HC Deb 01 July 1938 vol 337 cc2285-361

Motion made, and Question proposed: That a sum, not exceeding 650,000, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1939, for a grant in aid of the Forestry Fund."—[Note.—£250,000 has been voted on account.]

11.8 a.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Captain Euan Wallace)

Five years have elapsed since this Vote was put down for consideration in Committee of Supply, and on the last occasion my right hon. Friend who is now Secretary of State for War placed it in a very few words before the Committee. I will try to follow his example, and I hope that hon. Members will appreciate that I am introducing this Estimate to-day as Financial Secretary to the Treasury and, therefore, as a sort of maid-of-all-work of the House of Commons, not as the Minister responsible for the detailed expenditure of this money and certainly, I regret to say, not as an expert on afforestation. The Forestry Commission is in an unusual position; it is not an ordinary Government Department, and it is financed, not by an ordinary Vote, of which all the details are laid before the House of Commons and are subject to detailed criticism which a responsible Minister has to answer, but by a simple grant-in-aid, expenditure from which is left very largely to the discretion of the Commissioners. The Committee will observe from page 127 of Class VI of the Estimates that the head under which this Vote will be accounted for is put down in one sum and the details are added as an appendix.

The Forestry Commission has no Minister directly responsible to this House, but it is fortunate in having no fewer than four members who are Members of this House. There is, first of all, my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), who proposes, if he catches your eye, Sir Dennis, to speak early in the debate and to fill in the very obvious deficiencies of my remarks. Then there are my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner), the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland)—whose absence to-day I think we should particularly deplore, because it was in fact upon the report of a Committee over which he presided at the end of the War that the Forestry Commission was founded—and last, but by no means least, the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), who proposes, if allowed, to follow me.

The Forestry Commission was appointed on 29th November, 1919, under the Forestry Act, 1919, as a result of our expenience in the war and of the report of the Acland Committee. It was not given a definite, cut-and-dried afforestation programme, and Parliament has given the Commission very considerable freedom in its detailed administration; but the object has been, broadly speaking, to give effect to the proposals of the Acland Committee, which recommended the afforestation of 1,770,000 acres, of which 1,180,000 ought to be planted in 40 years and the whole in 8o years. Progress in this direction has been considerable; the number of forest units has now grown to 215 and over 1,000,000 acres of land have been acquired by the Commission, of which 377,000 are now under woods and plantations.

Perhaps I might say a few words on the other activities of the Commission. Since 1924 over 1,300 forest workers' holdings have been established in connection with forestry operations, and anybody interested in these holdings will realise what an extremely beneficial form of employment they give. Since 1928, the Commission has co-operated with the Ministry of Labour in providing sites and work for training camps, and I observe that up to 30th September last year, the end of the period covered by the last report, it has provided 29 such sites. In the last two years the development of afforestation and forest workers' holdings in the Special Areas of England and Wales has been undertaken as part of the Government's efforts to improve employment. When I was reading through the report of the Commission in order to fortify myself for this morning's debate, the question which immediately sprang to my mind, as a Scotsman, was, What about the Special Areas in Scotland? The answer to that, I discovered, is that there is no land suitable for this purpose immediately contiguous to the Scottish Special Area.

Mr. T. Johnston

Not in the water catchment areas?

Captain Wallace

I am afraid I shall have to ask the right hon. Gentlemen to ask my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye about that.

Mr. Dalton

Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman give us any picture of what has been done in the Special Areas of England in regard to these matters? Our impression is that what has been done is very trivial indeed.

Captain Wallace

The hon. Member, who did not arrive for the beginning of my remarks, will forgive me if I repeat that I am introducing these Estimates as Financial Secretary to the Treasury and not as an expert or as the Minister responsible for the details. I hope the hon. Gentleman will raise those questions with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye, who will reply in detail, and that that will be satisfactory to the hon. Member.

Mr. Robert Gibson

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman replying on the Scottish questions, too?

Captain Wallace

I imagine that he will reply generally on behalf of the Commission, whose activities do cover that most important part of these islands. Lastly, an interesting experiment has been undertaken for using unplantable land for the purpose of national forest parks.

So far as the finance of the Commission is concerned, the grant in aid is £800,000. The distinguishing feature of a grant in aid as opposed to an ordinary Vote, is that, although the expenditure is audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, any surplus at the end of the year is not surrendered to the Exchequer but remains in the Forestry Fund. The Committee will appreciate that any balance which remains in the fund at the end of any financial year will obviously be taken into account by the Government in determining the amount to be allocated to the grant-in-aid for the ensuing year.

The whole of the finance of the Forestry Commission has been undertaken from the start on a long-term basis so as to assist the Commission to frame a general plan instead of being in the position of having to live annually from hand to mouth. For the first 10-year period, 1919–29, £3,500,000 was provided. During the second period, 1929–39, the Government undertook to ask Parliament for £9,000,000. In 1931, when certain events, on which we need not touch this morning, compelled His Majesty's Government to economise in various directions, the scale of the grant-in-aid to the Forestry Commission was reduced, and a revised scheme provided for a grant of £450,000 per annum from 1932 to 1936. In 1936 the effect of five years of stable government began to make itself felt, and a further revision was undertaken, but in the other direction. It was arranged that £500,000 per annum should be provided for the five years 1936–40, with an additional grant in aid of £900,000 spread over the three years 1936–8 for afforestation schemes in the Special Areas of England and Wales. The £800,000 which appears as this grant-in-aid is, therefore, made up of the £500,000 general grant, plus. £300,000 for the Special Areas schemes.

The actual expenditure of the Commission this year is estimated at somewhat more than that. They expect to spend £1,076,000. That will be met by the grant-in-aid of £800,000, by estimated receipts of £208,000, and as to £68,000 from the balance in the fund, which now stands at £78,000. The most important heads of expenditure, which hon. Members will be able to see in detail in the Appendix to the Vote are salaries; the acquisition of land, buildings, and standing timber; forestry operations, including wages; and holdings for forest workers. These four headings absorb £905,800, about 90 per cent. of the total. As regards financial control, in spite of the fact that the Forestry Commission is semi-independent, it does not escape from the control of the Treasury. The Estimate is laid before the House of Commons and the accounts are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, as well as being reviewed by the Public Accounts Committee.

No one appears to have put down an Amendment to reduce the grant. Therefore, it really remains for the Committee to consider the broad question whether the grant in aid to the Forestry Commission for the current year is too little or too much. I do not want to go deeply into details on this question because I am not competent to do so, but I can advance two general considerations. Those who would argue that the grant in aid is too little will, I believe, find when my right hon. and gallant Friend speaks as an expert that it is probably all the Commission can effectively spend. It is no good giving a grant-in-aid of the taxpayers money in order to allow it to accumulate at the end of the year in the Forestry Fund.

Mr. T. Smith

There are areas in the country suffering badly from unemployment which are not Special Areas. Is anything being done for those areas?

Captain Wallace

That is one of the questions which I hope hon. Gentlemen will elaborate in their speeches and will give my right hon. and gallant Friend an opportunity to answer. If there are hon. Members who suggest that the grant to the Forestry Commission is too much—and I doubt whether there are any—the answer is that we are building up a national asset of immense value; and though it is true that during the earlier years of the operations of the Forestry Commission the net results, so far as the taxpayer is concerned, have been on the debit side, we may well look forward to this time, which will perhaps be when most of us have left this House, when the operations of this Commission, so far from demanding a subvention from the taxpayer, may provide the taxpayer with a tangible and substantial asset.

11.23 a.m.

Mr. David Grenfell

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has described himself as a maid-of-all-work. We who have seen him in his many appearances in this House will readily pay tribute to his charm and discretion, and to his modesty and primness in the discharge of his very difficult duties. He has to answer the bell, he has to meet awkward callers, and he has to convince them that his mistress is not at home, and he does all this with a charm and dignity which is one of his outstanding characteristics. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has not attempted to debate this issue this morning. He has far too many responsibilities to acquaint himself with all the subjects that are dealt with by this House; indeed, I think he was very discreet when he referred possible critics to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope). All the critics are not on this side of the Committee, however, and if we can support the right hon. and gallant Gentleman in dealing with the critics on that side, we shall have spent a very useful day in discussing this Estimate. After all, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has just said, the Forestry Commission do not come in for much attention from this House. There has been no debate on their work for five years. On the last occasion I had, in my role as an Opposition Member, to move that the Vote should be reduced by £100 in order that Members in all parts of the Committee might take full advantage of the opportunity of criticising the Commission, although I was a member of it.

This body of eight people, working in an obscurity shared by no other Government Department, Unwept, unhonoured and unsung. and, alas, unpaid, accept the responsibilities put upon them by the Act of 1919, and have had to exert themselves to meet opposition and criticism which it has been difficult to counter at all times, because the criticism has not always been tangible and direct, much of it being due to misunderstanding of the functions of the Commission. Therefore, we are indebted to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for what he has said this morning of the history of the Commission. The Commission have very definite and very wide powers, as anyone will see who reads the Act of 1919. I will give a short summary of their powers and duties. The object of the Forestry Act establishing the Commission was to: Promote forests, the production and supply of timber in this country, and for purposes in connection therewith. Eight Commissioners were appointed, and it was stipulated in the Act that one of the eight Commissioners should be a Mem- ber of the House of Commons, and in fact at the present time four of them are Members of the House of Commons. It is further laid down that this body of people, with no further instructions from any Government Department, have the power to appoint officers and employés, to dismiss them and to regulate the conditions of employment at their own discretion, subject to the vigilant attention of the Treasury, which is the master of us in all these things. Then the Forestry Commission are charged with the general duty of promoting the interests of forestry and the development of afforestation, and they are to exercise powers relating to insects and pests which are destructive of forest trees and timber—I feel sure we shall hear something more about that before the Debate is over—and also, in consultation with the Board of Agriculture, the Scottish Office and the equivalent Department in Northern Ireland, to conduct research and exercise control over insects and pests destructive of fruit trees and farm crops.

For the purpose of its main task the Commission are entitled to purchase or lease land and buildings and to erect buildings, to sell or let any land not suitable for the purpose, and to purchase or otherwise acquire standing timber. I hope that nobody will inquire too closely into the meaning of the words "otherwise acquire", but I can tell the Committee that we have paid for all the land acquired or leased up to date. Further, the Commission may make advances by way of grant or loan for the afforestation of land belonging to other persons, including local authorities. They may not only acquire land and plant trees on their own account, but they are authorised to make grants-in-aid of afforestation purposes to other persons and to local authorities. They can also undertake the management and the supervision of woods and forests belonging to any persons. That is an important item which will probably find a prominent place in the Debate to-day.

They can also establish and carry on, or aid in the establishment or carrying on, of woodland industries. There is not much to report on that particular aspect of their work, but those of us who have seen the Commission at work and realise the prospects of further developments—not when we have all passed away, but in the years immediately to come—feel that important industries may possibly be established by the Commission on their own account in connection with afforestation. Then the Commission can make or join in inquiries, experiments and research to bring about more efficient afforestation, and make or aid in such inquiries as they think fit for the purpose of securing a supply of timber in the United Kingdom and promote afforestation in His Majesty's Dominions overseas. This is a hurried sketch to indicate the scope of the activities of the Forestry Commission.

Up to the present the Commission have been carrying out a programme which was designed to repair the depredations of the War-time period, when enormous areas of timber were cut down in a hurry, without any plan, without organisation and with improvised methods of transport. Much damage was done then which would not have occurred had it not been for the abnormal conditions under which those operations were carried out. The first task of the Commission was to make good the loss of standing timber, and in order that they might work on a plan which would provide steady employment and regular use of the whole of the machinery set up they drew up a programme which was to last for 80 years. Two-thirds of that programme of planting was to be undertaken in the first 40 years and the remaining third in the 40 years which are to follow. We are now nearly at the end of the second decade of the activities of the Commission. I have been a member of it for nearly To years, and shared in the work of the decade which started in 1929, and I know how much progress has been achieved.

The right hon. Gentleman gave figures; perhaps I could give them in a more popular form still, and in a way which hon. Members might easily remember, concerning the main achievements of this Commission. We have the right to acquire land. Roughly, the average extent of our acquisition every year is 50,000 acres. We now hold just over 1,000,000 acres of land.

Mr. Loftus

Could the hon. Gentleman tell the Committee the average price per acre, roughly?

Mr. Grenfell

Yes, the average price of planted land for many years did not exceed £3 per acre. We have a system of pricing which refers only to land suitable for our purpose, and we ignore unplanted land in any large acquisition we make. If we acquire an estate of say, 5,000 acres, of which 1,000 acres are unplantable, and if we pay £12,000 for that estate, that price works out at £3 per plantable acre. The hon. Member will find in the report which is now available many useful figures, showing the prices paid for land. Prices are rising. That fact should be stressed. It is not so easy to acquire land in bulk to-day as it was 10 years ago, because those who have land to sell do not come to the market quite as readily as they did in those years, and the expansion and expansibility of our programme are closely related to easy acquisition of land suitable for our work, at a low price.

In the 20 years we have acquired 1,000,000 acres and the average rate of acquisition has been about 50,000 acres per year, of which one-third has already been planted. The trees planted number hundreds of millions. Perhaps hon. Members will get a better impression of what this means if I say that every year one tree is planted by the Commission for every man, woman and child in this country. The Commission plant nearly 50,000,000 trees a year, and we have in stock at the present time in our nurseries about 250,000,000 seedlings and plants which are later to be planted and which will mature to large trees. That is the kind of picture which I wish to give.

Mr. Thorne

What is the average life of a tree before it is cut down?

Mr. Grenfell

That depends upon the time the tree was planted. Some trees mature in 50 or 60 years and others in many times that length—perhaps 200 or 300 years. That is a matter for the experts, and I shall not go into those details. I want all reasonable questions to be put and answered in the Committee. My hon. Friend can be assured that the greatest care is taken in the choice of species to be planted. Among the 50,000,000 young seedlings planted in a year there may be 20 or 30 species, chosen for adaptability and suitability according to all kinds of biological and climatological requirements, relating to exposure or shelter, and there is no other discrimination in favour of any particular kind of species for any area. We do not get an opportunity of giving the House all these details, which are contained in the annual reports which I hope are very widely read. Perhaps I may be pardoned for informing the Committee to-day that the Forestry Commission have no official secrets, and their work raises no question of privilege. The work is an open book. Everybody can see what is being done almost every day.

The carrying out of this gigantic scheme gives employment to a large number of people and capital in this country. The House of Commons and the Commission have a responsibility towards those who do this work and who are employed under an Act of Parliament for a great and urgent national purpose. We now employ about 5,000 people in various grades, including fencing, cleaning, weeding, planting and caring for the trees. It is skilled employment and can never be unskilled, as some people suggest. Much of the work done by humble workers of this Commission is highly skilled, and it must be well done if done at all. One of the essential ingredients of success in every walk of life is pride in our work, and nowhere is this element more important than in the planting of trees and in afforestation. I have heard gardeners say that you cannot grow the simplest flower unless you love flowers; so, you cannot grow trees unless you have a pride in your work and give attention to every detail in the planting of their young lives. It is highly important, therefore, that the men employed in this service should be contented, recognised and given the living conditions and status necessary to ensure that they continue to take pleasure in their job. The ideal standard may be higher than the average member of the Committee would be prepared to concede, but I put that standard of work very high, and I say not only that we have not paid these men too much, but that we have not paid them enough for the work that they are doing.

