us some assurance that next year, on a similar occasion, the Government will take some steps to place this Department under, for preference, the Board of Agriculture, so that this expenditure, which has been clearly shown to be of the highest importance, may be administered under a Department of the State which will be represented in this House by a responsible Minister.
§ Mr. THURTLE
The right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of this Bill usually treats the House with such marked courtesy that I was astonished to see that he did not rise to reply to the series of criticisms which have been passed upon this Measure.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will reply to the specific question which was put to him by the hon. and gallant Member for West Walthamstow (Major Crawfurd)?
§ Mr. McNEILL
I have no objection to doing so, with the leave of the House. The hon. and gallant Gentleman must have known perfectly well when he put his question that it was one which it is utterly impossible for me to answer. Is it really his idea of how Governments are carried on, to ask questions in the House of Commons of a subordinate Minister as to the policy of the Government next year, and that I am to give him an answer on the spur of the moment as to what the Government will do next year? If I may say so, I never heard anything more ridiculous in all my life.
Before the right hon. Gentleman concludes his performance, may I make a suggestion to him—
§ The DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has exhausted his right of speaking in this Debate.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 235; Noes, 125.473
|Division No. 29.]||AYES||[8.7 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Davidson, J.(Hertf'd, Heme) Hempst'd)||Hume, Sir G. H.|
|Albery, Irving James||Davies, Ellis (Denbigh, Denbigh)||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer|
|Alexander, E. E (Leyton)||Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset,Yeovil)||Hurd, Percy A.|
|Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)||Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||Iliffe, Sir Edward M.|
|Allen,J.Sandeman (L'pool, W.Derby)||Davies, Dr. Vernon||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Dawson, Sir Philip||Jacob, A. E.|
|Apsley, Lord||Dixey, A. C.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)|
|Astbury, Lieut-Commander F. W.||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Kindersley, Major Guy M.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Ellis, R. G.||King, Captain Henry Douglas|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement|
|Salniel, Lord||Everard, W. Lindsay||Knox, Sir Alfred|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Fade, Sir Bertram G.||Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Fielden, E. B.||Little, Dr. E. Graham|
|Bennett, A. J.||Ford, Sir P. J.||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)|
|Berry, Sir George||Forestier-walker, Sir L.||Loder, J. de V.|
|Bethel, A.||Forrest, W.||Lougher, L.|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Foster, Sir Harry S.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere|
|Bird, E. R. (Yorks, W. R., Skipton)||Foxcroft, Captain C. T.||Luce Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Harman|
|Blundell, F. N.||Fraser, Captain tan||MacAndrew Major Charles Glen|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Fremantle, Lieut-Colonel Francis E.||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Gadie, Lieut.-Col. Anthony||Macdonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart)|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Galbraith, J. F. W.||McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus|
|Brass, Captain W.||Gates, Percy||Macintyre, Ian|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham||Macmillan, Captain H.|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Maltland, Sir Arthur D. steel|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Goff, Sir Park||Makins, Brigadier-General E.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen.H.C.(Berks, Nowb'y)||Gower, Sir Robert||Malone, Major P. B.|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Margesson, Captain D.|
|Bullock, Captain M.||Greenwood, Rt.Hn.Sir H. (W'th's'w, E)||Metier, R. I.|
|Burman, J. B.||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Merriman, F. B.|
|Burton, Colonel H. W.||Grotrian, H. Brent||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw|
|Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Mitcheil, S. (Lanark. Lanark)|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.|
|Campbell, E. T.||Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.)||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive|
|Cassels, J. D.||Harland, A.||Nail, Colonel Sir Joseph|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Harrison, G. J. C.||Nelson, Sir Frank|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Hartington, Marguess of||Neville, R. J.|
|Chapman, Sir S.||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Newman, S r R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J,||Hawke, John Anthony||Newton, Sir- D. G. C. (Cambridge)|
|Christie, J. A.||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn.W. G. (Ptrsf'ld.)|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxfd,Henley)||O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle)||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Pennefather, Sir John|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Penny, Frederick George|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Hilton, Cecil||Perkins, Colonel E. K.|
|Cope, Major William||Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Couper, J. B.||Holland, Sir Arthur||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)||Philipson, Mabel|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Craig, Capt. Rt. Hon. C. C. (Antrim)||Hopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities)||Radford, E. A.|
|Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Ralne, W.|
|Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N.||Ramsden, E.|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Colonel C. K.||Rees, Sir Beddoe|
|Crookshank,Cpt.H.(Lindsey,Gansbro)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney,N.)||Reid, Capt. Cunningham (Warrington)|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Hudson, R. S. (Cumberl'nd,Whiteh'n)||Rentoul, G. S.|
|Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.||Stanley, Col. Hon.G.F.(Will'sden, E.)||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Rice, Sir Frederick||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)||Watts, Dr. T.|
|Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y,ch'ts'y)||Stott, Lieut-Colonel W. H.||Wells, S. R.|
|Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)||White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dairymple|
|Ropner, Major L.||Styles, Captain H. Walter||Wiggins, William Martin|
|Runciman, Rt. Hon. Waiter||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Rye, F. G.||Sugden, Sir Wllfrid||Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)|
|Salmon, Major I.||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Tasker, R. Inigo.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Sandeman, A. Stewart||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Sanders, Sir Robert A.||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)||Withers, John James|
|Sanderson, Sir Frank||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Sandon, Lord||Tinne, J. A.||Womersley, W. J.|
|Savery, S. S,||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of||Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'ge & Hyda)|
|Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Staney, Major P. Kenyon||Waddington, R.||Wragg, Herbert|
|Smith, R. W.(Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)||Wallace, Captain D. E.||Young, Rt. Hon. Hilton (Norwich)|
|Smith-Carington, Neville W.||Ward. Lt.-Col. A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Smithers, Waldron||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Spender-Clay, Colonel H.||Waterhouse, Captain Charles||Major Sir Harry Barnston and Captain Lord Stanley.|
|Sprot, Sir Alexander||Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro")||Hardle, George D.||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Harris, Percy A.||Scurr, John|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Sexton, James|
|Baker, Walter||Hayday, Arthur||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hayes, John Henry||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Barnes, A.||Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley)||Slesser, Sir Henry H.|
|Barr, J.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Satey, Joseph||Hirst, G. H.||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Bondfield, Margaret||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Spoor, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Charles|
|Broad, F. A.||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Stamford, T, W.|
|Bromfield, William||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Stephen, Campbell|
|Bromley, J.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Butt)||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Sullivan, J.|
|Buchanan, G.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Sutton, J. E.|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Taylor, R. A.|
|Charieton, H. C.||Kelly, W. T.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Clowes, S.||Kennedy, T.||Thomson, Trevelyan (Middlesbro, W.)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon, Joseph M.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Clynes, Rt, Hon. John R.||Kirkwood, D.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Compton, Joseph||Lansbury, George||Townend, A. E.|
|Connolly, M.||Lawrence, Susan||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Cove, W. G.||Lawson, John James||Varley, Frank B.|
|Crawfurd, H. E.||Lee, F.||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Dalton, Hugh||Lowth, T.||Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lunn, William||Watson, W. M. (Duntermilne)|
|Day, Colonel Harry||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R.(Aberavon)||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Dennison, R.||Mackinder, W.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon Josiah|
|Duncan, C.||MacLaren, Andrew||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Dunnico, H.||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Welsh, J. C.|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||March, S,||Westwood, J.|
|Fenby, T. D.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||Mosley, Oswald||Williams. Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Oliver, George Harold||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Gillett, George M.||Palln, John Henry||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Windsor, Waiter|
|Greenall, T,||Ponsonby, Arthur||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Grentell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Potts, John S.||Wright, W.|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Purcell, A. A.||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Groves, T.||Richardson, R, (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Grundy, T. W.||Riley Ben||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hall, F. (York, W. H., Normanton)||Ritson, J.||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr. Whiteley.|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvll)||Robinson, W. C. (Yorks,W.R.,Eiland)|
Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.