I am a member of the Commission, and I do not excuse myself from responsibility in this regard. I assure hon. Members that we have a very lively appreciation of our responsibilities towards these people. I hope that that appreciation will not diminish as our business increases and our responsibilities develop. A reference has been made to housing conditions. We have nearly 1,500 forest workers' holdings, provided and built in this country. It has been our aim to improve housing conditions, and to establish our workers as fairly as possible so that in every house they might find the first essential of contentment, proper domestic conditions for the work-people and their families. You cannot get good workers and good work unless the housewives who stand behind those workmen are contented in their homes. This is a highly important part of the work of the Forestry Commission, and if the Commission neglect it, it is the duty of the House of Commons to insist that the best conditions of employment be provided for the workers whom the State employs in this very important State service. I shall not say much more about the holdings, but questions may be put by hon. Members and they will be answered. Two of my colleagues are on the other side of the Committee. There are not usually two sides upon the Forestry Commission. I have never had the satisfaction of working upon a body where party politics were so completely absent. I can leave to my colleagues on the other side of the Committee the answers to whatever questions may be put.

There is a tremendous future for this afforestation programme. We envisage not merely the planting of hundreds of thousands of acres—1,500,000 to 2,000,000 acres—of land in this country. It is not that we hope simply to find growing timber where land is barren and unproductive to-day. We hope that, as a concomitant and consequent of the growth of timber and the marketing of the crops that are now growing, villages and village industries may grow up in various parts of the country. That is a side of the matter the discussion of which may perhaps be postponed for the present, but it should never be omitted from consideration by those who take an interest in the progress of afforestation in this country.

Perhaps I might say something about the supply of timber that is available. My hon. Friend the Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) asked how long it took a tree to mature. Trees are cut down before they mature. One of the essentials of good afforestation is proper thinning and, as a result of this thinning, the forests produce a yield even after 12, 15, or 20 years' growth. When the time for thinning comes, props and poles can be withdrawn from the forest, to the benefit of the forest itself, and marketed for useful purposes. We are now producing from State forests in this country pitwood of equal or better quality that the pitwood from any country in Europe. I say that as one who has used this pitwood and has seen the timber growing in our forests. Particularly is this true of the timber produced in Scotland, a country which is always very much in the picture in connection with afforestation. It is a country which, during my association with afforestation, I have come to admire more than ever, and that is saying a great deal. The timber which it provides for use in the mines of Scotland itself is of equal or better quality than anything the Scottish miners have used so far.

Mr. Mathers

Would my hon. Friend allow me to put this point to him? Recently I read a statement that, when the native timber to which my hon. Friend is referring is used for pitwood, it does not give the same warning of strain prior to breaking that is given by foreign imported wood, and I would like to present him with the opportunity of, if possible, refuting that statement.

Mr. Grenfell

It is true, unfortunately, that one of the results of the haste and hurry of War-time exploitation of timber was that much timber was sent to the mines in an unfit condition. That was due entirely to lack of care in its preparation for market. Now, however, that it is possible to manage the timber properly and market it in a proper condition, I can certainly give my personal assurance that the timber produced in this country does not suffer in any comparison with the timber produced anywhere else in the world for pitwood purposes. I can say with confidence that the spruces and firs and larches grown in this country will compare with any that I have seen used in our own mines from Norway, France, Newfoundland or anywhere else. We are supplying very good pitwood indeed, and more and more supplies will be forthcoming as time goes on.

It has been said that the Forestry Commission have neglected the question of amenities, and have had no regard for the preservation of rural beauty and the natural surroundings of our countryside. The Commission, however, is not a body of vandals, but a body of people who love their country just as much as other people, and I feel sure that the charges which are brought against them from time to time cannot be substantiated in fact. I think that a full examination and survey of the areas where afforestation has been carried on will convince any impartial person that on the whole our services have gone to beautify Britain rather than add to ugliness and lack of natural beauty. We have clothed the hillsides of England: we have stopped erosion consequent on the baring of the hillsides; we have covered with green the colourless moorlands and exposed places where timber had formerly been grown. We are doing a great deal in these directions, and we feel sure that the Commission would be completely exonerated from any charge of disregarding the need for caring for the natural beauties of the land which we all love, and in which we find more charm than we find in any other land that we visit. Scotland and Wales will not be uglier, will not be less beautiful, but will be more beautiful, when the work of the Commission has been carried on for a few more years.

Perhaps, in conclusion, I might say a word about the allegation that we are displacing the sheep population in this country. I do not think that that allegation can be borne out by statistics. We have been working for 20 years, and I think that the sheep population to-day is almost exactly equal to the figures of 20 years ago. There is no evidence, in the areas where the Forestry Commission have acquired land, that sheep have passed away from the country altogether. It is true that the Forestry Commission does acquire land, and feels justified in acquiring poor land which does not keep sheep—upon which, for example, less than one sheep per acre can be kept. Hon. Members will realise that the productive value of such land is very low, and the Commission is fully justified in substituting, for that low and miserable production of one sheep per acre, 2,000 young trees which will grow and mature into useful timber for the use of the nation. While it is true that occasionally crofters and small farmers—virtuous and industrious people—dislike having to pass from their holdings when the Forestry Commission buys an estate, one has to choose the larger benefit, and I feel sure that, while there may be occasional cases of in- dividual inconvenience, there has been no effect upon the food production or the wool production of this country due to the activities of the Commission. I will not take up any more of the time of the House, but will only say that I welcome this opportunity of discussing our work. The right hon. and gallant Member for Rye answers Questions from time to time with regard to it in this House, and I wish that more questions were put to him while the -House is in session. On a day like this I hope that no one will refrain from putting before us any grievance, or imagined grievance, of his own or anyone else's. I would beg hon. Members to take us into their confidence to-day and tell us what we can do to meet their wishes and desires.

11.44 a.m.

Sir Edward Grigg

I am very much obliged to my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) for allowing me to catch your eye before he himself attempts to do so. This Debate was put on at short notice, and, unfortunately, I must keep another engagement. Therefore, I am most grateful to my right hon. and gallant Friend for his courtesy. As everyone knows, he is the owner of an estate in Sussex which supplied, not only the original oak for the roof of Westminster Hall, but, I think, also the oak which was used in its repair only a few years ago, and, therefore, no one speaks on forestry with more appropriateness and more acceptance in this House. Long may he continue to do so.

The reason why I have been anxious to intervene is that I wanted to say a word or two about the work of the National Home Grown Timber Council, which was founded, mainly on the initiative of the Forestry Commission, a little less than three years ago. The Forestry Commission has, broadly speaking, two great duties. Of the first we have heard a great deal this morning, in, if I may say so, a very picturesque and interesting way, from the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell). It consists of the afforestation of areas which were destroyed, so far as woodlands were concerned, during the Great War, and other areas which are at present rendering no service to the nation. The whole Committee must be grateful to him for the way in which he described the activities of the Commission in that respect. The picture he drew, of a tree being planted every year for every man, woman and child in this country, was an extremely interesting way of describing the work of the Commission, and it will help people to realise how much the Commission have been doing to restore a valuable and indispenable national asset. So far as that aspect of the Commission is concerned, I think it could not have been more efficiently carried out. The whole nation, probably without realising it, owes a great debt of gratitude to the chairman and to the members of the Commission, more particularly to those who, like the hon. Member for Gower, serve on it in an honorary capacity. They give a great deal of time and service and do a great deal of good work in what is the national business; and I wish there were a wider appreciation of the value of their services.

The other branch of forestry in which the Commission must be interested is the welfare of private woodlands. They, also, have suffered very greatly. Interest had certainly begun to be lost in forestry even before the Great War. That War increased the destruction of our woodlands, which has happened just as much in the case of the private woodlands as of others. The Acland Committee called attention to the terrible destruction which had been wrought by the War, and in its recommendations it took the view that we might rely on private enterprise reasonably rapidly to repair those ravages. Unfortunately that hope has not been realised. The destruction of private woodlands has not been very greatly repaired, although a certain amount has been done. On the whole, the picture presented in regard to private woodlands is very different from the vigorous afforestation which is being carried on, on the land it acquires, by the Forestry Commission. The reason why that is so requires investigation, and it was a wise departure on the part of the Forestry Commission nearly three years ago, if I may say so, to try to bring together the owners, the industry and all parts of the forestry business into a National Home Grown Timber Council, in order to see whether, by agreement and co-operation, anything could be done to improve the status of the industry, and to improve our national woodlands. The National Home Grown Timber Council has done a great deal of hard work in connection with the subject. I am quite unworthy to be its chairman, because I cannot pretend to be an expert on forestry, but I am most concerned about the woodlands of this country. I should like to express my gratitude to all who have co-operated in the work of the Council, and also to the Forestry Commission for the help, assistance and courtesy we have constantly received from them.

In the course of our work, I think it may be said that we have come, broadly, to two conclusions. There is, first of all, the trade or business aspect of forestry affairs in this country. Obviously, you are not going to encourage the growing, for instance, of pit props for our mines unless something can be done to assure a market for them. I think the time has come when the Board of Trade—more particularly the Ministry of Mines—and the Government as a whole might pay more attention to that subject. In the event of war, we shall have to rely almost entirely on home-grown pit props. The cargo space required for importing pit props is a thing we shall not be able to afford. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance, not only from the point of view of the industry itself, but from the point of view of national security and defence, that this most important branch of the industry should be assisted to develop more fully. I trust that the Government as a whole will give more attention to that aspect of our forestry situation in future. We have made inquiries of considerable range into the activities of that branch of the industry. On the whole, I think it is working more successfully in Scotland than in England at the present moment. There are difficulties in England which are not met with in Scotland, but I hope very much that the English part of the business may be brought to the same level of prosperity as the Scottish, and that both may develop in future with more assistance in securing a market. That is one point on which we have arrived at very clear conclusions.

The other subject into which we have gone very carefully is the present state of the private woodlands. We have endeavoured to carry out, with the assistance of owners, a census of private woodlands in one county, Hertfordshire. The results will shortly be published in a bulletin by the National Home Grown Timber Council. The results of the census, I am bound to say, are not satisfactory. If the whole country reflects broadly the conditions which exist in many parts of Hertfordshire—and I see no reason to doubt it—I think everybody will conclude that much more attention is required for the problem than is at present given, and that the owners require a good deal more assistance and encouragement if they are to give that care which is necessary. We took great pains to bring that aspect of the forestry situation to the attention of the Forestry Commission, and they were very ready to meet us. I am glad to say that, as perhaps the Committee knows, steps have now been taken by the Forestry Commission—very properly, I think—to secure a census for the whole country. That is an enormously important measure. The Commission is to be most warmly congratulated on having undertaken it, and I want to thank the Government for having made it possible—for, after all, it is an expensive business to undertake this census and carry it to a conclusion rapidly. I hope the total results of the census will be available within two years, and that an organisation will be established to keep the census up to date, so that we may no longer be without adequate knowledge of what is happening to our woodlands.

There are one or two small suggestions which I should like to make in regard to the welfare of private woodlands in this country. I think that any broad measures which can be taken to assist private owners must wait, probably, on the completion of the census. Obviously, the House of Commons, the country and the Government will want to know what the situation is before taking any action. But I feel bound to call attention to one aspect which seems to me to be very important. After all, forestry is a long-range business, and no one is going to plant trees which, from the thinning aspect, will not mature for 15 to 20 years, and, from the full-growth aspect, will not mature for anything up to 100 years. No one is going to undertake activity of that kind without a sense of security. One of the most fundamental problems of private woodlands at the present moment is that there is no sense of security, and that owners cannot hope fully look so far into the future as to plant trees in the way in which it used to be done a century or so ago.

I do not want to introduce partisan reflections into this discussion because, as the hon. Member for Gower very rightly said, the Forestry Commission is absolutely free from all sign or shadow of controversy of that kind, and long may it remain so. But we must pay some attention to the effect of Death Duties on forestry in this country. That is one of the fundamental troubles. I do not mention it in a controversial way, and I hope that hon. Members above the Gangway, who may hold different opinions upon that form of taxation, will consider it quite impartially. The forests and woodlands of this country are a national asset and require attention. It has been suggested that forestry would be greatly assisted, and, indeed, agriculture generally—and I hope that some day the House may be prepared to consider this matter on a non-partisan basis—if we could arrange that the Death Duties on agricultural and forest land should only be paid when the land was sold. That is to say—

The Deputy-Chairman (Captain Bourne)

Surely, that would require legislation.

Sir E. Grigg

Having made the suggestion, I very gladly refrain from saying anything further on the matter.

Mr. Dalton

May I make a suggestion which would not require legislation, but which has some bearing upon the point that the hon. Member has raised. Would it not be convenient to woodland owners to pay their Death Duties on the present scale by transferring their woodlands to the Forestry Commission, which could be done under the present law?

Sir E. Grigg

Of course, that could be done, and that would mean, I suppose, that the private ownership of land and forests would have to disappear in this country.

Mr. Dalton

Hear, hear.

Sir E. Grigg

While I can understand the hon. Gentleman welcoming that, I do not take quite the same view on nationalisation, and if that issue were ever put before the country, I think that he would find it very difficult to carry it on that scale. I think I have said, with your permission, Captain Bourne, all that I desire to say at the present moment. I only repeat that in the private woodlands we have at present a great national asset which is not being adequately developed. I believe that when the census is available, it will prove that fact quite clearly, and I trust that, when the census does become known, this House will assist the Forestry Commission and the Government in making a new start altogether to secure the welfare and development of our woodlands.

12.10 p.m.

Colonel Sir George Courthope (Forestry Commissioner)

I must apologise for intervening so early in the Debate, but it has been suggested to me that, in view of the fact that a long time has elapsed since a Debate took place on forestry in this House, it would he for the convenience of the Committee if, early in the Debate, I tried to draw in outline a picture of the work upon which we are engaged. In doing so I shall endeavour to answer the points which have been raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) and a few of the other criticisms which have been suggested, not so much by the speeches which have been made to-day as by questions which have been addressed to me across the Floor of the House in recent weeks. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Financial Secretary and my colleague the hon Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) have already filled in a good many of the lines of the picture, and I shall endeavour to avoid going over the ground which they have touched upon, and merely try to link up the lines in order to make the picture a little more complete.

We are extraordinarily indebted to the hon. Member for Gower for the service he has rendered all the time he has been a Commissioner in keeping the forest service from the slightest touch of partisanship. I do not believe that we could have done our work at all if any question of party interest had ever crept into the work of the Forestry Commission. It goes without saying that it would never creep in on the Forestry Commission, but it might very easily creep into forestry discussions in this House. It has not, and I think it is very largely due to the service which the hon. Member for Gower has rendered, and to the fact, perhaps, that there are responsible unpaid members of the Commission in every quarter of the House. I hope that nothing will be done to alter that nonpartisan nature of the Commission and those responsible for it, because I believe it would inimical to our work.

It has been pointed out that the origin of the Forestry Commission lay in the devastation of the last War, and I should like to say a word about that. Prior to 1914 there was nominally, about 3,000,000 acres of woodland in this country, and, in very rough figures, one-third of that was more or less decent woodland, a third of it was more or less bad woodland, and the other third was not woodland at all in the sense of producing anything useful for the timber requirements of the country. The legitimate needs of the country devastated one-third, the best 1000,000 acres—I do not say that it took it all but it made a terrible hole in the production and supply of timber—in the only part of privately-owned woodlands which were decently managed. There is a considerable area of woodland in the aggregate which is represented by shelter belts and matters of that kind which are not run, and cannot be run, from the point of view of the production of commercial timber.

I am dealing now only in rough approximations with the commercial production of timber in this country. The Acland Report, which is the report of the Reconstruction Committee over which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) presided, recommended that, as a minimum insurance for this country in the case of future emergency, we ought to be independent of imported supplies of timber for three years. It is estimated that to do that we must have the 3,000,000 acres privately-owned under a decent state of production, and that we must have approximately 1,750,000 acres in addition which, it was suggested, the Commission should create over a period of 80 years. For that purpose the Commission was set up. I shall deal with those two points separately.

First of all, let me refer to the Commission's own work, the progress we have made in connection with the 1,750,000 acres which are our own particular job, and the progress we have failed to make towards the improvement of the privately-owned 3,000,000 acres. My hon, and gallant Friend was correct in saying that practically no progress has been made towards the restoration of those 3,000,000 acres. First of all let me deal with our own particular job. One of the criticisms very frequently made, not only in Questions in the House, but in the Press, is that the Forestry Commissioners devote a large proportion of their activities to the planting of conifers and not much to the planting of hard woods. The reason for that is twofold. Primarily our requirements of soft wood timber exceed by at least 10 times our requirements in volume of hard wood. Roughly speaking our imports of soft wood timber amount to 97 per cent. of our present requirements, and we have only 3 per cent. produced at home; while the proportions in the case of hard woods, although unpleasant, are nothing like as bad as that.

There is another reason which must be remembered. The general task allotted to us was to produce this timber on poor land which was producing nothing or next to nothing in the past. That land will not produce hard wood timber; you cannot grow oak and ash on poor land. If we were to buy land for the purpose of producing oak and ash in quantities we would have to pay a very much higher price for it, and probably would displace agriculture and the prospects of agricultural production. Where we find ourselves in possession of land capable of growing hard woods we grow hard woods always, but it is no manner of use to think that we can grow oak trees on the top of Scottish mountains, as some suggest.

The opportunities we get for growing good hard woods are of two kinds. We acquire a certain amount of land which has grown hard woods in the past—hard woods which have been felled. The land is full of stumps and is incapable of agricultural production. Very often it can be cheaply acquired and is suitable for growing hard woods again. When large properties are bought it frequently happens that some portion of the property, perhaps a fertile valley amid poorer country, is suitable for hard wood planting. If it is not suitable at the same time for agricultural production, we put in hard woods. We are planting an average of well over 1,000 acres of hard woods annually. At the same time we are planting 22,000 to 23,000 acres of conifers. Let me deal further with what we are doing in direct planting for the State. We have completed 18 years of this work and our 18th report is in the hands of hon. Members. Hon. Members will see that up to the end of September last we had spent just under £10,500,000. There had also been transferred to the Commission some of the ancient Crown forests, including the New Forest and the Forest of Dean, which amount in the aggregate to about 120,000 acres, and were of a value of £1,750,000 at the time of transfer. That area is included in the 1,000,000 acres about which I have been talking.

Let us consider what the State has got. We have got the 1,000,000 acres, of which during the last 18 years we have planted just under 400,000 acres, and intend to plant year by year, according to our plans, another 220,000 acres of plantable land. Of the 1,000,000 acres we have now 618,000 acres scheduled as plantable, and it will be planted. Perhaps I might interpolate a word here about research. The research that we have been making on planting problems during the past 18 years has greatly improved our technique, and we are now able with confidence to plant a considerable variety of land which 20 years ago every forester in Europe said was unplantable. That is the result of research and experiment. I should be very sorry to try to give the acreage value of that, but it is considerable. When I say, "acreage value" I mean that there is a definite portion of the land which we already hold, scheduled as unplantable, which as a result of these improvements will be found to be plantable. So we have a certain amount of land for which in our calculations we have paid nothing. A very much larger area of land which we have not acquired, but which may fall into our hands in due course, comes under the same category—land which in the past has been considered incapable of producing timber or anything else, but which we can now plant with a reasonable prospect of success.

One further thing I must say about the 1,000,000 acres. I am glad that we have got the whole of it without any form of compulsion. It has been obtained entirely by friendly negotiations, and I think I may say that the whole of it has been acquired with the good will of the people with whom we have been dealing. We have obtained it without interference with any common right of any kind, and that is a very important matter. It is astonishing what a large proportion of the land of this country suitable for growing trees is affected by some form of rights of common, not perhaps general public common rights, but subject to stints as they call them in the Lakes. When the owner is willing to sell and arrangements have been made with, perhaps, one or two farmers, it is found that X, Y, Z or A. B. C, people living in some remote town or village have the hereditary right of stint, and it makes it definitely illegal to enclose the land. There is a lot of land that is used to a very small extent for the feeding of stock which would be admirable for planting, but it is out of our reach because of these rights of common or stint, as they are called. We are very much up against that sort of thing in parts of South Wales, and the time is coming when we may have to come to Parliament and ask whether these obscure rights, very often not even exercised rights, are to stand in the way. We have not got to that position at the present time, and we shall postpone that unpleasant task as long as we can.

One further point about our acquisitions. There has been a feeling expressed in this House and in the Press that we are taking, for the purpose of planting trees, land which ought to be under the plough. We refuse to negotiate for land which, in our opinion, is of prospective agricultural value. When such land has been definitely offered to us we have said: "No. In our opinion, it is agricultural land." When there is land about which there is doubt, we submit it to the Ministry of Agriculture in England or the Board of Agriculture in Scotland, and it is vetted or examined before we negotiate. In the case, too, of a large estate, where we acquire a small portion of land which is definitely of agricultural value, it is retained for agricultural purposes. We have a total of 31,800 acres of agricultural land retained as such, and, in addition, a further 14,500 acres of land of agricultural possibilities are attached to our forest workers' holdings. Therefore, whenever land can produce food in reasonable quantities we see that it is kept in production, and I should like it to be clearly understood that we are not taking land which could be used for the production of food.

The Committee has already been told that as a result of our 1,000,000 acres we have 215 forest units, and, in addition, over 1,000 acres of well-stocked nursery land, of which my hon. Friend, the Member for Gower, has given the figures. We have something like 340,000 acres of miscellaneous land which we consider unplantable, and which we are endeavouring to utilise to the best possible advantage for public amenities. My hon. and gallant Friend, the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner), who is chairman of the committee which we have set up to deal with national forest parks, will say something later on that question, but I should like to say that the Commission feel very strongly that where land purchased or acquired has any public amenity value, it should be used for that purpose, for public recreation if possible, as far as is consistent with the establishment of forests on plantable land.

We have already set up successfully a national forest park in Argyllshire, comprising something like 50,000 acres of land, and we are in process of setting up another in Wales, in the Snowdon district. The committee is also at work in the Forest of Dean, where it is hoped to establish a third park. As our forest areas reach a magnitude and a condition suitable for that purpose, we shall hope to establish more of these national forest parks, so that the public may get the greatest possible advantage from the land which has been acquired. We have a further 4,750 other assets in houses, sporting rights and so on, which have a revenue-producing value. These are the direct assets which the State has got for its £10,500,000 expenditure. In addition, we have secured the replanting of 115,000 acres by grants to local authorities and private individuals.

We have built up a very fine technical staff, and I take off my hat, as I think we all do, to the high quality of the staff that is serving the Commission. It must be remembered that we have built up the staff entirely in the 18 years, because nothing of the kind existed before the Commission was set up. By research we have improved our technique and also extended our possibilities of planting far and away beyond anything that was known 20 years ago. I think I have said enough to justify the contention that the Commission has given the public value for its money. Of course, we have made mistakes. When you are trying to make trees grow on land that has grown nothing in the past, you are bound to make mistakes. Intelligent research cannot be undertaken without the probability of mistakes being made. Mistakes have been made. There is no doubt about that. But, on the whole, I feel certain that we have reason to be very much encouraged by the progress that has been made.

As my hon. Friend stated, the Commission went for a tour at Whitsuntide. We had 10 days among the Scottish forests, and it was extraordinarily encouraging to see the plantations. I am now speaking for myself. The last time that I saw them they were rather ugly rows of little regimented trees, with rectangular outlines which no one could love. The hard wood edgings which were there, but which at that time did not show, have now grown up. Nobody could have been with us on that 10 days' tour without feeling that in every place we went the beauties of a beautiful country have been definitely increased by the work the Commissioners are doing. Even the greatest critic could not but have felt that the work was encouraging.

When the plantations have reached the stage of the first thinning, the process has not been an economic burden, but has even paid its way, because the pit props have proved very valuable and acceptable in the mining areas in competition with foreign props. In some of the areas the first thinning has not only paid its way but provided a nice little profit. That is all to the good. Before I leave this part of the work I should like to answer a question which was interposed during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gower, by the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne), about the lifetime of the trees. I am only mentioning this because my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham referred to the oak timber which came from my estate to Westminster Hall. In round figures we plant something like 2,000 trees to the acre on the average, but it cannot be assumed that all these trees are going to mature. We have to plant them necessarily fairly closely, because there must be competition among the trees for light.

I realise that this is a little elementary, but one or two questions which have been asked suggest that a little elementary knowledge may not be inappropriate. The time comes for the first thinning when the trees are from 15 to 18 years old, and if one is lucky a definite proportion of the trees, one-quarter or one-third, will find a market as pit props. Later on another thinning takes place, and if the trees are well grown those which are taken out will be useful for telegraph and telephone poles. It is only when they are well grown that we can expect them to pass the Post Office tests, but that is happening in a number of our forests now, and it proves that it is quite possible to grow timber of the necessary quality for Post Office requirements. This finally reduces the final crop to 200 or 300 trees per acre, and they will, according to the soil, rainfall, and the species of trees, continue to grow for 60 to 120 years. In some districts we are growing oak, and it may interest hon. Members to know that a number of the oak trees which I felled for the restoration of Westminster Hall had over 600 annual rings, that is, they were over 600 years old, and as it is safe to assume that the great beams which they were replacing in Westminster Hall must have been at least of a similar age, you get go per cent. of that roof taking you back to the days before King Alfred burnt the cakes.

I want to come now to the services which the Forestry Commission are giving to the country in addition to these assets. We have given facilities and places for instructional camps associated with the Ministry of Labour. We have now 29 of these camps, giving accommodation for 5,320 unemployed. Then there are the Special Areas, and, not unnaturally, the suggestion has come from different parts of the House that the work is very slow in the Special Areas. It is; and no one wishes to speed it up more than we do, but the mere fact that we are dealing with trees which may take 100 years to grow to maturity makes it necessarily a slow matter. Before you can start planting you have to collect your seeds and raise them, and several years pass from the time the decision is taken to extend the programme before any additional trees can be planted. What we have actually done will be found in some detail on the first page of our Eighteenth Annual Report. This is up to the end of September, and the work is still going on; consequently the figures have increased a little, although I cannot say how much up to date. We have made a special survey in the Special Areas and have carefully examined 568,000 acres in these areas or within the 15-mile radius. They were all areas which prima facie appeared capable of growing timber. Of this acreage 225,000 acres were in the North, in Durham, Northumberland and West Cumberland, and 343,000 acres in South Wales; 152,000 acres out of this apparently appropriate land were found on investigation to have rights of common and stints over them, and consequently we have had to rule them out; we cannot enclose them.

Roughly speaking, two out of every three owners of freehold land which we have examined have been favourably inclined towards the scheme, and in terms of acres just over a quarter have been brought under negotiation. By the end of the year, that is the end of September last, the Commissioners had approved the acquisition of 42,900 plantable acres, of which 22,000 were in the North and 20,000 odd in South Wales, and a further 5,000 acres were under active negotiation. The legal formalities have been very lengthy, particularly in South Wales, where there are so many mining leases, where there are rights not only of mining but of tipping on the surface, but the legal formalities have been completed in respect of 21,500 acres which we have definitely purchased; that is 17,000 acres in the North and 4,300 acres in South Wales. The individual acquisitions in South Wales are of a much smaller average size than those in the North, being 480 acres, while in the North they average over 1,600 acres. The nursery preparation has been successfully carried out and 14,000,000 seedlings have been lined out for the Special Areas.

Sir John Withers

Has anything been done to replant slag heaps in places like Wigan, a matter which has been mentioned in the House on many occasions, and which I think would be a splendid thing?

Sir G. Courthope

I will deal with that in a moment. A large new nursery has been established near Cardiff, and at this nursery we have set up 17 forest workers' holdings, and elsewhere a total of 185 forest holdings have been established in connection with the Special Areas. It will be seen from the amount of land we have acquired, and are acquiring, that this will rapidly grow.

Mr. Johnston

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tell the Committee whether anything has been done in negotiations with local authorities to afforest water-catchment areas, particularly in the depressed areas?

Sir G. Courthope

Yes, negotiations have taken place in several cases—I think in the case of every large local authority concerned—with varying success. In some cases our proposals have been welcomed, and in others they have not. I do not think it would serve any useful purpose if I attempted to give the details, unless any hon. Member specially asked for them; but the possibilities have not been overlooked, and we have followed them up as far as we could. In the South Wales area the matter has been handled personally by the hon. Member for Gower with great skill.

With regard to slag heaps, we are not planting them. In a great many cases the slag heaps are unsuitable for planting, not only because of their nature, but because they are in the immediate neighbourhood of fumes from factories, steel works and so on, and one of the greatest enemies of young trees is fumes. However, in areas which have been abandoned, old slag heaps which have got a covering of soil in the course of time can as a rule carry a certain amount of trees. Generally speaking, slag heaps cover only a few acres here and a few acres there. The Forestry Commission has its hands very full with direct work in connection with big areas, and we should need a greatly increased staff if we were to undertake the direct plantingof a great many little areas. We are always willing to give advice and encouragement, but we think that generally the actual planting of slag heaps would be better done either by the owners or by the local authorities than by the Forestry Commission. I end as I began by saying that very often it is impossible to make trees grow on slag heaps, either because there is no soil or because of the fumes.

Mr. Dalton

Before the right hon. and gallant Baronet leaves the question of the Special Areas, I would like to ask him for some information. Is it the case that the area in the North which was acquired is all within the 15 miles radius, but that not any of it is in the North-Eastern Special Area? I put a Question in the House on that matter some time ago, and that was the Answer I received. Is there any land which has been acquired for planting inside the boundaries of the North-Eastern Special Area, or is it all within the 15 miles radius and outside the boundaries?

Sir G. Courthope

My recollection is that there are one or two comparatively small acquisitions inside the Special Area, but the greater part of the land so acquired is within the 15 miles limit but not within the Special Area. The present position, which I have tried to summarise, leads one to consider what is the best programme for the future. Very often statements are made which suggest that it would be quite easy for the Forestry Commission, if the money was available, to double, treble or multiply by ten times its planting programme. It could not do that. If we are given, as I hope we shall be, the support of the Committee and a steady grant, without interruption—and our grants have been interrupted twice so far because of financial crisis, involving very great economic difficulties and ultimate loss—we think our planting area could usefully be expanded during the next few years from the present 23,000 acres up to about 40,000 acres. As far as direct planting is concerned, we think that is about the limit of useful annual activities.

What could usefully be done, if we had the money—and to this extent I disagree with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Financial Secretary, who said that we could not usefully use more money—and what would be very much to the advantage of our forests, would be to house a larger proportion of the labour that we employ on forest work in our own area. We have not the money to do that. Every year there is an expansion in that direction, but we should like to house a far larger number of the people we employ, not only because we want to see that they are properly housed, but because it would be of great advantage to have the men on the spot for the protection of our forests. As the woods grow up, the requirements in men per thousand acres will increase very substantially, and we should like that increased number of men to be on the spot. The importance of their being there will be realised when I refer to what has happened in connection with forest fires this year. During the forest year, which began last September—for practical purposes we must say that it began last February—we have had close on a thousand forest fires.

We have now a very good technique for dealing with fires, and the great majority of them were stopped by our own men before much damage was done. Indeed, with one exception, the only fires which were really destructive of plantations of large value were fires which had assumed large proportions on other people's land, so that when they reached our areas they had a frontage which was irresistable. That was particularly the case at Cannock Chase, where I understand that 2,000 acres of common lands were ablaze before the fire reached our land, and then of course it could not be stopped. Therefore, it would be a great advantage to have as many men as possible living on the spot, so that if a fire was reported they could get to work and stop it before it assumed large dimensions. I cannot help feeling that when so much money is being spent on housing, a little bit of it might be spent on increased facilities for housing our forest workers on the spot where they are needed. They have to be housed somewhere.

We shall probably have to ask for authority, and a little more money, to extend the systematic development of National Forest Parks. We have made a start, and made it cheaply. The Argyll National Forest Park was established at a cost of £5,000, apart from the ordinary planting costs. That amount covered the making of camping grounds and so on available to the public. There is another matter in connection with which I think we shall very likely have to ask for increased financial powers, namely, for the purpose of dealing with privately-owned lands. It very often happens that on a private estate a plantation reaches the stage when thinnings should take place, but they are not done either because the owner is hard up or for some other reason, so that the whole plantation is in danger. There is very often a temptation to sell immature timber for felling, and the effect may be very great. Probably if there are Death Duties to be paid the temptation is almost irresistible. Looked at merely from the point of view of the Commissioners' responsibility for building up a reserve of timber, we should like to have the financial ability to step in and to buy those plantations, thin them and maintain them so that they shall be added to the national reserve of timber. It is not that we have not the power, but we have not the means. We could not spend very much money in that direction without cutting into our planting programme, which is our primary consideration.

I hope I have said enough to show that the money which is being spent is a good investment, and I turn for a moment to the less satisfactory side of our picture, that is, the private woodlands. My hon. Friend has not exaggerated the case in saying that the condition of the private woodlands is, on the whole, deplorable. There are, of course, exceptions. There are some estates both large and small, particularly some of the greater estates, where the woodlands are splendidly managed, but those are the exceptions and not the rule. There has been a great deal of change of ownership of country estates since the War. In many cases the woodlands of estates which have been well managed in the past, have been bought up by investors, sometimes by timber merchants, stripped of the timber, and sold for building or for whatever they would fetch for any other purpose. That very often means that the woodland area simply runs to waste and is not developed. In some few cases we have been able to intervene and take some action, but very often such an estate falls into the hands of those who have no concern in looking after the woodlands properly, and there are many other cases where from one cause or another the woods are neglected.

We have to face these facts. It is no good shutting our eyes, either to the position which exists or to its cause, and there is no doubt in my mind that my hon. and gallant Friend is right in saying that the principal cause is lack of confidence. He is not right, however, in saying that Death Duties are paid on standing timber. Standing woodland does not pay this tax. But that is not the whole of the problem. There is no confidence in any landowner's mind now that his grandchildren will be in possession of the properties which he now holds. A good many of us unfortunately, are not sufficiently altruistic to feel an obligation to spend money on our properties so as to leave them in the best possible condition, unless we have some confidence that our children and grandchildren will reap the benefit. That lack of confidence is, undoubtedly, one of the reasons why so many privately-owned woodlands are not properly maintained. I am not suggesting now what we ought to do to meet that situation, but, having looked at one side of the picture, we must face the facts on the other side. With the exception of 115,000 acres which have been planted under the grant system, the steps contemplated by the Forestry Act, 1919, have failed, so far as private woodlands are concerned. The grant system has had this very limited effect.

Brigadier-General Clifton Brown

Is my right hon. and gallant Friend assuming, because only so many acres have been planted under the grant system, that no other planting has been done? Does he not know that a great many private owners have planted a considerable number of acres without any grant at all, and can he say the extent of that planting?

Sir G. Courthope

We do not know the actual acreage and, of course, I am referring only to the acreage planted under the grant. I have said already that on many estates, both large and small, the woodlands are looked after splendidly, but I think my hon. and gallant Friend will agree that they are the exceptions rather than the rule. I am referring to the general rule.

Brigadier-General Brown

I was only anxious to point out that a number of acres have been planted by private owners, apart from the grant.

Sir G. Courthope

I am making the point that the number of acres, the planting of which has been induced by the Forestry Act of 1919, is limited to 115,000. I do not wish that there should be any misunderstanding. A great deal of planting and replanting has taken place on well-managed estates for which no grant has been asked. We have to admit that something more than the small inducement of the grant which is authorised by the Act of 1919 is necessary to encourage planting, and if the national insurance in the matter of timber is to be met, it is necessary that these 3,000,000 acres of woodlands should be brought into a proper state. The National Timber Council which has been set up has done very excellent work and has made a number of suggestions. More recently—in February—the Forestry Commission summoned a conference of all the different bodies concerned in timber, all of whom have, during the last year or two, been showing an increased interest in the question of private woodlands and the production of timber. Among other suggestions which they made was one that the Forestry Commission should adopt a scheme of publicity. We have taken that suggestion up and appointed a publicity officer.

It was also suggested that we should do more in regard to advice and education. I agree entirely, and our present staff gives advice to private owners in so far as it fits in with their ordinary work. But they are heavily engaged at their own work and there is, necessarily, a limit to the amount of time which they have available for other purposes of this kind. The suggestion was also made at that conference, I think by the Royal English Forestry Society who have been doing excellent work, that a special advisory service should be established and that the Forestry Commission should be asked to finance an experiment in that direction to see how it would work. If I may express my personal view, which I do not only as a Forestry Commissioner but as a landowner, I believe it would be better that the normal staff engaged on Forestry Commission work should be reinforced to a sufficient extent to enable it, operating in the different districts concerned, to give such advice as is sought for, rather than to have special officers travelling over wide areas of the country from one district to another. That is only an opinion.

If, as I hope, in course of time there is a great increase in the demand for technical advice, we may have to ask Parliament and the Treasury to authorize an increase of staff for this purpose. I hope it will be necessary, because I think that is one way in which the Forestry Commission can help. We do not want, it we can help it, to have to suggest any means of compulsion, and the last thing we want is to have thrown on our hands as Commissioners 3,000,000 acres of devastated land, not in big lots—give it us in three or four blocks, and we should welcome it—but in tens of thousands of little lots, two acres here, half-an-acre there, and 10 acres somewhere else. The administration of something like that would defeat us entirely, and if we were asked to undertake anything of that kind, the only result would be that we should fail to do the work which we are doing now. What we want to do is to encourage the people who own these woodlands now to do a job which has been neglected.

Another suggestion which has been made, and a very useful one, is that we should help to provide the necessary elementary technical education of estate woodmen to enable them to keep their woods in order. Last winter we had five short courses for that purpose, which were very well attended, and I think they have been a great success. The time may come when we have to consider the establishment of a special school for the more extensive training of estate forestry. But I want to impress upon the Committee that we feel very strongly that this must be done by encouragement, if possible, and not by compulsion. We do not readily accept compulsion except in a time of great emergency, and I believe that if we try, prematurely, anything in the way of compulsion in connection with privately-owned woodlands, we might destroy the goodwill which we possess at present and which has proved so essential in our ordinary work. We must recognise that these things will take time, but anything that we can do—and anything that hon. Members of this House can do will be welcomed—to increase public interest in these matters, so that we can create a favourable public opinion, anything that we can do as Commissioners or otherwise to provide advice, encouragement, and education, we shall do. I think it is by those means, rather than by any violent legislative proposals, that we may enable the private woodlands of this country, as we all hope, to take their definite part in providing the essential timber reserves of the nation.

1.9 p.m.

Mr. Price

The Committee has listened with great interest to what the right hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), representing the Forestry Commission, has said. He will forgive me, no doubt, if I do not follow him in all the many points that he has raised. I would, however, like to refer to one point, namely, that part in which he referred to the desire of the Commission to extend their purchases of private owners' forests where it is clearly in the interests of the Commission to do so. I would even go further and say that I hope that the Forestry Commission will receive such an amount of financial support, by grants-in-aid, as will make it possible for it to extend considerably the area of forests which they own, purchased from private owners. The poor condition of the forests of private owners has been connected with the question of death duties. There is no doubt that there is some connection, but the obvious answer to that is that if the ill-effects of death duties upon the condition of the forests cannot be avoided, the opportunity should be given for owners to satisfy their liability under death duties by handing over their forests and foodlands to the State. As the right hon. and gallant Baronet has rightly shown, the grant-in-aid is not sufficient at present to enable the Committee to do that without entrenching upon their existing programme, and that, I maintain, should be remedied. Not only, of course, is it a question of death duties—

The Temporary Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I think legislation would be required for that.

Mr. Price

I am not going to enlarge upon it, but as it had been referred to previously, I thought I was entitled to pursue it. I only wish to say that I am sure that a number of landowners who feel insecure at the present time would be glad to hand over their forests and woodlands to the State. Personally, I should be very glad, when my ashes are put in the ground, for my executors to hand over those woodlands which, for 30 years, I have tended and looked after in the hope and the feeling that there will be someone who will look after them for ever in the interests of the State.

Further, in regard to the improvement of private woods. I would like to point out that something is being done in this direction already. There is a body known as the Home-grown Timber Marketing Association, which is helping private owners to market their timber in an orderly manner. At the present time there is far too much disorderly marketing of timber, throwing it on the market to any timber merchant who happens to be in the neighbourhood, without that bargaining power which private owners could have if they got together. I think the advice and assistance of the Forestry Commissioners, who are often big owners of woods in the neighbourhood, would be of immense importance, and the co-operation between such bodies as the Home-grown Timber Marketing Association and the Forestry Commission is a point which I think cannot be over-estimated.

Now I wish to turn to my constituency, which is in itself a large forest, a large part of which is owned by the Forestry Commisioners, and I may naturally be forgiven for taking a particular interest in this Debate, because I have a large number of persons in my constituency who are engaged in various operations, either directly as employés of the Commission or indirectly, in the various industries which are connected with it. The importance of developing rural industries in connection with forestry operations was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell). We already have them in the Dean Forest to some extent. There is the turning industry for turning the thinnings of the oak forests into various articles of commerce, and there are timber mills scattered about the Dean Forest for the conversion of the larger timber. I notice in the Civil Estimate. page 132, that altogether £400,000 is spent on wages. There is among the forestry employes a feeling that they ought to be working for a model employer. The State ought, in the form of the Forestry Commission, to give them the best conditions possible.

I am glad to say in my constituency the forestry employ£s have been organised in a trade union in the last 18 months. I hope the Commission will consult with the unions on every possible occasion concerning the welfare and conditions of the men engaged in the industry. At present the men are interested in the question of holidays with pay, and I should like to know whether the Commission have received any request to con- sider it. I feel that the existing holidays which are granted to the employés of the Commission are not sufficient; bank holidays and Christmas Day are not enough. It is being considered in the agricultural industry and demands have been put forward in some districts that farm workers should have holidays with pay. I should like to see the Forestry Commission take a lead in this matter, and I should like to know what their attitude to it will be if it comes before them.

With regard to the planting policy of the Forestry Commission, I was glad to hear from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Rye that hard woods are not being neglected and that where conditions are suitable they are being planted, but that a large part of the land acquired by the Commission is not suitable. I agree with him, but for some years after the War, to my knowledge, far too many conifers and soft woods were planted on land suitable for hard woods. That went on for a good many years. I know places in the Forest of Dean which formerly grew magnificent oak and which now grow soft wood. Although this policy is being altered and more hard woods are being planted, I still think that there are districts where conifers are being planted where it is not necessary to do so. The market for soft woods is very uncertain, while that for hard woods is certain so far as anything can be certain. English oak, ash and sycamore all have a ready market, but the market for soft woods for the pit timber trade is uncertain because we do not know what the future of the coal trade is in this country. There have already been considerable changes in the last 20 to 30 years. Coal is not required in the same quantity as it used to be because of oil and fuel saving devices of various kinds.

I often tremble to think what may happen when all these hundreds of thousands of acres of soft woods which have been planted in recent years become ready for the market as thinnings or in the final stages. Will the market be able to absorb the colossal amount of wood? We may not be able to compete with the soft woods from the Baltic and Russia. That market is by no means unlimited. We have a climate in this country which cannot turn out soft timber to compare with, say, the first quality Archangel red or white, or the Leningrad red or white, or the higher qualities of red and white woods coming from the Baltic or the White Sea. We can compete probably in the lower grades of unsorted and third quality red and white, provided we can get sufficiently large areas of supply. It seems to me that those large areas of supply can only come from Scotland, but even there the policy of planting large quantities of soft wood is fraught with danger. I hope that everything will be done wherever possible to concentrate on hard wood, which is the main type of timber which this country can produce.

Mention has been made of amenities and the desirability of the Forestry Commission preserving the amenities of the areas where they own land. I think that in the main they are doing so, but I would like to utter a word of warning. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower seemed to suggest that the mere planting of trees made the country beautiful. That is true in most cases, but there are areas in the Lake District where the planting of trees would be a misfortune. There is a particular beauty about the Cumberland Fells which is not enhanced by the planting of trees. I hope that the Forestry Commission, when they acquire territory in that area or any other area of a similar kind, will be very careful to consult with the local interests concerned, and particularly with such a body as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, so that they do not do anything to injure that most valuable amenity.

I have a word to say about forestry education. There is an item of £3,500 for forest apprentice schools, and I suppose this includes such places as the Parkend Forestry School in my constituency. I wish to know about the prospects of the pupils who leave those schools. How many of them have the Forestry Commission been able to place in occupations; and is there any prospect of the Commission increasing the number of the schools? It is important that we should have a continuous and increasing supply of young men trained in forestry, because I am certain that the municipalities, some of whom now own large tracts of forests, and private owners too, if they come to realise the importance of developing their forests, will avail themselves of young men turned out from these schools. There is a point I wish to make in connection with the accounts and Estimates of the Commission. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower said the Forestry Commission has no secrets, but if it is an open book I have a feeling that its accounts are rather muddled, because I have some difficulty in understanding them. A day or two ago I spent an hour going through these Estimates, and frankly I could not understand them, being about as wise at the end as when I started. In despair I sent them to a firm of chartered accountants, and asked if they would tell me what was, on balance, the result of the Commission's operations during the year. It is a firm which deals not only with accounts of industrial companies but with agricultural estates. The comment I received was— As no differentiation is made between capital payments and income payments, and as the same applies to receipts, it is practically impossible to say whether any of the trading transactions are carried on at a loss or at a profit. I know that the drawing up of accounts on private estates which have woodlands is not an easy matter, the reason being that forestry is a long term operation and the span of human life only a fraction of the span of life of those beautiful objects of nature, trees. Consequently, it is necessary to budget over long periods, and the State seems to be an ideal forest owner in that respect, because the State never dies. It can make up its accounts knowing that it will be in existence, presumably, Too years hence. Therefore it seems to me that it would be quite possible in the presentation of these accounts to this House for the capital expenditure on forests to be separated from current expenditure, and capital receipts separated from current receipts, but, unfortunately we do not find that it is so.

For instance under Section E on page 131, referring to forestry operations, there is an item for new buildings, which would be capital outlay, mixed up with repairs, which surely are current expenditure. We ought to try to keep such items separate. Items 7 and 8 under E deal with the preparation and planting of plantations, which I think would be regarded as capital outlay, but those new plantations are mixed up with the establishment and maintenance charges of plantations, which surely is a current ex- pense. Those items ought to be kept separate if the public are to get some idea of the operations of the Commission.

On page 127 a rather feeble attempt is made to make up a balance-sheet, but I do not think any board of directors of a company would accept it. Under D. there is the item "Acquisition of land, buildings and timber," put next to forestry operations, which, as I have shown, include capital expenditure and current expenditure. Capital expenditure and current expenditure are lumped together and come to a little over £1,000,000. The item receipts, in which capital and current receipts are lumped together amounts to a little over £200,000. Therefore there is an apparent deficit of £868,000. It would look as though the Forestry Commission are making a loss of more than £800,000 on their transactions, but that is not really the case, of course, because a large amount of the expense is capital expenditure and ought not to be treated as current expenditure.

Again, the Forestry Commission do not seem to credit themselves with assets which they might reasonably claim. In one place there is an item dealing with nurseries, with a current expenditure of £90,000 for running them for the year. But what about the value of the stock? Those nurseries must contain thousands of trees which are of some value. They ought to be valued at the end of the year and the Commission ought to be credited with their value, but there is nothing about that in these accounts, though a private individual with woods would give himself credit for it in his annual accounting.

Under items A, B and C on page 127 there is an amount of £183,000 for the cost of administration, which is about 17 per cent. of the total expenditure. That seems rather high, but it includes the cost of the educational research staff, an item which ought not to come in the general administration costs. Education and research ought to be in a separate account altogether. I may be told that it is impossible to keep this separate, but I do not think it would be. It is possible if the labour costs are kept separate, and they can be by means of keeping time-sheets. In that way it would be possible to separate items which can reasonably be regarded as capital expenditure from those which can reasonably be regarded as current expenditure. The usual practice on private estates is to capitalise the payments and expenses for newly-planted areas and for replants, that is to say the young trees, the wire netting for keeping out rabbits, the cost of clearing, amp;&c. These are put in a separate account, and the receipts from final crop fellings when the final crop comes to be sold are put against them.

Meanwhile, running expenses, weeding, maintenance of the wire, hoeing where necessary and such things, are set against the returns from the thinnings. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned a very nice profit covering these expenses in many cases, and I have no doubt that that is so, but I should like to see it stated in the accounts. Those who are interested in these matters and wish to see these State forests developed would like accounts presented to Parliament enabling them to get a much better idea of the situation. Why do the Commissioners not consult a firm of chartered accountants and get assistance and advice in the preparation of their accounts? My fear is that a rather unimaginative bureaucratic mind has been working on the old routine lines of Government offices. I should like to see another method employed, although I am not wedded to the method which I was suggesting just now and which may not be altogether right. Something else should be done if the public are to have a clear idea of this most valuable national activity and asset, which I hope will develop.

1.37 p.m.

Colonel Clifton Brown

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for putting down this Vote so that those of us who have constituencies in areas where the Forestry Commission have forests may voice their grievances and make a contribution to the Debate. I am not opposed to the general idea of increasing our woodlands or to the setting up of the Forestry Commission, but I am bound to be a critic of the present administration of that body. In my constituency, an area of between 80,000 and 1,00,000 acres is now owned by the Forestry Commission. That is a very large slice of anyone's constituency. The area is 20 miles by 30 miles, which, I suppose, compares with the area of Greater London When this sudden change is made in an area one must realise the break it is for the local inhabi- tants, who find their industries and occupations going and new ones coming in. Such a matter has to be dealt with very gently indeed.

I will pay a tribute to the Forestry Commission. They have acquired 1,000,000 acres in 20 years, and perhaps it is a little surprising that there have not been more complaints, because that has meant a big change throughout the country. There is a good deal of complaint in my own constituency on the borders of Scotland, but how far the Forestry Commission are to blame I am never quite sure. When you ask them, they say that they are bound by regulations. Whether the Treasury are the villains in the piece, or whether it is the Forestry Commission, I am not sure, but there is a hidden hand somewhere there, working the whole time. I do not want to go in detail into farmers' grievances, but when an area of that kind is taken over you dispossess a certain number of farmers. The Forestry Commission always stick to the letter of the law the whole time. One farmer was put upon a 364-day lease, I believe, and that was seven years ago. No farmer will improve his land in those conditions because he does not know when part of his land is to be taken away and there is the possibility of the land deteriorating.

In dealing with an area of that kind the foresters are perhaps not quite the persons who should have the last word. If one has an estate of 100,000 acres one does not put one's forester in charge of it but the land agent, to whom the forester would come and who would be told: "This area must be for planting, this earmarked for forestry and that earmarked for agriculture" and so on, but so far as I can see, in the case of the Commission, the forester is in charge of the estate, and there is a good deal of grumbling. Another cause of grumbling is in relation to fire and sheep. The hilltops are bare and you cannot plant them. If they are to be used for sheep, they must be fired. If once you let your fire go down into the plantations, it may cost you a lot of money. The Forestry Commission ask to be notified by postcard so that they can send a man to safeguard their forests, but that is not giving the farmer a fair deal. It is a very serious matter if the fire gets away from him, because he may be ruined. He should be treated not according to the strict letter of the law but according to the spirit. We are very sore about the way in which the farmers have been treated in respect of fire and sheep.

Now let me refer to the man. The result of establishing a big area of forestry a long way from anywhere has been to deplete the field of employment for other employers. Every other employer is short of labour, and even the Forestry Commission themselves are short of labour. Competition is great between the landlord, the Forestry Commission and the county council for work on the roads, and is becoming rather unreasonable. A serious complaint was made to me and I want to pass it on. It is the case of a man, who is a good workman and who told me that he had worked for the Forestry Commission on two or three occasions. Actually he was on temporary work and was looking out for another job for himself. He got a job on the roads at 15s. a week more than he received from the Forestry Commission, but had only been there a couple of days when the engineer came along and asked whether any of the men working there had been employed with the Forestry Commission. The man said: "Yes, I have", and he got the sack the same night. The only conclusion to be come to is that there is an arrangement between the county council and the local forestry officer that forestry men are not to be employed on other jobs. It involves depriving this man of 15s. a week, and it seems very unfair.

I pass on to the question of housing, on which we have reason to grumble at the Forestry Commission. A housing scheme was started a little over two years ago, and Sir Roy Robinson went to look at the houses. Some of them, which were farm-houses, have been steadily deteriorating, but the owners will not repair them for fear it should stand in the way of the reconstruction of those houses in the course of time. In the meantime, repairs which were promised by the old landlord are not being carried out, which means that the Forestry Commission are again in this matter sticking to the strict letter of the law, but the housing is bad. As this was to be a great forest, a village was planned, and a good "song and dance" was made about it on behalf of the unemployed. It was started a little over two years ago, and I asked the Commissioners to take some cognisance of local opinion, but the letter I received in reply stated that the Forestry Commission would never get on with their work if they had to take notice of local advice at every step. Therefore, I merely asked questions in this House instead, and received the reply that everything was progressing, that unemployed families in Distressed Areas were being selected, and that the houses would be occupied soon. The winter came, and we on the spot saw the place looking rather like somewhere on the Western Front. The matter has ended in the law courts, and, while the company lost its case, the judge, in giving judgment against the company, said: One feels very considerable sympathy with this application, because there is no doubt on the admitted facts that the Forestry Commission have behaved as only a Government Department can behave, and on the face of it one has a desire that this conduct on the part of the Forestry Commission should be shown up. It is a great pity that they did not take a little cognisance of local opinion in this matter, because then it would not have dragged on for two years, and they might not have had uncomplimentary remarks made about them in court. These occurrences give one a somewhat uncomfortable impression about the Forestry Commission. We find the farmers grumbling, we find the men grumbling also, and we find the new works that are being created becoming rather a scandal and getting the Commission censured in public. We are not quite sure, therefore, that the Commission is the right body. Certainly it is a very bureaucratic body, and people feel some doubt as to the value of its work. Landlords hesitate to sell; they are not certain whether it is fair to their farmers or to their men to do so; and, when they see the housing, they are not certain whether it is in the national interest either.

I want to turn from local problems to a more general aspect of the matter. The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) referred to the planting of conifers in such masses instead of hardwoods, and I think there is a general feeling throughout the country that this mass plantation of conifers is a kind of foreign importation which we do not like. Although I listened very carefully to my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), he did not convince me that there is such a need for conifers first and hardwoods second. All that I know is that I get letters from Norfolk and places like that with photographs showing where hardwoods—oaks and so on—are being cut down and conifers planted in their place, and I know of other districts where hardwoods will grow quite well if they are planted instead of spruce, larch and so on. I think it would react very favourably from the point of view of the Commission if people felt that English trees were being favoured more than these foreign trees. A great deal of this mass plantation of conifers cannot be economic. The National Home Grown Timber Council have taken a great interest in the question of colliery pit props, and have experimented with props grown some 150 or 200 miles from the pits in Scotland, finding these, in spite of a small subsidy, to be uneconomic. I admit that the timber was good, but, if the place where the timber is grown is a great distance from the pits, the economic factor destroys the profit. Moreover, if conifers are planted in the South of England, they grow far too rapidly and make too soft wood, which is not reliable for pit props. I fear, therefore, that a great many of these Sussex and other south-country conifer plantations are really of little or no value to the country, and, if hardwoods were planted there instead, I think there would be far less public feeling. As I work it out, the cost of planting an acre is just under £13, of which £3 represents the cost of the land. The plants themselves cannot account for the difference, so there must be a heavy item representing the preparation of the ground, which, in some of these moorland plantations, involves a lot of work. If a little more money were spent in buying land suitable for hardwoods, that would not necessarily increase the total cost, because the preparation of the land would not cost so much, and, if the Commission could be authorised to pay a little more for hardwood land, I think it would be a very good thing. In their grants to private landlords they give a smaller sum for conifers and a larger sum for hardwoods. Why, therefore, in buy- ing land for planting, cannot a smaller sum be given for conifers and a larger sum for hardwoods? That would ensure more hardwood trees being planted.

With regard to the question of employment in Special Areas, the Kielder Forest, which has been planted partly with money from the Special Areas Fund, is 40 miles or so from the coast. It is true that it is within 15 miles of one small depressed area, but that is as the crow flies, over the hill and down the dale; by road it is 25 miles or so, and it is really straining the regulations to say that it is within 15 miles of this distressed area. It is by aeroplane, but in no other way. I think the real intention of the Government in giving this grant was that plantations should be put down near to the pits. It is true that the trees might not grow quite so quickly, and that the areas would be more expensive to maintain because they would be smaller, but it was felt that, in spite of that, it was desirable because the plantations would be on the spot near the pits, and the cost of transport would be less. I should have thought it would have been better to use this Special Areas money for plantations nearer to the pits. It cannot be said that in Durham or Northumberland there is a smoky atmosphere which would prevent the trees from growing almost at the pithead, and we know that in many places land is available which might be planted and thus help to relieve unemployment. I believe there is such land near Haltwhistle. If the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. F. Anderson) will forgive me, I will refer to his constituency for another example. There is a large area there which is very suitable for growing trees, and I believe is growing very little else at the present moment. The trouble is that the price is a little too high. Why not acquire areas of that kind and plant them, instead of desecrating great areas of the Lake District by these hard lines of evergreens?

They say everything is quite happy now in the Lake District; but I know that things are not well there. There is very deep feeling about the amenities in that area. If things are all right there, why is it that there is a regular organisation which goes up and buys land as soon as it hears that the Forestry Commission are after it? That must show that things are not all right in that area so far as the Forestry Commission are concerned. I am not against the Forestry Commission doing their work or increasing the timber reserves of our country, but I wish they would do it in a less bureaucratic manner, remembering that people have deep feelings about them, and that it is worth their while to conciliate public feeling in order to achieve their objects; not to tell the farmers that they are poor agriculturists, that they have to do what they are told, that forestry is going to increase their prosperity, and so on. It is worth the Commission's while treating these people more humanely. If such methods were tried there would be far less opposition, at any rate in my part of the world.

1.58 p.m.

Mr. James Griffiths

After the storm and stress of the past week, the House has to-day resumed its normal calm. My justification for intervening in this Debate is that I want to say a word about the work of the Commission in relation to the industry with which I am associated and about that part of the Commission's work which has special reference to the Special Areas. I can see already that my right hon. Friend who will wind up for this side is getting ready to point the obvious lesson of to-day—that is, that here we have been discussing from all sides of the Committee the beginnings of what already shows promise to be an extraordinarily successful national service in this country. It has been interesting to hear people who, at general elections, thunder against national enterprise, speaking of its virtues to-day.

Much has been said about the fact that this Commission was originally set up in order that the country, as a country, might do something to repair the damage that was done to the woodlands and the forests of this country during the last national emergency, from 1914–1918. I have very vivid recollections of those days. When this House discusses Defence, in all its aspects, it is generally very crowded and animated. We may find, if there is another emergency of that sort—which I hope will not be the case—that this problem we are discussing may have a very big bearing. I remember during the War, as a trade union officer in South Wales, that the two things I found were felt most keenly were, first the shortage of food, and secondly the shortage of suitable timber in the pits. Men said, "How can we work with safety with this kind of timber?" I should not like to repeat some of the actual language that was used about that timber in the pits. The question of the relation of this Commission to the provision of timber for the work of the mining industry is important. In an appendix to the report of the Commission, on page 49, there are given some very interesting statistics about the imports of various kinds of timber into this country last year. The imports of pit props showed an increase in quantity over the previous year of 24 per cent., but the increase in value was 112 per cent. Obviously, a most awful ramp is going on in reference to this industry. This increase shows that if the prices of 1936 were anything like reasonable, somebody has been making a handsome fortune out of this enormous increase in the price paid in 1937. The figures show an almost equal increase in the prices for other kinds of timber imported.

I have heard a good deal of criticism to the effect that the Forestry Commission are devoting too much of their time, spending too much of their money, and planting too much of the kind of timber required, for pit work. My hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) said that the future of the mining industry was very uncertain, and that that ought to be looked on with a great deal of care. It is, of course, a difficult problem. To begin with, it is a problem of the relation between our export and import trade. The largest suppliers of pit wood to South Wales are France and Norway. So far as France is concerned, the amount that they send is definitely related to the amount of coal which is sent to France from South Wales. Therefore, it becomes a question of a delicate balancing of trade between the two countries. At the same time, the export trade continues to be very uncertain, and is already declining. The cost of pit wood imports is very high, and no doubt in some degree the Forestry Commisison can make some contribution towards that. Last year, for example, if my memory serve me right, the actual cost of timber used in the mines of this country was not far short Of £12,000,000, of which £7,500,000 was expended on imported woods. If the export trade is to continue to decline, we shall be redressing something of the balance of trade if the Forestry Commission pursues its present policy of establishing such plants as will eventually become proper pit wood.

I wish to make a few observations on the problem of the Special Areas. The contribution which afforestation can make to the solution of the unemployment problem is a small one, but, small as it is, it can be valuable, and, in some respects, improved. I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury have gone out of the Chamber. I agree with what has been said, that here we have a national service. Members not only on this side of the Committee, but on the other side believe that we could do more, it not a great deal, to put men to work, and extend and improve the service if we were not cramped by the refusal of the Treasury to make grants. It reflects very much upon the policy of the Treasury when we realise that almost every day it comes down to this House ready to shovel out money to subsidise all kinds of private interests and the agricultural industry, whereas the amount of money given for forestry work is not enough. I hope that the Treasury will take note of the criticism here, and that this project, which has the beginnings of a great national industry, will be developed and not handicapped and cramped by the cheese-paring policy of the Treasury. I also hope that as a result of this Debate the Treasury, when it comes to make its next year's Estimates, will provide a more liberal grant to the Forestry Commission than is the case this year.

I want to make one or two suggestions to members of the Forestry Commission. The number of men who can be employed is not very large, but I hope that the men to be selected for the forest holdings which are to be established in Special Areas or adjacent to Special Areas will be those who are unemployed in the distressed areas. Perhaps the most tragic feature of the unemployment problem is the position of the elderly unemployed men of 45 years of age who are in the prime of life and ought to be enjoying life to the full. Some of these men have been unemployed for five or ten years. They are men who at one time were in skilled employment but whose skill and labour are no longer required, and who are, therefore, condemned to live in miser- able conditions in the Special Areas. I know many of these men personally, and many of my hon. Friends include among their acquaintances many of these men, who, in their early days, worked on the land. They came to the industrial areas where the prospects were good and where labour was required. I have met a large number of these persons in South Wales and in other Special Areas who, at the age of 45 years or so, having become unemployed, have an overwhelming desire to go back to their native heath.

There are in South Wales to-day some hundreds if not thousands of men of 45 years of age for whom there is now no place in the mining industry, and for whom the new industries have no room. While we welcome the new lighter industries, all that they want is boy and girl labour, and not the labour of men of 45. My hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) questioned the Minister of Labour yesterday, when we had some interesting revelations that the bulk of the personnel employed in these new industries consists of boys and girls who are employed only because they are boys and girls. The problem is one to which the Ministry of Labour is giving some attention and is investigating, and it has entailed a visit by the Minister to South Wales and other areas. We have been promised a statement, and I hope that we shall receive it before Parliament arises this month. I suggest that the Forestry Commission ought to confer with the Ministry of Labour as to the possibility of settling a number of the men of 45 years of age on the various holdings.

Although the number that can be dealt with in this way is limited, I hope that it will not be restricted because of the shortness of finance. This is the kind of work, which, I believe, these men can do. The kind of skill which the miner has developed at his work makes him an apt subject for work of this kind. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), to whose work on the Forestry Commission everybody pays tribute, would confirm me in this. I would like to see the Forestry Commission consult the Ministry of Labour, as, I believe, they can play their part and make a contribution towards solving this problem. Some of the money, which in the past has not been too usefully spent, might be provided as an additional contribution to the Forestry Commission to enable them to get on with their work and to help towards the solution of the problem of the employment of men of 45 and over. These men are anxious to get back to work.

I have seen one or two of these holdings, and I congratulate the Forestry Commission upon the type of new house which I had the privilege of visiting in company with my hon. Friend the Member for Gower in my own county. The type of house was admirable in every way. It was excellently designed, and fitted in well with its setting. It had modern conveniences, and it was obvious that the family who had been settled there from the Special Area were happy. The man we saw there was the type of man who left the countryside for industrial work and had then gone back. He had returned and had found a new niche in life. I was very happy to see this. It was an infectious atmosphere. This man had got a job, he had a house, he felt that he was wanted and he was rendering service. There is nothing which gives a man more joy in life than to render service. One of the things which has always amazed me is that the primary worker, the man who works on the land and upon whom the burden is always put, is the one who, in every country of the world, has the hardest work to do and is the worst paid. Why it is, I do not know. That is the kind of civilisation we have got.

The Forestry Commission are reviving an old industry, making it a great national industry, and we wish them all success. But I would urge one thing upon them. Our agricultural workers are leaving the land. No fewer than 20,000 have left the land in my county since the War. The reasons are to be found in housing conditions, which are deplorable, and the absence of the amenities that make civilised life possible. If the Forestry Commission are to keep men on their land they must remember these things. When they fix wages or discuss questions like holidays with pay and other things that the worker wants and needs, the things to which he is entitled, I hope they will not begin by asking "What are the agricultural wages in this district?" If the Commission's men are to remain on the land the Commission must make it worth the men's while to look on their work as their life work. Wages must not be depressed to the scandalously low level of agricultural wages. In the Middle Ages there were about 60 fixed holidays a year and the farm labourer got some change in his life. Now he is tied up and he is leaving the land. The Commission will keep men on the land only if they make it worth while for men to remain on the land.

I have listened with interest to this Debate. We all appreciate the work that is being done by the Commission, and we hope that the Commission will be able to make a contribution not only to the problem of unemployment but to national welfare. The right hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) said that in South Wales difficulties were being encountered in getting land because of the existence of old common rights. In the area which I represent there is such common land, and for centuries generation after generation of people have fought strenuously to prevent private encroachment on those common rights. None the less I think that these common owners would look not with disfavour on a proposal that some of the land should be released for a purpose such as this. I know a cumbersome legal procedure is involved, but I think the common owners could make arrangements to devote some of the land to afforestation. I would assure the Commission and its members that for doing this great national service every one who has had an opportunity of seeing the results first-hand is very grateful to them

2.19 p.m.

Brigadier-General Brown

I approach this subject merely from the point of view of a private landowner and not on behalf of any body of landowners, who have their differences of opinion as to control and other things, just as other bodies have. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) said that there was a lot of criticism of the Commissioners, that they were unwept for and unpaid, but I can assure him, without giving any official secrets away, that from several sources I have received the information that the hon. Member is considered by everyone a most efficient, broadminded and hard working member of the Commission. Even if it unfortunately occurs in the future that the present Opposition assume office, I hope that the hon. Member for Gower will be able to continue his work as a Commissioner. I have been very interested in the admirable report of the Commission. I get the Commission's report every year, but I have never read a more interesting report than the latest one. It shows, of course, that afforestation is a slow business, but it shows also that the work of the Commission is marked by continued improvement and expansion. Nine-tenths of the woodlands of the country are still in private hands. I do not want any family trouble, but I do not quite agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Hexham (Colonel Clifton Brown), who is my brother, and who seems to have a grouse against the Commission. I have had considerable experience with the Commission as a private landowner and I know that the Commission have done their best to negotiate with an absence of any friction. I congratulate the Commission on that policy. This matter of private control is a very difficult matter, but I say frankly that if there is any industry or business in this country which it would be in the interests of the State to control here, as in Germany and other countries, it is afforestation. I am expressing only my own opinion on this thorny subject, but I think that landowners when they study the subject and gain knowledge of what is involved will willingly accept some measure of control, hoping to improve their own position and that of the country as a whole. As a quid pro quo before Government control is established the Treasury should be induced to free woodlands from Death Duties. With things as they are there is no doubt, as has been said, that private owners fear planting. They see no use in undertaking such work because an estate in a generation or two may be handed over to speculators and jerry-builders and the amenities destroyed.

The Deputy-Chairman

As I said before, that would require legislation.

Brigadier-General Brown

I have made my point and I now leave it. I am anxious to express the hope that the Commission will soon be able to put into effect what they propose regarding a census of woodlands. I see that there has been a census taken in one county by the Home Grown Timber Council. That county was Hertfordshire. There may be some surprise that the Commissioners have taken that county as the pattern for England. Whether or not it is a typical county I do not know. Until we get a census of the whole of the timber in the country we shall not be able to make a sound plan.

Sir G. Courthope

It is going on very fast.

Brigadier-General Brown

I am very glad to hear that. With regard to help for private woodlands, which is referred to on page 13 of the report, reference is made to a matter which I hope is the beginning of a much bigger movement, and that is the training of foremen foresters to supervise operations. These men will be available, when they are trained, to assist private landowners in supervising their forests, and getting them into proper order. They will be able to give them the advice which is so badly needed in regard to a great many of the private forests. Many of these men who are trained for that sort of work, if they do not become head foresters, might become admirable workmen in the employ of private landowners who, if sufficient money is available, would be only too glad to employ them and build cottages for them. They would be very glad to employ these men when they have been trained in forestry operations.

At the end of the report reference is made to the very debatable subject of rabbits, which do great harm to forestry and add a great deal to the expense. We ought to control rabbits in some better way than we do at the present time. That reminds me that when I was in Germany at Easter and I passed along some of the big roads which run through the forests, I did not see any rabbits, but I saw deer. A farmer, to whom I spoke on the matter, told me that the sportsmen from Berlin went out there to shoot the deer. These forests are under the control of the State, and they do not allow rabbits, but they allow deer. It is, however, an extraordinary thing that on the other side of Berlin, right among the crops, I saw great herds of fallow deer. In young plantations deer do much more damage than all the rabbits put together. What I saw of the control of forests in Germany was interesting, and it is worth while for the Forestry Commission to consider the system of control there. I hope that they will study very fully the system in all countries where the control of forests has been developed, because such control gives a power of organization which I should very much like to see developed in this country. A semi-Government Department like the Forestry Commission is well designed for putting into operation the sort of organisation and control that is necessary, not only for the State but for the woodlands of private landowners and all who are producing timber. If action can be taken on those lines we shall be able to have a national effort, which will be worthy of this country, conducted on proper English lines.

A great deal has been said about the question of a market for pit props. The Commissioners are now looking for a market for pit props and other goods. The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) referred to the pit props question and the importation of pit props from abroad. The Kent coalfield has been obtaining pit props from our own woodlands and would be prepared to take a lot more if the props were available and properly prepared, rather than import them from abroad. This question of pit props reminds one how one industry is dependent upon another. Not only is the housewife dependent on the mining industry, but the timber-growing industry is in this respect also dependent largely upon the coalmining industry.

I heartily congratulate the Forestry Commissioners on the work they have done. As they say in their report, they have made many mistakes, and for those mistakes they have been blamed, but they have gained valuable experience even from the mistakes. In Scotland, to which the right hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) referred, there are one or two places where the Commissioners realised that they have made tremendous mistakes. They have learned a great deal from experience, and now on the boggiest of soil, where one would think it was impossible to grow timber, they are growing spruce. The work which the Commission are doing needs finance, and private landowners also need finance for the same purpose. It would be impossible for the State to take over the whole of the private ownership of woodlands at the present time; they could not find the money, and the organisation would be so vast.

It is far better that we should all pull together as well as we can and get all the help that is possible from the Forestry Commissioners. The private landowners should put their holdings at the disposal of the Commission in cases where they are unable to do the necessary work and the Commissioners are willing to undertake it. What we want to do is to get our forests on a proper basis, and I hope that with the sympathy, the help and the co-operation of everybody that will be done. The debate has been very interesting and helpful, and I trust that in the future, as in the past, the Forestry Commissioners will show the way to deal with this important matter.

2.33 p.m.

Mr. Parker

We are all agreed that the Forestry Commissioners have done a very fine piece of work, and many of us would be only too glad if they were able to do much more and if more finances were put at their disposal so that they might carry on the good work. It is only right that we should ask ourselves what is the object of having a Forestry Corn-mission. Many hon. Members have pointed out the necessity of our having ample supplies of timber in the event of danger arising from war and, obviously, at a time like the present that point of view comes to our mind. There is another reason why we should do our utmost to preserve our existing forests and to increase them by afforestation, and that is that the timber resources of the world are decreasing and more and more use is being found for timber. The price of timber is gradually going up, and in a few years we may find that the forest reserves that we have built up will be of much greater value than we anticipated when we started to build them up in 1919. That consideration ought to be borne in mind when we are dealing with the question of having a forest policy.

I should like to go somewhat into detail in regard to what has been done by the Commission, and to see how far the Commissioners have succeeded in filling the gaps created by the War. That point has not been fully dealt with. In 1914 we had about 3,000,000 acres of woodlands in this country. I think the right hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) said that about one-third of that only was really good woodland. During the War about 440,000 acres were felled, practically all of which was first-rate timber. That depleted our resources enormously. Since the War there has been a steady depletion going on of about 50,000,000 cubic feet per year. What we have not got is a complete picture of how far the timber supplies of this country have been depleted since the War and how far we have replaced what was cut down during the War and since the War.

If you go into this you will find that roughly 309,000 acres have been planted by the Commission, but that out of the total planted by them in the first 15 years after the War, 74,190 acres were derelict woodland and, therefore, are not new land brought under afforestation but are replacing part of that which was cut down during the War. In addition, 115,000 acres have been planted since the War by private enterprise. Therefore, since the War we have planted less than 440,000 acres if we take into account the acreage planted by private owners, and of that total about 74,000 acres is replacing part of what was cut down during the War, and is therefore not new area under timber. Therefore, we have not actually at the moment replaced what was cut down during and since the War and we have still to make up a lot of arrears. That is a point which should be rubbed in. The Commission have been replacing what was lost during the War rather than undertaking new work, and we still have a lot of leeway to make up.

Why is it that we have not been able to make as much progress as we should like to make? In the first place, the Commission has suffered very much from a neglect of afforestation by this House. This House has a considerable responsibility for the lack of regular finance at the disposal of the Commission. They have also suffered very much from two serious interruptions with their work, one following the Geddes Committee and the other following the May Committee. I think it is important to realise that these interruptions meant a loss of national wealth, particularly the loss which followed the Geddes Committee. It was agreed originally that £3,500,000 should be at the disposal of the Commission to spend in the first ten years. Actually the Commission received £3,500,000 during those 10 years, but did not receive this money at regular intervals. There was a big cut after the Geddes Committee had reported, and then increased grants at a later date, but the result of the cut was that a num- ber of officials of the Commission had to be sacked and the seeds which had been prepared had to be destroyed. Consequently, neither the staff nor the seeds were there to take advantage of the later extension of the programme. It also meant that because of this interruption this House did not get full value for the money it voted. The second interruption was in 1931, when about 50,000,000 seedlings had to be destroyed.

If we are going to see forestry developed as a really useful service for the benefit of this country it is desirable that this House should resolve that whatever financial arrangements are made with the Forestry Commission it should stick to its bargain. If this House decides that so much money shall be given to the Commission for 10 or 20 years for a certain programme, then we must stick to the programme and allow the Commission to use the money to the best advantage. Unless they can be guaranteed a sum of money for a reasonable length of time they cannot make good use of the money. They must have money to train their staff and to prepare seedlings for use. From the past I think we should learn the lesson that we must be quite definite in our view that we will not allow that sort of thing to happen again. I think that many hon. Members look at forestry far too much from the point of view of a policy to be adopted for curing unemployment. I agree that forestry can be useful in the way of giving people employment immediately, but I think we should look at it from the long point of view, as a service to provide not work immediately but a great deal more work in a number of years' time, and that when we are developing this service we should bear this point in mind rather than the immediate result of giving work to people who are at the moment out of work.

The question of private enterprise in afforestation has been mentioned. It has been admitted that private woodlands are not in the condition they ought to be. Many people will agree that as things are to-day rather more capital is required than many landlords possess to build up private woodlands and make them more efficient. When the present census has been carried out I fear that it will show that there has been a deterioration rather than an improvement since the census of 1924. The reports of the Forestry Commission in recent years have. commented on the deterioration of private woodlands and have expressed the hope that something will be done by the owners of these woodlands to put them in a better condition. The Commission hope that something will happen, but they do not want to use compulsion or anything of that kind to compel landowners to do the best they can. I believe that finally some form of compulsion will have to be used. I do not see why the Commission should not have power to see that private woodlands are kept in a decent state. I think they should have inspectors going around to see that they are up to a satisfactory standard, and to make suggestions when thinning is required.

I also think that if landowners are not able to keep their woodlands up to the proper standard which the Commission think desirable, arrangements should be made either for the Commission to do the work and charge the cost to the landowner or take over the woodlands themselves, giving full compensation for them, and then running them as part of their own State forests. That will probably have to come if we are to see the woodlands of this country in a decent state of preservation. This is done in many other countries. When I was in Sweden I found that most of the State forests are in the most difficult and inaccessible parts of the country, but even the more accessible forests which are not usually owned by the State are inspected by the State who insist on a high standard of culture. They have power to inspect the land, see that it is properly drained, and if the owner of the land does not keep the woodlands in good condition, they have power to fine him or carry out improvements and charge the cost to the owner, or take over the forests themselves. If that is done in countries where woodlands are far more important than they are here, there is no reason why we should not do it as well. The Commission will have to face the problem of what is to be done about private woodlands, and not merely make remarks and express pious hopes that they will be better. They will have to ask this House for powers to make things better.

With regard to the question of Death Duties, I see no reason why woodlands should not be handed over to the Forestry Commission, in suitable cases, in place of Death Duties. As to amenities, I think the complaints have been very much exaggerated. Various bodies, such as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, have done a great deal of very useful work, but when new developments take place in the countryside, there is almost certain to be criticism of those developments. If hon. Members will cast their minds back to the middle of the 18th century, when enclosures first took place on a large scale and when the countryside was divided up into a patchwork of fields, before there was any hedgerow timber there must have been very many complaints about the new arrangement of the countryside as compared with the old open-field system; but when the new system developed and hedgerow timber came on, and that became the settled form of agricultural organisation, the countryside became a thing of beauty and people enjoyed it. I feel certain that when the new plantations are grown up, they will be things to admire and that people in general will find them beautiful.

Many complaints are made in regard to amenities by people such as dons of the Oxford Colleges, who possibly remember walking in the Lake District in their youth, but who have not been there during recent years. Personally, in walking in the Lake District, I always feel that a certain amount of variety is a good thing, and that it is pleasant to have one valley in which there are trees and another in which there are not. One does not want the whole of that part of the country to be exactly the same. I agree that as long as there are valleys which are like chessboards it is undesirable, but as soon as they have got beyond that stage, and grown up, they are very beautiful. I am certain that the same dons will write letters of protest to the newspapers when, in due course, it is proposed to cut down the timber. I was pleased to hear that the Commission, although they do not intend to make money out of the plantations in the New Forest, want to see them pay their way. I think that is only reasonable. There are a good many people who think that forests ought not to have trees in them, and that the land should all be open heathland. I admire heathland in its proper place, but I do not think heathland should be confused with forests. In conclusion, I think that the difficulty about the planting of conifers and deciduous trees would to some extent be overcome if the Commission were to take powers to see that existing woodlands were brought into good condition. Many of those woodlands are good for the production of oak and ash, and so on, and if powers were taken to see that oak and ash were produced in those areas, we should perhaps get a better balance and a larger production of deciduous trees. I believe that most of the difficulties in the matter of amenities can be overcome if the Commission attempt to overcome them by having sensible discussions with people in the neighbourhood concerned, and also if the people who emphasise the necessity of good amenities will realise that the Commission must pay its way and that its object is to see that the country has a good forestry service.

2.50 p.m.

Mr. Loftus

In intervening to make a few suggestions, I do so with a certain amount of diffidence, because the discussion has been an extraordinarily interesting one and most of the speeches have been full of almost expert knowledge. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) said that the Commission was working in obscurity, unhonoured and unsung. I think that it has in any case emerged from obscurity, that a great deal of honour has been done to its work, and if it has been unsung, perhaps I may use a colloquialism and say that a song has been made about its work. The first point with which I would like to deal is that of amenities. The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) said that he thought the complaints had been exaggerated. I have no doubt that in the majority of cases the complaints are exaggerated, but I think there is some substance in them and that these grievances, where they are at all legitimate, might be met quite easily by the Commission. In my own counties, Suffolk and Norfolk, undoubtedly the miles of conifer forests introduce an alien element into the landscape. As one motors through miles of these conifers, one feels that they are alien, and one might almost call them totalitarian woods. I suggest that the Commission would improve matters very greatly if they planted the borders between the roads and the forests of conifers with deciduous trees. It may be said, quite rightly, that on some soil oak and ash cannot be grown. That may be so, but surely some other kind of trees could be found. By borders, I mean not merely a matter of 10 yards, but about 50 yards; _and if these were planted with other trees, it would enormously improve the appearance and the amenities, and do away with a great many complaints.

The hon. Member for Gower and my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthorpe) both assured the Committee that the greatest care was being taken to see that the land bought by the Commission for afforestation was not suitable for agriculture, and that if any agricultural land was included in the purchases, it was used for small-holdings. Of course, I accept those assurances. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye also said that the Commission made it a point in case of doubt to consult with the Ministry of Agriculture. That is satisfactory, but in spite of that, I have a lingering doubt in my mind as to whether the Commission might now or in the future purchase what one might call marginal land, not first-class or second-class land, but third-class land, which some years ago would have been considered as useless for agriculture but which modern research may prove to be quite valuable for agriculture. I will give two instances of what I mean. In East Suffolk, near Tunstall, adjoining land bought by the Commission, the East Suffolk County Council has conducted agricultural experiments on very inferior light land which was regarded as practically useless, but which, by proper treatment, liming in particular, has produced 20 tons per acre of sugar beet. That land is marginal land, and 15 or 20 years ago it would have been regarded as hopeless for agricultural purposes, except for the half sheep per acre mentioned by the hon. Member for Gower.

The second instance which I give is that the work of Professor Stapledon at Aberystwyth has proved conclusively that we have in this country a great reserve of land which is utterly wasted and useless to-day, but which could be made to produce food for our people. In forestry matters, we have been told that we must look ahead 50 or 80 years. I suggest that in agricultural matters as well we must look ahead 50 or 80 years. Certain tendencies in the world, the destruction of good land in America and in Australia, should make us remember that we may find it necessary to consider the possibility that 50 or 8o years ahead we may find it extremely difficult to go on, as we have done for the last 100 years, importing unlimited quantities of corn and meat. I suggest that it is essential that we ought to see to it that no land, however poor it may be at the moment, which is suitable for producing food should be taken for purposes of afforestation. I therefore ask my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye to see that the Forestry Commission, in cases of doubt, consult, not only the Ministry of Agriculture but the local county council and agricultural organisers.

2.56 p.m.

Mr. Johnston

I should willingly have kept my seat and allowed some other hon. Member to speak but for the fact that I understand the Government desire to take some time at the end of these proceedings to make an announcement and the representative of the Forestry Commission, who is to follow me, will naturally desire to reply to the various points which have been raised. There is one feature of to-day's discussion which interests hon. Gentlemen on this side of the Committee very much indeed. Hon. Members opposite at election time protest their hostility to any scheme for taking the soil out of private ownership and vesting it in the State. They are against the nationalisation of land when they are on the hustings, yet here they are to-day boasting—with great justification—of the fact that once they get away from the hustings and into the calmer atmosphere of the Committee room they can divest themselves of all those prehistoric notions and face the realities and facts of the modem world. We find that they have unanimously come to the conclusion in this case that, if the country is not to be denuded of its timber the only solution is to have a national system.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) would, no doubt, be very angry if I hailed him as a fellow Socialist. Yet to-day he has been advancing first-class Socialist doctrine. He stood up for the public interest and declared that private enterprise, as regards the preservation of woodlands, had failed, and that the only ray of sunshine in a gloomy situation was the hope of dealing with this matter by means of the Socialist system for which he and his friends are so largely responsible: Not by eastern windows only When daylight comes, comes in the light. There are many avenues to Socialism and I welcome the march forward led by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, but I suggest that he is here under false pretences because, having proclaimed to his constituents that he stood as an anti-Socialist he is now leading the Conservative party along the very lines which we on this side would wish them to follow. Not only has he told us to-day that he and his friends have now nationalised 1,020,000 acres of land a considerable figure—but he has shown that it has been done at a profit. He has proved that the only part of landowning in Britain to-day which is financially successful, is the part of it which is under State Socialism. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, as chairman of the Forestry Commission, has been before the Public Accounts Committee and has stood up to cross examination there and the majority of that Committee are anti-Socialists. But what is the net result of the proceedings? The Forestry Commission claim before the Public Accounts Committee, and it is passed by the Committee and the Treasury, that, on the best calculations available, they are making a profit to the State on the purchasing and planting, thinning and clearing of these woodlands, of over 3 per cent. on the State's money.

Sir G. Courthope

Hear, hear.

Mr. Johnston

The anti-Socialist says "Hear, hear." Yet, as I say, this is about the only part of landowning which can be said to show a profit to-day and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his friends have been boasting about it. I would go a stage further and suggest that they are under-estimating the profit which they are making. I give one or two illustrations. In their statement to the Public Accounts Committee the Commission very properly debit the scheme with the cost of agricultural workers' cottages. That is right as regards the cost. But why not take credit for the income side of those cottages? If you put down 1,400 forestry workers' homes you immediately increase the assessable values of the counties in which those houses are built, and the local authorities proceed to collect owners' and occupiers' rates upon them.

There is another profit to the community. You take so many hundreds, I suppose even thousands, of men from the depressed areas and off the Unemployment Assistance Board's books and off public relief. Instead of being a burden on the nation, drawing week by week the miserable and insufficient dole money, as you call it, for doing nothing, those men are given honourable employment and become self-respecting citizens, providing new commodities for the community. In that way you relieve the taxpayer and the ratepayer of a financial burden. Why not take credit for those things? If you are going to state your case to the nation on the Socialist basis that the right hon. Gentleman apparently desires, let it be stated fully. If you are going to give figures, let your figures be complete. Let the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Rye issue a pamphlet stating clearly and closely the Socialist advantages of the new service, and we will undertake to sell it by the hundred thousand up and down the country.

I am not sure either that we have got to the rock bottom of the financial advantages of this new State service. I remember a pamphlet written by Sir John Stirling-Maxwell, whose services to afforestation in this country cannot be over-estimated, in which he examined the financial returns from a German State forest. These are pre-war figures. He knew of a German State forest of 10,000 acres, and there were in addition 3,000 acres of agricultural land attached to that forest. That forest in Germany employed one head forester, six clerks, six forest guards, Do unskilled workers—though I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) that they are not unskilled at all, but very highly skilled—and 20 other men who found employment all the year round working as contractors in and about the forest. That was 43 already employed in this forest. Then there were 80 woodcutters, who had six months' work, there were 70 women with two months' work for nursery planting and light work of one kind and another, and there were 260 men employed on subsidiary industries. That was a total of 303 men in constant employment, 80 men getting six months' employment, and 70 women occasionally employed on this German forest.

Now let us see what happens in a Highland deer forest of the same size. Again I think they are Sir John Stirling-Maxwell's figures, and he ought to know, because I think he is a deer-forest owner. Sir John says that in a similar size deer forest, the equivalent of two small sheep farms, you support only two tenants and 13 shepherds; that is, 15 families are employed under your private-enterprise system of deer-forest ownership, as against the State system of growing timber with constant employment for 303 men. The economics of this thing have never fully been worked out, and it is one of the disadvantages of the present arrangement—there are advantages, I do not deny—of running the Forestry Commission that you do not at Question time get a Minister to shoot at.

Accordingly, the Commissioners hide their light under a bushel. I will say a word or two later about the great developments that they have made, and almost hidden—I do not know why—but in this House and outside the great work of changing over from private to public ownership of the soil, from poverty, misery, and decay on the one hand to a developing prosperity on the other, is being carried out by gentlemen who in private life would declare that they were anti-Socialists, and they and their Press are hiding these facts. I do not want to spend my time in praising these gentlemen and their work, although they deserve it. The fact that gentlemen should serve as unpaid Commissioners; that they should take a great interest in the service, that men of all parties should unite, that they should lift this thing out of the arena of party politics and lay a great plank in the building of the new Socialist commonwealth, is something of which we on this side are proud. I do not want to complain of their work. On the contrary, I willingly proclaim that men like Sir John Stirling-Maxwell and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who led for the Commission to-day are great public servants, and that they deserve well of their country, of whatever politics they may profess to be, but are not in reality.

I want to offer, not so much a word of criticism as a suggestion. I wish the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his friends on the Commission would do a little more in research work on, say, bracken. I see representatives of the Scottish Office sitting on the Front Bench sleeping. In the Scottish Estimates &5o per annum is allowed for research work in the cure of bracken. That would not pay a doorkeeper. I do not know how they spend it. Whether they spend it in small parcels or altogether or have a jamboree with it, I do not know. It is certain they do no research work for £150. Bracken is one of the greatest pests we have in this land. It covers an area in Scotland of more than half our total cereal acreage. Great tracts of our country are going derelict and waste because of it. Would the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his friends, with their greater freedom from Treasury control, co-operate with the Departments of Agriculture and inspire them a little to get some good research men on to this pest in order to see whether they can freeze out the fronds or kill them chemically, or do something to get rid of the pest.

When the Forestry Commission can come to the House and tell us that they can cure bracken, they will have done more not only for afforestation, not only for agriculture, but for the real wealth of the country than they have even already achieved. Then there is such a pest as the midge. The forest workers in many parts find their lives a misery in summer time because of the midges. Why cannot some money be spent on getting research workers to discover how the midge can be killed so as to make life possible and desirable in the rural areas? Then there are the clegg and the tick. Why cannot the Commission do something in research work to deal with those pests? I, for my part, and every hon. Member on this side, will do everything we can to assist the Forestry Commission in compelling the Treasury to spend the necessary sum of money on getting these pests exterminated.

I should like to say a word about the interruption I made during the speech of the right hon. and gallant Member for Rye. He said they found great difficulty in finding land to afforest in or about the neighbourhood of the Special Areas, and that, therefore, they were regrettably slow in finding work for the men over 45 in those areas who will never get a job unless some such agency as the Com- mission provide them with employment. It is 14 years since I began in this House barracking the Government to do something with the water catchment areas. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said to-day that they had tried in Wales and found it regrettably slow to get the local authorities to agree with them that these catchment areas should be afforested. I wonder why. Every responsible officer of a local authority with whom I have discussed the matter says that it is highly desirable that it should be done, and I think the Forestry Commissioners would find that they could get the land for nothing. If they were going to find employment for some of the distressed citizens in these distressed areas, nundreds of local authorities would give the catchment-area lands for afforestation, for little or nothing. I think we shall have to press this question of the afforestation of water catchment areas.

As far back as June, 1927, I was asking questions about when the peat lands were to be afforested. First I was told they could not be afforested, then that experiments were to be made, and now it has been discovered that large areas can be planted with success. An experiment was made in the Isle of Lewis, not directly by the Government but with Government assistance, by a private benefactor who had come from Canada. He made experiments outside Stornoway on very deep peat land—14 feet deep, I think, in places. Mr. Macaulay and his friends started to drain those lands and they are now growing vegetables on that 14 feet of peat. Experiments have also taken place at the Institute at Aberdeen. I know that the Forestry Commission have done something in the Black Island, but I wish to know how far they have been able to plant trees on the less bad peat-bog land. I am not asking that the worst peat-bogs should be brought into use, but surely land which has never raised anything except, perhaps, one grouse to 20 acres, ought to be taken over by the State, if necessary under compulsion, and timber raised on it. The man who can get timber or crops to grow upon what was peat land deserves well of his country, and I should like to see him get the Order of Merit, or a peerage, or whatever else is going.

Next I should like to say something about national forest parks. The right hon. and gallant Member for Rye was very modest about this work. I do not know why, because it is a great thing that the Forestry Commission have done. They have issued an admirable booklet, "The Argyll National Forest Park Guide." They have taken over 50,000 acres of land which was previously barred to the public. It was in private ownership and it was going derelict, keeping nothing but an odd curlew or two. Now it is open, and Benmore House is open in addition, with its beautiful avenues of rhododendrons. The Commission have also said, "We will make hikers' paths. The public must come in and see the beauties of the country. "The cheapest camping facilities in the world are also provided by the Forestry Commission; and motor parks—and they are not Socialists—where you can get a motor cycle stored for a day for 3d.; and hostels; and I do not know what else—in the most beautiful part of the country, all round Rest and Be Thankful. The right hon. and gallant Member is not satisfied even with that. He says, "We are going to have some more of the same thing, it has been such a success. "We are going to have a national park in every part of the country. We are having one in Wales, and one in Lakeland, and the public, instead of being mantrapped when off the public roads, are to be allowed to see the beauties and the glories of a nationalised land system which a Conservative Government are happily inaugurating.

I should like to add a word about amenities. I disagree with the statement frequently made that the Forestry Commission stand for the uglification of our countryside. It is not true. In some of the districts which I know best and where I have spent my holidays I know that the condition of the people is immeasurably improved from what it was before the Forestry Commission went there and that housing conditions are very different from those of the early Victorian epoch that one so often sees. The outlook as to wages and conditions has altogether changed. The old evidences of decay, ruin, poverty and squalor have disappeared.

I am sure that the Forestry Commission will not be above taking suggestions as to how they might extend facilities for pleasure in their work. When you have a forest and you cut paths through it, why not put in a wooden seat or two? It will cost you nothing but two or three planks. I am not asking that you should do it in plush or gilt. It would be something upon which people could rest. A few more notice boards would be of great assistance, particularly in the rural parts of the country. I think you must do more by way of publicity and public explanation of the great service—Socialist service—which is now being developed before our eyes. I assure the Financial Secretary to the Treasury who showed some hesitancy when he said that he did not see any other direction in which you could usefully spend money, that if he would look at the forest workers' holdings, he might see a tremendous change which has taken place in the lives of those people.

I ask myself why forestry workers should have to go 10, 15 or sometimes 20 miles in the rain, and go back in the rain, after their day's work. Why should they not have homes where they are working? Why should there not be more of these forest workers' houses? I am sure that if the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will but have a look at these matters, jointly with the energetic Socialist leader behind him, he will be able to come forward with proposals for additional housing accommodation in the rural areas. I should like to close on this note: It is well over 100 years ago since Sir Walter Scott in "The Heart of Midlothian" quoted the advice given by the Laird of Dumbiedykes: Jock when ye hae naething else to do, ye may be aye sticking in a tree. It will be growing Jock when yire sleeping. We have changed all that. We have no more haphazard growing of trees; we are growing timber now as an economic proposition; we are growing it scientifically and with knowledge; and I trust that in the days that are to come every Member of every party in this House will be able to join hands at any rate in support of the extension of this great Socialist effort in the growing of timber.

3.26 p.m.

Colonel Ropner

I am sure the Committee will agree with me when I say that we have had a most interesting debate since eleven o'clock this morning, and certainly the Forestry Commission has no reason to complain of the course of the debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) complained that he had no Minister to shoot at. I am a large enough target, but I am bound to say that I found his ammunition to be darts from a Cupid's bow rather than the lethal bullets which he usually discharges. He made a few interesting remarks about the National Forest Park which the Commissioners have already established in Argyllshire, and he expressed the hope that this movement may be extended in the future. Those of us who were present during the speech of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) will appreciate that a certain amount has already been said about the view of the Forestry Commission with regard to National Forest Parks, but, speaking generally, I might take this opportunity of reminding the House that, of the i,000,000 acres now in the control of the Forestry Commission, some 400,000 consist of unplantable land, of which a great deal is mountain tops and high lands of rugged beauty, and it should be made possible for these lands to contribute a worthy quota to the health and happiness of the country. Far from the Forestry Commission enclosing such land, it is our desire that it should not be sterilised, and the Commission intend in the future to take whatever action is necessary to give more convenient access to these great stretches of highland country.

The first national park was established only a few months ago, and the results which we have already observed there have been most encouraging. There is an Advisory Committee for Scotland, and another for England and Wales, of which I am chairman. All the national bodies interested in camping, hiking, the youth hostel movement, girl guides, boy scouts and so on, have been pleased to send representatives and join in the work of these advisory committees. I have not time to-day to give figures to illustrate the growing use of the Argyll National Forest Park, but particulars dealing with that matter will be found in this year's Annual Report of the Forestry Commission. As regards the establishment of further Forest Parks in the immediate future, that is to say, by the summer of next year, it is hoped that something will be done in the Snowdon area, and a committee has recently investigated the possibilities of utilising the Forest of Dean in this way, and I have every belief that that committee will issue a favourable report, and that a National Forest Park will be established there.

The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down complained that we have not given this movement sufficient publicity; but it was only with some hesitation that we encouraged the access of the public into these areas where young plantations of a large acreage are in a highly inflammable condition for certain months of the year. We have, as a matter of policy, gone slowly with the establishment of these parks; but our experience so far has been that all the organisations that may be expected to make use of these areas have rendered great assistance in educating the public in the dangers of fire, and, far from their members being a menace to the forest, we expect and believe that we shall get their assistance in educating the public and in fighting any fires that should unhappily break out. It is certainly the wish of the Commission that this National Forest Park movement should be extended, and greatly extended, in future.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling and at least one other Member raised the question of the afforestation of catchment areas. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling suggested that, in some areas at least, all we need do was to ask the local authorities for permission to plant trees in their catchment areas, and we should get the land for nothing. If he can tell us of one case where that is possible we should be very pleased to plant in that area. But, generally speaking, it is certainly true to say that, economically and hygienically, afforestation is the best use that can be made of the catchment areas. There has been, I am sorry to say, a reluctance on the part of local authorities in many cases to allow the Forestry Commission access to their land for planting. But recently our experience has been more encouraging. I have myself interviewed representatives of the Fylde Water Board, which serves Blackpool, and representatives of the Corporation of Blackburn, both of which bodies are in control of large areas in the North-West of England; and in both cases I found them prepared to consider assisting the Commission in the national work it is doing. We have recently come to an agreement with the Swansea Water Board; and I think I may safely say that there is hope that in future we shall receive greater co-operation from public bodies which are in control of these large catchment areas.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me a question with regard to the planting of peat land. There is great variation in peat land. No one knows that better than my right hon. Friend. It is to be admitted at once that much of it is useless for planting trees, particularly the large flats of deep peat, but the Commission has carried out during the last few years considerable experimental work, and there are types of peat land which we can now plant with success but which would have been useless for the purpose only a very few years ago. It is of paramount importance that it should be possible, in the first place, to drain the land. Secondly, it is important that the correct species should be planted. In some cases it is necessary to plant the seedling trees with a small dose of basic slag, and we have learned that the process of planting known as turf planting is of great help in many cases. The right hon. Gentleman may have had in mind, in addition to what is usually understood as peat land, the peaty land, which to-day carries hardly any vegetation. It is shallow peaty land with a hard pan underneath it. This land has recently been developed with extra-ordinarily good results. Here again the land must be drained. Then it is ploughed with a caterpillar tractor and a heavy plough. Where the land is turned trees are being made to grow and they show every prospect of forming an economic crop on land, which, a very short time ago, would have been classed as unplantable.

If the right hon. Gentleman is ever in the neighbourhood of the Black Isle, I hope that he will go and see what is being done in that and other areas. Some 2,000 acres of this derelict land is being ploughed each year. The cost of ploughing is fairly heavy, but establishment costs are lighter. The amount of weeding and so on is not so great as is usually the case in establishing a plantation. There are undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of acres of this land which it will be possible to plant if the land comes into the hands of the Commission. I would like to add the warning that there is a limit to planting on poor land. I do not want the right hon. Gentleman opposite to believe that, for instance, the deer forests which he mentioned, or the whole of the deer forests of Scotland, can be made to produce timber. That would not be a fair picture.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) asked a question with regard to holidays with pay and whether the Commission proposes to grant its employés holidays with pay? I would rather not at this moment give a definite answer to that question. The Committee knows that this has recently become a more important question in all industries and is something which is being considered by the Government for their employés, but, generally speaking, the Commission has tried to conform to the local conditions of labour, and, as far as wages are concerned, is now paying a higher wage than the agricultural wages in any county in England and Wales and in Scotland wages are still higher. As to planting policy, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hexham (Colonel Clifton Brown) and other hon. Members have told the Committee that they are in disagreement with the policy of the Commission in largely planting soft woods, and they desire to see a greater proportion of hard woods. The Commission plants broad-leaved trees wherever it is possible, but it does not want to disguise the fact that the demand for coniferous timber in this country is in the proportion of about ten to one. That is to say the consumption of soft woods is ten times as great as that of hard wood. One hon. Member suggested that we were now establishing coniferous plantations where good oak had grown in the past. Opinions may differ as to what is good oak. I think the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean was mistaken when he said that we were taking action of that sort. It is true that in parts of the Forest of Dean there was a crop of oak and that we are now planting conifers, but the ground was such that the oak was of poor quality and the conifers we are planting will he of the highest quality. That is the reason why in that area land is now being planted with conifers.

The hon. Member asked about forestry education, with particular reference to the Parkend School, and he asked whether jobs were being found for the students of that school. The answer is, yes; we have no difficulty at all in finding work for the successful students. With regard to the extension of forestry education, there is no immediate plan to open further schools. No doubt as the work of the Commission increases the existing schools will have to be enlarged or further schools established in other areas. The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean also mentioned the question of private forestry. That matter was dealt with at some length by my right hon. and gallant Friend, the Member for Rye, and I have not time at the moment to make any further remarks about private forestry except to say that I think I shall be speaking for the whole Commission when I state that we do not want to dogmatise about the future. We very much hope that we can proceed along the lines of encouragement—encouraging private owners to produce economic crops rather than embarking on any form of compulsion. The whole matter of private forestry and the poor rate of productivity of areas in private ownership is being considered by the Forestry Commission, and I am sure that we shall see developments in the next few months, or at most, in a year or two.

Several hon. Members asked questions with regard to accounts. My time is so short that I think the best I can do is to call attention to two Forestry Commission publications, namely, the Annual Report and the Trading Accounts and Balance Sheets for 1936, which were published this year and will give hon. Members a great deal of the information for which they ask. I agree that it is very difficult from the Civil Estimates to strike any sort of balance-sheet in connection with the work of the Forestry Commission. My hon. and gallant Friend, the Member for Hexham, made a speech which in general was more friendly than his past questions would have led us to hope for, but his general complaint seemed to be that the Commission were a bureaucratic body, exercising tyranny over large tracts of country. I do not want to say that my hon. and gallant Friend is uttering or giving publicity to imaginary grievances, but I must say that so far as I know he is the only hon. or right hon. Member who makes this accusation against the Commission. We have bought over 1,000,000 acres during a comparatively short time. We have changed local industries, and have undoubtedly brought about changes in many parts of England, and Scotland and Wales, but I think it is fair to claim, on behalf of the Commission, that we have had extraordinarly little friction, and that we have far more friends than enemies in those areas where our work is chiefly being carried out.

The hon. Member for Llanelly {Mr. J. Griffiths) made a most interesting and helpful speech, and drew particular attention to the price of pit props during last year. I gathered from his speech, and I agree with him, that the great increase in the price of pit props last year and the danger of a much greater increase of price in time of war, is a further illustration of the necessity of producing a larger amount of home-grown timber. I know that for that reason we have his support in the work which we are doing.

Let me say a few words on the Special Areas, a problem which has been mentioned by more than one hon. Member. Particulars in regard to what has been done in the Special Areas were given by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye in a Parliamentary answer on 1st June, and I would refer hon. Members to that answer. We have had to meet difficulties, some of which have been mentioned this afternoon, but one has not been mentioned, and that is the difficulty of getting tenants for our forest holdings when they are established, particularly in the North of England. I think the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) would be interested to hear that. A life which many of us would consider ideal is not attractive to men who have lived in industrial areas, and there is reluctance on the part of these men, and perhaps greater reluctance on the part of their wives, to live in such isolated areas. Nevertheless, suitable tenants are being found, and I am glad to be able to say that in the vast majority of cases the men who go to the forest holdings stay there and are satisfied with the conditions.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Clifton Brown) made a speech which the Commission welcomes. We were glad to know that at least one member of his family does not regard the Commission with suspicion. The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) showed very great knowledge of forestry and the operations of the Forestry Commission, and I endorse everything he said in regard to the necessity of a continuity of policy. It makes the work of the Commission far more difficult if the grant we receive is increased and lowered, and then increased and lowered again. If we could have a longterm policy and know what we are going to get for a considerable number of years it would help our work.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is desirous of making a statement, and I have only two minutes more—10 minutes less than I hoped to have. I am afraid that I have not been able to do full justice to the many interesting subjects which have been raised, but in conclusion I should like to mention a question which has been touched upon by a considerable number of Members, namely, the amenity problem. It is impossible for great changes to be made in this country without offending the innate conservation of a large number of people who live on the countryside, and the Commissioners are very conscious of their responsibilities. There is in existence a Joint Informal Committee of the Commission and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, and where Wales is concerned a similar council dealing with Wales. The Committee meets at intervals and the most meticulous care is taken that, consistent with the production of timber, which is the primary work of the Forestry Commission, the amenities of the countryside are safeguarded. I have been delighted to hear the remarks of hon. Members this afternoon, remarks with which I thoroughly agree, that, if we take the full scope of the operations of the Forestry Commission, we have not spoilt the countryside but have done far more to increase its beauty than to detract from it.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Captain Margesson.]

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.

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